Resource Fail

lending closet

If there is one thing I love about the military, it’s the wealth of support resources available for those who want them. And if there is one problem with that great upside, it’s that if you even hear about them in time, they can be impossible to find.

Case in point: my family and I recently PCSed across the country. We took our sweet time getting where we were going, dawdling in a variety of National Parks along the way. A plus was that we got a vacation in between episodes of “Elmo’s World” on the DVD player. A minus was that our household goods arrived at our new base before we did and went into storage.

We hit post for the first time on a Tuesday. On Wednesday we secured housing and called the movers, only to find that they wouldn’t deliver our goods for another five days. That was five days of sleeping on an air mattress in an empty house, cooking food in a disposable aluminum pan on the stovetop, using a tshirt as a hot mitt and eating from paper plates. My toddler was very confused when we sat on the floor to eat our food.

Fast forward two weeks to the spouse orientation for the school my husband is attending. During that time we had received our goods, unpacked and watched my burn from forgetting to use the tshirt/hot mitt heal.  The room at the orientation was full of people just like me (minus the burn). Not a single person was still awaiting the delivery of their stuff.

And yet it was at this orientation that the Army Community Service (ACS) representative chose to tell us about the lending closet, where we could have scored a giant box of kitchen supplies to hold us over until our goods were delivered. It was at this briefing, not when we checked into post, not when we were at the housing office and a solid two weeks after we didn’t need it anymore, that I learned of this burn-abating resource.

While having nothing to do with deployment support, my experience with ACS is not isolated, says Dennis Orthner, a researcher with the University of North Carolina. A study he did on the program for the Army showed that while the office does offer significant resources for those who live on post and seek them out, it struggles with spreading information, including news about deployment resources, elsewhere. When it comes to helping spouses deal with the stress of loneliness during deployment, ACS can be the greatest resource — or most elusive target.

“We tend to support best the people that are most available, we get the low hanging fruit,” Orthner said. “People who are in the most need tend to get the least support. … We have to do a better job in reaching out and strengthening relationships.”

The problem, Orthner said, is that those who can most use help are also those who are the hardest to reach. For example, junior enlisted spouses living off post are often in the greatest need of support, but are also those that are the least mobile and likely work during the day,  he said.

“ACS services are typically offered during convenient times and on the base instead of getting out into the community where the people are,” he said. “If you’re a one car, junior enlisted family living 10 miles from the post it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get those services.”

One possible fix would be to extend the offices’ hours. Another would be to bring the services out into military-heavy off post neighborhoods, Orthner said. Even services like the Family Life Consultant program, which doesn’t observe traditional hours of operation, are filtered through ACS. If a potential user cannot visit the office to find out about the resource, she is unlikely to ever access the service.

Yet many officials are unwilling to offer new solutions. Mike Hoskins, a Pentagon official who oversees the military and family life consultant program, said that it is up to installation commanders and the public affairs office to get the information out.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of science behind it,” he said.

We know the Army likes to hear our ideas on how to fix the things we believe to be broken, so let’s help them with this one. How can ACS fix this obvious problem? And while you mull that over, be sure to check back later for an example of a component that is slowly but surely doing something about this.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.

13 Comments on "Resource Fail"

  1. I worked in the Lending Closet on post in Germany, and we also provided a great Welcome Packet with maps, info on important social customs, menu translators, etc. But you're right that only a fraction of people on post knew to come get the packet…

  2. I agree with Hoskins. There's no science here. As difficult as it is to get a policy implemented in such a large organization, it needs to be done. And further, seems logical that it wouldn't take all that much to make it happen given that we live in a digital age.

    I've been an Army wife for a long, long time and in the early days, when my husband was given orders, we used to receive a bulky welcome/information packet in the mail before the PCS. From what I can remember, the packet was pretty comprehensive and very helpful.

    While I've noted most installations have a section on their website for newcomers, I've also noted the information there is often dated and woefully incomplete.

    Not sure why it's difficult to get some folks in a room (read: milspouses and service members) and bang out a list of what each needs and would like to see included in a digital newcomers guide, then make it happen installation-wide. Each section should undergo a periodic review and information should be updated if necessary.

    I think your story is a great example of the fact that we don't know what we don't know.

  3. I'd like to add that over the years I have seen examples of information being readily available and people not making an effort to find/use it. So, I do think we share some responsibility in being proactive.

