By Paul Steven GhiringhelliMay 20, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y - Army spouses were celebrated Friday for the support and sacrifices they provide their Soldiers during Fort Drum's annual observance of Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
Tasty appetizers, time with a nationally renowned relationship guru and a gourmet Belgian cooking demonstration were a part of the entertainment offered to nearly 100 spouses and Family Members who gathered at the Army Community Service building.
The event was sponsored by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
"The wife and the Family are just as important as the Soldier," said Col. Kenneth Riddle, Fort Drum garrison commander. "We have learned in our Army that in order to retain the Soldier, you have to retain the Family. If the Family is not happy, the Soldier won't stay in the Army."
"I think we should have Spouse Appreciation Day 365 days a year," Riddle said to cheers.
Organizers said the event was a huge success, due in large part to the wildly entertaining performance of author David Coleman, also known as the "Dating Doctor," who had audience members laughing, openly sharing their experiences and occasionally tearing up.
"It was an unbelievable time. We feel very fortunate to have been able to bring in (Coleman)," said Jolly Miller, ACS chief. "I was surprised to see the degree of freedom with which some of the spouses could talk about very (sensitive topics)."
Coleman, a relationship expert regularly featured in mainstream print, radio and TV media, made spouses comfortable enough to ask him questions about such serious subjects as infidelity, physical intimacy and pornography.
"I want to say this in the most ego-free, humble way possible," Coleman said after the event. "The reason I get booked a couple of hundred days a year is because within 15 minutes of starting a program, I build a very strong rapport, I build a sense of mutual trust within the room, and people will share absolutely anything with each other.
"These women have stuff that's been on their minds and on their chests for weeks, months and years," he continued. "They haven't been able to tell anyone. We build a comfortable, safe environment where they could. We saved some relationships today; there's no question."
Coleman said the spouses of Fort Drum were "a wonderful group of women."
"You could tell that their hearts were absolutely in the right places," he said. "Some of them might not have been in the most perfect home-life situations, but they were still graceful and character-driven in how they asked their questions and responded to certain things. It showed me a tremendous amount of respect for themselves, for their husbands, for their marriages."
Chimey Blackwell, wife of Staff Sgt. Lowell Blackwell, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, said it was her first time attending a spouse appreciation event.
"I think it is nice how somebody as popular and famous as (Coleman) is would actually just take his time to do this ... for military spouses," said Blackwell, who had her picture taken with Coleman afterwards.
Another spouse, who volunteers her time at the library, said Coleman was extremely entertaining.
"He really cracked me up - he's very real," said Carolyn Mote, wife of 1st Sgt. Emil Mote, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment. "I think I'm in love with him. I'm going to get his book."
Miller, who oversees dozens of ACS staff members, many of them professional counselors and therapists, said she was pleased to see a good number of junior-enlisted spouses in attendance at the event. She said they are usually the ones in need of the most help.
"Most of them don't go out, because they have small children," she said. "It's their first time in the military, their first time in a marriage ... (there's) not much money. If you put all of that together, you have people who really need your help.
"This is where our programs become very helpful," she added. "They can come to ACS to see what we have to offer. We have volunteer opportunities; we pay for their child care if needed. They can learn how to write a resume, take parenting classes. This is it. This is why I exist."
Coleman noted military marriages have the highest rates of divorce, infidelity and spousal abuse.
"I want those numbers to go down. I want to foster hope, love and confidence in every single one of you," he told spouses. "There's no place on the planet I won't go to positively impact the lives of our Soldiers and their Families."
After Coleman's speech, Belgium native Louise Bly demonstrated how to make romantic Belgian cuisines, including shrimp crescents, steak in champagne sauce, parmesan bread and Bourbon chocolate mousse.
National Military Spouse Appreciation Day was first proclaimed in 1984 by former President Ronald Reagan, who designated it as a time for recognizing and honoring the contributions and sacrifices of all military spouses.
"President Reagan realized what it took us as an Army a little bit longer to realize, and that is how important the spouse and the Family are to the readiness of our Army," Riddle said. "We're not perfect, and we have a long ways to go, but it is 10 times better (now) than it was 10 years ago."