The Marine Corps announced on March 19, 2018, in true USMC fashion — a warm, personable MARADMIN — that a “reset” is coming to the business of family readiness, and more, Family Readiness Officers (FROs). In response to the reset, Marine Corps spouses are shrugging shoulders, pointing fingers, and wondering what the heck that even means.
Marine Administrative Message (MARADMIN) 166/18 announces that the Unit, Personal, and Family Readiness Program (UPFRP) is outdated because Marines aren’t in combat-operations mode anymore. The UPFRP was established in 2007 in response to a season of heightened operations — you might remember it as that period your spouse was deployed all the time in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
The biggest change in this MARADMIN is the announcement that the Marine Corps is getting rid of FROs as we know them. By September 30, 2018, all FROs still employed will be renamed as Deployment Readiness Coordinators (DRCs), but the name isn’t all that is changing.
No longer will each unit or squadron have their own FRO/DRC. Beginning in the fiscal year 2019, only 06-level commands will employ a set number of DRCs (based on how many it rates) and divide them across their subordinate units. For a visual, say you’re on a Marine Corps Air Station. The Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) will get a couple of DRCs and assign one DRC to as many squadrons as necessary to make sure everyone is covered. These DRCs can serve (read: will almost positively serve) more than one unit.
If that makes you feel more like a number on a really long roster than a living, breathing person who is still challenged by the Marine Corps on a daily basis, then you’re starting to see the issue bubbling just below the surface.
Marine Corps Spouses Without the FRO
In hiring FROs, the Marine Corps basically acknowledged that the work typically handled by volunteers (you may remember the dusty terms: Key Wives, Key Spouses, or Key Volunteers), was just too much for the pace of operations. That’s the way it’s been since 2007. For 11 years, Marine Corps spouses have had eyes and ears on the inside of the unit and a reliable contact even when our Marines were away.
Sure, the Marine Corps may not be in combat-operations mode anymore. Deployments may be fewer and farther between, but deployments are only one of many stressors for Marine Corps spouses. This reset should not imply that it is any easier to be a Marine Corps spouse in 2018 than it was in 2007.
Can We Do It?
The short answer is yes. As Marine Corps spouses, we are resilient at our core. We accept what we’re dealt, cuss under our breath, wipe the sweat from our foreheads and figure it out. We didn’t lose that when the FROs moved in.
What the FRO did, though, was ease the job description of a Marine Corps spouse. The FRO made it easy to track down the details that our spouses forgot to share (again). The FRO looped in the new spouse or the spouse muddling through deployment to make sure everyone was included. The FRO collected the “voluntold” commitments from tired, stressed, homesick, and thinly stretched spouses all too eager to hand them off.
But There’s a Catch
While we will eventually find our stride in volunteering with the unit in a more accountable fashion than dropping off a potluck dish at Thanksgiving, there are three things that were overlooked before announcing this reset that could mean that some less resilient spouses are vulnerable to falling through the cracks.
First, command spouses — the CO’s spouse and SgtMaj’s spouse — were traditionally the volunteer leaders. But, aside from just being the natural order, it’s actually spelled out in Marine Corps Order 1754.9A. These spouses are to serve on the command team (which meets regularly during the workday), attend mandatory trainings within 45 days of their spouses taking command, and attend all L.I.N.K.S. sessions. They are to advocate for the support resources available to Marine spouses and kids, foster that sense of community among the spouses, host events, and they can access the distribution lists after appropriate training. That may seem a little 1950s-esque, and that’s probably because it is. It’s a tradition. You would be hard-pressed to find a CO or SgtMaj spouse who doesn’t take that role seriously. It is truly a position of setting yourself on fire to make sure everyone else stays warm.
As strong as tradition is, though, times outside the Marine Corps are changing. More often, these spouses are employed full-time and cannot possibly uphold all of these responsibilities that are, in themselves, a full-time job.
So, if command spouses can’t lead, what about a spouse club president or another appointed spouse? In some scenarios, that might work, but for how long? Just because a spouse right now has the right mix of ambition and availability doesn’t mean that someone with a similar mix will come around when it’s time for that person to PCS. It’s also unreasonable to assume someone that qualified will be unemployed for long, especially following the latest effort — an executive order signed by President Trump — to increase military spouse employment.
Even if a unit can find a lead spouse, who will this leader lead? It’s hard enough just getting spouses to show up for the fun stuff — the socials — because everyone is busy or tired. Trying to get Marine spouses to show up to volunteer is even harder today, and, like anything else, it’s the same faces showing up time after time until they wear themselves out.
Which brings us to the final snag in the MARADMIN 166/18 pantyhose: Millennials. This is the group that stands to absorb the biggest impact from MARADMIN 166/18 because they have never known a Marine Corps without FROs. This is not a reset for Millennials it’s a redo with a big learning curve.
What Do We Do Now?
In preparation for the reset, things are happening to equip all Marine Corps spouses with tools for readiness. But these are not concrete or consistent across commands. It’s not clear who owns the responsibility.
The way forward is not to protest MARADMIN 166/18 — the Marine Corps might protect democracy, but it is not one itself. The way forward is this: All Marine spouses need to shift from a mindset of always expecting and accepting to a mindset of ownership and action. Every spouse now has a hand on the readiness responsibility. That isn’t meant to be motivational, just factual.
It doesn’t matter how brand-spanking new you are to the Corps; you know more than someone. You have talents and, inevitably, there are weaknesses within your reach that you can remedy. This is a historic time to be a Marine Corps spouse. How we react to MARADMIN 166/18 is going to impact future generations of spouses. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all spread way too thin. But that won’t go away just because we complain about it (kind of like that dreaded deployment mustache). It’s time to remind everyone what Marine Corps spouses can do.
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