No matter how long you have been in, the military lifestyle can be fun, exciting and adventurous, as well as difficult, challenging and even scary at times. Some things get easier over time, and some things are always tough; deployments are never on the top of anyone’s “must experience” list.

Stars and Stripes Europe reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about various topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from spouses from six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been spouses from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). Over the next eight months, we will share with you the results of this survey, focusing on topics about kids, pets, volunteering, going to school, spouse employment, perks and joys of military life, fears and issues of military life and life outside of the military.

This month we are talking about the perks and issues of military life. Being in a military family can come with benefits like healthcare, educational assistance and stable income. It can also come with issues such as long separations, constant moving and ridiculous waitlists for on-base housing.


Last year the top benefit was moving and travel opportunities, but this year stable pay and benefits edged out the competition for “best perk” with Tricare and travel opportunities not trailing too far behind. A common thread by those who responded with this as the “best perk” was navigating a pandemic and post-pandemic world. Air Force spouse Amanda B. stated, “I always knew one of the biggest benefits of military life was always having a job and a stable income and health insurance. I never realized just how important that was until COVID hit and I saw so many people being let go from their jobs or just not being able to work and their pay and benefits were affected.” Navy spouse Alexandra S. changed her mind about the stability of military life after the pandemic: “The COVID-19 pandemic gave me a different perspective on the stability that the military life provides our family. We didn't have to worry about losing all of our income since my husband's job in the Navy was secure.” Tricare and health benefits and travel opportunities fared were popular amongst spouses as well. Army spouse Sara P. noted that “My family has an array of health matters that require medical assistance and documentation. Tricare has made those things much easier to afford than civilian insurance would; not to mention we haven’t been subject to some of the recent medication shortages seen in civilian pharmacies across the country.” Army Reserve spouse Rebecca J. reminded me that active duty families and reserve families can have different military life experiences. As a spouse who cannot always access Tricare, her “best perk” was different: “I would say Tricare, but we only qualify when my husband is on active duty orders, so deployed. We have access to everything on post, which is great, but our closest post is a space force base an hour and a half away, so we take advantage of military discounts when we go out the most.” Nonetheless, as awesome as some of these perks can be, there are also plenty of issues with military life.


For a second year in a row, the biggest issue among spouses was spouse employment, with almost thirty percent of spouses claiming it’s a big issue. The issue is reflected in the rate of working military spouses (58 percent) and no organization consistently tracks overseas spouse unemployment. However, the 2022 Blue Star Families’ “Military Family Lifestyle Survey” noted that 21 percent of military spouses identified as “unemployed” in the labor force (for comparison purposes the national rate is six percent). Marine spouse Lizann L. pointed out how military spouse employment is tied to other issues such as moving, child-care, children’s stability, long separations and more, noting that, “Military spouse unemployment is tied to all the other issues: it's compounded by frequent moves and solo parenting during deployments. It brings instability to the family, and sometimes forces geo-baching or long separations. Because of it, families face food insecurity and housing issues. The reality is that the DoD still operates under the old-fashioned idea that the spouse's role is to support the service member. But in the modern age of dual-income households and an outrageous housing market, that model isn't sustainable.” Air Force spouse Romain G. expanded on this idea with a commentary on traditional attitudes of the military towards spouse involvement with volunteer opportunities: “…Volunteering appears in job page[s]. I think this is a symptom of the problem: as long as volunteering is considered a job, that tells you all you need to know about how important spousal employment is to base leadership (and possibly higher up the chain).” Maintaining a work/life balance in the military world can be difficult with constantly changing jobs, bases and unpredictable rotation schedules. Army spouse Shian S. noted that even the best preparation can still leave families unprepared: “I knew going into this he would have times where he’d be gone and it’s a part of this life, but I feel sometimes in certain units, the amount of time gone is ridiculous.” I too experienced similar feelings when my spouse was told he was going on a five-month TDY three weeks after we moved to our first duty station. I hadn’t even finished unpacking the boxes yet. Air Force spouse Michaela C. raised more awareness about how when service members are home, they aren’t always ‘home’: “It is hard for my husband to separate work and his home life. He often brings his work home with him. Even on his days off, he will get calls from work.”

Both a blessing and a curse?

There is the adage, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” and that can be true for military life as well. Many spouses note the perks of Tricare and health benefits while others point out that there can be a lack of access to specialty care and/or long wait times. Moving was another topic that was considered both a perk and an issue. Army spouse Brandy P. wrote about how “The three-year itch” is real! Every three years, I can feel my body telling me it’s time to start packing. I love getting to experience new places, really experiencing them. Moving every three years is perfect for me.” However, Air Force spouse Emily R. had a different perspective: “Moving can be one of the most difficult parts of military life. We are constantly having to buy new household items and it feels like a waste of money. New shower curtains, new cleaning products, new detergents. It can get quite expensive. It’s also hard when housing is not readily available. Having to find temporary housing can be so stressful. The out-of-pocket expense is also stressful.” As someone who was quite shocked at how much money we spent on car rentals, replacing a dead car battery after its three-month trek over the ocean and buying business attire while waiting on household goods to arrive after our OCONUS move, I can see where Emily is coming from.

Whether it is those sweet discounts, healthcare or the unexpected costs of moving, military life comes with perks and issues. Next month, “Spouses Speak” will talk about kids and pets in military life.

The opinions and views expressed in the above article are not necessarily the views of Stars and Stripes and its employees.

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