Are Spouse Clubs Going Away?

Are spouse clubs going the way of the dinosaur?

Gone are the days of white gloves at spouse clubs luncheons. Maybe next on the disappearance list? The clubs themselves.

The last several years has brought some major changes to the traditional military on-base spouse clubs. In the old days (you know, 10 years ago) the clubs were predominately female, rank specific and had never experienced an openly gay spouse. For some members the clubs were a status symbol. For others, they were the best place to make friends at a new base. For all, they were a major service to the local community through their scholarship programs, volunteer work and traditional on-base thrift shops.

And then things started changing. Attendance slowly began to dwindle as more and more spouses turned to social media or other means of meeting friends. A few male spouses started showing up. In an effort to bolster membership and move away from the cliche promotion of rank division among spouses, many clubs voted to combine, moving from the “Officer Spouses Clubs” and “Enlisted Spouse Club” to just the “Spouses Club.” Gay spouses were allowed to join (or clubs were forced to open their doors) as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was abolished.

But despite becoming more welcoming to all spouses, attendance and involvement have continued to be a growing problem. And now some clubs are closing permanently because of it.

Are spouse clubs going the way of the dinosaur?

 

This story out of New River Air Station, North Carolina talks about the shuttering of that base’s New River Air Station Staff NCO Wives Club. Since that club also ran the base’s thrift shop, that store is closing as well.

Club members featured in the story blame the club’s closure on lack of participation of the newer, younger wives, which some say is linked to the increased use of social media and a decreased desire to leave the “the comfort zone of the new home they just settled into.”

People who are dedicated to the clubs and in-person classes and outreach like the Navy’s LINKS or the Army’s AFTB or the traditional FRG model see this lack of participation as a huge problem. They see spouses claiming on social media about not having in-person friends and about feeling lonely.

And that certainly is a problem. But I wonder if what they don’t see is that disinterest in the clubs is a sign that people are using social media to have in-person relationships, too. It’s not just that people don’t have in-person relationships at all, it’s that they are doing so differently than they used to. Because for every “I am so alone” post on a local spouse’s page I see, there is one for “I’m going to the park with my kids — who wants to meet me?” That doesn’t seem to me like the safest way to meet friends, but it is certainly a way that many have found successful.

In my view, what closing clubs signal is the real end of the line for the old model of spouse outreach. We’ve seen the end coming for awhile. But maybe it’s now really here. The military rarely changes their ways quickly, but it’s time for the spouses to brainstorm new ways of making sure spouses have the support they need. We need to meet them where they are — online — not where we want them to be.

Yes, there is a balance to be reached and face-to-face social interaction is hugely important. But are the clubs the best way?

What do you think? We can help move our community forward — what’s your best idea for solving the in-person support conundrum?

 

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com 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 CNN.com, 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.
  • Victor

    I think during times of draw downs and reductions, spouse clubs should not be included in a list of “must keeps”.

    Private citizens don’t have “spouse clubs” for thier wives. Just meet at an Applebee’s or something.
    Between mwr, the commissary, px, etc tax payers more than support service members’ morale. Special clubs for thier wives is not something we should fit the bill for.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Spouse clubs receive zero government funding other than being given space to operate on base. They self fund through membership dues and (usually really fun) fundraisers. So ….

      • Victor

        Maybe we should raise funds for the soldiers getting pink slips. And like oh said, they take up space, which is taxpayer funded.

        • Tracey

          The space normally given to the thrift shop that gives it’s profits to that military community normally via spouse and high school senior scholarships. Welfare grars to organizations who support service members and their families. They give much more than the space is worth.

      • Chelhel

        Yes. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

    • Ruth C.

      A spouse club, as a private organization, is not funded by the government. In fact, most spouses’ clubs are huge contributors to their local installation/community, helping fill funding gaps which the government does not meet, with monies made through fund raising. In addition to monetary donations, spouse clubs also provide volunteer opportunities for members, to include resume enhancing positions, as well as a variety of special interest sub-groups.

