The Deployment Diary

Monday, March 01, 2004

Day 174 Slowly but surely the days are moving forward!

Several days ago I read an interesting entry on Trying to Grok (note that she has moved to a new location here).


Warning! Unbecoming military rant follows...

Why does rank make people crazy? Why won't the junior enlisted soldiers believe that my husband grew up in a run-down suburb of St. Louis instead of in the lap of luxury? Why do wives of junior enlisted soldiers keep telling me that I can't understand how hard their life is because my husband is an officer? "You just don't know what it's like." Maybe by that rationale I should go to the Lieutenant Colonel's wife and tell her she just doesn't understand how hard it is to be me. Oh wait, nevermind, that's a bunch of bull. Her husband went back and forth to Iraq for months before the actual deployment, and he left on the very same plane as my husband.

Rank and the military spouse is a hot topic that has been debated and will continue to be debated among the spouses for decades to come. For some, like me, it means little. It's my husband's accomplishment. It's his hard work and his dedication that has got him where he is. For others, it's an identity of sorts. Maybe they left a promising career to follow their spouse around the world and the only thing they feel they have to show for the sacrifices is the rank he's made (in part) by their encouragement, dedication and loyalty to him and his career.

Regardless of the reasoning behind what I call the Rank Wearer, for those who have been subjected to it, it can be painful - and at times humiliating.

I'll share two stories of run-ins with rank wearers that I've had. There are a few years age difference between my husband and I. He had a good 9 years in when we met and he wasn't a lower enlisted guy anymore. I missed the "hard" times of low pay. And, the pay was pretty low years ago. What my husband made when we met was only several hundred more than what a brand new recruit makes today. So keep in mind that while we were not rich, we both came into our marriage with debt (that we've since paid off), I was not around when he was a private or a specialist and we were certainly not trying to raise a family on that pay.

Back to the story. We had moved on base and I was pregnant with our second child. I decided to take our daughter up to the nicer park than the one across from our home. The nicer park had the new plastic slides and more activities for small children. I sat down on a bench to rest my fat rear end (I explode when pregnant lol). A young woman was also there with her child. She came over and sat down next to me. She asked if we had just moved into housing and I replied that we had. Because of rank, you know, you are separated on most installations. A private doesn't live next door to a 1SG. I happened to be at the "lower" enlisted park and thus this woman made an assumption about me and my circumstances which is fine.

One of the first things she asked me concerned my husband's rank. Through the years I've learned that if the person wants to know your husband's rank within the first five minutes of a conversation - they probably aren't what I would consider friend material. I side stepped the issue by saying I don't discuss rank. This must have immediately meant to her that I was ashamed. She said, "Don't worry, once your husband makes E-5, you'll find friends. My husband just made SGT and before that none of the NCO wives would even speak to me. Now that he's a NCO, everyone is nice to me. People just don't associate with lower enlisted, but don't worry it'll get better after he's been in a few years."

I'm sitting there wondering why in the hell I decided to come to the park lol. I thank her for the advice and my daughter and I head off walking towards our house. That night at dinner, I told my husband about it and he got a good laugh - that I only married him for his money lol!

As the universe has a tendency to do - people who try to "one up" you often end up eating their words. Organizational Day was the next weekend. Oh Mandatory Fun - it is always such a great time ;). We load up and go. Imagine the look on Mrs. SGT's face when we are introduced and the poor, pitiful Private's wife she was lecturing days before turns out to be her husband's boss ;). I pretended not to know her. She was embarrassed enough and had to ask three separate times "Have we met somewhere?" Each time I assured her I didn't think so. She knew and I knew - but what is the point of saying "yeah, I'm that Private's wife you lectured at the park, you remember - when you acted like an IDIOT" lol.

