Fort Bragg, 1957

–Mike Leary

Flashback. Fort Bragg, 1957, I’m 13. I’d been on my bike going back home with a friend and came to the railroad track. Before I could hop off, my front tire hit a rock which flipped me over and my head hit the rail, busting my forehead bloody. My friend walked me up to the housing area where the woman happened to be a nurse and took me to Womack hospital where they stitched me up with 5 stitches. 

A week later I was to get them out and got into an argument with my mother who wouldn’t drive me. It was blowing up a North Carolina storm with sheets of lightning and I had to peddle about 3 miles to the hospital. I got there waited a bit and they took me back where I laid on a gurney. The doctor had got two of them out, when there was a lot of commotion going on. A nurse came in and took him to another room.

I waited at least 15 minutes before she came back in and asked me to go back out to the waiting room. It was now full of soldiers. They had made a jump just before the bad weather and were on the drop zone when the storm started. They’ed been hit by lightning. One guy was helping others when he went into spasms and collapsed in the waiting room. It was pouring down rain now and I called my mom. She came and got me and put my bike in the trunk. My dad took out the rest of the stitches.

There’s still time to submit your story!

The museum is seeking submissions for its next anthology: Host Nation Hospitality.

The book will focus on personal memories–what it was like to work or study overseas and the unique opportunities we had – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories can be about a certain time, event, or memory. Where did you hang out? What new foods did you try? What do you remember best about exploring your new duty station?  What amazing friendships did you make? 

We are looking for stories about living, working, or attending school around the world. 

Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment.  You may submit up to 3 pieces for consideration. Deadline 1 June 2022 

All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the community—and to preserve your incredibly unique history. 

For more information or to submit a story, please email

Home Bases

Living and working on base is a mixed bag. You have 24/7 gate guards, nonexistent crime, convenient shopping and a sense of orderliness, uniformity and shared mission. Living on base means you have a lot of neighbors who become ready-made friends. On “joint bases” the mission comes first—all branches support each other—the military is one big unified team. Mostly…

We recently moved into Navy housing. My husband is retired Army and works for a non-DoD federal agency. He works on a Marine Corps base. This causes endless confusion, an example of which is: 

When we first moved, we lived in a hotel for what seemed like an eternity. I could hardly wait to move into our new house. But–the household goods were still weeks away from being delivered. I had heard we could borrow loaner furniture to tide us over. I called the Navy housing POC, who said needed to call my husband’s command. I said we didn’t really have a “command” being that he was a GS civilian. Well, where does he work? On the Marine base. The woman said, “well, you need to phone them.” 

So, I did.

A very polite Marine told me, “You live in Navy housing; ask them.” I explained that the Navy had referred me to the Marines, and he said, that was not surprising, but since we weren’t Marines, nor living in Marine housing there was nothing he could do, but to give me a phone number…to the Navy. Sighing, I dialed the number.

When the Navy folks found out we were not DoD connected, they were even more unsure who to refer us to for loaner furniture—although they had had no problem leasing us a home for a year.

Needless to say, we never got loaner furniture, and stayed in the hotel for several more weeks. 

When I was program manager on an Air Force base, I briefed a notoriously cranky Colonel about my education program. I proudly mentioned that we supported all base assets and that we were saving the Federal Government a lot of money in the process by allowing personnel to train at our facility via satellite, rather than having them go TDY. We had the satellite and classrooms available and now, instead of being idle, our building was a bustling and much-appreciated learning hub. 

Instead of being pleased, the Colonel complained that we should be charging other commands and branches—why should we support everyone for free? 

Stung, I said the first thing that came into my head—which wasn’t the smartest thing a piddly GS-7 should do, “I hope if you’re ever on the battlefield radioing in for help, the pilot flying overhead in the airplane doesn’t look down and say, ‘Nope. He’s not one of ours’ and leave you there.”

His mouth dropped, and my boss, sitting next to him, nearly fainted. So much for one happy military family. 

As long as I held that job, I never got to brief anyone again. 

Still– there is camaraderie working and living on an installation. Recently, I read something cool. Several military wives whose husbands are deployed will move in together to share the load of childcare, cooking and companionship. This intrigues me. If I had known such a thing was possible, I might have done something similar back in the day. That might’ve been a good option for us Cav wives. With our husbands gone so often, we did get lonely. Trying to keep it all together was sometimes tough. I cannot imagine having been a Cav wife with no support or friends, or who didn’t feel welcome or comfortable enough to join in spouse activities.

