If you get Glamour magazine, open it immediately. If you don’t, go to CVS and buy a copy. This month’s issue features an article written by actress Anna Chlumsky entitled “The Actress and the Soldier”. It is a must read for any military significant other struggling with the military lifestyle, making a risky career move or connecting with “civilian” friends about your experience. Anna Chlumsky currently stars in the (hilarious) show Veep and also starred in the movie My Girl. In her article, Anna discusses her experiences as a military girlfriend, fiancée and wife. I want to talk about why this is important but first, here is some background on her situation.
Anna Chlumsky’s Glamour magazine article
Anna met her now husband, Shaun So, at the University of Chicago. Shaun enlisted in the Army Reserve after graduating from college. Of his decision to join the military, leaving Anna as a military girlfriend, she writes “scared as I was, our relationship had been built on support for each other. I would never hold him back from anything he wanted to pursue, and I expected he’d do the same for me.” At the same time, Anna decided to re-enter show business after a multiyear break working more “traditional” 9-5 jobs. They both took relationship and career risks at the same time.
Anna writes that visiting Shaun during his training was fun as they mastered long distance and enjoyed exploring where he was stationed. However, she writes, Shaun eventually began to deploy. “If long distance dating is a sport,” she writes, “deployment is the X Games.”
Anna Chlumsky and Shaun So
I find Anna’s reaction to her new military situation to be the most pertinent of all for military significant others who find themselves in an ambitious, privileged, hard-working world. She emailed her friends asking for support. She writes, “Most young people in a city like New York have no idea what to do with an email like that. My friends helped the best way they knew how: supporting my newly reawakened career as an actress and making sure I socialized with plenty of bar nights, coffees and dancing.”
Anna Chlumsky and Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep
My favorite excerpt from her article touches further on the divide between civilian and military life: “But the concept of war was so foreign in our cosmopolitan world. Either people didn’t pay attention at all, or they read too much. I’d meet strangers who, upon discovering my boyfriend was in the Army, would look at me like I was living out some eighties romantic comedy, dating a guy from the wrong side of the tracks…There was a wide misconception that joining the military as only an alternative to jail—that anyone who chose to die for his country was strong-armed into it by a tyrannical and manipulative government. I’d explain that no one signs his or her name to something at gunpoint. That the military is a diverse community of individuals from all types of backgrounds. That soldiers have brains.”
Anna Chlumsky promoting Veep
Yes, yes and more yes. Where did this conception of military members and their families having no brains or having no other alternatives come from? My boyfriend in the military was valedictorian of his high school class, top 10% of his college class and an Ivy League graduate school student. I too graduated at the top of my high school class and hold an Ivy League degree. I applaud Anna Chlumsky for calling attention to some civilian mischaracterization and misunderstanding of our service members and their families. All too often in magazines, books and popular culture, we are portrayed as desperate rebels or mentally traumatized. The image of a competent, ambitious member of the military and an equally competent and ambitious significant other is one that is often hard to come by. By including this story of ambition, love and the military in their magazine, Glamour is helping not just military significant others but also civilians understand our role within the military as well as the country as a whole. To quote Ms. Chlumsky, “the military is a diverse community of individuals from all types of backgrounds” and I believe it’s time that we start propagating that image as much as possible.
P.S. Anna Chlumsky also includes an unlikely source of inspiration in her article: The Odyssey. Yes, that epic by Homer you read in high school. The faith and perseverance of Odysseus’ wife Penelope inspired her so much that she named her daughter after her. Love that scholarly military spouse advice!