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Independent Dependents: Army Wives Volunteering in an Official Army Program

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Abstract:

This paper theorizes the volunteer labor that wives of United States Army soldiers contribute to the well-being of the "Total Army Family.” These volunteers work a “shift” for their husbands’ employer, thereby enacting a two-for-one career pattern that the Army denies in theory but relies on in practice. The argument is based on and tested by the empirical findings that have come from participant-observation fieldwork and in-depth interviews conducted among wives of active-duty Army soldiers in 2006-2007. The interviews focus on the involvement of Army wives (labeled “dependents”) in Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), which are officially sanctioned, mandatory support groups led by and offered to family members--most often wives. The Army requires an operational FRG for each company of soldiers; to fulfill this requirement, the Army needs family members to lead and participate in FRGs, maintaining calling chains, providing a sense of community and connection, raising money for unfunded needs, and dispensing official information, among other duties. Therefore the Army depends on independent people (not contracted employees) to provide labor for FRGs, revealing its assumption that spouses will work for free to provide each other support on behalf of the institution in a two-for-one career pattern.

FRGs provide an Army-wide yet locally specific space where the vexed relationship of spouses to the institution of the Army can be observed. The paper will apply feminist arguments to understand the gender stereotypes that underlie the Army’s reliance on a two-for-one career pattern and its use of the phrase “Total Army Family,” but also the rewards that spouses can reap from volunteering in FRGs. For instance, FRGs offer a legitimating venue in which to conduct homefront operations, turning emotional work that spouses do in the private sphere to accommodate the demands of Army life into recognizable volunteer work in the public sphere.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186318_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Gassmann, Jaime. "Independent Dependents: Army Wives Volunteering in an Official Army Program" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186318_index.html>

APA Citation:

Gassmann, J. N. , 2007-10-11 "Independent Dependents: Army Wives Volunteering in an Official Army Program" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186318_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: This paper theorizes the volunteer labor that wives of United States Army soldiers contribute to the well-being of the "Total Army Family.” These volunteers work a “shift” for their husbands’ employer, thereby enacting a two-for-one career pattern that the Army denies in theory but relies on in practice. The argument is based on and tested by the empirical findings that have come from participant-observation fieldwork and in-depth interviews conducted among wives of active-duty Army soldiers in 2006-2007. The interviews focus on the involvement of Army wives (labeled “dependents”) in Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), which are officially sanctioned, mandatory support groups led by and offered to family members--most often wives. The Army requires an operational FRG for each company of soldiers; to fulfill this requirement, the Army needs family members to lead and participate in FRGs, maintaining calling chains, providing a sense of community and connection, raising money for unfunded needs, and dispensing official information, among other duties. Therefore the Army depends on independent people (not contracted employees) to provide labor for FRGs, revealing its assumption that spouses will work for free to provide each other support on behalf of the institution in a two-for-one career pattern.

FRGs provide an Army-wide yet locally specific space where the vexed relationship of spouses to the institution of the Army can be observed. The paper will apply feminist arguments to understand the gender stereotypes that underlie the Army’s reliance on a two-for-one career pattern and its use of the phrase “Total Army Family,” but also the rewards that spouses can reap from volunteering in FRGs. For instance, FRGs offer a legitimating venue in which to conduct homefront operations, turning emotional work that spouses do in the private sphere to accommodate the demands of Army life into recognizable volunteer work in the public sphere.

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