The Cav worked hard, played hard, and the spouses rallied together to support the mission, keep our families stable and ourselves sane. Cav life wasn’t for everyone though, and the divorce rate was pretty high. Anecdotally, I have heard that it was 80%. So those of us who persisted– that 20%– managed to hold it together pretty well.

If I had been totally isolated, or not part of the group, it would’ve been a very lonely life. 

Every once in a while, we wives heard rumors that some of the service members were keeping their wives prisoners; either intentionally or not. For example, a trooper would go to the field, leaving his wife stuck on the economy with no car or money to buy food, should she run short. I remember a couple of times making clandestine runs out to a young wife’s house to bring her diapers or canned goods to make ends meet. 

Conversely, I heard a story about a very young servicemember who adored his new wife and wanted to ensure that she had enough to eat while he was deployed for an extended time, so he bought her favorite frozen dinners in bulk. Before he deployed, he stocked the freezer with enough frozen meals for her to eat once or twice a day– but he didn’t buy anything else. The poor woman had no variety in meal choices and thus began to hate what she previously loved. 

I hope the spouses in her command learned about her plight and were her able to bring her different meals or take her shopping. Hopefully once her husband got back, both of them learned how to create a variety of nutritious foods for her future deployment survival!

One of the downsides of base life is that everyone knows your business – – unless you keep that part of your life very hidden. 

My generation of military spouses, was a pretty tightlipped bunch. If there was a problem in our family, we would never say anything, because we wouldn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Money problems? Don’t say a word. Drinking problems? Keep it to yourself.

Kids need exceptional family member program support? Don’t ask for it; don’t use it. It will ruin your sponsor’s chances of any assignment outside of the US and maybe even promotion opportunities. 

We had to keep all the balls in the air all the time, smiling as we did, hoping that no one would notice the scars, or the tears, or the twitches caused by tensed muscles in our very clenched body. Smile and juggle, don’t show weakness. Unless it’s “appropriate” weakness like shedding brave tears as our husbands deployed or happy ones when they returned. Tears in between those two events needed to be done privately.

Some of my current spouse friends assure me that this is still the expectation on some installations.

No wonder so many of my fellow wives developed anxiety or obsessive tendencies. No wonder they felt responsible for their sponsors’ success. Some spouses, it seems, more than others. Once, a fellow wife asked if  I would sleep with my husband’s commander if it would ensure my husband would get promoted. Startled, I replied no. “Well, I would,” she said, “If it guaranteed his promotion.” 

Living on base means that sometimes, you can’t get onto it—or leave it. I have been stuck in my car while the base goes into lockdown. Sometimes it’s real world, sometimes it’s an exercise—and sometimes it’s both at the same time. 

A couple of weeks ago I was in our Navy quarters when I heard the loudspeaker from the military buildings right outside the fence repeating disquieting words like “shelter in place.” I peeked out the window and didn’t see anything amiss. But–I didn’t hear the comforting words “exercise, exercise, exercise” in front of the repeated “shelter in place.”

Because the buildings were literally a couple of football fields away from the house, I decided to take the loudspeaker’s advice. I drew the blinds, I locked the doors, and I went about my business, keeping my eye on one of the spouses’ social media platforms which seemed to have all sorts of information that I didn’t. Through it, I learned what the threat was, where the threat was, and finally when the threat was over. 

When my husband came home from his job on the Marine Corps base, I asked him if he was aware of the shelter in place incident. He admitted that the only reason he knew anything about it at all was that his coworker’s wife had had to shelter in place at the Navy base and she’d called him. So much for the military keeping its people informed! And kudos to the informal mil spouse network.

Until recently, I had not lived on a military installation since 2001, but worked, shopped and recreated on one. 

Now in my new community, we feel safe in our uniform houses. We use MWR facilities and programs for recreation. We base-hop to shop at different commissaries and exchanges. Each commissary is a little different—and we know which carries our favorite brands. We make our grocery lists accordingly. 

My husband once remarked, “There’s not one commissary that stands out like oh my gosh—this one is the best, but if I have to choose one, I guess I like going to the Marine Corps Commissary the best. Fewer people and Marines are just more efficient.”

In our housing area, we greet our neighbors, pet their dogs and learn their routines. Children walk to the nearby school, herds of sailors run in packs through the housing area or play basketball in the park, enterprising spouses bake cakes, make burritos and lumpia, selling them from their home businesses. Time wafts across the fence in the form of whistles, bells and music.

–Wait, there’s the National Anthem playing over the loudspeaker. Got to stop!

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Circe Olson Woessner