Jennifer Rickert has always found a way to bounce back. She knows the power of resiliency, and she’s passionate about spreading the word.
An Army spouse for 11 years, she’s moved four times to three different places-landing most recently at Fort Huachuca, where friends consider her a pillar of strength in the base community. Jennifer’s goal is simple: to make sure all spouses know that help is available, know where to find it and know how to communicate their needs to those standing by ready to help.
She volunteers in Family Readiness Groups, in the Community Spouses Club and at Army Community Services. And Jennifer also devotes time to presenting to the Resilient Spouse Academy, which she helped create.
TRAINING JUST FOR YOU
Prior to 2009, “resiliency training” was part of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which has evolved into the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program (CSF2), encompassing all members of the Army family. During that initial period, the training was presented to spouses the same way it was being presented to soldiers.
After taking that initial training and also attending an AUSA Conference in 2009, Jennifer and a working group from Fort Riley, Kansas, collaborated to create the Army’s first Resiliency Training specifically geared toward spouses.
One of the keys was adjusting the subject matter: Jennifer and the other trainers came up with examples that pertain to parenting, volunteering in the community, and situations that effect military spouses specifically. That made the resiliency training more palatable and useful to military spouses.
All five pillars of resiliency-physical, social, emotional, family, and spiritual-are addressed in this five-day training that Jennifer now delivers quarterly at Fort Huachuca. In addition, participants receive training on networking, responding to sexual assault and violence, financial readiness, and applied suicide and intervention skills training (ASIST).
One of the many personal touches Jennifer adds to this training is taking the time to talk about her past struggles. Over her 11 years as a military spouse, she has experienced the ups and downs that so often come with the territory. When she shares her specific experiences, she is able to help spouses identify with her, and with the areas of their own lives that they need to strengthen.
Probably the most powerful example is when Jennifer shares with these spouses her past attempts at suicide. Seeing her animated and enthusiastic personality, it’s hard to believe she faced those struggles. Listening to her history and learning how she has overcome these hurdles leaves a lasting impression on participants. You can see the understanding on the faces of her students: if she can overcome so much, they realize they can overcome whatever they are facing today.
Seven resiliency skills-including mental games and problem solving techniques-have been adapted to situations spouses can relate to. Through small groups, sharing personal experiences and even role-playing, participants learn how to communicate with others effectively. Optimism, strength of character, staying connected, and self-awareness are all key competencies associated with being resilient.
“Effective communication is probably the number one thing participants tell us they gained from the Resilient Spouse Academy,” Jennifer explains. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that is the most important, but most spouses say that they leave the week feeling connected to each other, to the military community.”
What is resiliency? The purpose of the Resilient Spouse Academy is to help spouses feel better prepared and motivated to give back and make a difference in the military community.
“I feel we have touched many spouse’s lives and I hope to see this academy repeated until we have educated everyone,” Rickert writes in a welcome letter to those who have registered for an upcoming session of the Academy.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Upon registration, spouses are sent information on the five pillars of the CFS2 program, as well as some things to help them prepare for the event. Participants are also provided a bag of goodies, including a coffee mug, notepad, and a messenger bag.
“They can literally walk in the door with nothing on Monday morning, and walk out equipped to change lives on Friday afternoon,” Jennifer explains.
Prior to the workshops, participants are asked to complete two tests. The first is a Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths, which is suggested to increase personal self-awareness and self-understanding through recognizing your personal character strengths.
“We talk about how those character strengths have changed over the years and we compare character strengths one person has with others in the group,” she explains when anyone balks at the idea of a test. The second test is the Family Member Global Assessment Test (GAT) and is a personality test similar to the Myers-Briggs.
Beyond that, Jennifer says,” the most important thing participants bring with them is an open mind,” and their own unique experiences.
Fort Huachuca makes this training possible for all spouses, with some key incentives. Lunch is provided each day and childcare is provided through Army Community Services. In each class, ranging from 20-35 participants, there is a good mix of enlisted and officer spouses, brand new and “seasoned” spouses, and National Guard/Reserve and retiree spouses.
All are encouraged to attend and all are welcomed with open arms. One spouse, who is now enjoying the retirement side of the military said: “RSA opens up a world of knowledge to the programs the military has readily available. Even as a senior spouse, I was introduced to so many things I didn’t know where available. I’m ready to share my experience with fellow spouses and encourage them to take advantage of what the Academy offers.”
Currently Fort Huachuca is the only installation that offers resiliency training specifically tailored to spouses. Other installations have reached out to Jennifer for advice on how to create and grow a program. Jennifer sincerely hopes that all installations move toward this because no matter how resilient a spouse thinks they are, we can all learn new ways to communicate and bounce back.
“The wave of positivity has influenced me, my home, my husband and our FRG. I’ve always felt isolated and uprooted every place we’ve been assigned to. For the first time in years, I can honestly say that I feel at home,” praises a spouse who has recently attended the training. This sense of community, of belonging, of friendship is exactly what makes the Resilient Spouse Academy successful.
Seeing spouses leave the training armed to change perspectives on this roller-coaster military life is what makes all the hard work worth it.