    • SomeRandomDependa

      Perhaps you have a point Victor. After all, we are just bottom feeding, pond scum, life sucking dependas that have zero bearing on morale and the tragic preventable loss of a family member has zero affect on the mission.
      Now before you say she’s crazy I’ve already talked to a counselor.
      Getting a call from my deployed husband to go over to some ladies home I had never met before to figure out what on earth was going on and walking into the most chaotic situation I hope I will never have to experience again (police / CSU) was a glaring wake up call that there is something wrong. That soldier came home (no affect on the mission or morale there) and his kid committed suicide.
      So please explain to me why we are the same as “Private citizens” wives? I would really like to hear this. I would really like to know how what impact a “Private citizen’s” family has upon his mission? His books don’t get balanced?
      I have no idea what programs that family knew or didn’t know about. As I said that was the first time I had ever met them in my life. It should not have been that way.
      Why should there be ACTIVE spouses clubs? Because when one finds themselves utterly alone, husband deployed or injured or a family member emergency and however far away from home there is a group of people in a similar situation that one can turn to, refer to the necessary resources and hopefully get the help they need to possibly prevent bad situations from happening so soldiers can focus on what they need to which is mission first and not the health / welfare of their family or Jody.

      • That person

        I am sorry you had to have this experience. I have been in similar situations and like you, it is why I go batshit crazy over the “dependa” nonsense. To anyone who thinks our lives are not more stressful than your average bear, or who doesn’t think family welfare effects SMs or that SM deploymentsgarrison stress doesn’t effect families I only have two things to say: How long excactly have you been around the military? How old are you? By and large this “dependa” nonsense comes from people who have very little actual experience…hence Victor didn’t STAY in the military…but was once in…clearly in some sort of junior capacity where he saw: next to nothing. God bless you and being there for that family in such a terrible time. It will stay with you, but it’ll make you even more compassionate and stronger in the long run. Spouse clubs at their best build stronger spouses and families. I’d truly hate to see them go. You never know just how deeply you need those types of networks until tragedy hits downrange or at home.

      • Victor

        That’s not at all what I meant. I’m just saying, the spouse club activities can take place off post as well.

        Also, military members are not the only people that deal with tradegy, suicide, and separation. When I worked in finance in the late 2000’s, there were executives jumping out of their building windows. Thier children had to deal with that. Also, long hours are worked in corporate settings as well. Military families and civilian families share more struggles than you think.
        I am glad to hear that you’re a dedicated spouse and I was not trying to negate the things spouses do, I just feel as though at this time when taxes are ridiculously high and soldiers are getting the boot, maybe clubs are not a place for DOD to focus right now.

        • Faith

          First, DOD has nothing to do with the Spouse Clubs and Second, the average spouses club pays rent and food costs at an MWR facility at least once a month which helps MWR have funds for what they do plus most clubs put $20,000 or more back into the community in scholarships for military dependants and in grants given to the various “helping” agencies like AER, ACS etc. I think you should really look into how the clubs work before making a statement about them. Do you think BOSS is a worthy organization? they actually do receiver DOD support but are for single soldiers, what about the married ones?

      • Some_Dude

        IMO, the military has been absolutely negligent by historically putting so many burdens on military spouses. It’s ludicrous that the commander’s or 1SG’s wife has to go sort out somebody else’s family problems – the Army isn’t paying the spouse to baby sit. Lord forbid the commander’s wife actually have a career of her own and not be available for 24/babysitting of some disfunctional family.

        Seems to me the Army should shoulder the responsbility of providing social services instead of defacto requiring commander’s wives to do it, and should have been doing it for decades.

    • Ha

      Base thrift stores are not spaces otherwise used, same with gathering places (it doesn’t cost anything to book time at the O club), and in return for that the spouses offer the resource of the thift store, and use the profits from the thrift store to give to the military members on base, and to local civilian organizations which improves the perception of the military.

      Sorry about the pink slip, there have been some serious cuts these past few years, but an hour at the O club once a month and the use of a shoddy structure that promotes recycling cost nowhere near as much as the benefits the military gets from having spouses clubs, and cutting permissive use of facilities in the name of saving a buck would be akin to not wanting to spend $5 to get a $100 return.

    • Hal

      You still don’t get it do you?

    • PS1 RETIRED

      Are you also Bestguest? You make the same typographical error as him. You also sound like him. How many names are you using here anyway?

  • Yellow Devil

    Seeing as I never, ever stepped into Fort Bragg’s NCO club from my five years being there (if it was ever open), I can imagine spouse’s clubs easily disappearing as well.

    • Ha

      Finance background.

      Then you’ve got to understand the benefit the base gets by having the spouses on base. They use an old facility that the DoD just has to aircondition/light a few hours a week, and they have meetings at unused venues.

      In exchange for these things (the second one anyone can do), the spouses clubs put into the dorms/barracks 10x the money the DoD spends on power for the thrift shop.

