Homefront Rising – My experience at the Military Spouse Political Summit
Photo Credit: Sarah Butcher
Hashtags from the Homefront
January 15th, I sent out one of about 900 tweets with the hashtag “#keepyourpromise” along with another one I’d seen that I liked, “#homefrontrising”. Within moments, I had a reply from one of my followers, Lori Volkman, with an invitation I couldn’t pass up- join us in Washington DC mid-February for a political summit. Me? Country Katie without even a college degree? Yes, she’d certainly meant me. I’d already decided to go back to school and pursue some sort of place in politics, but was now really the time to hop on a plane and go to DC? Apparently it was because I went, and I made it out of both DC and Baltimore unscathed. I even learned a thing or two while I was there.
Boots on the Capital
Like any woman, I really worried about what to wear to DC. Just when I ‘d settled on a respectable skirt and blouse combo with easy to walk in nude pumps and pantyhose- the eastern seaboard rudely decided to have an impromptu Christmas party- two months late- and began dumping snow and ice everywhere. This southern girl- flying in from our current duty station in central Texas- knew that cold weather was most definitely not going to permit her to wear heels and a skirt. So I did what any girl in my position would do: I packed slacks and took a Facebook poll of my friends to determine if boots were acceptable and, if so, which boots? The general consensus among my “business class” ladies was that boots were acceptable, but NOT my cowboy boots. After a lot of deliberation, I decided perhaps DC needed cowboy boots at the Capital. I got lots of compliments, teaching me that perhaps I do have acceptable ideas- even if they are voted down by my friends. I also decided that, if I ever went back to DC, I would make an effort to do what everyone was not doing because, let’s face it, going against the grain sometimes just needs to happen.
An adventure even a Baggins would be proud of
I began my adventure at 5am the day before the event. I got up, poured some coffee in my face, brushed my teeth, cringed at my hair, and climbed in to my husband’s smelly old Jeep to make the four hour drive to DFW in Dallas. Ten minutes into my drive in the pitch black, freezing night air, my iPhone, apparently in direct line of the hot air blasting from the vents, overheated and turned off, causing me to swerve off the road to wait for it to cool down so I could turn my navigator back on. When it took longer than five minutes to come on, I rolled down my window and set it on top of the Jeep in the 20 degree wind. It booted up in no time and I was on my way; after adjusting the unfamiliar vents to keep the heater from killing it again. Twenty minutes down the road my heart jumped into my throat and I almost died. I fought the impulse to slam on the breaks, throw out a beautiful 180, and hightail it home. In front of me -I swear to Jesus- in the middle of nowhere Texas was a giant flame on top of a 30 foot tower. There were no lights around it, nothing to indicate it had any use what-so-ever, and no darkened buildings to suggest it was a refinery. It was just this random, scary as crap, flame, flickering in the middle of the night and making me wonder if my rare, handcrafted, hand stamped wedding band was secretly one of the Rings of Power and I’d just unknowingly driven right into the center of Mordor. Never mind that there wasn’t a giant eye in the middle of the flame. I was tired and cranky and cold and it was 5AM for Pete’s sake! As it turns out, it was not Mordor and I don’t possess the One Ring. I still don’t know what it was, and I haven’t had the courage to drive back out there at night to take a picture. Maybe by the time this hits the internet I’ll have gone back out.
I forgot I hate flying
I always forget, until the plane is on the runway and the engine is revving up, about to suddenly catapult itself down the run way and up into the wild blue yonder, that I am afraid of flying. Well, not flying so much as the death defying launch down the long stretch of asphalt and then the stomach churning climb through the city skies, right into the clouds that rattle the plane until I think I might need to check my drawers. So I’m afraid of take-off, pretty much. Once we’re in the air and the ride is smooth, I’m a cool cat. Seriously. But when the engine starts changing pitch and I can feel the massive vibrations begin to shudder through the plane, the Southern Baptist in me wakes up and I start praying. “Dear Jesus, wrap your arms around this plane! Don’t let there be any terrorists on here, Jesus and if there are let them die right now and deliver us safely to the airport of Your choosing. Sweet Baby Jesus, don’t let me die a fiery death!” Yes. Yes, I really do pray this while my body is being hurled through the air at breakneck speed. Don’t judge. This trip was no exception. The weather wasn’t as pleasant as normal, so all four take-offs I experienced were far bumpier. I totally tacked on a few extras like “praise Jesus!” and “Dear God, I’ve still got so much living to do!” for safe measure. Good news: He was listening.
