Confessions of a Retread Wife

by : Barbara Eastom Bates

My name is Barbara and I am a proud Marine Corps wife. I am the granddaughter of a Korean War Veteran and the daughter of a military brat. Long before meeting my Marine Corps husband I had gypsy feet from my childhood spent with a father who, after growing up in the Navy, could never remain in one place too long. I coveted the stories of my father’s youth, growing up on military bases and seeing the world.

Perhaps then it was no surprise to anyone when some years later, I was again charmed by the stories of adventure and ideals of patriotism another man in uniform brought into my life. But despite my initial fascination with the military, when a marriage license and a Budget Truck found me halfway across the country as a new bride of Uncle Sam, I was less than charmed. Oh, my husband still looked just as handsome in his high and tight and Dress Blues, and I was still feeling blissful about being a newlywed, however it did not take long until I decided the Marine Corps and I were just not going to get along.

It was the little things at first. Having grown up in the country on acres of land, it was a surprise to me that families in base housing were herded together in duplexes, triplexes and worse. You could hear the neighbor’s television set and their toilet flush! I also soon found my identity was not really Barbara anymore, but the dependent of LCpl Bates. So, dutifully as all military wives do, I memorized my husband’s social security number and carried my identification card religiously.

I thought surely my husband was joking when he first explained he would have to routinely stand 24-hour duties away from home. “All night long?!" I asked incredulously. And as if all that were not enough, then came deployments. About a year and a half into our marriage, my husband and I became the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy. A boy, I thought, who needed two parents around to raise him. The Marine Corps however, assured me I could do just fine on my own by sending my husband off on deployments. “Not fair!" I protested. “Can’t they see I need him here?" But the Marine Corps needed him more, and off he went.

So it went for almost four years of my life: duty, deployments and the inevitable sick child and mechanical malfunctions that always accompanied them. When my husband’s end of active service date approached and talks turned toward the idea of reenlistment, I did not give it a second thought. The Marine Corps was no place to raise a family. It was time to go home.

So, once again, we loaded up our (this time much larger) Budget Truck and headed back to Civilian Town, USA. But, after pulling off the interstate exit to our hometown, instead of the exuberance expected, my husband and I both felt strangely empty.

In the days and weeks that would follow, I reasoned with myself we had simply been so excited about our move back home that the reality of it was destined to pale in comparison.

We rented a house in the country with a big yard and no neighbors nearby. Instead of enjoying the newfound peace and quiet, I woke up in the mornings missing the sound of the children whose delighted screams always echoed from the playground behind our base housing duplex. I missed the comforting sounds of another family living next door, who could always be counted on to lend a cup of milk or good cheer. Shopping trips were no longer to the commissary or the exchange, and the checkout girl at the local Food Lion did not care a thing about seeing my identification card.

My husband and I went to work in civilian jobs and tried to get on with life, but no matter what we did, something just did not feel right. We constantly talked about all our friends and past adventures, and how all the men in our hometown needed haircuts. It did not take long to realize that, although we had taken ourselves out of the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps was not easily going to be taken out of us.

In becoming civilians again, we finally understood what it meant to be military. What we had thought of as only a job ran much deeper. It had become our life. The endless deployments and duty assignments, the nights spent apart, the well worn and unpapered walls of base housing, these were our calling.

As a young military family, we had seen these things as sacrifices to be made. But they were not sacrifices. As a civilian family, we went to work each day wondering if the jobs we were devoting so much of our time to even mattered in the grand scheme of things. In the Marine Corps, we knew we were a part of something that mattered not only to us, but also to the entire world. Instead of a sacrifice, it was an honor to know we set the standard for others by living the core values set forth by our republic long ago in its infancy: honesty, courage, respect, loyalty, dependability and a sense of devotion to God, community and family. As members of the military family, we made a difference; the lives touched by our own, immeasurable. Civilian life just could not compare to that. With a new understanding and sense of humility for our place in life, my husband and I finally knew for certain where we belonged. Shortly thereafter, he reenlisted and we found our way home to the Corps, back to deployments and duty and the utmost sense of pride we had ever found.

Though our time as civilians was short, the lessons it taught were unforgettable. We do not live the military life; it lives in us. It grows in the heart day by day as we share our lives together as military families. It happens as we shop at the commissaries and exchanges, and iron uniforms, sew patches and shine boots. It is a shared sense of pride that bonds us together as family, a family where each and every service member is one of our own, and all of us matter.

As for me, I took the long way around, but I can now say without a doubt, I am a Marine Corps wife, and I am proud. Now would someone please tell my neighbors to turn down their television set?