The Force behind the Force: Command spouses ensure Soldiers and their families are taken care of

Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley shares a laugh with his wife, Lee, before the annual Veterans Day Ceremony held Nov. 7, 2015, outside the Fort Meade Museum. (File photo)

They are a vital part of the command leadership team, the women who jointly represent the command at garrison functions and offer guidance to other military spouses — all while providing a base of support for their own families as they juggle busy careers.

 

Despite the challenges, Lisa Marie “Lee” Foley, wife of Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley, and Patricia Forbes, wife of Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes, are a prominent presence on post — from serving traditional Thanksgiving dinner to service members and their families at the Freedom Inn Dining Facility to taking an active role in community events.

 

“We definitely try to do what we can to support the community,” Foley said.

 

Foley is the health and safety lead for W.R. Grace and Co. in Columbia. Forbes, a retired sergeant first class, works part-time in the cafeteria at MacArthur Middle School.

 

“It’s great being a military spouse,” Forbes said. “I’m grateful I’ve had to experience it from both sides as active duty and as a retiree.”

 

The couple, who married in 1997, served in the same Army unit at the time and eventually Forbes became her husband’s platoon sergeant.

 

Since retiring from the Army in 2001, Forbes has stood by her husband’s side throughout his career.

 

At the Military Spouse Appreciation Luncheon on May 5, the command sergeant major described his wife as his support and his drive. Forbes agrees.

 

“I am there to support and encourage him,” she said. “I am there with him.”

 

Balancing Act

 

Foley, whose father served a stint in the Navy, does not have a military background. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., she is the youngest of four. Her father Donald Ende worked in sales. Her mother Ellen was a buyer for a gift shop.

 

Foley graduated from Canisius College with a degree in bio-chemistry. She earned a master’s degree in industrial hygiene and toxicology at the University of Cincinnati and a master’s in business administration at Niagara University.

 

The Foleys married Nov. 11, 2006. Lee Foley left her full-time position at a telecommunication manufacturer in Wilmington, N.C., in January 2007 to join her husband at Fort Bragg, N.C. Then Lt. Col. Foley had assumed command of the 50th Signal Battalion there.

 

“I went from being in a career — always busy — to moving to Fort Bragg — not knowing anyone or having a job,” she said. “I didn’t have military experience. The hard part was understanding what was required of me.

 

“It was a big adjustment to leave my career, become a military wife and learn about military life and protocol.”

 

Foley attended the Battalion/Brigade Pre-Command Course Spouse Training course at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The senior spouse course is designed to enhance the skills senior spouses need for the leadership roles they hold during their spouse’s assignment. This course is geared specifically toward spouses of battalion and brigade commanders and command sergeants major.

 

In 2009, when her husband deployed to Iraq, Foley remained at home with their newborn son Liam. When Liam turned 1, she went back to work as a contractor. Two years later, the family relocated to Virginia when the colonel served as coalition branch chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, and Lee Foley obtained a full-time position in Fairfax, Va.

 

In 2013, they arrived at Fort Meade, and until last month, Foley traveled routinely for work.

 

“Coming to Fort Meade was another game-changer for me,” she said. “It is tough trying to balance three functions: career, mother and wife of the commander.”

 

Foley consulted with Audrey Rothstein, wife of former garrison commander, retired Col. Edward C. Rothstein, and with Debbie Alexander, wife of retired Gen. Keith B. Alexander, former commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service.

 

“In talking with Audrey and Debbie, it became clear that there were no longer set requirements for military spouses,” Lee Foley said. “Each person needs to determine what they can accomplish based on competing priorities. For me, my family comes first, then I do everything I can to support the military and our community.”

 

Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes and his wife, Patricia (center), have lunch together during the Military Spouse Appreciation Lunch on May 5 at Club Meade. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr.)

Working Hand-In-Hand

 

Patricia Forbes, a native of Madison, Fla., joined the Army after a year at Tallahassee Community College “I wanted to take the burden off my mom,” she said.

 

Forbes joined through the Delayed Entry Program and completed her basic and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, S.C. After several Army leadership training courses, and some 14 years later, Forbes was a sergeant in the 21st Aviation Unit in Katterbach, Germany, where she met her husband, who was then a specialist.

 

The couple soon attended several church functions together. But in December 1995, several months after they met, Spc. Rodwell Forbes was issued deployment orders to Bosnia.

 

“He said, ‘I will call you. I will write you,’ ” Patricia Forbes recalled. “I didn’t put too much into it. But he did.”

 

In November 1996, the couple saw each other again for Thanksgiving.

 

Forbes said her husband asked her to marry him three times — twice by telephone — and finally in person. That’s when she said yes, and by the following July, they were married.

 

“We work hand-in-hand,” Patricia Forbes said.

 

And that is the rule that has remained through their marriage, she said. The couple has three adult children from her previous marriage and eight grandchildren.

