Finding Sisterhood in Unexpected Places

by Sarah Prehoda Turpin '96

Sarah Prehoda Turpin '96

In 1996, I graduated from Scripps with a degree in politics and my bags packed for Washington, D.C. My views then (and now) were solidly to the left of the political spectrum. I worked as a legislative aide for a liberal California congressman. I earned a master’s in public policy and worked as a policy analyst for several federal agencies. I came back to campus to sit on career panels and talk to students. For a time, I did things that were interesting and relevant to 21-year-old policy wonks.

Last spring, I came back to Scripps for my 15-year reunion very different than who I used to be, than who I thought I would be at my 5-year, even 10-year, gatherings. I am now a stay-at-home mom—something many of my classmates with small children list on their résumé. I am also married to a career officer in the U.S. military.

My life is no longer as interesting to career-focused seniors. I don’t know the firsthand dynamics of the Hill anymore or the current state of the federal hiring process. But I have learned many lessons about one of the core elements I took from Scripps: how important female relationships are. And how you can find sisterhood in the most unexpected places.

I am an Army wife. I don’t say this out of any sense of inflated pride or martyrdom. In fact, I try to avoid saying it at all. I don’t like using the phrase to describe who I am because at times it feels like it has subsumed all that I used to be.

I don’t glorify or romanticize Army life. I have moved five times in nine years. I have had to quit three jobs. I have logged far too many months as a single parent. Each time I move, I seek new dentists, hairstylists, babysitters, and friends among yet another group of military wives. I usually look for women like me—ones who had careers before kids, ones who have cynical views of Army life.

Increasingly, though, I realize that it doesn’t matter if they vote red instead of blue. I find myself bonded to other military wives because they get it. We may not vote the same way, but we understand things others simply can’t. A decade into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is little sense of shared sacrifice or common burden among most of the general population, but among military wives, there is a deep sisterhood.

This sisterhood manifests itself in many ways. Military wives are quick to say hello, share information, and extend social invitations. When we moved to our current duty station in Hawaii, women I had met only a few times helped make a birthday party special for my daughter, who three weeks before said goodbye to all her friends and the only home she remembered. Last spring, following a tsunami warning, one Army wife left her door open all night so I could slip in after evacuating my kids, dog, and everything else I could fit in the back of the car.

During deployments, the network of military wives can be a saving grace, especially for those stationed far from family. A few years ago, I gave birth to my second child three months into my husband’s yearlong combat deployment to Iraq. Army wives, some of whom I barely knew, brought me meals for weeks. They watched my kids grow during that long, stressful year. The showing of kindness and generosity was one expected from deep friendships cultivated over years, not a mere handful of months.

After more than nine years, I frequently still feel like an imposter. It is difficult for me to embrace many Army spouse traditions. I refuse to carry a bag made out my husband’s camouflage. I temper my political comments on Facebook, but my bookcase displays my true views. It’s not always easy, but who I grew into at Scripps helps give me the strength to forge bonds in unexpected places.

No one will ever replace the women I met at Scripps. Yet I am thankful for the military wives who help get me through day to day and for the sisterhood they offer. I hope I am able to return the favor.