May 18, 2005

PERSPECTIVE

I've heard several military families say that they prefer to live off-post because they don't want to feel the presence of the military 24 hours a day. I, however, have enjoyed living right in the thick of things ever since my husband began his military career. We've always been on-post, and we've lived in very isolated military settings, such as the Officer Basic Course and then Germany. I had never really thought about the omnipresence of the military until we went on this vacation. This was our first time away from the military, for every other time we've taken vacation, we've gone to visit family. It was our first experience being surrounded by civilian strangers, and I must say it was unnerving.

The first thing that happens when you meet someone on a cruise is that they ask where you're from. This is the most complicated question you can ask someone in the military. Where are we all from? We started trying to simplify things by just saying we're from Missouri, but then we often ended up having this conversation:

Strangers: So, where are you all from?
Groks: Um, Missouri.
Strangers: Great. What do you do there in Missouri?
Grok: Um, well, we don't actually live in Missouri; we live in Germany.
Strangers: Oh...well, what do you do there?
Grok: We're there with the military...

This either led to awkward silence or awkward questions. Maybe we were talking to all the wrong people, but we didn't get the sort of insightful or curious conversations I was expecting. When we told our dinner-tablemates on the cruise that we were living in Germany with the military, we didn't expect them to virtually ignore us. We talked at length about their jobs and backgrounds, but they didn't ask questions about Germany or Iraq. When the husband and I went back to our room, we discussed how we had braced ourselves to answer all sorts of questions about military life and deployment that never came.

The biggest thing that I learned about myself on our vacation was that I found I really missed the perspective that military life brings. We deal with things that are so far outside of the civilian experience that everything else seems trivial. A military family would never ask someone where he's from, because we know how often that changes. A military family would never say that it would be terrible to live on St. Maarten because we've seen that the poverty and problems of Iraq and Afghanistan far surpass those on Caribbean islands. A military family would never complain about a five-hour plane ride because we've all seen the mothers traveling alone with three kids, moving them across the Atlantic to meet up with their soldier. And a military family would never ever say that working on a cruise ship must be one of the hardest jobs out there because they work such long hours and don't get to have any fun. (Seriously, we had to bite our cheeks to keep from laughing out loud at that one. If we could be so lucky to get "deployed" to a cruise ship!)

And military couples share one suitcase when they go on a 7-day cruise. I've never seen so much excessive luggage.

I found myself quite the fish out of water on this trip, and I longed to go back to where everyone understood us. I never realized how much the Army has become my comfort zone, and I'm quite happy to be back to where everyone wears BDUs.

Posted by: Sarah at 07:05 AM | Comments (15) | Add Comment
Post contains 591 words, total size 3 kb.

1 Welcome back to the real world! I am always amazed at how little civilians know about the military. Even those who spent four years in then got out seem to forget wuickly.

Posted by: Bunker at May 18, 2005 07:49 AM (pzzx0)

2 Welcome back! I grew up in ultra-liberal Massachusetts, and what did my father do? He built ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic [Nuclear] Missiles).

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at May 18, 2005 02:57 PM (XUVN1)

3 Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! I missed you so much.

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at May 18, 2005 03:15 PM (3RSki)

4 Sarahk, I've been visiting your site every day, as I always do, and I'm happy to see you back. I didn't have time to post last night, but I did link to this post at the top of my blog. More linkage to come when I go home. David, Now your secret's out! How could you live with the s-shame?

Posted by: Amritas at May 18, 2005 03:49 PM (+nV09)

5 Sarah - Glad you checked in. Amen on the long silence that follows when you tell most civilians "We're in the Army". Funny thing is: let two GIs meet for the first time in an airport somewhere and they will chat as if best friends for three hours about Iraq, BRAC, Basic Training, commissaries, war movies and the quirks of learning to live in Germany, Italy, Thailand, Korea, Japan, DoDDS Schools, Texas weather, the time they pulled hurricane search and rescue duty and how much better AFN is now than it used to be. Might it be that most folks know so little of the military that they are clueless how to follow up that answer? I bet it is the same sort of cluelessness that was revealed to me whenever folks who just came on post for a tour or their nephews graduation from AIT can't seem to quit talking about "just what polite, good cleancut Americans" these soldiers are. Excuse me...your expectations are showing...you were thinking perhaps that the military is comprised of the type soldiers Newsweek and CBS seem to favor for coverage? And Bingo on the where ya from question. After a few years in the Army I permanently changed the question "Where ya from ORIGINALLY?" That helps some...still is rough on Army brats though. Hi to Mr. Grok. Love to you both. And CPT Patti (STILL the Sweetest Woman on the Planet) says hi!

