Let me preface this by saying we’re huge advocates of the program and have so many reasons to say yes to MSG Duty. (If you’re a good news first kind of person, start there and come back to this.)
Obviously, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. To be fair to anyone still doing their research, I can think of a few compelling reasons why other families in other situations might not feel the same:
- You can’t handle uncertainty. We’re all used to a higher-than-normal level of uncertainty in the Marine Corps. But MSG really takes it a step further. You receive orders maybe 4 weeks before each move, and you have almost no say and no idea where that’s going to be. While unnerving, that part of it should be expected by anyone coming on MSG. But there are lots of other smaller things that feel uncertain.
Will you be able to work at post? What will your housing be like? Will your kids’ school meet their needs? What kinds of medical care will you have access to? More than ever, you’ll have to just go with it.
- You value your career (or your paycheck). MSG duty will usually give your Marine’s career a boost. But, employment for spouses is a crapshoot. Some people luck out and find openings at their Embassy or Consulate right away, get their clearance within just a few months, and settle into a position they love. But I’d say that’s the extreme end of the spectrum. On the other end are family members who apply for jobs only to find funding has been cut, who wait 6+ months for their clearance, who can’t qualify for positions because of the language barrier, or who serve at small Embassies where there may only be a handful of spouse jobs to go around. Then you do it all again 18 months later. If you and your spouse have worked out a situation where you’re both thriving in your respective careers, think hard about whether or not you’re willing to give that up. (Unless, of course, you can work remotely!)
- You really, really dread transitions. Again, we’re all used to moving on short notice and going through the temporary hell that is pack-outs and shipments and so on, but on MSG you’re guaranteed to do that 3 times within 3 years, all of which are international moves. That means you’ll be waiting a lot longer for your stuff (maybe 4-12 weeks) and even longer for your car (8-12 weeks). That also means 2 new schools for your kids in 3 years (though most of the schools are wonderful, so I’m told!) Add in the time required to get comfortable in a new house, city, and country, and the time it takes to pick up some of the local language, and it’s a whole lot of transition time.
- You need things and conveniences to be happy. Nothing is guaranteed on MSG Duty, except maybe the fact that you’ll be serving somewhere undeveloped or extremely challenging at least once (but potentially twice – you’re definitely not guaranteed Europe!) If your family can’t go without your favorite foods, products, or brands, you’ll have a hard time. If you love shopping and need a new purse and shoes for every season, you might struggle. If the thought of three years without Trader Joes or Target makes you panic, don’t even think about it.
Amazon and many other stores ship to DPO and pouch addresses, but there are restrictions and it can be very slow (I’m talking receiving your Christmas gifts in February slow.) MSG Duty is for those who value doing things more than having things.
- You have no patience. Living abroad, especially through the auspices of the State Department, is an exercise in patience. You have to wait months for your things to arrive, then your car. You may be holed up in a hotel with your kids and pets while you wait for your permanent housing to be readied. You may have to wait more than 6 months for a damn license plate for your car because the host country ran out (not bitter at all.) You have to wait for orders so you can enroll your kids in school mere weeks before you show up. You have to wait in the dark for months and months on your security clearance before you begin working. You could be waiting up to 6 weeks for your 2-day Amazon Prime package to arrive. You’ll be expected to wait until a month or so before you move to learn where you’re going. Some of those things are far more consequential than the others, but when added together, it requires a good deal of patience all around. And it’s not just about thumb twiddling. Living in a foreign culture and facing a language barrier requires every ounce of grace and grit you can muster some days.
All of that said, there’s a lot to love about this crazy life, so I encourage everyone to consider MSG duty if the above reasons don’t deter you. If you’re curious but still have your doubts, don’t hesitate to contact me!