A military spouse lifestyle blog. Stories, tips and how-tos from behind the ACUs.

Why Some FRGs Fail And Why Mine Didn't

Monday, March 9, 2015



Note: Some of this information is sourced from the U.S. Army FRG Leader's handbook. For other branches, please refer to their respective guidelines.

A show of hands: How many military spouses out there wince at hearing 'Family Readiness Group'? At one time, mine was probably the highest-raised hand in the room. Like many, I became squeamish at the thought of having to attend a meeting and I never, ever attended a fundraiser. I avoided anyone and anything having to do with the organization, but that mentality, and ultimately my participation, drastically changed. I eventually became a Family Readiness Group Leader - Yes, I was once the leader of an entire flippin' FRG.

Oh but wait, it gets worse...

Not only did I practically build the group from the ground-up, but our volunteers consistently won installation-wide awards and recognition for excellence. How in the world did I go from zero involvement, to starting the FRG myself, to having an all-star team and the best FRG in the unit? In short: The perpetual drive to lift up others.

In a nutshell, the Family Readiness Group, or FRG, is an organization open to service members, spouses, fiances, girlfriends, boyfriends, extended family members, civilian employees, and members of the local community. In other words, whoever wants to be a part of the FRG, can. It is also an official organization in some, but not all branches of the United States Uniformed Services. Anyone can start an FRG, but it is typically the responsibility of the Commanding Officer. Also, it's customarily the FRG's objective to support the Commander's mission to help the families of service members by promoting self-sufficiency, resiliency, and stability in times of peace and war. There is an FRG Leader who runs monthly meetings and oversees other volunteers which usually includes Key Callers, a treasurer, secretary, and other volunteers as-needed (we also had a newsletter writer and welcome committee.)

Before getting involved, I always thought of the FRG as your typical dull high school club, and these are the reasons why I avoided the FRG like a trip to the DMV:

  • There's often an overconfident leader who intimidates newcomers. 
  • There're boring meetings that suck the life out of the room. 
  • There're fundraisers to raise money for who-knows-what. And those fundraisers make you feel like you better show up and do your part or else you might as well just slink away into the background because no one wants to socialize with a non-participater. 
  • And then the mack-daddy of reasons: the clique-y drama...

That sounds about right for many FRGs out there. Am I right? As a member, I've certainly experienced my share of FRGs that are down-right caty. I remember one FRG meeting many years ago in which a senior enlisted spouse said to another, newer, enlisted spouses, "You know I don't like candy. Why in the world would you bring candy to the meeting when you know that I can't have it?!" The senior enlisted spouse said this to another spouse for bringing a bag of leftover Easter candy to an FRG meeting. The upset spouse then ran out of the room only to return with the worst mood I've ever seen from a grown-woman in public. These women didn't know each other. The woman who brought the candy was new and shared candy to appear friendly and welcoming. And yet the cattiness from one to the other was so palpable that it left the rest of us feeling ridiculously uncomfortable. There we all were having a meeting to discuss plans of action for the FRG's sisterhood, and there was one woman who ruined the experience for the rest - A senior spouse, no less, who could have used her seniority as a catalyst of how to build a life around the military lifestyle. Instead, she showed us the exact reason why FRGs fail. Several of the women in attendance that day did not return to the following meeting because, I'm convinced, they didn't want to be a part of an organization that absurdly immature.

When I first joined the company, there was no appointed FRG Leader. When the situation became clear that no one else was stepping into the role as FRG Leader in this company, I felt a huge whole inside me. For months I wondered what was going to happen to the spouses and extended family members of the Soldiers. It kept me awake at night, these thoughts. No other woman was willing to come into the light to help out her fellow wives? I knew that it was a big role, but surly there was someone out there who cared as much as me to go on and lead the thing. No one wanted it. And that made me really sad thinking about the current stigma of many FRGs across the nation. I was sad that the FRG's negative reputation keeps other women from having access to the support that they - and I - so desperately need.

After months of uncertainty, I finally put my toes into the light. Before long, I was fully engulfed in the position as the FRG Leader. I decided to drop other extracurricular activities so that I could give our FRG the full attention it needed. This was difficult at first, but knowing the level of importance I was placing on this role, and knowing that it wasn't forever, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the sake of all the other families I wanted to help.

