There is clearly a distinction between how military families and their civilian counterparts think about things, usually informed by particular experiences that military families have and civilians generally do not. The questions we get from civilians are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes downright upsetting, but they are an effort to understand something the asker hasn’t experienced.
The absence of those experiences is, I think, is the reason why we frequently hear the same kinds of questions from civilians we encounter. I wonder how often we peel back these questions and think about what’s underneath?
Here are some frequently asked questions from civilians that I’m sure you have heard many times:
1. “What’s PCS? MWR? DDY? MOS?”
As military spouses, we live a life of alphabet soup; most civilians do not. Assume that if, like me, you regularly shift into “milmode,” you’re going to be doing some explaining in your storytelling.
2. “So when they send you to another country, it’s kind of like a big vacation, right?”
The simple fact is that most people only ever travel overseas on a vacation, so they don’t immediately think about the everyday challenges of living in a foreign place. But hey, it is an adventure, right?
3. “Don’t you love all the free stuff you get?”
Usually this is in reference to things like housing, healthcare and retirement benefits, although it’s an antiquated way to look at any of those things. Most people understand that a compensation package usually includes things other than a salary, but somehow they don’t connect that concept to members of our military.
4. “But I thought you had to live on base?”
This could spin into a whole conversation about BAH, housing shortages, school districts and “on the economy” preferences. Or you could hint at an uncanny ability to work around the rules.
5. “Wait, you have a JOB?”
A military spouse should never be offended by this question. Why? Because having a career with a spouse in the military is hard work. Being able to do it is pride-worthy stuff, so respond accordingly: “Heck yes I do! It’s really tough, but I’m making it work!” This is a conversation that needs to be happening.
6. “The president said ‘no boots on the ground,’ so military families aren’t affected, right?”
Take a deep breath; the inner workings of military operations are a mystery to most people. Humor might dictate a response like: “We don’t say ‘boots on the ground’ anymore; it makes the pilots and shipmen feel left out.” Point made.