    While we can't always rely on our spouses to bring information home, if the DoD ever developed a comprehensive policy streamlining the information for newcomers, a mere link to the URL on PCS orders would help. Goes without saying, the service member would be responsible for accessing and utilizing the information available to him/her on the orders.

  4. Sorry, I keep butting in here, published the last comment before I was finished… But, as you've probably figured out, I see this as a military-wide problem though I know your article is focusing on the Army. I don't think this is a responsibility that ACS should shoulder alone.

    Leaving information dissemination up to the discretion of a zillion different commands and PAOs will ensure that some posts have great info easily available, and others will not. Just like some FRGs are fabulous and others are horrible.

    I realize that the missions, size, community, offerings vary from post to post, but there's basic information which could be useful to every incoming military family.

  5. Right-o Andi. I consider myself an EXTREMELY proactive person. Heck, that Wednesday morning referred to above I had my tail end sitting in a seat at the newcomer's orientation. The lending closet was not mention and I was one of two milspouses in a room full of dudes.

  6. At least you got a spouse orientation for the course your husband is attending. My husband is attending the same course as your husband but for a different branch at a different installation. It was a full PCS move, but when we got here I was literally told that the spouses of students attending this course didn't matter. We can't join the FRG, we can't have a spouses' coffee-type group, and we can't have any sort of "official" camaraderie. The idea of a simple orientation is out of the question.

  7. That sounds like another epic fail, Jessica. If it makes you feel any better, we had that little orientation and that was it. No coffee group (that I've heard of) or anything else.

  8. I'm forever submitting issues exactly like what you're talking about to AFAP (Army Family Action Plan) and ICE (Interactive Customer Evaluation – for local issues).

    You can find AFAP submission at I know ICE is available at our installation, but don't kow about others. If ICE is not available at your installation, submit your local issues to AFAP.

  9. I'm already all over it.

    I'm like the ICE Queen (in a totally good way) … next up: comment on how the people who run the gym nursery (for which we pay hourly, unlike Fort Lewis) are NEVER on time.

  10. My favorite was receiving a forwarded email from the ombudsman about a program the had a specific deadline that had passed thirty minutes prior to when the email was even sent. That might be the first and last time I have used the reply-all option in a completely inappropriate way. I will blame it on pregnancy hormones and the fact that it was regarding communicating with your deployed spouse and something I would have appreciated knowing about when I could actually do something about it.

    I am not sure if we are just 2 for 2, but I think Navy shore commands are quite skilled at being terribly lacking in useful information. Add being attached to an Army post you don't speak the language for and are not entitled to reap the full benefits of (yet are not provided alternatives) and it is interesting.

  11. Wifeunit — I can only imagine (but I stopped because it was starting to make me really mad).
    I think all of this varies by post or base. But, like pointed out above, that's not really an acceptable answer. I was thinking about it and maybe this is something we should bring up to our friend here at SpouseBuzz, Gen. Ricky Lynch who spoke at AUSA and was kind enough to do a video for us. (find it here:… He's a really nice guy and I bet would respond … that would at least help with Army stuff.
    I had a friend at Joint Base Lewis McChord who had a similar complaint to yours … OK, not quite similar but it was a good point. The Air Force base and Army Post were supposedly one. Army people got to take advantage of Air Force stuff (and boy did I — let me just say that if you are reading this and you shop at the Fort Lewis commissary you should stop, drive over to McChord's, and never look back. Enjoy your newly found, non-wilted produce and think of me), including their lesser used medical facilities, but when Air Force folks wanted to use Army perks, like the free during deployment childcare, they were told they didn't qualify. Seems like a double standard.

  12. Um …. disregard the link above. That video seems to have somehow fallen off that post? Weird. I'll look into it.

  13. Amy, try being the spouse of a mobilized US Navy reservist on an IA deployment. Talk about being told that you don't qualify……while I have seen the support becoming a tad bit better since my hubby deployed to the sandbox, I will NOT say that the support is good. Fortunately, I stay at home with my three girls and had time (well, I didn't have the time, but I made the time) to research. I was and still am finding information that the CO of the NOSC and my IDSS (who is the Navy contact to the spouses/family members of IA's) had no clue about. Changes are being made for the better, but it takes time, and it also takes a willingness on the part of those with the power to actually accept the change. Too often spouses are handed off from one person to the next, probably because the official doesn't have an answer and hopes we will just go away, and all that does is make the situation worse. Even though I know that any changes that are made now or in the future will have ZERO effect on my family, I know that if I keep plugging away and trying to make positive changes, I will help another family…..eventually.

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