Written by guest blogger Eric Dyer, an Air Force veteran who was a Tsgt with 4 years active duty in the Air Force and 6 years Air National Guard. He served during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Eric lives with his wife, Air Force (Retired) Colonel Maria Santos and their children in Colorado. He was a military spouse for 16 years of Maria’s 21 years on active duty.
According to Military Spouse Magazine (March 2014), 14.6 percent of military spouses are male. Many military spouses will tell you the most important thing to do when joining the military is to find a friend or a community to get involved with. Unfortunately for many male military spouses, these communities are either exclusively for women or generally uncomfortable for a man to join with such a feminine group. Military wives all have the same experiences, just with a twist. I had the same problems with a different male perspective.
I enlisted in the Air Force for four years and deployed to the first Desert Storm. I was separated five months early so I could go to school to become an x-ray technologist. After that, I joined the Air National Guard for another six years. This was a unique scenario with ten years as an enlisted man and married to an officer. Thirty days after we were married, we moved to San Antonio so my wife could start her residency as a dentist. We didn’t know anyone. Not one person. All the people at the meet-and-greets were with other military dentists with whom I had nothing in common.
Another big challenge for male spouses is just finding other men to connect with who are dealing with the same things. Many male military spouses may feel alienated from the female-dominated spouses’ clubs (sometimes just wives’ clubs), and struggle to find a community that knows what they’re going through. There’s also the gender reversal to adjust to, and while the idea of the stay-at-home father is becoming more accepted, it’s all the harder when that man’s wife has such a traditionally masculine job.
Mostly, I felt like an outsider and found it hard to make friends. It was expected that I attend these events as the spouse and learn to just endure them. Because there are so few male spouses, their experiences differ from what a military wife sees. When a husband is a civilian and the wife is going to work in the military each day, it can confuse the breadwinner and gender roles. The low percentage of male spouses and the male-dominated nature of the military can compound the issue, especially if the husband has no prior military experience.
As a military woman is promoted through the ranks, the percentage of male military spouses is significantly smaller at each successive rank. When my wife retired in 2013, she was a full Colonel (O-6). The Center for Deployment Psychology reported that “the 2013 Demographics Profile of the Military Community does not break out the number/percentage of male military spouses, but we do know that of the 756,767 married active duty Service members, 88% are male and 12% are female … and since this data was collected prior to same-sex spouses being legally recognized by the military, we can assume that approximately 12% of spouses (90,733 spouses) are male.”
Our second duty station was in Okinawa, Japan. Even though I was a trained x-ray technologist, I couldn’t work in my profession. The only job offer I had was as the computer technician at the Kadena Officer’s Wives Club. We were assigned a great sponsor who happened to be a female officer dentist. Her husband and I became great friends. Pete, her husband, and I joined the Wives Club, which, they changed to the Kadena Officer’s Spouses Club. At the time, I had to join in order to apply for the job. So there we were, two male spouses with 220 officer’s wives. There was a lot of awkwardness and formality at the beginning which I didn’t like. On the flip side, there were a lot of women who were down-to-earth and wonderful. This experience definitely changed my perception about officer wives.
I grew up in rural northwest Arkansas and didn’t know any other stay-at-home fathers. My upbringing didn’t prepare me for it. After we arrived in Okinawa, six weeks later my wife went back to work from having a baby. It was tough taking care of a 2-month-old. There was a lot of figuring things out with trial and error. Again, we didn’t know anyone to ask for advice. Our sponsors didn’t have children, and at the time, we lived off base. There we were, living in an apartment in downtown Okinawa where none of our neighbors spoke English.
Even back in the States, I have found that the biggest misconception is that all military spouses are women! Try finding an ‘Air Force husband’ shirt. Spoiler: you can’t. Every time we go to a restaurant and ask if they have a military discount, they automatically look at me, the husband, and thank me for my service. We get the same thing going through airport security. I feel bad for my wife because she’s the one who deserves the recognition. Because of these kinds of things, I didn’t go to the base if I didn’t have to. Unfortunately, this stereotype made me separate myself from all of this to the extent I could.
There may be isolation, identity clashes, and male military spouses are less likely to reach out for support. Don’t always assume males are the service members. We need to give our service members the recognition they deserve. Please do not forget that families may have different roles in the military. We are not invisible family members. I am and have always been a proud military spouse.