One spouse realizes all ACS offers
April 28, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (April 28, 2011) -"I am not an Army wife; I am married to a Soldier."
In the days before the political correctness of Army spouses came along, I said those words. I believed them. I didn't join a cult; I married a man who was in the Army.
To say I didn't embrace my new life wouldn't be a stretch at all - I didn't interact with anything or really anyone at our first duty station. I was 100 percent a civilian and didn't even know that organizations and agencies existed to help military families. I certainly didn't know what Army Community Service was and what it could do for me.
For two years, we lived a civilian existence when my husband came home and the uniform came off. We lived in a small apartment complex more than 20 miles from the installation, we didn't shop at the commissary or post exchange and I didn't usually socialize with the other ladies married to the Soldiers in his unit.
And then the Army pulled the rug out from underneath my clueless feet and set me on a path to enlightenment. Orders came and my Soldier told me, "We're on levy, baby" and handed me an atlas to Deutschland. I was maybe eight weeks into my first pregnancy and stupidly had never considered the possibility of leaving the country.
Our first permanent change of station was from Fort Bragg, N.C., (a four-hour drive to our hometown of Richmond) to Schweinfurt, Germany, and to say I was unprepared would be an understatement.
Time moved at a lightning pace. Our baby was born and, within six weeks, my daughter and I were deposited at my father-in-law's home, and my husband traveled to the great unknown.
A few months later, my first solo journey began and our little family was reunited to begin a new life. After the jet-lag wore off and I was able to make heads or tails of what I was doing, I ventured onto Ledward Barracks to take a look around. There wasn't too much to see - a library, a chapel and a few other buildings crammed together. When curiosity got the better of me I went through the not-so-inviting looking doorway leading into the ACS office. I opened the door, literally, and opened a door figuratively. I was overwhelmed with the number of services available to me.
There was so much information available for me, and it had been there from the first day I received my dependent identification card. I found out about the programs the ACS offered, how to get help when I needed it and a few very basic gems of knowledge: I was not alone in a foreign country; there were people to help me; and when I was ready to realize I was indeed an Army wife, there was an education waiting for me about the world I had shut out of my mind.
In the early days of my husband's career, I was often irritated by the word mandatory. The "we'll give you a Family Readiness Group whether you want one or not mentality" threatened the delicate emotional and mental balance I constructed to avoid feeling like part of my husband's baggage instead of his partner.
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch addressed the ACS staff and other community members about his ideas about transforming the organization that does so much to support military families and provides military members with a little peace of mind when duty calls on foreign shores. Lynch's concerns that a lack of knowledge or understanding about ACS programs exists in Army communities reminded me of my own self-inflicted ignorance.
After my indoctrination to the military lifestyle, I never again wanted to be that clueless girl married to a Soldier. I wanted to be an Army wife. I wanted to be knowledgeable about programs, opportunities and other services available through ACS and other organizations. Imagine, if you will, a light bulb illuminating above my head. "Oh, I get it now, the Army takes care of its own."
Somewhere between the "I will uphold the Constitution of the United States" and the "I do take thee to be my lawfully wedded ...," my Soldier's education about ACS and its programs like the Exceptional Family Member Program, Army Emergency Relief, Family Advocacy, the Family Member Employment Assistance Program and (my favorite) Army Family Team Building was lost. I can imagine a salty first sergeant telling Pfc. Fritz, "Congratulations, now get back to work."
It's wonderful that Lynch is working to make ACS more available and to reach the new and often young spouses who don't know what programs are available to help whether their service member is down the road or down range for duty. There is always room for improvement when it comes to delivering support to military members and their families.
Ultimately, it is the spouse who is responsible for finding out about what is available in his or her community and Army-wide. My own experiences tell me that knowing about the community of which we are a part helps to comfort the feelings that come with being at the mercy of the Army's needs.
Now that my husband is a retired Soldier, there are new programs and agencies that I am exploring, but I know ACS is still in my cache of community services that stands ready to assist me when I need it. All I have to do is to open the door.