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Army Wives build business, community

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Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

Like most military spouses, 23-year-old Alyssa Rhoades didn't know anyone at Fort Hood when she moved here last year with her husband, a 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, soldier.

She found few opportunities to meet friends in the community and began to miss Fort Lewis, Wash., her previous duty station, more than she could have imagined.

But a Facebook page called Fort Hood Army Wives changed all that.

"I have found at least 20 friends thanks to that page," Rhoades said. "I talk to them on a daily basis. We let each other know what is going on, help each other when we have a question. I mean, most military wives are like that because we have been there before and know what it's like to be in their boat."

Continuing, she said, "There are some awesome ladies on that page."

Humble beginnings

In late 2010, Fort Hood spouse Anita Hernandez, 31, temporarily took over a fledgling Fort Hood Army Wives Facebook page from a departing friend.

New to the area from her native Florida, and new to Army life in general, having just married her husband, Pfc. William Hernandez, 41st Fires Brigade, Anita poured herself into the Facebook page. She posted daily icebreakers and get-to-know-you questions, practical information and eventually introduced offline social outings into the mix.

Seeing that many wives had small businesses they used to support their families, Hernandez asked if anyone was interested in participating in a small business expo.

She went to bed, and had 40 vendor RSVPs by morning, she said.

The first Fort Hood Army Wives Expo was in March. More than 600 people attended.

It was only after the expo that Hernandez realized what she'd helped create, she said.

"I was so scared, I'm not going to lie," she said. "All those women were counting on me, oh my God. ... But I was counting the tickets and saw how many people had come by, and that's when I started crying. I couldn't believe we had pulled it off. I thought, 'We did this, it worked.'"

Second expo

Six months later, Fort Hood Army Wives is a recognized nonprofit in the state of Texas with nearly 4,000 members and branches at military installations in several states.

FortHoodArmyWives.com has gone live.

Hernandez also has made the Fort Hood Army Wives Expo a biennial event.

This season's was Saturday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

It included 85 vendors offering everything from Scentsy candles to homemade Army-themed baby outfits.

For the first time, Army Community Service also featured workshops throughout the day, including employment and financial readiness and making marriage work after a deployment.

That Fort Hood services signed on to the event is a testament to how far Fort Hood Army Wives has come, Hernandez said. "It makes me happy because that was our original purpose, to bring information out to families for them to know what is available to them and bridge that gap."

Fort Hood spouse Katie Dolan, who now helps Hernandez run Fort Hood Army Wives, sold her Military Housewives Creations at the March expo. It helped her get the word out about her Army-themed baby clothes and diaper bag business, she said.

"It's about getting the word out and helping the newer ladies get their products out there to people," Dolan said.

Big goals

Hernandez, who is studying social work and used to run a Latin American cooking business, said it's tough for military spouses with careers to build a new client base with each change of duty station.

"It's hard, it really is hard," she said. "Every time you move, you've got to start up again."

The expo is designed to give such spouses a "boost," she said.

Most importantly, she said, it's tough for military spouses to build new lives for themselves at each duty station. That motivation - along with Monster energy drinks - help the mother of two keep Fort Hood Army Wives going, she said.

"(It's) letting the wives know there's so much available to them and there's so much information out there."

Dolan said the page also is a personal support resource, particularly now that her husband is deployed to Afghanistan with 89th Military Police Brigade.

"It's really tough," she said.

Eventually, Hernandez said, she'd like Army Wives Online - the official charitable name of Fort Hood Army Wives - to have branches at each Army post around the world.

That way, she said, wives will have something familiar to them as soon as they arrive.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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