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 aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network .
Written by Shelley Kimball
I had just unpacked the last box and, (if you are a member of a military family, you can probably finish my sentence for me) …the detailer called.
We were just getting settled in South Florida. My parents had recently retired a few hours away, and one of my brothers had just moved there, too. I had family nearby, my husband enjoyed his job, and I literally had just folded up that last moving box.
Someone had retired in lieu of orders, which sent the slate of positions out of whack, and the detailer had to fill the spot. Before we knew it, we were short-toured, leaving South Florida and moving to Washington, D.C.
I did not want to go. At all. When I heard that the orders would be cut, I sat down on the floor and cried. I remember asking my husband to tell the Coast Guard, “no thank you,” and that we’d go at a later date. I laugh at the thought now.
I laugh not only at my naiveté, but because that move that I dreaded turned out to be the greatest thing we could have done.
I don’t think it would be overstating it to say that all of us have faced orders that we were not ideal, or we thought we would never get through. A few other Coast Guard spouses and I have some experiences to share about how we got through moving to duty stations we had been hoping to avoid.
For me, I realized that Washington, D.C., was not as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, you can see by the heading on this column that I live here again – we asked to come back. I love all this city has to offer, I love the climate, and it is a great location for my career. Plus, it is easier to travel to see family because there are great airports here.
Once I got over my initial disappointment to leave family, I could see all of the positives about this move. Living here led to great work opportunities for me and my husband as well as wonderful travel experiences for our family as we explore the area.
I am not at all unique in my experience. These spouses also made it through and they have some great advice to share.
Emily Garris attributes her success in making a dreaded duty station a positive experience to her mental attitude. Garris and her husband were stationed in Port Angeles, Washington. They had bought a house two years earlier, and it was only 20 minutes away from her parents and 45 minutes away from his. They had two small kids, ages one and three.
Garris was helping out at her daughter’s preschool when her husband called her cell phone.
“Why was he calling me? I stopped mid-swipe of some glitter on the table and answered the phone,” Garris said.
Her husband was calling to say that because he had advanced, they were being short-toured, and that he was being sent to a 378 cutter that was moving ports to Kodiak, Alaska.
“I felt like my life had come to a screeching halt right then and there,” Garris said.
She didn’t handle it well (at first).
“What did I do? I cried. A lot,” she said. “I literally threw a 2-year-old tantrum on my living room floor.”
And then they went to work figuring out the best way to handle it. They weighed out the options, heavily considering geo-bacheloring. It seemed like the smartest thing on paper – he would live on the ship, they would leave near family in a home they loved. But when it came time to face the idea of living apart, it weighed more than everything else.
“He said, ‘I know going geo looks good on paper, but I can’t do it. I can’t go without you guys. If we’re going to be miserable, I want to be miserable with you guys by my side.” I knew at that moment I was moving to Kodiak, Alaska,” Garris said.
Garris said she had heard horror stories about Kodiak and she was dreading it. She thought it was one of those places that was an absolute deal breaker. She felt like her life was out of control and she was heading into something awful. She stopped and re-evaluated.
“I thought to myself, ‘You know, if I’m doing this I have two choices. If I go thinking I’m going to have a terrible experience, that is what I’m going to get. I can go with a bad attitude, convinced it’s going to be awful, and I will not be disappointed. But, if I go into it with a positive outlook and an open heart, I might just enjoy myself a little. I might just get to experience something that is unique and exciting, and it might not be as terrible as they say,’” Garris said. “So, that’s what I did.”
She chose to be positive. She set out to manage her expectations so that she could come out ahead. She and her husband discussed their expectations of each other and their marriage. She decided she would reach toward a goal of a positive-to-negative attitude ratio of 80 percent to 20 percent.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be all peaches and roses, and I needed to allow myself to validate the negative, but if I could keep positive about 80 percent of the time, I was going to be okay,” she said.
And it was okay. There were some days she did not want to deal with it, but she did.
“I did not want to go to Kodiak, Alaska, but I did, and you know what? I didn’t hate it,” she said. “I made some of the best friends of my life up there. Friends I still consider family even today. We saw so many amazing things, and had once in a lifetime experiences that I will always be grateful for. (Plus my kids still like the reaction they get when they tell people they lived in Alaska.) I’m proud to say, too, that I’m still married, and very happily so.”
