Time to Disband Family Readiness Groups?

wives runners group

Our SpouseBuzz readers sure are hot over a recent post about how few young spouses participate in Family Readiness.

Readers said they did not have time for the FRG because of work commitments, a lack of tolerance for gossip, legal restrictions against raising money and distributing information, lack of welcome, lack of contact from the unit, etc.

Have Family Readiness Groups outlived their usefulness?

It made me wonder if Family Support Groups and Family Readiness Groups have just outlived their usefulness. What would happen if we just dissolved all these groups?

Hold back the howl for a minute. Be curious with me—especially you senior spouses. What if changes in technology like cell phones and email and websites and Facebook and Skype really have made FRGs obsolete? What would happen if commanders no longer had to have these volunteer organizations in place?

These groups served a real function in the not-so-distant past. When I was a young spouse, hundreds of women and children would attend meetings for the ship.

The FRG was the only way we could get any information.

This was the only way we could get any information. This is where they told us when the ship would be in port so we wouldn’t miss that one call from our sailor. This is where they told us about homecoming. This is where they gave away those handouts about how to cope with deployment.

The meetings were still boring. The same bossy people who run the meetings now ran the meetings then. Newbies were still outsiders back then. But there were enough newbies present that you might sit next to someone who was just as much of a newbie as you were so you might meet a friend. Which I did. A lot.

Today, the research says that the person a military spouse or girlfriend or partner depends upon is their service member. That’s what our readers said in their comments, too.

So if we disband all those organizations, what will take their place?

Organizations to replace Family Readiness Groups?

Which organizations could replace FRGs and FSGs?

Government organizations like Military OneSource? Most of those organizations provide information online. Or contact with a paid counselor. Or a webinar.

Paid support organizations like Army Family Team Building or the Fleet and Family Support Center? Those folks do good work. But family programs are being cut and consolidated all over the place. Those people contact me on LinkedIn all the time.

Unit professionals like the Marine Corps Family Readiness Officer or the Army’s Family Readiness Support Assistant? Those jobs seem to turn into a lot of paperwork, don’t they?

Nonprofit organizations?  There are nearly 50,000 nonprofits registered with the IRS that include “military” in their mission statement.  Good in major crisis.

What about Facebook? Seems like a new study comes out every day showing that people are more depressed after using Facebook. It is comparison not connection.

And what about websites like Military.com and SpouseBuzz? I can collect a lot of ideas here and keep you up on the news, but I can’t get a cup of coffee with all of our readers. I can’t go get formula for your baby if you are sick or your car is in the shop. I can’t bring everybody a lasagna (even though I make a really killer lasagna and it has been known to soothe even the most savage breast).

I think we need real people.

That’s what the research shows, too. Military spouses who do best during deployment have been shown to depend on their service member, a family member or longtime friend, AND at least one real live person in the community.

No matter how many of us work full time, we still move every 2.5 years. We are still newbies with painful regularity. We still have those times where we have no local friends yet.  Or our moms are sick of us.  Or our non-military friends say stupid things.

We used to use the FRG or the FSG or the wives’ club to meet people.  But if no one shows up because they are focused on how boring the meetings are or how they are too busy then how do you make those friends?

This is where I get confused. Because if I have learned one thing on the job it is that people aren’t made to function alone in the world–especially in the military part of the world. People do need a little help and encouragement. People need other real people who have had similar experiences.  I just don’t think we have figured out how to get all those people together in this ever-changing, ever-deploying, ever-moving world.


About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Pat

    I think we still need FRG’s because we need the personal contact and it does give people an opportunity to meet other people even if they share the fact that the meeting is boring. It is important during separations to have someone to connect to. I met life long friends during some of those meetings. There are also opportunities to socialize while our soldiers were away.

