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, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Recently, I saw a new Coast Guard spouse’s wedding pictures on Facebook. She looked so young and enthusiastic, and I couldn’t help but hope she was going to adjust well to military family life.
When Joe and I got married, I did not give one thought to how I planned to navigate this life in the Coast Guard. Not one thought. I was sure that I had it covered because my dad spent a career in the Air Force. Oh, no. I was so wrong.
Within weeks of our wedding, Joe was promoted. He asked me to attend the promotion ceremony. When you see that person in the picture, know that I was not confident. I was not assured. I was scared. The whole time, I was wondering what the heck was going on. Why was I pinning this? And what is this thing I am pinning on? And what is everyone talking about?
I felt like I had fallen into a whole new land, and I couldn’t quite understand the language. I couldn’t figure out who anyone was, or what all of the pins and symbols meant on their uniforms (I still am pretty clueless about that). I was petrified I would screw something up.
I wish I could tell the newly married me to calm down and stop worrying so much. I wish I could tell new spouses to ask for help as often as you need it. Don’t feel like you have to do this alone – there are a lot of us spouses ready and willing to support you.
So today’s column is about making sure no one continues feeling lost and confused when they become a Coast Guard spouse. I am still no expert, so I asked lots of others what advice they would give new Coastie spouses. Among us, we have almost 180 years of experience as Coast Guard spouses from which we speak.
Through trial and error, we have found ways to make this life a little smoother, less lonely, definitely memorable, and a lot more fun. And as November is the Month of the Military Family, I thought it would be a great time to celebrate that moment when you officially become a Coast Guard family.
Tips for new Coast Guard spouses:
Be flexible and open-minded
“My biggest piece of advice is to be open minded to new adventures. Roll with the punches. This journey is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you and your family,” said Tyler Lambert, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Lambert since 2005.
“Remember that each unit and command is different. Things may be done one way at one but be completely different at the next. Try not to compare, instead roll with it and expect change!” said Melissa Dunmire, who has been married to Chief Petty Officer Dunmire for 17 years.
“Roll with the punches, no matter how angry you are going to be, and crying to the command is not going to change anything,” said Ailisa Walters, who has been married to Chief Petty Officer Erik Walters for 13 years.
“Embrace change – it’s always coming at you,” said Kathy Seltzer, who has been married to Chief Warrant Officer Randy Seltzer for 22 years.
“The best advice I got is the one I would give a new spouse: Be independent, self sufficient and resourceful, you will have to do many things on your own, there will be times when things will not go as expected and you will need to find a solution to it . Be courageous, there will be unknown places, unfamiliar faces, but they all hold the key to a new chapter of your life if you dare to explore it. Be resilient, learn to make the best of everything. Not every assignment will be your favorite or the best for you, but learn to bounce back and know it will be over soon. Be your own person, don’t just be the spouse, be someone others can lookup to. Help when you can, be a part of the community, be someone your spouse will be proud of,” said Zinnia E. Narvaez, who has been married to Lt. Herbert Narvaez for 18 years.
Find ways to connect with other spouses and friends
“The friends you will make along the way become family you have to count on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from these new-found friends. We’ve all been or will one day be in a position where life gets really tough, and we need help. Whether it be babysitting, or a car ride, or even a girls’ day, these people can be a lifesaver. On the other hand, be there for others. Don’t compare your woes to someone else’s, because you have no idea how hard of a time they may be having adjusting to a new city or job,” said Tyler Lambert, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Lambert since 2005.
“Family is not necessarily the ones you were either born with or married to, sometimes family are the ones you choose to around you and yours that you have found that will be there through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Military families are a special kind of individuals,” said Christi Lalicker, who has been married to Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Lalicker for nine years.
“If you struggle, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You might feel alone and far from family, but the Coast Guard is your family now, and we all know the struggle. Most importantly, be thankful for the life that your spouses’ service awards you. It is a good life,” said Ana Petty, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Jarvis Petty for two years, and they have been together since 2008.
“I highly recommend that wherever you are, it’s imperative to surround yourself with like-minded people. This doesn’t always mean other CG spouses, but it certainly helps. A support system is imperative for your success in thriving as a CG spouse and individual!” said Stacey Ward Turko, who has been married to Chief Petty Officer Andrew Turko for eight years.
“I met my husband in college while we both were on the Army ROTC program. He was already in the Army Reserve and was doing the program to become an officer. Having adult friends and family members that have been in the military, I got plenty of advice when I was to become a military wife. That advise guided me through our first time away from home, to the subsequent moves, through our times of being away from each other, and even when my husband decided to leave the Army and join the Coast Guard later on,” said Zinnia E. Narvaez, who has been married to Lt. Herbert Narvaez for 18 years.
Take advantage of all the places you live (even if you never wanted to go there)
“Explore your new surroundings when he is home. You may not like your new duty station, but remember it is you who can change that by being positive and making the best out of the situation,” said Emily Montgomery, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Montgomery for nine years.
“Get out and see your new region every time you PCS. Play tourist whenever you can. Make memories with your family because when the journey is over, you’ll love having so many wonderful memories to look back on. Don’t fret when you don’t get the station you want or if you have to leave your extended family. It’s not always fun leaving your comfort zone, but it can be. It’s all about your mind-set and attitude toward this journey,” said Tyler Lambert, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Lambert since 2005.
