WILMINGTON — Navigating life can be a difficult journey for some military spouses, but one Wilmington graduate — and her family — embraces that journey and shares what she’s learned along the way.
Caitlyn Usborne (nee Craycraft), from the Wilmington High School class of 2010, is currently stationed in Quantico, Virginia, with her husband Ethan, a 2009 WHS grad currently serving as a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps. They two boys — nine-year-old Rowan and four-year-old Cael.
Caitlyn and Ethan have known each other since the seventh grade when he first moved to Wilmington. The two were best friends since they met and began dating during Caitlyn’s senior year of high school.
The two married in July of 2011. While they didn’t have a traditional honeymoon, Ethan’s first post was Kaneohe Bay, Hawai’i.
“So some would argue that our first two years was a honeymoon,” said Caitlyn. “But it certainly wasn’t a walk on the beach.”
She hadn’t really considered what being in a relationship with a servicemember might be like.
“Being that my older brother (Stephen Craycraft) is in the Army, I saw first-hand the obstacles that service members and their families face, and was fortunate that both he and my sister-in-law were there to guide us,” she said.
During the first two years of their marriage, Caitlyn and Ethan spent just eight months of it actually together.
“Everyone is familiar with the deployment aspect of military relationships, which last anywhere from seven months to a year, but most aren’t familiar with the training that leads up to that, which takes them away on a weekly or monthly basis.
“That’s what most of our first year looked like, and it may not look like others, but you learn to communicate well” with your spouse, she said.
“Enjoy the moments that you’re in,” said Caitlyn. “Embrace everyone and everything, from food to different cultures and new friendships. It won’t always be easy, but you learn a lot, and take a piece of every lesson with you on your next adventure.”
But one of the hardest things she’s felt is that is her kids aren’t able to experience similar family bonding that she did. Growing up in a small Ohio town, she was able to frequently see her cousins and grandparents. The same can’t be said for Caitlyn’s kids.
“My kids don’t see their cousins as much as we would like for them to. There are no sleepovers with the grandparents on the weekends,” she said. “We cherish our rare visits home and make the most of the time.”
While she’s not able to see family and childhood friends as frequently as she’d like, they do enjoy the people they meet in this journey.
“At each duty station, we get to choose our family and we have been blessed with the most incredible individuals who are not blood-related, but feel that way all the same,” she said.
While they’re not really able to plant traditional roots, she said military spouses have an “uncanny ability to make anywhere home.”
She added a lot of that has to do with the people that support them; whether it’s the family back at their hometown or those they’ve met along the way.
One thing about the married military life she never imagined was the amount of travel she got to experience. Caitlyn and her family have lived in Kaneohe Bay, Hawai’i; Quantico, Virginia for two rotations; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Antananarivo, Madagascar.
“If you told high school me that I would have the humbling opportunity to live in Madagascar, I would have never believed you,” she said.
The family is set to move again this summer, the the fifth move of Rowan and Cael’s third. Caitlyn believes that military children have great resilience.
“We uproot them every few years, asking them to leave behind friends and all things familiar, and often times with a parent that is largely absent,” she said. “It isn’t easy for an adult who can emotionally reason with everything that comes attached, but these kids handle the changes with so much strength; you would be amazed,” she said.
From deployments to moves, she says the kids are able to bounce back and give so much to the community.
“They are determined and kind. Strong and understanding. They go through so much in their adolescent years that most adults might not experience in a lifetime and become well-rounded individuals because of it.
“Simply put, they’re inspiring,” she said.
There are two pieces of advice that Caitlyn would give to anyone. The first is to remain positive and remain flexible.
“This goes beyond being a military spouse, but your attitude will largely decide how well you navigate this lifestyle and influence the company you keep,” she said. “You have to be willing to go with the flow and be comfortable with being on your own.”
Her parents always emphasized the importance of being independent, and she thinks their guidance allowed her to tackle whatever comes up. She says anyone marrying into this lifestyle is going to be fine, but to take everything in stride and have a positive outlook.
The second piece of advice? Have a hobby. She said this can look different for everyone, but it helps pass the time and goals can keep someone motivated.
“Whether they are work-related, getting out and volunteering in the community, or hitting PRs at the gym, you need to have something of your own,” she said. “It is difficult ‘starting over’ every two to three years, but if your goals are outlined, you can pick up where you left off at the start of each adventure.”
Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574