Army Spouses: They Don’t Have Uniforms but Wear Many Hats

By Kim Ferraro, Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and ReadinessJune 26, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

As evidenced by May’s celebrations for Military Spouse Appreciation Month, it takes an Army to support our Soldiers—one composed of dedicated spouses who provide 24/7 support by handling tasks from the mundane (keeping stocked up on everyday household supplies, figuring out what’s for dinner) to the monumental (overseeing each new home’s setup, helping kids adjust to different communities, volunteering for countless activities and committees).

Fort Liberty, North Carolina, and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, are among the installations where spouses demonstrate why they are the best weapon in Soldiers’ resilience arsenal.

With more than 51,000 service members, some 71,000 Family members plus a large contingent of retirees, Fort Liberty has a sizable number of spouses who serve the community in many ways, both through on-base activities and those in the surrounding neighborhood. Alice Stephens, Army Volunteer Corps coordinator at Fort Liberty, enumerates an impressive roster of organizations they are involved in: Army Community Service, Family Readiness Groups, youth sports programs, the blood donor center, the American Red Cross and the Armed Services YMCA. Impressively, of the close to 160,000 hours that Fort Liberty residents sacrificed to volunteering over the past year, military spouses put in the majority of that time, which saved the base community thousands of dollars, Stephens says.

Among Fort Liberty’s dedicated cohort of volunteers is Kate Dempsey, of California, who is on her second stint at the base with her husband. A self-described “chronic volunteer,” Dempsey is a master resilience trainer, a Fort Liberty Spouses Club board member and an instructor for Army Family Team Building—a group she says is vital to newcomers, offering classes that teach Family members the ins and outs of base culture, from basics like Army slang and how to interpret leave and earnings statements to pointers on how to find and use essential resources.

“Volunteering can be a full-time job,” she says. “It is a privilege to be able to work for these organizations. It really is about finding ways to make each community a bit better before you move on.”

And there’s no doubt that these selfless residents accomplish that goal.

“So many of these agencies don’t have the budget to pay for the hours military-spouse volunteers put in,” Dempsey says. “These organizations can’t solely exist without volunteers—they would likely have to scale down services.”

Fully aware of how much they depend on this nonmilitary army, Fort Liberty’s leaders give spouses the VIP treatment whenever there’s an opportunity, such as with May’s recognition lunches and awards presentations. Other recent bonding activities for spouses ranged from the physically intense—a paintball tournament pitting teams against one another in a messy battle—to the sedate: a garden party at which attendees flexed their creative muscles by designing floral arrangements.

Over at Fort Belvoir, Brienna Pruce, of Virginia, is among the cadre of spouses who are the driving force behind many social activities.

“Fort Belvoir has the most spouse involvement I have witnessed in nearly 20 years of being in a

military Family all over the world,” she says. “Our spouse network is what heavily supports most of the organizations on post that build community and bring meaningful opportunities for connection.”

One activity spouses have a big hand in is Family Night, a free weekly dinner that allows Soldiers and their loved ones to get to know their neighbors. And through the chapel, many spouses volunteer for community programs. Pruce herself leads grueling physical training sessions for Soldiers (“usually painfully early in the morning,” she says) and a twice-weekly yoga class—a perfect antidote to the physical and emotional stresses of military life.

But these spouses who fortify so many others need to be propped up, too, while enduring the uncertainties of a nomadic lifestyle, and so they lean on one another. Pruce relishes socializing at the coffee hours and at Zumba and cycling sweat sessions. Other key resources include the Religious Support Office’s counseling service and the multiple spouse Facebook groups.

“Spouses are lifelines to each other. We keep our fellow Families uplifted during deployments and hardship. Many of us are overqualified, underappreciated, uprooted too often and thirsty for belonging, so we make our own way." (Photo courtesy of Stacie Marie Photography)