By Lizann Lightfoot
When you hear about military unit events for spouses, you may shudder as words like boring or too much drama come to mind. Why would anyone go to these events? We all have busy lives and schedules. But I believe that unit events can be fun, and have a lot to offer. If the standard classes and debriefings aren’t working for the unit, don’t throw up your hands and walk away—create your own events for spouses!
During our last deployment, the wives created some of their own unit events. They met once a month for a potluck party, with different fun themes. We invited a local church group to help with childcare. It was a wonderful casual way to celebrate one more month down for the deployment.
Near the end of the deployment, the new spouses were nervous about what to expect after Homecoming. The unit would hold an official homecoming brief, complete with PowerPoints and boring lectures. But no one would talk to the spouses from a wife perspective. I wanted all the spouses to gather together and learn from each other, by discussing good and bad reintegration experiences. So, with the approval of our Family Readiness Officer, I planned an afternoon that included lunch, games, prizes, and presentations by a variety of spouses. It was a huge success!
Military spouses are all going through the same trials together. We all crave community and support. We can find that in unit events, if we give them a chance. If the unit seems too boring or out of touch, then spouses can work with the unit to create our own supportive events. Here’s why I attend unit events (and why you should too):
Everyone needs friends.
Some of my closest friends are military wives I met at unit events. We bonded during breaks by joking about how boring the class was. The people who attend unit events are usually the ones who want to be involved. They want to make friends and build a better community. These are the people you want by your side during a deployment, to be your tribe, your village, your battle buddies. I encourage everyone to chat with their table, get to know a new neighbor, and get some phone numbers. You may need to call these new friends in an emergency, or to ask for advice and support on a bad day. They are great resources, which you will miss if you skip unit events.
No one is ‘too good’ for unit activities.
Everyone has excuses why they don’t need to attend unit events. Sometimes there isn’t enough time in the day. What bothers me is when people think they are too good for these activities. I have heard spouses bragging that they won’t attend meetings because they have already done a deployment with this unit and therefore know it all. Or spouses without children complain that the unit Family Day will just be crawling with kids.
Worst of all is when wives of senior ranking military members complain that an event is only for young low-ranking wives (because we all know wives don’t have rank). Unit classes and meetings are designed for everyone, but they can only help the families who actually attend. If the events aren’t helping you or your family, then work with the command to create a more successful event next time.
There is always more to learn.
I had lived on my current base for a whole year before I found out that there was free childcare available at the base hospital during appointments! I never knew it was there, because I never thought to ask. That service hadn’t been available at the other three bases where I had lived.
No matter how long you have been in the military yourself or married to someone in the military, you never know everything. There are always more acronyms and more programs. Things can also differ from one base to another, or even from one unit to another. And each deployment is different from the last. Talking with other spouses is a great way to gain perspective. Each time you take a class or attend an event, you will learn more.
Time spent with my spouse’s unit is an investment in my marriage.
I once spent an entire day ‘in the field’ with other military spouses. We fired rifles at the range, practiced clearing houses, and even competed on the obstacle course. I came home tired and dusty, with way more appreciation for what my husband goes through in training. Going to a class with my husband’s coworker’s wives is not something that would be expected of me in an ordinary civilian job. But the fact is that the military is part of our life, and it comes first in our marriage.
When I show interest in my husband’s job, I am also showing him that I respect him and support the work he does. The more I learn about deployments or base resources, the more prepared I will be to handle life on my own when my husband is away. He gains peace of mind knowing that I can take care of myself. This makes him able to focus on his mission. He never forces me to go to events—it is always an invitation. But I usually accept the invitation to show him that I care about our military life and our marriage.
Free is good.
I’m a sucker for free things. Some units offer free classes, where you learn more about free resources. Score! I confess that I sometimes attend trainings and classes just for the free childcare and food. Honestly, during deployment, I’ll get trained in anything to get a break from my kids for a few hours!
Every military unit receives funding for family events and activities. The unit wants to educate spouses and support families during trainings and deployment. So if you feel that your unit events are boring and not helpful, then get involved. Share your ideas for ways to spend the money that will actually help the spouses.
We all need YOU to attend unit events.
Unit events sometimes get a bad reputation for being a boring waste of time. But you can change that! Everyone can benefit from attending military unit events. You can make friends, learn more about your base, tap into great resources, and grow closer to your spouse. If you don’t see events getting these results at your unit, then you can start planning your own events. Work with the chain of command to develop something that will actually improve the sense of community. Your ideas might make a huge difference and encourage other spouses when they need it the most…like my Spouse Reintegration Lunch event, which I may be hosting again next year!
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife of 9 years who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 different deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog. Follow her on Twitter. Find military encouragement on her Facebookpage. Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on herPinterest page.