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Navy Spouse's Guide

Navy Spouse's Guide

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by Laura Hall Stavridis, Stavridis Laura Hall

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Naval officers and enlisted personnel undergo extensive training to cope with the special demands of their duties at sea and ashore, but what about their spouses and children? This practical, one-of-a-kind guide fills the gap by helping families navigate the unique challenges of Navy life. Personal, friendly, and easy to use, this updated edition of the original


Naval officers and enlisted personnel undergo extensive training to cope with the special demands of their duties at sea and ashore, but what about their spouses and children? This practical, one-of-a-kind guide fills the gap by helping families navigate the unique challenges of Navy life. Personal, friendly, and easy to use, this updated edition of the original 1997 guide is based on interviews with Navy spouses and a lifetime of lessons learned by the author as a Navy junior and wife of a career naval officer. Using an array of hard-to-find diagrams, charts, facts, and figures from a wide variety of sources, Laura Stavridis explains every aspect of Navy life in a frank, open discussion.

The particulars of pay, living expenses, travel, children, emergencies, support groups, and social life, as well as medical, legal, and educational issues are described in an interesting, spouse-to-spouse format. Readers learn what to expect with regard to separation, homecomings, life overseas, shore duty, marital dynamics, and divorce. Also covered are such vital topics as military careers, spousal careers, reenlistment, retirement, and transition to civilian life. Useful phone numbers, checklists, glossary, and an up-to-date primer on the Navy's organization, ships and aircraft, and chain of command complete this unique reference. New to this second edition are discussions of e-mail communication, Internet resources, and spouse leadership roles within the Navy. For anyone starting out or contemplating life with a mate in the sea services this one-volume source of user-friendly information will prove invaluable.

Editorial Reviews

A practical guide for Navy spouses by the wife of a naval officer, explaining issues such as pay, living expenses, travel, and social life in plain language. Readers learn what to expect regarding deployment separation, life overseas, shore duty, marital dynamics, and divorce. Also covered are military careers, spousal career, reenlistment, medical and legal issues, retirement, and transition to civilian life. There is no mention of the problem of domestic abuse. Appendices offer checklists and useful organizations, and provide a primer on the Navy's organization, ships and aircraft, and chain of command. Includes a glossary and b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

Naval Institute Press
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5.56(w) x 11.46(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Welcome Aboard

Yea, we go down to sea in ships—
But Hope remains behind,
And Love, with laughter on his lips,
And Peace, of passive mind

"At Sea"
James Whitcomb Riley

There is a wonderful quality to a life spent in the navy that is difficult to define. Perhaps it is some combination of the sense of adventure brought on by moving every few years; the friendships that spring up among those bound together by their part in one of our nation's greatest and most abiding institutions; the essential feelings of patriotism and service to country; and, above all, the wonderful sense that you are part of an organization that genuinely cares about your welfare—a sense of community that is difficult to find in our increasingly fragmented society.

    I grew up in the navy, and I believe in all of its good qualities. This is not to say that life as a navy spouse will always be easy or without significant challenges: your spouse will be away from you for long periods of time, there is a certain amount of danger in what a sailor does at sea, and the pay is not the best. Yet many superb people choose to make the navy a career, and I believe it is because for most people involved in the U.S. Navy, at the end of the day the good qualities far outweigh the frustrations and challenges.

    My hope in writing this book is to help you, a navy spouse, overcome those frustrations and challenges and in doing so come to enjoy deeply your life within the navy community.

Growing up in the Navy

Navy children are referred to as "navy juniors," and I am proud to have been one. I lived in fifteen different homes between birth and the time I left college in my early twenties. We were lucky to be stationed overseas twice, both times in Europe, and I enjoyed the experience very much. We also lived on both U.S. coasts, as far north as Maine and as far south as Florida. My father was a naval aviator and was deeply attached to the navy; my mother was a wonderful navy mom and always made wherever we lived a home from our first day in it—whether our abode consisted of a rented apartment, government quarters, or a newly purchased house.

