Celebrating Military Spouse Appreciation Day 2023
In honor and celebration of Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we sat down with Allison Ashinhurst, Flags of Valor Customer Service Manager, about her time, experience and learnings as a Military Spouse. This is what she had to say:
How did you meet your spouse and what led you to decide to marry someone in the military?
My husband (Chris) and I actually met in grade school and grew up together. We dated in high school and college. We went to separate colleges, and he actually attended the Naval Academy, so even though I never really anticipated marrying someone in the military, I was fortunate enough to get a small glimpse of what military life would be like through our college experience and long distance dating. However, I don’t necessarily think the saying “you knew what you were getting into” applies when it comes to living the military life. I’m not sure there is anything that can fully prepare you for this lifestyle.
What are some of the unique challenges that you face as a military spouse, and how have you overcome them?
I would say one of the main unique challenges as a military spouse is overcoming continual transition, whether that be through a move or training schedule change. For my family, this summer will be our 11th move in 19 years. It can be a challenge to be in a constant state of transition. We have never lived anywhere for longer than 2 years, so you spend the first year adjusting, 6 months in your groove, and then the last 6 months knowing you are transitioning to a new place. As the kids get older - it gets harder - not easier.
However, the flip side of the challenge would be all of the opportunities and experiences our family has had. My kids have seen everything from the Grand Canyon to Niagara Falls, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone, to name just a few. We have become foodies and can tell you where to eat the best BBQ, seafood, or Mexican food. Transition is hard, but there is not a price tag that can be put on the experiences this military lifestyle can also bring.
Not to mention the friendships. We have friends all over the country and world - and thanks to technology, we can keep in touch.
I believe your perspective is how you overcome these challenges. We tell our kids that in life (especially our life), we don’t always have a choice in where we go or what happens, BUT we DO always have a choice in how we handle each challenge that comes our way.
How has your spouse's service impacted your family and your day-to-day life?
The name of the military game is flexibility. It’s easier to embrace that instead of push against it :-) It is not always easy - and I am a work in constant progress, but our family has learned how to be flexible and resilient in our day to day life due to Chris’s service and his schedule. We learn to cope with disappointments BUT also to celebrate the victories. When you are forced to spend a lot of time apart, you tend to make the most of the opportunities and moments you do have together. Serving one’s country really is a family effort. I think that through Chris’s service and this day-to-day life, my boys are developing “tools” and traits that will help them all throughout their life.
What advice would you give to other military spouses who are struggling with the stresses of deployment and frequent moves?
Deployments and frequent moves are hard. There is no sugar-coating that. For deployments, you have to set goals for yourself. They do not need to be big goals, just goals - or activities to look forward to. I always feel that helps the clock continue to move when I have a goal I have set - or an activity planned. It can be something simple like finishing a book or trying a new food - or planning a weekly coffee date with a friend. Find little things that you enjoy doing and look forward to, so your focus can shift to those activities vs. the void you might feel of your spouse being gone.
I will also add that there is no feeling like a Homecoming. I always say it’s the best feeling you don’t ever want to have to experience. If you’ve experienced a homecoming for a spouse, family member, etc., you understand.
What are some of the ways that you stay connected with your spouse while they are deployed or away on training exercises?
Thankfully communication has changed over the past 19 years, so I have seen it become a little easier to stay in touch during deployments and training. During Chris’s second deployment in 2008, he left when our first son was 6 weeks old, and we recorded Chris reading books that I would play for Jake every night. Some of the ways to stay connected, especially when communication is not available, is making a list of things you want to remember to tell your spouse when you do get to talk with them. Also, I sometimes send an email - even though I know he won’t get it until later, but it helps me feel like I’m able to make him a part of our day-to-day lives, even when he is not here. Care packages are always a great way to stay connected, too. I also felt connected by planning - even small things (doesn’t have to be a trip) - that we will all do when he gets home.
How has being a military spouse influenced your career and educational goals, and what opportunities have you pursued as a result?
I believe that military spouses are some of the most versatile people. Since military families move on a regular basis, once you prove yourself in a job and start to feel comfortable, it’s time to move. I think a lot of spouses feel like they are continually starting over in their careers while they watch everyone else around them move up the career ladder. I was a Sociology major and Criminal Justice minor and worked with the FBI when I finished college. Then … our first duty station was 29 Palms … in the middle of nowhere, and I ended up applying for a job at a dental office - zero experience with dental procedures and insurance companies, but willing to learn. 3 kids and several years later, I started my own business. After several years of that (and COVID), I knew my passion was for the military community and giving back - and I had the opportunity to work for Flags of Valor. When I look back at how the past 19 years have evolved, I realize each of the, what appeared to be random jobs at the time, really just provided me experience and exposure to many different areas and have made me a more well rounded person today.
What role do you play in supporting your spouse's military career, and how do you balance that with your own personal and professional goals?
My “role” has changed over time and location and season of life. There have been times where I have been able to be very involved in his unit - but as our boys have gotten older and had their own extracurricular activities, my time has to be managed in a different way. It is the same for professional goals. I enjoy being able to work - and Chris has always been encouraging of me pursuing those opportunities as well. Even though my “roles” have looked different throughout different seasons in life, my support of Chris being a Marine hasn’t changed. Being a Marine and service to his country is his passion, and I believe we are mutually supportive of each other.
What are some of the misconceptions that people have about military spouses, and how do you respond to those stereotypes?
I think one of the misconceptions is that we “chose” this life. Just because your spouse is in the military and you chose to marry your spouse does not mean that absolves the hard.
I also think people look at military spouses as all being the same. There is not one mold in which we all fit. We come from all over - different jobs, strengths, levels of involvement - and we are all still here because of our love and support for our spouse and our personal love for our country and their commitment to service.
How have you found support and community among other military spouses?
I have met some of the most amazing people on this military journey. All 10 places I have lived, I have met friends that I still keep in touch with to this day. The nice thing about the Marine Corps, especially, is since it is a smaller branch of service, we tend to cross paths again, with some of the same friends. There is something special about being able to relate to someone who knows the challenges (and adventures) the lifestyle can bring. I think military spouses can sometimes quickly become close, because you know you don’t have much time. It goes back to making the most of the time you have.
My suggestion for finding support and community is to push yourself out of your comfort zone when you first move and meet a few friends, join a class at a gym, make frequent trips to the playground with your kids, attend a unit sponsored event (and then force yourself to introduce yourself to someone). For me, the support I’ve received from friends during some really tough seasons of life (especially 5 deployments) have helped turn those tough seasons into really treasured times.
What advice would you give to newcomers looking to connect with others in the military community?
The advice I would give newcomers is to have an open mind and keep your perspective in check. It can be overwhelming when you feel like you do not get to have a lot of control over decisions that are being made for your life, but when you keep an open mind, you realize all the opportunities that are out there in all the new places you go. New opportunities for learning and growth and friendship. 42 year old Allison would tell 23 year old Allison that the friendships you will make, the cultures you will experience and the places you will go are ALL going to be worth the many hardships you will face …. Just keep an open mind and always a fresh perspective.