Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn
2nd Brigade Combat Team PAO NCOIC
Some military spouses have a profound effect on the welfare and readiness of a unit by providing volunteer support to service members and their Families. With the simple act of getting involved, they provide the building blocks to enrich their community with positive influences.
Friday was Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which recognizes the efforts of all spouses who sacrifice a little of themselves each day to contribute to the well-being of service members and their country.
Within 2nd Brigade Combat Team, there are several spouses who selflessly give their time to organize social events and activities; enhance the flow of information through email distribution lists, newsletters and telephone trees; and increase the resiliency of others by empowering them with knowledge to help them cope with separation.
Among the long list of volunteers are Holly Nusom of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment; Stephanie Utter of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion; and Colleen Rhoads of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment.
These ladies have taken it upon themselves to lead from the front. Through their efforts, they have made the lives of others better and have learned a little more about themselves in the process.
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Holly Nusom had no prior ties to the military before her husband, Capt. Scott Nusom, currently A Troop commander, joined the Army 10 years ago. Although her grandfather served during WWII, she entered the life of a military spouse with no knowledge to fall back on.
“I started volunteering so I could kind of learn what he was doing,” she said. “I feel with volunteering you have a better understanding of how things (in the Army) work and what is going on, because sometimes it doesn’t make sense how things happen a certain way until you are involved in it.”
The Nusoms are from Portland, Ore., where Holly Nusom was a teacher. When they settled into their first duty station at Fort Sill, Okla., Nusom realized she had nothing to do. A flyer caught her eye, and her volunteer days began.
“I became part of a welcoming committee,” she said. “We drove around to people’s houses and gave out welcome packets.”
The years have passed, and now Holly Nusom has a list of duty stations, four children and experience navigating Army programs. She has gained a wealth of knowledge by performing in the positions of family readiness group key caller, treasurer and currently A Troop’s FRG leader. She also takes Army Community Service classes to broaden her knowledge and share with others.
Nusom has learned over the years that there are a lot of spouses willing to help but they had bad experiences in previous units or they do not know how to get involved, especially when they have children. Her own positive experiences and advisers helped her become more receptive to the needs of other spouses in her units and to encourage them to participate in events.
“We totally want to make people feel welcome and maximize participation,” she said. “If they know their kids can handle it or they can handle volunteering with their kids, then the more the merrier.”
Getting others involved, bringing friends together, networking and just having a great time are goals Nusom wishes to accomplish. She has helped plan military balls, FRG meetings, lunch fundraisers, family nights, organization days and the list goes on.
One memorable event was A Troop’s dining out that took place in March. A lot of people who have been here for several years are getting ready to leave Fort Drum; the event was a time for everyone to say good-bye.
“That was really special because they had nice things to say. It’s really neat to hear their stories and hear them thank other people that you didn’t know they even worked together,” she said. “I really love that. I think those things are always nice because you do not know someone appreciates you until they leave.”
Nusom has learned a little about herself by helping others.
“I am more outgoing than I thought I was. I feel I am kind of reserved, but just being part of these situations, you want others to feel (welcome).”
She also knows how important it is to introduce herself to others and acknowledge the people who participate in the events. “I can’t just sit back; you have to put yourself out there.”
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Stephanie Utter said she volunteers “because the Army is a Family commitment, which means that we all need to do our part to make it work. Supporting my Soldier as well as those he works for and their Families makes everyone feel a part of the Family.”
Staff Sgt. Timothy Utter, 210th BSB ammunition inspector, brought his wife and four children back into the Army in 2009 after a nine-year absence. He learned from his brother in-law, who is on active duty, that the Army is friendlier to Families than it was in the past.
“I knew he missed it. He had to see that the Army is now Family friendly through my brother,” Stephanie Utter said. “It was my sister-in-law that said ‘why don’t you just come in.’ We love it; it was the best thing for us. He is happier, we’re happier. It all works out.”
