Category Archives: Military spouses

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.When the first Soldiers and Marines boarded the planes for Afghanistan in October 2001, no one was standing at the door asking them how they were doing. No one asked their families, either. Research on the well-being of service members and families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was slow to appear. And, many military families had already experienced a deployment or two before researchers were able to begin their studies of family separations, mental health, the effects of service member’s injuries on family relationships, child well-being, and multiple deployments and returns.

I’m proud that the National Military Family Association was the first to launch a large-scale study of military children and deployment as we commissioned RAND to follow 1,500 children and their at-home caregivers for a year. RAND reported in our Views from the Homefront study, released in 2011, that most military children and their families were handling deployment stresses well. But, researchers found military children had more anxiety symptoms than civilian kids. Military families were more at risk the longer the service member was deployed. Children had a harder time if their at-home parent was having problems dealing with deployment or if there was poor family communication in the home.

Other research is now being released and more is underway that is adding to our understanding of how the past decade of multiple deployments is affecting families. It’s both heartening and disappointing that this research is validating some of the conclusions of our study.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to understand and how our Association can use the latest research on military families presented at two recent conferences: a symposium on National Guard and Reserve families held in April at the University of Michigan and the International Research Symposium for Military Families held last week by Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute.

What are researchers reporting they’ve learned about military families? They find that most service members and families remain resilient, but:

  • More months of deployment are associated with more family challenges, more mental health services and medication use by military spouses and children, and more academic issues for children.
  • Spousal support has a strong impact on the ability of ill/injured service members to work towards getting better, but spouses need accurate information about illness, warning signs, and strategies for communicating concerns to health care providers.
  • Female service members and veterans identify several barriers to accessing support services, including gaps in information about the issues they face and a perceived lack of understanding of gender differences, especially concerning parenting.
  • Among deployed service members, family stress appears to be primarily related to service members’ actual or perceived inability to be a source of support for family members at home.

Getting more information about what’s happening to military families affected by war is important for many reasons. It can help guide the creation of better programs, policies, and laws. It can pose questions about what else we need to know about military families to support them. In this era of tight budgets, knowing what service members and families need must be the first step in creating new programs and deciding which existing programs need to be cut.

A key part of the discussion at these recent research conferences focused on what else we need to know. We need to know more about the experiences and needs of female service members and veterans—and their children. We need to know more about the long term effects of the past decade of war on military children, not just while their parent is on active duty, but after the service member becomes a veteran. How are military families making the transition to veteran status? What help did they receive from the Department of Defense? What do they need after leaving the military and settling into their new civilian community? What kind of support are families seeking in their communities and is it helping? What are the long term effects of a service member’s serious injury on the family, including the parents and siblings of single service members? What new issues will emerge for families as they face new military missions?

What questions do you wish researchers would ask about the military family experience? What do your think our Nation needs to know about service members, veterans, and their families in order to support them in the future? Tell us!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.By Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Tribute and Memorial Gifts

Tribute and Memorial GiftsCharitable giving can be a meaningful way to honor someone special. Tribute gifts given in honor of family and friends for retirements, birthdays, Father’s Day, or other holidays—or memorial gifts given in memory of someone special— are significant and lasting ways to show someone you care, and help military families, too.

We recently received an outpouring of love and support in memory of a very special Army spouse. Karen Chandler Clark passed away unexpectedly on May 10, 2013, her 64th birthday. The San Antonio native graduated from Texas Tech University, and while there she met her future husband, Robert T. Clark, also of San Antonio. They were married more than 40 years. Karen was a gifted educator, and taught at every level from preschool to college. She enjoyed teaching English to foreign-born wives of Soldiers, so that they could write letters to their husbands who were deployed during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As her husband rose through the Army ranks from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant General, Karen served at his side with grace. She greatly enjoyed “the sisterhood”—the camaraderie of her fellow Army wives.

Retirement from the military didn’t end her service. She participated in the Military Civilian Club, a ladies’ community organization. Her life affected so many others, including all the students she taught and the countless Army wives she loved and supported. Her family asked that in lieu of flowers, family and friends make a donation in support of military families. Through the generosity of her many family and friends, Karen will continue to make an impact on military families.

Giving gifts that truly benefit the needs of others can be a wonderful way to honor the special people in your life. These gifts also allow you to emphasize important values and support the causes that are personally meaningful to you.

If you make a tribute or memorial donation to the National Military Family Association, the recipient or family will receive a letter sharing that you made a gift in his or her honor, including a special message from you, and will state how the contribution will improve the lives of military families. It’s the perfect gift for someone special!

annieBy Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

Becoming a Military Spouse: Words of advice

Becoming a military spouse: words of adviceIt’s finally wedding season (hurray for warmer weather!) and we thought it’d be nice to focus on one of the most pivotal moments for military families – the wedding day. For military spouses and service members alike, this is the beginning of a grand adventure. We’ve asked our staff members for words of advice to celebrate this occasion, along with a few fun pics to share.

