Editor’s Note: Air Force Col. Aaron “Chewy” Burgstein wrote this unpublished commentary in the fall of 2014 while undergoing medical treatment for a brain tumor. He unfortunately passed away on Jan. 27, 2015. In recognition of Military Spouses Appreciation Day on May 21 and Memorial Day on May 31, Air Force News is publishing Col. Burgstein’s commentary in remembrance of his contributions to Air Force Public Affairs and as a reminder of the timeless contributions made by military spouses every day around the world.
In my nearly 20 years of military service, I have moved 12 times. It is more frequent than most service members, but yet not that unusual. Along the way in my career, I picked up a spouse. She has moved a total of nine times in our 13 years of marriage. Our children are just breaking into double digits and they have moved six times.
As we have moved from year to year, I like to think I have appreciated the difficulties my family has faced. We move into a new area, I start a new job, get a new home, and meet new people. Oftentimes, I have to be in my job right away with no break. Luckily, my wife has been able to set up our house on her own when this happens. In fact, since marriage, my wife has taken care of nearly everything outside of my work. For each of our moves, she has found us a house, made it a home, found our two girls a school, a community and activities, dentists, doctors, and sometimes even a group of friends. All of this while taking care of them during the move.
As said, I appreciate all that my family faces, but this year I have seen it as so much more than I ever knew. During this last move, I am viewing the process from a completely different vantage point. Because of a medical condition, I am unable to work for a period of time and we have had to move to a location with specialized doctors. That situation is a whole other article, but for our purposes here, I will focus on what I have learned that I believe many can relate to.
The amount of work that goes into setting up a home — not a house mind you, but an actual home — that the family will enjoy and feel comfortable in is amazing. And our spouses do this every few years, generally on their own. Yes, you think you know, but there is more to it than we active-duty folks realize. Our spouses start research the minute we give hints as to where we will be. Sometimes, they have months to plan, sometimes merely weeks. For example, in my family’s last move, we had only days to prepare for an overseas move. Our spouses look for good school districts. They find affordable housing. They discover the new karate or ballet studio. They get on the Tricare site or find online resources to find the best doctors, dentists and even hair dressers. They make sure to collect records for the kids’ medical portfolios so their moving history is complete. They are there when the movers arrive and place the furniture and knick-knacks and artwork in such a way that it looks like you have always lived in that house. They model a positive attitude about the move when the children start to miss their friends. Maybe you knew all of this already. Maybe you have already thanked your spouse, but there is more.
Each time my family moves, I walk into my office. I have a network of peers with whom I can interact each day. I am assigned doctors and people to help me get settled into the new location. I have everything I need right there on the base, from restaurants to a gym. My support network is always there waiting for me when I arrive.
This year, I am seeing what it is like without that built-in network. I am watching as my wife tries to find summer activities for the girls in a place that is unfamiliar. I watch as she puts herself out there into the community every day. She reaches out to people who already have a network. Some respond, some do not. I see her struggling to establish new friendships and new ties. She does all of this with the knowledge that this is temporary. She will have to do it all over again in one year.
Our spouses also face the challenge of what we call “location friends,” essentially friends who are there when you’re living near them, but once you move away, the contact fades, then disappears. That can be tough. Social media certainly helps people keep in touch, but when you invest time and energy building those relationships, only to see them falter when you move away, it can be quite disheartening. To repeat this year after year, knowing there’s almost always another move in the future can take its toll.
So, this year, I’m thankful for the opportunity to see what my spouse has to go through – not that she has to go through it, although she does so with grace and a great attitude. Rather, I’m thankful to know and have a better understanding and appreciation of her challenges. So the next time you move, as you benefit from that built-in network, remember that your spouse is building that network on his or her own. Only one month is dedicated to military spouse appreciation. Be sure to appreciate and understand what it is they are truly going through every day.
By Col. Aaron Burgstein, Air Force Public Affairs