- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

Julie Negron grew up in an Air Force family and is now an Air Force spouse. She knows what it’s like to get military orders and move halfway around the world, to navigate a new base, make new friends and worry when her husband is on a mission.

That’s why she created “Jenny, the Military Spouse,” the only comic strip about life as a military spouse. The strip, created four years ago, runs in Stars and Stripes, as well as about 60 other base newspapers, Web sites (www.jennyspouse.com) and spouse’s club newsletters. It follows Jenny and her husband, DH, with the humor, as well as the seriousness, that goes with the lifestyle.

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Mrs. Negron, who studied cartooning and commercial art, says she got the idea for the weekly comic strip when she was trying to get her family’s medical records so they could relocate overseas. After going through lots of red tape and being told “you’re just a spouse,” Mrs. Negron thought surely there were other spouses who could sympathize.

“Military spouses have to make so many sacrifices,” Mrs. Negron says from her home in Okinawa, Japan. “I hear the same stories from so many other spouses.”

Mrs. Negron and her husband, Maj. Angel Negron, then created the character Jenny, an enthusiastic 25-year-old married to a Navy pilot.

The humor of the strip comes in part from Jenny’s naivete as a new spouse: There is Jenny sitting by herself at the dinner table on her wedding anniversary; her husband arrives quite late, but Jenny finally says “I guess I’m just lucky we are in the same country this time.” Other episodes have Jenny looking for a job, dealing with PCS (permanent change of station), and making friends who, of course, eventually leave as their spouses get other assignments. One of Jenny’s friends moved, like the Negrons, to Okinawa.

“Jenny is experiencing that military lifestyle — where you get to know a friend really well, and then she is gone,” Mrs. Negron says. “I’ve lived that life; sometimes it gets to where you might not want close friends because of that.”

Readers should watch for Jenny to learn from some of her mistakes, but she also might make the same mistakes over and over again. Mrs. Negron says she probably won’t be writing children into the strip for Jenny and her husband because that would change the tone and direction of the life of her fictional military spouse.

“Jenny is never going to get any older,” she says. “Then she wouldn’t be a new spouse.”

Mrs. Negron also says readers should not look for storylines that center on the actual military personnel. In fact, Jenny’s husband doesn’t even really have a name — DH is common Internet vernacular for “dear husband.” The husbands of Jenny’s friends also do not have defined facial features so the strip can concentrate on the spouses (including Ruben, the lone, male military spouse in Jenny’s world).

“This is all about the spouses,” Mrs. Negron says. “None of the active-duty people in the strip have names and we don’t see their faces. In the [real-life] military, it is never about the spouses; we are dependents and we cannot do anything without permission. In the comic strip, we don’t care about the active-duty members; we just care about the spouses.”

“Jenny” makes a nice addition to Stars and Stripes’ weekly spouse page, which features an advice column and a narrative column written by military spouses, says Brian Bowers, Stars and Stripes’ features editor.

“When you look at our traditional markets — bases in Germany and Japan, for instance — more than 50 percent of active duty bring along spouses,” Mr. Bowers says. “It makes sense to appeal to them. Spouses need to be entertained the same way as [personnel] on the line.”

Mr. Bowers says the adventures of Jenny “struck a chord” when Mrs. Negron sent him samples in 2005.

“It is a good, lighthearted look at the some the frustrations of military life,” he says.

Mrs. Negron says she gets e-mails nearly every day from readers who can relate. Meanwhile, the new season of “Army Wives” on TV’s Lifetime network will be featuring “Jenny” as a prop on the show — as a cutout on a refrigerator, for example, or being read by one of the characters.

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