FORT KNOX, Ky. – They marry into a life of constant change.

Military spouses often face uncertainty and worry over a deployed warrior. However, those who serve as the reputed supportive faces behind the heroes have often accomplished more than many realize.

An Army wife takes her children to the 1963 Fort Knox Armed Forces Day celebration. Throughout history, military wives have created community together, often when husbands were away at war.
An Army wife takes her children to the 1963 Fort Knox Armed Forces Day celebration. Throughout history, military wives have created community together, often when husbands were away at war. (Photo Credit: Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Wives have always had a sisterhood as much as the men in uniform do a brotherhood,” said Jamia Arner, who has spent nearly 20 years moving from duty station to duty station with her husband.

Since the U.S. Army was first established nearly 250 years ago, Soldiers’ wives have joined forces to make military life a true community – at times far from the only homes they’ve known.

Student officers’ wives gather for a photo together on Fort Knox in 1969. “Wives have always had a sisterhood,” says veteran wife Jamia Arner.
Student officers’ wives gather for a photo together on Fort Knox in 1969. “Wives have always had a sisterhood,” says veteran wife Jamia Arner. (Photo Credit: Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

In recent years, spouses of Soldiers are represented by a more diverse population, not just the traditional wifely role demonstrated in the Army’s history. However, even today the majority of those married to Soldiers are made up of civilian women.

Upon entering an Army marriage, according to Arner, most spouses have thought about the hardships and unpredictability ahead. Expectation is very different than facing it head on, though, which is where spouses find common ground with those experiencing the same adversities.

Arner said she has often reflected over the years about how, in times of greatest need, it was usually a fellow wife who was there for her rather than her husband.

“He was gone,” said Arner. “She was there to help.”

Sometimes under these difficult circumstances, the women who are frequently referred to as ‘the silent ranks’ make great impacts – locally and sometimes far-reaching, said Arner.

She referred to the impact made by spouses through their efforts with the American Red Cross as an example. Women have provided assistance dating back to the organization’s inception in the late 1800s.

Many Army wives throughout history have volunteered their time at their installation Red Cross. With offices at every duty station, it was always an opportunity to provide aid within their community.
Many Army wives throughout history have volunteered their time at their installation Red Cross. With offices at every duty station, it was always an opportunity to provide aid within their community. (Photo Credit: Fort Knox Cultural Resources Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

“During the 2009 ice storm, military spouses volunteered to support the shelters we opened,” said Red Cross regional director May Giulitto, who is also a veteran wife. “[We] also helped train the operation team during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.”

Liz McKenrick recalled how a simple idea to assist ladies where she was stationed turned into a worldwide movement.

“Initially we were just planning on doing a traditional dress swap to help get junior spouses to the ball,” said McKenrick, who is the wife of Maj. Gen. Terrence McKenrick, deputy commanding general of V Corps. “Within a month, we had 3,000 gowns.”

McKenrick said it was then that she and her fellow spouses realized the effect this could have on others.

“This was something that could impact the entire military community,” said McKenrick, “and also give the American public a tangible way to show their support.”

Their idea soon grew into Operation Deploy Your Dress.

Over the past five years, volunteers of Operation Deploy Your Dress – made up of Army wives helping Army wives -- have grown their organization’s reach worldwide.
Over the past five years, volunteers of Operation Deploy Your Dress – made up of Army wives helping Army wives -- have grown their organization’s reach worldwide. (Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Operation Deploy Your Dress) VIEW ORIGINAL

“We now have 10 shops on installations around the country and [overseas],” said McKenrick. “We’ve given away over 13,000 gowns, and all this has been done by volunteers and supported by incredible spouses clubs.”

Of the countless noteworthy contributions by spouses that could and should be highlighted, said Arner, a large proportion of them occur without any fanfare. Most Army wives would rather take the spotlight and shine it on their Soldiers’ sacrifices.

“We’re not the ones who take an oath; we don’t deploy,” said Arner, “I feel so much personal pride that I get to be part of this great community that stands behind its Soldiers.”