When Noelle Boyer and her husband Ryan were first dating in college, she used to envision what life would be like as a married couple: “I had this idea that Ryan’s going to be in the military and I’m going to be this military journalist, and we’re going to be this power couple,” she says.
But Boyer, who did not come from a military background herself, admits that she didn’t even understand the differences between the branches of the armed forces. At the time, she looked to television shows about military wives to try to get an idea of what life as military spouse might be like.
Now, following a stint as an associate editor, two cross-country moves, her husband’s deployments, multiple freelance writing jobs, family expansion and an accident in the field, Boyer has a better idea.
She wants to leverage her first-hand experience as a military spouse and her background as a writer to offer others some transparency into military life and serve as a resource.
Boyer explains, “I want to be that person that I didn’t have in the beginning.”
Launching A Career
After graduating with a degree in journalism and English literature, Boyer moved to D.C. while Ryan trained at Quantico. Following an internship for the Veteran’s Affair Committee, she accepted a job as an associate editor for a small Beltway publication covering politics but, when Ryan’s flight training necessitated a move to Florida, Boyer says she might have been a little over-confident about future job prospects.
“I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I was like, ‘I’ll get any job I want. No big deal,’” she recalls. “‘I won’t even ask my job if I can work remotely because I know I’ll find something else.’ That’s my biggest regret right now in life,” she says. “I should’ve asked them to work remotely.”
The couple was in Florida for 18 months and Boyer continued to try to write. But at 5 cents a word, the experience earned more frustration than cash. “For $70 a story that I spent five hours on, it’s not worth it.”
She instead began to focus her efforts on fitness, working as a part-time coach and trainer. To hold herself accountable, Boyer regularly posted on social media about her experience and progress, sharing sources of inspiration to her fitness community. “People would start responding to that and I would talk a little bit more about my personal life. But I never really started talking too much about the military side of my life,” Boyer says. “I remember feeling like I wasn’t a real military spouse yet.”
When It Rains
Things got real pretty quickly: Ryan received his squadron assignment and the couple moved to San Diego. Within a month of moving across the country, the couple was pregnant and, eight months after their eldest son, Nolan, was born, Ryan deployed to Japan.
Rather than spending her time during that first deployment with the military community in San Diego, Boyer went to Ohio to live with her parents. “I just remember feeling so much bitterness because ... I was really isolated from the military community. I felt like I was surrounded by people who just didn’t get it and kind of treated me like a single mom. They didn’t really treat me like a military spouse.”
Boyer couldn’t bring herself to talk about what she was going through at the time — and occasionally made it appear on social media as if Ryan was with her and not deployed. “I would actually throw up pictures of him because I was afraid,” she says, adding that she felt like, “‘I don’t want people to know I’m alone.’”
One month before Ryan was supposed to come home, his helicopter’s engine malfunctioned. After an emergency landing in a farmer’s field, Ryan successfully evacuated everyone minutes before the entire aircraft went up in flames. The Boyers both recognized that they were very lucky: Only seven months later, one of their good friends — a groomsman in their wedding party — was on routine training when his helicopter malfunctioned with no survivors.
The tragic death, the regular mortal danger and the loss of more friends is what compelled Noelle to reflect about her experience as part of the military community on social media. “I never used to pause on this day. I viewed it as a day off to lounge & chill,” she shared on Memorial Day. “Friends, the sacrifices are real.”
In response, Boyer’s community valued her willingness to express her thoughts openly. Another military spouse told Boyer, “‘Thank you so much for sharing this because this is exactly what I’ve been feeling, but I couldn’t put it to words.’”
Second Deployment Is Like A Second Child
When Ryan was scheduled to deploy to Japan for a second time, Boyer faced new demands: Her second son, Austin, was born one week before Ryan’s departure. But in many ways she felt better prepared.
“I think the main thing was just my mentality was different,” Boyer explains. “It wasn’t like, ‘You’re leaving me.’ It was like, ’All right, you’re doing your job and now I have to figure out this role.’”
With a fresh perspective and a little experience under her belt, Boyer maintained a more positive approach to deployment the second time around and wanted to share her experience. “I was so open about it. I would talk about our good days, our bad days,” she says. “I think that also helped make this deployment not so painful.”
While the act of opening up was beneficial for Boyer, it also seemed to be having unexpected positive results: Other military spouses valued the insight. Boyer received direct messages on social media asking for her advice.
Friends were urging Boyer to start a blog — something that she had always felt was “like personal journal entries” and “self-promotional.” But as more people started to seek out her experience and opinion as a military spouse, Boyer wanted to be able to point to helpful resources.
A Sense Of Self
Reintegration the second time provided new and unexpected challenges: Upon his return, Ryan received orders for a new base in North Carolina — and the family had to move cross-country in under two months.
But even the hardship of moving long distance on short notice came with some benefits: It provided excellent fodder for stories.
Boyer wrote about her family’s experience reintegrating for Military Families magazine; and when the family decided to take a cross-country roadtrip to their new home, Boyer wrote about the experience of being in the car for almost an entire week as a family with two small children and a recently returned spouse. She wants to “create resources that people can come back to” when they might be about to go through a similar experience.
Not only has Boyer found an avenue in writing again but, more importantly, she’s found her sense of place. “I keep going back to how I felt like I didn’t have a military voice, but now I know I do. I know what I’m talking about and that I can help other military spouses,” she explains. “So that’s what I really want to do.”
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