What It's Really Like to Be a National Guard Wife
So What Is the Difference Between an Active Duty Military Spouse and a National Guard Military Spouse?
Some might say nothing. Others might say a lot. After living as a military spouse for almost two decades I hope to shed some light on the truth, or at least what I believe to be the truth.
My husband has been an Army soldier for 23 years. Some of that time was spent on active duty and some was spent as a member of The National Guard. It is very interesting to me that when people hear that I am an Army wife they often say, “Is your husband active duty or just National Guard?” The first time I heard this I assumed the person I was speaking too just boggled their words but after the second or third time that I was asked the same question I started to get confused and even a bit angry. Was it possible that people felt National Guard soldiers were some how less honorable? Was their commitment not big enough? Did people feel that the sacrifices these families make doesn’t count as much? This led me on a journey to educate people on exactly what it is like to be the spouse of a National Guard soldier in our world today.
The National Guard has traditionally, in the past, been made up of what some might call “part time” soldiers. Soldiers who serve one weekend per month, two weeks in the summer, and when there are National disasters here in our own country. They were long considered as “back up” for our active duty units. However, in the months and years since September 11, 2001, that has all changed. And these soldiers and their families deserve the respect of their country. Today the military relies heavily on their National Guard units, almost to an unprecedented degree. Many of these soldiers now face the reality of being called upon to deploy in support of one of many different conflicts around the world. They face all of the same challenges of an active duty soldier. I now affectionately tell people that my husband is a member of the Inter-national Guard. He has been deployed three times.
These changes have not just affected the soldiers but the soldier’s families as well. Wives (and husbands) have found themselves facing unique challenges. Unlike active duty families who are stationed on a base or post, most National Guard families are geographically distanced from the base where their spouse serves. They don’t have the support system of other military spouse’s just steps away. They don’t have access to the “higher ups” or people who can give them quick answers. Their children attend traditional public or private schools, not schools on post, so their children are not surrounded by other children who understand what is happening. Instead these kids face questions by curious classmates, often phrased in ways that cause the child more harm.
The staff at the public schools is not trained on how to handle the emotional issues the children are dealing with. Spouses find themselves suddenly thrust into full time military life, something they are not used too, terminology they don’t understand. Many find themselves using the military health care system for the first time, something foreign to many of them. In many cases their husband’s salary decreases and they are left with excess bills and no way to pay them. Now I do not mean to imply that an active duty spouse has it easier, they certainly do not. My goal is to help people understand that the National Guard spouse has a unique set of challenges all of their own, and that they don’t have it easier simply because their soldier is not “full time.”
I can tell you though that despite the uniqueness of the challenges a National Guard family faces, there are many ways that all military spouses are the same, regardless of what capacity their soldier serves in. The worry and fear is identical. Wondering if your soldier will make it home safe, the leap your heart makes when you hear an unexpected knock on the door, the heart break you feel when your child looks at you with tears in his eyes and says. “I want my daddy.”
The sadness you feel for your soldier when you hear of the struggles he is going through and the things he or she is seeing, the anguish you feel when your husband has to miss yet another holiday, graduation, or the birth of his own child. The stress of holding the roles of both mommy and daddy, the joy you feel when your soldier is finally able to call home, and the anger and sorrow you feel for those that don’t make it home, the bond you form with other military families, and the unbelievable pride you feel all the time for your soldier and for your country. These things are all the same. And despite them all you might be surprised to know that most military families wouldn’t change it for the world.