[Editor’s Note: It’s almost Memorial Day, and of course after all that (endless!) rain we are very excited for the unofficial start of summer. But we also want to mark the real reason for the upcoming three-day weekend, honoring those who have served, by hearing the point of view of a military spouse, the person who holds the family together so their loved one can serve our country. Fitness on the Run client Kathie Chmura is a PE teacher in Fairfax County and her strength – and we don’t mean just physical! – is inspirational.]
2016 will be a bittersweet year for the Chmura family. My husband Tim will retire from the Army later this year with more than 36 years of active duty and four years of reserve duty. I’ve been a military spouse for more than 31 years and it has been both a wonderful and sometimes anxiety-filled ride. We started our military journey together in 1985 in Colorado Springs. Tim was a private, I was eight months pregnant, and we were broke.
Tim’s salary barely covered our expenses — a once a month trip to Pizza Hut was a luxury. The attitude toward the military was different then, too. The community didn’t support the troops and a few friends quietly told me you may not want to mention your husband is in the Army. I’m glad times and attitudes have changed.
Tim rose through the enlisted ranks quickly, and in 1986 he attended OCS (Officer Candidate School). Tim was one of the oldest soldiers at OCS and despite an injured knee and a 20-pound weight loss, he became an Army officer in 1987. That meant a big pay raise for our family and a four-year tour in Hawaii. This is where I started my military education. This was the first time I belonged to a Family Support Group, which are now called Family Readiness Groups (FRG).
Support is the key to surviving and thriving in military life. You are hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away from family and longtime friends, so your military friends become your second family. We were 10 years older than most of our friends, so they became aunts and uncles to our son Brian. He is still referred to as “Little Brian” even though he is 31 and taller than most of his “uncles.”
Resilient is a word that describes military spouses and children. They spend a large portion of their life without their spouse or mom or dad, but they keep on going. My son was in a different school from grades K-3, but he learned to make friends — and I think it made him a stronger person.
Moving is difficult, especially when kids start to get older. We made a decision not to move to Germany because we wanted our son to graduate high school in the United States. Tim and I would have loved to spend time in Germany, but we moved to Colorado Springs and we felt Brian came full circle. He was born in the Springs and graduated from Cheyenne Mountain.
He shocked us when he said he wanted to attend West Point.
Brian got accepted to West Point and played football for the Academy. My husband was deployed to Iraq Brian’s senior year and was only able to come home one time during his deployment. My son wanted him to attend his last football game, the Army-Navy game and even though Navy won, having Tim home and watching his son play his final game was priceless.
Brian was in the military for six years and it is much more difficult having a child in the military. Brian was stationed at Ft. Hood when there was a mass shooting at the deployment area. Brian was scheduled to deploy — when I couldn’t get a hold of him I was terrified. My heart was filled with joy when I heard his voice six hours later, but then my heart broke for all the parents who didn’t hear their child’s voice on the phone that day.
The one piece of advice I would anyone who is a military spouse is to find a support system. It could be with other military spouses, book clubs, knitting circles. I found mine in fitness. Working out helped me through deployments and my husband’s multiple surgeries. I’m proud to be married to a man who has devoted his entire adult life to serving his country, and I’m so glad I got to go along on this wonderful ride.