WIESBADEN, Germany - They're usually running the show behind the scenes, but spouses were in the spotlight at Army Community Services' Military Spouse Appreciation Luncheon May 2.

Members of the U.S. Army Europe Chorus crooned and danced for attendees, taking time to serenade some on bended knee. U.S. Army Garrison Commander Col. David Carstens offered grateful words, acknowledging that while service members' missions simplify when they deploy, they "dump all the challenges into your lap to deal with alone."

"My No. 1 most-hated Army term is 'dependent,'" Carstens said. "I say 'baloney' to that. If anyone is dependent, it's me who is dependent on my wife to keep things together."

Camille Howes, a strategic planner for the garrison, served as keynote speaker. She admitted that she had "no idea" what it was like to be a military spouse, so she solicited input from spouses through an online survey. What she learned forever changed her, she said.

One woman said she had a master's degree but had to beg for GS-4 jobs. Another had been separated from and was unable to speak with her husband for an entire year. The two biggest takeaways were that the top challenge is the time separated from their service member, and that transition is a type of torture, noted Howes.

"Not only is it the packing up of an entire house, it's a search for new doctors, dentists and friends -- and it's the pits," she said. "When I think about your jobs it's like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. This is a flavor of patriotism I'm not sure I've considered before. You humble me."

Howes told the story of a nongovernmental organization worker who was tasked with improving Vietnam's child malnutrition problem in six months with minimal resources and a barebones staff, a seemingly impossible mission. He noticed that some moms -- "bright spots" -- fed their children four times a day and included sweet potato greens and shrimp in addition to rice, providing essential nutrients. Their children were stronger and bigger.

When he recruited these women to teach others to cook and employ good food safety practices, 65 percent of the children in that village were healthier and stayed that way. She identified spouses in attendance as the "bright spots" in the Wiesbaden community and encouraged them to reach out to others -- especially as permanent change of station, or PCS season approaches.

"People in our community, they don't need stuff. They need to know someone cares," Howes said. "What looks like loneliness is often a lack of clarity," adding that while she's lived in Wiesbaden six years, it took three years before she felt comfortable venturing to local stores and shops.

Support can be as simple as bringing a new neighbor a fresh batch of homemade cookies, giving someone a hug or inviting someone to lunch, she said.

ACS also offers Spouse's Chat, an opportunity to meet and network with other spouses, May 28 at 1 p.m. at Texasstrasse 57, Apartment 1 in Hainerberg Housing. For more information call ACS at civ (0611) 408-0234.