Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day... Military Dependents

It’s Valentine’s Day here. This is actually the first Valentine’s Day that Cristin and I have spent apart since we started dating in our first year of medical school. We generally don’t do anything too fancy on the holiday itself as we both hate waiting in lines at restaurants. So, we’ll often exchange cards on the holiday, but reschedule our Valentine’s Day dinner at a restaurant for a weekend before or after the holiday when we won’t have fight through the crowds. We’re going to Skype later this afternoon, but that’s going to be the extent of our celebration this year given the physical distance between us. So, I’ve decided to write this instead. In the interest of full disclosure, I got the idea for the rest of this post after seeing a similarly themed comment that one of our medic’s friends had made on Facebook. I was struck with the truth of what they’d said, so I decided to run with it.

In the terminology of the military personnel and benefits system, the Army considers Cristin my dependent. The further I get into this deployment, the more and more I recognize that they’ve got this backwards. Since I left to start this trip, Cristin has been doing double and triple duty: working a fulltime job that’s probably closer to time and a half, raising Drew without my help, and taking care of the house without having me around to lend a hand.

Like many other military wives, she’s moved across the country (twice) to locations that she never would have considered otherwise. She’s started to learn a foreign culture (the army) and become adept and navigating their frequently frustrating system. She’s learned a 2nd language made entirely of capital letters: ACU, BDU, TDY, PCS, ETS, OIC, NCOIC, CCCC, BAH, BAS, TCMC, TMC, DCCS. She’s bent her career to fit into the jobs that were available where we were posted. She’s settled for housing we know we’ll leave in another year or two when she’d rather stop and set down roots. She’s even developed the patience to accept that where we live next may be out of our control, with the decision resting in the office of an anonymous administrator half the way across the country. She’s learned to deal with the absences, even before the deployment, as the Army shipped me around the country for training for weeks at a time. She’s handled the yard work, plumbing issues, assembling toys, monthly finances, and even taxes without me around to lend a hand. Just like everyone else, she’s had her moments where she’s wanted to throw the uniforms in the trash, toss our stuff in the car, and drive back home. But, she’s stuck with it and we’ve made it through everything together to come out on top.

For these reasons, and a thousand others, I’d like to publicly acknowledge today what every married soldier already knows. The Army’s got it backwards. We’re dependent on our wives, not the other way around, and there’s no way that I could be doing what I am right now without knowing that she was at home, taking care of everything else and waiting for me to come back.

So, to military wives everywhere, Happy Valentines Day! And, Cristin, I love you, I miss you, and I’m coming home soon!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


So I got a haircut yesterday. (Yes, my life over here is really so exciting that I’m writing about a haircut today.) Since I joined the Army, haircuts have become a frequent nuisance. For whatever reason, my hair grows pretty quickly, so I have to get it cut every 2-3 weeks or I end up looking shaggy. Back in the states, this led to a couple of different strategies over the years. When we were in Augusta, it usually meant waiting an hour or two in line at the barber shop in the PX. (Not the most exciting way to spend your day off.) Eisenhower, my hospital in Augusta, actually had its own barbershop. Unfortunately, the main barber for most of my time there was an elderly gentleman with an intention tremor. (A medical condition where you hand starts to shake whenever you try to reach out or control where it’s going.) This made for some terrifying haircuts and I generally steered clear due to a fear that I might come out without intact ears.

At Fort Leonard Wood, I learned the hard way that the PX isn’t the best place to go for a haircut. Leonard Wood is a major training post for the Army, so there are usually a lot of trainees hanging around, which I’d never thought much about until I tried to get a haircut on the weekend there. When I entered to the shop, I found that I was the 250th patron in line!! Needless to say, I quickly found a barber shop off post that could handle my hair without camping out for 5 hours.  (On a side note, the barber shop that I found actually serves beer in their waiting area, while still being cheaper than the PX barbershop.  I haven't ever been in a situation where I could take them up on the offered beer, but it's an interesting business model none the less.)

Back in the day, I used to cut my own hair using a set of clippers. I’d do the top and the sides, and then do the back the best that I could. Then, I’d get a roommate or fraternity brother to touch up the back and make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Now that I’m married to Cristin, we’ve been working on reviving that, but it hasn’t happened consistently. Cristin does a pretty good job, but she’s still not fully comfortable doing it. (And, as you might expect, a nervous barber makes for a nervous customer.)

I’ve noticed an interesting trend about haircuts since starting my deployment. The further I get from home, the cheaper the haircuts get, and the better quality they are. At Fort Gordon’s PX, you never quite knew what you’d get. It wasn’t uncommon for them to cut my hair, only to need to go back 2 days later and touch up a few spots on top they’d missed. (I still don’t understand how barbers can do a haircut that looks perfect in the chair, only to have little missed spots pop up a day later.) Moving to Ft. Bragg, haircuts were slightly cheaper, although about the same quality. Now, out of country, things keep getting better. Since arriving here, I’ve gotten a solid string of great haircuts, and it’s only $4.50.

Of course, there’s a cost for everything. In this case, it’s the fact that your barber often doesn’t speak much English. So, you hope that a couple of the 10 words of English that they speak include “close fade”, “skin” and “number 3 on top”. For the most part, they get it pretty close. And, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for… it’s still better than what I got at Ft. Gordon.

The Super Bowl’s tonight (at about 2:00 AM). I’ve tentatively decided to wake up to watch it. We’ll see how the motivation is when the alarm goes off.