FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 15, 2019) -- Although she spent 12 years active duty in the Air Force, and worked with the Army in joint operations, Harper Shook said she knew very little about Army life.

She met her future husband, Army Capt. Nate Shook, Fires Center of Excellence staff, on a deployment; they again worked together on a subsequent deployment (not as a couple). After they were married in February, the captain suggested to her that she attend the Growing Spouses Army Strong course, or GSAS, to learn more about the service.

"I'm learning about the Army culture, which is very different from what I'm used to," said Shook, a major in the Air Force Reserve. "Now I understand the terms, and understand how processes work on the Army side."

Shook was one of 26 Army spouses who took the GSAS course, Aug. 6-9, at Bldg. 4700.
Dr. Ella Foley, GSAS program director, and Julie Redmon, GSAS program manager, led the training. GSAS was geared toward spouses (including men) of new first sergeants and new battery commanders, but was open to any interested spouse.

"It informs, it empowers the military spouses to take in that innate responsibility as a leader of their unit once their husband or wife takes command, or responsibility," Foley said. GSAS has been a powerful way to inspire and educate military spouses as they not only support their sponsor in their first command, but as they lead families as part of the Soldier Family Readiness Groups (SFRG).

The FCoE-hosted GSAS is unique to Fort Sill, but Fort Benning, Ga., has a similar Spouse Leadership Course, Foley said.

Redmon attended Benning's program about nine years ago, when her husband took battery command. She's married to Maj. Stephen Redmon, 75th Field Artillery Brigade executive officer.

"The Spouse Leadership Course was a huge benefit to me and my husband," she said "That's why I'm so passionate about GSAS, that's why I volunteer with GSAS."

Redmon said GSAS can give military spouses the tools and resources to be empowered to be involved in their military communities, and to reach out to other spouses and families and empower them.

The role and expectation of each leader's spouse is unique and depends on the level of commitment that she or he wants to take on, Redmon said.

"It's really what you're comfortable doing," she said. There are spouses who are working, or maybe volunteering is not their strong suit and they chose not to. That's OK.

PRESENTERS
Throughout the week attendees heard from presenters from the Fort Sill community, including directors, program managers, and a panel of brigade, battalion, and company command teams along with their spouses.

Lisa Jansen-Rees, Fort Sill Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation acting director, spoke about Army Community Services, and she conducted sessions on situational leadership, strengths of character, and stress management.

"I wanted to give them some coping skills, and a positive outlook about navigating the challenges that are associated with military life as a spouse," said Jansen-Rees, one of the originators of the GSAS course in 2007.

Jennifer Kirby, USO Oklahoma senior director, and Jenn Troxell, USO operations and programs manager, spoke about the overall USO mission and its programs at Fort Sill, and how those programs supports units and spouses. The USO also sponsored one of the class lunches, and helped support the graduation ceremony.

Kirby said she first polled the class and was happy to learn approximately 80 percent of the spouses had heard of the USO and knew of its services. Troxell also spoke about volunteer opportunities at the USO.

ATTENDEES
Army wife Missy Ball said she heard about the GSAS course through a friend. She found the mock SFRG meeting presentation to be very helpful.

The meeting featured topics such as operational security violations, crazy kids, and gossip, she said.

"Hopefully, that was a worst-case scenario, but it opened my eyes to what it could be like if I were in the leader or co-leader role," said Ball, whose husband, 2nd Lt. Benjamin Ball, is a Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course student.

Army wife Nicole Bennington said the GSAS course was a personally edifying experience.

"I learned a lot about the Army traditions, Army etiquette, and the do's and the don'ts of the military lifestyle," Bennington said. "The biggest takeaway is that I will be more intentional when it comes to making people feel welcome."

Bennington said she enjoyed the panel presentations.

"I think the panel was very informative because you not only hear from senior spouses, but their Soldiers," she said.

Shook described Jansen-Rees' presentations as fantastic.

"I loved what she had to say about leadership, and about taking a self-inventory and figure out who you are and how to apply that to your life as a spouse and a leader," Shook said.

The spouses' Soldiers were invited to the GSAS graduation Aug. 9, at the Hurley House.
The graduates were recognized with certificates and treated to a lunch. All the GSAS volunteers and sponsors were recognized, too.

New 1st Sgt. Antoine Sims, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, said his wife, Karen, taking the course will help his unit's SFRG.

"On the basic training side, the drill sergeants put in 18 hours a day away from the family life, so by having a strong SFRG program you'll have a happy spouse and so a happy Soldier," he said.

Army wife Jessica Torregano said she's already recommended the GSAS course to a friend.

"It's incredibly empowering, it gives you a lot of information and education, and self-worth, which is something some spouses lose with their husbands ranking up," she said.

The GSAS program is managed and run by a team of about 20 volunteers, Foley said. "I'm so, so proud of the accomplishments of the team in preparation for the course."

She added that GSAS is always looking for volunteers for its logistics, training, and recruitment teams. For more information, visit Growing Spouses Army Strong on Facebook.

The next GSAS course will be offered in November.