“What are the last four of your sponsor’s social?” Every military spouse who’s been married longer than a month can answer that with less hesitation than giving thier own social security number. Our sponsors are our spouses — case closed. Case re-opened — when you’re talking about OCONUS sponsors; that is something else entirely. Who knows why the military gave the same title to two high-profile roles — what, like there aren’t enough words to go around? Sponsors in the OCONUS sense of the word are the voluntolds who get other military service members and their families overseas and help them function in those first foggy days. When you’re outside the continental U.S. (OCONUS), and you’re sponsoring a military family, you have a big job (whether you wanted it or not), and even though the military can’t order military spouses to do anything, you might as well accept that this is a family affair.
Becoming a Sponsor
Whenever possible, sponsors are assigned to incoming families that are a close match in rank, job specialty, marital status, and familial status. So, you probably won’t sponsor someone with 12 kids if your only baby is your labradoodle. If you’re a single, 19-year-old Marine, you probably won’t be sponsoring someone who is married with four kids (you’re also probably not reading this right now).
You could, in theory, sponsor someone one rank below your service member, but not above. Again, in theory, you will be given your sponsorship duties 90 days before the incoming family’s arrival.
In the Marine Corps Sponsorship Program Handbook distributed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, the actual requirements for sponsoring a military family are full of quotation marks, which means there is a lot of room for interpretation. Sponsoring families are expected to:
- Provide a warm welcome.
- Help newcomers get settled.
Your service member spouse will have finite sponsorship responsibilities within the unit, and you can bet there is accountability there. But, we’re not concerned with work; we’re concerned with the stuff that makes a family feel at home — the everyday questions that the service member honestly probably can’t answer.
To set you up to be that sponsor that all other sponsors hope to live up to, we need to clarify just what you, as a military spouse, need to do for the incoming family.
Until the new family arrives, communication is your primary duty. Make contact as soon as you can. Introduce yourself and what your role will be in getting them here. But, for the love of everything holy, do not simply say, “Let me know if you need anything.” It may sound like you’re being helpful, but the incoming spouse likely has no clue what questions to ask in this first conversation.
Think back to what was on your mind when you found out you were moving overseas. Offer some positive vibes and clear tips on where to dive into the planning process. Make sure you or your spouse has the following information as early in the process as possible:
- A copy of orders (web orders are fine as long as every family member’s name is included)
- A copy of the area clearance (not available until the medical screenings are complete)
- The newcomers current mailing address
- Flight information (arrival date and time and whether they will arrive on the Patriot Express or on a commercial flight)
- Familial status (number of kids and their ages)
- Confirmation on whether or not they are bringing pets
You’re going to get a lot of questions — like a whole lot of questions. You’ll field everything from “What type of housing do we qualify for?” to “How hard is the driving test?” Answer as timely and honestly (no one wants to hear that a place is rosy only to arrive and find the thorns) as you can. If you don’t know the answer to something, say that. Don’t make it up, and don’t ignore it. But, let them know you will get an answer for them as soon as you can.
You can also add the incoming spouse to relevant Facebook groups, like your unit’s spouses’ page, a buy-and-sell car group, and classifieds page.
Aside from answering questions and checking in regularly, you have some stuff to handle on this side while the incoming family is handling stuff on their end. While they obtain official and tourist passports, complete medical screenings, pet workups, and secure travel details, you should:
- Make TLF reservations for the maximum number of days soon as you have the incoming family’s arrival dates. Be sure to request a pet-friendly room and a crib if either is needed.
- Make pet boarding reservations if the TLF cannot accommodate pets.
- Get a temporary mailing address or set up their permanent address if your installation permits.
- Purchase anything they will need upon arrival, like diapers or wipes.
- Purchase some basic groceries to stock their TLF room the day of their arrival.
- Reserve their spot at any mandatory arrival briefs and arrange for child care for that day.
- Make arrangements to meet them at the AMC terminal or commercial airport. Have enough space to transport the family and their luggage to the TLF.
Be Present and Scarce at the Same Time
When the family arrives, greet them and help them make the last leg of their journey, from the airport to the pre-arranged TLF room. Help them buckle car seats and load luggage. Help them get it all up to the room, and then let them sleep.
The next day, they will likely be wide awake in the morning. Take advantage of this and show them around the base. Take them to set up cell phones and collect mail. Show them where to find the commissary and exchange. Get them off base. Take them out for lunch or dinner. Just remember they will likely be ready for a midday nap, so don’t plan for an all-day outing.
As soon as you can, introduce the new spouse to other spouses in the unit, and do the same for the kids. In fact, for a fun twist, let your kids sponsor the incoming kids. Let them put together their own age-appropriate bags with coloring books, small toys, bubbles, or anything else the incoming kiddos might appreciate. The faster they make connections, the faster this foreign land will start to feel like home.
Keep at It
Just because they’ve arrived doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. The incoming family may be in the TLF for a while. Never forget how awful it is to be stuck in that tiny room in a foreign place. Get them out every chance you get. Invite them over for dinner and playdates. Offer to pick them up while they’re waiting on a car. Take them out and explore!
Above all, be a friend. Be who you needed when you were moving OCONUS (whether you had a rock-star sponsor or you wondered if you even had a sponsor). It isn’t required, but so much of what we do as military spouses isn’t required of us. We go above and beyond for each other because we’re framily, and the support you offer to an incoming family will set the tone for their time overseas. Make sure that when you’re sponsoring a military family, it starts on a good note.
Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg | Unsplash