by Suzanne Hughes, LPC
The answer to “Who I am,” took a back seat to serve our country...
Hello, I’m Suzanne! A licensed professional counselor, mother and military spouse. It may sound crass to say I took a back seat to “serve” my country but let me explain a little. I met and married my husband in the late ‘90s. At that time, we were young and had it all planned out. We knew what we wanted to do and where we were going on our Road Trip of Life. We could work and help people, while doing what we loved, somewhere we loved. Neither of us came from the best family situations and had experiences that were less than ideal, so helping others was important to both of us. He was going to be a high school teacher and I was going to be a youth counselor. I had graduated and was already working as a professional in a group home working with high-risk youth (whatever that means...). He was enrolled in the ROTC program and scheduled to graduate in 2002. While going to college, he was in the National Guard to serve his country (see, helping people) and to pay for his education. Win Win! He was committed to serving only 3 years and then he was free to become that teacher. Right? Nope... 9/11 happened that fateful day in 2001. At that moment, our lives and the lives of an entire nation would change forever. He was a career solider, and I was a military spouse.
Now, my husband is coming up on 25 years in the military. For me, that’s 22 years of being a military spouse. In the beginning, I thought it was just about waving a flag at the proper times and learning to love across the times apart. Wrong... It is so much more! The entire family serves. Don’t worry, I'm the first to say, it’s him that really serves. He is the one who has endured difficult conditions, witnessed horrible atrocities, and lives with Post Traumatic Stress daily. Remember, I’m in the backseat... raising my family much on my own, constantly having to adapt to new environments, and knowing very little of what he truly has experienced, all while I wave my flag.
It has been a roller coaster of positives and negatives. I'll list the negatives first to end on a positive note (remember, I am a counselor). Less than fun experiences that service members endure: deployments where one partner is a single parent, other careers are put on hold as licenses that don’t transfer or take too long to reinstate, moving every 2 years (or less) and finding friends and resources in that short time, enduring social / individual ridicule and doubt for not being all you can be, and the family separation with constant fear that they might not come back the same or at all. Oh my... “why would anyone do it” is what many civilians will ask. Well... There are many positives, a few are: Traveling is amazing. Seeing new things and meeting new people all over the globe without using your money, having a huge network of friends and family all around and ever expanding, an appreciation of new and different cultures with a deeper appreciation of where you came from, a great pension and insurance after 20 years (duh), and of course the biggest reason is LOVE OF COUNTRY! I still choke up every time the National Anthem is played...
Along with the great challenges, there is pride in service and a constant raw state of revolving emotions... Good and Bad. Great excitement and joy with the anticipation of new exciting challenges and opportunities, along with the huge feelings of loneliness, grief, and fear of the unknown. All that being said, I do truly believe it has made my husband a very strong man and me a very versatile woman. We are both here to help others through our experiences of life. So, yes, my career and who I thought I was supposed to be took a back seat (and there are no backseat drivers in the military). After 20 years, I don’t have a ton of lengthy paid experience or lots of professional certificates on my office wall. I went from a clinical director of a large county children’s facility to a “volunteer of the year” military spouse/mom. Military Spouse isn’t all I am, but it’s a part that has taught me humility and acceptance of my experiences. I have stayed in the backseat waiting and preparing for the rest of the race, to assist others to help themselves. I’m climbing to the front seat again, so “How can I help you on your journey?”