Commentary: Eight tips every Army spouse should know
September 11, 2013
SCHWEINFURT, Germany (Sept. 11, 2013) -- Hi, I'm Jessica, an Army wife of six years and a mother of two. My family and I have lived in Schweinfurt for almost three years and are approaching our time to permanently change station back to the States. With the closure of the garrison happening as we speak, coupled with the movement and downsizing of the Army, this PCS process has become more challenging than I ever expected.
One thing that I forget sometimes as a spouse is that the mission is always first. Although families are also a top priority for the Army, you have to be your own family's advocate. Here are some tips on how I have been able to do what's best for our family, while keeping the Army's mission first.
Know your stuff.
I have always wanted to know how things work in the Army. How does paperwork get done? Where do orders come from? What needs to happen for a successful PCS? Knowing how and why things work the way that they do has allowed me to be successful in receiving help when I needed it. When there was a conflict with dates for our PCS, I was able to go directly to the office that gave me step-by-step instructions about how to fix it. Bldg. 40 at Conn Barracks is a great place to start on your journey for answers.
As you are trying to find answers to questions and get things done, I have found that sometimes the answers don't tell me what to do next. Try not to ask "yes/no" questions, but ask "What exactly do we need to do?" instead. This way of asking questions allows for more solution answers than feeling like you have been passed off to someone else. When you need something or are looking for something you can't find, my favorite question to ask a customer service rep or manager is, "What would it take?" Here's an example: "What would it take for me to get X-Y-Z at the PX?" This type of question opens the door toward compromise … and can save you the frustration after hearing the wrong answer to a "yes/no" question you might otherwise pose.
Use your manners.
When has throwing a fit and complaining "woe is me" worked for anyone? Unfortunately, you are probably not the only family that needs paperwork completed, an appointment scheduled or questions answered. Whenever speaking with someone that has the ability to help you, remember the old adage, "you get more bees with honey then with vinegar."
Be on the same page.
Remember that because you aren't the one wearing the uniform, sometimes changes can only be done by your Soldier doing the work. Be on the same page with your Soldier! For my family, constantly communicating with my spouse about what needs to be changed and what steps have to be accomplished to get a result have been key to our success. Don't forget our Soldiers get the bulk of their news and information while in formation. Communicate with him or her. Know what questions to ask and ensure your Soldier asks them for you. This is your way to inject your voice into the chain of command. When both people understand what is going on, it makes the process a little less stressful.
Things take time. Paperwork usually has to touch many desks before it is complete. That being said, I always stay persistent. Checking on a status and asking for a date that an answer can be expected are all way to keep things moving. The last thing you want to do is wait for an answer for two months and find out that it has been sitting on someone's desk. A polite yet direct way to get the info you need is to phrase the question, "What's the status of such and such?" This open-ended question moves the conversation toward reaching your goal and plants a bug in the person's ear.
Don't be scared.
Remember that if your family needs help your family readiness group leader and/or chain of command are there for you. Recently, I was having a hard time figuring out how and when our upcoming PCS was going to happen. With months of trying to get answers without success I spoke with my husband's commander to ask for a direction. While I don't recommend this tactic, nor should this be your first step when seeking help, commanders are for families too and usually eager to help if they can. Ask questions at town halls or unit forums. Take advantage of things like unit Facebook pages or blogs. And if leadership gives you the "Don't hesitate to contact me" line or states he or she has an open-door policy, then take them up on it. Hold them accountable.
In a perfect world everything in the Army life would happen at the best time for everyone with no hiccups or problems, but unfortunately that doesn't happen all of the time. Having a Plan B, C and D is the best way to avoid being disappointed. When your family is prepared to handle the best and worst case scenarios, you are setting yourselves up for a successful transition. Here's another little tip. I've found that the government workforce is more receptive, more able and more willing to help you when you demonstrate that you've made a good effort to help yourself.
Work backwards from goals.
If you think like a Soldier, you can get things done like a Soldier. Here's another little tip. Army leaders are all trained to "back plan." That is, they first decide what the goal or objective of a mission is, something they call the "desired end state." Once they determine the goal, they figure out the method to achieve it. I have found that this process gets results. Hey, we're not the best Army in the world for no reason. So, when dealing with a service rep or an Army official, first describe your desired end state. Then ask, "How can we get there?" or "What will it take for us to achieve our desired end state?"