Life Lessons Learned From a British Military Spouse In America

Article by Camilla Tennant


I’ve been reflecting recently as a couple of events have changed my outlook on life. A short time ago my husband and I planned a surprise for our four children, a visit to New York City. I honestly couldn’t tell you who was more excited: them or us. Notwithstanding our excitement, we were anxious about shepherding four children around NYC and coping with the infamous aloofness of New Yorkers. Yet, throughout our stay we never witnessed this once. New Yorkers were nothing but courteous and helpful. I met a charming young woman on the subway, (which by the way was clean, efficient, and not at all threatening), and too our amazement, she volunteered her name and asked if there was anything she could help us with–unheard of on the London Underground. She gave us some fantastic suggestions of places to visit and restaurants to eat in. During the ten minutes I got to know her, I realised how lucky I had been to sit where I did. Life lesson number one: Don’t believe every urban myth.

The view from the top of the Rockefeller Centre presented NYC to us at her best. What a view; we saw The Empire Sate, the new One World Trade Centre building, and the Statue of Liberty, (or the Stitue of Lamerty as my youngest used to call it). The ferry from New Jersey took us to Ellis Island and I was blown away; the buildings were beautiful. The museum and audio tour were designed with great care and attention to detail. I listened to the audio tour of men and women recounting their desperation, hope, and anxiety of arriving here in America. For the first time, I really understood their pain and sacrifice. What a privilege to sit where so many American immigrants had sat before me. We have it so easy in comparison and I know that I often forget to see the really important detail of life.  Many friends have asked me what I liked best, and my answer is Ellis Island. Life lesson number two: Open your eyes. 



A few weeks ago, I watched my husband’s promotion ceremony. You may be thinking that a promotion ceremony is not out of the ordinary, but in the UK it never happens. We don’t make a big deal of a promotion. Letters of congratulations are occasionally written and hands shaken. Those that have been promoted are often presented with their new rank slides in the Mess Bar and then be expected to buy everyone else’s drinks all evening! Not so in America, and specifically in Washington DC. I had the extraordinary honor of watching my husband get promoted in the Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon. We were immensely privileged and proud that The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno, presided. An honor for any American soldier, but unprecedented for a British soldier. General Odierno is a big man. Not only his he tall, but also he has an amazing presence and is utterly charming. There are not enough superlatives to describe his lovely wife Linda. The ceremony is rightly formal, but incredibly moving. General Odierno made it so personal as he took the time to mention our four children by name, and me too. I was thrilled that the wonderful Military Spouse magazine got a mention too.  It struck me that success is applauded here and appropriately celebrated; success is not played down as is often the way in the UK.  Our guests, both American and British, were proud to have been part of the ceremony. My fabulous father-in-law flew out from the UK to be with us – a retired General himself, he was not going to miss this life affirming moment.

Life lesson number three:  the US Military rocks! 

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