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 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.
Written by Shelley Kimball.
One of my favorite military phrases is “Got Your Six!” It’s short-hand for “got your back.” I love the fact in military life, it is so normal to provide each other support that we have a shortened version of it.
For military spouses, the idea of having each other’s sixes is essential. It’s a lifeline. And in the month that we celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I wanted to shine a light on the kinds of support systems, or sixes, we all have in our lives.
In my life here in South Florida, I have an amazing tribe of sixes. There is a group of us military moms from a variety of branches who stand behind each other, ready to lend a hand at a moment’s notice. We found each other in the school parking lot.
I’ll admit, I am a car decal stalker. As Coasties, we are rarely in base housing, regularly living on the economy. Finding other military spouses can be a challenge. I look for the car decals – the base entry stickers, the military support stickers, even the car dealer decals that don’t match the state license plates. When I see any of those clues, I go find the driver of the car, ask if she is a military spouse, and then introduce myself. I do it at school, at the gym, at the library. Anywhere.
I do it because I believe so strongly in our need to stick together.
So back to my sixes. Through the years, I have had some amazingly strong friendships with other spouses. They have pulled me through some pretty difficult times. Lately, I have a certain group of spouses I have leaned on regularly. We text each other when we are late to get our kids. We call on each other when we need someone to babysit on the fly. We vent when we are exhausted from handling so much in our lives alone. Our kids are so accustomed to the tribe that they come out of the back gate at school completely unconcerned if their mom isn’t there because they have three others they love and trust waiting for them.
All of us are moving soon, and the idea of starting again breaks my heart. We have such a good thing going. But we will find our new sixes in the next duty station.
If I had to give one tip I have learned from my years in this life, it’s that to find support like this, you have to accept help. I know it sounds simple. But think about it – how many of us are instantly willing to lend a hand, but we are embarrassed to accept help? I was the worst offender. At previous duty stations, when I needed a sitter at the very last minute, my husband would recommend I call another military spouse. I would always say, “Oh, no. I can’t impose.” And he would always say, “What would you say if she called you right now with the same problem?” I knew I would say yes instantly, but why wouldn’t I let someone do the same for me?
Now, I push through my embarrassment and ask for help. The outcome was a bit of a shock – my friends were no longer shy about asking for help right back. It was the key, for me. Once I let down my guard and allowed help in, I got so many more opportunities to help others.
Four other spouses share their stories today about their sixes and they way they have backed them up. All of them share a common thread of helping, allowing help in, and sticking together. Truly, the best way to celebrate the best of who we are as military spouses. (And your chance to do the same comes at the end of the column.)
There are so many ways support can be given. Whether it is helping out a fellow spouse by watching their children, making them meals when they have had a baby, or even in the simplest of ways, which is talking on the phone. As military spouses we following our significant others from station to station and although it is tough to start over, somehow we manage and usually it is by meeting that other spouse to help make the transition into our new areas.
I am very fortunate that I have made great friends along the way who have helped me out in different ways, but my very best friend Shellaine Harmansky, who also is a Coast Guard spouse, has been my support rock for 16 years. We have lived in the same duty station a few times and enjoyed evening dinners with our kids when our husbands were on duty. We have also lived farther away, and that is when modern technology steps in to help keep us connected. We have vacationed together with our families as well as celebrating holidays and birthdays. We have been pregnant at the same time, kids in preschool together, the occasional ER visit, and many countless nights talking on the phone for hours.
The support we have given each other over the years is, in my opinion, what really keeps our families going in this crazy lifestyle we live.
There are so many, but one I’ve remained very close with is Fiona Hamer. Her husband is in the Royal Air Force, and they were stationed in D.C. for several years. We had just moved to D.C., and Fiona and I worked as nurses together for the same hospital system. We became instant friends.
She was always quick to invite me over for dinner when my hubby was gone, or just to hang out for awhile. She was a huge support when I was pregnant with our first child. She was even there all three days I was in the hospital awaiting his birth. She and her husband Paul were one of the first people to hold my son! They were a great support for our family as they waited to meet the newest family member.
She has since moved back to the U.K., but we remain friends across the distance. Thank goodness for Skype!
My biggest support is Tania Betancourt-Urquiaga. I met her through our husbands. The first time I met her was at her wedding. My husband was one of her husband’s groomsmen and they asked me to come back and help pin flowers on everyone. As I walked into where she was getting ready she went all bridezilla on me and screamed “Who are you!?!” I was like, “Umm, I’m here to help with flowers.” And we have been best friends ever since.
She is always there for me no matter what. We are now at different air stations but I know she is only a phone call away. She is the most nonjudgmental person I have ever met, and I can talk to her about anything. I don’t know what I would do without her.
First let me start with I have never been big on the military spouse camaraderie. It stems back to my first marriage when I was very young, naïve and I was very hurt by another military spouse. So given that background, I’ve never been too involved in the sisterhood, so to speak, of us military spouses. Until this recent PCS to Miami, when hope was restored.
Now remarried, many years older and wiser, and not so pessimistic, our first PCS after officially marrying is to Miami. How lucky right? Wrong! I hated it! The people were rude, everything was so expensive and the traffic was horrible!
On top of that, I found out I was pregnant (which is a great blessing) with hormones raging at 1,000 mph. I was lonely, I missed my friends and family, and I couldn’t find a job that I felt I was qualified for.
Now here I am 8 months pregnant with a big ole belly (hormones still raging), and unemployment just ran out. So I decided to take a temp job. I, along with another spouse and two veterans were all in a conference room talking about ourselves, and we started bashing Miami. Then the other spouse who was there, Andrea Plummer, said very sweetly and optimistically, “I mean when are we going to be able to say again that we’ve lived in Miami? It’s great, it’s beautiful and you just have to find the best in it.”
She was absolutely right! All of this complaining and bitterness about a place so beautiful and multicultural! Andrea’s optimism and positivity got through to me and I am so, so grateful.
I have been able to embrace Miami and enjoy it to the fullest and I owe it to her. Now I participate in more activities, reach out to other spouses as an arm of support and have been blessed with a new position in which I am able to help service members, veterans, and their families on a daily basis. Blessing after blessing. Once you reach that level of clarity and understanding, everything else falls into place and you can spend your time enjoying instead of resenting.
I am so grateful that I met Andrea. She is a wonderful spouse who not only restored my faith in the military spouse sisterhood that is such a great support and resource, but also helped me just enjoy life and be happy whatever the circumstances may be!
So, how about yours? Who is your six? Who is that military spouse friend who has come through for you? Tell us about her (or him) and where you met in the comments section 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.