When I first met my husband, John, over 10 years ago, we were both in our third and final year of college. I knew he was different from the first moment I saw him at a party. For one thing, his shirt was tucked in. I appreciated that he was always clean-shaven, that his clothes were ironed and his apartment was tidy. I thought it was cute that he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
Looking back, all those good habits were clearly the result of the ten weeks he’d just spent at Officer Candidate School (OCS), literally months before I met him. I suppose I have the Marine Corps to thank for the fact that he opened doors for me and walked on the outside of the sidewalk. Back then, “fighter pilot” meant Top Gun the movie; today, it means Top Gun the school. I envisioned John as Maverick in his flight jacket and aviators. I didn’t give much thought to Meg Ryan’s character.
Now, after almost seven years as a military wife, it’s hard to remember my life before the Marines. The Corps has been such a big part of our lives, dictating where we’ve lived, who we’ve met, even my career. (Who’d have thought I’d be writing for a Marine Corps magazine one day?) It seems almost inconceivable that in less than a year, John will become a civilian. Still, as far as other Marines are concerned, John will always be a Marine. Yes, he’ll leave active duty and earn the esteemed title of Veteran, but he will always belong to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of the Marine Corps.
But what happens to a former Marine wife? It’s not like I’ve gotten so many perks over the years (the occasional discounted movie ticket; great insurance), but I have felt incredibly proud to be the wife of a Marine. As any military spouse will attest, there is a certain sense of responsibility and duty that comes with the job. Our servicemen and women serve our country directly, but their families also play a very important role. We make it possible for them to do their job and do it well, knowing they have a family who loves and supports them and a safe place to come home to after a long deployment, or just a long day.
Just as I had many preconceived notions about the military, I had more than a few ideas about military wives. I was somehow convinced that nothing had changed since the 1950s, that most military wives were Suzy Homemakers with five children hanging from their apron strings. The minute I joined the wives club of John’s squadron, however, I realized how wrong I had been. These were educated, intelligent, independent women with careers of their own. Several of them remain my good friends six years later. Yes, there were times when things felt a little too retro (“Wives do silly things,” John was chastened when I sent out an e-mail that was deemed inappropriate; I quickly learned that there was a double standard between how Marines behave and how their wives are expected to behave.), but for the most part, I was proud to call myself a military wife.
Of course, it’s not like we’re being cut free of the government entirely. John recently passed the Foreign Service orals, and assuming everything goes well, he will go directly from the Marine Corps to the State Department early next year. Where we live and when we move will continue to be out of our control. All hopes of me having a traditional career went out the window a long time ago. Fortunately, I’ve learned to adapt.
I remember when John went off to The Basic School (TBS) nearly ten years ago, how I dreamed of the day when he’d finally get out of the Marine Corps. Now that the day is almost upon us, my feelings are surprisingly bittersweet. True, I won’t miss deployments and do-it-myself repair jobs, military movers and missed holidays. No more long-winded Birthday Ball speeches or an incessant stream of acronyms to memorize. There are a lot of things about the military that I won’t miss.
But having the privilege of calling myself a Marine Wife is not one of them.
Mara Rutherford is a former staff writer and editor of Leatherneck Magazine. You can read more about her life as a military spouse, mother, and writer at Scribble Babble.