For someone whose blog is entitled “My Life, Army Style,” I’ve noticed my blog doesn’t contain all that much of either. ;-) This isn’t intentional, as I think of blog posts all the time but never get around to actually composing them. But today I’d like to talk about a military-related topic that I’m pretty passionate about: negativity towards duty stations.
I didn’t realize until I had been an Army wife for a few years and started being around military spouses how many of them hate where they have to live. And I see it more and more all the time. It has started becoming a source of frustration to me. That’s not to say I haven’t had to learn my own lessons in this area. I believe I have mentioned here about the meltdown I had when I found out we were moving to Ft. Bliss/El Paso, TX! However, perhaps my meltdown would never have occurred had I not been hearing for years what a horrible place it was and having people pity me once they found out where we were going. Once I started doing my own research, I realized the importance of having an open mind and experiencing things for yourself before forming an opinion. I’ll also never forget what a wonderful thing it was when, in the chorus of “I’m sorrys” and “ughs” on my Facebook post announcing our move, a friend of mine who was a more senior spouse (and I intend to do another post soon on why all junior military spouses should spend time with senior spouses) sent me a message to tell me how much she and her family had enjoyed Ft. Bliss, that they still missed it, and that they were so happy for me that I was going to experience it too. Talk about a reality check. =) That was the moment when I decided that I was going to have a positive mindset about every place we were sent, no matter what negativity people were trying to pass along to me.
Having been here in El Paso for almost a year now, I can without hesitation say that I really like it here. There are a few aspects I am not a fan of (such as the wind storms and no Trader Joe’s!), but overall the good far outweighs the bad. Here are a few of them:
- There is some crazy good food here. And it’s not all Mexican either.
- There is an awesome outlet mall, plus 2 regular malls.
- Ft. Bliss has the nicest PX/commissary/restaurant/movie theater plaza of any Army post, and amazing free gyms.
- You can drive to the mountains in 15 minutes and go hiking.
- Desert sunsets and sunrises.
- You get a tan without even trying.
That’s just a few things. Is this my favorite place in the world and do I want to stay here forever? Well no. But can I live here happily and contentedly with my husband for the few years we are going to be here? A thousand times yes. And even though I am still known to make statements like, “Ugh, I’m going to die if we ever got sent to Ft. Bragg!” that’s just talk, because I know that if it came right down to it, I could have a good attitude about Ft. Bragg too. When you talk to military couples (the mature kind) who tell you they loved and miss places like Ft. Irwin, CA or Ft. Polk, LA, it really gives you some perspective. And if you want to understand the significance of that statement, just go on Google maps and put those places in the search bar. Go on, I dare you. ;-) But that’s when you realize that attitude makes all the difference. It isn’t always that the physical place turns out to be amazing; sometimes it’s the amazing people you meet there instead.
For someone like me who has made up her mind to be positive about places and the military in general, I can’t tell you how draining it is to be around someone who is constantly complaining. I know nobody ever wants to hear this, but happiness does NOT depend on your circumstances. You CAN choose to be positive, to let little annoyances roll off your back, to not think everybody you meet who isn’t gushingly polite to you is being a product of their locale, and not to blame everything bad that happens on where you are being forced to live. I know we all have bad days/times and need to vent, but after awhile, if a person has done more dragging me down than me lifting them up, I give up. Being positive is hard enough on your own without being in the company of negative people. Even if you’ve tried your hardest to like a new place and you can’t, you are only making it worse for yourself (not to mention your husband!) by giving in to constant negativity.
So with all this in mind, I thought I’d jot down some of my tips for handling a not-so-welcome PCS and duty station. =)
- Treat each new duty station or city as an adventure. Because it is. Not many people besides military families get to live in so many diverse places. Take advantage of it! Learn about the area; make the decision to appreciate it even if it’s personally not your thing. And no matter what goes wrong, someday you are going to be laughing over it, so why waste time being a stressed out angry person?
- Stop comparing each new place with your hometown. It’s normal to have affection for and loyalty to your hometown, but don’t let that poison other places for you. So what if the new place doesn’t have your favorite restaurant? Nobody wants to hear about it every time they see you, and it never hurt anyone to try to find a new favorite restaurant. And guess what: your hometown probably isn’t as awesome as you think it is. No matter where you are from (even if it’s New York City!) you’re probably going to meet somebody who would never want to live there. ;-)
- Get involved. It makes time fly and will make you feel good. Your FRG sucks? Go take the FRG classes and then step up to help. You are bored? Find somewhere to volunteer or a free class to take. You have no friends? Put yourself out there: invite people to do things, go where people are, give your name and number to a stranger who looks cool, and don’t get a chip on your shoulder if it’s a slower process than you’d like. People are most likely not going to be knocking at your door and dragging you out. It’s going to be up to you to make your experience a rich one.
- Get out of the house with a purpose. You often hear the first part as a military spouse, but I think the second part is more important. Personally I don’t enjoy someone treating me like I’m only there to prevent them from sitting in their house going stark raving mad, and I bet other people don’t either. Be excited about getting to know new people, be interested in new experiences, go out wanting to learn and appreciate. Life should be enjoyed, not merely endured.
- Be nice. Maybe that sounds trite, but the world is in need of a lot more niceness in my opinion. I’ve met military wives who seem to wear an “I’m a bitch!” badge with pride everywhere they go. Sorry to break the bad news to them, but that is nothing to be proud of. Being the bigger person can be just as satisfying as telling someone off. =) In addition, being in someone’s face all the time over something is not likely to help your struggles with a less-than-ideal duty station.
- Don’t “go home” for the duration of your husband’s field trips and deployments. I know there are probably a lot of military spouses who will disagree with me here, but this is just my personal opinion. I also know that sometimes there are cases where going to stay with your family during a deployment is necessary—I’m not ignoring special circumstances. But in normal circumstances, I’d say don’t go home. There is no substitute for the strength and independence you will find in yourself by standing on your own two feet in a strange city. There is also no substitute for “battle buddies,” those fellow military spouses whose husbands are deployed too and know exactly what you’re going through. Those could be the friendships that make your life infinitely richer and stay with you for the rest of your life. Show your soldier he married a strong, independent woman who is capable of making a life for herself no matter where she gets put. Decide that each new duty station is going to be your home for as long as your husband is stationed there. I believe you’ll be thankful for it later.
- Lastly: Even if you tried all the above and it didn’t work for you, realize there’s no need to infect everyone else with your hatred of such-and-such duty station. There’s nothing more discouraging for a new military wife than having another military wife imply that she’s about to enter the 7th circle of hell for the next three years. Give the facts if asked, but encourage your fellow spouses to experience things for themselves before coming to a conclusion based on your experiences. Realize that other people may have different expectations and needs, or that things may have changed for the better since you were there.
The military life can be a difficult one sometimes, but it can also be one of the richest periods of our lives if we choose to let it. Make a promise to yourself that you will be happy and a blessing to others no matter what weird little corner of the earth the military sends you. Nobody ever sits on their death bed wishing they had been just a little more miserable during that one rough period!
If anyone passing by has their own story of adjusting their attitude about a duty station or a tip of their own, I’d love to hear it! Leave me a comment! =)