A few months ago an article on baseguide.com was published that counted down the “Top 10 Perks For The Air Force Spouse.” Wendy, the author, begins her article with a truism, “The Air Force life is not an easy one.” Now, I have only been officially married to the AF for a few months, but let’s be frank: I started dating the Viper Pilot before he was in the AF ( did you know we are high school sweethearts?) and therefore, the AF has been a part of my life for as long as it has been a part of his. Wendy is spot on here. It’s not easy.
…PCSing every three years, the deployments & never ending TDYs, the crazy work schedules, the days when he spends hours and hours in the vault, the “no phones in the squadron bar” rule, having to get out of bed at 3 am to pick the guys up from a roll call, the “so to speaks” that he randomly throws in while we’re having a serious conversation, the cold dinners that never get eaten because he worked late, the stanky flight suits and boot socks, the sound of Velcro patches in the morning, scrambling to find his red Friday shirt and socks because you forgot to do the laundry last weekend…
….oh, I could go on and on… But I won’t because this blog is a happy place and I’m really not complaining.
Wendy knowingly stated that her fellow AF spouses would relate to her list. While I definitely was able to relate to her list, I have my own opinion and since this is my blog in which I cautiously share my opinion, I have composed this post as a modification to her list. I was inspired by her list and some of the content is very much like hers, but all of it comes from my experience. I’m sure my fellow pilot spouses will relate and as for my civilian friends, well, they will see what they’re missing out on. 😉
Here are my 10 things I love about being married to an AF pilot.
10. Immunity to hoarding.
Typically, when a young couple gets married, they buy a house and start filling it with crap. While paying a mortgage on what I like to call our forever home rather than renting a temporary home is actually a very real dream of ours, it’s not an option for us and it won’t be for a very long time. We move every three years and the ability to collect crap diminishes exponentially. Packing and unpacking our household goods has become my worst nightmare. Even with the four PCS’s (permanent change of stations) that the Viper Pilot and I have had over the years, we’ve become very centralized and would never think of hoarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely tried my hand at collecting. For a while I collected coffee mugs (between you and me, I still try to do this) and I’ve seen other spouses with Precious Moments, Santa Claus collections and the like, but I’ve also seen said collections for sale at PSC garage sales. What we do have in our house is nice stuff and much needed in just about any home we live in. And, since we had to have movers come pack up our stuff for the OCONUS (outside the continental United States) move to Germany, we had to inventory everything that we own in case something went missing or fell apart (yes, that does happen and it did) during the move. I like to look at it this way: each time we move, I get a new house to decorate. It’s like a fresh clean canvas to an artist. It’s easier to reuse curtains, transfer pictures from one faded white wall to another, and pack in the memories. I’ll leave my collections for my civilian friends who get to live in the same house for the next 20 years.
9. World traveler.
I get to see the world on the AF’s dime. And not just the United States. Okay, sure, it might be the desolate parts of the world where the AF thinks make a great place to park the F-16, but still I’ve seen many different parts of the United States and experienced new cultures within our very own country. And not just our country, I live in Germany for goodness sake. With all the traveling we’ve done, we have developed the extraordinary ability to pack up the car in fifteen minutes with exactly what the Viper Pilot, Elmer and I may need at any given moment. I also have the rare ability to use an atlas (a what?!) because the GPS got fried sitting in the 110+ degree summer sun in Phoenix, AZ. I live 15 minutes from Trier, the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC. Who knew I’d ever live so close to actual Roman ruins that I learned about in 7th grade geography class??
The Viper Pilot and I have this little game we play all the time. Whenever we see a plane he’ll say to me, “name that plane” and I know all the standard aircraft: F-16 (duh), F-15, F-35, F-22, B-1, B-2, B-52, C-5, C-130, C-17, and so on but I struggle with the Century Series and anything weird or uncommon. Being an AF wife exposes me to all kinds of airplanes. Being a Warhawk pilot’s wife scored me a taxi ride in the Viper. You ought to see him coach me in the simulator…it’s absolutely funny. He gets all serious with me and the expectations are high. I have to remind him that just because I have an aerospace engineering degree doesn’t mean I know how to fly the F-16. But it’s still a lot of fun, and we both have a special place in our hearts for airplanes. We go out of our way on vacations for airshows and airplane museums. Yep, there is absolutely nothing better than having to pause a conversation with a student at work because an F-16 is doing an unrestricted take-off merely 2500 feet from my office and the roar is just simply too loud to speak over. Oh, and did I mention there is a good chance that it is my husband making all the racket? It never gets old and I get the same goofy grin on my face…every. time.
