Editor's note: As part of CityView's commitment to filling gaps by providing reporting and information for the Fort Liberty community, our HomeFront initiative has added two columnists who will write regularly about issues military families face. Today: Aria Spears, who lives at Fort Liberty with her active-duty spouse, writes about gratitude. If there's a topic you'd like for our columnists address, let us know at email@example.com.
It’s a season of thankfulness, and there is plenty to be thankful for when it comes to living the military life. Here are a few things I’m thankful for this year — what would you add?
You can reinvent yourself at every duty station
We all know moving every one, two, three or four years is tough — yes. With every move, however, comes an opportunity to take stock of how you’ve been living and reinvent yourself. Bad attitude at the last installation? Not enjoying how you showed up in your workplace or family? With every new duty station is a fresh start. New is hard, but new is also, well, new. You can decide which attitude you want to energize your days, what new habits you want to take up and which old mindsets you want to leave behind with your PCS donation pile. It’s up to you.
You learn to appreciate true friendships
Whether you draw them out with celebrations and parties, or simply give a swift nod and exit, military families are experts at goodbyes. After enough goodbyes, you usually tend to choose one of two options as you move. The first tempting option: stop trying in relationships. Or the second, perhaps better option: dig deep and keep your heart open. It takes courage and grit to stay open to friendships when you know your time is short. But if you’ve made a true friend or two along the way, you know it is worth it. You meet a lot of people in military life. But true friendship takes mutual energy and effort — and that’s what makes them truly special.
You get opportunities to befriend all kinds of people
Speaking of meeting people, you can get to know people from all over the country and world through military life. Civilian families might have the benefit of stability over time, but military life offers variety, which in itself is a gift. Host a holiday party, and you could end up with people around your table from different states or even countries, wildly different backgrounds and an array of differing perspectives on life. Even though you may come from completely different worlds, your day-to-day life in the military creates common ground. In today’s environment, that is a true gift.
You can access mental health care
Some duty station care may be more difficult to manage than others, but in general, it is amazing to have health insurance that covers a lot — including mental health care! When it comes to life’s changes and challenges, being able to access mental health care is a huge asset. Whether telehealth or in-person, the opportunity to get a professional’s insights into your life and health can make a world of difference.
You become a local in a variety of places
You know you’re a military family if you’ve got Polish pottery in the kitchen, a German stein in the cupboard and at least one family photo in Hawaii or another well-loved destination. Maybe this doesn’t describe every military family, but it’s representative of the fact that military people benefit from a variety of different experiences. While family and friends may work in the same cities year after year, military families become nearly local place after place. Need recommendations for your next vacation? Chances are, people in a spouse social media group or in your unit have been there, done that. Ask away, and they’ll have stories — and hopefully photos — to share. Military life is mobile, and military families know how to get the most out of where they live.
You cultivate serious resourcefulness
Speaking of making the most of things, military families can’t help but become both nimble and resourceful. Families face challenges in finding childcare, rebuilding support systems, navigating spouse underemployment and more. That means military families are seriously adept at problem-solving, finding the right resources and, generally, making it happen. Families do need more systemic, reliable support in these areas. But even as they wait for these changes, military families — especially spouses — work hard to forge a life they love. And the resourcefulness they cultivate will serve them long beyond service.
You can rely on seasoned spouses and families
One unmatched military resource to be thankful for? Seasoned spouses and families. Your unit can help establish connections with seasoned families right away. Seasoned spouses and military families know how to navigate the complex, changing military world of paperwork, acronyms, traditions and more. They’ve persevered through deployments, separations, moves and goodbyes … Their dedication often remains under-appreciated at a systemic level, but many are willing to share their experiences with those just beginning the journey. Not sure what to wear to a ball? Don’t know how to find a primary care provider? Feel overwhelmed by PCSing? Seasoned spouses are often a text message or phone call away.
My philosophy for facing military life is simple: joy makes us strong. The more we can cultivate realistic but content gratitude and intentional joy, the stronger we’ll be in facing these challenges — together.
What’s on your gratitude list this year?
Aria Spears is a writer, communications professional and civic leadership enthusiast. With a master's degree in nonprofit and civic leadership, Aria can be found exploring cities, persuading people to join local civic boards and sharing her book The Community Mapping Journal. When it comes to active-duty military family life, she believes that joy makes us strong.