Over the last two years, Jennifer Pittard has put in over 2,800 volunteer hours helping other Army spouses. She’s in the Army Community Services office so much people assume she’s a paid employee, but she says, “That’s just where my heart is – working with Army families.”
Jennifer is married to her high school sweetheart, First Lieutenant Joseph Pittard, the executive officer of the 73rd Transportation Company, 10th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade at Fort Eustis.
Jennifer was enrolled in a master’s degree program at Augusta State University in Georgia when she and Joseph got married and quickly moved overseas.
“That was probably the best thing I did,” she said, “to give up school and follow him there.”
She started volunteering when the couple was stationed in Germany, a place she had lived as an Army child as well. She volunteered for the American Red Cross and family readiness group which eventually led to employment as a Red Cross field office assistant.
At Fort Eustis, Jennifer has recently taken on the role of Army Family Team Building volunteer program manager. She has served on many different family readiness group boards and with the post spouse’s club and likes to share her time and her experience with others through volunteering.
“It has done wonders for me,” she said. “It’s a really good feeling knowing you’ve helped someone.”
Jennifer has helped countless spouses through her work in family readiness groups. When she first started working with the unit’s FRG, her first order of business was training and education. She attended classes on being a family readiness group leader and learned about the Army’s standards and regulations and traveled to symposiums and conferences. She then concentrated on getting as much information as she could out to spouses.
She would scour the paper and go to all kinds of meetings so she could notify the spouses of things happening in the area or how new policies would affect them. She was also able to recruit other spouses to volunteer positions to take over when her husband was transferred to another unit. She then volunteered there too. She became a trusted resource for other families.
“My job entailed a lot of rumor control,” she explained. “But the spouses began to realize that I wasn’t going to repeat the information or tell anyone else where it came from. I would just find out the truth. It seemed to help as far as spouses trusting me.”
Jennifer also learned to take the good with the bad.
“A lot of times you hear bad things about spouses groups and it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Jennifer. “As an FRG leader, you might get 15 complaints, but it’s that one email I get that from a spouse that might say, ‘Even though you may not have realized how much that meant to me, it mattered’ that makes it all worthwhile.”
When he nominated her for the 2010 Heroes at Home Military Spouse of the Year award, her husband noted that over the course of his two years in the 89th Transportation Company—one of which was a year-long deployment, Jennifer led more than 30 meetings, organized eight parties and barbeques, planned six fundraisers and facilitated three pre- and post-deployment briefings for over 200 family members.
“Jennifer loves to give,” her husband wrote, “and she gives much more than she takes. Regardless of what she does, Jennifer will be a reliable source of information and support for anybody who needs it.”
Devoting that much time to Army family causes has helped her endure long separations from her husband including two one-year deployments.
“I was so busy, honestly, it just flew by for me,” Jennifer said. “Focusing on everybody else just makes a huge difference in making the time fly by. You make goals when they leave, but of course I didn’t meet them, because I was so busy.”
The couple is expecting their first child in July and despite a high-risk pregnancy and some medical issues, Jennifer has continued to put others first. But she’s working on that balancing act.
“I have to watch myself,” said Jennifer. “I have a tendency to just throw myself into whatever I’m working on and forget to take care of myself whether I need my inhaler or more rest or whatever. I get more benefit from doing things for other people than taking care of myself. So that’s probably the most challenging thing for me: to have horrible morning sickness and not be physically able to run around doing everything I normally do and that’s hard.”
But one thing Jennifer is not worried about is being able to cope with military life as a parent.
“I’m not worried about that,” she said. “I generally end up with a good support system. I usually meet that support system through volunteering with other people who want to help people and each other.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people. I never feel like there’s not someone that I could call.”
She’s found experienced Army spouses who have been invaluable in helping her deal with military life. One mentor, the spouse of a retired soldier has given her valuable insight that has helped fill her military family toolbox.
“It’s extremely important to talk to experienced spouses,” she said. “It’s made it a lot easier. It helps my emotional state knowing I have people waiting in the wings in case I need them.
Her favorite tips from seasoned spouses:
•Always use pencil on your calendar, anything can change.
•Never get a calendar too big because then you can put too much on it.
•Get an address book and always put names in pen and addresses in pencil.
•Girl’s nights are really important. Even if you’re just sitting there and not talking about too much, the sense of community and just knowing you can talk to them means so much.
Jennifer summed it all up by saying: “It’s a lot easier to talk to other spouses with a military background because they know what I’m talking about without having to explain in detail. We embrace military life; of course we don’t love it all the time, but it helps if we don’t hate it.”