To everyday civilians, “the pursuit of happiness” typically involves career, home, love, and family. It’s no different for military families, with one important exception: ORDERS.
Unlike their civilian counterparts, active duty servicepersons must pursue their happiness within the strict confines of written military orders, which are lengthy documents that appear to be written in alien code.
Military orders seem riddled with gibberish, and might be easily replicated as follows: Sit on a computer keyboard for about ten minutes, periodically shifting positions. Once enough “XXXXXXXXs” and “UUUUUUs” have been typed, print out about 15 pages; staple. Trust me, even the most seasoned soldier or sailor wouldn’t immediately notice the difference.
However, buried amongst the seemingly nonsensical verbiage are key phrases such as “Report no later than August 2013” and “Newport, Rhode Island,” which, although embedded in gobbledygook, are important mandatory instructions regarding the next couple of years in a serviceperson’s life.
We are a Navy family who’s seen our share of military orders. Our most recent written orders arrived a month ago. Besides “RTTUZYUW” and “UUUU–RHMCSUU” my husband’s orders indicate that this summer, he must report to a new job at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
Our last orders instructed my husband to report to Naval Station Mayport, Florida in March 2011, and before that to Africa Command, Stuttgart, Germany in July 2008. Before that Djibouti, East Africa. Before that Norfolk, Virginia. Before that Molesworth, England. Before that, Monterey California. And so on, and so on.
I can’t prove it without the assistance of an experienced cryptographer, but I think that our orders might also contain mandates such as “///GET OVER IT///” or “///NO WHINING–YOU’RE IN THE MILITARY///.” We must follow military orders regardless of inconvenience or hardship, like moving your son before his senior year, or leaving the church that you like so much, or separating your youngest after she finally made a new best friend. None of that matters. We are at the mercy of the U.S. Navy.
So why do we continue to let ourselves get ordered around?
In today’s unstable economic climate, one might think that mere job security is what motivates military families to keep following orders, and with all the news of “fiscal cliffs” and “sequestration” there is some truth to this.
However, regardless of job security, a deep attachment to a military culture develops. With each successive move, military families not only become more resilient, but also cultivate a strong identity and pride in their unique lifestyle. Believe it or not, we become so accustomed to being ordered to go somewhere new, we often look forward to it after being in one place for a couple of years.
I must admit, I’ve wondered if our affection for military life might be a twinge of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe it’s rooted in fear of what’s on the outside, like long-term prisoners who are afraid to be released from prison life. Or maybe it’s a compulsion, like Pacino’s Michael Corleone in Godfather III (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”)
Truly, I know our affinity for this lifestyle is rooted in honor, duty, courage, loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority, and sacrifice for others. These concepts have become muddled in today’s society, so we feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to raise our kids in a military environment where those virtues are emphasized. We live and work with other military families who have a common understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. We don’t need a permanent hometown — it’s the similar sense of values and camaraderie with our fellow military families that makes us feel at home.
No doubt about it: non-military families are fortunate to put down roots in one place where they can make close friendships and foster stable school, family and community ties. They might not understand how a family like mine could be happy about moving to Rhode Island after less than two years in Florida.
But we are happy about our ninth move in 20 years, because it’s part and parcel of our military lifestyle. To quote a common saying which adorns many a sailor’s front door, “Home is where the Navy sends us.”