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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Gonna Be a Commander's Wife?

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gonna Be a Commander's Wife?

We've all had an encounter with at least one - a higher ranking NCO or officer's wife who literally wore her husband's rank. She was the one who came waltzing into the office, expecting all the soldiers to jump. She also comes to every function and interjects herself in about five different ways. She is someone you obviously don't need to emulate, lest you become the most disliked or talked about couple in the unit, because yes, it will reflect negatively on your husband and his time in command.

Remember, you and your husband will be under the microscope..the higher the command, the bigger the magnifying glass! Even if your spouse is about to take a squad or platoon, it would be good sense to follow these tips. This is your chance to have a positive impact on peoples' lives, to do good and to be remembered. I still remember myself, and can actually say some of these ladies have influenced my lives...that's some heady stuff.


Be prepared, don't go into this blind and make a positive impact. Follow these tips:

  • Focus on people and building relationships; everything else will follow, including the paperwork, because people will be more inclined to participate if they know you are genuine and WANT to get to know them.
  • Do what you are good at and delegate the rest; You've heard this a million time...can't do it all by yourself, and you shouldn't want to.
  • Be a team together with your Command Sergeant Major's wife; again, don't work alone; CSMs wives have for the most part, been with the Army forever and they can be a great friend, sounding board and just a shoulder to lean on when you are clueless or things start getting tough.
  • Get the commander's and Command Sergeant Majors couples together once a month or quarter, preferably, in your home (have a dinner and a small gift for each if you like); this will build camaraderie.
  • Let the ladies in your unit know that you don't have your "stuff" 100% together; no one does; tell them "I need you"; use me and I'll use you; stand "with them" rather than "above them".
  • Share responsibility, and you'll get more participation and willingness to help.

For your Family Readiness Group (FRG) events:

  • Invite higher ups to come to events; most love coming to visit, and it gives you a chance to set up a connection with that higher-up spouse who can be a wealth of information and also will support you when you need help.
  • Pull in as many enlisted spouses as you can; have events that aren't so stuffy, like coffees; include the kids or provide for babysitting (which can be arranged free at most CDCs on post). They have to realize you put on your pants the same way they do.
  • Realize that some of these spouses will be worn out, so give them some grace; don't pester them but do check up on them to see how they are doing and to see if they need anything. We will all need a break now and then, and just know that THIS IS OKAY.
  • Be sure the spouses know when you are available; many of us work, homeschool or have young children; if you let them know the best times to call you or stop by, they'll be more inclined to do so at those times; you don't want to constantly hear the phone ringing; it interrupts your day, you'll get resentful, which is bad...and get nothing done in the process.
Some other things to keep in mind and maybe share with your commander or Command Sergeant Major husband:

  • The command team sets the tone for the unit; Stress family time, being home for dinner and time with family on weekends (soldiers will watch what the command does, and if they constantly stay late at the office, they will feel obligated to do that too...this breeds resentment); I had a high ranking general tell me that if things weren't getting done during the workday, then you are doing things wrong; obviously, there are exceptions here and there, especially right before a deployment, but we have to remember the old rules of the Army are gone; focusing on family along with unit readiness are the top priorities.
While we were at the command prep course at Ft Leavenworth, we had a commanding general share a story of him telling the Chief of Staff of the Army, that he was going to leave a conference early to go back home and trick-or-treat with his kids. It was that important to him, and the chief did not bat an eyelash...just told him to go back and do what he needed to get done. That took some heart...I guess that's why he is a general I'm thinking. This general also said, get about 70% done and let the other 30% go. You have to find a balance in life. It's easy to train, train, train, but if you don't have a balance between your family and your work...you really have nothing. I thought that was well said and hope to run into more commanders who feel this way!

If you have any stories or tips to share, please post them!

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22 Comments:

Blogger Mika said...

