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Photo Credit: Ingrid Barrentine (Northwest Guardian)

March 25, 2011

By Lorin T. Smith (Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Affairs Office)

Stacey Pennington is no stranger to what staying "resilient" means. The spouse of an Army truck driver has endured a lot the past five years: four deployments and four PCS moves while guiding three children through a host of changes in their lives.

Within 30 days of reaching Fort Campbell, Ky., her husband received notification for Iraq, the third deployment of his career. With two deployments under her belt, Pennington thought she'd offer her services to others, so she volunteered with the American Red Cross at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell.

"I built my resume, I built my confidence, I built myself," Pennington said.

Building resilience into the Army team, from Soldiers to spouses to children, is now taking center stage at most Army installations. In that spirit, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Army Community Services has launched the new spouse resiliency academy, using civilian and military master resilience trainers as part of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program for spouses.

The academy develops and institutes a holistic fitness program for families to enhance performance and build resilience. Like Soldiers, the spouse resiliency academy offer spouses detailed knowledge and learning opportunities on the six competencies associated with resilience: self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strength of character and staying connected. Spouses learn specific skills within each competency to identify strengths in themselves and others to overcome challenges and build effective families.

To help make that message more understandable to the spouses, Soldier and Family Assistance Center Social Services Coordinator Carl Newhouse told the assembled spouses that all of them had been resilient at some point in their lives. His resiliency story was growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, avoiding being beaten up or joining a local gang.

"Some have stories about parents dying when they were young, not getting a full-blown education or didn't feel loved when growing up," Newhouse said. "We all have a story, we all have a background and it took some level of resilience to get us to where we are today."

Bouncing back from adversity and being capable of managing the stress that comes with being a military spouse is the takeaway Donna Gotel hopes the 11 spouses in the inaugural class take from the training. The academy classes teach spouses the same communication tools being taught to their Soldiers.

"Whether a spouse has been in the military for 20 years or just coming on board, (he or) she may not know how to communicate or how to react," said Gotel, an ACS financial counselor. "This is an awesome program tailored for family members."

That ACS implements the spouse resiliency academy opens doors to more resources available to spouses. Many agencies in the ACS structure help military families with finances, education, day care, job searches, and even help with Army Emergency Relief loans.

"Spouses are the backbone of the family, and we have to support the support system," Gotel said.
Having the information to motivate other spouses to take the resiliency course or to share it in her own job was the driving force behind why Pennington signed up for the first academy session. As a financial counselor for Survivor Outreach Services, she talks with spouses who are fighting major resiliency battles every day. Her clients have lost loved ones while they were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I thought I could benefit the people I work with, because knowing the survivors, what they are going through, they have to be resilient," she said.

Gotel is excited for the next session, scheduled for April 18 to 21. She was worried that it would not interest the spouses, but after looking at the emotion in the audience's faces, she knows the course is a hit.

"Resiliency is about engaging, and that's what we ask those who attend this course to do," she said. "When in the classroom, you have to engage and be receptive, as this class will make you think about yourself in ways you never had to before."

For information on the new spouse resiliency academy, call Gotel at 967-1453.

Lorin T. Smith: lorin.smith@us.army.mil