Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.
For me, August tends to be that month that I look out above the moving boxes and realize I have no idea where I am. I have moved 16 times in my life, and I will be facing down the 17th next summer. So that feeling of being the new person in a community, trying to find my way, is all too familiar.
I have some personal tips and tricks to help me feel more at ease at a new duty station, and I recruited some other Coast Guard spouses to tell me what they do, too. We came up with five suggestions for adjusting to a new community.
Get out: Although it may feel easier just to stay home and avoid the issue altogether, getting out into the community is the quickest way to feel more at home. Joan Hughes, a Coast Guard spouse, said that even in base housing, she makes sure to explore her new area. “Don’t stay on the base. Get off the base and out of housing. Make friends with the people in town,” Hughes said. “The places we enjoyed the most were the ones where we were involved in the community outside of the Coast Guard.”
Stephani Dosztan-Campbell, another Coastie spouse, has a unique way to get out and learn about her new city: “Be a tourist – learn the city or town you get transferred to and appreciate the opportunity you have been given,” she said.
Join in: Whether it is a spouse’s club, a church, a class, a gym, register for something to give you a place in your community. Meghann Acreman, who moved three times as a Coast Guard spouse, said she would plan ahead so she could hit the ground running. “I searched for a church before actually PCSing, and I would always contact the pastor ahead of time to let him know we are moving to the area and would be visiting,” Acreman said. “It’s a great way to connect with locals and to find a church with the best mission opportunities and kids programs.”
Lindsey Zackman, a Coast Guard spouse who is on her fourth move, also said joining is her key to adjusting to her new environment. “My top priority has always been finding the right church. We have been so blessed by the churches that we have found along the way and the people there have become our families,” Zackman said. “Also, arrange play dates with locals and Coasties.”
Laura Mastriani, a Coast Guard spouse, said, “Get plugged in somewhere. That could be a church, a weekly class – Zumba, yoga, cooking – anything, really. Just find something to do with other people in the area and stick with it.”
This is the key to making your new city a home, said Jennette Ippolito, who has moved twice so far with the Coast Guard. “Join the spouse club, help out in your child’s school or find a local moms group,” Ippolito said. “Once you start making connections you will feel better in your new community.”
Meet and greet: Make an effort to introduce yourself to those in your neighborhood. Tanya Mullin, a Coastie spouse, said it is worth it in the end, even if you feel shy about doing it. “Get to know your neighbors early on. People are always curious to know who’s moving into the neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and break the ice,” she said. “Good neighbors are priceless, especially if something goes awry while the hubby is away.”
Christy Smith Lalicker is getting ready for her 9th move, first as a military child and now as a Coast Guard spouse. She said her family always had an open door policy to friends and neighbors growing up, and she continues the tradition. “We also have a cookout shortly after we move in and get the house all set and invite over my husband’s new coworkers and other Coast Guard families, which gives us an opportunity to meet new people and interact with others,” she said.
Be positive: Find the positive aspect to every duty station, and focus on it. Laney Pinto, a Coastie spouse who has moved twice so far, said she was nervous about her move to a small town in Louisiana because “there was literally nothing there!” She said she focused on the most positive aspect of her new community, which were her new friendships. “Let me tell you that there was so many memories made and best friends made for life there,” she said. “We had to be there for each other because that is all we had.” From that experience, she said, she learned the most valuable lesson about military moves: “Always have a positive outlook on the new places and things you will be experiencing.”
Keep it simple: Don’t try to do too much that first summer in a new city. Moving is tough on everyone, so take it easy when you can. Yvonne Rule, a Coast Guard spouse who has moved four times, said she makes sure her family is her focus as she helps everyone adjust. “If I can tell my children yes, I plan to do so during this time. Although my husband and I chose this life they did not and I try to be sensitive and encourage them to see all of the benefits of this military life. No, we can’t stay. No, you can’t go to the same school. No, you can’t have a play date with your same friends. Yes, you can pick your new room and decorate it. Yes, we will visit your new school, meet your teacher and staff. Yes, we will keep in touch with friends and play outside with the new ones a little longer because it’s summer,” Rule said.
“Yes we will find happiness even if it’s staying in our pajamas playing board games that we forgot we had, eating ice cream a few too many times and giving an extra hug when I see that your spirits need a little boost. For our family, it’s about focusing on what seems to be little things that make a big difference during our transition to our new home.”
What would you add to our list? What helps you settle in to your new community? Share your ideas below!
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.