By Terri Barnes
Military life offers endless opportunities to make new friends, and some of those new friends become friends for life. Long-term friendships offer the comfort and stability of history, especially for those who live mobile lives. Maintaining friendships over time and distance takes effort, but the rewards are lasting.
Longtime friends Holly Scherer and Kathie Hightower met when their Army husbands were students at the same school. In the decades of friendship that followed, they were never stationed in the same place. Nevertheless, these friends never let a few miles—or thousands—stand in their way. After writing a book together, they traveled all over the world to share their encouragement with military spouses.
“We have a very deep friendship,” says Holly. “Although we are so different, we are likeminded people. We believe in giving back, knowing there is always more to life.”
Holly lives in Virginia, and Kathie lives in Oregon, so they connect by phone every couple of weeks and get together at least once a year. It takes intentionality, a plan and follow through, both friends agree.
Air Force spouses Amanda Trimillos and Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman also wrote a book together after the military took them different directions. Stacy lives in Florida, and Amanda lives in Germany, but their collaboration and friendship continue.
Amanda says they model intentionality with their daughters, who became best friends while living next door to one another in Germany.
“Stacy and I and the girls have been trading months sending care packages back and forth since they moved,” says Amanda. “Our daughters really miss each other, so they fill the boxes with what they love. It’s a lot of fun to see Emily walk through the store thinking about what Abby would want to open in her box.”
Amanda and Stacy keep in close contact for personal and professional reasons, planning video chats and phone calls as often as they can, in spite of the time difference and busy schedules.
As Amanda and Stacy found when they met in Germany, new friends are an essential part of connecting and feeling at home in a new place. Long distance communication doesn’t provide the same level of support as a chat across the back fence.
“I like to say that everywhere I go, I need friends with skin on,” says Holly. “I need someone who is really right here with me.”
Friends with shared history are important too, even when military moves bring separation.
“My long-time friends and I went through life together. My new neighbor down the street hasn’t been there,” she says. “When you’ve been through war together, it’s like the way my husband feels about the guys he went to war with.”
The battle might be with loneliness and sick babies, but those who have been through it together are bonded.
“I have a long list of military friends from over the years,” Kathie says. “Even though we don’t connect as frequently (as Holly and I do) … we fall immediately back into that sense of deep friendship.”
“They’ve seen you when you are most vulnerable, and you’ve helped each other through it,” says Holly. Those are the friendships that can last a lifetime, friendships that enrich military life.
Making friends nearby is relatively easy. Staying in touch with those who are far away takes effort, a plan, and dedication.
Kathie, Holly, Amanda and Stacy offer their advice and the ways they stay connected with friends who are close in heart, but not in location.
Prioritize: “Ask yourself, ‘Who are people I want to have in my life, to keep in my life?’” Holly says. Then do what it takes to stay in touch, no matter where they live.
Be intentional: “For many years, I kept a list of the friends most important to me,” Kathie says, “and checked it monthly to be sure I consciously connected with them.”
Make time: “I have two clocks set on my iPhone. One has my time, the other has Amanda’s,” says Stacy. This keeps her aware of the best times to send a message or plan a call with her friend.
Be a multimedia friend: Apps for video chat and social media provide immediate and convenient connection. Cards, letters, and packages add another level of connection. Technology is essential, but Stacy says, “Mail is the best. Whether it’s German mustard and cookies or much needed Target items.” A letter or care package from a friend has value far beyond the price of postage.
Teach kids to connect: Amanda encourages her children to write cards and letters to friends who are far away. She says it’s also important for her, as a parent, to follow through and mail her children’s letters in a timely way.
Terri Barnes is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, based on her long-running column in Stars and Stripes. She and her military family stay in touch with friends all over the world.
Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer are the authors of Military Spouse Journey: Discover the Possibilities and Live Your Dreams. Amanda Trimillos and Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman are the authors of Seasons of my Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers.