By Emily Sussman
The red carpet was rolled out and the step and repeat painted with words of wisdom and encouragement from seasoned Special Operations Forces spouses. The Orient, Navigate, Employ, Train, Educate, Advise and Mentor Program, or O.N.E. T.E.A.M., held their inaugural event, June 11, at Bank Hall.
“It is our opportunity to welcome the student spouses into the SOF community, with the goal of informing them and educating about what special operations forces do, and what their role is to support their spouse,” said John Condroski, Chief of Protocol, Family Programs Director, 1st Special Forces Command. “We want to give them the opportunity to meet senior members within our command, the senior spouses, and hopefully they’ll develop some type of mentorship or friendship with them that will help them get through their SOF endeavor.”
The event was preceded by a meet and greet; spouses were welcomed, signed in, and handed a United States Army Special Operations Command bag full of literature on USASOC, the installation and Fayetteville.
Each spouse was tasked with an icebreaker, a set of “ONE TEAM classified” missions that involved meeting and interacting with other SOF spouses at the event. Families stood on the red carpet and had photos taken with a backdrop of words of experience and encouragement.
Food, drink and childcare were provided so that new United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School spouses could mingle and create new networks.
“Our students come here for a year to two years … there’s really nothing out there for our student spouses, and they feel like there is no social connectedness. That’s what we’re going for, an outlet for them to reach out to other friends. They always meet their husband’s friends and it doesn’t necessarily match, so this way they can meet their own friends … hopefully build a relationship that’s lasting,” explained Condroski.
Everyone in attendance watched a USASOC video detailing the journey to a career in SOF, and then spouses attended branch-specific breakout sessions for Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations and Special Forces.
The breakout sessions offered a chance for seasoned SOF spouses and USAJKFSWCS representatives to answer the questions of new student spouses.
“They will be able to get questions answered … about the pipeline, the student pipeline, about what their life in SOF might be like, about how language school will work, basically, about how can they can support their spouse through this, and how can they connect ahead with the spouses at their new unit,” said Suzanne Tovo, SOF command spouse.
O.N.E. T.E.A.M. is not the same as the Family Readiness Group.
“FRG is really about connecting Families with resources. We like to think mentorship is connecting Families to Families, or connecting spouses to spouses. It could be overwhelming or scary to start something new as a spouse, so if you have a friend or somebody in your corner, it’s a little less intimidating,” said Angela Abernathy, SOF command spouse.
“We are connecting student spouses with spouses who are what we are calling operational spouses, and therefore somebody who can answer your question. Lots of times as a student spouse you don’t want to ask your question because you think it might be stupid, but you can ask it of us because we’ve been there, and we know what you’re thinking,” said Tovo.
Questions ranged in each breakout session room. However, the thing spouses seemed to be most curious about was what to expect once their partners leave the school house, and what kind of operational tempo should be expected.
The experience had quite the impact on some spouses.
“Feeling overwhelmed with emotions. Love, understanding, pride to name a few,” explained Christine Gilbert, USAJKFSWCS spouse. “I honestly didn't want it to end. I got to go to an event that explained exactly what it is that my husband has gone through, to be where he is now, and what he will become after his training. And most importantly what my role is. The audience was just a bunch of wives like myself, just wanting to get a better understanding of what our soldiers have endured, and will endure.”
O.N.E. T.E.A.M. will hold events quarterly, and each planned event will be an entirely different experience for the USAJKFSWCS spouses attending. However, new spouses will still benefit from the information provided last week.
“We are going to probably end up reiterating this event, and then separating it out with some different kinds of events, because what we would like, ideally, is for spouses to not just come once, but to come to each event,” said Tovo.
“And to bring a friend next time,” added Abernathy.
“We are going to be doing mentorship in action (at) our next one, which is an opportunity to take what we have learned here with our student spouses, and put them together with mentors so they can actually develop that relationship a little further,” said Condroski.
The next event, scheduled for Sept. 13, will be held in tandem with the USASOC annual mentorship conference.
“We bring two spouses from every special operations unit around the world … to Fort Bragg for three days of leadership mentorship training,” said Abernathy.
“I do think the stronger the spouses are, and the more capable they are to support their Soldiers, the stronger the Soldier is going to be, and the more successful he or she will be in the SWCS pipeline.”