The only thing worse than having your partner’s next job orders suddenly changed without warning, is learning of this when you are apart. Still on deployment, Sam wrote me from a foreign port to tell me that the “verbal orders” he received from his captain to report in January to a new job in Washington state have changed.
A few months ago, Sam had happily announced that he indeed got the location that we had both been rooting for, and an interesting job placement that would have sane hours. We relaxed and began to plan our lives. I now knew that Sam would be relocating from his current base, which is near where I live and work, towards the end of my current job contract; and that I would soon be able to follow him there. We would have a few months after deployment to relax, spend weekends doing normal things like grocery shopping and watching television, and lazily contemplate the kind of place we would like to purchase together. I cannot overemphasize the sense of security and peace this concrete date and location gave me at a time when I never know where my partner is in the world and when I will speak with him next.
Shortly after these reassuring “verbal orders,” Sam’s captain announced that someone else had filled the job that Sam had been given, and that his new job placement would be different—likely the same general area, but a different job and a different start date. A month and a half passed during which we heard nothing. Sam tried to contact the detailer, the guy who makes job placements, who seems to be perpetually away from his desk. We put on hold our definitive plans to move, our plans to take a Christmas vacation, and even our plans to get married, because where we would be and when was totally up in the air.
Alas, today, while I am in a foreign country for work and Sam is on the boat, he writes me an email announcing that his placement will be in the same general metro area, but one month earlier, and in a different, smaller city.
I imagine I should consider myself lucky. Sam still got placed in the same area, and it’s only a month earlier. But in the military, ordinary, humdrum life as a couple becomes as rare and precious as diamonds, and we just lost a month of that time. This change means:
That we will have to start house hunting a month earlier, and almost immediately after Sam and I are reunited after deployment.That we will likely miss our chance to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas together, because this will be precisely the time when Sam will be expected to relocate and begin a new job.
That Sam’s relocation will fall smack in the middle of minor, but significant surgery I have planned, during which I need Sam to be present and a source of emotional and logistical support.
That a visit Sam’s family was planning will now likely need to be postponed as we prepare to move instead.
We all know that service members are not just isolated individuals but parts of relationships, with people who have their own needs and expectations. But popular
culture tends to take for granted that the partners of military service members are fully along for the ride—as does, clearly, the military. Most blogs on the topic of military moves encourage spouses to buck up and deal with the challenges, 1950s-housewife-style smiles on their faces, rather than critiquing the simple things the military could do to make life for military families more humane.
Most critically, I mean accountability to detailers to keep service members and their partners, married or not, duly informed about the plans underway for their next move.
Even if there is no decision yet, we should be able to call someone and receive prompt replies as to when a decision will be made. This is not an unreasonable request. That the military gives service members so little say in moves and ignores families altogether is a significant enough issue that we should not take for granted as necessary, but that is a whole other topic. That the whole decision making process is so vague amounts to manipulation and negligence.
Because there is another, less concrete cost to a change as seemingly minor as learning your fiancé will transfer a month earlier than expected: At moments like this, I
feel as though I am the mistress to a man who is already married to the navy, and as though the navy is a capricious, domineering wife whose word is law. Sam admittedly has little control over what the navy tells him to do, and he tries his damndest to keep me informed as soon as he knows something. But he does have the privilege of being inside the closed hatch of a submarine while he discusses what decisions have and have not been made with his colleagues. In a life when your partner is already so removed from you, having access neither to the people making the placement decisions nor your partner himself feels doubly alienating.