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Virtual Community for Military Families Meets Live in San Antonio

By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 20, 2008 – SpouseBuzz, a support group that connects military spouses online, held its fifth live conference here over the weekend.

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Several "authors" of the military spouses blog SpouseBuzz pose for the camera during a recent conference in San Antonio. Defense Dept. photo by Jamie Findlater.
  

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SpouseBuzz allows spouses to get advice and find resources that might not be readily available in their surrounding community as part of a growing trend toward online communities and discussion forums that are becoming a staple, especially for next-generation military families, Andi Hurley, the organization’s founder, said.

“Essentially, SpouseBuzz is like a virtual family readiness support center,” Hurley said during her opening remarks at the live conference. “When we used to [move to a new duty station], we would just get right up and drive -- there was no research online. Now, you can leave information for a spouse that’s coming behind you.”

One of SpouseBuzz’s members, a military husband who writes by the code name of “Toad,” echoed this concern, explaining the need for an increased awareness of online resources in military communities.

“We are dealing with a different demographic of military families,” he said. “The first place these kids go to get information about the base is online. They won’t come into our facilities. If we don’t have information online, we can’t reach them.”

Another SpouseBuzz “author,” Ginger, founder of the troop-support group Sew Much Comfort, agreed.

“Back in the day,” she said, “advisors were readily available to talk you through the process of moving to a new base. But these new families want to be able to access all the information about services and groups on the Internet.”

Amanda and Amber, 28 and 23 respectively, are wives of soldiers stationed in different divisions at Fort Hood, Texas, who represent this new generation of military spouses who rely on the Internet as a primary resource. The two found out about the SpouseBuzz conference from an e-mailed newsletter they received from Military.com, a private-enterprise online news resource for the military.

“I use the Internet to communicate with my husband primarily, so it’s just so much easier to find information there,” Amanda explained. “Message boards are so much more useful than finding groups on base. I even use online financial calculators to handle the finances while my husband is away.”

Amber agreed that the Internet is a vital component of modern life. “I take classes online because I need a career and school that’s portable, so it’s the best place to find information,” she said. “It’s a good way to get to know people and find people that are like you instead of only connecting with the people in your family support group.”

The live conference, though, is an opportunity to combine the online and physical community, allowing spouses to connect in person.

“Conversations on the blog are now going to take place here, in person,” Hurley said. The conference was free to spouses, and topics ranged from humorous accounts of civilian misperceptions of the military life to real-life accounts such as the struggle of caring for a wounded servicemember.

Aside from providing a place for spouses to connect, the event also served as a way to introduce spouses who are less familiar with online resources to what’s out there.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding and recruiting the young military spouses for support groups like the spouses’ clubs,” said Jeanette Hawk of the Navy Wives Club. “I can’t wait to get home and get on the computer and say I’m on a blog.”

“I’m trying to get up to speed,” another military spouse said. “I don’t use the Internet enough. In fact, I found out about the conference from a friend, but I am definitely going to use this blog now.”

Online support groups, message boards, and social networks are just a few of the online resources that are becoming second nature to new and old military spouses, and these resources will continue to grow as the need arises.

“As ‘milspouses,’ when we see the need, we just automatically move to fill it,” Hurley said.

(Jamie Findlater works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy wives Amber Johnson and Amanda Smith attend the 5th SpouseBuzz Conference in San Antonio.  
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