When the military lifestyle turns into a soap opera (not one that runs on the Lifetime Network), it does so in A VERY BIG WAY.
There has been no avoiding this story, really, since it's all over the place and we all have strong feelings about this sort of activity. Or rather, bullying. Actually, I'm not sure that even the word bullying applies here - but I think that for those of us on the outside of the story, eyebrows raised in horror and a bit of resigned shock. And embarrassment.
While the situation at Ft. Bragg is undergoing an investigation it would be unwise for anyone to comment about "the truth". Legally, I mean. When people have sued dry cleaners for sums in the millions of dollars for a pair of missing pants that weren't really missing it's probably wise to err on the side of caution and use those qualifying words like "alleged", "accused", and so forth. But what I think we *can* talk about is the generic situation, and I think that the readers of SpouseBUZZ can do so in a manner that refrains from nastiness and general name-calling. We've done it before in tough situations and we can do it now.
And I think we need to. I think we owe it to all military families, thousands of miles away from familial support and living lives of great accomplishment, great stress, great fears, great joys, and great sorrows to talk about the problems and figure out the solutions.
Because, when it really comes down to it, we're all we have to rely on. And it's been that way since before my Grandmother was a military wife with her husband in the South Pacific during World War II.
PROBLEM 1: THE FRG "RANK" SYSTEM
Not everyone will agree that the FRG (and it's counterparts in the Air Force, Navy, and Marines) is a horrid thing. Some FRGs have functioned beautifully and everyone has gone along to get along. Some FRGs have done a bang-up job passing information, creating phone trees, and coming up with an activity program for the kids during meeting times.
And I bow at the feet of the spouses able to accomplish this. I say this with all sincerity and not a hint of sarcasm. Amazing job, folks.
But then there are the other stories. And truly those stories are Legion. Even I have some, and my husband has never deployed in a manner that had me connected to an FRG-type group that I could call my own!
We know what the problem is - the problem is rank and the lack of rank. Or rather - trying to get a workable group together when you need a leader but everyone is constantly moving and no one is supposed to come into the situation with more rank than anyone else there.
Okay, that's a ridiculously complicated way to define the situation as well. But if you compare the volunteer organization to the paying-job organization you can see what I mean. SOMEONE has to be in charge. And how should you figure that out when it comes to the FRG?
The default position has generally been the commander's wife. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it's a VERY BAD IDEA. What I would like to know from readers are their ideas on alternatives: Who? How would it be decided?
I've seen the idea of a paid position come up, and I understand what is driving that, but it still makes me feel a bit hinky. Someone who is paid to do something doesn't always really care and understand the way a willing volunteer does. I remember walking into one Airman and Family Readiness Center with a SpouseBUZZ flyer and being shown the door with the (paid) civilian at the front desk telling me, "We don't need you trying to take money from our military families." Um, SpouseBUZZ is free. And I'm a military spouse, too, and that was *MY* AFRC!. So double bad on you, dude.
PROBLEM 2: THE INFORMATION SPIGOT
Wouldn't it be awesome if we got phone calls at a set time every day and there weren't any subjects that were verboten, and we knew right off the bat if something had happened, to whom, and there was no time for rumors to start because we would get daily digests of information from the front about our deployed loved ones?
Yeah. I know, never going to happen. But a girl can dream, right?
The problem is that our flow of information depends on the person who is supposed to send it, and not everyone has the same amount of time in which to do so. Or inclination, in some cases. And when information is slow, the rumor mill starts even in groups with the best of intentions.
Usually we know something has happened before we know exactly what has happened. And then we wait. And when "something has happened", we assume the worst. Always. Because that's how military spouses work.
And then the information DOES come, and sometimes it's phrased perfectly. Other times, like the recent experience of a good friend of mine, they get a beautiful and heartfelt piece about the person lost... only to get the exact same paragraph a few hours later with only the name changed to reflect the second person lost.
I get that the first job of those that are deployed is to do the job they were deployed for. That means they're super busy, they're super distracted from what's going on at home, and really they have to be. More than anything else we want them to come home and come home safe, so we understand and put up with quite a lot of nebulous information from the front. But on the other hand, we're holding down the home-front. And if those in charge over there want things to go smoothly over here so that the guys over there can do what they need to do with a minimum of distraction... well, they need to figure the information pipeline into that equation.
We need this fixed, we need real guidelines, and we need to address the issue of timeliness. And I want to know what YOU think we can (and should) do to fix the problem.
PROBLEM 3: WHERE DO PROBLEMS GO? As the case currently being investigated at Ft. Bragg shows us, when you're stuck in the no-man's land of having no official identity outside that of your spouse you may not be able to find any recourse when the situation goes south.
Our spouses can call the IG and lodge a complaint. We can't. Or rather, things have to get extremely bad before that option is even open to us. And that is a huge part of the problem, I think. Volunteer organizations that operate in the civilian landscape have a mechanism in place to handle issues that come up and the people that cause them. The FRG (and its equivalent) system does not. Not really.
So how do we fix that, as well?
One of the stories Andi loves to tell at SpouseBUZZ Live events is a story we heard at Ft. Bragg. One of the women attending (we'll call her Barb) had a deployed husband, and during the deployment things had been going wrong by the bucketload. At an FRG meeting, Barb met a woman that she "clicked" with, and the woman gave her a phone number and told her to call if she ever needed anything.
Sure enough, sometime later Barb had a very sick child she needed to take to the Emergency Room and no one to watch her other children, so Barb called the number she had gotten at that FRG meeting. The woman answered and immediately agreed to come over and take care of Barb's children while she made the hospital run.
When Barb's husband was able to call home again, she apprised him of the situation and he asked for the woman's name so that he could thank her husband over there. When she told him the name he paused for a bit, then in a shocked tone said "Barb - you called THE GENERAL'S WIFE?"
Barb said, "No. I called Jean, who is a military wife, just like me. Who has a husband deployed, just like me; and who has three boys, just like me. And that is who helped me."
I tell this story here, because in the other places I've seen this story linked the comments have turned into angry tirades against the horrible officer's wife who wears her husband's rank on her collar, both hair combs, her earrings, and the top of her thong strap (in the back where it shows whenever she bends over). And I could tell you a story about the line at the commissary once about twelve years ago... But the truth is that even though the venting makes some people feel better it doesn't solve the problem.
And we NEED to solve this problem. Deployments aren't going to go away, and we need to fix the support structure for the spouses left at home during the deployments. We owe it to ourselves and those around us.
What are your ideas?