7. BX fabulous (you gotta say it like you mean it)
The first thing I did after I got my military ID (after rejoicing the ease of getting on base without the hassle of a visitor’s pass) was shop at the BX (base exchange). The BX is a special retail store only on AF bases. Since it is on a US military installation, they are all tax free. The good ones are like a strip mall or maybe a department store. Some are better than others. Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX had absolutely everything. They even had a BXtra which had kitchen appliances, a garden center, living room furniture, and so forth. Other AFBs are not as fortunate. If you are on base and need AA batteries, you may be in trouble. If you need an emergency 42″ flat screen, you are in luck. In my experience with the BX, you walk in looking for something, don’t find it and walk out with something you didn’t realize you needed. They will always be out of what you are looking for. Fortunately, there is usually a Wal-mart not far from base (or a Hela or Baumarkt if you’re in Germany). At the BX you can get everything from the top of the line Coach purse, any electronic imaginable with a HUGE selection of Bose speakers, to the perfect birthday card (in English or German), to the delicious licorice that the Viper Pilot loves (that the commissary, the grocery store on base, doesn’t know about). Some even have Mac stores. Our brand-spanking new BX opened 2 Nov and we’ve been doing some epic shopping there…now that the new, shiny sparkle has worn off and the crowds have died down. The parking lot is still overflowing on the weekends. But they have the things that I don’t even know I need yet.
Before you jump to conclusions on this one, hear me out. Nobody wants to be separated from their loved ones. Trust me, we’ve had more than our fair share of long distances between us. It gets tough. We are yet to experience our first deployment; I already hate the deployment as much as I love him. I’m pretty sure the only way to stay strong (because let’s face it, no one is actually that strong during a deployment) while he is away is to focus on accomplishing the things I didn’t have time for while he was around. Nothing can prepare you to deal with a deployment or how to have the conversation about what happens if something, God forbidding, goes terribly wrong. Nothing fills the void of a deployed husband. Nothing. But there are several projects that I’ve been neglecting that can fill up my time. I want to learn to brew my own beer, get back into running shape, make a meal only using the fruits and vegetables from my garden, and eat the foods the Viper Pilot doesn’t like. Maybe I’ll get so good at speaking German, I’ll learn another language, like French or Italian. I’ll take a sewing class. Learn to salsa dance. Take millions of pictures (oh hey, I already do this). It won’t be tough to find fun ways to pass the time. I’ll be strong. Strong enough. I, for one, look forward to the day when he returns from deployment because that means a second honeymoon with all the extra moo-lah he’ll be making. See? It’s not so bad once you reframe the situation in a positive light.
5. Our Air Force family
The people of the USAF are are truly exceptional. No matter where you are stationed, there is always someone happy to lend a hand. Each new squadron welcomes you with open arms just like your family does when you come home for the holidays. You don’t have to think twice about leaving your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition while shopping in the commissary on base. I rest assured with each PCS knowing that I have a ready-made family waiting for us to help us adjust to our new home. I don’t know what other squadrons are like, but the fighter community is an incredible group of people who would drop what they’re doing at any given moment to help you out. Within the first few days of moving to Germany, we had a car to borrow and plans for a backyard brunch with the squadron. I can’t wait for our kids to be a part of this. At squadron functions, the kids run around like crazy and it reminds me of playing with my cousins at Grandma’s during the holidays. The babies get passed around from person to person and we all cuddle and love them like a new niece or nephew. Leaving friends behind or going separate ways it not easy. I’ve had several teary goodbyes with friends from previous squadrons, but the F-16 community is tight and we will absolutely see each other again and when we do, we’ll pick up right where we left off. In the meantime, our AF family only continues to grow. These are the people we will know for the rest of our lives. The kinship among the AF squadron family is like nothing I’ve ever seen and I view it as a reflection of what makes America so great. Communal support and trust has never failed me in the AF world and I don’t believe that it ever will.
This is in conjunction with #5, but my blurb about our AF family was getting too long, so I decided to break it up. It is my AF friends who get it. They will be the ones to help me move the heavy piece of furniture to the other side of the room just because I’m certain it will look better over there and have wine parties/sleepovers on the weekends when the boys are out of town. They can tell you where to go for a good haircut or mani/pedi. They know the tried and true places to shop and who will accept VAT forms. (VAT is a 19% value added tax that as Americans living in Germany on a US military installation we are usually exempt from having to pay.) They know all the ins and outs of getting what you need from the various offices on base (housing, finance, TMO) and where you need to go for this, that, or the other. I can count on them when I need ideas on a surprise trip I’m planning for the Viper Pilot. And they totally understand when the surprise trip has to be cancelled because of a TDY (temporary duty). They know what’s it likes to have to keep cool and that you can’t freak out about the small stuff. Whatever happens, my AF friends will be there for it because they know how it is.
