Although only a few of my relatives have served in the military, their time there has had a huge impact on my life. Yes, both my parents are textbook products of the “Baby Boom” and all it symbolizes, but there’s more. Because both my grandfathers served during WWII, both of my parents became the first members of either of their families to go to college, thanks to the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program. And because they went to college, my sister and I went as well. Now my kids take their future higher education for granted. And did I mention I met my husband in college? All because my grandfathers, a couple of uneducated migrant farm workers, fought for their country over half a century ago.
Today I live in San Diego, surrounded by military families, many of them Latino like mine. Their kids are friends with my kids. As I see them playing at the park, at the beach or at school, I am always wondering what huge impact their parents’ service might have on their futures. I also wonder what it’s like to be a Latino military family today.
First of all, what’s it like to be a military family at all? Laura Crawford is the creator of Semper Fi Momma, a site written for and about military wives in all branches of the Armed Forces. “Military life is definitely one that is extremely unique. Military, to include family members, barely even makes up a full 1% of the American population, so to call this life unique might even be a slight understatement,” Crawford says. “However, as small as our numbers are, our bond is very large and incredibly strong. No matter what branch your spouse serves, where you’ve been stationed or what rank you currently have pinned to your collar, you know that you are a part of an elite extended family who always has your back and can always empathize. We understand moving every three years and not only making your own new friends, but helping your children make new ones as well. We can laugh about the fact that our children have been on 6 different soccer teams.”
Read Related: The Military Money Chica
A WIFE’S PERSPECTIVE
My aunt Sheila was both a military wife during the Vietnam War (4 years) and, more recently, a military mom (10 years). I asked her about her experience during both those heady times. She says she didn’t really connect with other military wives or moms during her husband’s or son’s time in service, but rather looked more to her own family. “The biggest sacrifice was living without my husband during the first year of our son’s life, a very painful experience during the Vietnam War. But I was very grateful for the low prices, wife allowance, health benefits that the service offered to me as a military wife.” When asked about the difference between the military and her Latino family, my aunt replied, “Military is all business. [My husband] was a GI= Government Issue; he was the property of US government. You understood that as a military wife/mom. In contrast, family is a day by day learning experience, give and take, parents instilling values, culture. Extended family assisting to help raise the kids—building relationships. Love is there.”
Jenda Hardy blogs at jendalynnephotography.blogspot.com and twopeasonafork.blogspot.com. She is a Latina who spent six years as a Navy wife before her husband decided to join the United States Army Reserves. “The most rewarding thing has to be that the love of my life fights for our freedom. He is proud, and not to mention handsome, in his uniform. The perks are nice such as commissary, education, and other benefits we get from the military. But knowing my husband is sacrificing his life for me and my family means everything to me,” says Hardy. As for how her “military family” compares to her Latino (traditional) family, she replied, “Oh I am so glad someone finally asked me this! Being in the military is just like my family back home. We connect like no other. We would invite some sailors back to our house for dinner on holidays and when they had no family around. We became great friends with a few other Latinos in the military. It just shows we stick together. When I felt like I was alone, I just turned to a good friend in the military, and I was no longer feeling alone or away from my heritage. Being in the Army Reserves is a little different (than the Navy), and it is harder since he is only a reservist. So I do rely more on my family back home; another big decision we have made as a military family is moving back home to Michigan from Virginia. Back to my Latina roots we go.”
A SISTER & MOM’S PERSPECTIVE
Stefanie Marie’s brother enlisted in the Army last October. “I think as a sister you have to be supportive and understanding. All sibling rivalry aside, understanding is key,” says Stefanie, who blogs at If Curves Could Talk.
Stefanie’s mami, Genevieve Garibay, offers an interesting perspective as a freshly minted, modern-day military mami.
Porras: Have you connected with any other military moms since your son enlisted?
Garibay: While my son was in basic training, his platoon had a Facebook page where other parents would post and support one other. That was very instrumental. The page also had pictures of the privates during basic. Every time I saw a new picture I would scream in excitement.
Porras: What’s been the greatest sacrifice you’ve had to make as a military family?
Garibay: The biggest sacrifice would have to be the fact my son’s life is at stake. I gave my son to the US Army to protect our country.
Porras: What’s been the most positive aspect of being a military mom?
Garibay: The pride I see in my son as he is doing such an honorable deed. My son has such a noble job, and I know he will be respected for the sacrifice he is doing in defending our country.
Porras: How does military community seem to compare/contrast to the family structure you’ve tried to provide for your kids as a Latina mom?
Garibay: The Army is not my family. The structure is not meant to have emotional bonds. Everything is very rigid. Latino family bonds are very strong. Moms tend to nurture the boys past their teens. It’s a big culture shock to throw these young men in without fully preparing the families and soldiers for true life in the military. The military does not recognize our Latino culture and treats all (cultures) as one.
MILITARY MAKES ME A BETTER MOM
Laura Plumey has been serving in the US Navy for almost six years. A proud mother of three children, she and her husband are both active duty military. She says she has made friends with many other women in the military, some moms, some expecting and some who are trying to start a family. “I think one of the greatest challenge[s] we go through as a military family is [my] having to go off to training and/or deployment at the same time as my husband, and we have to leave the children behind for a few weeks or a few months,” says Plumey. “Being in the military has helped me grow and better myself as a mother, a worker and a citizen. I use what I’ve learned in the military—such as a more structured way of living, discipline, attention to detail, responsibility, morals and values—in raising my children. The rewarding part comes in watching my children apply these traits in school, with their friends, and with family. My children are smart and well behaved and it is a wonderful feeling hearing that from other people.”
Plumey says she feels blessed to have strong support from her military family as well as her traditional, Latino family. In her case, there is a great deal of crossover between the two. “They both push me to strive for better things, there is a lot of unity on both sides and of course just like all families, there is drama from time to time, but those kinds of challenges bring us all together.”
STRENGTH AND PRIDE
I was so impressed by all these women; not only by what they and their families have had to endure, but by the strength and candor with which they approach their unique situations. It certainly sparked a new appreciation in me for the sacrifices my grandfathers made all of those years ago, never knowing how it would benefit their great-grandchildren.
Crawford puts it best: “Our numbers may be small, and our sacrifices are often great, but the pride and strength that comes from being a military family is far greater than even the greatest of challenges. I wouldn’t change my life for all of the gold in this world, and I have yet to meet another military family who didn’t feel the same way.”
From everyone here at Mamiverse to all the families serving in all the branches of the US Military, past and present, we very humbly thank you.
Wishing you love with extra cheese