When I began, I had only one goal in mind: That every single spouse needed to know that she is not alone. She needed to know that someone is there to befriend her, to guide her, to listen to her. She needed to know that there was someone to stand beside her, and to lift her. I gave the company an FRG that I would want to be a part of. One without the overconfident leader. One without monthly meetings about nothing-topics. One without absurd drama. Our FRG was relaxed yet inviting, thoughtful and resourceful. And soon thereafter, I suddenly saw other people stepping into the light to stand beside me. I had these fabulously brave spouses offer to help in any way in which I needed. All I did was create an environment that was full of love and support; one in which I would want to participate in as a member, and others soon discovered that they, too, wanted in.

Within a short while, I had 7 other volunteers working seamlessly together toward our common goal of reaching every single spouse.

Together we spent a massive amount of time on the phone, in email and text talking to, listening to, and offering our help to our spouses. We didn't have nothing-topic meetings. Instead, we only had 2 meetings that year. The first was to formally introduce myself. The other was a massive attack to end domestic violence in the company. We arranged free childcare and welcomed two guest speakers to help give our spouses the courage to stand up for themselves and learn not to accept an unhealthy relationship. Without our FRG in place, there would have been no way for command, let alone other spouses, to unravel the alleged abuse. Without our FRG in place, many spouses wouldn't have had the courage to seek out the resources they needed. You could feel the strength in our numbers.

The environment our team created was recognized by the unit commanding officer, and formally by official installation volunteer organizations. Together, we clocked in over 1,000 volunteer hours to aid in the support of our sister spouses. I had no idea how to lead an FRG when I began, but I knew what wasn't working in other FRGs, and therefore strategized my leadership to create a network that didn't fail. In fact, we flourished.


If you've considered stepping into the light to lead or help the FRG, but don't know where to begin - or - if you're a current FRG leader and want to revitalize your group, read my post, I'm an FRG Leader, Now What? Getting Started as an FRG Leader.

*******

I've certainly experienced my share of FRGs that are down-right caty. I remember one FRG meeting many years ago in which a senior enlisted spouse said to another, newer, enlisted spouses, "You know I don't like candy. Why in the world would you bring candy to the meeting when you know that I can't have it?!" The senior enlisted spouse said this to another spouse for bringing a bag of leftover Easter candy to an FRG meeting. The upset spouse then ran out of the room only to return with the worst mood I've ever seen from a grown-woman in public. These women didn't know each other. The woman who brought the candy was new and shared candy to appear friendly and welcoming. And yet the cattiness from one to the other was so palpable that it left the rest of us feeling ridiculously uncomfortable. There we all were having a meeting to discuss plans of action for the FRG's sisterhood, and there was one woman who ruined the experience for the rest - A senior spouse, no less, who could have used her seniority as a catalyst of how to build a life around the military lifestyle. Instead, she showed us the exact reason why FRGs fail. Several of the women in attendance that day did not return to the following meeting because, I'm convinced, they didn't want to be a part of an organization that absurdly immature.

When the meeting with the dramatic candy senior enlisted spouse ended, I went right up to the spouse to talk. I'm no psychologist, but anyone in the room that day could see that she was clearly going through some deep emotional stress, and was taking it out on that poor new enlisted spouse for bringing candy to the meeting. Before her public display of immaturity, she had disclosed to the group that she was a native Phoenician. Having also been born and raised in Phoenix, AZ, I wanted to connect with her on a personal level. (As an aside, isn't it exciting to meet someone from "back-home" when you're very, very far away from home?! LOVE that feeling.) So, when the meeting came to an end, and with everyone watching, I walked right up to her.

She was sitting down in a chair. I knelt down beside her so that she was above me. I looked up to her to demonstrate a nonthreatening nature, and be began talking about our childhood in Phoenix. We discovered that we went to high schools that were a mere few miles of each other. Then something remarkable happened... she smiled. During the whole meeting she had this dark cloud above her. No one wanted to talk to her - not even the FRG leader and meeting facilitator - for fear of getting sucked into the black-cloud vortex in which this woman was clearly mayor of. But in the 5 minutes I sat and spoke gently with her, all of that rigidness sanded away and we connected on commonalities.

She was at least 15 years older than me and had so much more life lived and military experience that could have intimidated the crap out of me. I could have easily left the room, never attending another FRG meeting like many of the other spouses did that day. But my undying passion to lift up other women, and to connect with other military spouses, runs deep in my core. I have no idea if that woman's mood was truly lifted after we parted ways that day. But maybe, in a small way, I made a difference in her day, if not only for 5 minutes.

As military spouses, we're often all we have - each other. Sometimes when we look like we're at our worst - which is apparent in our nastiness to one another - it's really when we need someone by our side, literally, the most. If we don't step forward to reach out - be a sister to a fellow spouse in spite of the drama - then it's likely that our relationships will never change. This is how we can all begin to fix the negative military spouse and FRG reputation.


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