Keeping the Military Spouse in Line

A recent column by one of my favorite writers/bloggers on military life caught my eye.  JaceyEckhart wrote “Service Members Shouldn’t Be Expected to Control Their Wives”  in reaction to a news report about a Fort Bragg Army wife who was banned from all interaction with her husband’s unit and its family members. Apparently her treatment of her husband’s subordinates and their wives was damaging morale.

Eckhart was surprised by the number of comments on the story calling for the service member to “lay down the law” and “keep your house in order.”  She recalls the Bad Old Days when the family of a service member could make or break his career.  She then writes:

 The cultural demand that family members be “controlled” or that family members are a danger to your career is very offputting to the current generation of military spouses. We need to cut that out or risk hemorrhaging the norm.

Jacey should know better.  It is a fact of military life that the family has an effect on the service member’s career.  “Offputting” as it may be, families have a huge roll in the service members ability to do his job, and a service member who is not deployable is not going to advance in his career.  Would you want to be on patrol with a soldier who is preoccupied by his party-girl wife who just got a DUI or  Drunken Disorderly?  What about the pilot who can’t stop thinking about how his wife maxed out their last credit card or how his kid got picked up for shop-lifting again?  Would you want to be in the cockpit with him?  Families that are out of control affect readiness, and readiness is what the military is all about.

Like it or not, the service member is owned by Uncle Sam.  He has voluntarily accepted an obligation not just to do a job but to live it, 24/7 at times.  In order to do that safely and effectively, he does have to have his house in order.  And if he can’t keep his personal life from interfering with his obligation, he will be “encouraged” to separate from the military either blatantly or by keeping him in dead-end billets and passing him over at promotion time.

A large part of the problem is that modern spouses often react to this reality defiantly.  No one is going to tell them what to do or how to behave.  And the service member is unwilling or just not strong enough to establish the command’s or his own expectations early on before crises arise.

Is it fair that a wife has to mind her P’s and Q’s at the peril of her husband’s job?  Maybe not.  Although the expectations for families is that they simply conduct themselves in a “normal” fashion.  But then again, no one ever said life–especially military life–is fair.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Keeping the Military Spouse in Line

  1. Jacey Eckhart

    OK, I get the part about not wanting your fellow solider, airman or pilot to be preoccupied with his whacky wife. And I get the part about military life not really being fair. The question I have is: how are these guys going to MAKE a spouse behave? What would that look like in a good way? and what would it look like in a bad way?

    jacey

    • Jacey, thanks for your comment! I think we both agree that in a perfect world, military marriages, just like all others, would be a partnership, a team. The spouses would be willing and ready to support each other in their careers no matter what (“in good times and in bad”). We also both know that in the real world, that is not always the case. As an XO’s wife and later a CO’s wife, I’ve encountered guys who hurry up and get married usually right before deployment so the new bride is broad-sided with military life and guys who flat out keep their wives in the dark: with-holding departure and arrival info, not naming her as a joint owner on the account in which his pay is direct-deposited, failing to provide contact info for people who could provide her with support, etc. I would love to see some required pre-marital training for the service member (maybe even as part of basic training) on what military marriage is all about. Maybe some seasoned spouses like myself could contribute. The hard part is making sure that info gets passed to the potential spouse. I believe, probably naively, that pro-active education in what’s expected of military familiy members could prevent a lot of the crises and scandals (maybe even prevent some of the marriages among couples who aren’t prepared for the lifestyle!). It’s my humble opinion that the military has dropped the ball in pro-active “family readiness”. In practical terms, a servicemember making a spouse or child behave is always going to look ugly.

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