By Elizabeth M. LorgeAugust 16, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 17, 2007) - They have one of the toughest jobs in the military and they do it without pay, without leave and often without thanks.
Military spouses give up careers, friends and stability to follow their servicemembers through multiple cross-country and international moves and hold down the fort during long deployments. Some sacrifice their dreams; others discover the world is at their feet.
Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer, both Army wives of more than twenty years, are helping spouses find fulfillment and happiness with their book, "Help! I'm a Military Spouse - I Get a Life Too! How to Craft a Life for You as You Move with the Military."
The book is based on the "Follow Your Dreams While You Follow the Military" workshop the authors have offered to Army-wide spouses for the last 13 years. The pair offer advice, resources and exercises to help readers make and keep friends, strengthen marriages and follow their dreams. Their suggestions are based on research and feedback from other military wives.
A retired Army Reserve officer who left active duty when she married, Ms. Hightower said this is the book she and Ms. Scherer wish they'd had when they became Army wives - lonely, unhappy and struggling to follow their careers.
"We want to save other spouses from wasting ten years like we each did, or even one year. Sure it's hard, but there are ways to make it work. And there are some pretty wonderful things about this lifestyle when we open our eyes to them," they write.
Above all, they say, the key to a successful, happy life with the military is for spouses to make time for themselves to enjoy friends, relax, work on a hobby, volunteer or pursue a dream.
"When you have something for yourself," said one of the women they quoted, "those times alone won't seem so lonely."
The authors urge military spouses to find new, creative ways to pursue their careers, wherever military life leads. While the path may take them to new locations far from Family and friends, military travel and other advantages can actually improve resumes and self-confidence, they said.
Ms. Hightower had almost gave up on her public-speaking career after transferring to Germany with her husband, for example. Instead, she offered seminars to military spouses all over Europe and marketed herself as an international speaker.
The authors suggest a number of exercises to help military spouses keep their dreams in sight. A visual treasure map filled with pictures relating to goals can inspire them. And an accomplishment list full of successes, congratulatory notes and awards will remind spouses of all the wonderful things they've already achieved.
"One of our favorite things when doing a seminar," said Ms. Scherer, "is to ask a volunteer to share an impossible dream and share their ideas of what they can do here and now, then ask other participants for ways she can move forward. It opens her eyes to the possibilities."
One example they offer is a woman who couldn't find secretarial work but dreamed of opening a bakery. She took a job in a sandwich shop to learn about small businesses. Another woman who dreamed of law school volunteered at the Judge Advocate General's office and took distance learning classes.
"As a new military spouse, I had been struggling with an almost hopeless feeling when it came to pursuing my dreams," said Army Wife Nikki Thomas from Fort Rucker, Ala. "Southern Alabama is not the place an aspiring actress wants to be stuck! However, after reading the book I realized that there are so many ways to pursue my goals - no matter where the Army sent us! With my renewed drive and new insight, I was able to do some networking and get myself into a New York acting class, as well as land a principal role in a local movie."
While praising the strength and independence of military spouses in dealing with moves, deployments, home disasters and raising children alone, Ms. Hightower and Ms. Scherer caution them against trying to live up to anyone else's expectations or doing too much alone.
They emphasize the importance of supportive friends and Family in everything from surviving a deployment and childcare to brainstorming ideas of how to work towards a dream.
And the myth of the perfect military wife who has her boxes unpacked, curtains up and entertains and volunteers two weeks after a move' It's just that - a myth no spouse should feel compelled to achieve, they said.
"We all have boxes we've never unpacked," said Ms. Hightower.
For more information about the "Follow Your Dreams" workshop and the book, go to www.militaryspousehelp.com.