By Jaimi Erickson
It was not a deploying unit. That is why there was no active military spouse community, so I was told. I was living in the midst of a season of having babies, lack of sleep, and adjusting to a new duty station. My husband’s job was not going to cause him to deploy, but he was going to travel a lot.
When I became a military spouse almost two decades ago, I wanted to be part of the spouse community. Even at the non-deploying unit, I wanted that connection. So, because there wasn’t one yet, I set out to start a spouses’ group at our unit.
My husband was a small unit leader at the time. He had a relatively small group of Marines in his charge. I knew I could go through him to reach their spouses.
You have to be very careful these days about how you reach out to spouses. Personal privacy is a main concern. My plan was to reach out however I could.
I wanted to make friends and be available to other spouses if they needed support. Being in community with other military spouses was valuable to me. With my husband gone a lot while he was attending schools and trainings, I knew other spouses were in the same situation. Filling those military separations with friendship and community is how we military spouses get through it.
Taking the First Step to Organize a Group
My first step was to write an email invitation to the other spouses. I typed it out and sent it to my husband. He approved the message ahead of time, so I was following his protocol. He emailed the information to his Marines inviting them to pass the info to their spouses. It was their choice to forward it. No pressure.
In the email, I included my contact information as well as the details of my first planned group event. Guess what?! I received a great number of responses! It was so thrilling to know that other spouses wanted to connect, too.
Our spouses’ group started small with coffee dates at my house. After a few months of meeting there, we planned a unit potluck. So many families attended. It was wonderful to see our group thrive for the spouses and their families.
It was not complicated to build connection and community. I just invited others.
Our little unit spouse group actually grew to include the larger command. My husband reached out to the Sergeant Major and asked if he could distribute the invites to the other units within the command. Little by little we added spouses to our group. The process was all about providing a community for those who wanted it.
Considering Rank and Military Status
A couple of considerations to keep in mind are your spouse’s rank and whether they are Active Duty or Reservists. Generally, fraternization is not an issue for spouses.
No matter what rank my husband has held, I have found that including people is always the right decision. If you are extending the invitations to your spouses’ unit, invite as many as you can reach.
If your servicemember is in the Reserves, the spouses may need the military community even more! My husband has been Active Duty and a Reservist. During both seasons of his career, I was eager to know and connect with spouses who knew the military challenges.
We need community no matter how often our servicemembers are gone or the nature of their military jobs. Your spouse group may be smaller in the Reservist community, but that can mean growing closer friendships.
What Spouse Groups Can Look Like
I have created military spouse groups at multiple duty stations in different ways. Depending on your schedule, children’s ages, and availability, there are options for building a community where you live.
At one base, I simply started a playgroup in our base housing community. My neighbor and I placed fliers on doors throughout our section of the neighborhood. It was a basic invitation to a playgroup with contact info. I shared my process in this guide for starting a playgroup.
I also asked the housing management if they could email the info to residents. The housing community center was more than willing to advertise the meet-
The group thrived. After making our PCS move away from the area, I remained in contact with military spouse friends I met through that playgroup. We still meet up and stay in contact.
At another unit, I jumped into an established Facebook group and brought it back to life. Simply inviting spouses over to my home for a brunch when our spouses were in the field brought people together.
If you are worried that your home will not be clean, organized, or pretty enough to invite others over, pick a restaurant or a playground as an alternative meeting location. Neutral ground can often make people more comfortable to attend.
The wife of the Sergeant Major at one command set up monthly events for the spouses. These were always planned around an activity. One month we went ax throwing. Another month the activity was a scavenger hunt on base. Focusing on an activity can take the awkward nature out of spouse events. Everyone has the theme of the event to talk about.
The Benefits Are Worth the Efforts
Creating a military spouse group may not always result in close friendships. For a season of time, though, we can be each other’s support.
Other times, like with the playgroup, I have made the most amazing military spouse friends. In 20 years of military life, they are still my best friendships.
These days we can get scared about breaking protocol when it comes to reaching out to other spouses in our unit or community. Let’s remember, though, that we are all human. We need community, connection, and support from fellow military spouses.
Building a spouses’ group where you are may take on different forms at each duty station. But, no matter your servicemember’s rank, make a point of sending out an invite and watch your group reach the people who truly need it. It makes a difference when navigating military life.