Posted by: Tim at May 18, 2005 04:01 PM (hby1v)

6 Most people are only interested in talking about themselves. What they wanted was for YOU to ask them about their lives... Unfortunately - it sounds like none of the people you were traveling with or meeting were of the inquisitive sort. In other words - interested in learning about something other than their own little world. A good answer to the civilian question of where are you from... "we're a military family, we currently live in Germany, but are originally from Missouri". This gives them all the info they need to either ask you more about where you live - or (more likely) tell you about all the places they've lived... or be rude and turn away (something that happens in the civilian world too... way too often). I don't think I could do a cruise though... it just gives me the willies thinking of getting on a boat packed in with all those people. *grin* I know there are advantages - but I prefer to go to a hotel and just hang out with my husband - even if it means I see a bit less of the world.

Posted by: Teresa at May 18, 2005 04:12 PM (nAfYo)

7 Grok: Nice, but I think you've taken this liking of military life too far. You've got to be flexible, as my drill sgt. used to say. Civilian or military, people are people, you know? There are good and bad with every styles of life. I never tell other folks that I was in Iraq unless asked, I've seen too many people trying to take advantage of that status. Sure, I was there, done what I was supposed to do, so let's move on, you know?

Posted by: nerdstar at May 18, 2005 06:19 PM (ccm++)

8 I gotta say that "Where are you from?" thing always makes me laugh. Just answer them, "I've lived on every continent but Anartica and Australia. In tents, in hotels, in palaces, and under the stars--wishing I had a tent, hotel, or palace.... Where you from??" Most times you get questions about what you do etc... Makes a great ice breaker. Plus, you can tell about your heroic expoits later ;-) I have found most well travelled people have never actually travelled. They've "been there" but haven't "done that"!

Posted by: Jamie at May 18, 2005 10:16 PM (yDBbJ)

9 On a side note.... I went on a recent TDY and took a backpack (with my laptop, clothes and uniforms). Never occurred to me to take more? You mean people don't roll their clothes???

Posted by: Jamie at May 18, 2005 10:23 PM (yDBbJ)

10 When asked "Where are your from?" I always answer "Where did I grow up or where did I last live?" That usually throws them enough to stop and think about it - then they want to know where I've lived and if I know where I am going to next. (Right now the Canary Islands with the hubby would be good). The mantra is only 6 months to R&R...only 6 months to R&R). Household6

Posted by: Household6 at May 19, 2005 03:09 AM (T+Tkq)

11 "Deployments" for cruise ships? hmmmm*jotting down* Must have Dear husband try and get one of these AWFUL assignments.

Posted by: ArmyWifeToddlerMom at May 19, 2005 09:44 AM (Z6ake)

12 Perhaps the "civilians" were shy to ask about your positions with the military because of their perception of the military or something negative they had read... Perhaps they accept what you do the same as police or fire personnel? I see it as our jobs (within the military community) to correct misconceptions and educate the civilian population, not just sit back and marvel at the lack of inquisitiveness on their part. If the American public has a lot to learn or re-learn about the fine state of our services, then we (as a community) have a lot to teach.

Posted by: Some Soldier's Mom at May 21, 2005 11:28 AM (8Burp)

13 After all the traveling to wherever you've been, isn't it great to get "home" again? Because "home" is wherever you and your love half lay your head at night, secure in the comfort that you are each there for each other, and your bed is "home" in Germany. Because, in your military life, home is where you go to work, go to sleep, and go to live and love. Yeah, my cruises were a little different than deployment to Iraq and sailing the Caribbean waiting on cruise liner guests. A lot less space, and a lot longer underwater. We would have killed something just to be able to see our girls and kids, and follow it off with a beer. If you stay in the military till retirement, you'll remember how bad things COULD have been till the last breath leaves your body. Everything after Iraq is gravy, and worth savoring. So welcome "home", Sarah and husband. We are all glad to have you back. Thanks for sharing the vacation with us. Subsunk

Posted by: Subsunk at May 21, 2005 01:43 PM (dT4Ud)

14 I am disappointed with 'those' people. I would expect them to ask if you were in Iraq and how was it for both of you and go from there. At the very minimum for them to thank you both for your service. Timmmmmm. Hiiiiii.

Posted by: toni at May 21, 2005 02:05 PM (KXhoZ)

15 Well..as a life long civilian who has lived in peace,freedom and utter blissful security in the same small Indiana town her whole life (save for college) I am shocked to read your comments. I NEVER fail to say "Thank you for serving our country." when I meet a member of the finest military in the world. Past,present and even future (kids with delayed enlistment) soldiers and sailors ALL get my respect and gratitude. I know darned well how BLESSED I am to be a citizen of these United States of America. NOW....the only thing I truly do NOT get about your post S,is the one suitcase for 2 people thing!! GOOD HEAVENS WOMAN! It's vacation,treat yourself to your OWN bag. Glad that you are both back safe and sound.

Posted by: Mary at May 22, 2005 12:12 PM (/CoEY)

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