I’m sure that we’ve seen these clips before. We’ve seen the clips where military family members run to greet the service member who has just come home from a long deployment. From a civilian point of view, it is hard to understand why these family members get so excited at seeing their loved one come home. After all, it’s just a job right? If you really delve into the military culture, however, you will find that their lives are more than just their job. It’s an entire lifestyle that is very different from most of the country. In order to really understand military culture, you have to understand the challenges that many families in the military face.
First, it’s not just the airman, the soldier, the sailor, or the marine that serves. The entire family serves right along with them. What does that mean you may ask? Military family members often have to give up something in order to support their loved one in the service. This may come in the form of a military spouse putting their career aside due to the frequent moves. Other forms of it may be that the immediate family unit is separated from extended family members, thus not having extra support around when deployments come. Even the children have to give up a set of friends and a school whenever it comes time to move.
Second, the military lifestyle is all about frequent change. A military family may stay in a duty station for at least 2-3 years, four if they’re lucky. This means that spouses have to quit and find new jobs, kids have to go to a different school with different friends, and the family also has to find a new house to live in. Additionally, there is the change that comes with the service member’s inevitable deployments. This forces the family to learn how to adapt to new environments fairly quickly.
Third, deployments are not easy paths to navigate. All military children are faced with the deployment of a family member at some point during this service stint. Some children are able to adapt and able to cope with their mom, dad, or both parents being gone for long lengths of time. While other children have a very hard time with accepting that their parent has to go. Many children ask the questions, “Why does my mommy or daddy have to go? Why can’t they be at my ballet recital? Why can’t they see me at my game? Why do they have to miss celebrating major holidays with us?” There are no easy answers to these questions. Military spouses often have to take up the mantle of maintaining both roles as parents to their children while the other spouse is deployed. This means that one parent is responsible for the care and discipline of the children, most of the time without consistent support. There is also the additional stress of maintaining the household and making sure that everything is taken care of while the service member is deployed.
Fourth, many military families may struggle with adjusting to civilian life after the service member retires or is discharged for some reason. This can come in the form of not being able to find stable employment, dealing with the after affects of PTSD, or even learning how to live with the service member again in the home after them being gone for so long. There is also the added stress of many military service members coming home with serious physical injuries due to combat.
Now that we understand the challenges of military families, how can we as a community provide them with support?
1. Be welcoming to military families in your community. Many families move to communities and often feel like the outsiders. Knowing that there are people that will welcome them into their inner circle, often gives military families a huge bolster of support. This is a huge component when it comes to coping with deployments.
2. Be attentive to practical needs in military families. Military spouses are the main person that has to keep the “home front” up and running while the service member is deployed. This can be very overwhelming to a spouse who is new to a certain duty station and does not know where resources are. If you know of a military family that could use a little bit of extra help locating resources, then reach out to them and see what it is that they need.
3. If you know of a military family who is getting ready to go through a deployment, reach out to them and see if you can’t be part of their support system. Military spouses can often feel isolated and alone without the service member there with them. Having a strong network of friends and family who can help them if they need it can provide a sense of reassurance and make coping with the separation a little easier.
4. Recognize and respect the service and sacrifice of our military personnel. Many military service members come back home with significant injuries or combat related stress. Many military family members have the difficult task of getting their loved one back to health, and that journey tends to be a very long and arduous one. Many military veterans or active duty personnel tend to go throughout life without even hearing a “thank you” from the people that they fought to protect. If you have the opportunity to meet veterans or active duty personnel, please take the time to thank them for their service.
Military families make up a very unique part of our society here in the United States. It is important that we recognize the differences, but also the common factors that make them just like us. At the end of the day, they are families that live a different lifestyle, but they still need love and support just like any other family.