Tag Archives: military spouses

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

Hey, MilSpouse: We Can Tackle This Mission Together

My husband has been absent for most of the last 4 years, particularly gone 10 straight months, and in the last 16 months, we were lucky to see each other two days in a row.

Sadly, when he did come home, I found his skin had paled in shades of blue and white, similar to the white walls in our house. His hair started to blend in, too. Wrinkles popped around his eyelids from the stress. He was tugging a big boulder over his shoulder. The boulder was his mission from the military: work ups, deployment, inspections. A vacation and breaks were given sparingly and almost always discouraged.

Every now and again we hear people thanking him for his service. I believe he did more than just wear a uniform and salute the flag. He gave up his own happiness, his family time, and himself for the sake of the mission. No one asked him. No one demanded. He chose this life and I accepted it–my family accepted. So did my friends and neighbors. Those who accepted his mission also accepted me and my girls to become their mission.

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Putting the mission first means we sometimes become sensitive and distant. Sometimes we don’t always see the helpers. In spite of that, I want to take the time to say thank you.

Thank you to those who found it in their hearts to welcome us, even though we are temporary neighbors. I want to thank community members, particularly my daughters’ teachers, my fitness coaches, and different mommy organizations. They all welcomed us. They all acknowledged our troubles. They laughed with our joys, and allowed us to make mistakes, but also forgave us.

Thank you for loving us by taking the time from your life and responsibilities to include us in yours. You will never know the impact you’ve made, and we will never forget. Your simple hugs, invitation, and love gave me the strength to to wake up in the next morning, even though I knew I’d have to take on the day without my husband, the father of my children, and my friend.

As we embark on a new town, a new job, and new duty station, we promise to pay-it-forward. With so many how-to’s and ‘not-to’s‘ written out there, I want you, other military spouse, to know we welcome your friendship and you can ask us any questions. We’re ready to tackle this mission with you.

Do you have a tribe in your life who helps make the military mission a little easier on you? 

Posted by Fari B., National Military Family Association Volunteer

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Do MilSpouses Even Want to be Appreciated?

Every May, since 1999 when Congress officially made it part of Military Appreciation Month, we’ve been recognizing Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  It’s our chance to honor the commitment and sacrifice of the silent ranks.

The Department of Defense joined suit in honoring military spouses by distinguishing the Friday before Mother’s Day as the official Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Pledging to support their loved one, military spouses fearlessly stand behind the uniform. They tackle parenting alone, pursue education and careers to provide for their families, and in some cases, drop everything to care for their spouse injured in combat.

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So why don’t many of the military spouses I spoke with want to be recognized? Why would they call it ‘just another day’ as important to them as “National Grilled Cheese Day?”

“I don’t need a pat on the back from those who don’t understand this lifestyle,” one military spouse said. “But it would be nice for service members to take a moment to reflect on how their spouses have helped support their careers. To take a quiet moment to say thank you.”

Are there flowers? Cards? Breakfast in bed? Shouldn’t this be the Mother’s Day before Mother’s Day?

“I don’t expect anything special, and we don’t celebrate it in my house,” another military spouse shared. “It’s nice when the base does something for us, but truly, it’s not necessary. My husband is the hero, not me.”

Besides quiet moments of appreciation from our heroes in uniform, there was one other thing military spouses agreed upon… appreciating each other is what makes Military Spouse Appreciation Day special to them. There may not be a big ceremony, flowers, or a Presidential declaration, but military spouses do like to feel the love from each other.

“I try to use Military Spouse Appreciation Day as a reminder to thank the fellow military spouses I know who have made a positive impact on my life,” one spouse shared. “It’s a good excuse to send some love!”

Another military spouse shared the same sentiment, “Life is too short to not love and appreciate those around us [by saying] thank you to all the spouses in my life that I know and love.”

At NMFA, we know military spouse serve in ways their civilian counterparts don’t understand. Through the highs and lows of military life, military spouses overcome obstacles no matter what.

So on a day that’s supposed to be all about them, it’s no surprise most military spouses are doing what they do best: supporting and encouraging each other.

THAT is worth appreciating.

How do you celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day? Or don’t you?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

What the Divorced Military Spouse Wants You to Know

The dreaded “D Word.” The one no one thinks about when they’re standing before friends and family pledging to a lifetime of love. Oddly enough, divorce in the military has been on a slow decline since 2011. But lack of commitment, miscommunication, infidelity and other stressors still manage to crack what was once the solid foundation of marriage.

