We all know they exist...dysfunctional FRGs. Some military spouses have been cursed with a whole string of them. To read online, you might think every FRG is a failure. That may be due to the fact that those who flee these nightmare FRGs often end up on the Internet, searching for the support they are missing.
What can you do to fix them?
What can you do if they can't be fixed?
I agree that the military should look at ways to fix them (I'll post some suggestions on that next week). I know that members can't always fix them, too. These are just some suggestions. I hope you will consider trying them and adding some of your own ideas.
When I wrote a post about my experience starting up an FRG for a group of geographically dispersed family members, I wanted to hear about the frustrations of those who are not close to post and encourage others to offer suggestions for these isolated spouses.
One of the responses prompted me to write this post about on post FRGs that are not working.
We have all been part of one or at least heard about them--the broken phone trees; the boring, poorly attended meetings (or worse, no meetings at all); and those spouses who wear their soldiers' rank. Ick.
The way I see it, you have some options...and I'm not saying any of these is any better than the others. You can either:
- Forget about it. Pros: Don't waste any more time on a lost cause; Cons: You still don't have the support you need.
- Use other post resources: volunteer with ACS (or your branch equivalent), call your paid Brigade Assistant if you have one and get on the e-mail list, join a Deployment Support Group. Pros: You have some local military support; Cons: You don't have unit-based support.
- Forget about it and find support elsewhere: online discussion boards, family, off-post friends, Meetup, etc. Pros: You meet awesome people like the ones on SpouseBuzz; Cons: You may not have anyone nearby to laugh with and cry with...and if you do meet local people online, please be careful to have your first meetings in public!!!
- Gather up a group of other likeminded spouses and do your own thing. Find other spouses in the unit through the FRG meetings and your soldier who feel the way you do. Invite them over for snacks once a month and laugh and cry together. Pros: You have the support network you wanted; Cons: Time, effort, money.
- Try to fix it.
What I'm talking about in #4 is how members can help make their FRG what they want it to be.
- Make contact: So many spouses seem to think that when their soldier is assigned to a unit, the FRG gets a printout of their names, numbers, and vital stats. Guess what? Does not happen. The FRG can't get in touch with you if they do not know you exist.
- Show up: It can be very disheartening to plan a great meeting and have no one attend. After that it is tempting to go back to bare bones.
- Speak up: Yes, I know you tried. However, FRG leaders are human. We have bad days just like everyone else. Maybe you caught yours at a bad moment. Maybe he or she felt on the defensive. Ask if you can sit down for coffee one day. Bring up your concerns in terms of what you would like to see happen. Try not to be confrontational. Instead of saying, "How hard is it to check on people with a phone call?" Try, "I think it would be a great morale boost if everyone got a phone call once a month..." I know it is frustrating to not get the support you need, but remember your FRG leader is an unpaid volunteer, who may or may not have been guilted into this position. A little kindness can go a long way.
- Volunteer: When you speak up, be ready to put your time where your mouth is. Nothing bugs me more than someone who has a thousand and one great ideas but expects me to do all the leg work. As in the above example, you could follow through with saying, "I can call 10 people a month. This month I can also help you call everyone to see if we can get some other key callers.
- Provide Alternatives: Maybe the leader has turned down your volunteering with the main efforts (meetings and phone lists) but would accept your help on the website or newsletter or with hosting a social. This way you are not interfering with whatever the FRG leader is doing; just providing an additional option to people.
- Be Realistic: Only offer help you can provide and realize that every meeting, speaker, newsletter, and social takes time. Forms have to be filed, phone calls made, requests filled-out, rooms scheduled, etc. Try to identify the most important issue and concentrate on one thing at a time.
- As a second to last resort, speak up louder: Offer your assistance directly to the commander; it is his FRG. Don't rag on the current leader, just offer to help.
- As a last resort, go up the chain: If your company FRG is dysfunctional, see if there are Battalion-level meetings you can attend. This deployment, some of the companies were having trouble getting and keeping leaders. So, we started hosting meetings on a Battalion level to make sure everyone was getting what they needed. Check to see if you have a paid Brigade Assistant. Get on the e-mail list so you at least get information, if nothing else.
If all else fails, see numbers one, two, and three, and four.