I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again: my time at West Point changed me. From the cadets to the officers, enlisted soldiers to military spouses, my years at the United States Military Academy were an experience of a lifetime.

I grew so much as a person during my five years there, and I learned a great deal from the wonderful women – particularly military spouses – at West Point. Being a military spouse is unique - and their unique perspective on life is something we can all learn from.

Here are five lessons I carry with me everyday:

1. Don’t wait. When the neighbor invites you to go for a hike or the church friend asks you to coffee – say, “Yes!” Military wives know their time at a post or station is finite. It took me way to long to learn this (I now realize even having a newborn is not a good excuse), and I lost out. Fortunately I woke up in time to make life-long friends. But if I had done it sooner, I would not only have more of these relationships, I would have been even happier along the way.

2. Get active. Whether you love to run, have a talent for crafting or swoon over a good read, find something you enjoy doing and do it. Dedicate yourself to it. Mark it on your calendar, verbalize it and be accountable. Military wives are busy with work, school, children, husbands and more, but they still take time for themselves.

3. Give unconditionally. In many ways, military families are no different than civilian families: they have babies, they get sick and they relocate. But my West Point friends gave swiftly and without strings. The week before we moved we had enough meals delivered that we didn’t have to cook. And our last night, a friend cooked a casserole, made a salad and sent her husband to drop it off - just in case we needed an extra hand with the moving boxes. Think of how you can help a friend, neighbor or acquaintance in need then do it! Whether you babysit, make a meal or deliver take out, ask what will be most helpful, and then act.

4. Respect the life. We as civilians can never fully understand everything that comes with being a military spouse. But we can respect it. This means: Respect their choice. Respect their privacy. Respect their sacrifice. When I arrived at West Point, I considered myself a patriot. But five years immersed in a military culture altered my perspective. My respect and love and admiration go deeper than a simple love of country. I now have a special appreciation for those who dedicate their lives serving our country. Camo with a Cause is an expression of this respect and a small way of giving back.

5. Remember special days. In 2013, football took my husband to Hawaii the entire Thanksgiving weekend. Even though “Little” and I were fine flying tandem, a friend invited us to join her family for dinner. The food was delicious, but the company and gift of friendship are memories I will always treasure. So, when a holiday comes, think of how you can reach out. It might be a holiday dinner or a special note for someone who’s loved one is gone on Valentine’s Day. These small gestures will be lasting.

    It really is difficult to express all that I learned at West Point. And there are so many women (literally dozens and dozens) that helped shaped my time there. I hope you’ll connect with one or two of these ideas and make them an everyday part of your life.

    Let me know your thoughts!

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