Virtual Spouse Support Group Holds Conference at Fort Bragg
By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Dec. 3, 2007 Anticipatory grief, reintegration and relocation are terms that often resonate with military spouses.
As servicemembers are fighting on the front lines, spouses at home are forming the support networks that are keeping families strong. This sacrifice and shared understanding was the focus of the third “SpouseBuzzLive” conference near Fort Bragg.
The conference is an extension of a “blog” -- an online diary -- for military spouses hosted by Military.com. Founded 14 months ago by Andi Hurley, an Army spouse, it has quickly become a virtual support group for spouses to connect with other spouses and share information about their experience.
More than 300 military spouses attended the conference, which featured a live Web broadcast from the site. Spouses participated in panels, visited booths, met face to face with other spouses, and talked about new avenues of communication that allow them to connect with each other as well as their military servicemembers.
Spouses explained the importance of connection and solidarity with others who understand the sacrifices of day-to-day military life. “I had my daughter three weeks after my husband was deployed,” explained Michelle Rimel, a military spouse who lives in Fayetteville, N.C. “He was the only person I wanted to be there, but he couldn’t be, and it was the support of other military wives that helped me get through it.”
With online technology capabilities becoming more prevalent, online communities and support centers, such as SpouseBuzz, are becoming an important aspect of modern military life. Virtual communities provide support for daily challenges, raise issues of concern, and build a sense of connection with other spouses that would normally be unavailable due to geographic location.
Sarah Walter, one of 11 SpouseBuzz site authors, said the online community is important to her. “You cannot always find long-lasting relationships with military spouses if you are constantly relocating; now I can connect with other spouses no matter where they are in the country, and they already know my story.”
While, in generations past, military spouses may spend days waiting for a letter, military spouses now are able to employ the use of webcams and other recording devices to endure spouses’ deployments. “Technology is truly a blessing,” said Chris, another panelist who posts information on the site under the screen name “Love my Tanker.” “New things are constantly available, and it’s great when we can find new ways to help each other.”
Many of the spouses have used the technology to reach out and help others. “Doing good for others can help pass the time,” said Melinda Warthman, a moderator of the event. “Groups like America Supports You can help connect you with the right organization.”
America Supports You is a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Ginger Dosedel, an Air Force wife who founded “Sew Much Comfort,” an organization that makes adaptive clothing for wounded soldiers, talked about how important her service to others is to her and stressed the importance of the online community. “We have distributed over 30,000 items to over 100 locations this year,” she said.
Caren Ziegenfuss, whose husband was seriously wounded in Iraq, echoed this thought while talking about her work with “Valor IT,” a project established by another group, “Soldiers’ Angels,” to help wounded soldiers get voice-activated computer software.
As technology continues to develop and online capabilities improve, more and more spouses seem to be turning to online communities like SpouseBuzz. “It’s really my sense of sanity, cause I’m not around other military wives and the people around me don’t always understand” Ziegenfuss said. “It’s important for us to connect, but also to get out the message about the sacrifices we make every day.”
(Jamie Findlater works in New Media at American Forces Information Service.)