Yes, you can thank military spouses for their service
(Photo: U.S. Army, Daniel Yeadon)

This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.

Every Veterans Day, the military spouse community has a familiar debate: Is it okay to thank a military spouse for his or her ‘service’ when they are not actually service members?

Here’s my answer: Yes, a military spouse knows that they aren’t a veteran (unless they, too, were active duty). But it never hurts to say “thank you” to the family members who make military service possible.

Before you get crazy let me explain:

A spouse’s service doesn’t equal the service member’s

I am well aware that my ‘service’ as a military spouse does not equal my husband’s military service. He’s the one who has faced the bullets. I have not. He has killed people and watched friends die in combat. I can only imagine those horrors. He has sacrificed his body and the past 16 years of his life in service to the country. I have just tagged along for the ride.

So yes, I “know my place.” I’m not a veteran, not a service member. I would never ask to be treated like one or to be honored on Veterans Day. I’m not the military hero. I’m “just a military spouse.”

‘Just a military spouse?’

That, my friend, is where the conversation goes wrong — when we say “just a military spouse.” It makes it sound like the spouses are invisible and insignificant, as if not being the one in combat makes your contributions worthless. As if the spouse doesn’t sacrifice, too. But every military spouse sacrifices something. Here’s what it means to be “just a military spouse:”

I’m just the reason he joined the military in the first place — because he wanted to marry me and have a family together.

I’m just the one who sent countless emails, letters and care packages that kept his spirits up and his head in the right place while he was on those combat deployments.

I’m just the one who gave birth alone, painted our house alone, mowed the lawn alone (while pregnant) and raised our children alone while he deployed those seven times.

I’m just the one who keeps leaving jobs to move to new states and new countries, always putting his career ahead of my own.

I’m just the one who holds our family together, helps the kids transition to each new home, celebrates holidays single-handedly and makes this military lifestyle possible.

I’m just the other half of the team.

When people argue about whether or not it is appropriate to thank a military spouse for their ‘service,’ they often forget that the service member and their spouse are a team. When my husband enlisted in the military, the Marine Corps ended up with both of us. For better or for worse, we are a team. Together, we support and encourage each other through this military life. If one of us wants to give up, then that’s a choice we would make together.

My husband wouldn’t still be here going on deployments if I didn’t agree to it and hold up my share of responsibilities. Is keeping up with laundry the same as facing bullets? Absolutely not, and I understand that. But my husband and I don’t compete over whose job is harder. Neither one of us wants to switch places, and we each try to do our best with our own responsibilities.

When someone thanks you for being a military spouse

There are several occasions when someone has thanked me for my service as a military spouse. In the beginning, I was quick to correct them and say, “Well, my husband is the service member.” They usually responded with, “Yes, but we know that you sacrifice too!”

It took me a while to admit that it is absolutely true. Military spouses sacrifice too, even when they are “just” the other half of the team being supportive in the background. I’m not one to go out of my way to seek praise or recognition. But if someone stops me to thank me for being a military spouse, I have learned to accept their kind comments graciously. I now say something like, “I really appreciate you saying that! And I’m very proud of my husband for his service.”

Yes, it is okay to thank a military spouse for their service or sacrifice.

Most don’t expect it, but almost everyone will appreciate it. We give up a lot to when we are married to a service member. Often, spouses are the ones who make the service member’s service possible. This Veterans Day, please thank a veteran for their service to our country. And if their spouse is standing right there, then don’t act like he or she is invisible. Go ahead and thank the military spouse too.

By Lizann Lightfoot,

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