    Having enjoyed life as a navy junior, I did not surprise anyone in my family when I married a navy destroyer officer in my early twenties and embarked on a life as a navy spouse. Over the years, I have seen both the good and the challenging days, and I think I have learned a great deal about navy life and how to make it an enjoyable experience, whether you and your sailor plan on a "single hitch" or a full career.

Two Quick Sea Stories

In the course of your association with the navy you will be sure to hear sea stories. This term can mean anything from the "lies and damned lies" that are swapped between sailors about ships on which they have served and commanders they have known, to honest reminiscences passed between acquaintances about times gone by. For our purposes here, I will begin by telling you truthfully about a wonderful navy day, and one that was full of challenges. And I hope by the end of the book you will be prepared to face both kinds of days as well as the far more common ones that lie somewhere in between.

A Really Good Navy Day

My husband's third ship, an Aegis cruiser (don't worry about what that is; we will discuss ship types in chapter 2), was deployed (on overseas duty) in the Indian Ocean—about ten thousand miles from the ship's homeport of San Diego, California. He had been assigned to the ship for over three years, having begun with it in the construction yard (the place the ship was built) in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

    After the long years of putting the ship together and training the crew, this first deployment had been very demanding indeed. The schedule had changed several times, and the ship had been sent into the Persian Gulf to escort Kuwaiti tankers through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz, under the noses of Iranian missile batteries. It had been a very anxious and tense deployment, but my husband's battle group (a collection of nearly a dozen ships operating together for mutual support, usually built around an aircraft carrier) had been relieved and was now on its way home in the late summer of 1987.

    My husband had orders to transfer back to Washington, D.C., and had to cut the cruise short in order to make his required reporting date at the Pentagon. His relief was on board, the turnover complete, and he received permission from his captain to leave the ship and fly home in order to make it to his next duty station. We had not seen each other in over five months, but he had called me from the ship (we will discuss in chapter 4 how that is possible) and asked me to meet him at the Marriott Hotel in downtown San Diego.

    I knew his flight was arriving around six that evening, and I checked into the hotel—making sure we had a great room near the top floor, with all of San Diego spread out below—put on a beautiful dress, and sat in the lobby to await his arrival.

    A few minutes past six, a cab pulled up and he got out, still wearing a rumpled set of khakis from the twenty-four-hour series of military flights that had brought him home after nearly six months away. Seeing him walk into that hotel lobby was an ideal conclusion to a perfect navy day. It is hard to describe how wonderful a reunion like that can be, the immense joy of finally being together again—it really is like starting a new life every time it happens. Yes, the separations are long and challenging, but the chance to begin afresh is a magical high that you repeat again and again in a navy life.

A Challenging Navy Day

Now let me share a challenging moment with you, because life as a navy spouse will certainly offer you a few of those as well.

    It was in October 1989, as my husband was leaving a tour at the Pentagon, headed back to sea duty as executive officer of a cruiser home-ported in Long Beach, California. Because the officer he was relieving had to transfer early, his arrival date had been moved up five months, and most of his "pipeline training" (the schools a sailor attends on the way to a new assignment) was suddenly canceled. We loaded our four-year-old daughter and some pots, pans, and sheets in the car and tore across country, arriving in Los Angeles with exactly twenty-four hours to house hunt before my husband had to jump on a series of flights to meet the ship in Korea.

    Los Angeles in the late 1980s was not a pretty place. Earthquakes, riots, smog, and traffic were the four constants. There was no navy housing readily available, and the Navy Lodge was perched on the corner of Highway 405, appropriately named the "Terminal Freeway," and an industrial park by the base. Gang graffiti was sprayed on every other lamppost, and the realtor praised a house she was showing by saying, "The gangs who are in this neighborhood aren't very active at all." Despite our best efforts, we found nothing in our price range in the single day available for house hunting, and my husband was forced to leave us at the Navy Lodge—our reservation running out, with no idea where we would live—and meet the ship for a two-month exercise.

    That night I put my four year old to bed in the single room, listened to the traffic whizzing by on the freeway outside the window, and said, "What are we doing in the navy?" As my husband would say, it was not a reenlistment kind of day.

    How did it turn out?

