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Becoming Military Independent

Michelle Watts |
Author

American Military University

Military spouses are all familiar with the term “military dependent.” While there has been some effort to change the “dependent” term to “family member,” the existing reference persists.

Whether you are at the beginning of a military life or thinking about retirement from the military and what comes next, it is important to feel a degree of independence. As a military spouse, I know we want to feel like we can contribute to the family income as well as lead a fulfilling life.

The good news is that military spouses are no longer limited by frequent moves. While these moves will always make work and education situations more challenging, the obstacles are no longer insurmountable.

Many of us have experienced the frustration of trying to take classes or maintain a career as we move from one duty station to another, generally having little concrete idea of how long we will be at each one. Fortunately, technology has made it easier to maintain both job and education through the process of such moves.

Earlier in my life as a military spouse, when the Internet was still a novelty, I began teaching online. I saw online classes go from correspondence courses, in which I graded papers by e-mail, to the dynamic platforms they are today, allowing for interaction between students and instructor as well as being audio- and video- capable.

Not everyone can have a job that is portable, but I have talked to many spouses who use telecommuting to maintain jobs that were previously in traditional office settings. Like me, many of them travel to the main office periodically.

If you do not currently have the education you need to pursue the job you want, it might be time to investigate learning options.  I recently decided I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. With information and encouragement from friends and colleagues, I identified a hybrid Ph.D. program that allows for both online classes and three in-person sessions per semester. Juggling my family, work, activities, and school is very challenging but also stimulating. Taking classes again helps me relate better to both my teenage boys and my online students.

Pursuing a degree can be frustrating and discouraging at times. However, I am enjoying the process and not just focusing on the end goal. I remind myself that I need to take on the workload that is right for me and not worry about what others are doing. With that mindset, I enjoy learning, work, and my family.

Obstacles are disappearing for military spouses today!  Forgive me if I add, as an Air Force spouse, that not even the sky is the limit. While it may not be easy, there are many options for military spouses to gain the degree of independence that we want. If you are not sure where to start, contact your local education officer for advice.

About the Author

Michelle Watts is a Faculty Director at American Military University and is enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi’s International Development Doctoral program.  She researches and writes on Latin America.  Most recently, she co-authored “Game of Norms: Panama, the International Community, and Indigenous Rights” forthcoming in the Latin American Policy Journal.

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