The military community is tight-knit, and spouses often lean on their own for support and friendship. So what happens to that support system when a military couple gets a divorce?

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Losing the military community sometimes hurts just as badly as losing the marriage.
Sarah, a former Marine Corps spouse told me, “I had a hard time accepting I’d be losing the sense of community, support, and friendship from other spouses. Knowing the comradery and pride that went along with the milspouse title would go away was devastating.”

Sarah went on to describe how her military-connected friendships changed.

“It feels a lot like moving to a new school,” she said. “Some friends immediately write you off. Others say they’ll keep in touch, but never do. It almost makes me feel like they’ve discounted our whole friendship just because my life took this turn.”

It’s not you, it’s me.
One of my military spouse friends recently got divorced. When news circulated around the command and got to me, I reached out to let her know I was thinking of her. I never heard back, and I soon realized she unfriended me and others on social media. As much as that hurt, I’m sure it was the best decision for her.

Michelle, another former military spouse I spoke to, told me she did something similar.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be friends with them anymore, or that I never liked them,” she explained. “Removing certain people from my life after my divorce (especially on social media) was the healthiest thing for me–mentally and emotionally. Seeing my milspouse friends post pictures of their happy military marriages was heartbreaking; a constant reminder of what I’d lost.”

My life is not a reality show for you to gawk at.
Most of the military spouses I asked admitted becoming a gossip topic after divorce was tough for them.

Katelyn, a former Coast Guard spouse, said she tried to ignore the gossip.

“It’s hard because I still had friends in my husband’s command, and they’d tell me ‘Oh, so-and-so was talking about you at playgroup yesterday.’ My divorce was devastating to me and my children, and hearing other wives speak negatively, and without merit, about me, hurt badly.”

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Divorce isn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t a walk in the park. Sarah, Michelle, and Katelyn all agreed on one thing: having one or two people reach out and see how they were made all the difference.

“It made me feel like it wasn’t all about my ex-husband. My life was always focused around him and his job, so knowing that I had some friends who were supportive of me made me truly thankful for the relationships I built during my time as a milspouse,” Michelle shared.

Are you a former military spouse? What would you tell your milspouse friends?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Breaking Down Barriers for Military Spouse Mental Health Providers

Military life isn’t always easy on a spouse’s career. Heck, it’s rarely easy. No matter what you choose to do, you have to contend with the changes that this life brings to the table. We know what this military life brings, we adjust, we change, we move forward, even with those challenges. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to maintain a career we love, but we find ways to make it work somehow.

For those of us who are in the mental health field, trying to find the right school, internship, supervision, getting licensed (or re-licensed) and finding a job can be a significant challenge. Add to this already difficult situation, a few PCS moves, deployments, and shifting licensing requirements from state to state and it becomes nearly impossible. When you realize we have spouses who are dealing with barriers to becoming mental health professionals, you have to wonder: why is this happening? Especially in light of the staggering suicide rate within our community, and the overwhelming shortage of providers in both the military and civilian world. To top this off, studies show there is a shortage of counselors who know the military culture. As spouses we don’t have that problem. We live it!

There’s a mental health crisis out there. So hiring our military spouse clinicians is practically a no-brainer, right? There are spouses ready and willing to serve. Why are there so many barriers in the way? Why can’t they get licensed? Hired? A foot in the door?

We wondered the same thing!

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That’s where the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network comes in. The National Military Family Association, along with its partners Give an Hour and the United Health Foundation came together to create this network in order to support the needs of our military spouse clinicians and our community at large. This network will help break down the barriers so our military spouses can help to tackle the mental health crisis in our community and beyond. It will support military spouses through the entire process of becoming a mental health professional and maintaining their license as they move from state to state or even around the globe.

How will this network do that? I’m glad you asked! The Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network will support each spouse’s journey in the process – no matter what phase they are in. If you are considering graduate school and need information on accreditation and resources for scholarships, we have that. Need supervision for licensure? We will have supervisors and resources available for you. Need licensure information? Re-Licensure information? Employment information and resources? We have that, too. As a military spouse clinician, you will find support every single step of the way through this network.