Caitlynn Gillyard and her family are living in the place they did not want orders: Cape May, New Jersey. But through the friendships she has built there, she is finding that it not as bad as she worried it would be.
“It’s worked out okay,” she said. “We’ve made some great friends and my husband really likes his job.”
They did not put Cape May on their dream sheet, so they were surprised (not in a good way) when they got orders there. They were worried about the cost of living in a tourist town, as well as what it would be like to try to get anywhere in the summer. They worried about the costs of traveling off the island to try to find less expensive groceries and shopping. Healthcare is a challenge, and they have to go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, if they need a specialist, she said. It is hard to get work if your career is not in the tourist industry and childcare nearby does not have hours that are conducive to two working parents.
“Now that I’ve gone over my huge list of negatives,” Gillyard said, “I will say that we’ve been blessed with making wonderful friends since living here.”
Those friendships allow some freedom and flexibility. They babysit for each other, they carpool and set up play dates. They go out to do local activities together, all of which brings a sense of community that helps the Gillyard family appreciate where they are a bot more.
“Overall I would say that trying to have a positive attitude and making strong friendships has really made our experience here,” she said. “Those things will make all the difference no matter where we get stationed.”
Sara Alger and her husband have yet to get their first pick on their dream sheet, but they have found that they can make it work in the locations the Coast Guard sends them.
When they first got married Alger’s husband said that life in the military would not be boring.
“He said the military life is great – a life of travel. Some places might not be where we want, but it’s an adventure we can experience together,” she said.
When setting up their dream sheet choices, Alger said they were narrowed down to three: Alameda, California; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
“We met in Alameda so didn’t want to go there again and we only heard negative things about NOLA from friends. So we wanted E-City,” Alger said. “We got New Orleans and we were not too happy.”
Alger said she was afraid of the weather in New Orleans and she was concerned that there was a high crime rate.
“But come to it,” Alger said, “It is one of our favorite places!”
Alger said one thing that helped them settle into their city was honest, positive feedback from the ombudsmen.
They are now stationed in Houma, Louisiana, not far from New Orleans, and they are in the process of buying their first home.
“If I never left my little safe bubble in California I wouldn’t have experienced this wonderful country,” she said.
Krystal Sheltry said she looks at every new location as an adventure, and that helps her appreciate the experience.
“There are so many hidden gems and new things to learn,” she said. “You can choose to sit and sulk about not getting a place you want or you can get out there and make the best of it.”
The first move she and her husband made together was to Michigan – not the adventure she had in mind.
“I pretended to be excited, but I was pretty bummed out,” she said. “It wasn’t the exciting place I had hoped for.”
But once they were settled, she started to explore and found that even in the smallest towns, there is something to be excited about. She found quiet beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan, a little local movie theater that charged only $4 a ticket, Amish country with its horse-drawn carriages and one of the biggest flea markets in the country.
“Every single place we have been stationed, even if I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it turned out to be a wonderful experience because I got out there and found things that I could enjoy,” Sheltry said. “Every place is unique. There are always hidden gems – you just have to get out there and find them.”
They now live in Ocean City, Maryland, and orders to a resort town made her nervous. Would they find housing? Would it be overwhelmingly crowded in the summer?
After a challenge finding housing (they were looking in the middle of the summer high-season), they found a great home in a small town. They have found great local restaurants for date nights and they have immersed themselves in Maryland culture by learning to go crabbing and spending relaxing days on the beach at Assateague Island with the wild ponies.
“We have tried new food, taken up new hobbies and enjoyed all that our area has to offer,” Sheltry said. “I was not looking forward to moving here, but I have found ways to enjoy it and now I love it!”
How did you adjust to orders your family didn’t want? Share your advice and experiences below!
Moving tips from the Coast Guard: Step-by-step information from the Coast Guard about some of the essential information necessary during a move.
It’s Your Move: A document for all branches of service provides information on allowances and responsibilities in connection with the shipment and storage of household goods.
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.