Turnover: Spouse Edition

We hear all about “turnover” leading up to a PCS, and we hear all about it on the other side as we’re settling in. In a perfect world, our service members spend one-on-one time equipping their replacement with all the official (and unofficial) ins and outs of the job. What is the battle rhythm? Where are the documents stored? What are the requirements? The busy seasons? The weekly, monthly and annual expectations? What does a typical workday look like? Who is an ally in the unit if a random question pops up? It’s a brain dump from one uniform to another, and it ensures continuity. It ensures the mission continues without having to start from square one every couple of years. It is essential for progress.

Meanwhile, back at home, the scene can be drastically different. I’m going to use myself as a glaring example of a worst-case scenario. When it is time to start packing up and pulling away from a duty station, I am a serial “disengager.” I am typically not trying to socialize anymore. I’m trying to juggle pack-outs, housing, school disenrollment and registration. I’m trying to prepare myself to leave friends, uproot kids and essentially replant our entire family — all while still pulling a full day at my own job. Unless I just happen to know who is coming in to take over my husband’s role, I don’t connect with that spouse directly — not for lack of caring, but for lack of time and headspace. (And if we’re being honest, the incoming spouse, if there is one, is doing exactly what I’m doing in reverse.)

We’re all working with varying levels of family support at our units. Maybe yours runs like a well-oiled machine and makes this blog so unrelatable that you’ve already clicked away — in which case, I couldn’t be happier for you, and I miss you already! For those of us still here, we have known the trials of learning as we go after a PCS. Sometimes we feel like we learned it all three years ago and threw it all in the trash on our way out of our last town because it no longer applied. That hardly seems fair or efficient! Those of us still here know the struggle of trying to learn as we go with no instruction manual.

Take One: An Organized Welcome Class

I wish there was an easy solution. I halfway wish the military could just mandate some sort of 101 arrival courses for spouses everywhere like they do in OCONUS moves. But we know that would be a logistical nightmare; there’s absolutely no bandwidth or budget for that on the green side, and catch me on a particularly salty day, and I’m probably going to complain about having to attend something like that. This brings us to the last strike: The military can’t make us attend anything unless we also wear a uniform.

Then, as a potential consumer of this hypothetical class, I have specific things I want to get out of it. So does the person sitting to my right and left — and guess what, we’re probably all thinking different things and our spouses are going into completely different roles.

So, join me on a walk back to the drawing board, won’t you?

Take Two: Sponsorship

Okay, military sponsorship is a little more targeted, and I’m here for it. Although the spouse, as I’ve previously shouted from rooftops, isn’t always involved, and at that point, it just becomes another element of turnover that stays within the walls of the unit and doesn’t really help on the homefront.

Not to mention, I’ve only seen sponsorship excel as a program twice: once when moving OCONUS, and previously during our time at the Naval Postgraduate School. Every other move was pretty much crickets until getting dumped into that first mandatory fun event.

So, sponsorship isn’t necessarily the wrong answer, but it’s inconsistent which makes it unreliable as a resource for spouses in transition.

Take Three: Non-Official Resources

Oh, social media, you little necessary evil, you. Hate it or love it when it comes to information sourcing, social media is predictable, accessible and exhaustive when it comes to getting basic PCS questions answered. It is as simple as joining the right groups (easy enough thanks to keyword searches), knowing what you want to ask, knowing that someone has probably already asked it, using the search function to find the last time that question was asked, and scrolling through the answers. Even social media lurkers can use it because it requires zero engagement most of the time.

Aside from accessibility to information, you’re likely to get very honest, firsthand experience-based answers and varied recommendations for everything you need to find a house and settle in a place. It lets you do very targeted research based on your needs, and most of the time it keeps you from having to start at the beginning.

The Hard Truth

While social media gets us close, it isn’t really the point of this blog. The point is something a little more uncomfortable. The point is that even though we are overtaxed, distracted, exhausted and just over it as we prepare to leave a place, it’s worth doing something with all the information we acquired in our time there. It’s worth passing it on to ensure the people who will follow you will have a slightly easier go of it.

This can look like any number of things. Maybe you’re the hero still responding to social media questions in year three when I’ve already removed myself from the group. Maybe you’re taking a new spouse out to lunch to show him or her the ropes. Maybe you are still showing up to events to welcome new families and introduce them to people who will be friends and resources for them long after you hit the road. Maybe you’re a military spouse sent from above and you create an actual resource for your unit that can progress through the years.

We owe it to each other to keep showing up. We owe it to the people who will stand where we stood to catch them up so they can take the baton and keep running rather than scramble for the first year.

No one can force you to do it. No one will shame you if you don’t do it, but the bottom line is that, as military spouses, the best resource we have on this adventure — or whatever you lovingly refer to it as — is each other.

Will we eventually figure everything out at our new station without anyone’s help? Without a doubt — we’re competent adults experienced in doing more with less. Would it be easier if someone who just did it shared what they knew before they left and forgot it all? Also, yes — if that happens, we’ll spend less time just trying to reach the baseline and more time making progress.

So, “Be the change you want to see.” As much as you want to when you’re in move mode (and, I mean, hello — guilty), don’t disappear. Keep showing up. Share what you know, make introductions, be a resource and be a reason why things are getting better — not an example of why things are staying the same.


Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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