  • marie

    If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that those of us who don’t go to the meetings are part of the problem. Hear me out please! There was a time when I was a newbie and there were no programs in place. I was lost confused, hurt, and alone. This was before smartphones, facebook, etc. Then, came the Key Volunteer Program, it wasn’t perfect, but, it was something. Now, there is the FRG. I have noticed that many seasoned spouses along with younger spouses do not participate. Here is my point. The seasoned spouses assume they know it all and don’t need the group. The younger spouses have no clue as to what they really are missing out on and how they need to be prepared. In my personal experience and the experience of others with many decades of experience. The seasoned spouses need to show up in order to educate, mentor, and be the rock for the rest. This is to ensure and carry on the tradition and resources. If you just know one person from the FRG you will be better off even if you only attend once and meet someone, than if you never showed up at all. Recently, I learned more from a newbie spouse than I had ever learned from anyone else. However, I still recall the wise words of the seasoned spouses to this day. The FRG doesn’t need to go away, it needs to adapt to the changing times is all. Get them together and keep them together will all the new technology is what I say.

  • Minders

    I’ve read the last couple of articles posted here and I’ve been stewing in them for the better part of a couple of days. I have been fortunate to be part of the effort to update the MC family support programs, worked within the programs before and after the updates for more than a decade, and in the process become one of those seasoned spouses referred to so often. So I thnk I have a perspective from the inside of the programs in a variety of different units. I also remember very vividly our early years in the corps when I felt very disconnected from friends and family, uninformed about the unit and the MC in general, and very lonely. So I still remember my experience as a new, young spouse. I clung to the statement my husband made as he signed his contract, “It’s only for 4 years, sweetie.” That was more than 20 years ago. I don’t think the programs need to be disbanded, but the focus does need to change. Those of us that have been around for awhile need to spearhead that change of focus. I have listened to too many conversations complaining how useless the FRO is because the FRO took jobs away from them and they need to go away. They didn’t buy the changes in the first place. I become very unpopular when I remind them of the bake sales, phone trees, and panicked spouses they had to deal with on their own that now the FRO manages. If they want, there is plenty for them to do in their units, to assist the FRO and in addition to what the FRO does.
    As far as uninterested young spouses, I personally think we are selling them short. They express their interest differently than we do. They are resourceful, inquisitive, and experts at sniffing out the “out of the box” solutions that we may not even consider. They view a community differently than we do as well. They have circles of people in their communities, starting with those they socialize with and working out to the massive Facebook friend lists. I think we can learn some things from them. But, I also think we have some things to teach them as well. Many young spouses have told me their best friend is their spouse, the spouse in uniform, that goes away a lot. They struggle with maintaining that connection. We can show them how to keep a marriage strong and vital through those separations and our tricks for reconnecting and our struggles with the same. We can reassure them, be a mentor through our “calm in the midst of the storm” mindset, and be that friendly face when they do come to an event.
    To the seasoned spouse, my encouragement is to remember that we are part of something that is much bigger than we are and we need to have the maturity to look at the bigger picture. It’s not about each one of us but all of us as a community. If things need to change, help make the change, be the cheerleader and the example. Meet the younger, less experienced spouses where they are. Above all, stay involved. My view is if it touches one person, it was worth it.

    • the first mel

      I love having a FRO, but I do remember the resistance to this program. The spouses who enjoyed leading the Key Volunteer program were stripped of their authority when the FROs came in. I also remember the days during the Gulf War back in ’90-’91 when I was at a base without any volunteer program in place. What I like most about the FROs is the objectivity since they don’t have a familial connection to the Marines in the unit. Also, there are requirements and guidelines in maintaining professionalism. To bring the younger spouses into the fold, the program at my husband’s unit has secured a Family Readiness Advisor, who is married to a sergeant, so that the younger spouses have a voice in the Family Readiness Command Team meetings. I think the seasoned spouses should maintain a presence in the program so that they are visible and accessible by the younger spouses. We also need to set the example. If we think the program is necessary then we should be active in that program. How can we expect the younger spouses to participate if the seasoned spouses don’t even show up for events, meetings and volunteering?

  • Guest

    They are in my opinion not needed today’s spouse in my opinion are much more resilient, they love their spouses but they strive for autonomy and identity outside of their spouses. I mean once in a while you come across that new 17-18 year old spouse that cannot make a duty night away from her spouse or will call the command when she thinks his hours are unfavorable to her (she may be the ideal candidate to join a FRG) for the most part we have to power to make friends on our own and no longer have to be looked down your noses at for the sake of gaining information.

