A recent RAND survey of Today’s Army Spouses had some interesting findings that all military spouses can relate to. Most were not unexpected, but some issues had me thinking that we can do better in some areas to help our fellow spouses. The issue that really stood out for me is that spouses of junior enlisted soldiers were more likely to indicate a need for general information especially about military practices and culture. Also, it was noted that spouses who used resources to meet their needs had their needs met. For those that didn’t use the resources the reason given was that they didn’t know about it. I think we need to do a better job of getting information out. Often the information is presented to the active duty member who often doesn’t pass it on to their spouse.
The survey was conducted by the RAND Corporation which is a well-respected research organization. It is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest. The survey was conducted with the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Here are the key findings:
- Work-life balance, military practices and culture and well-being were the top chosen problem areas
- The most frequently selected issue was ‘feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or tired’. The next selected issues included feelings of loneliness or boredom.
- For spouses who expressed a need for help, the top need was emotional or social support.
- Junior enlisted spouses expressed the greatest need for information especially regarding military practices and culture.
- When questioned about the resources spouses used these were the most common: personal networks outside the military, other military spouses, a medical provider covered by the military, internet resources both civilian and military, and social media.
- The most reported reason for not using resources to help was not knowing who to contact.
- Spouses who used resources had most of their needs met.
- All spouses indicated having one or more needs unmet.
- The two highest problem areas not met were health care system problems and military practices and culture.
- The two areas with the least unmet needs were household management and their own well-being.
- For those with unmet needs they reported the most stress and the least positive attitudes towards the military and their active duty spouse staying in the military.
- The most vulnerable were Spouses who were unemployed and looking for work, those who lived far from the military installation, and spouses married to junior enlisted soldiers.
There were a variety of common-sense recommendations made such as revamping Army Family Readiness groups to improve communication and provide social support for military spouses. Look to reach spouses by collecting email addresses (I thought we already did this). The one I felt was most important was to consider targeting vulnerable groups of spouses for outreach.
I also think there are areas we as military spouses can have some impact. One way you can reach out to new spouses is to encourage your active duty spouse to host a gathering at your home inviting the military members that he supervises and their spouses. This can be done at any level from junior enlisted supervisors all the way up to officer ranks because new spouses come in at all levels. It really does make a difference. Often spouses do not receive information from their military spouse about activities and resources that can help them adjust to military life. I can remember as a new soldier going to my squad leader’s home and how it made me feel like someone cared. Make sure to reach out and personally give contact information so spouses know someone they can reach out to. When my husband first took command, we became aware of a soldier and his family living in squalid conditions in an ant infested home. They were young and didn’t realize the landlord’s responsibility. My husband planned a battalion wide week where every single soldier and his family received a short visit by the immediate chain of command. Family members received Family Readiness group information and the team was able to identify any families that could be at risk during the upcoming deployment.
What do you do to help junior military spouses feel welcomed to your unit? Do they feel comfortable asking questions or do people make them feel dumb because they don’t know the answer? We can all make a difference.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.WanderWordsWine.com