By Sandi Gohn

Military spouses don’t wear camouflage uniforms, drive humvees or walk around with a weapon. They don’t deploy overseas, work on the front lines or carry out top-secret missions at night.

But still, military spouses serve.

While their mission isn’t as flashy as a scene from “Zero Dark Thirty,” military spouses’ critical role is to make sure all is well at home so their service member can focus on doing their job. Military spouses are the silent force that makes sure the bills get paid, the kids get to school and the dog gets fed at night. They solo parent during deployments, coordinate PCS moves every few years and do all of the unseen work to make sure the household runs smoothly.

And they often do all of this at their own personal and professional expense.

According to research from the 2018 Blue Star Families survey, an overwhelming majority of military spouses say they lack a true feeling of connection and belonging within their military or civilian communities, regardless of their age, gender or time spent living in one location. As if feeling disconnected wasn’t enough, the average military spouse is either under-or unemployed, which the study says is linked to unwanted financial burden, a lack of self-worth and additional feelings of loneliness.

Simply stated, being a military spouse can be a difficult, isolating experience – until the USO (which is powered by donors and supporters like you!) gets involved.

Photo credit USO Photo

Military spouses chat at a USO Coffee Connections event.

An Unexpected Military Spouse Benefit: USO Military Spouse Programs

In an attempt to provide better opportunities to make valuable connections and build a sense of community among military spouses, the USO launched two military spouse-related programs in 2016: Military Spouse Networking Events and Military Coffee Connections – thanks to the help of supporters like you.

Military Spouse Networking Events provide spouses with the opportunity for organized face-to-face networking with other spouses, local employers and community organizations. These half-day sessions are a great chance for attendees to learn more about military spouse employment opportunities, make friends or even learn about things like military spouse education.

“It’s much more comfortable being able to come to a safe place like the USO and being able to meet people here, and just start to build those relationships and make some connections,” said military spouse Natasha Harth in a 2016 story.

Alternatively, Coffee Connections offer spouses a more relaxed environment to enjoy coffee and casual conversation on a monthly basis. Attendees even get a free mug to take home with them after the program.

“I loved … how they made us feel special and valued. It was such a great experience,” said Amy Liddle, Navy spouse and 2019 Coffee Connections attendee.

“I’m a military spouse of 14 years … I’m familiar with what the USO offers, but really enjoyed this opportunity to meet other spouses.”

Photo credit USO Photo

Military spouses chat at a USO Coffee Connections event.

Expanding USO Coffee Connections to Spouses Overseas and Online

Given the need for more frequent opportunities for spouses to connect and build a sense of belonging in their communities, Coffee Connections, in particular, has proven to be a major success, with monthly events held across the U.S., Korea and Qatar.

There’s even a monthly USO Coffee Connections Live event, featuring a rotating cast of special guests, that is live-streamed for military spouses to watch from their homes anywhere in the world.

“Coffee Connections … [is] helping spouses make social connections and gain valuable information on various topics,” said Candice Schmidt, a military spouse and 2019 Coffee Connections attendee living in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

“This has begun to fill a much-needed gap for spouses who have a desire to build personal connections in their communities.”

In 2018 alone, the USO held 109 Coffee Connections events and served 1,466 military spouses through both of its offerings – and things have only gotten bigger and better.

As of August 2019, with the launch of Coffee Connections in Kaiserslautern, Germany, the USO will be offering Military Spouse Programming for the first time in all four major military operational regions: stateside, Pacific, Southwest Asia and Europe.

“I love what you all are doing for us spouses,” said Ruthie Baker, a military spouse based in Fort Riley, Kansas.

“Thank you so much for making this a possibility.”