A few years later (same installation) I got a call one day from the CO's wife. She had three children, she ran a babysitting service out of her home, she was tired and had another baby on the way - and would I please take over the FRG for her. Without asking my husband his thoughts on the matter lol, I said sure. HUGE, HUGE mistake. I had no idea that the rank wearing thing was such an issue when it came to being a FRG Leader. Most of the women were nice - there were just the "Coffee Group" folks who sent a "representative" to the FRG meetings now one of their "own" was no longer running it. I admit my feelings were hurt. It was the first time in the years we'd been married I'd ever been shunned - or felt shunned. Their feelings were even more hurt than mine when the COL's wife added me to the social roster of the Coffee Group. You see, if you're an enlisted spouse, you aren't invited to the Coffee Group (depending on the installation) unless your husband is a 1SG or the OP SGT. Mine was neither at that time, so he was not "senior" enough for his wife to be included ;).

Now, I am one to stand by my non-rank-wearing convictions. I do not attend coffee groups or ANY social functions that are for the spouses but BASED on the husband's rank. Now if it's a social function for the soldiers where the wives can attend and it's based on rank - I will go. My husband earned his rank and I'll gladly go with him. However, if it's for the spouses and does not include everyone, I want no part of it.

Here at our current installation, my husband has the "right" job and I get the invitation each month in the mail. Each month it goes in the garbage without even opening it. When called and asked if I would attend, I politely explain I do not partake in activities based on rank for the spouses. Thank you for thinking of me, but please take me off the social roster.

Back to the one time I was the FRG Leader (one time - never will do that again lol). The COL's wife was the nicest lady you would ever meet. It's like the enlisted side I guess - the new SGT's wife is more likely to be a huge rank wearer and throw it in the face of anyone she can to make herself feel like someone than a 1SG's wife who has lived a little bit longer ;). The same can often be said (not always) about the new LT's wife or the worst I've encountered are Majors' wives for some reason. Whew - those women did NOT like an enlisted gal being invited to their inner circle ;). I loved the COL's wife so much and I appreciated her thinking enough of me to invite me. However, I emailed her and told her those spouses had certain issues they probably enjoyed discussing with others who can understand. With me there, it could impact their feelings of being able to be themselves and take away from the purpose of the group. Therefore, I wouldn't be attending but I really appreciated her thoughtfulness. Gosh I love that woman. I've yet to meet anyone who knew the purpose of the FRG and MADE the FRG Leaders do their job like she did!! SHE deserved a medal because she truly cared about the families.

The truth is, the coffee group is a farce. A brand new LT's wife can go - but not a Platoon SGT's wife (often a E-7) or a MSG's wife whose husband works on staff - because he doesn't hold the 1SG position. Often these wives have sacrificed a lot, been through a lot and could use the company of older and "seasoned" spouses. Instead, their only means of support is through the FRG - when, depending on the mentality of the Leader, can be just another coffee group where you're good enough to bake something, but not good enough to be invited to be at the company to work the bake sale ;). It's all politics - and outside of Washington, I'm not interested in politics.

The truth is for the Army, officer spouses have the Officer's Spouses Club, the Coffee Group and the FRG. Three great ways to meet friends and become involved. Most enlisted spouses have the Enlisted Spouses Club and the FRG. The one segment of our military lifestyle that needs the MOST opportunities for support and camaraderie (lower enlisted; newcomers who will probably have a family before long) are the ones that are left out. No good can come of that. The ones we should be watching out for most are often the very people who are shunned away in one way or another. They end up feeling bitter and resentful of those who are married to the people that are suppose to be leading the person they love most in the world.

Are we leading as well as our husbands in uniform? Should we be required and/or expected to? And do we self segregate by choice and then call folks "rank wearers" when their own experiences have tarnished their own view of the military lifestyle? I don't have the answers and I won't pretend to. However, I can say that how we treat someone new to this lifestyle will directly impact their view of not only the military - but also their place within the military lifestyle. Those of us who have been around long enough to know better than to act as a Rank Wearer should work hard to build a bridge over the fence that separates us.

We are at war. And regardless of rank, we're all in this together. It's high time we act accordingly.

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