By Kellie Artis, Contributor, MILLIE
There are many important conversations happening in society about identity, and the military spouse community is not immune. I often have a hard time uncovering who I truly am beneath the layers of me, and my roles as a spouse, mother, employee, volunteer, etc… I used to wholeheartedly resist identifying as a ‘military spouse.’ To be defined primarily (or even secondarily) by my husband’s job made me cringe. I am so many other things and have so much more to offer than just being the wife of a Soldier. Though it is a huge component of my story, it does NOT define me — or does it?
Over a decade of hard-fought lessons have taught me a thing or two about appreciating the value in accepting a group and finding my place in it.
I was raised to be fiercely independent. For me, companionship was a mutually-accepted perk of being in a relationship, but marriage was not something I pursued or relied upon as a #lifegoal. Self-reliance, resourcefulness, and ingenuity were highly-praised traits in my early years, and were encouraged on into adulthood — likely because I exhibited a propensity towards autonomy early on. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be literally classified as a dependent.
My reality-check came when I married my college sweetheart — who happened to have a heart for service. In 2006, I became a military spouse and honestly thought I could navigate this life on my own — even redefine it. I resisted everything about my new “role.” I didn’t go on post as a point of pride. I looked down on the FRG as a crutch. I fought needless battles with TRICARE. Life was unnecessarily hard and exacerbated by his seemingly constant deployments. I was underemployed, away from my friends and family, and lonely.
I had no network. No safety net. No tribe. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
The thing about the military spouse community is that we have a few things in common — even for those of us who resist being labeled as a group. Inclusion in this group is predicated on one thing, and one thing only: marrying a service member. This label doesn’t change your core being or identity, but enhances it!
We support our nation’s fighters, and in our own right, we fight right along with them. We fight for jobs, we fight to keep jobs, we fight for good schools for our kids, we fight for special services and referrals, and we fight for child care. Our resourceful, scrappy selves usually find ways to hack the system. We move, uncover local resources, and create communities within our shared nomadic culture that thrives on passing along the wisdom of the outgoing group. That isn’t conforming to a group, that is evolving the group.
Digging my heels in and clinging to a self-construed identity held me back from realizing the pool of strength available to me. During several tough deployments, we brought life into the world while simultaneously mourning losses. These were trying times, and impossible to cope with alone. I finally realized the importance of depending on others. As resourceful as I thought I was, sometimes you just need help. Those who have traversed this path before me, as well as my fellow travelers, helped me learn how to rely on another’s strength when I have none.
As I’ve grown more comfortable in my military spouse shoes, I’m learning to embrace the label. There is an empowering movement happening to re-brand military spouses professionally, socially, and personally — and I am all for it! Instead of considering our role of dependent in a negative light, let’s embrace the positive attributes that are an inherent by-product of this experience. We should wear our stripes with pride. It’s not an easy life, but we do it with love, grace, loyalty, grit, and perseverance. These are labels I fully acknowledge, accept, and am now proud to identify with.
So, on this Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I appreciate those who have paved the road before me, and I draw from their wisdom. I appreciate those I currently lean on and those I help support — you’re teaching me patience, empathy, and strength. And, more than anything else, I appreciate every military spouse for living out their own version of this life with authenticity and individuality — thank you for breaking the label and making our community so special.
Kellie Artis is the Director of Business Development and Communication for MILLIE, and Managing Editor of the MILLIE Journal. When she’s not “mentally PCS’ing” to write installation guides for military families, you can find her taxiing her two kids around town, reading on her front porch, or posing as a CrossFitter. She’s been married to her Soldier for almost 11 years, PCSed 7 times, and currently resides in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
MILLIE is an online community and digital marketplace that connects members of the military and their families with specialized knowledge and trusted resource providers to remove the stress and anxiety of PCSing. Check out MILLIE’s Installation and Neighborhood Guides, our network of Veteran and military spouse Realtors, and Scout, our on-demand task service composed of military spouses. Find out more at www.gomillie.com.