Chairman Thanks Spouses, Listens to Their Concerns in Alaska
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
ELMENDORF AFB, Alaska, Feb. 24, 2007 About 60 military spouses here had a chance yesterday to share some of their concerns with the military’s top ranking officer.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanied by his wife Lynne, thanked the spouses for their contribution to the nation’s defense.
“Spouses and families serve this country as well as anybody that’s ever worn the uniform,” the chairman said. In some ways, he said, it’s harder for the folks back home than it is for the troops deployed in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
“When we go overseas into combat, we know when we’re in trouble,” he told the spouses. “We’re surrounded by Marines and soldiers, which isn’t a bad place to be. For the guys and gals overseas, we’re in an environment we’re trained for.
“You don’t have that luxury,” he said. “You think we’re in trouble all the time. You sit home and worry.”
When military men and women receive awards and citations for their service, Pace said noted, spouses pretend they had nothing to do with it, when in fact they had everything to do with it. “Somehow,” he said, “we have to find better ways to provide recognition for spouses’ and families’ sacrifices.”
The chairman briefed the spouses about some of the efforts the services are working on to relieve stress on military families, such as maintaining set tour lengths, providing cash bonuses for extended tours, and lengthening the time between deployments.
When Pace opened the floor for questions, several wives focused on the need for counseling for their mates before and after they came home from combat.
“Obviously, we’re more aware of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we’re doing the best that we can,” one woman said. “But I don’t think we’re doing enough. We’re not only failing our soldiers, but we’re failing our families because we don’t really know what we’re looking for.”
Often, servicemembers don’t want to deal with it, she said, and while there are programs out there to help, there is a stigma attached to seeking help. In some cases, they’re told to “just suck it up.”
She asked if it would be possible to have the troops meet periodically with their peers before they come home so that they have a chance to vent.
“When my husband talks to me, I don’t even know how to respond to some of the things he says,” she said. “If they can talk among themselves, without fear of repercussion, maybe that would help.”
The chairman said military leaders have told his the troops do receive periodic evaluations. The wives indicated that this is true for the active duty troops. One woman said the active duty troops in her husband’s unit are given an assessment 30 days prior to coming home. Once they are home, there are 30 and 90 day follow-ups.
Other wives indicated that National Guard and Reserve troops may not be getting the same assessments. The same is true for servicemembers who deploy individually rather than as part of a unit.
Based on the spouses input, Pace said, the military needs a system to require every soldier to go and talk to somebody. Pace used himself as an example of a servicemember who probably wouldn’t want to go to counseling.
“Somehow, we need a way, so that guys like me -- who naturally know we don’t need any help with anything -- get the chance to sit down and answer questions we really don’t want to answer.
“If you give me the chance to volunteer to go see somebody, or not go see somebody, and I’m thinking I’m OK, why would I waste my time,” he said. “Especially, if I think everybody’s going to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. It has to be a required system for everybody.”
Another woman suggested helping servicemembers understand and prepare for the transition they’ll be making between being in a combat zone and being back with their families.
“My husband came home in January for his two-week, mid-tour leave, and we took the four kids to Disneyland in Orlando,” she said. “This man who came home was so military, he began executing a plan of attack on Disneyland. I told him this is a vacation, please sit by the pool. He did, and slowly began to relax.
“The few days we were at home he said, ‘I’ve got to sweep the snow; I know the car needs to be fixed’. So I know when he comes home, he’s going to look around the house at all the things I needed to do and he’s going to execute his plan of attack on the honey-do list,” the woman continued. “I would love to have the time for him to really come back and really relax.”
Another woman said it seems the spouse network that traditionally provided family support while their mates are deployed is no longer as strong as it once was. She suggested the spouses need more communication and more knowledge of available support assets.
Another woman said she runs a Family Support Group for her husband’s National Guard unit, but when she emails the 300 wives on her list, she only gets about 20 responses. She said they are not helping themselves reach out for the information about programs that will help them.
Lynne Pace pitched in to tell the wives about the Defense Department’s America Supports You Program that highlights more than 200 nonprofit homefront groups around the country that provide support. She advised the spouses to check out the Web site: www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil.
“There’s a lot of information and a lot of groups listed on the web site that truly do support the troops,” Lynne said.