So now that you know what’s next for our family and Jamie’s job specifically, let’s backtrack and talk about how we got here. In the education world, we called this “Backwards Mapping”, where you know what the end-goal is, but you now turn around and connect the bricks that built the path. If you missed part one and need to catch up, click here.
In full transparency, I am a bit nervous to share this post, and generally if I’m nervous to share a post, I just don’t. I’m not a “pot stirrer” by any means, and I feel like some of what I’m about to say could cause emotion for others, specifically those spouses who are struggling with being a military family but have chosen to stick it out for one reason or another. I don’t want my words to discourage anyone. I’ve said before that negativity and frustration can be very contagious, especially in the military when you’re surrounded by people who are getting out and constantly talking about how much they think the military sucks. I don’t want to add to that conversation, per se.
On the flip side of the coin, I do want to share our story of how we made the single biggest decision of our lives. And I truly mean it when I say it as the hardest decision ever.
Attending our colleges? Easy decisions. Getting married to each other? Easy decision. Buying our homes? Fairly easy decisions. Staying in the military? BRUTAL.
Getting out of the Army
We were always going to be “lifers”. Jamie had plans to take command here at Riley, hopefully enroll in Vanderbilt’s business program in the Fall of 2017 (if he got accepted), and then in the fall of 2019 he’d either teach at West Point for three years (again, if he got accepted) or do a broadening job in Washington D.C.
We were so excited about all of this. In the fall of 2015, this is where we saw things going. We’d thrown around the idea a few times of getting out (like every single military family does at some point), but usually it was only when Jamie was frustrated with his job or talked with someone who had just landed a high-paying civilian job. He’d think about it for a few days and typically move on.
In January 2016, he received an email stating that it was time to get the ball rolling with exercising the GRADSO in the fall of 2017. There were certain deadlines he had to meet by May that would secure his spot to take a couple of years off from active duty and pursue grad school full-time.
He was in Kuwait during this time, and out of nowhere he kind of freaked out. He realized that by meeting these deadlines and committing to grad school for the following fall, we were officially committing our family to doing the full 20+ years in the Army.
Everything with his job was going super well. He’d recently been selected to take command of the only Military Intelligence company in the entire brigade (a dream of his), and he was thrilled about that. The deployment was going fairly well, we were due with our second baby girl, and we couldn’t have been more excited about hopefully living in Nashville for a couple of years.
But for some reason he had a drastic (and I mean drastic) change of heart. He called me and literally spit out that he was done (Wait, done with your dinner? Your workout? Your CAREER?! Are you kidding me?!). In his heart of hearts, he couldn’t see doing this for another 14+ years. He didn’t know what he’d do next, but he couldn’t do this.
As for my feelings, I would say I was 80% ecstatic and 20% terrified. I was torn because I was so ticked off about how our first six years in the military had gone so far. I could go on and on about what an “unfair” deck of cards we have been dealt throughout the last eight years in the military compared to our friends who have had many strokes of luck, but I’ve kept my mouth shut this long on the internet and think it’s in my best interest to continue to do so. 😉
And here I was going through a second pregnancy all by myself. I was sick of it. In the back of my mind though, I was so scared to give up the things I loved about our military lives. I didn’t know if life would be greener on the other side (I still don’t). One thing I was always confident in though is that I never, ever wanted to be the one to pressure Jamie to get out. I know how passionate he is about our country, and I would never take that from him. Plus, I knew that would only make him potentially bitter at me if it was a decision he made simply because I pressured him that way.
For Jamie, he very much felt like he had to pick between his career or his family because honestly, that had been his experience the first six years of his career. Hadley and I were always, always, always on the back burner, and there was nothing he could do about it. Not all military careers require so much time away, but his absolutely did. Though the next 12 years in the Army could have been the complete opposite and been full of our preferred duty stations and dodged deployments and month-long trainings, there was just no way to tell. When we looked at the things that caused our deepest arguments and disappointments, they were 95% situation-based with the military. The struggles far outweighed the positives for our family, which totally sucks because the positives of this military life can be so incredibly sweet.
Everyone who knows me knows I have rose-colored glasses on almost all the time and am a pretty optimistic person, so if the military was dragging me down to such low places, you know we weren’t having a good experience.
But it’s that rough deck that has made the next chapter of our lives so gosh darn crystal clear. I’ve said 100 times how grateful we are for that.
After that initial day that he mentioned getting out, I kept my mouth shut. Whenever he talked about getting out, I played devil’s advocate. Truthfully, I really was scared of the unknown, but in my heart, I knew it was time we pulled the plug. I quickly could see that Jamie was ready.
And he’s only had one day in two years that he’s looked back. I’ll never forget sitting out back with a girlfriend watching our kids jump on the trampoline and getting a text from Jamie that he wanted to talk to me and potentially change his mind. I had smoke coming out of my ears. Don’t play games with me, DeSpain.
It only took about 24 hours and one butt-kicking at work later for him to say “Nah, I’m done.” Haha!
One thing Jamie struggled with was that he didn’t want to feel like he quit. His dad made it to retirement in the Army, and he just didn’t want anyone to ever view him as a quitter. This is such a random story, but one night we were watching World News, and they ended their segment with a story about the owner of Freddy’s, a fast food restaurant.
In a nutshell, the founder had served a handful of years in the military decades ago, both stateside and overseas, before getting out and moving on. He had so many military accomplishments under his belt, and nobody can take those away from him. He didn’t retire from the military or do 20 full years, but nobody harps on that. He’s been telling stories about his time in the military for decades, and I’ll never forget turning to Jamie and saying “See, you don’t have to do 20 full years in order to have fulfill your dream of serving honorably in the military. Nobody cares about how many years you did. You’ll be able to tell your stories to our grandkids one day.”
He just looked at me and smiled, and if we didn’t already know that we were done, we now knew we were done. Jamie felt peace. A five-minute segment about Freddy’s was the nail in the coffin. Isn’t that weird?
So, when it comes to deciding to get out, the decision was Jamie’s 100%. I married him knowing that he was going to do a career and shoot to be a General one day. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who at 10 years old was riding his bike and knocked on the door of a family’s house who was flying a West Point flag to talk to him. (We’re super close with that family to this day, by the way.) In my heart, I wanted to get out too. I have thanked God 100 times that Jamie and I have felt similarly about getting out nearly the entire time at the same time.
Jamie’s been asked a time or two why he took a command slot if he knew he’d be getting out. The answer is simple: He was selected for it prior to making his decision. Also, when he started doing inventories to take command, he was still nearly an entire year from dropping his packet (a.k.a. a one-year notice that one is getting out). Though he was pretty sure he was getting out, he wanted to fulfill his dream of taking command, leading soldiers, and having that experience incase he changed his mind. I’m so glad he has that command time under his belt. He earned it.
Finally, there are so many personal reasons we are thrilled to be getting out. I could go on and on about those, but again, they are personal to our family and will vary greatly from family to family. Every family has unique stressors, joys, priorities, goals, financial situations, extended family dynamics, etc., and when we looked at ours, every single thing pointed to getting out of active duty life. The decision was so obvious, I can’t even tell you. Talk about peace and crystal clear clarity.
So, there ya have it! Just a brief 1700 word explanation about making the biggest decision of our lives so far. 🙂 One month from today we’ll be waking up Alabama residents for the first time in a long time, and hot dang – we are PUMPED.