  • BigDaveE

    As the spouse of a junior enlisted medic, I volunteered to be the FRG leader of my wife’s company. There was no working FRG in place, it died the rumor-ridden death so many FRGs die of. I resurrected it by taking everything the CO passed on to me (I called him once a week, visited every other week, Rear D too) and made flyers to email and place on the private FRG facebook page. I did not allow rumors to start, I fielded phone calls myself since no-one would step up to be any of the other FRG positions – and it all went smoothly! Was it because I was a guy? Maybe. Was it because I am old? Maybe. Was it because the soldiers in my wife’s company told their wives not to rile me up since I was married to their doc? Maybe. But I ran an info only FRG, keeping them in the loop at their own convenience; I put like-needs spouses together and encouraging them to for a sub-FRG group; I wouldn’t let the CO call mandatory FRG meetings since it only causes grief. If the ladies wanted to have a playday, we’d set one up! If the few guy spouses wanted to do a bowling night, we set one up. It was flexible and all were happy.

    We cause our own obstacles. There may be a roadblock, but it is how we approach it and respond to it that makes it a challenge or an obstacle. Dissolve the FRG/FRO/Ombudsman? No. But let the volunteer spouse you choose run it as she/he sees fit. ‘Nuff said.

  • Laura

    I’m an active duty military wife of two years. I’ve attended an frg meeting or two and find nothing really supportive or informative about them. The leadership made my husbands appearance mandatory. There is pizza and water and a long speech by the CDr. It’s hot and sticky and there’s 40 small kids running around crying, shrinking, just being kids.

    The meetings are either right after him working from 5:30am until 5 pm or they’re at 10am during the work week with spouses only.

    They serve no purpose other than … What? I don’t know, but I know a few other wives and none of them attend either, unless it’s mandatory.

    I gather from some of the comments here, old timers think they’re great. Maybe they were when you were attending them and they filled a need. They no longer do and just take more time away from our few off duty hours.

  • Kati

    Times have changed, and so has the military. There are too many civilians, and mil-tech’s for any structure to function. When the officer’s wives run the show, the disregard or lack of understanding for what the enlisted families deal with is very evident. The best years of family participation in activities were those run by the NCO’s and their spouses. The officers spouses participated as volunteers. Families are not threatened by directed or required participation to keep up appearances to impress others for promotion purposes. Soldiers no longer want to attend most functions, and show up because required, let alone their families. Soldiers that connect often have families that connect and support each other. Housing changes have complicated things, but those that want to… will. As the military member, my husband was often left out of the groups plans because he was expected to be at work, not home with the children. Maybe someone could have at least asked him. The groups that work best are the ones that exist because of volunteers, soldier or family member, and act with common interests not command interests at heart! Remove the politics and let them function independent of unit input unless asked for. As I retire, I wish you all good luck in molding something workable in today’s politically correct (backward moving) military.

  • Amanda

    My husband and I are living remote, far from any active duty bases or families. I am so sad and angry to read how people want to through away FRG/ airman and family readiness because of Facebook!? I know that’s not the only reason, but I recently ditched Facebook, because my friendships were so much stronger before. I refuse to sit at home on the computer. I want a way to meet real people and real experiences!
    If any of you has lived remote, you may understand it can be very lonely. The readiness center/ MWR and base activities are things I desperately miss. But these articles on activities and parties fading away has me wondering if they will be there if we ever return to an active base :(
    Live life off Facebook friends !

  • Kaia

    No FRG exists in my husband’s Company. The Company is small and very specialized. Many of the soldiers are either divorced or single. And the others have spouses that aren’t interested or don’t live with the service member. So if I decided to head the FRG, I would be the only member. So, pretty useless. Really sad I guess because it’s been challenging to meet anyone. And before, when my husband was deployed to Iraq I never even got as much as a phone call from the unit asking how I was. So, when they start capitalizing the word family, I just get really sad, just kinda feel left out.

  • JessR

    No FRG, here. Hardly any spouses, either. :(