The majority undertake them as routine order of business as military couples and families, yet few among us address the more daunting details attached to these domestic maneuvers which can take on nightmarish proportions at the mere drop of a garrison cap.
Giving up close friends, a familiar way of life. Propelling ourselves toward the unknown and an uncertain future in locations literally spanning the globe.
We do our best to try to leap these hurdles only to find ourselves confronting new ones once we arrive.
For instance, choosing a place to live, learning our way around and striving somehow to mesh our lives with strangers in a strange new land.
Tackling the stress-producing gargantuan tasks involved with moves for military families might as well be a secret rite of passage that we civilians who marry into the military must somehow face and meet the challenges of completely on our own.
At least, that’s how it seemed when my children from a previous marriage and I moved from the Midwest to join the fleet in Norfolk.
Hard? Sure. Scary? Beyond belief.
What many express in the way of fear and dread as new military spouses trying to adapt to the military way of life, I grappled with myself for a good three months prior to that first move all those years ago.
I don’t think I slept a wink or ate for days at a time, especially once we were T minus Ten and counting. In the pit of my stomach grew that horrible seed of despair: I don’t know how to do this!
And yet, I tried my best to put one foot in front of the other. As a family, we were determined to make this move as easy and uneventful as possible.
I phoned long distance as many realtors in the Norfolk area I possibly could – only to be told flatly over the phone, “Renting? Sorry, we have nothing for you.” I also tried getting in touch with the ombudsman at my husband’s next command.
Weeks earlier, I had received a typo-ridden, badly mimeographed welcome letter from her, encouraging requests for assistance in her closing statement: “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.”
I might as well have been leaving messages for someone on another planet. Not a single phone message I left was ever returned.
I also tried contacting every military person I knew, simply to get some advice.
“You’re moving to Norfolk? Get prepared,” they chuckled. “No matter how well you plan your DITY move, something is bound to go wrong. Count on it.”
“People move all the time,” I argued. “How can anything go wrong? We get our stuff packed, we get in the U-Haul and we go.”
Oh, how I lived to regret those words.
We started our exodus East on Halloween morning of that year during what turned out to be the worst blizzard to strike the upper Midwest in 33 years. It wasn’t long before a state of emergency was declared closing all major freeways and thoroughfares from Minnesota to Pennsylvania.
We found ourselves marooned with countless others from across the country for five long, excruciatingly-expensive days at a luxury hotel along our route, running up a horrifying $900 bill for lodging in the process. A bill we just plain couldn’t afford on our Petty Officer budget.
After pleading with everyone we could possibly get our hands on to help bail us out of that exotic prison, at long last, we were finally on our way to Norfolk. Only to suffer one expensive automotive breakdown after the other nearly every stretch of the way.
When we finally crossed the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel welcoming us into Norfolk, broke, exhausted, having spent three days living on nothing but bread, a jar of peanut butter, two bags of pretzels and a few liters of Coke, I was ready to leap from the car and literally kiss the asphalt.
We had arrived!
It didn’t matter where we lived or how small the apartment. It didn’t matter how much drizzle fell or how hard the wind blew. It didn’t matter how standoffish our neighbors seemed or how curt the employees at the bank and the clinic were. All that mattered is that somehow, miraculously…we had survived our own exodus from There to Here!
So how do military couples and families successfully cope with military moves today?
• First and foremost, by remembering that all military spouses face the same challenge at some point in their marriages. In other words, there is comfort and unity in numbers.
• By reminding themselves that everybody around you moved from somewhere. That empathy carries over to newcomers.
• Reading all of the local papers looking for events that you can take part in and potentially meet new people to develop relationships with.
• You’ve got email – stay in touch with everybody back home. They can be strong sources of comfort and inspiration as you forge a path in your new community.
• Make it a priority to meet your new neighbors. They are. after all, there for you during an emergency. If you are shy, sit on your porch and just say “Hi” to your neighbors as they walk by. Before long, you and the neighbors will be on a chatty and comfortable first-name basis.
Let’s face it, we’ll always miss the friends and family members we leave behind. But they never leave us. They are always as close as our thoughts. The move to a new community where our service members are stationed only makes it possible for us to bring a few more precious people into our lives to love.
And by successfully surviving that move? We will be that much stronger as military families in the long run.