I'm just an E5's wife, but I'm the VP of our FRG. I have to say this is SO well written for those wives of higher up soldiers, be they officers or enlisted. We recently changed command and the new Col.'s wife is one that wears her husbands rank. She has come into the FRG meetings and functions with the air that she is the one responsible for everything and ordering everyone around. We fight tooth and nail to get anyone to even attend our meetings and functions, and since she has come in, our attendance has plummeted. Our unit is facing it's first deployment in YEARS, it just started earlier this month, and my heart breaks for these wives who now feel that our FRG is not a welcome place for them to come and get support. We're a reserve unit as well, so most of them have not been through active service with their husband previously and are floundering dealing with the "home base fallout" that they don't have the skills to cope with. The President of our FRG has mastered the skills you outline above, but the damage caused by one high ranking wife has undone the years of hard work she has put into making our FRG a welcoming place to be. Just an example as to what "wearing your husbands rank" can lead to.

January 14, 2008 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife**** said...

Mika, oh boy...how unlucky is that! I think the only thing you can do is for you and the head of the FRG to have a little heart to heart talk with the commander's wife. Just get her on neutral territory somewhere...invite her out to lunch...you and your FRG head go together for moral support.

I would first tell this COL's wife that you really appreciate her interest and her support, but you feel that her increased involvement is turning away some of the lower enlisted wives. Tell her, you realize that all she wants to do is help and to make your FRG first rate, but to please allow you guys to do your job and focus on the ladies' needs. Say, it would be great if we could come to you for help and assistance, but we feel it is important that we run our FRG down at our level. It's more personable that way and more wives will tend to participate. Laugh it off by saying the wives, especially lower enlisted, get intimidated by wives of higher ranking officers...that it's nothing against her, but could you please support us in this way? It would be such a nice reflection on you and your husband if we could get our FRG in gear.

And if that doesn't work, your FRG president's husband really needs to see the big boss. The battalion commanders HAVE been briefed about not letting their wives act like this, and if this guy is smart in any which way, he'll have a talk with his wife. Commanders realize how important FRGs are these days, and if he hears his wife is muddling things up...believe me, he'll do something about it.

Please let me know how it goes!

January 14, 2008 at 3:59 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

I've been on both ends...the enlisted man's spouse, and now the commander's wife.

I have made it my personal policy to NOT be the FRG leader. I feel that it is VERY important for the enlisted spouses to know that it is THEIR FRG, and they have control over how they want it to be. It is NOT my job to be the FRG leader. The biggest reason for this? My husband is the FRG Commander; the FRG falls within his realm of control. I butt heads with him all my days and nights, I don't need any more headaches, lol. But in all seriousness...this is a FANTASTIC post.

The command team is where people will turn when they need help...at least in theory. But if the commander's wife decides she needs to wear the hubby's rank, then no one will want to even bother to involve her in ANYTHING.

I have a unique situation, because there are no other officers in my husband's unit. No XO. No Sergeant Major. His senior enlisted person is an E-8, First Sergeant. And they put up a united front. The 1SG doesn't badmouth the CO, the CO doesn't badmouth the 1SG. They both work together, and behind closed doors, if necessary, to make the unit cohesive. It should be that way with spouses too.

Since I have that unique situation, I don't have any officer wives to mentor to me, or to be mentored by me. They say it's lonely at the top, and it's true. But in the almost 3 years my hubby's had command of his unit, I've reached out to the spouses, and most now see me as a mom of young children who is just trying to get by, just like them. They hear me kvetching and grousing about my spouse, just like them (don't get me wrong, I don't tear him down, but I gripe, like: why can't he schedule the tour at a different time, so he's not messing with X and Y...and the other spouses are saying the same.) They feel they can talk to me because I'm not "untouchable".

But don't EVER let yourself be abused by a spouse whose sole goal in life is to make you miserable. I had one lady who felt she had the right to call at any time, call nasty names, and tell me what a horrid job my hubby was doing and that he was "out to get" her husband. I told her that until she could get her emotions in check, I couldn't help her. Name calling doesn't work; screaming doesn't work.

Enough rambling...sorry!

January 15, 2008 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife**** said...

Great stuff, Linda! You are right in so many ways.

I will also have a unique situation because our BN will have a paid GS worker who will run all the admin stuff in the FRG..no more going thru phone lists, trying to come up with ideas, events, etc (unless of course we want to). At the BN level, most of the BN CDRs wives work at an advisory level, which I think works great. You can be involved and help where needed, but you don't run the show..you're right, your husband does. I've heard it's been working well at the unit we will be going to. I say, if it ain't broke, then don't try to fix it!

I think you handled that lady well...why is it that everyone I know has run into someone like that?!

Thanks again.

January 16, 2008 at 2:56 AM  
Blogger RichardMcLaughlin said...

reminds me of the old joke which I cut to the core.
Woman in the PX cuts in line in front of everyone saying; "I'm in a hurry, we are eating at the CO's house tonight."
Fron the back of the line comes a voice; "get back in the line. I'm the CO's wife and dinner isn't ready."

January 22, 2008 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife**** said...

Yes, that's funny:-))

January 22, 2008 at 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also an army wife that has been on both sides of the fence like Linda. My husband is at the career course right now and we will be taking command very soon at our next duty station. All of the things that have been suggested are very nice but sometimes I feel that Officer's wives don't even get a chance to show that they are like the enlisted wives before they are discriminated against. How do you deal with that?

February 11, 2008 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife**** said...

I've only been a company commander's wife twice...so I can't speak about the higher levels yet...but what I have found..is that you just can't change the past and what these women have experienced before. All you can do is be yourself...if you act genuine all around, they will eventually see this...some will come around and some won't...just focus on the 80% and be sure the other 20% know where they can find you. That's how I dealt with it.

I also told them straight up that I didn't have my sh*t together and that I NEED their help with this...I tried to be lighthearted and not so serious. I had lots of low key events, always made sure the kids were involved or childcare was provided for (check with your CDC). I also used a lot of my own money to buy gifts for new babies, weddings, made meals for new moms and those who were housebound and genuinely tried to get to know the ladies. Even though it started out as being so much work, eventually I found I had made some good friends and that I actually enjoyed connecting with many of these wives. I also found that this can be contagious and I had three or four wives helping me do all this. Quite a few wives from my husband's units still email me to this day:-))

You'll do fine! Be positive and go in with a smile and a friendly greeting!

February 11, 2008 at 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Sue said...

Great post! We're lining up our time to go to Leavenworth for PCC this summer. I'll bookmark this post for future reference.

Thanks for the encouragement!

April 1, 2008 at 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Yellow Rose said...

I need some advice. First, though I apologize for making an anonymous post. I'm going to recommend this blog to several people I know. It's a great resource. And because what I'm posting is of a sensitive nature, I think it necessary to stay anonymous.

I am an Army of some years. I've been involved with the FRG almost my intire career as an Army spouse. This is not the first time that I've been faced with a spouse who wears her husband's rank. In the past, I've just gritted my teeth and went on, waiting until either the spouse in question PCS'd or we did.

However, now I'm a position where younger spouses of various ranks look to me for advice. As luck would have, here comes that rank wearing spouse again. She doesn't have the nerve to actually pull rank on me to my face - though apparently she's quite vocal about how she outranks me when talking behind my back. My initial thought was to just remove myself from the situation. It would mean giving up the coffees and my involvement with the FRG. That's not what I prefer to do, but since I'm not willing to confront her, it's either suffer in silence or remove myself.

My dilemma is that if I do this, then that leaves younger spouses (both enlisted and officer) without an advocate. Many of them have already stopped being involved in the FRG and other activities because they do not want to be told they have to do what she says because their husbands work for hers. Also, I'm concerned about causing a rift.

So what do I do? I'm concerned that doing nothing will only allow it to continue and get worse. I'm also concerned that if I confront her that will make things worse.

Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated - especially about what I can do for the younger spouses.

May 9, 2008 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Thanks for your candor. I'm assuming your husband is of some rank..perhaps a company commander?

