Just Chillin’ on the SOFA?

I am a creature of comfort. One might think that as military brat that became a military spouse, I would be used to moving all over the place, making new friends, starting over time and time again, but you would be wrong. My father was stationed at Ft. Huachuca for 7 years when I was a kid, and he retired here. My brother and I spent a few years with family when he went to Korea and again when he was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, but for the most part, Ft Huachuca is my home. When I met my wife, she was at the beginning of her time here. I looked forward to a few more years of stability before moving to another state, before having to find a new job, before having to make new friends. Though I wasn’t totally looking forward to it, I thought when the time came that a new place could be kind of fun. I would have my wife and son with me, and I would be able to talk with my friends with little more effort than it takes now (especially since some of the nearest and dearest live out of town). I dreaded going somewhere too cold for my AZ blood or too humid for this hot mess some call my hair, but I was excited to see some other areas of the country.

For drama’s sake, I will say I was envisioning our new home in some new magical land where grass grows without monumental effort. Then the bomb dropped. I knew the Army could (and would) send us to all sorts of different places, but I wasn’t ready to hear that her first duty station after completing Warrant Officer Candidate School would be Korea. I mean, at first the thought was really exotic and fun. I grew up with a Korean step mom, so I am pretty comfortable with the culture and a little too comfortable with the food. I have always wanted to travel and it seemed like a good opportunity to do that. It didn’t take long though for the worrier in me to take over. When we first got this news we weren’t married yet. We had talked about it, but there were no definite plans. We decided we couldn’t really afford for me to be out of work for a full year and still manage to purchase my would-be newly necessary winter wardrobe, so I looked into going there to teach English. I was qualified for the positions, but I balked at reports of how hard it could be to get a position as a “single” parent. I was also concerned at the reports of how their English teachers could kind of be like community figures. I consider myself pretty awesome, but I just wasn’t sure how the whole wife thing would play out. I mean, if my step mom’s reaction was any indication, the reaction would not be good. Having not spoken to her in over 2 years, I thought it would be awkward to just call and ask if this was a personal thing, or if I was likely to encounter the same reaction from a significant portion of the Korean population as well.

For some of the more adventurous types, those might not have been show stoppers at all. For some, no mountain is too high, no valley too low to keep them from getting to whatever duty station they need to (and now that song is stuck in my head). For me, the uncertainty of whether I would be able to go there and stay there on my own was too scary, and even though we married before she left I was unsure about command sponsorship. We didn’t want to risk any sort of unofficial status which could jeopardize our safety if things did happen to heat up with the North while we were there. I wanted to have a job and a place for our sixth grade son. At the end of the day, I just wanted some sort of certainty if I was going to move out the the country. I understand there are legal issues surrounding our families in non-equality countries, so we need updated agreements to make sure we’re protected.

She was scheduled to leave just weeks after our wedding and before the fall of DOMA, so we really had no clue what the future would bring. Even after several delays, her report date to Korea was on September 3, and the Army was painfully and ridiculously slow to provide any sort of guidance on even the simplest of family benefits. While the higher ups got everything sorted out, I had a life going on. I know military life is wrought with last minute changes, but in an effort to minimize the craziness and the emotional roller coaster that comes with having no idea what your life will be like in a couple months, we decided that our son and I would stay here and our family would spend a year in pieces.

It was a difficult decision, but I would have hated to discover how much of a mess command sponsorship is while trying to move to the other side of the world. Amanda had to clear Ft. Huachuca as a single soldier, which I’m sure would have caused problems, and we still faced the uncooperative nature of certain individuals in simply getting her BAH fixed after her move. It became painfully clear to me that even when policy catches up, individual bias can make things miserable. It takes a certain cohesiveness to accomplish anything in an organization as large as the Army, and when it comes to command sponsorship and some of the more “fringe” benefits for married soldiers, it’s obvious that there’s just not a sense of urgency about it. Without explicit direction and a time line from the top, it doesn’t seem to be a priority.

The last I heard, the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) that govern in part the immigration status of command sponsored families hasn’t been updated to include same-gender couples. I imagined at first intense negotiations between the Army’s head SOFA guy and the head SOFA guy of the conservative country my wife is stationed in, but the article I read about it made it sound like the question wasn’t even on the table. Like the head SOFA guys were just hanging out… on their sofas. I wonder how long the sofa lounging would be going on if one the the head guys’ families was waiting on the update. I recognize that the fall of DOMA sent a big gay glitter bomb right onto the SOFAs, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s even called the upholsterer in to assess the damage. For Pete’s sake, I’m not even sure they have looked at slipcovers! Even worse, these holy SOFAs are becoming some sort of cushion-and-blanket forts for any command that isn’t motivated to sponsor same-gender couples and their families. “Sorry, your kid can’t go to on-post school, and your wife can’t shop at the commissary. I’m sure I can say that it’s because we haven’t worked out how the host nation feels about it. Have I nice day, I’m going back to planning a ninja attack on the housecat in my neato SOFA fort.” 

At the end of the day, Amanda and I are taking this time apart to appreciate the time we have spent in the past and the time we will spend together in the future. I try to focus on everything that’s “right” about our decision. I’m not sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for further guidance from the Army. I have a job that’s helping us plan for our future rather than sitting at home in a foreign country wondering when/if I’ll be able to work to help pay off thousands in uncovered relocation costs. My son goes to school everyday. These were major factors in my decision because they’re major factors in the lives of many military families. Why would these protections and benefits be extended to families at all if they aren’t important? If they’re important enough to have been hashed out for straight families, why is there such a lag in hashing them out for our fabulous and newly recognized families?

In a strange twist, it’s like we won the war for equal recognition, but we’re still losing battles. We’re still losing battles that the big wigs won’t get up and fight. We’re losing battles that ensure our families are afforded more than just housing allowances, medical insurance, and ID cards. We’re losing battles that need to be won so our families have the same choices as other families. The creature-of-comfort-cold-weatherphobe in me might have chosen to stay stateside for the year, but the honeymoon-stage-quality-time-craving-lover in me would have liked a chance to make the choice without sacrificing more than other military families have to.

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I think someone commented on Facebook that he had no problem at all getting a non-tourist visa from South Korea for his husband. But that the Army is shifting blame on the Koreans for not recognizing the relationship. Though if the Visa thing is universal, apparently they don’t really care.

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