    As I'm sure you can guess, it all worked out. I was able to call some of the other ship's wives, including the captain's wife, all of whom were very helpful and supportive. The Navy Family Service Center (NFSC) provided me with maps and good general advice about the area. The Navy Lodge extended our reservation. And after about a week of looking diligently, we found a great little house in San Pedro and a wonderful preschool for my daughter.

    I will be the first to admit that Los Angeles was not my favorite homeport in my husband's twenty-five-year career; there were many things not to like about the city. But on balance, I'm glad we had a chance to live in the United States' second-largest city and to sample the pulse and energy of a huge multicultural center full of great restaurants, beautiful beaches, and wonderful entertainment opportunities—from the original Disneyland to Knott's Berry Farm to the L.A. County Art Museum.

    The message here is simple: life as a navy spouse will be full of amazing highs and deep challenges, almost beyond the understanding of friends and family who are not familiar with such a life. The secret is to savor the highs, and when the challenges come, put your head down, take advantage of all the resources the navy provides for you, and take them on, one at a time. You will be amazed at how skilled you become at overcoming the challenges you meet.

About Those Navy Juniors

As I have mentioned, I grew up a navy junior, and I know firsthand the good and the challenging aspects of being the child of a sailor. But rather than write it myself, in 1996 I asked my sixth-grade daughter, Christina, to capture in a few lines what her eleven years in the navy had been like, and they serve quite well as an introduction to any younger readers. They also offer some insight, for navy spouses, into the navy world as seen through the eyes of a child.

A Few Helpful Hints from a Sixth-Grade Survivor of (Drum Roll) Navy Life as a Kid in the 1990s

Once you get used to one place, what do you have to do when your mom or dad is in the navy? Move, of course. When you finally get friends, what do you have to do? Move, of course. When you finally get your room the way you like it, you have to—you guessed it—move again.

    I know all about this, because my dad has been in the navy for twenty years, and that is way more than all of my life. So, almost every two years, I move. But I guess you know all about that, or you wouldn't have bought my mom's book, right?

    I have gotten used to it, and there are five simple tips that I use whenever I move. They are about coping with moving or starting at a new school. Here they are:

1. Always try to stay in touch with all the great people you have met or been friends with around the country—so what if your Christmas card list gets a little long? Not to mention that you may live there again.

2. Think ahead about the good things that are part of moving. Try to think of all the new people you are going to meet. Or think about how you are going to arrange your new room. Or about the great new places to go in your new town. This will take your mind off of feeling gloomy about moving. Be positive—it doesn't cost anything and will make you feel lots better.

3. When you get to your new school or neighborhood, try not to talk a lot about "where you used to live." It could make your new friends think you are sorry to have moved to their town (even if you do think a lot about your old house and neighborhood).

4. On the first or second day at your new house, be outside a lot. While you are out there, you might see someone your own age. And if you moved in the summertime, you might have a friend to face school with.

5. Here is my final tip: don't be afraid to be really involved where you live now. Sometimes military kids don't want to get involved, because they feel like they will only be there for two or three years. No matter how long you live in a place, you should try to have great friends and be very involved. You'll just end up with lots more friends all over the country as a result.

    Finally, is there anyone out there who has never moved? Like kids who are totally new to this navy scene? Well, here are some suggestions (in addition to the ones listed above) that might help you in particular. (And all you "pros" at this moving thing still ought to listen, because you might actually end up staying in one place for more than two years.)

1. Since you have lived in the same house and have had the same friends all of your life, you are probably pretty attached to everyone you know or like in your hometown. On the last days you are at "home," try to make the best of it. For instance, try to see your friends a lot. Exchange addresses and talk about when you will write.

2. Try to help your parents and the movers by staying out of their way and keeping your little brother or sister out of their way also.

3. When you get to your new house, don't sulk in the corners. Or try to be extra mean to your parents (even if there isn't anything else to do). It doesn't make the time go faster, and in fact it only makes you look bad in front of everyone.

Well, these are just a few ideas that should help you. Maybe you'll see me on a base somewhere, and remember to have a nice life in ... the Navy World.

    Recently, I asked my ten-year-old daughter to comment for the new millennium.

What It Is Like Being a Navy Kid in the Year 2001

I think being a navy kid is good, but I have to admit there are some bad parts at times.

