Company command is definitely one of the most challenging things you will experience throughout your military life. It really is as bad as everyone says (sorry, just being honest) and there really is no way to wiggle out of it if your spouse wants to stay in the full 20. Command is often make or break for the officer’s career – if they can’t top block it, they might not promote to major, and then it’s game over. Dave was fortunately able to top block, but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. But now we are on the other side, and I have a few takeaways I hope will help you throughout your time as a commanders spouse:
- FRG matters on the OER.
FRG – Family Readiness Group. Love it or hate it, it’s a thing that you are going to have to deal with when your spouse is in command. Believe it or not, the FRG actually makes up a significant portion of the command OER. I am not sure how that portion is weighted, but even if it only gets a small consideration, it could still mean the difference between “Most Qualified” and “Highly Qualified’ – and depending on MOS, that could be the difference between promoting to major or not. And since no one is going to care about your spouse’s career as much as you, you should probably be the one to run the FRG.
But don’t panic!
Despite the FRG mattering on the OER, it isn’t hard to get that block checked off. All the rater is looking for is that you hold regular meetings, make the families aware of different activities and events, and connect them with resources. That’s it. So as long as you adhere to the minimum requirements, you should be totally fine.
My experience: I held monthly potlucks at ACS and had different reps come in to discuss topics like finances, reintegration, and move-out inspections. I had a Facebook group where I shared flyers for upcoming events and had a phone list for resources like ACS and MFLC. Every quarter I hosted a one-off event like a game night or ice-cream outing, and when the battalion got orders I worked with ACS to put together a pre-deployment workshop and handed out preparedness binders. It all took effort on my part, but it wasn’t the insane time commitment some people make it out to be.
- Don’t try to make everyone happy.
I really can’t stress this point enough. No matter what you do, you can’t make everyone happy – and in most cases you won’t even be able to make the minority of people happy. Especially in an FRG context. No matter how many meetings you host, people will be upset that you don’t do more. No matter what kinds of events you hold, people won’t like the theme/activities/food/time/location. No matter what information you hand out, it will never be good enough. So don’t stress about it, because it’s a no-win situation with some people. The people genuinely looking for connections and resources will be grateful for everything you provide. The petty people will just look for things to be angry about, and nothing you do will change that. Just do what you need to do to support your spouse, help those who are willing to be helped, and keep yourself sane.
My Experience: There was one girl in the FRG whose husband deployed, and I tried really hard to support her. I invited her out on different outings, babysat her kids at meetings, and even cooked and delivered a meal to her – the same day I had to put my sweet kitty Momo to sleep. Her reaction? She complained about everything I did for her to everyone with ears to hear. Another girl had all the opinions in the world that she shared with everyone but me, and she was livid that I wasn’t reading her mind and doing what she wanted. When it got back to me, I created surveys and polls and response forms so people could anonymously let me know what they wanted from the FRG. Wanna know how many responses I got? 0. And yet that girl continued complaining and whining. No matter what I did, those girls wouldn’t be happy — and I just had to realize that it wasn’t my problem. Some people thrive on drama and are happiest being miserable. They can’t be helped, and it’s not a good use of my time or yours trying to please those people. I am eternally grateful for my treasurer and friend, Crystal, whose calming and rational presence really helped offset all the insanity and immaturity.
- Lower your expectations.
Lower…lower…lower…. No, really. I am not joking. No matter how low your expectations are for this command time, you need to make them lower. If you think your husband is going to be home for dinner each night, lower your expectations. If you think he is even going to be home to sleep most nights, lower them even further. Company command time is one of the most challenging times in the military, but because each experience is so radically different, there is no way to prepare you for it. You just have to expect nothing and be ecstatic when you get anything. And also be aware: this will probably be the most your spouse’s career has ever impacted you, and the most involved you have ever had to be.
My experience: My time as a commander’s wife was filled with cancelled plans, long absences, and most notably, lots of urgent middle of the night phone calls. I can’t even count how many times Dave’s phone went off at 1am, 2am, 3am, because a soldier never showed up for staff duty, there was a domestic violence issue, or one of the officers got pulled over for drunk driving and had to be picked up from the MP station. There were even some occasions where Dave was handling one middle-of-the-night situation, and had to call me to handle a different issue because his backup wasn’t answering the phone. I eventually learned to just expect the most random, frustrating, and disappointing experiences, and be pleasantly surprised when things worked out well.
- This too shall pass.
Like anything else in the military, command is only temporary. It feels like a lifetime, but it does eventually come to an end. I won’t tell you to enjoy it, because there honestly isn’t too much to enjoy. Just be patient and know it will get better soon, and try to find ways to fill your time, just like you would with a deployment. Make good friends, go on adventures, and don’t feel guilty doing things without your spouse. No good husband or wife would ever want you to miss out on things just because they can’t join in. Don’t let your life be put on pause during the year+ your spouse is in command.
My experience: I took my own advice and kept myself busy. I hung out with friends, traveled and explored, worked overtime a lot, volunteered, and took online courses. I treated the 14 months of command like a deployment, and used that time to grow as an individual. Then when company command time ended, we treated it like reintegration after a deployment. We spent lots of quality time together, went on a really nice vacation, and went to preventative marital counseling to make sure we handled any issues before they even arose. Have I mentioned I am a huge advocate of regular marital counseling? We all go to the doctor for regular checkups to make sure we are healthy and prevent any illnesses from popping up – marriage should be no different.
- Don’t blame your spouse.
I know you know this, but when things get hard it’s usually the first thing we forget. Command time is mandatory for almost every single officer wanting to promote. What you are going through is inevitable, and chances are you spouse doesn’t want to deal with command any more than you do. Your spouse doesn’t want to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Your spouse doesn’t want to leave in the middle of the night to deal with a drunk soldier. Your spouse doesn’t want to cancel vacations and miss special events. When these things happen your spouse is just as unhappy, frustrated, discouraged, and burned out over it as you are. So try to remember this isn’t something your spouse is doing to you, its something you are going through together. Be a team player and give your spouse the compassion and grace they deserve.
My experience: I would be lying if I said I never let Dave see my frustration. I went in with the best of intentions, to be 100% upbeat and supportive for absolutely everything. But after months and months of late nights, working through weekends, and cancelled plans, the frustration and sadness on my end was definitely apparent at times. To keep myself from escalating, I just started using canned responses. He has to work overnight again?: “Understood, can I bring you dinner and snacks?” He has to spend the weekend covering the staff duty desk? “Okay, am I allowed to come and bring some card games?” This helped me hide some of my frustration, and gave us a chance to salvage some of our plans together. But I never would have had those opportunities if I had gotten angry at him and caused an issue.
So there are five tips for you to help you get through company command time. If you are preparing for your spouse to take command, what questions do you have? If your spouse has already completed command (congratulations!) what tips and tricks do you have to share?