  • Mysticnocturne

    Spouse Clubs self fund through fundraising and running the on base thrift store. They are not government funded. They also do a lot of good like providing scholarships and grants and doing a lot of helpful and good volunteer work on base and in the local community. I was a part of one at my last base for four years and I loved it. It was fun, I met friends, and I did a lot of good work. I a,so volunteered at the on base Airman’s Attic because of it. I have not joined at my current base because I started working again and have no time to do so, and I do feel a lack of friends is because of this. Wive’s clubs should go online to social media and invite base wives to attend fundraisers and activities and play dates and ladies nights out to sustain their numbers. Probably more women would attend if they advertised on social media more- and offered more activities and get together so at various times.

  • pmaro002

    Personally, I’ve yet to come across a spouse club that doesn’t hold the majority of their meetings during the middle of the day. I’d love to be involved but with very limited PTO, I simply can’t afford to take off time from work for mid-day meetings.

  • whatrebeccathinks

    Depends on what you are looking for in a Spouses Club. Community clubs give lots of money back into the community, they help bridge the gap between the base and the surrounding areas, and they give spouses a place to grow. They receive no government support what so ever.

    That being said, if they don’t adapt to the changes in the spouse demographic, they are going to disappear.

  • EastCoaster

    Why have a separate club for officers and enlisted? Can’t we all get along? We all have the same problems. Also, my husband is the spouse, so he’s not interested in attending a ‘Wives Club’. He tried once, they sat around and gossiped. On another installation they advertised ‘tea-time’. Sorry, too girly for most men.

    • Melissa

      so he gets in there and changes it. Our last President for our spouses’ club was *gasp* a GUY.

    • claymore

      Sounds like you need to “celebrate” more gender inclusiveness…

  • shipfixr

    I remember a story about the Norfolk area Navy Officers Wives Clubs in the 1970’s, there had been some sort of ongoing internal conflicts that had gotten to the point it was actually having an effect on Navy life in the area. ADM Kidd was CINCLANT at the time and he stepped in and called a meeting of all the Navy Officers Wives Club members at the Breezy Point “O” Club. When everyone was there that was coming, the Admiral stepped up to the mike and said: “I think it will go easier if we all know who we are; I’d like all you ladies to line up around the wall by rank….starting right over there”. The ladies then spent almost a half an hour getting in line by rank. When they were done, Admiral Kidd stepped back to the podium and said “Herein lies the problem….ladies, you HAVE NO RANK!” End of meeting.

    • RetSgtMaj

      Great answer. There are many spouses who seem to like to wear their husbands rank. I have encountered several over my 30 years of service. Some think they rate special privileges in the PX or commissary. Most, if not the majority, of spouse groups were nothing more then gossip sessions. The Key Volunteer program was nothing more then an extension of the Officers Wife’s groups.

      • shipfixr

        There’s an even better story about a group of ladies waiting their turn at the NEX checkout at the Naval Station at Treasure Island, CA in the early 60’s; a lady pushed in at the head of the line and told those she was cutting in on that she was “Capt so&so’s wife”. A little old lady at the end of the line came up up front and said: “I’m Mrs Chester Nimitz and I’d enjoy your company at the end of the line”. The lady in question vacated her place at the head of the line…….

  • Ashley

    I honestly think that due to many factors spouses feel devalued in the military community. When i see that my local spouse group is hosting a fundraiser i am not inclined to go because i have heard negative things about the groups, and at first i did not feel like my husband’s friend would hold a better opinion of me if i participated in these events.
    I feel like spouses use to have some value because you do what you can to make sure the service member has everything they need to do the mission. But i don’t feel like people understand you can respect my role in my family, without taking away from the respect you have for soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country.

    • shipfixr

      You “…honestly think that due to many factors spouses feel devalued in the military community” but at the same time say: “When I see that my local spouse group is hosting a fundraiser I am not inclined to go because I have heard negative things about the groups” Seems like you give the answer to your own statement……

    • Some_Dude

      unfortunately, you feel devalued because you are. The military just doesn’t care if the spouse is a doctor or attorney and has a career – they may still move the husband to the middle of nowhere. The military family model – servicemember is the breadwinner and spouse is a “dependent” – is out of touch with modern America.

      • Bestguest

        Why would a doctor or lawyer marry a military guy?

        • PS1 RETIRED

          Lot you know Bestguest. I know a military dentist married to a civilian dentist. Same goes for doctors. Doctors marry nurses, nurses marry lawyers, etc. What are you trying to say anyway?

