Almost every Army spouse has some working knowledge of what an FRG (Family Readiness Group) does or has had personal experience with it. At its core, the FRG is a command-sponsored organization that provides communication and support for families at both the Unit and Company levels. Some groups are extremely active while others exist primarily as a means of disseminating important information. And, if you are not totally new to Army life, it’s likely that your own FRG experiences have varied widely, as well.
Perhaps I am lucky in that our first duty station was overseas so our FRG had the added benefit of spouses actively searching for community and friendship, whereas those things tend to be of less importance when you’re stateside and have more access to non military friends and family. Our company’s FRG was led by a woman who exuded kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine concern: everything a good leader should embody. She quickly made me feel at home in my scary new Army life and is someone whom I still consider to be a very dear friend.
Since that time, I have twice been in her shoes. And while I have always tried to emulate her example, each of those experiences were vastly different. One was what I would consider a success while the other was… well… not. For months I agonized over what I could do differently and felt like a total failure. With time and perspective though, I have come to realize that there’s only so much one person can do. If I could go back and explain myself to the spouses from that failed FRG today, this is what I would tell them:
1.) We can’t do it alone
No matter how well intentioned your leader may be, your FRG cannot be successful without consistent participation. If you’re frustrated because your leader doesn’t seem interested in planning fundraisers or events, it may be because getting help in the past has been extremely difficult. Step up and offer your support. Convince your friends to chip in, as well. A small donation or a half hour of your time can make all the difference between failure and success.
2.) We are human too
Our kids get sick. Our marriages need attention. We get busy planning birthdays and holidays. We struggle through deployments. And sometimes, we just need a little break. All of this is normal. But spouses sometimes forget that you are an actual person with responsibilities and commitments outside of the FRG. An email or text may accidentally get overlooked because, well, we’re human. But any FRG leader worth her weight will never purposely ignore you. Give her the benefit of the doubt and try again.
Noticing a pattern of dismissive behavior is one thing but some spouses actually believe the FRG leader should be at their beck and call. I once had a spouse’s husband blast me on our Facebook page because I had missed his wife’s phone call several minutes prior. What he didn’t know? My phone wasn’t right next to me because I was at my own baby shower. And her urgent issue was that she didn’t have directions to a unit event despite the fact that they had been emailed out multiple times. Yell “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” enough and your FRG leader will have nothing left to give. Be kind. Be understanding. Be forgiving. And keep your expectations realistic.
3.) What you know is what we know
Unless your FRG leader is actually in the Army, chances are she doesn’t have any sort of security clearance. She will never be given sensitive data about troop movements or locations and any information she does receive is provided for the sole purpose of disseminating to fellow spouses. Rumors spread in a hurry, especially during deployments, but your FRG leader will never deliberately withhold important information from you. She has literally zero incentive to do that. So the next time so-and-so hears a unit related rumor from her husband’s buddy’s sister-in-law’s babysitter, take it with a grain of salt. If you are truly concerned, bring it up privately and listen for answers instead of confirmation of what you want to hear.
4.) We invest a great deal of time & money
This is a big one. Even a “simple” meeting requires organizing a time and location that works for everyone, multiple e-mails, setting up childcare (if applicable), creating an agenda, and providing official documentation of activity. This is to say nothing of the food sometimes purchased for more formal meetings or the amount of money spent on fundraisers with so little participation from other members that it would inevitably be easier on everyone if the leader privately donated a large chuck of change and called the whole thing off. You may be wondering why we don’t just use money the FRG has previously raised but 1.) There are very strict rules regarding how those funds may be spent and 2.) That assumes your FRG has been active enough in the past to have any funds available.
Beyond that, memos are written, phone calls are made, meetings are attended, emails are answered, data is collected and organized, meals are provided, and a hundred other small but essential acts. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t genuinely concerned about the well being of our families. All we ask is a little understanding and maybe to recognize our hard work with a simple, “thank you.”
