2012 Military Spouse of the Year Jeremy Hilton Air Force male military spouse and advocate for military families and dependents impacted by illness or disability
Bill Keller is an Air Force male military spouse married to Major General Suzanne Vautrinot. Between Bill and his spouse, they have over 50 years of military life experience and have lived all over the world. We broke or cardinal rule of never divulging a spouse's rank because Bill has had unique opportunities to meet and communicate with many different types of military families that many of us may never have.
Guys (and gals), this man has real military marriage experience. Listen to some of his insight and learn what it takes to make a happy, healthy marriage in this crazy lifestyle.
Understand what is expected of your spouse.
If you are a brand new spouse and know nothing about the military, this is the first thing you got to do - and it's going to be hard because if you haven't worn the uniform. It's really hard for somebody to appreciate what is expected of your wife. First and foremost, when they raise their right hand swear allegiance to the Constitution United States, it is different than accepting a job offer from Corporate America.
I've seen that over and over again where people say, "Well, just turn that job down" or "Just say no to that" or "Why don't you come home early today and we're going to just go to the lake" or "We're going to do this or that" and it's really hard for the spouse then to try to explain, "I can't do that."
So, once you understand that, then the expectations over the next 10 or 20 years is you just kind of have to adopt the attitude that "I'm all in" wherever we go, whenever we go. Whatever we're doing is fine.
So, I would say that my first piece of advice is understand what's expected so that you can get your mind around that and where are your choices can be made after that.
Educate yourself on what is available to you
But then, educate yourself on what is available to you.
I would definitely check out the Airman and family Readiness group and probably take the HeartLink class.
HeartLink is an outstanding course that is for brand new spouses. It teaches you everything. It tells you different sources, tells you every resource on base. It explains the mission, explains the expectations of what your spouse is going to be doing. Iit also gives you, as a spouse and the family, what are available to you and what the different resources are.
So, that's for anybody and I would start with that.
Some military spouse programs by branch:
Air Force: HeartLink
Army Family Team Building (AFTB)
Marine Corps Family Team Building L.I.N.K.S. Program
There's also a lot of really good books. Military OneSource.com or to Military Spouse magazine. Sue Hoppin wrote a book, "A Family's Guide to the Military for Dummies." It takes you through what the military means and how it works, how Base Life works and it has tons and tons of links to different resources, whether it's internet resources or other books and things.
How Bill Recommends Male Spouses Get Connected In New Environments
if you're a little timid about meeting all the neighbors, which are all wives, I would highly recommend you do because they're not scary. Once you meet them, they are going to help you a lot.
Tthe wives are an unbelievable resource. You can ask them anything and they'll tell you the straight and true. I've never found it to be different than that.
But if you're still looking for guy type of activities, I think you're probably going to need to meet your wife's unit where most of the guys are.
The easiest thing is to probably join the sports activities - The Base gym, pickup basketball games, working out in the weight room, Auto Hobby Shops, if you're into fixing your car motorcycles. There's all that kind of stuff that guys love to do. Again, you're going to meet a lot of people.
The other thing I've done a lot of is joined intramural sports programs with my wife's unit. Since you don't have your own, they are always looking for help. Again, it's a lot of guy type of activities.
I'm kind of out of the basketball football mode these days, but they do bowling, softball, golf, all those kinds of things. So, if you're activity minded and you're into sports and all that, they would love to have you and you'll make a lot of friends.
You can also volunteer. Where you're going to meet a lot of the other women, is at the thrift store and the different activities that they're going to be doing at the club with the spouses Club things like that.
Get On Base
it's like its own mini City. I mean if you're new to the military you don't understand that a base is like its own little Hometown with grocery stores, department stores, the BX, gymnasiums, Ball Fields, golf courses, Auto Hobby Shops. All that kind of stuff is available to you. So if you live off-bass, don't stay off base. Come on base and learn all those kinds of resources that are available to you.
It's tough being the new guy, especially when you're the only guy.
Spouses Club Meetings
When I went to the first spouses club meeting, I was scared to death to do it but with inside of five minutes of showing up that all goes away. I mean you're part of the team. And I would say that's going to happen if you're going to join an intramural team. They will accept you immediately, especially cuz they're going to know who your wife is. So, you already got that common connection there and they're going to want to get to know you.
Military people are really good about wanting to get to know each other's families. So, I don't think you have anything to be scared of. But human nature says you're going to be pretty nervous the first time. I would say that inside of five minutes you will feel right at home and like you're one of the team.
Everybody needs to find their Niche and what they're comfortable with and if they want to participate.
A lot of the activities, honestly, with the spouses Club, are still highly weighted towards female interests. In almost every year, of everywhere I've ever lived, the first event of the year is "How to accessorize the basic black dress." I even want the first time and my wife said, "Put your tuxedo on and go let them accessorize that." So, you kind of you got to have a sense of humor about it and you're just going to have to jump into it with both feet. But find your Niche. Find what you're happy with.
I would still say that even though it's out of your comfort zone, go out to the spouses Club. Go out and try some of the other stuff. Just give it once, even if you only go once to say, "Now, at least I won't lose any sleep knowing that I never went. I went and I I didn't like it." or "Wow! That was a lot better than I thought it was going to be and I could get into doing some of the volunteer work."
A few things Bill recommends Male Spouses Avoid if possible
I'm not going to say it's a mistake. I'm going to say it's a choice. I've seen it work against a lot of families. That's when they choose to live apart for whatever family reasons or career reasons. I didn't see this years ago as much. I see it very common now and I know it goes on here in my wife's unit.
So, when your spouse is not deployed but you like living in Florida and they're told they have to go to Minot North Dakota for a couple of years and you say, "Well, I'm not going there." then you have to say well then how strong is the marriage. I mean, if it's just "I don't want to live in cold weather and so I'm going to stay here and I like my friends and neighbors" or "I have a good career". In the end I understand that it's not for everybody I mean, people do make that work but I've seen a lot of people make that choice and I've seen the marriage start to slip because of it.
Other mistakes, I don't know. I think for guys, it's probably not getting out and mixing it up a little - where they just kind of become isolated, and I can be that way. I know that about myself. I have to decide to go out and meet other people. Once I do, I'm in my element. But initially, it's easy to just kind of close yourself off and say "I'll just take care of myself." That's not what the military is about or the family lifestyle. It's all about meeting your neighbors and socializing. So don't get too closed up.
The opposite side I've also seen happen, where they over-extend and they get involved in too many things and then they're not there for their spouse. They are signed up for a million different activities and sports and volunteer and everything else and then they're not there when their spouse does come home.
First and Foremost
So, first and foremost, you've got to understand what your spouse is doing and what the expectation by the military is on them and then try to find your own Niche to kind of accommodate that.
Mentor fo Hire
Find a mentor. I'm happy to talk to anybody at any time. There are a lot of men now that are married two senior women in the military that didn't exist even 10 years ago and we're always happy to make a new friend. So, if somebody wants to contact me and ask a specific question or "how does this work, or that" I'm always happy to talk to anybody at any time.
Bill Keller, seasoned male military spouse