One of the most biggest differences between the civilian world, and the military world is the presence of rank. There’s a role for each person, and distinct responsibilities that pair with each rank. The chain of command is basically what keeps the military from being a bunch of men running around with guns, and gives clear direction for a group. There are two distinct groups – officers and enlisted. At the top of the enlisted guys, is my all-time favorite rank – the Sergeant Major. (I can already see J’s eyes rolling as he reads this.)
The role of the Sergeant Major is to be Battalion Commander’s (the guy in charge – an officer) number one adviser. The buck stops (so to speak) with the officer, but the Sergeant Major gives him the information he needs to make informed decisions, based on what’s best for his men. He runs the logistics, so the guy in charge can keep his eyes on the ‘bigger picture’. And he knows the rules – with multiple decades of time in service under his belt he should know them like he knows his own birthday! His job is essentially to be in charge of training and ensure the readiness of his men. Sometimes that looks like annoying the guys and making them listen to rules they don’t like.
J calls me his “Sergeant Major”. It’s mostly a joke… He’s the guy in charge, I’m the one running the logistics. But, it’s also a nod to that part of me that knows the rules and basically needs them to function at this point. People who know me – or have met me at all – know 3 things about me 1) I talk a lot. Like, a lot… A LOT. 2) I work with littles – there’s probably a kid or four hanging on me when I meet new people, and 3) I love the military. Even when I hate it, I love it. I grew up with parents who put that uniform on every day, and the sound of combat boots on tile floor is one of my favorite. I hate packing up one of my loved ones to leave, but there’s something about it that almost feels like ‘home’. I make promotion cookies in the shape of rank insignia for my loved ones (pro tip: use a scalpel instead of a knife. Cutting chevrons is not easy.), and have been known on occasion to make a cake that has the American flag inside it. I blog about this insanity, and I named my dog Bravo the Infantrydog.
I know the rules for the military better than some people in the military know them. Hard not to when I’ve been around this for my entire life… Part of me cringes when I see guys at our taco night table to have out of regulation haircuts, or who haven’t shaved in a while. Outwardly. I can’t believe how easy these guys have it that the uniforms don’t have to be ironed and boots are polish free, and I never ever ever walk on the grass. Get your hands out of your pockets, and take your sunglasses off your head. The rules? I love them. Partly because I don’t have to follow them, I’m sure.
And partly because they make my world make a little sense. My husband’s job is dangerous. He runs towards bullets for a living. That’s our reality. He never knows what will happen in a year, or even month or week. I never know if he’ll be around for wedding anniversaries, birthdays, or to try to have a baby. That’s our reality. There is nothing I can control in this. But, I can absolutely learn all that I can about it. And control what little I know about. Basically – it’s a coping mechanism.
People ask me all the time how I am okay with ‘this’. I’m not ever sure what they mean by ‘this’. Sending my husband away? Sending my mom and dad away? Having a husband who will actually volunteer and make the choice to leave me? Not knowing if I’ll have him around for the birth of our kids? Not knowing if I can RSVP to a wedding +1 or if I’ll be going by myself (again)? Not knowing what our marriage will be like after months apart? The answer is that I basically throw myself into it. I have had friends complain that ‘the only thing I write about is the military’ and most of the time it’s because they have no idea that in order to be okay with ‘this’ – I have to decide I love my husband and his job enough to think whatever it is, is worth it.
It also is what makes me take a look at the realities of my husbands job, and still throw myself into supporting him. And think that it’s truly what’s best for him, and our family. For myself, personally, if I didn’t throw myself behind this, I would hate it. I would spend my hours resenting my husband’s job, and eventually my husband himself. So, I cut cookies with scalpels, and pick over my guys’ uniforms when they’re not as put together as I like.
More than a coping mechanism, though, it’s also what has been the driving motivation in writing my book. I’m writing a book about what it’s like being married to the amazing type of man who chooses to run where danger is, and how to keep your sanity – or most of it, anyway. This means interviewing countless men I know who are attached to this monstrous ‘they’ that sends them into harms way, and doing extensive research on the realities of combat in today’s world. Stories people haven’t been able to tell anyone else, and research that his driving home even more the level of dedication that has been asked of people putting on that uniform. And if I didn’t have memories of laughing with my taco night family over my need for them to be ‘in regs’ or cutting out promotion cookies with a scalpel to celebrate the guys’ amazing accomplishments – I don’t think I would be able to get through the negatives of this life, to see the positives. Let alone be able to handle whatever this week’s ‘this’ is that seems so insurmountably impossible.