Sept. 15 is Military Family Appreciation Day, a day that the family members of those who serve are honoured. Military families often deal with unique hardships while performing their duties or supporting those who do.
Eleanor Millar is a military spouse and the government relations officer for Together We Stand (TWS), an organization that provides support to military families. She has been part of a military family for almost 20 years.
Her husband, combat infantry warrant officer and trained paratrooper Tom Millar, has been deployed four times during their marriage so far — twice to Afghanistan, once to Poland, and one time to the Middle East.
“He is gone six to eight months at the time when on active duty. During deployment, I speak to him once every two weeks,” Millar said.
Being separated is a common thing within a military marriage. Millar had a long-distance relationship with her husband for 10 years before they could finally live in the same city, and even that was hard on her.
“They are constantly on a training cycle, which can be very unpredictable. It is not the type of job where you are home at five for dinner every day. I was not prepared for that. Tom was often away even when we were supposed to be living under the same roof.”
The hardest thing for Millar was moving to a new posting. At that point, she and her husband had lived together in Edmonton for six years. That was very hard on her:
“We were living there six years, so you start to expect to live there six or 10 more years, but then all of sudden you get the message that you have to move. Leaving so much behind after you started to set roots is challenging.”
According to TWS statistics, 10,000+ families in Canada move due to postings every year. Millar says her family has been lucky, as they only had to move a couple of times. She knows families that are on their 11th or 12th move.
“It really puts your family in flux. If you have older children, they might end up going to five different schools,” she said.
When moving, some spouses may have trouble finding a new job as some credentials don’t transfer over.
“You might be accredited as a teacher in British-Columbia, but that is no longer valid for New Brunswick, or you are a lawyer and you only passed the bar in the province you are in, but not in the one you will move to. It can be challenging to adjust and find meaningful employment for spouses,” Millar explained. Her job allowed remote work, so she was able to keep her job after the move.
Even though there are a lot of challenges, Millar says she and other military spouses she has met have always tried to make the best of it and for the most part, that has worked out.
“Very occasionally, people choose to remain separate for an extended time. Your career might be important or your children want to finish high school in the same place,” she said.
“That puts a different kind of pressure on a marriage. For us, trust and communication have been the key to make this work.”
Military personnel are often prepared to bring the ultimate sacrifice, but there are a lot of smaller and more personal sacrifices that are made along the way.
“Tom had to miss our son’s first step and first word. I remember when our son was two. Tom was coming back from deployment after several months. I had this grand plan of meeting him at the airport and bringing our boy,” Millar said.
“In my head, our son would run up to his dad and they could finally hug after such a long time, but our son did not recognize his father when he came back. I know that was very painful for Tom. Of course, after a few days everything was back to normal.”
Even though there can be hardships, Millar would not think about asking her husband to change jobs.
“He loves it too much and the military is just the perfect place for him. He is not the type of guy to sit behind a desk all day. He wants to be out and feel the wind on his face.”
Millar was also proud to be a military spouse. She feels like she is also serving her country in that way.
“On a day like Military Family Appreciation Day, I want to ask everyone to thank their military friends and families, but also to remind them that they are not alone. There are not a lot of us out there, so it can feel like you are going through some things alone. That is the whole reason Together We Stand exists.”
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