Military families face many personal issues associated with their service, and the spouses of the top officers in the Department of the Air Force are not immune to them, they said May 30 during an Air & Space Forces Association United Forces & Families (F2) event, appearing alongside family advocates.
“I guess it worked out for the best 30 years later,” Jennifer Saltzman, wife of Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman said. “I did not grow up in the military. I didn’t know what that life was about. And just thought I mean, he’s really a cute, nice guy. Let’s just do that. That’ll be easy. We won’t do it very long, right?”
Since then, Mrs. Saltzman—who appeared on a panel alongside Sharene Brown, the wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.—learned that being a military spouse was challenging, though rewarding. Here are five things Jennifer Saltzman and Sharene Brown have learned over the years—some big takeaways and other simple daily rituals.
The 20-Second Hug
“Time, definitely we never have enough of it,” Saltzman said. But her husband came home from a conference with an interesting suggestion offered by a speaker, which Mrs. Saltzman says the couple has now taken up.
“Take a deep breath and hug your spouse for 20 seconds,” Saltzman said. “It allows you to take those couple of deep breaths and then you kind of just re-center.”
Saltzman said that with all that military families are juggling, it is important to connect.
“Now it’s just almost a call in the house,” Saltzman said. “That’s a fun connection. But you’d be surprised if you really do count 20 seconds, it’s longer than think.”
Saltzman said families should find whatever works for them, whether it’s quirky or not.
“But always make sure you create the time because it goes by really quickly,” she said. “You don’t want moments to be few and far between. You want to make sure that you always capture your connection first.”
Fight for Yourself and Your Family
Sharene Brown’s signature initiative since her husband became Chief of Staff is “Five and Thrive,” focusing on five key concerns for military families. And two of those areas, childcare and education, are particularly important to the Browns, given their experience after one of their sons was diagnosed with autism.
“When you see something that’s happening with your family, you need to take as much of a proactive stance as you possibly can,” Brown said. “I tried to soak up as much information about what schools should require or do require for students as much as I could, because I knew the next location wouldn’t necessarily have all that information.”
But whatever the situation is, Brown said families are their own best advocates.
“To all of our family members, I say to you, you know, your family is really important because all the things that are going on in a military life, you’re thrown a number of different curveballs along the way,” Brown said. “It’s not so much what you’re thrown, but how you handle that and how you’re able to seek out those people around you and those resources that are out there for you. Because let me tell you, our military has a lot of resources, birth to grave, and we’re just overflowing with any sort of information that we’d like to be able to share with you.”
The Browns know firsthand that is not always easy, she said.
“Reaching out is probably the hardest thing to do initially,” Brown said. “If you recognize that there’s something that’s just not quite right, then investigate, explore, try to figure out what’s going on, and be proactive. Because ultimately, if you don’t engage early enough, you will be dealing with a number of challenges, either early on or later on in life. And the longer you wait, the harder the challenges become.”
Make Connections Outside the Military
Roughly two-thirds of military families live off base. Families should reach out to their civilian neighbors, military family advocates said.
“You can’t only rely on the military spouses around you,” said Kirstin Navaroli, the co-founder of Wives of the Armed Forces, who appeared alongside fellow spouse advocates Nicole Murray and Aaron Evenson. “We can’t only rely on your partner. You have to get creative.”
Navaroli recounted a time when she needed urgent help taking care of one of her kids. While she may not live in her current neighborhood for the rest of her life, civilian families are still willing to help out—if they know they can.
“Building relationships and building trust,” is key, Navaroli said, “so that when you need that text to go out and you know it’s going to be answered.”
Military members make frequent moves, but that doesn’t mean families shouldn’t try to connect with as many people as possible. Brown recounted her trepidation upon heading for her husband’s assignment to Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C.
But, she learned, “people are people everywhere.”
Being a military family has many challenges, but America relies on an all-volunteer force. As the military struggles with recruiting and retention, Brown said it is most important for families to get everything they can out of their military experience.
“Get out and explore,” Brown said. “You never know how long you’re going to be in a location. I always tried to get out and see as much of wherever I was living and to meet as many people as possible.”
As Gen. Brown was sent to places like South Korea and Italy, the family got to experience the cultural rewards of those different environments.
But Saltzman said military families should try to make the best of any location they’re posted in.
“I take advantage of every opportunity in every place,” Saltzman said “Even if it’s not your first choice, and it was your second or your third, there’s going to be something fabulous there for you and your family. You just have to go out and find it.”
“Don’t be disappointed or scared if there’s a location that you’re going to that you weren’t quite sure about,” she added.
“There’s only 24 hours in the day, even though some of you use those a lot more efficiently,” Saltzman said. “Be flexible.”
Despite her husband’s high rank and their new Space House quarters, Gen. Saltzman’s first posting with Jennifer was to Montana when he was a young missileer, and they have moved roughly 14 different times.
She recounted one story that illustrates the hectic life of military families when she was asked for an emergency contact.
“‘I don’t have one, I just got here yesterday,’” Saltzman recounted. “‘I think one time I made a person up, ‘What’s the area code here?’ That’s fine, I’ll just write a name. But there are other people experiencing those same things. Hopefully, you can just find that network of people because military families and military kids are the greatest ones out there. So I’ve always been honored to be able to be in that group. But you have to be flexible.”