I have been "in the military" for almost 11 years. (By that I mean I married a man who is active duty and therefore I handed over my life to Uncle Sam until he retires.) This is not exactly the easiest life. There are perks but their are some serious drawbacks. One of the biggest challenges is deployment.
Everyone in the military deploys at some point in their career. If they don't they are either VERY lucky or VERY incompetent. I have survived a few deployments in my time as a military wife. Some were very long and depressing. One was, to put it bluntly, awesome.
Oh sure, it was hard for my husband to be away for a year. And, yes, there were times when I wanted to scream or pull my hair out or cry. It had all those yucky parts. But it was bearable, even enjoyable at times, all because of one woman: the FRG leader.
Her name was Pam Lindenmeyer. (I try not to use names to protect privacy but I really have to give full credit here. I hope she doesn't mind!) She was enthusiastic, energetic, and full of ideas. She was optimistic and caring. She devoted her year to making the deployment go by quickly. Six years later, I still look back at that time as full of happy memories.
It is truly a tragedy that this was an exception to the rule. Most people run the other way when the hear FRG. My first experience was definitely not pleasant. Someone would call me at 4:30 and say "Hey, we are having a meeting tonight at 5:00. If you want to come, you can. We aren't really talking about anything important so you don't have to come. I mean, it's late notice so you probably won't. I'm not going either but I have to call you because of my husband's rank so I have to participate in this crap. Are you doing okay? I know this is your first deployment. They don't get any better. My husband has been in for 15 years and this is the worst deployment yet. I hate the Army. I can't wait for him to retire. How long has your husband been in? 5 years? Man, I don't envy you. Is that your baby crying? I guess I'll let you go. I have a whole list of wives to call. Let me know if you need anything!"
Not exactly the picture of encouragement is it.
Under Pam's leadership, the FRG calls went more like this:
"Hi, Amy, how are you doing? I don't know how you do it with 4 little ones. Are they handling everything okay? Do you need anything? Do you need a babysitter so you can take a break? We have some spouses who provide child care if you need it. I can give you their names. I am calling to remind you of the FRG meeting we are having next week. We will be having a speaker come and talk to us about helping kids get through deployments. We will have some ideas about things you can do like pictures, video conferencing, daddy dolls. It will be so fun. I sure hope you can make it. We will have child care provided, too. I hope to see you there."
Big difference isn't it?
Imagine how it would be if every FRG experience was like that. Here are just a few things we did that served as a spoonful of sugar for our medicine.
1. Service: As a group, we participated in a number of service projects like "Take a Soldier to the Movies" and Christmas in July. We tried to provide support for the single soldiers who were in our unit so they didn't feel left out. Thinking of others really helps you count your blessings and keeps you from wallowing in your own self pity.
2. Optimism: A positive attitude is one of the most powerful weapons in our deployment arsenal. It seemed that each person in that FRG was cheerful and smiling. I know they each had moments of frustration just like the rest of us. But each of us feels down at different times. So if I was having a bad day an FRG meeting might cheer me up. The next time maybe I am feeling great and can spread some cheer to others.
3. Food: I know it might be a little worn out but it is a simple truth; "If you feed them, they will come." We had recipe contests and pot luck dinners, sampler tables and desserts. Every meeting provided a chance to try new things, have a little comfort food, and take a moment to relax and chat while we ate. You can never underestimate the power of food.
4. Fun: I didn't always get to participate in the activities that were planned but I was glad to know there were options. Sometimes it was just a craft or game at our FRG meetings. Sometimes it was paintball training. There was a book club, too. At each meeting we were provided with ideas and local events to keep us busy.
5. Information: The main purpose of and FRG is to provide information. Most of the time, military information comes in the most boring, dry, formal way possible. During that great year, we received "decoded" information so we could tell what related to us and what didn't.
We might get an email that said "This is about a mandatory brief that will explain when your soldier is coming home. DON'T MISS IT!" Then a boring attachment would give the details. Or it might say "This is a flyer about a community activity for kids" It didn't take much effort but at least we knew what we were looking at. (Lately my FRG emails contain at least 5 attachments, most are in military gibberish and don't apply to me at all. Sometimes they are about things that have already happened because they get forwarded down the chain of contact instead of directly to me!)
6. Participation: I think Pam took a great leap of faith in her efforts to make the FRG a fun and welcoming group. It could have gone the other way. She might have made plans and no one showed up. But each of us made a tiny, simple effort; we came. That is all it took. If there was a need, there was always someone willing to volunteer. Each small effort was inspirational... or at least motivational. I mean, I didn't want to be known as the wife who never helped out or the one who always took and never gave back. It really doesn't take much. "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."
I know that many of you are not military and might think this doesn't apply to you. I have realized that many of my friends live far from family and their husbands work long, crazy hours. It might not be the military but those kinds of jobs can be taxing on families, too. You might not have a formal support group but you can still apply these tips to your own circle of friends and acquaintances.