By Trey Smith
Moving overseas might sound like a lifelong dream for many young couples who may be looking for a change and their next big adventure. For military couples, however, a move – a “PCS,” or permanent change of station – can often be just as scary as it is exciting, especially for couples who are already going through all sorts of changes at once, most notably being newly married.
Meet Tyler and Ethan Tedder: two newlyweds who have recently been stationed overseas in Germany. Amidst the move and changes to their lives that comes with it, Tyler and Ethan have found a community overseas with the USO.
Tyler, a USO center operations specialist and Ethan, a geospatial intelligence imagery analyst in the U.S. Army, are both from Oklahoma and first met online before going on their first date.
“He was home for the holidays, and he was stationed at Fort Hood and he lived about 45 minutes away maybe. Which, you know, in Oklahoma is just down the road,” Tyler joked.
After meeting in-person over one holiday season, the two married shortly after and just recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary.
Being stationed in Germany is the first time that both Tyler and Ethan have ever lived overseas, away from family, friends and the familiarity of home.
“I’ve lived in Oklahoma my whole life. I traveled for work across the United States, but I’d never actually been outside of the United States until we moved to Germany,” Tyler said. “So, it was a big change.”
Being stationed far from home can take its toll mentally on members of the military community. In fact, according to a 2023 Blue Star Families Lifestyle Survey, only 33% of active-duty military family respondents agreed that they feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community.
And it is this constant state of change, upheaval and disconnection from their local communities that Tyler wished civilians understood about military life. He explained that civilians and military supporters should also keep in mind the everyday stressors of military life, and how they impact military spouses and their careers as well.
And with military spouse employment being the number one issue for active-duty families in 2022, Tyler knows the stress of having to pivot your career all too well.
In fact, before moving overseas, Tyler worked in the concrete and rebar industry and initially hoped to continue his line of work for a German company. However, employment for American military family members can sometimes be challenging at duty stations overseas with visas, and Tyler was concerned that his limited knowledge of the German language might affect his ability to work.
Luckily, the USO offered him an employment opportunity literally the moment he stepped off the plane.
“One of the first people I met here was the USO volunteer coordinator for our area. And she was helping us, bringing our bags and stuff, just as we got off the plane and she was like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a position coming up, you should apply,’” Tyler said. He looked around at other jobs when he first arrived, but ultimately decided to apply for the position. “Honestly, the USO was the best option for me out here.”
Working with the USO at Camp Aachen has given Tyler an opportunity to bond with other members of the military community – some of whom also work at the USO as volunteers and staff – and help aid them through the same challenges that come with a new life overseas.
“My favorite part of working for the USO is probably just getting to meet all the people that I work with – the volunteers, the service members that come through … It’s just really cool getting to meet such a broad array of people, because they’re only out there for like six to nine months at a time, so the people just are coming and going all the time and it’s really cool getting to meet all kinds of people,” Tyler said.
And as a center operations specialist, Tyler is responsible for engaging with the soldiers at USO Camp Aachen, hosting programs and events that help make the USO feel like a home away from home for service members. Some of these crucial, morale-boosting programs that Tyler hosts include weekly arts and crafts activities, karaoke and gaming nights.
It’s worth noting that the soldiers at Camp Aachen are there on a rotational basis; in other words, these soldiers must arrive unaccompanied and without their families. The USO Camp Aachen center truly serves as a “home away from home,” and Tyler’s role in creating a community for these service members is vital. And while his husband Ethan has never been deployed since they’ve been married, Ethan has been sent out into the field on a rotational basis, so the couple has spent several months apart.
Even before being stationed in Germany and Tyler securing a job with the USO, Ethan had been using the USO since his deployment to Iraq several years ago. Now that he is stationed in Germany, he not only takes advantage of the USO’s many programs, but also serves his own local military community by volunteering with the USO. Doing so has given Ethan an opportunity to give back to his fellow soldiers and to make friends that he has been able to call family while in Germany.
“I used to volunteer at the small center that we had while I was deployed to Iraq. I still remember it like it was yesterday, when they built it and opened it. Grand ol’ times, I would say.”
Both Tyler and Ethan are now part of the USO community, each in their own way: Tyler, as a member of USO staff and MilSpouse, and Ethan, as a service member and USO volunteer. This gives them both different ways of finding community while stationed overseas, whether they are together or apart. Aside from being members of the USO team, the best part about the USO for both of them is enjoying the “Boards and Swords” event every Friday night at their nearby USO center, where they can meet and connect with other board game enthusiasts.
This has also been a great resource for Tyler, who leans on the weekly event even when he and his husband are apart.
“I make myself not just sit at home and be sad,” he said. “We’ve been apart for a month at a time here and there, and that’s been really tough … but, you know, I just keep going to ‘Boards and Swords.’”
Tyler’s testament to the USO and its offerings is echoed by many members of the military community, who know they can find community and connection with the USO, no matter where in the world their service takes them.
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