Why are They Surprised I’m an Enlisted Spouse?

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Why didn’t you tell me everyone would be so surprised that I am an enlisted spouse?  I’m a reporter, so I meet people often and strike up conversations. On top of that, I happen to cover the military beat, so I interact with military members and government officials pretty much on a daily basis. I’ve noticed recently that whenever I tell one of them my husband is a Marine, they always seem so surprised to hear me say that he’s a corporal (an E-4).

It seems as if because I’m a professional woman with a career and I appear to have  all my stuff together, there’s just no way I could be married to an enlisted servicemember. I mean, enlisted wives don’t have real jobs, right? They just stay at home, make babies, and shop at the exchange, right? Sometimes they babysit for extra cash or sell Avon, right?


Enlisted wives can do much more than shop and procreate. Believe it or not, enlisted wives can earn degrees. Enlisted wives can be professionals, have careers and maintain themselves in a way that doesn’t make people assume they need to attend a Marine Corps Ball etiquette class (thank you for that, Camp Lejeune).

I’m an enlisted wife, and I worked my tail off to get to where I am. I took no-paying internships, low-paying entry-level broadcasting jobs, and eventually made my way to where I am today: happily married and gainfully employed as a newspaper reporter. Sure, maintaining my career won’t be easy since I’ve chosen to marry into the military, but maintaining a career as a military spouse isn’t easy whether you’re an enlisted spouse or an officer’s one.

I know I’m not the only enlisted wife out there with a career–with goals and plans for a future that doesn’t entirely revolve around my husband’s deployments. I had dreams and goals for myself before I married him, and those aspirations haven’t changed because he put on a ring on my finger.

If anything, my drive has gotten stronger. I want a career more because of the adversity I face as a military spouse, not to mention as an enlisted spouse.

Do you ever feel you’re being judged because of your husband’s rank? That people can’t believe your husband is who he is because of who you are?

Amanda Wilcox is an enlisted Marine Corps wife living and working in Jacksonville, N.C. as a reporter for the local paper, The Jacksonville Daily News. She and her husband, Joe, are newlyweds learning to live the married life one day at a time. They have three children: a black labrador retriever, a toy poodle and a black cat.

Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story.  If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.

About the Author

Why Didn't You Tell Me
Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story. If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.

19 Comments on "Why are They Surprised I’m an Enlisted Spouse?"

  1. This! My husband enlisted earlier this year as a military musician, a kind of dream opportunity career change in his late 20s. We both have college degrees, and I have a graduate degree and a career. I’m still not used to being perceived differently. It doesn’t seem to bother him, but I’m working on it for myself. He just finished A school and is a lowly Seaman ;).

  2. household6rs | November 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm |

    YES! Thanks for this! I'm an enlisted wife and a reporter, too, and people 1)first assume that my husband is an officer; 2) act surprised, and then confused, when they learn he's not; and then 3) ask me if he plans to become an officer. NO! (nothing against officers) He likes being enlisted. I'm educated and from an upper middle class family and it was a huge shock to me to enter into a world where I'm looked down simply because of the rank on my husband's uniform. There's this misconception between both Es & Os (and their spouses) that officers are better and enlisted are worse — nope. They're just two different paths. Well said, Amanda! I can't wait to meet you!

  3. Really? Because almost every enlisted spouse I have ever known is well educated and works hard and is successful. If anything when my husband became an officer the officer's wives pressured me to quit working, because officer's wives just don't do that or something. I never figured it out.
    I don't think you're that different from other spouses, enlisted or officer. Are you sure they are just shocked that your a successful milspouse?

  4. The only real difference between an officer spouse and an enlisted spouse is who they are married to. All the other supposed differences are BS. The only thing we should care about when meeting other spouses is their character.

  5. You complain about the misconceptions and stereotypes against enlisted spouses, yet here you are congratulating yourself for being better than the stereotypical enlisted spouse. Because you work! You have drive! You're just so different, right? People are always SO surprised when they find out that your husbands is ONLY an E-4 (seriously??).

    This column quite frankly comes across as someone congratulating themselves for being so much better than other spouses under the guise of shattering stereotypes, when really, all you're doing is perpetuating them while presenting yourself as a snob who sees herself as better than the average enlisted spouse.

  6. Amanda I agree with what you wrote. If it weren't true, a myriad of Facebook pages (namely the "Overly Sensitive Military Wives" page) wouldn't exist to make fun of the stereotypes. And as we all know, stereotypes DO stem from the truth. They may not necessarily represent the majority, but nonetheless, they ARE out there, and becoming more and more common.

    Cassy, you need to pump your brakes. (And maybe polish your reading comprehension skills). In no way did this come off as "I think I'm better than everyone else". Because honestly, for every spouse I know who has a degree and career, I know about 20 who are sloppy slobs who go to the commissary in their husband's PT's with their 8 kids running around in pajamas at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I mean come on, we've all seen that WAY too much.

