Why the Word Civilian Made Me Giggle
Why the Civilian Word Made Me Giggle
by: Kristi Metz
The first time I used the word “civilian” in a sentence was shortly after my husband left on his first deployment. After meeting Dave as an ROTC guy in college, two years of marriage in the National Guard and a summer at Fort Leonard Wood for officer training, I had started to feel a hint of confidence about my identity as an Army National Guard wife. I mostly kept it to myself, though. I conversed on military topics very rarely, and mostly with other Army wives I had met. My Army life didn’t make me feel any different than the people around me on a daily basis. It wasn’t until my husband actually left for deployment that I started to feel alienated from my community. And so, while sitting at a Biggby coffee with a friend trying to explain what I had been feeling over the first few weeks of deployment; I mentioned that it was strange having so many civilian friends who did not understand my situation.
And she giggled.
And then I giggled.
It sounded so foreign coming out of my mouth. Civilian friends. I had never referred to any of my friends as my civilian friends before. I usually chose to differentiate my Army friends from my “regular friends”. But suddenly the tables had turned. I found myself identifying closely with my Army ties and feeling alienated from my friends who were far from the military life and the stresses of deployment, my friends in the civilian world.
This is the dichotomy for every National Guard and Reserve spouse. We have this deep commitment to our civilian life, but we’re also married to the Army. We don’t live on a base, but our husband stays on one about once a month and a few weeks of every summer. We don’t feel like Army experts (and we don’t understand most of the abbreviations the Army so readily uses), but we have a deep commitment to our soldiers and their work. Sometimes I try to explain it to people by telling them it’s sort of like being “part-time Army”, but that doesn’t really cover it well. I can’t speak for all National Guard and Reserve wives, but personally, I tend to feel like the civilian parts of my life are a lot more “normal” than the Army parts.
All of that changed when my soldier was called up for deployment. Suddenly we were caught in a whirlwind of “Army stuff”- orders, Tricare, figuring out the FRG, trying to find out where to buy new boots, renting a storage unit, etc. Ready or not, I was being given a new mission and a new normal. It only took a few weeks for me to start feeling the confusion between my civilian identity and my Army identity. Beneath the surface, tension rose. I felt a separation from civilian life for the first time ever. So when I used the word civilian to set apart that part of my life, my friend (who is a civilian herself), laughed at the strangeness of it. And I laughed too, because there was a strangeness to it. Like it just didn’t quite fit. Except that it did.
The transition into this deployment has been incredibly difficult, as it is for spouses across all branches of service. National Guard deployments can feel especially alienating when there is no base to connect to others. I have to remind myself consistently of a few key things:
- It’s okay to live my civilian life. While my husband’s deployment is at the forefront of my life and our marriage right now, it doesn’t mean that my daily civilian life no longer suits me. God has placed me in the place I’m at to bring glory to Him and encourage the people around me, Army or not. I am called to continue in the good works He has for me- and not all of them are Army-related.
- It’s okay to live my Army life. Many of the people around me have not experienced this part of my life with me before. It’s time to let them in. Now is a great time to join military support groups, volunteer with the FRG, and read books and articles that will encourage me as a military spouse. It’s an awesome way to feel more connected to my husband’s mission, and to prepare my heart for the very specific difficulties of deployment.
- It’s okay that it feels weird. It’s a balancing act, and it always will be. I will be putting on my civilian hat and my Army hat depending on the day. Learning flexibility is key living in the “weirdness” of this crazy Citizen Soldier lifestyle. It’s perfectly normal to feel tension as I learn to navigate these different parts of life. (And it’s okay if it takes me awhile to stop giggling when I use the word “civilian”).
Kristi Metz is a writer, worshipper, vegetarian, runner, wife, puppy mom, and recent graduate of Michigan State University. She got her B.A. English in 2011 and is about to begin her student teaching program to become certified to teach. Her husband Dave is currently serving with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan. She writes about life and faith at http://kristigirl.wordpress.com