        • That person

          Our primary care physician was married to an E6. Two of my husband’s behavioral therapists had MSWs and were married to E5s. I have a Masters, and have been married 20 years to an enlisted soldier. Just because no one wanted to marry YOU, doesn’t mean soldiers don’t marry well. The more of your posts I read the more I am convinced in my initial assumption. You just really don’t know very much about military life at all. Your 3 year stint was sheltered clearly because you have a fundamental misunderstanding of who we, as enlisted families, are. But do carry on with your hatred and assinine misinformed comments. It is entertaining at this point.

  • artymgysgt

    I know that same story but it was a Marine General talking to wives at Quantico Va.

  • Jim Green

    I have lived this cultural change my entire life and it saddens me. My father was a USAF pilot and we grew up living in quarters most of our life. I joined the Army after college and we either lived in quarters or in off post housing that was predominately military and post civilians. The change I observed is a simple one. Through my college years, officers and senior enlisted participated in team sports, monthly unit parties and various other group activities which produced leaders who focused on the well being of the organization above themselves. Sometime in the early 1980s. a seed was planted (DOPMA) thatwas intended to encourage self improvement throughout one’s career but instead, in the 1990s, it generated the Army of One mentality. Instead of group sports, everyone became runners and weight lifters with the objective of being as fit as the SF forces and being obvious about one’s physic. The second race was to get the highest grades in each military class and to amass as many advanced degrees as possibly. This shift in focus to a me first approach was also reflected in the spruces’ approach where they wanted to mirror the activities of their mates and measured outside activities against the career gain it garnered. The Vietnam era term was “careerism” and it has returned with a vengeance. Generals block out time on their daily schedule to conduct PT and nobody dares to discuss business or approach the General with a problem during that period. The only welcome communications are braggadocios challenges. You can walk down the main drag on any post housing area or barracks at 1900 and not see a single car. If you eat in the chow hall as an officer, you are an anomaly. Finally, if you actually walk through the barracks after 2200, you will be the only non duty officer to have signed in during the past year. Additionally, if you every put the welfare of your people and their families above your own welfare and rock the boat, you are likely to have a difficult career. Test my answers. Visit your on post golf course, bowling alley, theater or exchange after 1900 and you will not see a single senior leader. Same goes for the Class 6 store, clothing sales store and most significantly, the barracks. Contrast this with the senior leaders you see at the gym or track at the same time each day regardless of the mission or needs of others. Success is measured by the smallest waist size, largest biceps and chest muscles and number of degrees and it is a real boost if you are photogenic or have a unique name. Substance has been replaced by superficial. Spouse clubs are just a third order effect of a well intentioned idea gone horribly wrong.

    • Guest

      Very astute observation. It’s sad, but true.

  • FASnipeHT2

    What do you mean, just ten years ago. lol. We had a Dependent Husbands club in Rota, Spain. That was in 84. We were base softball champs 2 of the three years I was there. The Navy and Marine teams really didn’t like being beaten by us. Us poor slobs, living off our wives. Didn’t matter that about 90 percent of us were prior service.

  • Laura

    With changes in MCCS spouses clubs do not meet for free. They are charged facility usage fees. So these resourceful ladies and gentlemen have come to figure out additional places to meet that don’t charge. Every penny that is spent is on facilities is money coming out of a scholarship or a donation. New River Osc meets in the evening to accomidate the working spouses. The people of the club are very resourceful and consider where every dime is spent. It is a part of the military life that I would be sad to see eliminated.

  • Guest

    One issue with “spouse clubs” is that they vary greatly between installations. One place will be active in the community, and the next will hardly exist beyond the name. Another is that to attract people to participate, they need to actively advertise and reach out to new members. Yes, they need to include same-sex spouses and males. Those very people are the ones who likely have the best ideas as to what is really needed to attract members and to contribute as an organization.

  • Some_Dude

    “Spouses clubs” are losing meaning and importance when more and more families have two careers.

  • Some_Dude

    I always hated the term “dependent”, even when I was a single captain. Although there were many things about my 21 years in the Army that were great, being a single company commander had some ridiculous facets. I had to find someone to “lead” the “family support group” because I didn’t have a wife at that time. i got heat from my battalion commander because i didn’t attend FSG meetings.

    What a crock. Professionals don’t need babysitting, and they don’t need for their spouses to be babysat either. It’s kind of annoying when a spouse of some young soldier has to get an AER loan to fix the car, but has money to spend on concerts and tattoos.

    Spouses clubs are fine, but not when they end up performing jobs that the Army should be providing social services for.

