What is it about the military life that allows you to form lifelong friendships in a matter of weeks? It’s amazing to me that in just eight years of being a military wife, I’ve formed friendships that are as important and meaningful as friendships I’ve had for years and years. When folks outside the military life ask me what it’s like or how I navigate this life, my first comment has something to do with the diverse and downright dynamite people I’ve met along the way.
Our first assignment as a married couple was at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. I was beyond excited to start this adventure. I was a newlywed. Hooray! I was moving to a different country. Awesome! I was becoming a part of the Air Force family. Cool! But it wasn’t long before I was singing a different tune. Although my husband couldn’t have been more wonderful and loving, I felt lonely without my friends back in the States and had a difficult time finding connections and forming friendships of my own. Oh, how I longed for a girlfriend to meet for coffee or an after-work drink, a friend who shared my love for hours-long conversations and witty email banter throughout the day…
I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I hated waking up to days spent so very, very alone. I’d sit outside on our back patio past midnight, in my night gown, as hot wind blew around my legs and whipped around the branches of two tall trees in a field 100 meters away. And boy, would I feel sorry for myself. My husband deserves an award for his support during those first couple months. I think he was as surprised as I was at how gloomy I became.
And then – poof.
I started understanding one of the most beautiful parts of this life: fast friends made fast.
It was a few months after we’d arrived at Incirlik. I was sitting in the choir section at church, with a good view of the congregation. Before Mass ended, the obligatory “Hey new people, stand up and introduce yourself to everyone” part came up, and lo and behold, a young woman about my age stood up and introduced herself as Rose. Immediately the wheels started spinning. A friend! A friend! Oh thank God, a FRIEND! I made a beeline for her after Mass. I knew nothing about her, but clearly, she must be wonderful. After introducing myself and reassuring her that I wasn’t roping her into participating in a church charity drive, I asked her to join a group of us for lunch. And later, we bonded during an impromptu tourist visit to the Sabanci Mosque, the largest mosque in the country, each of us under a loaner headscarf picked up from a bin parked by the door. I don’t believe they’d ever been washed. Words can’t describe the odor. BUT – it was all part of the experience, and it’s a memory we won’t soon forget.
Rose, who was active duty at the time, and I were soon joined by another active duty friend – Jill, who I met at a small holiday open house. I remember having a similar thought go through my head when I first saw her – “She’s unquestionably cool. We must be friends.” – and soon enough, after a base-organized Christmas shopping outing with me and Rose and a too-much-fun Christmas party from which Jill walked home in a pair of Bullwinkle slippers she found in my closet (it made sense at the time), the three of us were a steady group.
We led a troop of Girl Scouts together. We organized progressive dinners. We swam to a castle in the middle of the sea. We weaseled free ice cream from a local Chinese restaurant waiter. We braved manicures that included no pre-manicure soak (note: it hurts like hell getting your cuticles treated when they haven’t first soaked in warm water – ouch!). We got lost in Turkish towns. We chaperoned prom. We snaked out the songs on each other’s iPods that no one wants to admit they have on their iPod. We teased. We forgave. We teased more. We boated along the Med. We soothed broken hearts, weary souls, bruised egos. We drank the night away… a number of times.
In hindsight, I think my initial loneliness was mostly self-imposed. The truth of the matter was, there were great people all around me, but because of shyness, insecurity, and sheer cluelessness, I didn’t do what I should have done – what I ultimately learned to do: step on out there and make a friend. Because of Jill and Rose, I developed the courage I needed to progress happily in this crazy life, and it takes a lot of courage.
It always amazes me that we were with each other for only one year, and yet I feel like I’ve been friends with them my whole life. I don’t think I would have survived that first assignment if it hadn’t been for Rose and Jill. If not because of their dear friendship, then because of what they taught me about this lifestyle:
Be open to everyone. Find joy everyday. Laugh. Enthusiastically try new things. Take advantage of the adventure. Do something that scares you. Give back. Quit worrying. Bring wine. Include everyone. Go with it. Love your family. Cherish your friends who are like family. Share your experiences. Share your belongings. And most importantly, bring your own head scarf.