Family Forum / By Gabriela Lopez, With Edits by Judy Konitzer: My husband, Chris, and I met in 2001 while attending Oxnard college in California. He had transitioned from active duty to California National Guard.
Author Gabriela Lopez with her spouse, CPT Laurencio C. Lopez, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, who received the 2018 Army Aviation Medicine Award sponsored by Gentex Corporation during the AAAA Functional Awards dinner on January 30, 2019 at Ft. Rucker, AL. / AAPI PHOTO BY RENÉ BIDEZ
When he finished college, he announced he was returning to active duty and in the next breath asked me to marry him.
I came from Mexico as a teenager and became naturalized. I had a daughter and worked paycheck to paycheck all thru college, just wanting to make a better life for us. Chris convinced me that the military would take care of us, although I had no idea what that meant.
Our first duty station was Fort Drum. I had never been out of California, and the only thing I knew was that my mother told us that when we married, you follow your spouse wherever it may take you. We arrived in April with Chris deploying in June. I worried about how I was going to find a job, get healthcare, pay for the house, and get childcare all while being thousands of miles away from my family. Before deployment, the unit held a marriage retreat. The chaplain spoke of marital/family issues and how to work through them, and I was comforted knowing the military really cared about its families.
After the unit deployed, I attended a family readiness group (FRG) meeting and was honestly disappointed when one of the FRG leaders began discussing dealing with issues while our spouses were deployed. She stated we were basically single parents – the straw that broke the camel’s back, I could not keep quiet. I told her our spouses volunteered to be in the Army, and a few months prior to that day, the only thing I knew about the Army was that it went to war. I didn’t want my husband to be at war, but he volunteered, and I was going to support his choice. I felt secure knowing that every two weeks we had a paycheck. I felt safe living in a house provided by the military on base. I felt reassured knowing that if my children were sick, they would be taken care of. I felt relieved that organizations were actively helping with employment after relocating. Having never been exposed to the military before this, I explained these benefits did not exist in the civilian world. To think she was a single parent with her spouse risking his life to provide ALL these benefits to us was not only shameful, but disappointing to her spouse’s sacrifice.
Now nearly 14 years later, we have had four more duty stations and three more deployments. Our three children have grown knowing nothing but the military as a way of life. It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, but we have never worried about being able to provide for our family. We have met some great people and have seen some great leadership and units that genuinely care for families.
Since Fort Drum, I have engaged in other FRG events with mixed outcomes. Some were good; some were not; but there was often an underlying thought of what is owed to us as families. I have volunteered at local post Red Cross organizations, because it is one way I can pay forward what has been done for us.
Chris has been in the military for more than 20 years. He has a master’s degree, without a penny of student debt. I completed college and certifications including dental assistant and radiology technician, at no cost to me. Our daughter is in college using her dad’s GI bill and can concentrate on school without worrying about work. Our son has aspirations of going to West Point and serving as an Army officer. To say or think the military owes us is troubling knowing how much it has given. I never felt like a single parent, and I am grateful for my life as a military spouse.