Military Roots Run Deep For Top Enlisted Servicemember's Wife
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 29, 2007 Military life is all Cindy Gainey has ever really known. And that’s just fine with her.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey gets on bended knee to ask his wife for another 30 years on their 30th anniversary, June 18, 207. This was the second trip -- both times during their anniversary -- that the two have toured South Korea camps and bases and talking with troops and families. Photo by Spc. Wesley Leyton Pollet, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Born in England into an Air Force family, she moved often as a child, making friends and learning from other cultures in the United States and abroad. At 18, she married a 21-year-old soldier, and so began her 30-year-plus “enlistment” in the Army.
“It’s a lifestyle that I love. For me it’s a normalcy,” she said.
Last week, Gainey spent her 30th wedding anniversary on the South Korean peninsula, touring camps and bases, and talking to troops and families. She was accompanying her husband, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
This was their second trip to Korea, and both times the couple spent an anniversary there. On this anniversary, however, in front of a host of distinguished military guests and their spouses, the sergeant major, on bended knee with a suitably sized diamond ring in hand, asked his wife for another 30 years – although they mostly will be spent as military retirees.
Last week’s visit to Korea will be her last trip there as a soldier’s wife, as her husband plans to retire next year.
As the two look forward to a new future together, Mrs. Gainey said, she looks back with no regrets.
She was a young military wife long before many of the programs available to Army family members now had come into being. In fact, when she married her husband, privates were not even authorized housing. Luckily, she said, her husband had made sergeant before tying the knot.
Still, she said, life was good, and the two depended on each other and on other military families for support.
“Even though they didn’t have a lot of the programs, we didn’t really miss them. We didn’t realize what we didn’t have. We just depended on each other,” she said. “I look back now and think about some things that me and my friends went through, and it’s like, ‘Wow. How did we do that?’
“You just do it. I don’t know how,” she continued. “I didn’t think we had it hard. I thought we had it great.”
Any hardships along the way forged a bond between the two that Mrs. Gainey said may not be as strong if not for their time in the military.
Military family substituted when relatives couldn’t be near, she said, such as when her son was born in Germany and her husband could take only two weeks of leave.
“We always made friends when we got somewhere. There’s a community that just kind of welcomes you when you move in somewhere,” she said. “We would always have the neighbor or the best friend who lives down the street. I think that most military families are like that. They are going to help out. They don’t think anything about it.”
Mrs. Gainey met with young wives of servicemembers stationed in Korea during her trip. A handful of spouses, both command- and non-command-sponsored, met with her and other leaders’ wives. In an informal capacity, she listened to their concerns to bring back issues to the respective service chiefs.
She saw the same determination in them as she had as a young military wife, Mrs. Gainey said. Because of the relatively few command sponsorships in the country, many families agree to accept the financial costs of relocating and living on the economy.
“You just do it because you want to be with your spouse, and you will do whatever it takes to do that,” Gainey said.
U.S. Forces Korea officials are expected to soon ask the Defense Department for more than double its current allowance for command-sponsored families, from 2,800 to nearly 6,000. Some 3,000 non-command-sponsored families already are here.
Overall, Mrs. Gainey said that the wives voiced no major concerns.
“We asked them ‘What is your biggest challenge?’ I was really surprised. They had no big issues,” she said. “They were so smart and bright I couldn’t believe it.”
Gainey said that benefits now are very similar between command- and non-command-sponsored families. Non-command-sponsored family members are not authorized family housing and are placed in other military programs on a space-available basis. There are also other health care benefit differences between command- and non-command-sponsored family members. All are eligible for exchange and commissary privileges.
Some of the wives are using the Internet to help prepare spouses relocating to Korea, Gainey said.
“They go into chat rooms and give honest advice to those considering coming,” she said. “I was so impressed. They were really very smart young ladies.”
USFK leaders have asked Congress to extend the tour length from a one-year, unaccompanied hardship tour to a three-year, normalized tour. Building is booming at installations to add schools, health care facilities, shopping, housing and other amenities. Mrs. Gainey said that would go far in making Korea a “tour of choice.”
“I don’t see why people wouldn’t want to be stationed here for three years. Come and bring your family. I think it would be awesome,” she said. “This is going to end up being the place to come.”
Mrs. Gainey never was stationed in Korea. Her husband had orders to go there a handful of times, but they were always cancelled. Her favorite duty station overseas was Germany, she said. She was stationed there twice. The second time, she said, her children were older and could enjoy the travel and culture more.
Truthfully, Mrs. Gainey said, she has enjoyed all of her duty stations.
“Every place I’ve been, I’ve loved. It’s been sad to leave.”
Her favorite place in the United States is Texas, where she plans to retire with her husband next year, Mrs. Gainey said.
“The people there are so warm, and we just had a good community there,” she said.
Mrs. Gainey said she doubts she and her husband will be removed from the military altogether. Their son is in the Army, and their daughter married a soldier. She serves on the national board for the Armed Services YMCA, and as advisor for some other family agencies.
Still, she said, “There comes a point where you just want to leave it in good hands -- to someone else coming up.”
Their plans include spoiling the “grandbabies” and sitting on a back porch overlooking a valley view near Fort Hood, Texas. The couple will experience a first in their marriage. They are building their first house together.
Still, only time will tell if after a few years, they will be able to resist the rambling urgings of a veteran military family.
“I’m sure retirement is going to be hard, because you get those itchy feet and you are like, ‘I like it here and I have great friends, but I wonder what it is like over there,’” she said. “After about three years, I am ready to move.”