 

Forbes works in the MacArthur Middle School cafeteria, providing breakfast to students on weekday mornings from 7 to 10.

 

“I think I balance it very well,” Forbes said of her multiple responsibilities. “It’s not stressful. I work in the morning and then have the rest of the day for my other responsibilities or events.”

 

Serving Fort Meade

 

Foley devotes much of her time at home to shuttling Liam — now 7 ? — to Pershing Hill Elementary School; Child, Youth and School Services activities; Youth Bowling League on Saturday mornings; and weekly Cub Scout meetings.

 

As a member of the garrison command team, Lee Foley also juggles her schedule to accommodate the colonel’s busy calendar.

 

“It’s constantly changing,” she said. “Each duty assignment requires a rebalancing. We have a good process now. Since he doesn’t travel as much, [Col. Foley] gets Liam to school when I travel.

 

“Our goal is to have one of us at home for Liam when the other travels. I have been fortunate to work for companies that support the military and have allowed a very flexible schedule, and have been fortunate to have great friends and neighbors that support us.”

 

In preparation for Col. Foley’s change of command on Aug. 4, Lee Foley found her new job.

 

“I was fortunate to find a local opportunity that will not require me to travel,” she said. “I am hoping that will allow me more opportunity to support more military events.”

 

Among Lee Foley’s favorite activities is serving on Thanksgiving Day alongside the command team — all sporting tall, white chef hats and gloves — at the Freedom Inn.

 

“I love serving at Thanksgiving,” she said.

 

Foley also tries to attend the post’s signature events: Fourth of July, National Night Out, Hallelujah Festival, Family Fun Fest, Cleanup Fort Meade! and the Monthly Prayer Breakfast, plus activities at the Fort Meade Museum and post library.

 

“I will participate in anything I can, based on my availability of schedule,” she said. “So if I’m in town and Brian has to go and there is not a conflict with Liam’s events, I’ll go.”

 

For two years, Foley also served as advisor for the Officers’ Spouses’ Club. Because of her hectic schedule, she declined to serve a third year.

 

“As part of the OSC Advisory Board for two years, I just felt I wasn’t contributing as much as I should, so I switched out,” she said.

 

Like Foley, Forbes attended the Battalion/Brigade Pre-Command Spouse Training course at Fort Leavenworth and also in Vilseck, Germany.

 

“It was a lot of good information about protocol and our responsibilities,” she said.

 

In her role as the spouse of the garrison’s senior enlisted advisor, Forbes is the advisor to the Enlisted Spouses’ Club.

 

“I listen to their concerns,” she said.

 

If there is a situation she cannot resolve, Forbes discusses it with her husband.

 

“I like to let [ESC members] know there is an open door to him,” she said. “I want them to know that I want to support and help them in any way.”

 

During her husband’s nearly two-year tenure on Fort Meade, Forbes also has attended many garrison events including the Welcome Home Veterans Salute in March, Volunteer Awards Banquet in April and the 30th Annual Massing of the Colors on Sunday.

 

Good Advice

 

Both Foley and Forbes have practical advice for other military spouses adjusting to Fort Meade.

 

“Get connected,” Forbes said.

 

Many military spouses, particularly young spouses who are new to the military, may be “intimidated” by life on the installation.

 

“If they are not one to reach out … if they’re not picking up Soundoff! or going to the Fort Meade website, it’s hard to get information out to them,” Forbes said. “They don’t know where to get help.”

 

Forbes said military spouses should consider volunteering on post or connecting with senior spouses.

 

“Older, more senior military spouses have to be persistent,” Forbes said in regard to reaching out to younger spouses. “You have to say, ‘I’ll come by and pick you up. Let’s do this together.’ ”

 

Being active in the Fort Meade community, said Forbes, is critical for military spouses.

 

“If you volunteer, you just might find something that you like,” she said. “But if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll lose yourself.”

 

Foley’s advice to military spouses is the advice she herself received.

 

“Balancing a career with being a parent and spouse is extremely hard, and adding in the unique challenges of military life can make it seem impossible at times,” she said. “So my advice to all is to first take care of yourself and your family.

 

“It truly does take a village — a team — to be a successful military family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your neighbors, reach out to the many support systems offered by our military. Go to Army Community Service. Don’t isolate yourself. You are not alone!

 

“I am proud to call myself a military spouse, and I am constantly honored and humbled at the strength and resilience of my peers,” Foley said.

 

While Forbes’ husband will continue to serve as garrison command sergeant major, Foley’s husband relinquishes command in August and will work next on the Army Staff at the Pentagon. But the Foleys have decided to remain on post.

 

“I like the feel of the community and the people I have met — the people who work at Fort Meade and the local supporters of the base and those living here,” Foley said. “It is the first time we lived on a base and we love it. It’s a great community.”

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