3. Anything but dependent.
The AF refers to me a dependent. I disagree. I can do anything, literally, anything. Just watch me. Over the years, I’ve developed a talent (yeah, I think I’d call it a talent) for being able to handle anything on my own. I muster up the courage and just do it. You have to, otherwise you world falls to pieces. In a way, it is preparing me for days when the Viper Pilot won’t be just a phone call away to coach me through changing a flat tire. Just to name a few: raking and bagging leaves in the yard without anyone to hold the bag open using only my hands because all I had was the rake (the Viper Pilot took the shovel with him to Texas), figuring out how to mix two-cycle gas for the weed eater, killing spiders (even if it means getting out your ski to kill the giant ugly one in the stairway <– yep, I’ve done that), and opening the stubborn jars of salsa without a strong man to assist. With each new house we live in comes new challenges. You have to make do with what you know and what you can find on YouTube. There will always be LDRs for us. But, I know my AF friends and I are blessed with husbands who truly value us. The Viper Pilot makes me feel like I am the most important person in the world — daily. His commitment to me and our marriage makes the crazy work schedules and LDRs (long distance relationships) tolerable. I’m fortunate to have such a patient husband who will take the time to teach me how to manage the manliest of manly household duties while he is away.
2. He loves his job.
This is the Viper Pilot watching the F-16 demo team at an airshow. To put this in perspective for you, that smile is similar to the one I saw when he watched me walk down the aisle at our wedding.
I think the BEST thing about my career (please, being a fighter pilot’s wife is a career in and of itself) is that my husband LOVES his job. This isn’t something that most people can say about their jobs, whether they want to admit it or not. He wouldn’t trade his job for anything. Getting to where he is today wasn’t easy, for him or myself. We’ve (hopefully) all seen the movie Top Gun, and I’m here to tell you that it’s nothing like that. With the exception of the flight suits (they do look nice, don’t they?). Not once, not ever, have I heard him complain about his job. With the exception of queep, but no one likes queep. Knowing that he loves his job makes my job of supporting him so much easier. The AF is a job that means something. When I think about the life that the Viper Pilot and I live, it is a flurry of emotion. Pride, excitement, and even some frustration coalesce at once to sum up our day-to-day and our long-term future. He is making our country and our world a better place, and I get to be right by his side. What he does is a part of something so much bigger than a 9-to-5 corporate job and I couldn’t possibly be more proud of him.
1. He loves ME more.
I couldn’t do this job (being a fighter pilot’s wife) without him and I like to think he couldn’t do his without me…I hope I’m right. There are days when I don’t hear from him for 14 hours and for all I know, he’s off somewhere into the wild blue yonder. I have to remind myself that though he loves his job and he’s just doing what he has to do, he loves me, too. If something has gone wrong, he’ll be sure I know about it. He does his best to give me an idea of when to expect him home or if he’s going to be later than usual. At the end of the day, whenever that may be, he comes home to me and it is just about us (and Elmer). Of course there is the usual “how was your day” conversations and I love hearing about his day at work. There will always be something else we have to cope with some other time: another TDY (“You’re going to be gone for how long??” Who doesn’t love fighting a 9 hour time difference for 3 weeks?), a late night debrief, long hours in the vault, night weeks, early morning briefs…furloughs happen and issues must be handled immediately, it doesn’t matter if he’s already been at work for 12+ hours that day. It takes a whole lot of patience from each of us. Strength to support each other through the ups and downs is a must and we have to have trust to hold us together. When he comes home, he’s home. The AF beyond shadow of a doubt dictates our lives, but only where and when things happen and on the flip side, when they can’t happen. The rest is up to us, and ultimately God. God is so much bigger than the AF and He still has his plan for us. It’s not all about the AF, it’s about the valuable time we get together and how we make the most of this awesome (and crazy) life that we get to call our own. I know that he has a commitment to our country and to the AF — but he will always love me more and his commitment to me involved a prettier ceremony than anything the AF has ever put together. So take that, AF! Now if you ask him who he loves more: me or the F-16…well, you will probably get a slightly different story… 😉