I’d be lying if I said sending your loved one off to basic military training was all rainbows, candy canes and unicorns. It’s not the end of the world; “it’s only 8.5 weeks,” they say. In reality, 8.5 weeks can seem like a lifetime when you’re away from your man with virtually no contact.
I can’t speak for other branches of the military; however, I imagine that the experience is somewhat similar. In the Air Force, basic training is a total of 8.5 weeks. Your trainee is called an AB (Airman Basic) and depending upon their MTI (military training instructor) they will probably get yelled at 24 hours – 7 days a week. You will wonder what they are doing; you will wonder if they think about you; you will wonder if they’ve made friends or not; you will wonder when they will call you; and you will wonder how you are ever going to make it to the end without falling apart.
Recently my boyfriend enlisted in the Air Force. My experience was not unlike other military spouses; it was filled with emotions, questions, resentment, and excitement. I wondered how I was going to make it through and if it was ever going to end. But I’m here, I’m fine and I’m still with my Airman. Here are some ideas that helped me survive:
1. Don’t listen to well-meaning down-players. Within the first week I quickly realized that friends and family who have never been through a spouse leaving for military training really have no clue what you are going through. They think they are being helpful by telling you that “he’s coming back” and “it’s only 8 weeks” but in reality, they are being insensitive. You know it’s 8.5 weeks and you know he is coming back, but right now in this very moment it seems like eternity and you miss your loved one more than anything in the world. You need to realize you are allowed to feel this way and your feelings are normal. Find someone who will let you express your emotions freely without downplaying them.
2. Use the Internet. Technology is your friend. Get online and search for anything you can find that will give you a glimpse in to what your Airman is going through. Become a fan of the Air Force Basic Training Facebook page. There you will find other family members and spouses who have Airmen in basic training at the same time as your loved one. You may even meet others who have Airmen in the same flight. The USAF Basic Training FB page is your #1 resource – start by clicking on every link you find there and don’t be afraid to speak up and become a part of the community. You’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll find a friend. For me, I found a friend who lives about 15 minutes away on this page and coincidentally my Airman was bunkmate with her husband! A chance meeting online but one I will never forget or let go of. Going through BMT with someone who was going through the same thing at the exact same time was priceless – we shared emotions, concerns, questions, excitement, and the whole nine. We bonded through tough times and no matter where we are in our lives, we know that we will always be there for each other when times get tough and our men get deployed.
There's a second Facebook page you can look out for, it's called AF Wingmoms. This page creates groups you can be a part of. I'm sure other branches of the military have similar pages - you just have to search for them.
3. Make a countdown calendar. Having a visual countdown of the days going by helped the final end date feel tangible. Every night I went to bed looking forward to when I could wake up and mark another day off the calendar. There are also apps you can download on your phone, tablet or computer. I used one called SimpleDateCalcLite, which allowed you to countdown to a set date and time. (I set the clock to the time my flight was departing to San Antonio for Graduation weekend.) The only problem with counting down days is that when you are first starting off it can be quite intimidating to see 60 something days left. If you’re going to go this route, check the countdown once a week or every few days to avoid disappointment.
4. Get excited about graduation. If you are even thinking about skipping graduation, think again. Four days of your life you will never forget and emotions you have never experienced before. Get excited about it. Start making travel arrangements, hotel accommodations, rental car, etc. Learn about the schedule of events and make your to-do list. If you’re like me, you’ll want to spend time picking out the outfits you’re going to wear. I wanted to look cute, but still be comfortable considering San Antonio is hot, you’re going to do a ton of walking, and you should want to dress modest (wouldn’t want to get your Airman in trouble for dressing too provocatively). Graduation is the goal – so start doing things that help time pass and use it as something to look forward to. Plus, you will never forget that first hug (that moment where you “tap out” your Airman). Have someone take a photo of it – I definitely did!
5. Stay busy. There’s not much I can say about heartache and how to fix it – but if you do things to occupy your mind you’ll find yourself in a much better state. Find a new hobby, get your hair done, hang out with friends, or spend time with family. You get the point – do things to keep you busy so you don’t spend so much time alone thinking about how lonely you are without your Airman.
6. Focus on you. Think about it. Your loved one is away for 9 weeks, what better time than now to check something off your bucket list or do something you’ve always wanted to do. Your spouse joined the military to better his life, why not do something to better yours? Now is the time to get in shape, find a new hobby, focus on a new job or project, or learn a new sport, etc. Whatever you want to do – now is the time. Get to it! Your spouse will be proud to find out you took the bull by the horns and made the most of your time apart. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
7. Write letters. The most valuable piece of advice I could give you right now would be to send letters as often as possible. Write down anything and everything; for me, writing to my Airman made me feel as though I could talk to him – which is something that comes few and far between during BMT. While you’re home wondering what your Airman is doing and thinking, your Airman is wondering what the rest of the world is doing and thinking. They feel confined and sending them a little piece of home helps them feel like they are still a part of your life. And if you don’t get any letters back, don’t worry – your Airman still misses you just as much as you miss him/her. Just know that their time to write is slim to none and that if they get the chance they will surely drop something in the mail for you. Take it from someone who sent a letter every single day and only got 2 letters in return. When you do get a letter or hear from your Airman it will be that much more special.
You may think BMT is the worst time of your life. Just remember, it’s only 8.5 weeks and when it’s over, it will only be a short blip of a memory. The payoff is greater than the heartache. What I got was an ABU wearing, super hot boyfriend and a sense of pride that I’ve never felt before – ever. I’m definitely one of those girls – proud to be part of the US military.
Do you know anyone who recently joined the military? What was your experience like with your loved one away?