One of the first military spouse coffees I attended included a class that started with, “I know things are changing in the Army, but not here in the 82nd Airborne.”
We were advised on how to keep up traditions, customs and courtesies. I learned that skirts and dresses were preferred over ladies wearing pants to functions.
One “seasoned spouse” suggested we should carry gloves to receiving lines, so we could put them on if we saw that the Guest of Honor was wearing her gloves. Oh, how we would impress that spouse with our savvy and style.
Eventually the leading lady of our unit moved on to a new posting. Finally the day arrived for the incoming spouse’s welcome event. We were all wearing skirts and dresses, not a pair of two-legged pants in sight. The table was set with the dishes in the correct places. The list of those who would pour the coffee and tea was set, as it was an honor to pour coffee for the other ladies. And then the word came that the new commander’s spouse was approaching the house.
We quickly stood in our positions, according to our soldiers’ ranks. That meant I was in the very far back of the house, with the other young spouses.
From the back, we started to catch whispers about the approaching spouse. “Oh, my goodness, she’s wearing an untucked T-shirt!” ... “And jeans? Is she wearing jeans?” ... “Her hair is a mess.” ... “And what does her T-shirt say? Can you read it? ‘My next husband will be normal.’”
By the time she approached the door, most of us were in a state of shock.
Once she finally arrived, we welcomed her to our group warmly. I’m not sure what she thought of us, all gussied up and standing around so prim and proper. I was certainly confused. It felt as if we had switched from one extreme to another on the scale of “How to Be a Military Spouse.”
It took me years to realize that I fell somewhere safely in the middle of the examples that these two wives set. I’ve since grown very comfortable with spouses coming from all walks of life, not fitting into a mold set by other folks’ expectations.
But one truth has remained constant, tradition will always be important in the life of a military spouse.
Several months ago, I sat in on a presentation given by Lynda MacFarland, spouse of the Fort Hood and III Corps commanding officer. Her presentation was about Army tradition, and why it still matters in the 21st century. As I sat listening from the back of the room, one point that she made rang out very clearly to me. These traditions have a purpose, a meaning, and are not just boxes to check as we go through the motions of events and festivities.
While the first commander’s spouse I ever knew was a polar opposite of the second one, we still came together and welcomed her with good food, open arms and a special little gift. We attended changes of command together, and watched our soldiers all compete against one another in Red Devil Week games. We still sent out invites to coffees, attended unit organization days and participated in fundraisers with spouses from our unit.
It bothers me that some spouses don’t feel the need to participate in these wonderful Army traditions. I’ve heard more than a few say, “I’m not in the Army, so I don’t have to DO any of that stuff.”
Well, I’m not serving in the military, either. Yet I still I very much support my soldier and am thankful for the special traditions that have bonded us with so many other military personnel and families.
People have changed somewhat over the years, but I’m still very proud of and participate in our Army customs and traditions.
I feel sad that someday my husband will retire and we won’t be as immersed in our adventurous, although sometimes stressful, Army lives.
As I’m typing this, the 5 p.m. bugle call is playing over the Fort Hood speaker system. I will miss those bugle calls. I will miss stopping the car at 5 p.m., opening the door to stand outside and put my hand over my heart as the post flag is lowered.
I will remember these traditions and more quite fondly, and hope others will continue them for many more years in the future, too.
Karin Markert is an Army spouse and Herald correspondent who lives at Fort Hood.