Bonnie Amos, wife of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, speaks with Marine spouses about a variety of topics at The Clubs at Quantico, Va., on Oct. 24. (MIKE MORONES / STAFF)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — It's not often spouses get to hear the commandant's wife expound on life in the Marine Corps. But 300 women were treated to a free-wheeling discussion of careers, deployments and romance during a night of "girl talk" with Bonnie Amos, wife of Gen. Jim Amos, on Oct. 24.
For some of the wives, the event — billed as "An Evening with the First Lady of the Marine Corps" and hosted by the Quantico Officers' Spouses' Organization — was an opportunity to meet Bonnie Amos for the first time. For others, like Sara Newsom, it was a chance to take a break from motherhood and get together with girlfriends for a night out.
"I have a 6-month-old child. I'm just really looking forward to having some adult time," Newsom said.
Amos addressed a variety of topics including job flexibility, the changing shape of deployments in the Asia-Pacific region and the importance of communication between spouses. She answered questions about ways to keep the fire alive long after the honeymoon phase of marriage.
When asked by one spouse how she and Gen. Amos have kept their love life exciting after nearly 42 years of marriage, she quickly shot back, "I'm very sexy."
She also emphasized the important roles spouses play in the Marine Corps by sharing some of her own experiences.
She recalled the time she ran into an old flame while out with her husband. Afterward, the general remarked that if she had married her ex-boyfriend, she'd now be married to a tow-truck company operator.
"Oh, no," she replied. "If I had married [him], he'd be the commandant."
"It's a silly story," she told the wildly cheering women, "but a great example of how you can impact people's lives."
Amos peppered her remarks with marital advice — techniques, she said, that have helped contribute to her own happy and healthy marriage.
"Being able to say, ‘I'm sorry, will you forgive me?' even when he should have been the one to say it, has helped," she said.
When someone asked how she could best support her husband during the retirement phase of his career, when he might have feelings of detachment, Amos advised her to reassure her husband that life does go on after the Corps … and to get creative in the bedroom, producing loud laughter.
Amos showed her serious side, too, and took the time to recognize the importance of gathering spouses of all ranks for an evening together.
"We talk about how spouses don't wear their husbands' rank, but it would be a misnomer [to say] that it sometimes is not a dividing line between us, whether it's perceived or reality," Amos told Marine Corps Times after the event.
She said her visit allowed the women to share common concerns, frustrations and experiences without worrying about rank structure.
"Nobody knew who was an enlisted [spouse] or who was an officer [spouse]. [We were] able to laugh and come together for a night of fellowship and friendship," Amos said.
For many military spouses, careers are an important concern. Amos advised them to be flexible with whatever skill sets they've acquired from previous jobs. Though balancing personal ambitions with the needs of a spouse in the military can be difficult because of relocations and deployments, it can be done, she said.
"It is possible to have it all. It does not mean that the days are easy and that the nights are not very long. But it's possible," she said.
Jinyoung Lee Englund, who's newly wed to a Marine and works as an operations associate to former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, said Amos' career advice hit home.
"I'm still a working professional and one concern that came up when we were deciding to get married was what sort of professional opportunities would be available to me as a military spouse when I have to uproot every three years," Englund said.
Amos noted that each profession has its particularities, but Marine wives must be able to adapt. She recalled meeting her husband when he was just a "studly second lieutenant" and she was working at a small Florida bank. In their life together, she sometimes had to take pay cuts and accept positions for which she was overqualified, Amos said, but she would have never had the experiences and opportunities that life as a military spouse provided had she not been willing to make adjustments to her own career.
"I just decided I would do what I could do. When somebody asked, can you roller skate, I said I could roller skate. I didn't like making a salary that was much lower than where I came from, but it made up for itself. It's been an amazing ride for the last 42 years. I didn't like all of it, but I loved most of it," she told the spouses.
She also addressed some top issues facing the Corps, including the focus shift to the Asia-Pacific region and tough budget decisions.
"Spouses and Marines will have to get used to a different sort of deployment cycle and a different deployment training, where our Marines aren't being shot at or blown up," she said. But "there will be different stressors that it will bring. For our children, this is the only life they have known … this thing called war. I think that we need to be ready as the Marine Corps with as much mental and emotional, psychological help as we can provide for our families as we transition out of Afghanistan."
Equipping installations with adequate child care and ensuring that the best programs survive tough budget decisions top her concerns.
"I don't think we would ever have enough child care available, but we are doing the very best that we can. That's not an area we look to cut back in at all. Child care is enormously important to our families. We won't back off of our family readiness, but we may have to change it some," Amos told Marine Corps Times.
Military spouses face significant challenges, Amos said, but she hopes the women at the event recognize they live "the good life."
"Is it an easy life all the time? Absolutely not. But life isn't meant to be easy," she said. "I'm just so proud of our spouses and families, who have endured so much for so long. They are just so brave and strong, and they put one foot in front of the other, not without pain, anguish or frustration, but they continue to do what they need to do.
"I am just so enormously proud of them," she said.