In the military space, there are all kinds of strength, variations of independence and endless examples of courage. Jennifer Mabus, 2018 Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hiker and new Navy spouse is planning to literally walk away from it all (again) with her husband's next deployment.
In the spring of 2018, Mabus and her now-husband Owen began a long-distance friendship at quite possibly the most inopportune time in each's lives. Mabus was setting out to hike the PCT and Owen, a Navy diver, was gearing up for deployment. With one quick chance to see each other on a layover work trip, the two had just one shot at meeting face to face before both set out.
"We communicated every chance we got the entire time I was on trail and he was deployed, but there was never any tension. We were both doing our things and clearly understood that from the beginning," says Mabus, who credits their communication and mutual respect aiding to the love within their story.
Mabus, a mechanical engineer, made the cross country move to Virginia this January, taking her first steps into life as a military spouse. "My dad was a Ranger. I had some idea about what this life would be like, but it wasn't what I imagined being ideal for myself to be honest."
"Coming into military spouse life, it is the partner who undergoes major changes. It's a challenge to face the potential of losing some of your identity, to be the one who is left behind," says Mabus hesitantly in reflection of still searching for her niche now.
Luckily for Mabus, adaptation was a skill she honed while on trail. "Humans can adapt to anything. On trail, no matter how great your plan was, the likelihood was that it would be altered or changed. That's a lot like military spouse life I'm finding out."
Couples bring all sorts of skills and expectations into marriage, but for these two, the mutual understanding of accomplishing huge feats (deployment and thru-hiking) simultaneously or otherwise, was a goal they wouldn't lose sight of. Pre-pandemic, Mabus had coordinated a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at the same time Owen was to deploy.
"He knows how much life this brings to my life. Being married now, we had to check-in emotionally because there would be a chance, I may not be home when he gets back from deployment," she says nervously.
Dependents worldwide understand the monumental pressure of holding down the fort when service members are gone. While certainly unique, Mabus' plan to pursue her own hard thing might not be so shocking to comprehend after hearing just a few of her reflections of her time on trail.
"There's a deep disconnect from life's stressors and a newfound connection to yourself that happens. This isn't a weekend getaway, it's dedicating every day to walking forward with extreme intention," a feeling she has yet to find elsewhere.
"I've never been prouder of myself, of my body, or the trust I had in what I could do," she said.
When asked about keeping up with communication expectations now as a married couple Mabus shared, "Last time, I sent postcards from each town I reached. We both left messages, videos and picked up conversations when each had the chance. The understanding that each of us might be out of touch for a few days or delayed in responding is important."
Managing expectations for military couples is an obstacle we all tackle in ways unique to our relationship. Missing "scheduled" calls and experiencing what feels like radio silence for days on end is taxing. Imagining deployment when both parties not only accept, but expect to both give and receive these lags in communication has to eliminate byproducts like resentment, fear or even anger.
The unexpected mix of experiences and perspectives that live within the military spouse community is everything that keeps the group (military spouses) amazing. Mabus' outlook, strength and unique plan will undoubtedly shake up a few mindsets, and for that we're giving her the biggest high five we can. We'll be catching up with her Youtube trail diary (from 2018) and low-key stalking her Instagram for her next adventure.
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