My nephew recently enlisted in the Army. I’m proud of him and I hope that he and his wife learn to love this Army life as much as I do. I especially hope that for her (my niece-in-law?) because if you don’t love it, you’re going to be miserable for a long, long time. In the beginning it’s easy to get frustrated and hate the Army life. There is no manual that tells you all the little things you need to understand to navigate the big and often unwieldy military system. Your husband and most everyone you encounter is going in acronyms. You’ll have loads of questions and very few people who know the answers. It’s enough to make you want to pack a bag and head back home. I know, I was there once.
I learned a lot of lessons the hard way or by watching other people’s mistakes. I figured I couldn’t be the only one, so I asked a few friends and we came up with a list (by no means an exhaustive list!) of things every Army wife needs to know.
1. Learn to navigate the healthcare system. If you have questions call Tricare and ask, they’ll explain everything to you. Also, if you can’t get in to your doctor for a sick visit don’t just go to the ER, call Tricare and ask for a referral to a walk-in clinic.
2. Learn to read rank. You might hear people say that rank doesn’t matter and that’s true – you should be nice regardless of rank. But it’s important that you know who you’re talking to.
3. Be generous. Every move is hard. You have to make new friends, change jobs, enroll the kids in school, redecorate, it’s never going to be easy. But your soldier is going through the same kind of hardships with his new job, chain of command, new responsibilities. Complaining or being angry is only going to make you both miserable. Your soldier has an important job that requires an incredible amount of trust between co-workers. Let him focus on his new job and try to be understanding of his stress too. Be there for each other. Communicate. Encourage one another. You will get through the transition. And you will be stronger for it.
4. Tip the baggers at the commissary. They work only for tips so always have a dollar or two ready to hand them after they deliver the bags to your car. I tip $1 for every $100 I spend, but it’s up to you. Don’t let them bag your groceries and take them to your car if you’re not going to tip them.
5. Be nice to the commissary and PX workers. Don’t complain when they ask for your ID, they’re just doing their job. Remember, they’re often the family member of a soldier, so you could run into them in social situations.
6. Don’t lose your ID. Seriously, keep track of that thing.
7. ACU’s can be washed in regular detergent. I’ve heard that they need to be washed in Woolite, by hand, special soaps, no fabric softner…the list goes on. I wash them with all the other clothes and they’ve always been fine.
8. Don’t complain to your husbands boss. Even if they say you can come to them with your problems, they don’t mean it. If you have an issue, your husband needs to take it up the chain of command – not you.
9. You are expected to volunteer and help with fundraisers. They say it’s not mandatory, but it is. Unless you have a good excuse for not helping, get used to being “volun-told” to do things. Consider it a way to meet new people and make friends
10. No PDA while your husband is in uniform.
11. Some people are going to hate you because of your husband, either for something he did or simply because of his rank. Don’t let them get to you.
12. The Army is a 24-hour-a-day, 365 day-a-year job. Just accept it. His phone is going to ring at 4 AM. He’s going to miss dinners and movies and soccer games even when he is not deployed. That’s the job.
13. Take advantage of programs and classes offered by the Army and attend Army functions. This is how you will make friends and understand what is going on. If you don’t get involved, you can’t complain about being clueless and alone when your husband is gone, and he will be gone a lot.
14. Build relationships with other wives. Go to the Family Readiness Group meetings, some guys don’t want their wives to get involved, don’t let him stop you. You need information and you deserve to build a support system outside of him.
15. RSVP. Whenever you are invited to something, RSVP promptly. Not doing so reflects poorly on you and your husband. People might say that how wives behave doesn’t make a difference, but it does. You are a direct reflection on your husband and can negatively or positively impact his career.
16. Use the on-post gym. I was scared to go to the gym at first because I thought it would be all soldiers. It’s not, especially during non-PT hours. Use it, it’s free!
17. Watch your pay. The Army messes up pay regularly. If you notice you are being underpaid, have your soldier check into it. If you are being overpaid, have him report it. And if you have been overpaid, set that extra money aside in a separate account. They’ll figure it out eventually and want it back – I promise you’re not going to pull one over on the Army.
18. Don’t let the movers unpack for you. They’ll make a mess and be grumpy about it. They’re required to put your furniture back together, let them do that but unpack the boxes yourself.
19. Clean your house before the packers come. If not they’ll pack a bag of trash, dirty laundry, whatever they find. Plus it’s gross to make them take the dirty sheets off your bed. Ick. Also, have drinks available for the movers and be nice to them. I tip the movers (on both ends of the trip) and the packers, but not everyone does.
20. Know where your soldier works. You’d be surprised how many wives say, “in the Army” when they’re in a group of other Army wives. We want to know what battalion and company. Ask your husband what you should say, he’ll know the right answer.
This is a small sampling of the acronyms you need to know on Day One of being an Army wife. There are lots and lots more, you’ll pick them up as you go along. If you don’t know what an acronym stands for don’t be afraid to ask. Seriously, we’ve all been there!
LES - Leave Earnings Statement, his paycheck stub.
PCS - Permanent Change of Station, it means you’re moving again. Army people will say, “we’re PCS’ing at the end of the month.”
MOS - Military Occupational Speciality, his job title. It’s two numbers and a letter like, “98 Charlie, signals analyst.”
POV - Personally Owned Vehicle, your car.
DOD - Department of Defense
FRG – Family Readiness Group, your best line to get information and to meet the families of the other soldiers who work with your husband.
BDE - Brigade
EFMP - Exceptional Family Member Program, the program for families with special needs.
ACU - Army Combat Uniform, the current uniforms.
MRE - Meals Ready To Eat, the food the guys eat out in the field. They’re not that bad.
PT - Physical Training, also “PTs” meaning is PT uniform.
ETS - Expiration of Term of Service, getting out of the Army.
TDY - Temporary Duty, this is when your husband has to travel for work but is not deployed and you can’t go with him.
DEERS - Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, this is where all your information is stored. When you get married, have a baby, get divorced, change addresses, or anything along those lines you have to report it to DEERS.
AAFES - Army Air Force Exchange Services, also the PX/BX/NEX/MCXS (Post/Base/Naval/Marine Corps Exchange). It’s the department store on post.
ABN - Airborne, the guys who jump out of airplanes.
BAH - Basic Allowance for Housing, the money you get to pay for your housing. If you live on-post the Army keeps it. If you live off, you get it. It’s important to know your BAH before renting a house, stay within the BAH.
DFAC - Dining Facility, the cafeteria on post.
KIA - Killed In Action
OPSEC - Operational Security, mind OPSEC. Be careful about what you say and whom you say it to, especially when it comes to social media. Yours and other soldiers safety depends on it.
So that’s it, you’ll be totally set as a new Army wife now. I’m kidding, of course. There is tons more stuff you need to know, but this is all I could think of right now. Don’t let that scare you, you’re going to be fine. When it doubt, ask questions. Seriously, there are no stupid questions only stupid people.
If any of my Army sisters have anything to add, please do so in the comments!!