“Getting a second chance, a ‘do over,’ is so rare, but that is exactly what we were given. In 1990, while in college, a mutual friend introduced us to each other. We lost contact with each other over an unfortunate misunderstanding, but never stopped thinking about one another. The same friend who originally introduced us, brought us back together sixteen years later. This time around we didn’t hesitate. We’ve been together ever since and were legally married in May of this year.”
Denise and Mary grew up in North Carolina, but are currently living in Texas while stationed at Ft. Hood. An Aviation Major in the Army, Mary is an Apache Longbow pilot and has served for over 20 years. Denise currently works at Central Texas College as their first grant coordinator and helps to develop their grant seeking initiatives, while also caring for their two dogs, Sadie & Murphy.
Even though Denise has served as a military spouse for over 7 years, she never saw the military life as being part of her own identity, but rather as something that was an outside force she had to adapt to. “Until I found AMPA, I spent a lot of time feeling that the military lifestyle was something that happened to me; like an unfortunate circumstance. I revered the military from afar without any real notion as to the continual sacrifice and strength exhibited by those and their family members serving our country. I’m sure those words make service members cringe, but for a civilian, who had never considered the military being an intrinsic part of her life, it required a large mental adjustment.”
Together, Denise and Mary have been through one deployment and one PCS move. The deployment was a great challenge to both of them, occurring only 6 months after they re-united as a couple. “I wasn’t prepared for how hard the deployment would be or versed on the ‘usual’ pitfalls and how to recognize them. I wasn’t prepared for the constant worry. I wasn’t prepared for the guilty anger I would feel towards my partner over the separation. I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of worry that wouldn’t go away even after she returned. I especially wasn’t prepared for the realization that her unit was already planning their next deployment a scant month after returning. I was struggling to find my place and my voice in my wife’s life, rather than in our life together. Without the usual support structure most new spouses receive, I was flying blind and, frankly, not doing well. In AMPA, I have found support, understanding and a resounding, ‘We understand what you are going through.’ I didn’t fully realize the pressure my isolation from Mary Katherine’s military life was putting on our marriage until I found the AMPA community.”
Since finding AMPA, Denise and Mary have connected to a whole network of families just like them who are finding resources and sharing tools for negotiating their way through a military system that has not caught up to the needs of their family yet.
Denise explains, “There are many ways our current situation would be better if we were to receive the same benefits as every other military family: job placement assistance, health insurance, command sponsorship to name just a few. But, first and foremost, it would foster a sense of belonging. Beyond the monetary compensation and assistance that other military families take for granted, there is also a feeling of inclusiveness and support that is denied our family. Even though Mary’s unit has been welcoming and wonderfully inclusive, it is the overarching military’s denial of our equality that makes not only financially supporting our family more difficult but affects our morale and the security of our future.”
Mary also shared her perspective. “I think this is a great outlet for Denise to connect with other partner’s of military service members. It is the first resource she has found that has helped her understand how to deal with moves, deployments, general information regarding what it is like to be a partner of a service member. Even more so than an FRG with heterosexual couples, AMPA provides specific information that helps gay couples navigate the current system.”
During this experience, Mary also realized how invaluable she was in helping Denise integrate into the military family. “Don’t assume that your partner knows how to deal with a deployment or what the process of going on a deployment is all about. You have to tell them every step of everything. When possible, set aside time to communicate with your partner in any way that you can. Even if you are not successful in making contact, just the effort to communicate can mean a great deal to your partner at home.”