  • Shosh

    In 15 years as a military spouse, I’ve never gotten involved in any spouse clubs because I’ve been building a career, and the spouse clubs seem tailor made for SAHMs. I remember when we lived in GA and I got an email invite for an event in the middle of the work day. I emailed back and politely asked if they might consider doing occasional events so spouses with jobs could attend. The reply was an air headed “OF COURSE spouses with jobs are welcome to attend!” Look, lady – I move every three years, if not more often. I have to start over from the bottom every time I move, once I can convince an employer I’m worth hiring even though I almost certainly won’t stay. If I’m lucky, I’ll get one week of paid vacation after being at the new job a year. I don’t get paid sick days at most jobs I’ve worked. I laugh when military members complain about time off, because they get 30 days of leave PLUS holidays PLUS family days and wing down days. Those are days I have to pay extra for daycare off base when my husband is deployed because the CDC is closed, too. If you think I’m going to use even part of one of my five days off in a two year period to come to a stupid spouse club meeting, well, maybe you’re the reason why spouse clubs are dying.

  • Sue

    My husband has 4 years Navy, 2 years National Guard and 2 years Army Reserves under his belt — pre-1976 — and not once did I hear good things about the Wives Clubs. The “Wives” I affiliated with agreed that these clubs were put in place to ease the monetary responsibility of the government. Most of us couldn’t work – not because we weren’t qualified, but because we couldn’t be hired! Longevity at a Post, was determined by the military and employers wanted and needed employees who could dedicate more time with them. For them to train us and place us within their company and then finally be able to depend on us —was thrown out the window when a transfer was given to our spouse in the military. Needless to say, several of us women were brought together on-our-own to discuss the options…. “Keeping Busy” on a very cheap budget was our answer. Comforting each other as needed was another answer! The “Wives Clubs” was NOT an answer. We were scraping by, even way back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Don’t get me wrong, I supported the military back then AND still support each and every one of them!! But, as a wife of a Militaryman, “we have to do, what we have to do!!!!” End of story!

  • Bestguest

    Somebody call the wambulance… Seriously, are the dependant benefits not enough? You can still hang out at a bar, park, pavilion, etc. It’s not like we get special clubhouses from the government out here. Jeesh.

  • Jess C.

    Reading the comments, it’s pretty clear that many people don’t really know what the Spouse’s Clubs are. It’s easy to make a snap judgement about the value of something when you assume you know what you’re talking about. I think that’s part of the issue with new recruitment for the clubs, as well. Incoming spouses just don’t know what the clubs are, or what they do. In my time with the spouses club we were able to do some pretty great things in the community. In one year we raised $17,000 for scholarships for the spouses and children of service members. We also held annual fundraising luncheons for the local victim’s assistance center, the SPCA, the local food pantry, the Red Cross, and a local charity that delivered a box of baby supplies for underprivileged mothers. This was in addition to the food, clothing, and dog food drives that went along with these fundraisers. And yes, we managed to have fun and make friends and provide social occassions for our members, but each gathering gave a platform for local organizations and charities to reach the spouses community, which any local chamber of commerce with tell you is always a challenge. I learned so much about event planning, budget management, nonprofit organization, and fundraising during my time with the club. I have never regretted being involved in the spouses club, and I would be sad to see them go away. Where else would we find the opportunity to serve so many segments of our local communities, as transient military spouses?

  • Ginny’s Girl

    This is sad for me. I have been a Navy ‘dependent’ (proud to have been called that) for most of my life. My father was a WWII Navy veteran who continued on to a 30 year career ((20 of which I was a part of) I then married and 2 years later my husband also joined the Navy and had a 24 yer career both Enlisted and Officer. I have seen the changes over these many years. From a Wives support group to a Spouse support group to a Spouses I-Don’t-Know-What group. Yes there were some ‘fun’ activites but it was also a group of people who have experienced or are experiencing the same issues that you were and so you could exchange information on how to manage. Or just Share Ideas about the area that may be new to you. And it was face to face. (Social Media is NOT face to face). Yes I have been out of the loop for quite a while, but I was just made aware of a young sailors wife who is pregnant and not sure she can manage with her husband being deploy for her entire pregnancy, It is making her rethink the whole married-to-a Navy man. I was looking for for wives (spouse) clubs and came across this article. I don’t know her directly and she is not in my area, and now I have nothing to offer her.
    Since I have not experienced what she is going through I was hoping to direct her to a support group. As I said… Very Sad