• August 28, 2014

Role of men married to female soldiers still evolving

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 4:30 am

Kyle Tomaszewski married his high school sweetheart more than three years ago. His wife decided during nursing school to join the Army as a medic.

“She wanted something more out of life,” said Tomaszewski, 23. “She wanted to feel like she could help people and make a difference.”

After she attended basic training, he quit his job as a quality engineer in Wisconsin and joined his wife at Fort Hood. She’s now deployed to Korea with 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. With no career options in his field available locally, he now attends nursing school at Central Texas College.

As the Army continues to open job positions and units to women and studies the best way to bring women into a predominately male world, male spouses of female soldiers struggle to determine what it means to be an Army husband.

As a male military spouse, Tomaszewski is not alone. At Fort Hood, more than 3,500 of the post’s 6,836 female soldiers are married. In total, female soldiers make up about 16 percent of the Fort Hood population.

When it comes to events for Army spouses, many of them are geared toward women. It’s something Tomaszewski has seen time and time again, including a recent event where he said Army spouse participates received a free makeup kit.

Tomaszewski has not joined any military spouse groups or the unit’s family readiness group. He’s heard bad things about them, he said, and many of the events are geared toward Army wives or people with children.

“Maybe I’m wrong because I didn’t give it a chance,” he said. “I’m not intimidated ... but I don’t want to go there and be a spectacle.”

Spouse does not mean wife

The Women’s Army Corps disbanded in 1978 and women were integrated into the regular Army. At Fort Hood, the Fort Hood Officers’ Wives’ Club didn’t change its name to the Spouses’ Club until 2008.

Rich Lucas, spouse of a retired colonel, decided to join the club in 2007. Many of his fellow male spouses joked they would join when the name was changed, he said.

“You have to (put yourself out there),” he said. “Honestly, I’ve enjoyed most of it.”

When Lucas met his wife, both were on active-duty, but Lucas got out after 11 years of service to be a “house-husband” and care for their two daughters while his wife attended medical school. When she deployed with III Corps to Iraq in 2006, he got involved in the family readiness group and then the spouses’ club.

Being the only man in a room filled with women can cause anxiety, Lucas said. When preparing to attend a farewell dinner for the spouse of former Fort Hood commander Gen. Raymond Odierno, he was nervous about what he should wear and wondered if he would know anyone at the function.

“I don’t want to be a centerpiece or a wallflower,” he said. “Luckily, I knew somebody there.”

‘Correct terminology’

Anita Hernandez, a veteran spouse, said she learned of the male spouse population after naming her organization the Fort Hood Army Wives. The nonprofit, which has more than 14,000 Facebook likes, hosts two expos each year to promote military-spouse businesses and connects people through events and online.

While Hernandez has seen more men participate through the years, she emphasized it’s still a relatively small number. However, Hernandez tries to accommodate the men. She recently filed paperwork to change the name of her group to “Fort Hood Military Spouses and Families.”

“We do try to really make sure to use correct terminology. I trained myself to use the word ‘spouse,’ not ‘wives,’” she said. “The wives themselves in our group are very accepting. I’ve never seen any negativity toward men.”

Spouses’ Club President Tracy Curran said the male population of their membership is only 1 percent. Lucas, she added, is a great treasure to the organization.

“He is probably the only man from our membership who is there for us at every luncheon, every volunteer opportunity and is a huge wealth of information,” Curran said.

Attending female-dominated events has gotten a bit easier over the years, Lucas said.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” he said.

Lucas thinks more people need to reach out to the male spouses and offer support and information.

Stephen Martin agreed. Married since 2005, Martin’s wife decided to join the Army for medical school in 2009.

They arrived at Fort Hood for her residency last summer, and Martin said he found it hard to ask for help.

“The military transition was terrible,” he said. “My pride was pricked a little bit because I realized really fast there is a bit of a stigma. ... I felt embarrassed to ask for help.”

Unlike Lucas and Tomaszewski, Martin works outside the home. He’s the senior pastor of the Vintage Church in Harker Heights. Through his church, he sponsors Hernandez’s Army wives organization.

“The name change is a good start,” he said of the effort to appear inclusive. “It’s not going to change overnight.”

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