Additionally, this network will be supported with advocacy to ensure that the best interests of our community are served. The National Military Family Association will advocate on issues that impact our military spouse clinicians. This will include advocating for loan repayment and loan forgiveness, easing of re-licensing requirements, and more.

Military spouses give so much of their time and often have to sacrifice their careers in the process. It’s our hope that we can help to make this process easier for our military spouse clinicians so we can support the mental health of our entire community. Stay tuned, more information on this network will be announced here in the coming months!

Are you a military spouse with a goal to become a mental health provider? How has your journey been so far?

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Professionals Pipeline 

The Military Community Needs You: Here’s How You Can Help!

To kick off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I posed the question: is volunteerism in our military communities dying? Shocking question, isn’t it? It might be, but I think the military community should pay attention to the answer.

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Military spouses are reporting a slight decline in the time they spend volunteering within their own military communities. Instead, they say they are volunteering more in their civilian communities.

Think about that for a minute.

I think volunteering in either community is greatly appreciated. Volunteerism can be a family activity, a day of service, or simply a way to give back to others however you can. Getting involved in a cause builds strength in a community, breaks down barriers, and allows love and compassion to thrive.

But why are military spouses not giving back to their own as much as they used to? What’s so important about volunteering within the military community?

Because no one should walk through military life alone. Sharing experiences, struggles, and accomplishments are what bring people closer together. Extending help by sharing resources, providing information on programs, or lending a helping hand is all part of what makes us stronger.

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I encourage you to look for ways to volunteer in your military community. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a few ideas.

  • Reach out to the installation Volunteer Program Manager. This person usually has the low down on volunteer opportunities on the installation.
  • Get involved with your family support group. It doesn’t have to be a huge task, there are simple ways to volunteer that will be appreciated.
  • Try Child and Youth Services. If your kids play sports, help out the team or the coach.
  • Check into military faith-based organizations. There are many ways to volunteer. Choose what works for you!

Not living on or near an installation?

  • Find a local organization that helps support military families or veterans.
  • Find out what your local church or religious organization is doing to support military families and get involved. Or, maybe start a program and get others involved!
  • Network with your military family friends on social media sites. Find out where they’re volunteering and tag along.

Of course, you already know how awesome our NMFA Volunteer Corps is, but if you want want to get some other ideas of how you can help the military community, check out our list of incredible ways to get involved or to support our nation’s families.

What other ways can you volunteer in your military community? Let us know!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director

Is Volunteerism Dying in our Military Community?

I know, this is not the blog you expect to kick off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, but, stay with me for a minute.

It is a known fact that military spouses are the cornerstone of volunteerism in military communities. They volunteer with their family readiness groups, at the family service centers, at the installation clinic/hospital, installation faith-based organizations, with child and youth sports teams, and still find time to volunteer in their civilian communities.

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This week, military installations around the world will hold up a big check that calculates the value of a volunteer’s time based on the number of volunteer hours reported. And trust me, that check will have a BIG dollar number on it.

But is volunteerism dying in our military communities?

In NMFA’s 2016 military spouse scholarship application, we asked 3,876 spouses about their volunteerism. 58% said they volunteer in some way. And they spend A LOT of time volunteering. 20% volunteer 51-100 hours and 38% volunteer 11-50 hours, annually.

Of those, 12% volunteer ONLY in their military community while 30% volunteer in both civilian and military communities.

But here’s something interesting, and perhaps even alarming: 68% of military spouses spend more time volunteering in their civilian communities. 

Why would that be? Maybe it’s a lack of time due to the operational tempo and multiple deployments. Maybe it’s a lack of certain types of volunteer opportunities. Or maybe military spouses are just tired.  For the past four years, our survey has shown this downward trend in volunteerism within military communities.

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“Most volunteering hours require a minimum time. That time is usually during working hours,” Meg, a military spouse shared. “When it is not during working hours, the time commitment expectation is such that it deeply cuts into the already precious time with my spouse and child. At the end of the day, the cost in time and money often doesn’t outweigh the personal joy and satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause.”

For the past four years, we have surveyed this group of military spouses about their volunteerism. Year to year not much has changed, but our survey alludes to a decrease in volunteerism in military communities.

Whatever the reason, military communities need to pay attention. If our military communities don’t start asking questions, they’ll lose one of their best assets: military spouses and their gift of time, energy, and talent they provide.

Do you volunteer in your military community? Why or why not?

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director