FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (May 12, 2011) -- Beth Chiarelli calls military spouses "unsung heroes." She should know.

A military spouse for nearly four decades, she is the wife of Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

She discussed her experiences at Fort Meade's Military Spouse Appreciation Luncheon on May 3 at the Courses' Clubhouse.

The event, hosted by Army Community Service, drew dozens of spouses of Fort Meade service members who came to hear Chiarelli's experiences and advice.

During her speech, the mother of three recounted one of her first experiences in the "Army family." When she first moved to Fort Lewis, Wash., she asked her new neighbor -- whom she had never met -- to baby-sit her 9-month-old son. Chiarelli was in excruciating pain, she recalled. The neighbor watched the child so Chiarelli could see a dentist.

"And, of course, we became wonderful friends. That doesn't just happen everywhere," she said. "What makes military communities very special is what you do -- you help one another."

However, the life of a military spouse is not easy, Chiarelli said. While the service member is away, the spouse is the one paying the bills, tending to the children and in charge of daily tasks -- all while worrying about the safety of their husband or wife, Chiarelli said.

During her speech, Chiarelli read from a letter sent to a military spouse from a civilian. The letter praised the spouses and the difficult lifestyle they lead.

"You are not like other women; you are a special breed," Chiarelli read. "You have a strength within you that holds lives together in the darkest of hours."

But the benefits outweigh the difficulties, she said. Chiarelli considers the people she has met and the friends she has made over the years as the best part of being a military spouse.

It is the relationships that help the Army community get through tough times, she said.

"Paul McCartney says it best: 'We'll get by with a little help from our friends,' " Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli urged military spouses to keep in touch with the people they meet along the way, whether it's a phone call, an email or letter.

She also advised young military spouses to maintain good communication with their husband or wife. Chiarelli said it is most important for the couple to discuss what is best for them and their family.

"Remember, you are a team," she said. "Sit down with your husband or wife, talk about the different options and make the decision that is best for you and your family."

That advice hit home for Stacey Shade-Ware, wife of Air Force Master Sgt. Russ Ware of the 707th Force Support Squadron, who is working with her husband to figure out the next step for their family.

"It was exactly what I needed to hear," she said.

Several spouses in attendance said they enjoyed hearing the stories and tips of another military spouse and found her speech inspiring.

"It was great to hear the views of somebody who has been a military spouse for so long and been through so much," said Stacey Cuff, wife of Sgt. Robert Cuff of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group. "Communication is very important in any marriage and probably even more so as far as being a military spouse. There's a lot more involved than what you would find in your average marriage."

At the end of the program, Chiarelli offered thanks to the "unsung heroes" in the room.

"I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do each and every day behind the scenes," she said.