Military Spouses Live Life of Rewards in Service to U.S.
May 6, 2009
- You have to be a team. You have to both be committed to this.
- I have young wives tell me 'I didn't sign up for this.' But they did.
- You know what they say - 'Recruit a Soldier, enlist a family.'
- It's not about where you live, but who you live with. No matter what, a marriage has to be about each other.
When military spouses are recognized at special Army or community events, Alice Myles is proud to be counted among them.
Her 31 years as a military spouse have brought challenges, opportunities, plenty of changes and always a sense of pride that she and her husband, Redstone Arsenal commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, have committed their lives to service to their nation, and to the Soldiers and families that make the Army strong.
As the Army prepares to pay tribute to military spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day this Friday, Myles is an example to all wives and husbands of Soldiers of the supportive, steadfastness, patriotic and independent nature of a military spouse.
"You have to be a team. You have to both be committed to this," Myles said of her husband's Army career. "If you are not both committed to it, then it can be extremely difficult. You have to be committed together.
"I have young wives tell me 'I didn't sign up for this.' But they did. I am a much better person - stronger and more independent - because of this commitment. The Army stretches you to do things that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable at times. The Army forces you into leadership roles and into staying engaged. And because of that in so many ways I am a much better person."
Myles and her husband were high school sweethearts. They married 35 years ago, attended college at Middle Tennessee State University and went on to fulfill her husband's ROTC commitment to the Army.
At the time of college graduation, neither husband nor wife realized his initial Army commitment would extend well beyond a few years.
"We thought it would be a short thing then," Myles said. "It was not his intent to make it a lifelong career. But as it played out it was meant to be. Jim fell in love with Army aviation. He fell in love with being a Soldier and leading Soldiers. I felt the same way. You know what they say - 'Recruit a Soldier, enlist a family.'"
Their plan from the get-go was for Jim Myles to remain a Soldier "as long as it was fun," she said. And, as the couple went from assignment to assignment, there was always a new challenge that kept Jim Myles happy to wear the uniform.
"It didn't matter. Whatever he wanted to do, I was there with him. We went with the flow of it all. We've been very blessed," Myles said.
But the years as a military spouse did lead to changes in the way Myles viewed her life, her family and herself. Through 21 moves, countless assignments and deployment separations, and sacrifices to the mission, Myles said the key to the success of her marriage and her role as a military spouse has been keeping the focus on the healthy relationship that she shares with her husband.
"It's not about where you live, but who you live with. No matter what, a marriage has to be about each other. The focus has to be on the couple. Everything comes from that," she said.
"Military spouses serve with their Soldier. Spouses have to be in the same state of mind as their Soldier. You serve together. It's not just about the Soldier, even though he wears the uniform."
There has never been a time during their service when Myles has regretted her husband's commitment to the Army and the nation. Yet, there have been plenty of trying times, times when Myles had to dig down deep for the fortitude to live the life of an Army spouse.
One time, when Jim Myles was deployed for 13 months, his wife was particularly challenged with the circumstances.
"Our son (Jim, now 32 and living with his wife and their two children in Georgia) was 9 or 10 at the time. His dad being gone left a big gaping hole in his life. And then his dog passed away," Myles recalled. "It was the same kind of challenge that all military families face. Your Soldier's gone, and things happen and you have to deal with it."
Another time, when the family was stationed in Panama and Jim Myles deployed to Guyana, Myles spent many days and nights worried about her husband.
"He was told 'Pack your bags and you're out of here.' I didn't know where he was going. There was no contact," Myles recalled. "I didn't know if he was safe. There were several deployments like that."
Through many moves, Myles, who is basically a shy person, has learned how to jump in and become part of the community wherever she happens to be living.
"Life in the Army has been a tremendous opportunity," she said. "I call myself a community volunteer. Wherever we go, I jump into the community and do what I can. Wherever we are, that's our community."
Myles has seen the Army change in its attitude toward military spouses and military families. Today, there is more communication with spouses, and more attention given to spouse and family needs. There are more Army programs aimed at providing spouses with support and resources. The Army Family Action Program has implemented hundreds of changes that have benefited spouses and families. The Internet, web cams and instant messaging all make it easier for spouses when their Soldier is deployed.
The Army has learned what every spouse knows - as long as they feel connected to their Soldier's unit and they know their Soldier is safe and OK, then they can more easily handle the demands of managing a household and a family on their own.
"It is better than it used to be. But being separated is never easy," Myles said.
"If you feel connected to the unit and there is communication, that makes it better. If you know your Soldier is OK, then you can go about the business of taking care of life."
She has also seen Americans show a deeper appreciation for servicemembers and their families. But even though the Army and Americans are better at supporting and appreciating spouses and families, Myles is concerned about the loss of Soldiers who leave the Army because of deployments that take them away from home too often and too long.
"We're losing a lot of middle leadership level Soldiers because of the deployments," Myles said. "There is a tremendous strain on families who have to endure multiple deployments. It's hard on families who have a sense that they've done their time and they want their Soldier at home."
And yet, Myles feels any struggles are offset by the benefits of being a military spouse.
"Every generation has its challenges. It's not an easy life," she said. "But it's always been interesting. It's never been boring. My husband and I are in this together. There's a sense of commitment to something bigger than ourselves. Like other military families, we are not in this for anything but service to others. It's a life of sacrifice."