5.) It’s oftentimes a “voluntold” position
Of course, you can’t be forced into being an FRG leader; and, obviously, that would have negative implications for everyone involved. But there is often a sense of duty surrounding the decision to be an FRG leader, irrespective of any other time restraints. We take on the position because we want to make a difference, not because we are power hungry, cliquey, or flaunting our husband’s rank. It is no exaggeration that each of those explanations have been offered to me as a reason why some spouses refuse to participate. And while I obviously can’t vouch for every person who has ever been an FRG leader, most of us actively reject those notions and try very hard to create a friendly, inclusive atmosphere.
The truth is, there is nothing glamorous about the job. There is nothing exciting about working your tail off, spending your own money, and getting yelled at by spouses, soldiers, or anyone else who crosses your path. If you have an FRG leader who never lets on that she deals with this stuff on a consistent basis, consider yourself lucky – you have a keeper!
6.) We want to be your friend
For real! We’re not kidding! Don’t forget, we are military spouses just like you. We miss our friends when we PCS and long to make new connections. There’s nothing fun about sitting in a meeting with a bunch of people you know nothing about. We want to goof around and plan our next wine night once the important business is out of the way! We’re not some untouchable faceless blob bombarding your email with updates and requests. If you swing by my house unannounced, I promise we can split a bottle of Pinot Grigio, make inappropriate jokes, and become BFFs!
7.) Miscommunications happen all the time
I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve spoken with somebody who refuses to participate in an FRG because they weren’t contacted by their leader. They feel as if they were purposely snubbed in some way and, while I sympathize, I have never heard of a situation where this wasn’t completely accidental.
In order to end up on an FRG roster, there needs to be seamless communication between a spouse’s soldier, a liaison officer, the commander, and the FRG leader. You can imagine how often things fall between the cracks before reaching that last person… Again, we are all human and mistakes happen. If you haven’t been contacted, it is almost certainly because your FRG leader has not been given the information or the contact information she was given was incorrect or poorly written – I’m looking at you, grown adults with sloppy handwriting!
Before assuming the worst, seek out the information you are looking for from your spouse, a friend, or even a local Facebook group. Trust us, we want to meet you!
8.) Communication is key
Just as we can’t be held responsible when we don’t know you exist, we also can’t be expected to know about every problem if you don’t communicate. I have watched a lot of Long Island Medium but I’m sad to say that I still have no mind reading abilities. Big news, like hospitalizations, pregnancies, births, etc. usually reach us by word of mouth but it’s always a good idea to connect with your leader if you require assistance of some sort. If we send out an email requesting feedback, please take a short commercial break to shoot us an email or text. It can often feel like pulling teeth figuring out what’s important to our spouses and then wind up organizing events that no one is interested in.
Whether you are happy with the way things are going or frustrated with our performance in some way, we really value your input. All too often, I have found out through word of mouth about issues a spouse has that could have easily been resolved with a simple conversation. Understand that our entire purpose is to support YOU. Just, whatever you do, please be polite. The verbal smackdowns we endure are well above our (non) pay grade.
9.) We are not the commander
We may be married to the commander… or we may not. Either way, we are our own person. Whatever decisions he makes on the clock have nothing to do with us. It’s normal for a spouse to come home and vent about workplace frustrations. And it’s normal to feel frustrated for your spouse in those situations. But we may be entirely unaware of whatever situation has you upset. And we almost certainly had nothing to do with it because, say it with me now – we are not the commander. Contempt and hostility can shatter group morale and breed negativity. Just commit to being positive and remember that soldier interactions are irrelevant to FRG business.
10.) It’s worth your time
It really is. Even if your FRG isn’t monetarily successful or doesn’t have enough support to function at a grand scale, you will never regret giving it an honest chance. The women who comprise your FRG are a ready-made font of information when you have recently PCS’d. Take advantage of the resources they can provide. Recognize that they have your best interests at heart. And, eventually, you may realize that you have a lot in common.
At the end of the day, we are all in this crazy, fast-paced, unpredictable military life together. It’s a life many in the civilian world can’t fully comprehend. So embrace the ones who do! The shared struggles alone can usually bridge the gap between any personality differences that may exist. So just give it a shot. I have never regretted it and I’m willing to bet you won’t either.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.