Team builders: spouses aim to help military couples form more effective partnerships

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Story by Terrance Bell on 11/22/2017
FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 22, 2017) -- Vanessa Rice did not use the word "regret" in describing something she wished she had done because of her strong belief in the concept of lessons learned. In this case, it was not seizing the opportunity to be more active in the earlier stages of her husband's career.

"If possible, spouses -- both male and female -- should start participating in the careers of their military partners at the junior level," said the wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Rice, U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Regimental CSM.

Rice said her declaration is based on personal experience. A sense of apathy and her husband's rapid rise up the ranks, she recalled, did not leave her in the strongest position to best support him. Now, the mother of three adult children -- along with a fellow spouse -- said she has undertaken a mission to inform and educate. She further explained why it is important.

"If spouses wait until their Soldiers take on senior positions, they've got to learn hard and fast what their roles might be -- if you're going to be active in your spouse's career," she said. "If you learn how to build the partnership at an earlier stage, it becomes much easier later on."

Leader/spouse partnerships in the military are steeped in tradition. In the past, supportive spouses were nearly essential to successful military careers, especially at the senior levels where they were expected to augment military duties such as those related to family welfare.

Efforts in that area included organizing and engaging other spouses via social events or through other channels such as family readiness and coffee groups.

Today, spousal support is still strong, however, the increasing number of working spouses over the past few decades has had a diminishing effect.

Pamela Bartee -- wife of CSM Nathaniel Bartee, the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command's senior enlisted leader -- shares Rice's aspiration to help spouses transition to the leader/spouse partnership and acknowledges the fact many do not choose to be active participants in military member's careers for various reasons. However, it is worthwhile for all spouses, she said, to at least familiarize themselves with military operations and culture, and Fort Lee's mission and other factors make it ideal to do so.

"We have a wonderful group of people who are willing to give their knowledge and attention to others -- spouses of NCOs, warrant officers and officers," she said, referring to Fort Lee's senior spouses. "We're trying to dig deep because when Vanessa and I were coming up, we didn't have this kind of support."

Bartee and Rice, both of whom are supporters of family readiness and coffee groups, said learning about the leader/spouse partnership can come from a number of sources -- a fellow spouse, source material, a mentor, coffee groups or the FRG. Spouses should learn from the sources they are comfortable with, the pair said, but the FRG is a good place to start.

"It would help tremendously," said Rice, noting she became active in the FRG when her spouse became a battalion CSM. "Can this be done without the help of the FRG? Yes, but If I had to do it over, I probably would do it differently; I probably would've been a part of an FRG early on in his career."

A unit FRG is a volunteer organization serving to empower Soldiers and family members by providing access to knowledge, tools and resources to help them become more self-reliant. It also is a means to network, socialize and share information.

Less formal than an FRG, coffee groups offer participants the means to socialize and fellowship, build camaraderie and form lasting relationships.

"Both allow you to get a lot of information that will groom you and help you to be a successful battle buddy," said Rice.

Though their goals are lofty, Rice said the numbers are not important.

"If we reach just one spouse, change one person's mind about being an active spouse, I'll be satisfied," she said.

For more information about leader/spouse partnerships, visit, or contact a unit FRG representative.

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