Thanks, but No Thanks: 5 Reasons Military Spouses Are Saying “No” to Volunteering


Think fast: what would you say to someone from your spouse’s unit asking you to volunteer with the Family Readiness Group (FRG)?

There was a time, being a young, wide-eyed, new military spouse, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Having moved away from my hometown, volunteering in the military community seemed like a great way to meet other spouses, find new friends, and be plugged in to my husband’s world.

And it was, for a while. But then it got old.

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I served as the Ombudsman for one of my husband’s commands and hoped that, besides being a resource for the command families, I’d be a person others might gravitate to for friendship. Unfortunately, the friends didn’t come with the title. In fact, it felt like people RAN from me.

Once a new Ombudsman took my place, I knew I was done for a while.

I felt unsupported as a volunteer, but then felt guilty for not volunteering. Turns out, I’m not alone. Spouses are “over it” for a lot of reasons.

  1. Burn out.

“Volunteer positions aren’t always the best organized or most effectively communicated,” Kristen, a military spouse blogger told me. “I sometimes felt unappreciated or even taken advantage of. Plus it was hard to fit [volunteering] into my already-busy schedule.”

  1. Red tape.

Other spouses echoed Kristen’s thoughts about effective communication. Especially when procedures on installations tightened up and changed.

“I stopped volunteering on-post mainly because of all the red tape,” Karen, another military spouse, explained. “Oh my gosh, the regulations for fundraising, events, and other things were incredibly stifling to an FRG.”

  1. Childcare costs.

Heather, an Air Force Spouse, has always been a Key Spouse, but says she struggled to stay involved when her husband got new orders with frequent, unpredictable TDY’s.

“With four children, and limited access to affordable childcare,” she shared, “it was difficult to volunteer. As much as I wanted to serve, I couldn’t pay for a sitter to go work for free.”

  1. Family time.

But even with volunteer options that work around childcare, spouses, like Meg, say the commitment many volunteer positions require is a deal breaker.

“Most volunteer opportunities require a minimum number of hours–usually during the work day; And when it’s not during working hours, the time commitment expectation deeply cuts into the already precious time with my spouse and child,” Meg explained. “At the end of the day, the joy and satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause are outweighed by time and money.”

  1. Lack of support.

“I was Key Spouse for a year at our last base, and it was just awful,” said Kathryn, another Air Force spouse. “The squadron didn’t seem to care and just wanted to have someone [volunteer] so they could say they did. It was like pulling teeth to get information.”

Having an experience similar to Kathryn’s, I started wondering why commands even want these groups and volunteers at all when they don’t have the time to commit to helping them thrive.

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For service members to be 100% mission-focused, they need their home-life to be copacetic; kids are good, spouse is strong and supportive, life is stable. But military homes can’t find stability without support from the military.

That’s why Family Readiness Groups, Ombudsmans, and Key Spouses were created, right? But what if no one is supporting those volunteers?

In a recent blog post, military spouse, Rebecca, wrote about taking a break from volunteering, “I don’t think the military is doing a very good job of taking care of volunteers and families these days…So now, it’s up to me to take care of my family.”

It’s been 15 years of war for today’s military families, and there’s no end in sight. Many families are war-weary, leaving military service for the stability of civilian life, and licking the wounds from a battle-hardened, selfless job.

How will military families thrive without a strong, supportive, and understanding network of volunteers?

This community needs someone to say, “Me, too,” and “I’ve got your back,” and “Here’s some advice.” And it’s the military spouse volunteers who’ve been those fountains of knowledge and strength. We have to turn this train around. We do have each other’s backs, don’t we? At least in theory?

So, the question I want to know: would you volunteer with your unit’s FRG? Is it worth the headache? I’ll say yes if you will.

Have you taken a break from volunteering in the military community? What would it take for you to go back?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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  1. 1
    Chris

    I used to volunteer a lot. Then when red tape gets sticky and feelings get hurt because you are doing something that they are supposed to do and are not. And the miss conception that you get experience from volunteering is wrong. It only counts if you get paid in the eyes of the government.
    I have in the past put lots of time and effort into volunteering in the past and just got burned out. Large groups turned into the same few doing everything. What would it take to go back? Regular work hours and support from the commands besides for them saying our hands are tied to do a family event.

  2. 2
    Longing for some thanks

    This will be my last assignment to volunteer. It has already been said, it’s like pulling teeth and the red tape and omg. Sucked the fun out of it. It’s awful now compared to 10 years ago and the thankless people that complain you didn’t do something right just nails the coffin shut. Why bother! Cuts in budget, programs cancelled, years of war and deployments. We feel like we are being torn apart and why would we want to help something that has been tearing us apart. Constant moves, constant pay changes, retirement changes.. All of that hardens us to want to support the community.

  3. 4
    Melissa

    No, I won’t volunteerl. I have had some great frgs and some that I was treated like my family was completely unimportant unless something was needed from us. Had one frg during deployment call my friend and told her her husband was coming home ( he had been home 6 weeks ) it was my husband that was coming home, no call nothing even after I called, finally got a call from the comander after I called since it was the last group coming back and my friend called me to tell me they had called her and she knew it was probably about my husband. I had 4 hour notice that he was coming in, at the time I had walking pneumonia, and was sicker than a dog. I don’t mind helping, I do it all the time, I just will not with the frg again. It has become a popularity contest which I refuse to be a part of

  4. 5
    PROUDMilspouse

    I was admitted to a top tier MBA program solely on my volunteer resume. I enjoyed supporting my community and being part of something bigger than myself. My family benefitted from the time I spent volunteering because I came back to them fulfilled from service to others. I hope young Milspouse will understand that, just like how much a person likes or dislikes the post they live on, this bloggers opinion says more about her that about volunteering and all its benefits.

  5. 6
    C

    I was extremely gung ho volunteering until the unit my husband was assigned to had a Family Readiness Officer who was a retired service member who bragged about his job as drinking coffee. *Not all retired who are in this position are like this.* I was a FR Assistant, and was asked to be Command Team Advisor. That being said, I had linked the unit up with free Daddy Dolls and even United Through Reading for the deployed families and was told I was just trying to create more work for him…which in essence, yes I was. All of the excitement of supporting families with little ones whose parent was going to be gone for a very long time went out the window. When I quit volunteering after 6 months, the newer command asked me what happened, so I supplied a very objective detail of my experience. This gave the command reason to look into productivity, and within 3 months he was asked to resign.

    There is a new and energetic FRO in the position now, and I’m glad I’m hopping on board again starting this next month for another try. This particular command embraces the program. I could see if they weren’t it’s not worth many peoples time. While I like helping, these volunteer hours are great for future school and career.

    If my 3 year old weren’t welcome to the meetings, we wouldn’t be able to attend as well.

    Finally, despite the batsh*t crazy wives you will most definitely encounter along the way, there are some really amazing ones out there worth meeting. I realize the bad units are out there, but you won’t know until you stick your toes in…

  6. 7
    Maricella

    I don’t appreciate my photo from a luncheon honoring us as volunteers being posted in a negative way! I loved volunteering, during my time volunteering with the black knights was by far the best experience I ever had! We formed the Spouse Sports Leauge at that luncheon! I’m sure not every experience is great just like anything else in life it comes with good and bad! Communication is key and finding ways to fix an issue is better then just throwing in the towel!

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