In the past, I've tried the joking route first with the wife. If the wife still didn't get it and wasn't confrontational in nature, I would invite her to coffee or lunch. If that doesn't work (or I don't ask in the first place because of her personality...some are really clueless they do this, so I give them some slack if I can)...then I talk to my husband.

My husband has the balls to call that soldier in and discuss his wife...as much as he hates to do that...I've also seen a former battalion commander call in both the wife and the husband. In that case, the wife ceased to participate, but it opened things up to the other wives who were staying away...you have to try to find a balance and what's best for the greater good.

Whatever you do...don't give up...young wives need mentors and whatever you do now will have an affect on their entire Army stay..and could be the difference between them getting involved in the future or staying away...permanently. Chin up and stay with it:-))

May 9, 2008 at 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? Chin up and deal with it? I am a new Company Commanders wife and have been constantly berated and yelled at over the phone and email by the Battalion Commanders wife. She has been dishonest and has told her husband things that are absolutely not true about my husband. In turn, my husband was reprimanded in public by the BN Commander. This is completely unacceptable in my book and would not be tolerated in the civilian world. How can a wife get away with this? My husband has only been in Command for 6 weeks now and he cannot sleep at night and is so upset he is talking of getting out of the Army. Keep your chin up? Isn't there something else that can be done?

January 26, 2009 at 12:37 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

This is obviously not a typical situation. My husband has had only a few commanders he can honestly say were bad. He did always establish a rapport though with the next higher commander, although you don't want to bypass any command protocol or step on his BN CDR's toes. It also helps to have a mentor. When my husband was a Captain, his mentor was the BN S-3. My mentor was a BN Cdr's wife in one of our sister battalions.

As a last resort, remember command is really such a short time when you compare it with the rest of his career. It'll be over before you know it, it'll be on to some staff job and hopefully at least one "fun" assignment and then hopefully again, to BN Command.

Kudos to you for sticking with it and choosing to support your husband. It obviously helps him to have your love and to have you as a sounding board.

As for your husband's BN CDR's wife, and then I'll shut up...it's just a shame. You really can't change people...you just continue to be your gracious self and rise above it....I've done it myself being berated, talked about behind my back, etc, etc from other wives too...we are not immune to such things. I remind myself too that this is for a short time, and that I can sleep at night knowing I did my very best and upheld myself to my own standards. You can do the same. You'd be surprised at what a great impact you can have on wives who YOU are mentoring...setting them up for success in their future roles. Just think about it, you commander's wife obviously didn't have the privilege!

January 27, 2009 at 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Newbie CO's wife said...

I am the anonymous from Jan. 25. Thank you so much for your response. I want to be there for other wives and feel selfish for wanting to throw in the towel on the whole FRG leader thing. After posting to your site, our company 1SGT called me regarding a very inappropriate email that was sent from our BN CDR's wife to me (in which she mistakingly cc'd in five other people, one being the 1SGT's wife). The 1SGT's wife has now decided to co-lead with me and support our FRG to make a positive impact. She respectfully, but firmly, responded to the BN CDR's wife that her behavior will not be tolerated. I am so grateful to have a supportive, professional, no-nonsense 1SGT's wife by my side! She is truly a blessing and I'm now hopeful our FRG will be effective and a great team.

January 28, 2009 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

What a delightful post! I am so happy things are going better. I can't believe I didn't mention that my other half in the FRG is my CSM's wife. All of our leadership in the unit is two deep...and when you can get the support of the CSM's (or 1SG's) wife, you are golden:-))

January 28, 2009 at 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Newbie CO's wife again... said...

What a disappointment. My husband, the CO, was "counseled" (whatever that means) today and reprimanded for several things that are complete gossip and total lies. He says there is nothing that can be done. The BN CDR is requiring, among other things, that I am not allowed to have any involvement in the FRG. I haven't even done anything yet! I was looking forward to a positive effective FRG with all the wonderful ladies in the company. I feel now that for the sake of my husband and his career that I should not participate in anything with this BN, even social events. I do not know why the BN CDR would listen to gossip from a hateful handful, but he did and now my husband is so distraught and saying he wants out of the military. This is his life dream and I told him not to let one CDR ruin his dream, but I think my eyes are falling on deaf ears. I am so sad. Is it really "the military way" to allow someone to abuse their power in this way? I haven't even had a chance to speak with the BN CDR, but my husband says if I try that he is fearful he will be removed from command.