    I have to say that I love having privileges like being able to shop at the base and getting to take tours of ships. But at other times, I really don't like it when my Dad goes away for a long time. I do like it when he comes back from cruises with lots of presents, and we have fun together again. And we learn a lot from his going overseas to lots of foreign countries.

    On the subject of moving, I think that is pretty cool—at least when we move to interesting places such as California or Hawaii. But as I said, there are bad parts too like not being able to see my friends anymore or moving in the middle of the school year and having to be new in the class. After we move away from a place, I try to stay in touch with my friends with e-mail and with letters, but it is hard. Maybe when I get older, I'll do better at that. Right now I just try to make new friends really fast by getting on sports teams, taking after-school activities like dance and art classes, and seeing who lives near us. So far that has worked OK, and I've always been able to meet great new friends. You just have to get out there and try.

    Overall, I think the navy is pretty cool and I would like to carry on the tradition.

Perspective and a Sense of Humor

The first and most important asset you have in a navy life is a clear sense of perspective. A great deal routinely goes wrong in life: from the flat tire as you are hopping into the car to take your daughter to preschool, to the hot water heater that, with impeccable timing, blows up exactly at the halfway point of any of your spouse's six-month deployments. While these things are never enjoyable at the time, perspective is the quality that allows you to separate the bothersome from the truly life threatening, and permits a balanced approach to events that unfold before you.

    The flat tire? Grab a can of Fix-a-Flat (see chapter 4 on emergency road repairs), pump that baby up, and get back on the road. Or call your roadside assistance company (e.g., the American Automobile Association), ask your ship's designated support team member to change the tire, or do it yourself. Hot water heater blew up? Use the Yellow Pages to find someone to repair it. New to the area and unsure who to ask? Call the command ombudsman for some advice, or check with the NFSC, who can steer you to community organizations that monitor business practices in your city.

    Perhaps the best tool in your kit is one that we all at times can overlook: a sense of humor. While it may not seem funny when the hot water heater blows up and the water is spreading over the floor of the garage, in the course of your life it is not a tree tragedy. You may eventually find yourself telling some friends the story over a glass of wine or a beer at a navy party, complaining that you just cannot figure out how the hot water heater knew, absolutely knew, that it was exactly halfway through the deployment. One thing you will certainly develop during your time in the navy is a healthy respect for the malevolent intelligence of appliances, who always know when to self-destruct to inflict the most harm on you. And is there humor in that? Maybe a little.

Serving Your Country

One of the true rewards of being a navy spouse has nothing to do with the excitement of moving, the joys of reunion, or the pleasures in overcoming life's challenges. Instead, it is the pride you will feel in serving your country.

    As a navy spouse, you are devoting a great deal of your time and effort to the causes of your country—something you should be aware of and proud about. When your spouse sails to the coast of Haiti as part of an international effort to bring peace and stability to that troubled land, you should be proud. When your spouse's submarine is reported on station in the Persian Gulf during periods of high tension, you should know that the sacrifice of separation is helping keep the peace in a dangerous region where vital U.S. interests are engaged. And when the patrol squadron in which your spouse flies is involved in humanitarian relief efforts in Florida after a major hurricane, flying supplies and experts into the region, you must know that you are very much a part of that important effort.

    Your spouse is in the navy in large measure because of a deep and abiding love of country. We are all part of the greatest country in the world, but as a navy spouse you give more to it than almost anyone else. This is well recognized, not only in the navy, but in the larger community as well. Each year, Congress and the president participate in a day recognizing all military spouses for the sacrifices they make and the love they show daily to this beloved land we call the United States of America. Be proud.

The Civilian World

You will be constantly amazed how little your civilian friends know about the military in general and the navy in particular. Among the memorable questions I have heard over twenty years as a navy junior and twenty as a navy spouse:

The military pays for your housing no matter where you live, right? (Hah)

Can you get free food at those commissary places? (I wish)

Do you get to go to sea with your husband if you want to? (Right)

I guess navy wives are required to be in wives clubs? (Times have changed)

When his ship is in port, what does he do? Do they just get the time off until they go back to sea again? (I really wish)

I can see what the ships do, but why does the navy need all those bases and buildings? (Let me explain)

You get the idea. While these questions sound ridiculous to those of us who have been navy spouses or navy juniors, they are generally innocent and serve to show the dearth of understanding many (most, actually) civilians have about the armed services.

