As an Army veteran, I understand the importance of respecting the rank division in the military. Officers are the leaders who draft the orders and enlisted are the ones who make those orders happen. It was inappropriate for officers and enlisted to mix socially, and although it did happen, consequences could be severe if the lines were crossed.
Since I separated from the military over seven years ago I had a couple of babies, went back to school, and completely settled back into civilian life. Barracks became dorms, 17:00 became 5:00, and running before daybreak was a thing of the past. That is, until the day my husband decided to raise his right hand and sign up for active duty once again and I landed in yet another role: military spouse.
Rank is clear for service members: it's boldly attached to everyone's uniforms and job descriptions and expectations are in line with that rank. Yet now that I've entered the military spouse realm, roles are much more murky.
It's been described as "rankism" or even plain "snobbery" but it appears that yes, rank seems to bleed over into military families as well. When we arrived at our new base in Japan, I met many friendly wives more than willing to answer my jetlagged newcomer questions, but even though we were similarly dressed in shorts and t-shirts and shouted after our wandering kids, a line that had been drafted by our spouses also existed between us.
If you are new to the military, deciphering these unspoken rules may take some time. Officers wives tend to associate with other officer wives, and the higher ranking the wife, the more respect she deserves. Expect to find the head of the Officer Spouses Club to be the wife of a higher ranking officer. Similarly, enlisted spouses have their clubs and tend to feel more at ease with other enlisted spouses. No one wants their supervisor's wife sipping coffee in their house when they come home from a long day at work.
This social division between officers and enlisted and their families allows them to decompress when they are not in unifirm. If an officer has a few too many beers at home with his wife on the weekend, he doesn't want one of the soldiers he supervises spreading the word around the office. This divisionan split even deeper between officer and enlisted ranks, such as between privates and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) or between lieutenants and majors on up.
So what if your child comes home from school with a new friend who is the child of a service member who is a lower or higher rank that your spouse? Thankfully, I haven't had to face that issue yet, but definitely expect to in the next fifteen years before my husband retires. Kids socializing with "other ranked" children seems to be more appropriate but the parents may not want to attend the birthday party barbeque out of respect.
The bottom line is (in military speak), there are no clear rules for family members. Use your best instincts but do not turn away friends because a strong support structure is critical for military families. If something doesn't feel right or if your spouse seems uncomfortable then it may be time to slightly distance yourself from the relationship. In the end, everyone seems to settle into their comfortable place after a few bumps and u-turns.