This week I have had the great fortune to attend a seminar for “Senior Spouses” here at the United States Army War College. It has been a great few days of networking, relationship-building, learning, and reflecting.
Now, if you are not familiar with the military, you are probably thinking “What the heck is a ‘Senior Spouse’?”
Basically, a Senior Spouse is a military spouse whose Soldier has been in the military for many years and has attained a certain level of rank and/or responsibility. The military understands that, in most cases, the Spouse has had to make many sacrifices to support his or her Soldier’s career over the years. And many times the success of the Soldier has been, in no small part, due to the Spouse’s ability to keep “the home fires burning” and maintain an incredible sense of flexibility. The Spouse has, undoubtedly, learned many skills and techniques for dealing with military life and she (or he) often has a wealth of knowledge about military life to share with younger Spouses.
While it is true that we military Spouses do not “wear” our Soldiers’ ranks (although some make an attempt to do so), we are “aware” of our Soldiers’ ranks and how that causes the rest of the world (especially within the military community) to see us. Whether we like it or not, by virtue of being “Colonel So-and-So’s wife” or “Command Sergeant Major So-and-So’s husband,” we are ambassadors for the military. Whether or not we want to have anything to do with our Soldiers’ careers, the rest of the world still sees us as representatives of the military.
Now, just because we are military spouses, it does not mean that we cannot (or should not) have lives and/or careers of our own. There used to be a joke that “If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued one to you.” In some circles, this attitude still prevails to an extent, but it is rapidly dying out.
The military has come to understand that, as an all-volunteer force, if they want to retain talent, they have to make sure that the families have a certain quality of life. Spouses need and want to have opportunities to pursue their careers, passions, interests, etc. The idea that the Spouse should just put her (or his) career on hold is no longer acceptable or realistic. Finding the balance between supporting the military member’s career and having the Spouse sustain and grow a career of her (or his) own can be quite a challenge (especially in the midst of moving every few years, sometimes to foreign countries.)
The military is making an effort to ease such transitions. And in the past few years, they have made an attempt to improve the amenities available to military families…more youth activities, tuition assistance programs, better housing, career counseling for Spouses, etc.
But, here’s the kicker:
We are in a time of budget cuts. As a whole, the military is being required to find areas where it can “cut fat” and reduce spending. And let’s face it…family programs are not immune to these cuts. Nor should they be.
The mission of the Army, as one example, is essentially “to fight and win our Nation’s wars.”
The mission is not to make sure that military Spouses all achieve “self-actualization” or to make sure that free child care is provided for every meeting that a spouse may want to attend. While these things are nice, when it comes down to it, they are “extras.” Important extras, but extras nonetheless. And I give them kudos for having made an attempt to provide many of these things while we have been at war over the past decade.
So we, as Senior Spouses, need to help the younger spouses to manage expectations and empower them to find solutions to their dilemmas rather than simply ask the military to provide everything. This is a time when we need to come together, get creative, and lift each other up.
While the military has tried to create programs to address many different needs, one of its greatest resources has always been (and I hope continues to be) the families and the way they help each other spontaneously…looking to each other rather than expecting the military to supply the answers and resources to meet our every need.
I am curious…if you have experience with military programs, which ones do you think are important to keep, and which ones do you think would be able to be cut from the budget?
I will address these issues more in the future, but for now (like a good military Spouse)I need to go play “reveille” for my kids in order to get them up and going for the day!