Originally published in the Journal Inquirer Monday, March 18, 2013
By Kristen J. Tsetsi
We’ve been inundated with images of women waving war goodbyes to male military members and then hugging them tearfully upon their return, so that’s what we tend to picture when service members deploy: male service members deploying, female spouses left waiting.
Of all active duty military spouses, only 6 to 7 percent are male, says the 2011 demographic report prepared by the National Military Family Association.
Wayne Perry, 34, became one of them three years ago when he developed back problems that affected his landscaping job. He and his wife, Andrea, had a 9-year-old and an 11-month-old to care for, but Palm Coast, Fla. didn’t offer many opportunities for either of them to find gainful employment. So in February 2010, Andrea met with an Army recruiter.
It was after Andrea left for Basic Combat Training that Wayne began to understand the full impact of their decision. His life before the military was one rooted in his community and in the home he and his wife had made together, the one with the garden he tirelessly cultivated.
In January 2011, Andrea deployed to Afghanistan as a combat medic and Wayne became their sons’ sole caregiver.
“In the first hour after she left,” he says, “I shed a quick tear on the way home from dropping her off.”
Launches Facebook page
He quickly found that in a female-dominated community, he was a minority among military spouses, so Wayne decided to start his own support network.
He launched the Facebook page “MANning the Homefront — Military Style,” whose purpose is two-fold: To help male spouses develop friendships, and to advocate for Department of Defense support.
Most male spouses, Wayne says, have wives whose jobs are at a large — and largely safe — forward operating base (FOB), but Andrea was attached to a Special Forces unit located 100 miles from the nearest FOB. She took fire more than once, Wayne says, and during her time in rural Tahlequah, Afghanistan, a pastor from a Florida church made news by burning a Koran. A month later, the U.S. government launched its raid on Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He worried, “What if the locals angrily rushed Andrea’s base?”
That a deployed loved one will take enemy fire is, all things considered, a normal fear those at home face.
Wayne, who also contributes essays and blog posts to military spouse websites like Army Wife Network and SpouseBuzz, believes that although male and female military spouses face a host of similar issues, men have a unique set of concerns.
Men, for example, are more likely to worry about a female spouse being sexually assaulted during a deployment or other extended mission, he says. Additionally, the divorce rate of 6 to 9 percent of enlisted Army females is more than triple that of enlisted males, according to Pentagon statistics obtained by Military.com.
One theory behind the high divorce rate among military women is that women who join the military are less traditional and are therefore more likely to leave an unhappy marriage. Wayne has an additional theory.
“I think it has a lot to do with guys not being able to adjust to their new role.”
And that’s where the male spouse community comes in. They can encourage each other, he says.
In the two years since the Facebook page launched, Wayne — whose wife returned from her deployment in late December 2011 — says he has seen much more attention paid to male spouses from organizations traditionally focused on female spouses. For example, in October 2012, the Association of the United States Army, a nonprofit military support organization, invited him to speak at its annual conference.
“That was the first time male mil-spouses were a focal point on a national level,” he says.
But making personal connections continues to be a challenge.
In part because “there’s a lot of machismo involved; a lot of guys want to be the one in charge,” and in part because most men aren’t interested in something that might be considered a support group, Wayne says.
“Meat and potatoes”
Chris Pape, husband of Air Force Major Dana Pape and founder of the website MachoSpouse.com, would agree.
“I’ve been a military spouse for nearly ten years, and I don’t have any interest in meeting up with people on a weekly or biweekly basis,” he says. “A small percent of men actually want to meet up in person.”
However, Pape also wanted to see more support and resources for male military spouses.
“Nearly 100 percent of the resources currently available to military spouses are designed for women,” he says. “This lifestyle is emasculating enough. The last thing most men want to do is join an online community where their point of view is usually greatly outnumbered.”
Pape, a professional video producer, created MachoSpouse.com with fellow military spouse Taurus James a little more than a year ago. The website provides an online resource for men who want to connect through sharing stories even if they don’t necessarily want to spend time together. The free membership grants access to what Pape calls the “meat-and-potatoes” of the site: its videos.
To make the videos, Pape travels the country and interviews male military spouses, military family counselors, researchers, and career experts to create a database of short, informative segments whose topics include communicating during a deployment, helping kids cope with deployment, and post traumatic stress disorder. In the series “Man to Man,” male spouses share their perspectives on issues such as adjusting to role reversal and what to expect as a military spouse.
Like Wayne, however, Pape is having trouble gathering people together, albeit in a slightly different way. The site receives an average of 20,000 page views per month but has only 100 members, and membership is required to access much of the content.
To encourage new people to sign up, Pape guarantees they will not receive spam and that the content never gets too touchy-feely.
“You don’t hear a bunch of guys talking about their life and complaining about how hard it is.”
Nor is it a group of men chewing tobacco and talking about fish and trucks, he says of the site whose visitors are 40 percent women. “You hear, ‘If you’re experiencing this, you’re not alone, and here are some ideas about how you can get around it.’”