The adventures of an Air Force spouse

Etiquette, protocol and other things learned the hard way

It’s been a while since I last wrote. The Good Chaplain is safely ensconced and busy in Africa and I’m keeping busy, as well, trying to establish a routine to get my stuff done and add his chores  into the mix too.

Today I want to talk about military etiquette and protocol and how I learned both the hard way. The second summer of the Good Chaplain’s chaplain candidacy we went to Hurlburt Field, FL with the intention of seeing if the military could be a lifestyle the whole family could get into.

It wasn’t a fair test since we ended up in one room with a shared kitchenette for two and a half months. Try that with two 2-year-olds. Let’s say survival for everyone came partly from me changing my name from the ever-annoying Mommy to Aunt Frieda. Somehow, it wasn’t as irksome to hear my dear daughters call me Aunt Frieda, which they did for the summer.

Anyway, the first lesson I learned was at the grocery store, or commissary as it is known in military circles. I went to the base commissary to pick up a few items that I could easily cook in our little kitchenette. As I headed for the checkout lanes I noticed they were all open with no one in the lines. So I pulled into one only to hear, “The line is back here.” I turned around to see several people in a straight line down an aisle waiting to be called up by the next available cashier. Boy did my face turn red as I made my way to the end of the line. I didn’t know that commissaries have ques and you have to wait your turn.

The second time I got egg on my face was our first Sunday at the chapel. We decided it was time for our daughters to learn how to sit in church and what better way to teach them than to actually have them in church. Sounds logical, right? We sat at the back so if and when the girls needed to be taken out we would not disturb the whole congregation. The girls actually did pretty well, lasting about 45 minutes before they lost it.

After service we were invited to stand in a receiving line and meet the parishioners. One elderly woman, who sat right in front of us, told me that the girls were very disruptive and we should sit elsewhere if we were going to bring them into the chapel. “I’m hard of hearing and the background noise from the children was very distracting,” she told me.

Tactfully, or at least I though it was, I explained to her that we were trying to teach them how to behave in church, I thought they behaved very well, but in case they didn’t , we planned on sitting in the back so we could easily take them out and if she had problems hearing the sermon, perhaps she would do better to sit closer to the front. Uh, probably not a good idea since in military areas with a large population of retirees, the said retirees are not good with change for the most part.

Lastly, I learned the proper way of addressing your husband’s superior officers. But, in my favor, I was correct on this one. Here’s what happened. The vice wing commander at the time and his lovely wife took our family under their wing, showing us around, having us over for dinner, etc. Shortly after having met them for the first time, we were at an official function and I saw the vice commander. As I passed him he said hello to me and I replied, “Hi, Tom. How are you?” I heard gasps behind me. “You do not address a colonel by his first name,” I was informed. Oh no! Did I just kill my husband’s career? Would the commander report my faux pas and get the Good Chaplain in trouble? I quickly sought out the commander’s wife to see how I could undo the damage.

“Robin, I just called Tom by his first name and was told I should never do that. Did I do something wrong?”

“How did he introduce himself to you?” she asked.

“As Tom.”

“Then he wants you to call him Tom. Don’t worry about it,” she replied.

Phew, I hadn’t ruined the Good Chaplain’s career after all, but to this day it is hard for me to call a general by anything other than General or Sir.

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