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Join the club ... or not

Ashley Broadway asked about joining the Association of Bragg Officers Spouses back in November. Her request was met with an uncertain response from the group’s membership chairman, because Ashley, though legally married to a soldier, does not have a military ID card. She and other same-sex spouses are not recognized as military family members by the Department of Defense or the Army.

On Friday, the Fort Bragg, N.C., spouses club changed its policy and its initial offer of a guest membership to Ashley, saying their board wanted to support all military officer spouses with a more inclusive definition of spouse.

“Therefore, any Spouse of an active duty commissioned or warrant Officer with a valid marriage certificate from any state or district in the United States is eligible for ABOS membership,” the statement reads.

The release also states the group does not discriminate based on “race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, creed, or sexual orientation” and extended a personal invitation to Ashley to join, which she has said she will accept.

Earlier on Friday, Military Spouse Magazine announced that Ashley was named Military Spouse of the Year for Fort Bragg. The commercially sponsored online contest is part of a nationwide competition conducted by the magazine. It is not affiliated with Fort Bragg or any spouses club.

An executive board representative, who preferred to remain anonymous, answered my questions earlier this month about the events following Ashley’s request, including the negative media and public reaction toward the Fort Bragg spouses club.

“Board members and their children were being stalked and threatened,” said the representative, explaining why the group’s website was password protected for a time. It has since been re-opened, though the group’s constitution and by-laws are under review and not currently posted on the site.

I have been following this story for a few weeks and wanted to present both sides of this story. Below are my questions and the answers provided by the Fort Bragg spouses club.

A separate story includes my conversation on Jan. 17 with Ashley, the director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association, which represents same-sex military spouses.

Spouse Calls: Were the by-laws of the Association of Bragg Officers Spouses pulled from the group’s website after Ashley Broadway's request for membership? You mentioned that the by-laws had not been on the site since July because they were being revised. Were they already being revised with the repeal of DADT in mind?

ABOS executive board representative: The ABOS by-laws are reviewed bi-annually and per standard practice were taken down from the ABOS website last July (2012.)  Because ABOS is an all-volunteer organization, it is not unusual to spend most of the board year revising the documents. As always, when the by-laws are revised the new rules and regulations of the Army and the federal government are considered.

SC: What version of the by-laws was obtained by Ashley Broadway?

ABOS: The by-laws obtained by Ms. Broadway from Army Community Services were an outdated version from 2009.  The current ABOS by-laws, which currently remain in revision, are from 2011.

SC: Was the ABOS board surprised that your organization was asked to make this decision in the absence of any guidance or policy at the base, Army or DOD level?

ABOS: The ABOS board was not prepared to make an immediate decision because Ms. Broadway’s inquiry was a case of first impression. Time was required to review the constitution, by-laws and internal operating procedures to make sure there was consistency throughout. The ABOS board felt that it owed it to Ms. Broadway and ABOS members to further research the membership requirements.

SC: Did the ABOS receive any guidance from the Fort Bragg command structure or from any official representative of Fort Bragg (like public affairs) the Army or DOD to help make this policy decision?

ABOS: As an all-volunteer private organization, we always look to the ABOS constitution, by-laws and internal operating procedures for guidance.

SC: Do you feel the Fort Bragg command distanced themselves from the ABOS to avoid negative publicity?

ABOS: No

SC: Did the board ask for any input from the general membership?

ABOS: The details of the negative media attention were shared with our members at the first opportunity to do so, and membership was surveyed about both the issue of the DOD ID card and making ABOS more inclusive. The members surveyed want ABOS to be a more inclusive club, however, they feel strongly in the DOD ID card requirement.

SC: Is the guest membership offered to Ashley Broadway a unique situation, or has the ABOS ever offered a similar membership to other individuals who do not have an ID card? Has the ABOS ever granted membership to an individual without an ID card? Has anyone ever requested that before?

ABOS: ABOS has offered guest memberships to others in our community, but ABOS has not given full membership to anyone without a DOD ID card. ABOS constantly receives requests from significant others, fiancés and parents of active duty soldiers who wish to join the organization; they are informed that they must have a valid DOD ID card to join. Ms. Broadway’s request was the third request from a non-DOD ID cardholder during the week of her inquiry alone.

SC: What parts of this story do you feel have been misrepresented?

ABOS: Ashley Broadway never formally applied to become a member of ABOS.   She presented herself in her inquiry as a Director of the American Military Partners Association and threatened to bring the issue to Command. The initial tone of Ms. Broadway's inquiry was somewhat threatening, she said if she wasn't admitted she and (her wife) Lt. Col. (Heather) Mack would set up a meeting with whomever they needed to.

She was told that this is a unique situation of first impression and that the inquiry would need to be discussed The ABOS board felt that it owed it to Ms. Broadway and ABOS members to further research the membership requirements. The current ABOS by-laws do not adequately guide on this issue, and the internal operating procedure has always been to require a DoD ID card.

Also, ABOS’ by-laws were never changed retroactively in an attempt to support the membership eligibility criteria or to keep Ms. Broadway out of the organization.

SC: Did the ABOSweb site require a password for access before this event?

ABOS: No, the website only became password protected once the situation reached levels where the board members and their children were being stalked and threatened.
 

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