About 6 weeks ago, I remembered that the Annual AUSA (Association of the United States Army) Meeting was coming up. Just as in 2014, I pondered the idea, looked at plane tickets, and declared it a wash. Then my husband suggested I go for it. He’d take leave and I could go. With that encouragement, I did it. I’m so very glad I did.
I learned so much from this conference, more than just what was in the family forums, and actually more than what was presented in any of the forums. There was more information with each passing minute than I was able to write down. I wish I could have cloned myself so I could have sat in every single forum and taken notes on everything. As always, I learned from my fellow spouses.
5 Things I Learned at the AUSA Conference:
- Senior spouses go through the same things the rest of us do. I’m pretty sure that deep down, everyone already knew this, but for some reason, spouses seem to forget that we are all the same. We all love our service member, we all struggle with separations, Army obligations, and the frustrations that accompany the career. Holly Dailey, wife of the Sergeant Major of the Army, recalled how happy she was to spend her 22nd wedding anniversary at an Army event with her husband. Why? Because they were together. Spoken like a true military spouse.
- Strong families make a strong Army. Families are the one thing we cannot afford to slack on. In every family forum this was made crystal clear. And it wasn’t just family advocates saying this. It came directly from the top, General Milley himself was adamant that taking care of families is a huge priority. “Soldiers are never going to stop worrying about their families,” he said. “There needs to be effective programs in place so they can focus on their mission.” So, senior leaders are listening and it’s time for families to talk.
- Friendship is amazing. I went on this trip, knowing I’d see a few friends. I stayed with one friend for a few nights, then another. A friend from Arizona made the trip as well. I met up with a friend from Germany the last day in town. I got to meet some “internet friends” in person for the first time. In a word, it was humbling and heartwarming. Spouses who didn’t know who I was a day before were hugging me goodbye. Friends of friends were welcoming, encouraging, and heartfelt. The friendships I witnessed had stood the test of time. They went through deployments, funerals, and homecomings. Those friendships are the very model of military spouse life. I want those friendships.
- The resources available shocked me. I’ve been doing this Army wife thing for almost 9 years. I’ve taken every opportunity available and learned as much as possible. I’ve learned the lingo, the command structure, the volunteer opportunities, and the resources available to our families. But I learned more at this conference! We heard from the head of Army Emergency Relief, where I learned that there is no limit to the amount of money AER can give. I learned that 96% of AER loans are paid back, because Soldiers want to pay it forward to their colleagues. I learned that National Guard and Reserve families on active duty can also qualify for AER loans and grants. These things, and so many more than I learned during the Resilient Families panel, gives me more resources to share with the families I encounter.
- Transition is hard. I’ve been involved in transition from the military for the past few years. I spent time teaching the Department of Labor Workshop to those leaving the Army and transitioning off of active duty. I worked as a Career Counselor helping those same people figure out their post-military plans. But the way Jacey Eckhart and Noreen O’Neil presented the transition timeline was eye-opening. As a military spouse, I’ve handled transitions pretty much constantly. But, when it comes time to that final transition, it’s more than just a move, a job change and a new house. It’s a lifestyle change. For me, my husband, my kids. And it’s one we should really start preparing for now.
There are so many more things I learned at the conference. Some exciting, and some only exciting to me as a nerd (I attended a panel on Homeland Security and their partnership with the Army and the first ever NCO Forum led by and for NCOs). But the bottom line is if I had not attended like I had originally planned, I would have missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime.