The Second Lady of the United States walked into room 119 of the Family Readiness Group Center Nov. 2, greeted the handful of people present with a smile and a firm handshake, and politely asked everyone if they didn’t mind if she helped herself to coffee.
Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, was invited to Fort Bragg last Friday as a special guest to help promote the Military OneSource Live event, a program and cause aligned with her commitment to better the lives of military service members and their Families.
Pence said she was excited to be an advocate for the program because she’s seen the behind-the-scenes workings of how the Military OneSource call center works when she visited the premises last year.
“It’s an amazing program website with lots of resources for spouses,” she said. “This is their first live event like this where they have workshops all day and different sessions. And so for me to be able to be a part of that, to kind of kick that off, is really an honor.”
Pence was not exposed to a lot of what goes on within military Families though she was born on an Air Force base where her father served. Her parents divorced when she was very young. As a service member’s mother, her inspiration to help military Families didn’t come from her son either. Her only son, 1st Lt. Michael Pence, is a U.S. Marine Corps officer.
“It’s funny because I kind of decided to do this before Michael even got into the military,” she said. “I was interested in military spouses where I taught in northern Virginia. There were a lot of teachers at the schools I taught at and parents whose spouses were in the military like at the Pentagon (and) Department of Defense.”
The more she interacted with the men and women who supported their service members through her career as a teacher, the more she learned about the things they went through, such as the adventures Families experienced and the unique challenges they faced.
“It was kind of a new world to me, and to hear some of their stories, and they always were told in good humor,” she said. “So when I had the opportunity to elevate military spouses, I took it.”
There has been an increase an in support when it comes to putting a spotlight on veterans’ issues, “but the spouses, I just felt like let’s do a little bit more for our spouses.”
Pence hopes that the spouses who attended her speech that afternoon learned about the program and will share the information they acquired with others within the community to boost morale and resiliency among the Families in the military.
“If you’re struggling and you feel like you’re going into a hole, there is someone you can call — you can call Military OneSource,” she said.
The program was created with a format that is concurrent with modern norms on how spouses interact and socialize, she added.
“These days, spouses don’t necessarily come to a coffee for spouses; they go online,” she said. “I mean, everything is social media. If you’re going to help them, you have to have a website, you have to have a call line, you have to have a way to help them right away.”
Military OneSource not only utilizes the internet as as platform to offer a plethora of services, such as non-medical counselling, moving and housing help, financial and legal advice, education and employment services and more; but they are also creating convenient tools online so Families who are unable to leave their homes due to personal constraints may still have access.
“We’ve done listening sessions all over the country and at some bases overseas and we ask spouses: what are the issues we can help with; what do you want us in this position to put a spotlight on?” she said “First was jobs and licensure and the second was daycare.”
Pomp and circumstance aside, at the root of Pence’s visit, she said she really wants Families, especially spouses to know how much she appreciates them and understands the struggles they go through as a military Family. Most of these challenges are unbeknownst to and unrelatable by the general public.
“It’s one thing to be that strong backbone of the Family, but once in a while you (spouses) want someone to say you’re doing a great job,” she said. “I see what you’re doing, I know you’re home alone for six months while your husband or your wife is deployed …
“It’s difficult being a single parent; my mom was a single parent for a while and I know it’s a difficult — it’s a difficult life — but to have the military aspect of knowing that your spouse is serving overseas somewhere can be added to it.”
Pence had heard stories from friends and former colleagues of how as soon as a military spouse establishes some roots, builds meaningful connections and gets settled after every move, it’ll be time to repeat the whole process.
“It’s like ‘Oh my gosh, here we go again; we have to start all over again,’” she said. “I think maybe that’s what made these spouses so resilient, so strong because they’ve had to do it, and so they do. They step up to the plate. It’s amazing. I see it all over.”