Last week I met a young woman who is currently dating a Fort Hood soldier. After talking with her briefly, I had flashbacks of myself from over two decades ago. As I drove home, though, I wondered what advice I would give my girlfriend-self, before marrying my soldier husband.

Bits of advice came quickly to mind.

Get a life. My husband would often not be home, therefore I could not build my life completely around him. I needed a life of my own, hobbies and friends of my own. Over the years I’ve kept busy with cooking, gardening, reading and photography. I enjoy spending time with my husband, but have plenty to do when he’s not around, too.

Participate: Getting involved with unit functions and spouse organizations has allowed me to network with other spouses, and build friendships that have lasted throughout the years.

If I hadn’t participated, I wouldn’t have met these other great spouses.

I’m bothered by people who claim, “That’s my soldier’s job, not mine.” I’m not a football player or coach, but I still bring my son to practices, attend his games, learn the football language and rules, talk with other football parents and even talk with the coaches. I support my son, his sports and academic life. Why wouldn’t I support my soldier and his military lifestyle?

Ride the roller coaster: Be flexible and prepared for what military life has to offer.

Some years may be tough, and hopefully others will be fun and full of adventure. Expect even the best laid plans to change whether you want them to or not.

Keep paperwork organized: Papers and records will be lost when you travel. At some point the movers will ship a box (or crate) of your household goods to someone else’s duty station.

With paper or digital copies of your records in hand, you will transition through the bumps and hurdles that come your way.

When organized, you will more easily transition children into school, find your power of attorney at tax time, or register your autos when your soldier isn’t around to do it for you.

Loose lips sink ships, and friendships, too: We all have to blow off steam from time to time.

This happens with everyone, whether they are in a military or civilian setting. When we live on or near a military post, though, we often work together, live together, bring our children to the same schools and shop at the same stores. When someone talks in a setting like that, words can travel quickly and be easily misunderstood.

Choose your friends with whom you speak, and what you say to them, very carefully.

Be openminded: Your Army life will expose you to people from all walks of life. Embrace that diversity and grow from it. Step out of your comfort zone and talk with people you might not have otherwise met. Respect that people are different and don’t need to fit in someone’s perfect mold of expectations.

Find balance: With constant moves, job and home changes, military life can be hectic and chaotic. Find a way to balance your life with calm moments, too. Pick some traditions to keep no matter where you live, or what your soldier’s job is at the moment.

Your time with the Army will eventually end. This could happen months or years from now, but you will someday be living back in the civilian world. The adjustment as you leave the Army life might take a while. Have a plan and a network to help you through this time.

I didn’t give any of this advice when talking with the young woman who’s dating her Fort Hood soldier. She didn’t need or want to hear any of it right now. It was nice, though, seeing her excitement as she talked a little about her soldier and getting to know him better. I needed to be reminded of that excitement, of when the Army life was still new to me.

Even though we only spoke a short time, meeting this woman reminded me of myself when I was younger. It also brought back many good memories, and lessons that I’ve learned over the past couple decades. I hope if the young woman I met ever becomes a military spouse that she will find some good people and experiences to cherish through the years.

This military life isn’t always easy, but I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met, the lessons learned, and the adventures yet ahead.

Karin Markert is an Army spouse and Herald correspondent who lives at Fort Hood.

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