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Army Life vs Marine Life: Is There a Difference?

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Logos courtesy of the US Army & US Marines official homepage

From 2003-2005 I was a Marine wife. My husband Sam was stationed in Pendleton, San Diego – but really he spent very little time there. He was deployed overseas to Japan, Iraq, Singapore, S. Korea, and other places for months, often years, at a time.

I remember feeling very – isolated as a new military spouse. We were married in 2003 but it wasn’t until 9 months later I was able to join him in California. We didn’t live on base, and at 20 years old I wasn’t sure how to go about making friends in a city that huge. I knew absolutely nothing about military life, so I wasn’t involved in much. It was there, but 10 years ago we didn’t have the access to email/FB that we do now.

Sam told me one time when I whined about how often he was gone and the long hours he worked, as we were newlyweds, “There’s a saying about if the Marines had wanted me to have a wife, they would have issued me one.”

Oh, how very true that was in so many ways. The Marines were good to us, they truly were. I got to know his soldiers and officers well when I was there. When he deployed to Iraq at the height of the war, one of the officer’s wives took charge to keep all the wives and girlfriends up to date as often as she could. Even after I moved back home till his deployment was over she kept in touch with calls to check in.
When he left the service after his enlistment was up, I never thought we would go back. I was perfectly fine with that, his absences were incredibly stressful on our marriage and trying to get to know each other as a couple. I hated the endless wondering about if he was ok and safe.

So after 5 years out, Sam wanted back in. I, much to his surprise, was all for it. We were struggling on our own, insurance was killing us, we’d almost lost our home, I wanted to be a stay at home mom but we simply couldn’t afford it – and he was unhappy at his job. I knew it, he knew it. He wanted that life again, and I wanted him to have it.

This time around has been different in many ways. The Army is much more family friendly – part of the reason Sam joined it. There are get-togethers on a regular basis, we were contacted right away after moving here about anything we needed. Being older, I found women to connect with on and off base, and programs that we could use for different situations. Sam being gone is easier – not easy, and not something either of us like, but it is easier to handle. It helps knowing he loves what he does.

The insurance and pay are the same in all branches – while the ranks vary in name they’re the same in numbers. Their is the same chain of command, the same type of respect that needs to be shown by spouses.

It’s a different, calmer life for now. I never forget that just because we’ve had a year of quiet means that’s how Army life is – I know it can change in a heartbeat. But we are both incredibly thankful to be back in this kind of life.


  1. Carla Jo

    July 25, 2012

    I am an army reserve soldier & my husband is active duty marine corps. And while I am sure active DIY Army is different than reserves, I am so glad to be a marine corps spouse than an Army Reserve spouse. I am much more in the loop than my husband ever has been & there are so many perks to that. I mean we weren’t even given an emergency number or contact when away for training, nor would red cross messages work. And I think the family friendliness of the marine corps depends on the base you are at. In Japan it’s very family friendly, camp lejeune was family friendly, but nothing like Okinawa.

  2. Erine Mackie

    July 25, 2012

    “Bloom where you are planted.”

    I will never forget hearing these words the first time, first as a young Sailor, then as a wife to a Career Marine. My husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton off and on for years, and even in the dark ages of 2003-2005 the Support Services for families of deployed and non deployed Marines and Sailors was phenomenal. The resources to family members are endless.

    For those of you reading this post, especially those who are new to the military lifestyle, understand this: if your spouse wishes to stay in the military for a career, the military will be a fickle mistress. Whether you are a Marine (there are NO soldiers in the Marine Corps, by the way- officer and enlisted alike are MARINES first, but never Soldiers), a Sailor with the “Grey Side” or “Green Side” (shipboard Sailor, or a Sailor assigned to the Marines or a Seabee unit), a member of the Air Force, or someone who serves in the Army or the Coast Guard, these words ring true. Deployments happen, for goodness sake. They aren’t easy on anyone- wives and children especially- but they are necessary and part of the job. Between Field Operations, deployment work-ups, Temporary Assignments for Duty (TAD or TDY) and Duty in general, get used to the idea that your loved one might not be there for something important to you. Maybe he (or she) will be gone for your birthday. Maybe they will miss the funeral of your Beloved Aunt Ethel. Maybe, just maybe, they will miss the birth of your child(ren.) Believe me- I know.

    Your ability to ‘bloom where you are planted’ will determine whether your time in one location will be decent, or whether you will be miserable. Individual commands play a small part, of course, but ultimately it is the decision of the Service Member whether they want the support offered by each command for their family. All Marine units have a FRO (Family Readiness Officer, formerly “Key Wives” program) that reports directly to the Unit CO and has the ear of the base commander through their own “Chain of Command.” Command Indoctrination for the Active Duty Members- regardless of rank, grade, or position- is mandatory. At Command Indoctrination, Family Support programs are discussed in depth. Programs for families in the United States Marine Corps have been in place for at least 30 years.

    All too often, young wives forgo the services available to them, and instead commiserate amongst each other about their lives- how horrible the base is, how horrible the command is, ad nauseum. If the resources are available, which they are, then there is no reason not to use them. If you choose not to use them, then you have no right to complain. Yes, I realize how blunt this sounds, but again- we are responsible for our own happiness. We are responsible for blooming where we are planted.

    We live in a time of ‘instant gratification,’ where Facebook is used (and Operational Security is compromised) daily and instant messaging allows real-time conversation with our loved ones. It is to the point now where many people actually believe it is their right, and not a privilege, to be able to speak with their spouse when they are deployed. “Snail Mail” is more often used for sending cards and care packages than for actual letters. I could not begin to tell you how many dependents have complained to me that “I haven’t heard from my husband in 2 days!” Like all wives who remember the days before email, I have stories of not hearing from my husband for weeks on end- then getting several letters at one time. Phone calls? What phone calls?

    The saying “If the Marines wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one!” isn’t only for Marines- it’s for all branches of service, and with good reason. It takes a strong woman to be married to anyone in the Service- whether a Marine, a Sailor, or someone in the Army. As a wife, it is your spouse’s (the Active Duty Member) responsibility first, followed by the command, to ensure that information you need to know has been passed. It is YOUR responsibility to bloom where you are planted, regardless of the circumstances that you encounter.

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