    This lack of knowledge about the military is a growing concern for everyone who studies national security. The United States stopped drafting people into the military in 1972, and the services have been increasingly a career force with less direct input from the civilian world since. Our last major prolonged conflict, the war in Vietnam, ended well over two decades ago. With fewer elected officials who have served in the military, and with the passing of many in the World War II and Korean War generations, there are simply fewer Americans who understand What the military life is all about, especially on the family front.

    With the passing of the Cold War and the brief (fortunately successful) Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military has to some degree been relegated to a less prominent role in the national consciousness. Despite the constant strains of frequent major deployments (Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, Persian Gulf), the success of the military and the seeming ease of its "can do" spirit has led the country to take the military a bit for granted.

    And this is where navy spouses come in: to some degree, all of us help portray the navy to the civilian side of society. The image many civilians have of the navy is formed by their impression of the navy spouses they have met as neighbors, friends, and coworkers. We serve as a daily link to the civilian world for our active-duty wives and husbands. Some civilian impressions of the navy—especially what day-to-day life for a navy family is like—are formed through interaction and conversation with us.

    My advice is always to be honest and forthright about the navy, painting an accurate picture—but, I hope, a very positive one. Just as you would not criticize your family to someone not in it, you should be careful to focus your discussion with civilian friends and neighbors in a positive way on the rewards and the challenges of the service. Let them know that the navy life is full of interesting moments, some great rewards, and many demanding challenges. They will be fascinated, faintly unbelieving, and perhaps quietly envious of the excitement in your life. They will learn that the sacrifices of separation are very demanding, but on the other hand, they will hear that your opportunities to travel and live all over the country and the world are exciting. From you they may learn that your life has a reasonable amount of job security and a solid retirement program, and is populated with many high-quality people.

    So be balanced and give your navy a good report card when you talk to those civilians.

A Part of the Team

You are a part of the best team in the world: the U.S. Navy. In over two hundred years we may have lost a few battles, but we have never been defeated in a war at sea. As Secretary of Defense William Perry said in early 1996 (when navy ships and aircraft stepped in between Taiwan and China to maintain peace in Asia), "We have the best damned navy in the world." Our flag has never been driven from the oceans of this earth, and our ships, submarines, and aircraft are on station, standing guard, twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.

    As a navy spouse, you are an enormous part of the navy's ability to perform its abiding mission: the conduct of prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. Without your love and support, the nearly three hundred thousand married active-duty navy personnel could not perform their demanding jobs at sea or in the air throughout the world. For the remainder of this book, I hope to give you the kind of down-to-earth, real-world advice that will truly make your time in the navy the best and most memorable voyage of your life.

Three Cheers for a Navy Spouse

A true navy spouse is someone who

owns three dozen sets of drapes, but none that fit the new bedroom window

knows how to load a van with three kids, a dog, two cats, a hamster, and six suitcases and drive across country, all in less than a week

has checked into the Navy Lodge in Pearl Harbor only to discover the household goods were moved to Mayport

has children born in three different states

finds it a little suspicious when a family member sees the same doctor twice in a row

knows the best time to go commissary shopping in both Norfolk and San Diego

has actually heard of Adak, Alaska

instinctively shows a military ID card when entering Wal-Mart knows how to fit ten rooms of furniture into a six-room apartment.

Excerpted from Navy Spouse's Guide by Laura Hall Stavridis. Copyright © 2002 by Laura Hall Stavridis. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Laura Hall Stavridis, the daughter of a naval aviator and wife of a surface line officer, has lived on naval bases all over the world. She is the recipient of a master's degree in international relations.

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Navy Spouse's Guide 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a Navy Wife, I'm not an idiot. I know what a deployment is. Laura writes this book as if all (esp. young) Navy Wives are somehow mentally inept and can't seem to cope with the crazy U.S. Navy lifestyle. I do not like this book. I would not recommend this book to anyone.