My spouse came home one day and told me that we had another assignment to the D.C. area. The National Capitol Region is one of my favorite places. So needless to say, I was ecstatic. This would be the third time we were stationed here-once to the Pentagon and once for school.
It’s a city girl’s dream.
During our first time here, I made a list of all the museums I wanted to see. My kids groaned when they saw the list that was two pages long. There is such a variety of options to choose from. The Portrait Gallery, the Holocaust museum, the Botanical Gardens! My daughter and I would take the metro in on a Saturday morning, get off at the Capitol South stop, go out for breakfast at a little café on 2nd Street, and then proceed to the National Archives.
While she sat in the reading room, I would admire the architecture.
Some days I would take my kids out of school for “mental health days” which was my excuse to go downtown. It is easy to justify these excursions when your kids are doing well in school and the museums are free!
Not only are there museums, but there are theaters galore. Operas, musicals, and dramas are showing on an almost daily basis. And unlike many cities, you can find things for free or for little to no cost. We took the kids to see “The Pirates of Penzance” one year and they were free with adult purchase.
An additional benefit was that we are close to our families. We are New Englanders, but we’ve been stationed in the South for most of our career. As a military family, driving six hours home seems like a breeze. We try to go up there on long weekends.
Or if we wanted to get away, there are hops abound. We can drive to Baltimore-Washington airport and go to Ramstein in Germany. Norfolk, a three-hour drive, has flights to Naples, Italy. These options are enticing for a girl who lamented her short tour in Europe.
My excitement was growing and then my spouse put up his hand. His job was with the Pentagon. My heart fell out of my chest.
Even though his job isn’t my job, the Pentagon is its own beast with its own set of problems.
The amount of time my husband spends at work is the biggest quality of life issue. He tends to leave at O Dark Thirty and return at European dinner times. That translates into either rushed dinners or smaller meals. While smaller meals might be better for us, we would have to switch to larger lunches which hasn’t happened.
Speaking of lunch, I can’t just drop in to eat with him. The five-sided fortress has multiple security measures and you need to be escorted. Along with this, you cannot park near the building. You would have to either metro it in or park at the Pentagon Row mall and pay to park. Then it’s a trek to make it to the entrance of the building. All of this combines to make a simple lunch an ordeal. It is vastly different from your servicemember working on a base.
But the biggest issue for me is that there isn’t a community that you belong to. There are military bases and posts everywhere, but that’s not where you are assigned. You have access to all of them, but you are beholden to none. I can use the vet clinic at Andrews AFB, see my doctor at Ft. Belvoir, and go shopping at Ft. Myer. For me, this is an issue. I miss being a part of a squadron, a group, a wing. My spouse works at J-5, but that means nothing to me.
With the variety of military installations, I can join any spouse club I wish. That will afford me some of that community that I long for. This past year, I joined the club at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. I should have been happy, but instead I was defeated. Since I work, that means I couldn’t attend any of the functions. I wanted to make connections, but all I did was pay my dues.
That made me frustrated with myself. Meeting people was my goal and all I did was meet my financial goals. Under this negative frame of mind, I started looking at other bad points.
The traffic in D.C. is atrocious. Forget getting somewhere in a few minutes. Going eight miles can take 40 minutes or more. You have to learn when to leave and when to stay home. The Jersey Turnpike can cause headaches too. Even though it’s a split four-lane highway, traffic can be at a standstill. The cost of living is the worst violation.
So I breathe. And I refocus my mind. Living here has its challenges, but overall it is positive. I used to tell spouses that you need to find the positive in each location.; I should follow my own advice.
The Pentagon may not be the perfect assignment, but we can make it work!