February 6, 2009 at 1:53 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

If I were your husband, I would request a sit down with the both of you and his boss. If that doesn't work, a talk with his boss' boss may be in order. I am sorry to say having the chips stacked against you such as this is very hard to overcome...but if the both of you continue to be honest and hardworking and pick the harder right over the easier wrong, things have got to turn around for you.

I honestly have NEVER in mine or my husband's career heard of anything so out of whack it defies belief!

The best thing for you at this point is to step out of the FRG (which doesn't have to be permanent) and find another venue on or off post where you can volunteer and give of yourself. This is only temporary.

And if that isn't enough to keep you hanging in there...then look at our economy where people are losing jobs in droves. This is not the time for your husband to be out of work. The military is the most secure thing that is out there right now and don't let these people bully you.

And as I said before, it helps to have an older wife or a wife of a higher ranking soldier as a mentor....and I'm not talking someone in your unit.

February 7, 2009 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Gwendolyn said...

not sure if anyone's still reading comments on this but I just wanted to say thanks for the candid advice.

I just married a captain (the only downside to getting school/post-grad out of the way before getting married...you kind of get thrown into the high-ish ranks and jobs like Company Commander's wife without the luxury of easing in from the bottom..). His next job will very likely be company command and I've got to admit, I'm pretty terrified. I grew up in a Navy household and watched my mother do a fabulous job as XO and CO's wife but even with the head knowledge of how things go, I'm still a bit freaked.

Also, things are organized a bit differently in the Army than the Navy so I'm having to learn all of that over.

I appreciate these posts from more seasoned wives than me. I'm sure I'll do fine but it's a bit daunting to be sure!

June 7, 2009 at 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To is for the OP-I liked every thing you had to say with one exception..how events should be kept casual so as not to make the enlisted wives feel uncomfortable. I assure you that even a low class enlisted wife like me can take coffee and tea with the ladies. Then again, I am an older enlisted wife and can hold my own. The much younger wives? Hold the coffees and show them the right way to behave at these events. Otherwise they will never learn

May 9, 2010 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I am not saying coffees are a bad thing, we still have them, but they are just not as formal or exclusive as they used to be...and why in the world you would make such a hateful comment as "low class enlisted wife like me", shame on you....is beyond me! I have good friends who are wives of lower ranking enlisted, and I was offended by that comment. No longer do we have the class separations that we did when I was a CPT or LT's wife...we used to have Officer's Wives Coffees and Teas and Clubs...no more. Everyone who wants to join events can...thank God for that change. Mentoring is the answer to etiquette and learning how to act (that's how I learned really).

My best friend, a CSM's wife has two other lifelong friends, one a two star and another a three star general's wife....all who do not carry their husband's rank on their shoulders.

May 10, 2010 at 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we need to remember one....we don't have "lower" we have Junior. Second....let's think about why some people are making such a big deal about the rank/job title issue. Who really cares? Only a small group of people behind a gate. Does the person checking your items out at the walmart care? Your server at the restaurant? Your doctor? The vet? Heck, half of your family members don't even understand what your military spouse does and what thier rank means. Anyone attempting to wear a rank needs to get over themselves because most of the world doesn't even care.

August 21, 2011 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I stand corrected, according the NCO Study Guide, the correct terms are "junior enlisted" and "senior enlisted". Shows that I've got some old ways myself...but honestly, I grew up with the term "lower enlisted" and didn't even think twice when I wrote it. Thanks for the correction!

As far as what else you mentioned...that's just human nature I think getting in the way. We have to recognize it and to realize that it can breed resentment and just a lot of negative junk!

August 21, 2011 at 6:32 PM  

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