  7. Jeez, seriously. I can name civilians spouses that sit around the house in sweats and feed their kids cereal all day I know a few enlisted spouse who have majors, and a few that are becoming doctors. While their husband is a lowly lowered enlisted…Did you ever stop to think that these spouses sitting around in their sweats might be mildly depressed or overwhelmed or stressed. And not have the supposrt network to cope with the stress of being a spouse? Or lost their passion in all the moves, deployments and kids.

  8. Seriously, have you guys ever thought that what you are seeing/feeling is based of your own insecurities? Before you jump all over that comment, I will tell you that I have had both experiences, being an enlisted spouse (E-3 to E5) and then an officers spouse (currently O3). I am also much older than my husband so people automatically assume we have been "in" for a long time. Actually HE started at the bottom and has worked hard to get where he is now. I on the other hand gave up a very successful business when I "married the army". Currently I am a lowly government employee that has to find a new job every time we move. I have noticed that all spouses get uncomfortable when the conversation moves to their husbands rank. Why? In my opinion, it is because they like the person they are talking to and hope that their husbands would get along too. Stop judging other spouses based on your beliefs because while there are always some who "wear their husbands rank", most don't and are just looking to create lasting relationships with other Spouses.

  9. Interesting. I've had officer spouses at my husband's unit all assume that I was one of them…Not based on what I did for a living. They didn't know that information about me. They just met me at unit events and thought I was "one of them" because I dress well, am a little older than many enlisted spouses, and I'm well spoken. I think there IS a stereotype about what enlisted spouses are like, unfortunately.

    We were at a meeting several months ago and they invited me to a party they were having. We had a new CO's wife and she was at this meeting and she asked me who my husband was. I told her his name and she's mentally going through her head of all the guys she's met. She said, "I don't think I've met him yet. What does he do?" I told her and she got this confused look on her face and asked, "He's not an officer?" I told her he wasn't and one of the other girls overheard and loudly yelled, "SO YOU ARE AN ENLISTED WIFE?" She said it like I just said I had just confessed I was a convicted felon or something. They all started looking at each other and looking at me. Then, they suggested that I needed to go to an ENLISTED wife party instead of theirs. There ARE no enlisted wife parties at our unit.

    I am not OLD, but older than most of them by about 5 years and they all started treating me like I'm a leper. I even had some of them on Facebook and they started posting passive aggressive status updates about me and everything. It's been awful. Like a big military-sponsored class warfare system. I am so sick of it and will be SO happy when we leave the military and join the real world where company spouses don't congregate at all and if they do, there are not "rules" telling you who you can and can't hang out with.

  10. I hate all the stereotypical stuf thats out there. “We” were enlisted. I say “we” cause i dont wear a rank he does. He finished college and decided to go officer route (enlisted just wasnt a fit for him). We lived in hawaii for our first duty station and never once was “my” rank an issue with my “enlisted” or “officer” spouses. To me i am just me. I am a wife, mother, college graduate amon other things. I dont care what your husband’s rank is. The only time this has been an issue was when we moved to the new duty station and and they figure out im the captain’s wife and try to see what i can do for them. I am that wife that goes to the commissary with my hair on top of my head and kids in tow. Some days it just doesnt matter. It matters that my kids are fed and happy and i managed to pull it together.

  11. When we were new to military life my husband enlisted as an E4 after graduating with his Master's and then went on to be an officer we were in our late 20's. I have a degree and had been working in my field 7 yrs before military life. I was able to keep my current job and work from home. Some enlisted wives have questioned me about how we can afford our cars, daycare tuition based on E4 salary.. People he worked with have flat out asked him if he sold drugs on the side to afford our off post house. Officer's wives wouldn't even talk to me b/c my husband was then an enlisted. All of this was hilarious to me. That individuals can be so simple-minded. I worked from home AND cared for our daughter when she was baby. So yes, some days I was one of those Enlisted wives who looked like they rolled out of bed and went to the commissary with my baby on my hip still in her pjs.. why?? because I was up at 5am taking calls & answering emails for the company who employs me. I don't care what it looks like because i know what choices we made as a family and if that doesn't fit the enlisted or officer mold. who cares!

  12. Well. Here’s my take. I’m the daughter of an E9 and his successful wife. I’m former enlisted, bootstrapped to officer, now civilian. I married an officer who was also prior enlisted. So I’ve been on both sides and have heard enough negative things on both sides to last me a lifetime. As former military, I’m thoroughly ****** that any wife, of E or O, thinks she has it over another wife because of her husband’s rank. That’s whose rank it is – her husband’s. As an officer’s wife, I was told I couldn’t invite E wives to my parties. Guess what? I invite who I please. I also know better than to be surprised when an E-5’s wife ends up as my dentist, or the O-3’s wife lets her kid watch YouTube all day in his room with a super size bag of chips. Or vice versa. People are people and the rank of their spouse has nothing to do with their personal level of education or success. To both O and E spouses who manage to have a degree or a career or both – my ONLY surprise is that you have managed to overcome the disadvantage of constantly moving to support your own spouse.