“We have certainly enjoyed our Coast Guard adventure, and we also learned very early on to be positive about life and our Coast Guard experiences – we try to enjoy all that each place we are stationed has to offer,” said Kathy Seltzer, who has been married to Chief Warrant Officer Randy Seltzer for 22 years.
“No matter what people say about a base, billet, or location always remember this: A place is only as good or bad as you make it. Remember that home is where your heart is, which is with your spouse. So go out sightseeing, make adventures, take pictures, and most importantly, have fun!” said Christi Lalicker, who has been married to Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Lalicker for nine years.
Accept that the Coast Guard will come first sometimes
“There are times that you will be super-frustrated with the Coast Guard. Late nights and long hours. Missed special events. Just remember not to take it out on your spouse. You are allowed to be angry and upset because you’re human. Just make sure you are venting in the right places (example: NOT social media). Have a glass of wine or movie night with friends. You’ll feel better and they know what you’re going through,” said Andrea Hawkins, who has been married to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarrod Hawkins for four years
“Marry him knowing his job/career will come first. Give him a loving home where he can come home to, whether it be every night, every three days or after six months at sea,” said Emily Montgomery, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Montgomery for 9 years.
“We have learned to spend quality time when the Coast Guard mission does not give us quantity,” said Kathy Seltzer, who has been married to Chief Warrant Officer Randy Seltzer for 22 years.
Negativity is contagious, so avoid it
“Keep yourself busy when he is gone, and make friends when you can, but make sure they are supportive and not Debbie Downers,” said Emily Montgomery, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Montgomery for 9 years.
“The Coast Guard is very small, so don’t badmouth anyone to new or old fellow Coastie spouses. It can very easily come back to bite you and make for uncomfortable situations,” said Tyler Lambert, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Lambert since 2005.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
“Always, always talk to your spouse. Communication is what will make or break your relationship. My husband added: ‘Don’t be afraid to ask your husband questions regarding the Coast Guard.’,” said Emily Montgomery, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Montgomery for 9 years.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, the only dumb question is the ones are not asked!” said Christi Lalicker, who has been married to Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Lalicker for nine years.
Take care of YOU
“If the military spouse is content with their own identity, they will allow their Coastguardsman to serve our country knowing all is well at home, thus the spouse being stronger and serve their family more successfully,” said Barbara Wong, who has been married for 15 years to Master Chief Jason Wong, command master chief at Sector St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Military life can be both difficult and rewarding at the same time. There is a good deal of unknown and uncertainty. You will always be waiting. Waiting on orders, waiting for your shipment of stuff to arrive at your new duty station, waiting for your spouses boat to pull in, just waiting. Don’t let the stress of uncertainty consume you. Be patient. Stop waiting and just live your life. Enjoy the moment. Make the most out of your situation,” said Ana Petty, who has been married to Petty Officer 1st Class Jarvis Petty for two years, and they have been together since 2008.
“My best advice is to always hold onto something that is yours, a hobby, career, a passion. It will help with those lonely nights, stressful times. Sometimes, as spouses, we can lose ourselves along the way. Having that special something to call your own can sometimes make a difference in those difficult, stressful times,” said Heather Kelly, who has been married to Chief Petty Officer Travis Kelly for six years.
“It is so easy to fall into the black hole of being lonely and unhappy when our Coastguardsman is underway, off to school, etc. Concentrate on your life while they are away – join a gym, volunteer, make small every-day improvements in your self. When you feel better and are stronger mentally and physically, the bad stuff won’t seem as bad as you would otherwise think,” said Barbara Wong, who has been married for 15 years to Master Chief Jason Wong, command master chief at Sector St. Petersburg, Florida.
Your support truly matters
“Letters and emails to the military member who is away should be as positive as possible. Letting them know that while they are underway, for instance, you are keeping it all together. That may seem difficult at times when all is going wrong, but when the service member can have peace of mind while they are away, they can better serve the mission,” said Barbara Wong, who has been married for 15 years to Master Chief Jason Wong, command master chief at Sector St. Petersburg, Florida.
“The reality is that there will be missed celebrations (anniversary, birthday, family events, etc), but embrace what your spouse has devoted themselves to (the CG and YOU!!),” said Stacey Ward Turko, who has been married to Chief Petty Officer Andrew Turko for eight years.
“Support is key and so is flexibility. I met him just out of boot camp and we were married two years later. He just retired after 34 years of service. It was a great career for him and I enjoyed it as well. I did have times that I missed him immensely but got through it,” said Vickie Gainor, who has been married to Cmdr. Dan Gainor for 31 years.
“Be your own family. You will be away from the family you grew up with, but now your spouse and children (if you have some), are your family. Build it up, make it strong, make it the most important thing in your life. No matter where you’re stationed, they will always be there with you and will always be your family. You are the glue that holds it together,” said Zinnia E. Narvaez, who has been married to Lt Herbert Narvaez, for 18 years.
So that’s what we came up with. What would you add? What lesson have you learned that makes your life easier? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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.