Utter started volunteering at their first duty station in South Korea. Her battalion was small with only three Soldiers who brought their Families. She taught Vacation Bible School for the Yongsan garrison chapel and was part of the Protestant Women of the Chapel.
Once she arrived at Fort Drum, more opportunities opened up for her to use her teaching degree while volunteering. Along with volunteering with VBS and PWOC, she became the company FRG leader and took courses at ACS.
As the FRG leader she helped to organize the brigade Haunted Hotel, holiday parties, Easter egg hunts and fundraisers and made welcome home baskets for Soldiers in the barracks who returned from 2013 deployment.
She became an instructor for Army Family Team Building, and she teaches the parenting class for the Family Advocacy Program.
“It’s hard to be a teacher and an Army wife at the same time when you move all the time,” she said. “I am teaching; I’m just not getting paid to teach, which is OK.”
Utter is very in tune with the needs of a military spouse, because she has gone through the same situations as other spouses: deployment, training exercises, late work nights and the confusion that new spouses experience. Through volunteering, she stays connected to what her husband is doing and what the Army is all about. She wants to empower other spouses with the same knowledge.
AFTB level one teaches spouses about the Army. The curriculum includes acronyms, terms and how to read leave and earning statements.
“I want to see people do this. It is something everybody needs. It makes it easier when you know and learn what your Soldier is doing,” Utter said. “It alleviates a little of the stress.”
“This life is not the easy life. It is not all candy and roses; it’s a deployment, it’s a last-minute exercise,” she added.
The whole Utter Family has embraced the Army life. The three oldest children, ages 9 through 12, have expressed interest in joining the Army. All four enjoy company events for Families as well as post events like changes of command and military ceremonies. They look forward to Riverfest and Mountainfest, which will be their last because they will leave for Germany soon.
“They have become very comfortable in military life. They embrace it. (Not many) can say they lived in Korea for 18 months or Germany,” Utter said. “It does have its challenges; they are upset they are leaving their friends.”
Utter has been a hard charger for three years now on Fort Drum. She has relinquished her duties to get ready for her Family’s move to Germany. She reflects on how much volunteering has enriched her.
“I learned I have a lot more to give than I thought. I didn’t feel like I was knowledgeable in a lot of areas and since being a volunteer I realize that I am a lot more knowledgeable and a lot more confident than I used to be. I was never a public speaker; now I do it almost daily. I was never the one wanting to be out there. I was cool being in the back row hiding from everyone.
“I’ve learned its better for me to be out there, to be doing, to be helping because it gives me something to do, and I am using my degree,” she said. “We can survive on one paycheck, so why not give back? The Army gives us a lot, so why can’t I give them a little?”
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Not all spouses are full-time volunteers. Some, like Colleen Rhoads, find time after work to give a little back to their units and their military community. She has been a key caller and FRG co-leader, and she contributes a few hours at the USO.
She is married to Capt. Ben Rhoads, fire direction officer of HHB, 2-15 FA. Rhoads works about 32 hours a week as an EEG technician at Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown. Finding time to volunteer is nothing new to her.
“I like volunteering; it is one thing I have done almost all my life,” she said. “I like to volunteer my time, and what better way to volunteer than for an organization that supports our Soldiers and their Family Members?”
When they were stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., Ben Rhoads was assigned to a basic training unit. The FRG only had about 20 people because of the small staff. The Soldiers worked long hours, but they did not deploy. Once Colleen Rhoads moved to Fort Drum, she learned how much more active the FRG is because of the size of the unit and the long training exercises and deployment.
“Being part of an FRG and volunteering increases your resiliency to things and helps you be better involved and better informed of things going on,” she said “You do not want to be left out of the loop. FRG is super important, especially during a deployment.”
No matter where military spouses are stationed, volunteering for their unit or post can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
“I always encourage people who have free time to volunteer,” Rhoads said. “Volunteering is important to the installation (and) the organization, and it makes it a better place for everybody.”