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Army spouses learn nuances of military life

Newlywed Anica Lewis has learned an entirely new definition of the U.S. Infantry’s motto, “I am the Infantry — Follow Me,” in her nearly four months on post.

The 28-year-old Texan has experienced Fort Benning’s Southern hospitality. “So far it’s been great,” Lewis said. “Everyone has been so helpful. I get lost on post every day. I’ll pull off on the side of the road. Someone will stop and say ‘Follow Me!’”

Lewis and her husband, 2LT Warren T. Lewis, married April 9. The San Antonio resident graduated from the University of Texas in May and the couple headed to Fort Benning and the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course.

Lewis and 13 of her peers attended a daylong seminar July 26 sponsored by the Army Family Team Building Program. The wives studied a wide variety of topics. Seven instructors, under the leadership of Program Manager Stacie Boyer, informed the spouses about issues ranging from expectations and impact of the mission on family life to finances, from benefits to education.Lewis’ personal merry-go-round ride began less than four months ago.

“I graduated, got engaged, got married and moved,” she said. “I experienced everything that could happen to a girl except having children.”

Before Lewis attended the course, she already had a heads-up on what to expect.

“I know girls who have already taken it,” she said. “They tell you how the ranks work, how many platoons are in a battalion and things like that. They’re important for me because nobody in my family has been in the military.”

Boyer, who has spent five years working with the Army, went from working at the Pentagon to helping families at Fort Benning. Boyer welcomed the overflow crowd, telling them, “I’ll give you random bits of information. If I don’t, who will?” She emphasized the importance of taking advantage of support groups throughout various parts of the post, which all provide different services.

The day’s first instructor was Amber Ciaccio. Ciaccio has been affiliated with the military for 16 years. Her first task was to determine the length of each attendee’s connection with the military, along with her background. Ciaccio found teachers, college students, a nurse and dental technician. Most had six months experience or less, with the shortest being two months and three days and the longest tenure being seven years.

Ciaccio stressed the role of expectations and how proper ones can ease the wife’s transition into military life.

“The military is a culture,” Ciaccio said. “It literally dictates your husband’s life and yours. Your success in the military will be determined by how you let the military affect your family life.

“The military is like NASCAR on crack. Get ready for the ride of your life.”

For every challenge, Ciaccio had a strategy, beginning with expectations.

“If you keep your expectations realistic, it helps you cope with the impact of the mission on family,” Ciaccio said.

The wives responded when Ciaccio asked what qualities would be beneficial for a military wife to possess. They fired off: patience, sense of humor, good attitude, dedication and flexibility.Ciaccio was direct in her presentation and didn’t mince words when advising the new spouses. “Soldiers are human and imperfect. The military can’t make you do something, but what you do can affect your husband’s career,” Ciaccio said.

Ciaccio asked if there were any control freaks in the room. A few wives timidly raised their hands. “You have no control over anyone but you. You have to choose to make the Army’s expectations realistic,” Ciaccio said.

The instructors who followed Ciaccio were Kristina Payne, who spoke about military acronyms and terms, customs and courtesies; Rosalie Grant-Nolt, who discussed benefits and entitlements; Tonya Rauckhorst, who talked about military and civilian community resources and basic problem solving; Oscar Edwards who spoke about family readiness groups; Amy Kowatch who discussed children’s education and Patty Herron who gave advice on family financial readiness.