  13. Back to spouse clubs…is anyone else as surprised as I am that they have not all combined?

  14. I was constantly mistaken for an officers wife. I ran a support website for military families and friends, was an ombudsman, involved with various organizations volunteering, etc. I have been to the White House, met with MCPONs, asked to speak at various events, and have met with many "movers and shakers" due to the work I have done. When I would tell people my husband flies in the P-3 Orion they would assume he was a pilot and I would have to correct them and say, "no, he's aircrew…" which means enlisted. Then they realized I was not an officer's wife and I could see the wheels turning and shifting as they spoke to me. LOL

  15. ,My issue has always been that enlisted wives are stereotyped unfairly by everyone.
    For example, my "uniform" is a twinset, jeans and loafers. I wear this to the FRG or ESC and get accused of "trying too hard". Would people rather see me wearing a Betty Boop tshirt,cutoffs and flip-flops? Can only officers' wives look nice? As an enlisted wife,I can't win.
    Dress up(which is "me") and be called "snob" or dress down and be called "trash?

    Enlisted wives are almost expected to "live the part". When I refused WIC, my ex-DH's chain and peers called me foolish instead of praising us for making it on our own.When I said "No thanks" to Santa's Workshop gifts(toys offered to needy junior enlisted families), people rolled their eyes. When I dressed my dds in Gymboree and Hanna Andersson, people assumed that I was bleeding DH dry when, in fact, I bought the outfits at consignment stores or on Ebay. There were days when I thought it would be easier to be Ellie the Stereotypical Enlisted Wife instead of being true to myself.

  16. Enlisted wives are seldom if ever included in social activities within a Unit. No coffees.No teas.No formals.The only ones who are included are the CSMs' wives and they darn well deserve to be. And consider for a moment that the largest military post has no Enlisted Club where spouses(or even soldiers,I'm sad to say) can meet. No wonder the enlisted wives don't care about appearances or how they come across-no one cares about them! Maybe if people start having expectations of them and including them, they may step up and act a bit better.

  17. Earlier I mentioned expectations. There were times during ex-DH's time in when I wished the Senior Enlisted Wives would have set those expectations for the younger wives. On one occasion,the ESC held an event at the General's house. I have no idea how the ESC President arranged that,but she did.This event took place at the beginning of OIF,and it was very moving to be invited to the home of this high-ranking officer during wartime. As we all know, most enlisted wives never lay eyes on a General or his wife,let alone be entertained in their home.

    Anyway,I approached the leadership of the club and suggested that a dress code for the event be mentioned. Not ballgowns,but business casual or Sunday dress.Well,the leadership elected not to do that and people showed up for the event in jeans and sweats.Not all but enough. I was so angry…not at the transgressors,but at the leadership for letting them fail.

  18. I am an Active Duty enlisted Soldier. I am also a military spouse and a Mother. I just finished by Masters Degree and when people would find out that I had my Bachelors and was working towards my Masters they would always ask "why am I enlisted and not Officer?". I like being enlisted, I get to do my job and not shuffle between benchmarks that I have to hit in order to make the next rank (usually out of my career field). I can also say that as both a Soldier and a spouse that they seem to be viewed as mutually exclusive. I am forgotten as a spouse by my Husband's unit or I am forgotten as a Soldier. My husband was asked if I could volunteer for his unit, he told them no because I work. His unit asked if I could take the day off from (what they assumed was an hourly job somewhere), he told them "No, my wife is a Soldier" and they looked at him dumbfounded.

    Unfortunately, there are enough spouses (on both the Officer and enlisted, male and female sides of the fence) to make this stereotype ring true. There have been times when I have been up all night with the baby, have gone to PT then to work, then home (while my husband was deployed or TDY) for an entire week. I still managed to get myself dressed and put the baby in clothes in order to go to the PX or the commissary to get what we needed. To me, there is no excuse for looking sloppy. It takes no longer to put on a pair of (non-ripped) jeans or khakis and a sweater or blouse and flats than it does to put on ratty jeans, a t-shirt and flip flops. As one advances in rank there is an unspoken dress code of sorts when the Service Member is not in uniform; this should apply to spouses as well. While a (non-military her/himself) spouse does not wear the rank, they do represent it as well as the military.

  19. Basically what Amanda is trying to say here is is that, regardless of ur rank in the military there should be no differences wedge between the two when they all fight the same fight but play different roles. Just like out here in the civilian word, people attend to look at u and judge u by ur status in life. How the hell u gonna judge me because I make 37k a yr and u making six figures. Everyone takes different paths in life for our own reason, but each of us have our own unique character which keeps us standing out from the rest. I think it's childish to judge someone by whether the r enlisted or an officer because at the end of the day who's really doing the dirty work to save ur sorry asses while u sit back and become obese In the green zone..

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