Joining the Armed Services is a noble decision, and one not made lightly with each person signing up for their own personal reasons and passions. Serving our great country is the highest honor I can imagine, and I applaud all that make the choice, but there are many things to consider both good and challenging before becoming a dual military family.
Financial security is one of the biggest gains for dual military families. While unemployment is down across the nation, military spouses face a higher than average unemployment rate due to regular PCS moves, duty stations that don't offer many career opportunities (ever been stationed in Guam, 29 Palms or Cannon Air Force?) or trying to build a career in the midst of the unpredictability of the military. Choosing to join the service can provide career stability for many military spouses. In addition to double paychecks (which most families need to survive in today’s world) dual service members each receive education benefits, so it eliminates the decision about who gets to use to GI Bill, both members have access to higher education.
Understanding “mission first” is not just a saying but a way of life in all branches of the military and is another pro for dual military couples. I'll admit, as a non-service member spouse, I understand this in theory, but still get perturbed when our weekend plans get nixed by an early morning call from Staff Duty! Dual military members have intimate knowledge of the demands of the job, there is no calling in or "can it wait till Monday?" so they are less likely to get perturbed like I do when the job comes first.
Mixing up uniforms and gear, deciphering which Sgt Smith the Major is referring to and the friendly competition of who will get promoted first are minor inconveniences for dual military families, however, there are some true challenges married couples who serve will face.
One of the greatest challenges of dual military families is creating a stable and reliable family care plan. All military members with children are required to have a family care plan in place, this provides guidance for childcare, medical care, school and family activities. For families with only one service member, the plan generally consists of the spouse not serving to be responsible for most if not all the children’s’ needs. But when both parents are military the family care plan becomes vital and seeking outside care for children necessary to maintain a successful career and family. Finding childcare in the wee hours of the morning or late at night can be nearly impossible and quite expensive, not to mention the need for coverage during field exercises, schools, and deployments. Dual military families need a strong support system full of people they can trust to care for their children.
Other challenges dual military couples face is the uncertainty of duty assignments (no guarantees you will be stationed together), frequency of deployment and training, growing separate career paths which can require one member to pass on a promising assignment or accepting a not so desirable assignment in order to be stationed together.
As in any marriage, communication is key in thriving as a dual military marriage. Couples need to be open and honest about their career goals and what they are willing and not willing to sacrifice in order to achieve them.
My husband jokes that he gets more done before 6:00 am than most people do all day. Service members definitely don’t keep bankers’ hours, most working 10-12-hour days, so time management is imperative to maintaining a connection and making the most of the precious spare time dual couples have. Steal those few minutes after PT, before formation to grab a cup of coffee or make a standing lunch date each week to catch up, chat about work, make holiday plans or simply just be together.
Being flexible is the only way to keep your sanity in a military lifestyle. Plans always change, nothing is ever set in stone so rolling with the punches, keeping a sense of humor and relinquishing control are requirements of surviving the military. Dual military couples must be even more flexible and adaptable to preserve their careers and marriages.
Most branches have programs designed to keep married service members together at least within 100 miles of each other. Enrolling in the programs will not guarantee you will be stationed with your spouse, but they will do the best they can to keep you close.
Here are some resources for dual military couples, and your unit or base may be able to recommend more.
Married Army Couple Program
Air Force Join Spouses Program
Navy Mil-to-Mil Co-Location Program
Choosing a career path can be difficult, confusing and exhausting, but when your path leads to the military, this choice comes with additional decisions and factors to consider. Being a dual military family comes with a fair share of rewards and challenges. Currently, over 20,000 couples are serving together which shows, for their families, the benefits make the challenges worth it.
We understand the challenges dual military families face, and appreciate the call of duty both have answered to serve our country. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts here at MSCCN, and Happy Veterans Day!
Written by: Amanda Marksmeier