From the Homefront: Spouses support and connect over the miles

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

Distance from other Coast Guard spouses can be isolating, but one spouse’s group has found a way to connect about 100 spouses who live across 30 different states, Puerto Rico, and Guam, through technology.

The spouses whose active duty members are stationed with Patrol Forces Southwest Asia have found creative ways to solve the problem of distance between them – solutions that can be used to help all Coast Guard spouses feel more connected and supported.

Pat4PATFORSWA is a Coast Guard command based in Bahrain, and it is an unaccompanied tour. So the spouses connected to that command usually stay in their own areas, not necessarily near a Coast Guard installation.

Shannon Beattie, the ombudsman for the unit here in the states, said that their primary form of communication is through their Facebook page.

“We post funny pictures or sometimes we just need to vent about a certain frustration. The spouses on the page are very supportive and encouraging,” Beattie said.

Beattie is often not in the same state as the spouses in the unit, but she said her first priority is reminding them that the distance won’t get in the way of their support of each other.

“I make sure they know they can contact me for anything,” Beattie said. “I want them to know they’re not alone while their spouse is gone. There is someone else out there going through the same or similar life experience.”

Email is Beattie’s main mode of communication, but they rely on technology for others: FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout and Facebook Messenger. Because communication is key, they even use the good old postal service.

“We also do use snail mail,” she said. “Everyone loves getting letters in the mail.”

Some tips from some of the members of the PAT4 community (as they call themselves) for those who are not geographically near a Coast Guard unit but who want to feel more connected to the community:

  • Find a “village:” Find that group in whatever form you can you can rely on. That might be in your local community, or it may be through a spouses’ club or online groups.
  • Find a Facebook page for your spouse’s unit: Even if you don’t live near the unit, getting information quickly about what is happening with the unit is essential, especially if it is a deploying unit. It may be one of the fastest ways to connect in the event of an emergency, as these are the pages and links to official information from ombudsmen and the Coast Guard.
  • Join several Coast Guard Facebook pages: Even if they are not location-specific, the pages are filled with other spouses who can related to each others’ experiences, and who are a wealth of information.

So how do you make these connections? First of all, some of the Facebook pages may be secret or harder to find. Post on a larger Coastie page to ask about the smaller, more local pages.

Shannon Beattie is the ombudsman for Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, an unaccompanied group in Bahrain. Through creativity and technology, she helps keep spouses connected who live in 30 states. Photo courtesy of Shannon Beattie.

Shannon Beattie is the ombudsman for Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, an unaccompanied group in Bahrain. Through creativity and technology, she helps keep spouses connected who live in 30 states. Photo courtesy of Shannon Beattie.

Get in touch with your ombudsman – they need you to give them your email addresses so they can make contact. (They are unable to establish their own Facebook pages to pass along official information, so connecting by email that is always a great first step.) They can also help you find support if you need it. They are experts at that.

Look for a spouse’s club that is close (or maybe even not that nearby). Join even if you live so far from the club you many not be able to attend many events. The connection will still keep you in the loop for the Coast Guard community. The National Council of Coast Guard Spouses Clubs keeps a running list of affiliated spouse’s clubs. If you don’t find one on the list near you, ask your ombudsman. There are clubs that may not have an official affiliation, but they are out there and ready for members.

Now how can we all make sure we are pulling in as many spouses as possible? Spouse clubs can follow PAT4 Spouses’ lead and engage with technology. Skype and Google Hangout are free online video conferencing options. Find ways for spouses who can’t physically attend meetings to participate virtually. (There are tutorials for how to use these programs in the resources section below.)

Facebook groups and spouse clubs can make sure that ombudsmen near them have all of the correct contact information to give to spouses looking to find them. If Facebook pages are secret, then providing an ombudsman with the email address of an administrator can help pave the way to helping a spouse join. Spouse clubs can provide links to their websites, Facebook pages, or email addresses for membership contacts.

As the PAT4 Spouses have found – it is not the location that brings us together, it is our shared experience.

“Although we may have never met each other,” Beattie said. “In a strange way, we feel connected because of our circumstances.”

How can we make sure we are connecting with as many spouses as possible, even from a distance? Share your ideas, resources and Facebook pages below!

Resources:

Find your ombudsman: Use this link to find the ombudsman nearest your location to see if he or she knows about support near you. (When you open the page, scroll down to the bottom right and look for the blue arrow pointing to the “Find Your Ombudsman” box.) Ombudsman may also be able to tell you about nearby events or connect you to the administrators on Facebook pages for units near you.

Official Coast Guard Facebook pages: This is the destination for finding social media links directly from the Coast Guard. These are the links to turn to for official information, rather than social connections.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Spouse clubs: The National Council for Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs keeps a running list of affiliated clubs. Join the one nearest you, even if it is not the one that serves your spouse’s unit. Join even if you live so far from the club you many not be able to attend many events. The connection will still keep you in the loop for the Coast Guard community. (And if you are not on the list, there is a form to add your club.)

Google Hangout: This is a video conferencing program that works through Google, so you need a Gmail address to use it. (Gmail is free.) Find information and tutorials on how to use Google Hangout here.

Skype: This is an audio or video conferencing website that has both free and paid plans. It is free to connect with someone else who has a Skype account. Here is information on how to get started.

Other stories like this: Other From the Homefront stories that might be helpful are: finding support from other spouses, making “geobaching” work for you, thriving during deployments, or finding your community in a spouses’ club.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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