Some military traditions and customs are long gone—like calling cards and Wives’ Clubs and spouses who aren’t "allowed" to work. Some traditions we enjoy breaking—like making out with a guy in uniform. Some military customs and traditions are still emerging-- like whether or not you can friend the Sergeant Major’s husband on Facebook. Or where the exact line is between funny/sexy welcome home signs and those that are just plain…well, nasty. (But still kinda funny.)
Some military traditions seem to be on the Endangered Species list.
At our SpouseX even at Joint Base Lewis McChord this spring, a group of senior spouses came up with a list of military traditions they don’t want to see die out. These ladies weren’t cueing up old Jimmy Buffet tunes and pouring gin and tonics and getting misty about the good ol’ days. Instead they were looking at some of these fading traditions and missing some of the advantages that went with them. What would you add to their list?
1. Older spouses looking out for younger spouses.
Each of these senior spouses could name an older spouse who was not so nice to them in the past. Experienced spouses aren’t necessarily Mother Teresas with Army bling. But each had stories of an older spouse in their past who gave them a tip to make their lives a little easier. Who was kind when they needed kindness. Who baked them something. Who brought them somewhere. Who inspired them. “Now younger spouses don’t seem to want to even know us,” said one Army wife. “Are we doing something wrong?”
2. Family days and squadron barbecues.
Complete with baseball games, horseshoes, tug o' wars and whole roasted pigs, these summer events used to be a great way to meet other families. Now these picnics are held during the work day as part of teambuilding exercises. Few families seem to make it to these daytime events any more due to prior commitments. Is it worth it to hold these events on weekends? Or are weekends already full of family activities?
3. Hail and Farewells with spouses.
Our Spouse X participants remember when a Hail and Farewell was held for a unit every month or every other month on a weekend night. It was Mandatory Fun, so you ended up seeing the same people regularly enough that you got friendly. You could match each spouse with his or her service member, too. Now these events are often held during the workday. Spouses are often not even invited.
OK, OK. Coffees have this bad Stepford Wife kind of vibe attached to them. “We may need to rename them not to have the stereotype,” one Army wife told me. “But a gathering where people got together and talked was a nice thing.” A welcome coffee was something you could expect to attend when you were new to the area to get the lowdown on the hoedown. I remember feeling really awkward at these gigs because everyone else knew each other, but I still have this awesome recipe for coconut brownies from a coffee from 2002.
5. Christmas cards.
Today we tend to Facebook old friends and ex-neighbors and past shipmates. We keep up with who has had a baby and whose baby went to college and who bought his n’ hers Harleys on our news feed. So who wants to Christmas card? People who used to Christmas card, that’s who. That little collection of family holiday pictures in the same drawer as your address book helped maintain friendships no matter how far you moved away from each other. And with changes in Facebook, it might be harder than ever to keep up with military friends from the past.
6. Promotion parties and wetting downs.
Somewhere in the Nineties people got very sensitive about alcohol in the military. It didn’t, apparently, stop anyone from drinking. Or having a drinking problem. Or being relieved from command for drinking. Instead it just lessened the number of official parties in a given year—wetting downs being one of them. Getting promoted is a big deal in military life. We ought to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
7. Sponsors who help when you are new to the command.
The spouses at Spouse X JBLM had warm memories of people who helped them get settled when they move. One of the guys I work with has a story about how his sponsor helped set him up with a houseful of furniture. I met one of my best friends when I was her sponsor in Japan. Now that we have websites for every command and every base, sponsors have lost favor. One less way to know each other.
8. Dining Outs
We still do military balls and enjoy them. But there are fewer and fewer Dining Outs. These are kind of weird events with a script and lots of silly toasts. I went to a Dining Out in Washington DC for the Navy Surface Warfare Association this year. It was campy and fun and the “I Will Survive” solo was, in fact, unforgettable. Also, a good excuse to wear a gown again. For me. Not for the guy singing Gloria Gaynor. Looking back at this list, I’m seeing how many of these traditions are designed to bring people together. It is hard to build relationships with strangers and often not that fun. What else would you add to this list?
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