I can close my eyes and picture the first time I went to a base to get my military ID. But when I open them, I see a seasoned Navy spouse and advocate with quite a few added wrinkles to complement my more than 15 years of salty experience. I wonder if I were to start all over today, would my experiences be different?
Thankfully, I do not have to relive the seven deployments and PCS moves. Instead, I can turn to my dear friend Sarah Curtis, a social media content creator and new Air Force spouse. Despite only being a military spouse for two years, Curtis was recently named the Armed Forces Insurance 2022 Hurlburt Field Military Spouse of the Year for supporting young military spouses through her Military 101-style content on Instagram.
Ask me how many reels I have created … one. I’m a geriatric millennial who lived in Japan before the era of smartphones. I remember having to pick up printed maps from the MWR office a decade ago before hopping on a train to my desired destination. I met friends in real life.
Curtis became a military spouse during COVID, forced to only connect virtually. I’m an extrovert and like to get information about military life by emailing friends or crowdsourcing, but Curtis, an introvert, heads to Google, starting with broad search terms and hoping the algorithms guide her to the right resources.
Comparing our first impressions of military life
After a 13-hour journey, and with 10 bags between us, my husband and I finally landed at Japan’s Narita airport and were met at the gate with a handwritten sign held by my husband’s sponsor that read “Barnhill.”
“Do you want to go to Tokyo?” he asked. After shooting my husband an “I will kill you” glance, I said that I would prefer to go to the Navy Lodge. Three hours later we were greeted by a basket full of goodies provided by our new community. New friends took us to restaurants, showed us how to use the train and taught us basic Japanese. They were framily.
Initial impressions were decidedly different for Curtis.
“I could not wrap my head around it,” she said about her first memories of military life as she prepared to PCS to Florida. Prior to getting married to her airman, her only connection to the military was her uncle, who served in the Army. So, when her husband brought home a stack of paperwork, his orders, and said that he needed to move her to Florida, get her an ID, insurance, etc., she was overwhelmed, saying “[everything] changed from that moment on.” Instead of giving up, Curtis decided to make it easier for other new spouses by creating content just for them.
Despite the decades between us, Curtis and I both agree, aside from the obvious separation from loved ones, the hardest part about being “military-connected” but not in the military is feeling unseen. For Curtis, this lack of visibility is connected to her newness.
“It’s like my voice isn’t worth hearing because I’m new,” she shared.
Sadly, even with 15 years’ worth of experience, that feeling of being unseen is felt by both new and seasoned spouses. I feel it when I see military spouses saying “Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day” each May, having to remind their service members that it is in fact an official day designated by President Ronald Regan in 1984.
Military spouses, young and old, serve by supporting their service member and the homefront. It is irrelevant if they are on day one or day 5,000. Over the past 15 years, communication methods have changed and support programs have improved, but other social networks have faded. We as individuals evolve at pace with society and hope that the systems in place to support us can keep up.
Connect with Barnhill on Instagram @weservetoo
Connect with Curtis on Instagram @amilitarywifeslife