Commuters are lovely people
I was super fortunate to be able to spend time with my dear friend, founder of A Little Pink in a World of Camo (insert http://alittlepinkinaworldofcamo.blogspot.com) writer and “War Widow”, Rachel Jewell Porto. After picking me up in Baltimore, where I saw the Domino Sugar and Natty Boh Beer signs and the Ravens M&T Stadium (which I’m told are pretty much the most important things to see in Baltimore), we got a tad turned around before safely making our way to Aberdeen. We were a little nervous about me riding the train alone in to DC the next morning because, let’s face it, this country girl gets nervous alone in taxis. However, upon arriving at the Amtrak station, we were confronted with throngs of black suits, brief cases, and wool trench coats. The commuters. Let me just say here that commuters are lovely people, especially when they aren’t the ones driving. I could do that commute. It was an hour long train ride from Aberdeen to Union Station in DC. The gentleman next to me was some sort of accountant. Or maybe a bookie. I don’t really know. He kept mumbling dollar amounts as he furiously typed away on his laptop. The lady across the aisle looked like she’d stepped right from the set of Scandal and perhaps been dressed by Olivia Pope herself. Despite taking me through snowy countryside and over waterways that were frozen solid with sheets of ice across the top, I LOVED the view! I really do despise cold weather and snow, but I kept thinking that, if I could commute on the train, it wouldn’t be so bad. Once we arrived at Union Station, I followed the crowd off the train, being careful to stay in the very middle of the group (I didn’t want to fall off the edge onto the rails and die). I spilled into Union Station and tried to refrain from showing my tourist awe in this place I’ve always wanted to go. Call me silly, but I’ve always really wanted to see Union Station, and the last time I went to DC, I was only 10 and I don’t think we went. I really did expect people in Union Station to be rude and push and shove, especially in that HUGE of a crowd, but like I said, commuters are seriously lovely people.
How many milspouses does it take to send a tweet?
I think one of my favorite things about the entire summit was the fact that everyone was live tweeting all day. I am a child of the internet, I don’t mind admitting that. While I do all of those normal “wifely” things like clean (ha-ha), cook food (uh huh), and do laundry (ahahahaha! riot!), I also spend a great deal of time on the internet. I am a writer, and any writer can tell you that research is so important to anything he or she writes that many of us will spend more time researching than we do writing. I am no exception to this. A great deal of my time is spent “researching”. Or, as my husband likes to call it “avoiding housework”. As a general rule, while I’m researching, I’m simultaneously on my Facebook and my Twitter. Some of my favorite sources come from old buddies who post military related articles and quotes all day. So to walk into a room with 45 milspouses, most of them attorneys or fellow writers, who were all on twitter and tweeting out some of the most profound quotes and information?! As you can imagine, I was quite beside myself. (To catch some of those tweets, jump on twitter and look up #homefrontrising)
When milspouses speak
Let it be known, right here and right now, that when military spouses (men, too!) band together and speak, people stop and listen. Important people. People with busy schedules and no time to stop and listen. When thousands and thousands of military spouses stand up and, in one beautiful voice, speak together, the message is received loud and clear. I was privileged to be among 45 women- 45 milspouses- to hear firsthand that the house voted to repeal the COLA adjustment as a direct result of our voices. It is invigorating and empowering to sit in a building across the street from the Capital Building, caddy corner to the Russell Building (one of the senate buildings) and hear directly from the lips of a congresswoman that our work, our voices, our insistence that we are a force to be reckoned with… the exhilaration that comes from hearing that we’ve won is moving. I wish that every military member who will retire and his or her spouse and his or her children could have been right there in that room to hear the words “I just voted for and helped repeal the COLA adjustment”. To have fought for that and won was just the highlight of the last six months. Let me be clear here. Within the last six months, I wrote and released a novel, I took my first vacation in almost a decade, I witnessed the most beautiful bride I have ever seen in my life get married, and none of that compared to the overwhelming emotion I felt when I heard Congresswoman Duckworth say that the House had just voted to repeal the COLA adjustment. Call me silly. I’m not ashamed to say that winning the COLA battle was a precious victory for us.
Making a difference is easier than you think.
The single most important lesson that I took from my entire time in DC is that making a difference, getting involved in the direction of our government, is far easier than you might think. Especially for female milspouses. There are entire organizations dedicated to bringing women to the table. There are groups like She Should Run (www.sheshouldrun.org) and the Women Under Forty PAC (www.wufpac.org) that will help you run for office just because you’re a girl. Take advantage of these! Congresswoman Duckworth, the democrat Representative from Illinois who lost her legs in Iraq, openly invited all of us to run. She outright said she would welcome it, no matter our political affiliation, because women need to be there. I’m just talking to the female spouses here for a minute. Ladies. Washington DC is far too pretty of a city to be controlled by men. Can I just be honest here? I’m a bit sick of seeing men all in control of pretty things. It’s my one major feminist area. Why do they need to control everything that’s pretty and important and powerful? We need to be just as much in control of our country as they do. She’s too important and beautiful to be left in the hands of men who would seek simply to own her. Now to the men. No offense. We love you and respect you and we’ll save you a seat at the table. But it’s time for us ladies to be seated at that table as well.
I learned a few things
I learned many things while in DC. Some of them might seem silly. For example, The Hill is called that because it sits on top of a hill. Some of them might seem useless. Case in point, the outside of the Hoover building (FBI) really does look like it does on BONES. But then there were secret gems like knowing how to properly shake a hand to give the impression of confidence and how to speak directly to a person to make them feel like the most important person in the room (I’m told that Bill Clinton excels at this- which could explain a lot). I learned that, despite the apparent dysfunction in our government, there are some elected officials who really do have their constituents at heart when voting. I learned that congress is listening to us, they are watching us like hawks because we threatened to take their seats away if they didn’t do their jobs. I learned that we can use our experience as milspouses like superhuman powers (just go with it), creating change where change is necessary and forcing people in powerful positions to adhere to their promises. I learned that we, as military spouses, have a voice that will be heard.
And I learned that sometimes, just speaking up, opens the door to a terrifyingly awesome adventure.