KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii --
Dozens of military spouses gathered on Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay Mar. 5 to speak with the commandant of the Marine Corps’ wife, Annette Conway.
During her husband’s tour around the Corps, Conway jumped on the opportunity to address issues with family readiness and the Exceptional Family Member Program within the Marine Corps and receive feedback from the spouses of Marines and sailors assigned to Hawaii based duty stations.
“One of the ‘jobs’ I have as the commandant’s wife is to meet with families around the Marine Corps, get a feel for common issues and trends, and report any problems to people who can do something about the issues,” Conway said. “Besides, it’s just fun to be with the families. It’s a rare treat and it really makes me feel like I’m a part of the Marine Corps.”
During her visit, Conway addressed many concerns she had encountered, such as tuition assistance for spouses and the appointment of family readiness officers, vice key volunteer networks; but the major concern among her audience was Furlough Fridays and the education in Hawaii compared to the rest of the United States.
“I knew coming here that schools were an issue, that Furlough Fridays were an issue,” Conway said. “I didn’t realize it was as extreme as I’ve heard, but I am relieved to hear that they are brainstorming, coming up with ideas to help the children.”
To help curb the issue, MCBH officials had already coordinated activities for students on Fridays. But a concern among parents, especially those who have children enrolled in the EFMP, a program to assist families raising children with disabilities, was that most of the activities offered are sports.
“I am a monstrous advocate for Exceptional Family Member Program,” the 17-year special education teacher said. “When you have children with special needs, it’s a whole different set of rules. But we have a really strong set of players now who are working hard to revamp the program.”
Many families were surprised to find many activities, other than sports are available, and some took the opportunity to volunteer their services to fellow spouses who may need additional assistance.
Conway and MCBH officials realized that communication was the chief issue.
“We clearly need to work on our lines of communication,” said Chris Blanchard, MCBH chief of staff. “Schools and students were given Furlough Friday activity flyers, the library is open on Fridays but it’s obvious that we need to educate them on where to find the information. The information is there, we just need to show them how to get it.”
Though most agreed there is a great deal of work to be done, many were happy to receive the help they have; help that most wouldn’t find off base.
“I’d like to thank everyone for the help we’ve been given,” said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick Tyrrell, survey chief for 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. “We couldn’t do this, if it wasn’t for the EFMP and family services.”
Conway’s upbeat attitude and sincere concern for what the families had to say, and doing something about it, was well received by her audience.
“I think it’s just good for families to come together and be able to voice their concerns in an open forum,” said Carole Rice, MCBH Commander Col. Robert Rice’s wife. “It shows that senior leadership in the Marine Corps really does care about the families.”
Conway was pleased with the progress made, but believes there is still a long way to go.
“We are so far ahead of where we were at one time,” she said. “The Marine Corps has come together with the families to fight the stress of deployments and many other concerns. There’s always going to be something that needs to be changed. There is no finite answer, but when we come together and speak with one voice, we send out a much stronger message. We are the best advocates for our families.”