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Anchoring Family Life

Support: Courses teach spouses of Navy officers how to navigate the difficulties of living in a military household.

April 22, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In the old Navy the adage was: If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one.

But now the Navy realizes that a happy home life can make for a more productive enlisted sailor or officer.

With the Navy concerned about keeping enough officers and senior enlisted personnel to fill key jobs, concern over family life is increasing too.

And so on Sunday, a number of Navy support groups held a seminar for Navy spouses titled "Charting Your Own Course." But, because there were no husbands present, it could easily have been called a School for Navy Wives.

Several dozen wives of new officers were tutored in the complexities of raising children in a military environment, coping with constant moves, juggling your career and his career, and understanding the arcane details of fitness reports and selection boards that can make or break a military career.

"I wish they had something like this when my husband was an ensign," said Sandi Solem, whose husband is Capt. Craig Solem, commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood.

The days when spouses were seen as nuisances are gone, of course, and "Charting" is one of a variety of efforts to help spouses and children of active-duty military personnel.

Three years ago, the Navy began a weeklong course for spouses at its school for prospective commanding officers at Newport, R.I. A similar course is available for the spouses of senior enlisted sailors.

"Charting" was the idea of Sarah Fargo, wife of Adm. Tom Fargo, commander of the Navy's Pacific Fleet, headquartered at Pearl Harbor. Organizers hope to persuade the Navy to make a "Charting" course, or something like it, available at other duty stations.

Two-thirds of Navy spouses have jobs outside the home. What that means is that there is less opportunity to learn the Navy ropes by talking to other spouses.

"We're the old folks," said Tricia Marshall, whose husband is Rear Adm. Bill Marshall. "We learned by going to the wives' club and getting on-the-job training. But now many spouses have their own busy careers. We want to help them learn that it's not just a job for their husband; it's a lifestyle for the entire family."

In Navy families, two of the toughest periods are when the spouse's ship departs for a long deployment and--odd as it may seem--when the ship returns.

"You become very self-sufficient when they deploy," said Betsy Antanitus, whose husband is Rear Adm. David Antanitus. "You have to learn to relinquish some control, to make your spouse feel welcome and needed. If you can do that, you're a successful Navy wife."

Moving is a constant in military life--and not likely to change.

"I promise that during your career we're going to ask you to do something just when you don't want to do it," Rear Adm. Ham Tallent told the group.

Promotion in the Navy is based on competition, Tallent said. An assignment that might look exciting or be in a nice place to live might hurt your husband's career because it does not provide a "break out" experience that will impress the officers who decide promotions, he said.

Resist the urge to make a fuss over a relocation, Tallent said. "What do you want to fire your silver bullet on?" he asked. Translation: The ability to refuse a move is very limited and should be based on a very good reason.

Solem said that in 25 years of marriage the couple has lived in 14 homes in 10 locations across the world. Her No. 1 piece of advice for young Navy spouses: Learn to "embrace change."

Su-Yen Kuhn said she met her husband--Lt. David Kuhn, a submariner--when both were students at Stanford. "It was fun going to ROTC dances, but I knew nothing about what life would be like in the Navy," she said. "It grows on you."

In five years, the couple has moved four times. Now she offers financial consulting to military families.

Marshall said her college-age daughter wrote a poem entitled "This Navy Life" in which she listed her top memories of childhood as Navy jets overhead and packing tape being used for yet another family move.

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