CASCOM CG's spouse encourages all to get involved
July 21, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (July 21, 2011) -- Since her first day as the post commander's wife, Michelle Hodge has hit the ground running to show her support of the Fort Lee community.
"This is what I've done from day one - I try to make a good impression and take part in my community," said Michelle. "I always encourage other spouses to join me. Going to events is a great way to support our Soldiers."
Michelle, the spouse to Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, keeps her schedule full with events across post, from changes of command to deployment and redeployment ceremonies and maybe an open house or graduation event for good measure.
"By attending the events that involve Soldiers, I feel like I'm offering my best support to Fort Lee," she said. "During those moments, I look for opportunities to mentor and support our families - I just love them and I hope that shows in everything I do."
Recognizing her role as the first lady of Fort Lee, Michelle is adept at listening, understanding and offering words of encouragement or even advice when needed. She said she realizes that a generational gap may exist between younger families and her, but that does not dissuade her from that all-important mission of keeping the Army Family together.
"I love our young spouses - but I feel like we keep getting further and further away from them as well as our young troops," Michelle said. "I think it's so important to mentor them and tell them it's OK - it's OK to admit you're stressed or to have concerns. We all come from diverse backgrounds but we all come together as an Army Family. We're here to support each other."
Getting involved has always been the key to survival for Army Families, Michelle noted. It's one of the surest ways to familiarize yourself with the community and get to know people and services who can help families tackle those trying times every military family faces.
"Always try to know your community - know at least one neighbor, know at least one person in your Soldier's unit - because it's going to help you especially in times of deployment or family crisis," she said. "Your Army Family will always be there for you. I totally believe that because they've been there for us in good and bad. I feel like we all come together for a common goal - we are supporting the Army, even if we don't wear a uniform. By supporting that Soldier, you're supporting your country."
Fort Lee represents a unique challenge for the new command team as it's primarily a training installation. It also has several tenants, and it can be difficult to figure out what the installation needs, said Michelle, noting her desire to know about most events on post.
"It's a very steep learning curve to try to wrap my arms around Soldiers and families and understand how I, as the commander's spouse, can make sure they are being taken care of - that they are getting the classes they need, they are getting the support they need, that the (Family Readiness Groups) are up and running, that they are being taken care of with housing," she said. "It was difficult at first because I was used to being part of a division."
In a division, the central focus tends to be deployments and training for deployments, whereas Fort Lee is more diverse and has a group that deploys, but it also has multiple schools and agencies with various missions.
Attending post events comes naturally for Michelle, as she said she's done it from day one. After being married to Hodge at 20 years old, with him fresh out of West Point, she said they moved to Fort Eustis where she had great mentors.
"One of them said something about volunteering at Red Cross and they were having a blood drive," she said. "I thought ‘OK, I'll try that.' I went to the blood drive and there's all these troops in there, and I just got involved helping them. I thought it was great and so much fun.
"I was getting to know Soldiers and figuring out what they do in the Army because I was not an Army brat," Michelle continued. "I didn't know anything about the military - I came in so blindly."
Another event she got involved with right from the beginning was the spouses' club - and she said she always tracked down the club whenever they moved to a new installation. The first luncheon she attended still had spouses sporting hats and gloves.
"I remember some new Army friends who would go with me (to the luncheons) and they would never go back," Michelle said. "They saw some of the older Army ways and were afraid of that. I wasn't at all - I just thought, ‘You just make the best of wherever you are.' I always tried to think of that - no matter what assignment or organization. That's just life - whether it's military or civilian - you're going to run into things you may not agree with, but you just have to make the best of it."
The Hodges recently attended a two-star conference where they learned about different initiatives in the Army and Michelle said she had an opportunity to talk to other spouses who are part of a post command team.
"The great thing about these conferences is being able to network with other post commanders' spouses," she said. "We share the issues we see at the installations. It makes me realize that everyone has the same concerns."
Most of the spouses there have been part of the Army family for several decades, said Michelle, and she realizes that most families have been in the Army only in a time of war.
"We had the years of Cold War and training - but we didn't have the concerns, worries and needs of spouses now," she said. "We really have to do a better job of being more open, more empathetic. We don't really know what it's like to have your husband in battle all the time and constantly deployed.
"I feel like I've always had a good appreciation of the younger spouses, but I feel like I have a better understanding of what they are going through now," Michelle continued. "I am more empathetic now when the Soldiers want to make a career change. I understand a little bit more each year with the stress that war brings - they are in survival mode, trying to keep their families together."
For spouses new to the Army or new to an installation, she encourages them to join the installation spouses' club and to visit Army Community Service to get involved.
"I've never gone on a post and waited for someone to come to me," she said. "I always start with the spouses club - I know I can get involved there and they go out into the community. They aren't just a luncheon group - but the social networking there is key.
"I also visit the ACS and find out what they have," Michelle continued. "They aren't going to come and knock on your door - but they are there. Once you start knowing what's there, you can empower yourself."
Michelle said being an Army spouse has made her independent, and learning about what's available has helped her make it through deployments.
"I didn't always know if I could get in contact with my husband, especially when he was deployed, to make decisions at home," she said. "I didn't want to bother him with minor decisions at home that were really irrelevant or something he couldn't change - that would just add stress to his day and he needed to be mission focused.
"It makes you proud of yourself - you're concerned about deployment and worried about your husband on the front lines - but once you get through it and look back to think about the things you did - it makes you proud of yourself," she continued. "It really gives you a sense of pride because you know you can do it. When the next deployment comes up, you're better prepared."