Contrary to current popular belief, the male military spouse isn’t a unicorn. They do exist and their everyday struggles are just like every other spouse. Frequent unemployment, lack of childcare, and mental health concerns, to name a few. One group of guys at Ramstein Air Base in Germany decided to come together and change the male military spouse narrative. They call themselves the Dependabros.
It was Ryan Smith and another male Air Force spouse, Michael Hall, who started the group in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend and fellow male spouse, Dave Etter.
“There wasn’t anything geared towards the men and we felt really left out,” Smith said.
Spouses and children of service members are traditionally called dependents. Being called a “Dependa” implies the military spouse sits at home all day doing nothing while their service member sacrifices everything to keep them comfortable. It’s a derogatory term, but spouses are taking that word back. The Dependabros loved the idea of using it in their group name.
The guys often use humor to uplift spirits. One bit of advice that was given is to not rush a male military spouse at an event like he’s a new puppy. Not only will he be scared of you but he’ll probably never come back. Smith encouraged female spouses to just be welcoming, as everyone is “in the same boat.” Unfortunately, male spouses report low community support.
Not only did the Dependabros feel left out, but they were ignored completely. Andrew Jones shares a story of what happened when he was at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
“My wife had just deployed to Korea for a year and I was alone for the first time with my young boys who were two and three. I reached out to the spouses’ page to try to join and was denied three times. I even tried messaging multiple admins with zero response. I had to rely on help from my coworkers and other friends I made separate from the spouses,” he said. He continued on recalling a night he had to bring both children with him to the hospital in the middle of the night when he was ill because no one was willing to help him with childcare.
Jones’ experience moving to Ramstein and meeting his soon to be Dependabros was completely different. A month after arriving, when his child had a high fever, Etter offered to take him to the doctor.
“There were no questions asked. I never had that in Texas; I had such isolation there,” Jones said. And others in the group share a similar sentiment.
“We’ve become a surrogate family to each other,” Emmanuel Spencer said. Many of the Dependabros tend to also wear another hat: they are veterans. Spencer, who served in the Marines for nine years, explained shifting to the spouse role was difficult. He found himself without a purpose.
“The first year or more trying to relate to other spouses without previous service was a big disconnect,” he said. Since meeting the Dependabros, though, that has all changed.
Friendships have been proven to increase a sense of belonging, boost happiness, and increase coping abilities. With resiliency being a modern keyword in the military lifestyle, it is the Dependabros intent to build that within. Still it is hard to leave the closeknit group behind and recreate that support at a new duty station, like was the case for Drew Driscoll who recently left Germany to head back to the States.
“When we were leaving, it just seemed like things would just go wrong and then it was like, Dependabro, what do you need,” he said. Driscoll said it didn’t matter what he needed help with, there was never a moment where he didn’t have the full support of this group. It was vital for him.
The Dependabros group has now branched off from Germany to the U.S., with chapters popping up in Colorado and Mississippi. Currently there are a few hundred members of the main Facebook group, with more joining every week. Even if members leave an area with an official group, they stay connected online so they can guide others moving to those areas with a support system.
Male spouses also address misconceptions they’ve faced when it comes to their female counterparts.
“We are not trying to join your spouses’ groups to find women to hit on; we just want to be included,” Jones shared.
Nathan O’Day, a 21–year–old Air Force veteran and military spouse, expanded on Jones’ response by saying, “Regardless of gender, we are all spouses in the same communities together. We all go through the same struggles; it’s just really important that we are there for each other. It’s a matter of human decency.”
Studies have shown a male spouse may be less likely to seek out help or support than their female counterpart. With frequent assumptions they are the service member and a constant struggle to find their role, the spouse community can take steps to be more inclusive. After all, male spouses — like the Dependabros — are just “dudes being guys.”