The spouse of a service member is faced with challenges many others will never experience.
“We could get new orders tomorrow and we’d have to pack up our life and move," said Ashley Dahl, who is stationed at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi with her husband and two kids.
Ashley Downey knows that feeling all too well. A mom of four, her husband serves in the Indiana National Guard.
“I saw my friends having a different lifestyle from me. They didn't really understand what was going on with my life,” Downey said.
Sergio Rodriguez’s wife is a lieutenant in the Navy. While she is away, Sergio takes on the full responsibility of raising their young daughter.
“I think the first time she left, my daughter, she, was probably was about a year-and-a-half,” Rodriquez said. “(I’m) Trying to train this little girl in all the things that she was doing … the feedings, the eating, the diapers, that whole fun lifestyle.”
In a 2019 survey of active-duty spouses, 33% said their child had increased anger regarding military requirements.
“We try not to do the whole, ‘Goodbye, I’ll see you,’ because my daughter has separation anxiety. I think she’s realized that, if she hears the goodbye, mommy is probably going to be gone for a while,” Rodriguez said.
Dahl adds, “I actually bought a daddy doll for my daughter Lillian because she was struggling so much with him coming and going.”
Downey says communication is a big issue.
“Sometimes they go to the field, and there’s no communication,” she said. “If they’re in a danger zone, I mean, you’re not going to be able to really talk to them.”
On that topic, Dahl adds, “I can't imagine being in elementary school or middle school or high school and having a group of friends. And then you have to move because of your parent's job and then you have to do it again and again and again.”
According to the same 2019 survey, 54% of military spouses reported their current stress level as more than usual, and 59% reported feeling nervous, on edge or anxious.
“As a spouse, you’re constantly trying to find ways to make ends meet and to get things to line up for your family,” Rodriguez said.
“You kind of struggle at times, at least I do, with not being able to control things that happen. You cannot control everything that happens in a military life,” Dahl said.
“When she’s here, I sleep like a log,” Rodriguez adds, “You get to finally, like, breathe and say, ‘I can relax now, because my significant other’s here, and I’m able to take a break.’”
But at the end of the day, Rodriguez, Dahl and Downey said they wouldn't change a thing.
“It is a different life. It is harder. It does have its amazing moments,” Downey said. “It’s beautiful chaos.”