ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – May 6 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. It is the day when service members honor the contributions and sacrifices of our husbands and wives.
To honor this day, this article will focus on the male spouse, as it is he who is frequently unnoticed, invisible, largely forgotten, and misunderstood by both the public and the community he is a part of.
When someone says “military spouse”, what picture comes to mind? Most likely it is a woman. Which is not incorrect. Most spouses are women, because the majority of service members are men.
Since most military spouses are women, it makes sense that both the media and Hollywood focus on the military wife.
When there is a government shutdown looming, or a unit comes back from deployment, the media usually always seek out a female spouse to interview.
Hollywood has also reinforced the idea that military spouses are usually women. From 2007 to 2013, a show called
“Army Wives” ran on the Lifetime network. The show followed the lives of four Army wives and one Army husband at the fictional Army base, Fort Marshall, South Carolina.
According to a 2017 Department of Defense study, 92% of active-duty military spouses are women. Most male spouses are found in the Air Force, at 12%. The fewest are found in the Marine Corps with 3%. In the reserve components, men make up 13% of that demographic.
In many ways, male and female spouses are very much alike. They both know the hardships of trying to keep some sort of career going as they move every few years for the service member’s career. They both understand what it is like to be a single parent while their spouse is deployed, at a school, or participating in a training exercise.
They both know what is like not knowing if their loved one is alive or dead.
While men share the same experiences as their female counterparts, they often feel left out of the military community because the built-in social network is more or less set up for women.
While nearly every military unit and base has some sort of spouses’ organization or Family Readiness Group to help spouses integrate, they can feel alienating to some men. Many male spouses frequently avoid joining spouse groups or attending unit activities because they feel like it isn’t for them.
“When I see a post, or open up an email from an FRG or spouses’ group that starts out, ‘Hey ladies’, I know they don’t want me,” said Pete Baltos, who has been an Army husband for nearly 17 years.
His aversion to FRGs caused him to become the leader of the FRG for the 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Element when his wife was in the unit.
“I told the command I don’t like FRGs because they are run by women, for women,” said Baltos. He was told that the group needed a new leader and he should run it so he could make changes to make it more inclusive. Baltos agreed, but still found himself isolated. “I was the only male FRG leader at Fort Bliss.”
However, he made the best of it, and even joined his fellow spouses in participating in the 1st Armored Division Artillery’s Molly Pitcher event in 2017.
Ryan DeyMonez is a civilian married to Capt. Hannah Baker, who works as an equipment officer at U.S. Army Sustainment Command. He has had some of the same experiences as Baltos.
“I usually avoid going to post unless I need to, and generally try to avoid FRGs,” said DeyMonez. He said this is because of some of the reactions he has gotten.
“I have had quite a few incidents (at official functions), where it’s like, ‘Who is this clown?’” said DeyMonez. He said he doesn’t let it bother him, and it passes quickly.
So, who are these men? Some are veterans, and some have never served in uniform. You probably won’t find them joining most FRGs or attending many official military functions, but they are around.
According to a 2016 profile of the military community conducted by CHAMP, the Uniformed Services University, only 6.6% of active-duty couples and 2.7% of Guard and reserve couples are dual-military.
However, about 1 in 5 married active-duty women are married to another service member, compared to 1 in 25 active-duty men. This is because women are more likely to leave military service then men.
Like many spouses, DeyMonez found himself unemployed after he and his wife conducted a permanent change of station move in 2017, and began looking for a job. He found one working for garrison operations, in the most unlikely way.
“I was sitting in my car and a couple walked by and complimented me on my beard,” said DeyMonez. They began talking and, upon finding out that DeyMonez was looking for a job, offered him one at the garrison headquarters.
Baltos has had similar issues with finding a job after each PCS move. He had gone to college to be a high school English teacher but, with moving every two to three years, he realized that it would be impossible for him to work as a teacher, so he began working for Child and Youth Services.
“When my wife tells me she got orders for a new unit, I immediately begin searching USAJobs for jobs at the new base,” said Baltos. “I have been lucky so far in finding work, but it isn’t always at a higher level or even the same level. Frequently I have had to take jobs below, both in skill and pay, to what I was making and work my way back up again.”
Having work skill and experience, but being underemployed or unemployed, is something all military spouses share.
As more and more women and gay men join the military, male spouses are becoming a larger group on post. However, they aren’t always noticed because frequently it is assumed they are the military member – not the military spouse.
So what can male spouses do to feel more connected to the military community? Female spouses can help by reaching out and being mindful that military spouses come in different shapes, sizes and genders. Male spouses also need to reach out and try to connect with the other spouses in the unit or installation. While connecting is important for all spouses, it is more important for male spouses because they are more likely to feel isolated and alone.
Military life is hard. In some ways it’s harder for the spouse than it is for the service member. They need the support that only another spouse can provide them as they navigate through deployments, frequent moves, changing jobs and everything else the military throws at families.
Editor’s Note: Peter Baltos is the husband of Sgt. 1st Class Corey Baltos, the writer of this article.