Michelle-wedding-outsideChange is constant. Always have a back-up plan and be OK with the fact that you will probably have to use it.—Navy spouse

Get involved. Get to know the other spouses. Who knows, you might just meet your next best friend! –Army Spouse

cc-wedding-cut-cakeMarriage is, like a box of chocolates—a super deluxe, king size, assortment.—Army spouse

Bring a sense of humor to your military adventure. You never know where the journey will take you.—Marine Corps spouse

Remember, it’s not where you are, but who you’re with. Your next assignment Becoming a military spouse: words of advicecould be a hole in the wall, but if you make the best of the situation with those around you, it could be the best assignment you’ve ever had. Attitude is everything!—Air Force spouse

Try not to get overwhelmed by the new lingo full of acronyms and such. You have the rest of your military life to learn it all!—Army Spouse

Being married in to the military is such an Becoming a military spouse: words of adviceadventure. Get involved and take advantage of every opportunity you get!—Army spouse

Treat your friends like family. You may be thousands of miles from your closest relatives – but your friends and neighbors – they are your family, too. Embrace them.—Air Force spouse

It’s an honor to be a part of such a special community; focus on the positives and count your blessings.—Army spouse

If you’re newly married or soon-to-be married into the military, be sure to download our MyMilitaryLife App for more information on what to expect.

What do you wish you knew when you married into the military?

hannahBy Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director, Online Engagement

 

I’m a Military Spouse…Let Me Introduce Myself

Flat Daddy DVDRecent articles about lavish benefits and ketchup choices have sparked many conversations in our community about the lack of understanding of the military lifestyle. Many feel that our civilian friends just don’t understand what it’s like. There are feelings of frustration and anger pitted against the sacrifices made during these past 12 years of war. As a military spouse, I can identify with the emotions these conversations evoke.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it is like to be the wife of a firefighter or police officer. I don’t know what it is like to have a long haul truck driver, a pilot, a teacher, or a chef in my family. My point is no one knows what it is really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.

There are several resources to help. One in particular is the movie, Flat Daddy, now available on DVD. Flat Daddy follows four families who used “Flat Daddies,” life-sized cardboard cutouts of their loved ones to ease the pain of separations. Filmed over the course of a year, the film explored the impact of war on those left behind. The filmmakers’ primary goal was to raise awareness about the challenges military families face and the long-term effects war can have on families.

Other great tools include the How to Help Military and Veteran Families print series that offers valuable information to families, friends, neighbors, and teachers to assist and support members of the military, their families, and veterans. Also, check out our Community Toolkit with action items and useful resources for anyone who wants to stand behind military families. For a lighthearted take, read Sarah Smiley’s Dinner with the Smileys, the story of an adventurous mission Sarah embarked on with her sons to fill the empty chair at the dinner table during her husband’s deployment. Each week the Smileys invited a guest for dinner and learned important lessons about families and the community.

What I’ve learned in the last several years is that I need my family and friends. They understand what my life is like, but that is only because they’ve had the chance to learn. We have to be brave enough to share and educate.

Let me introduce myselfBy Michelle Joyner, Communications Director

Know a Military Spouse? Here are 6 suggestions on how to show your appreciation!

Know a military spouse? We've got suggestions on how to show your appreciation!Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day! Whether you are a military spouse or not, often times people are not sure how to thank spouses for their dedication and sacrifice. It’s easy to acknowledge and thank a service member, but how do you thank those who hold down the fort, raise our Nation’s children, and keep our service members in the fight each and every day? They don’t wear a uniform, but they serve too.

Well, we’ve got you covered with some help from our dear friends! Chris Pape, founder of Macho Spouse, provides his tips on appreciating our male military spouses and Alice Swan, blogger at DCMilitaryFamilyLife.com, offers her advice on how to pamper our female military spouses.

Got A Male Spouse You Want to Thank?

Chris Pape shows us that the best way to show appreciation for a male military spouse is to keep it simple, genuine, and acknowledge that they are out there!

Neighbors: Do you live near a military family where the serving member is female? If so, congratulations! You’ve found the rare breed of male military spouse. The best way to “appreciate” this man is by not embarrassing him with lavish gifts, but maybe just a simple hand-shake and “thank you.” If you’re inclined to do more, we appreciate beer, nuts, chips, bacon, and beer. But again, a simple thank you and appreciation for all we’ve sacrificed for our wife’s career is more than enough.

Family: We would appreciate just one day free from jokes about how our wives “wear the pants/boots” in our family. Maybe stop by the house and watch your grandchildren for a few hours, or a phone call to simply ask how we’re doing. A genuine conversation about how we survive this crazy military lifestyle can go a long way.

Community: A “Male Military Spouse” appreciation day that includes fishing, golf, brewery tour, visit to Home Depot, and a baseball game would be great! There are a million simple ways to appreciate any military spouse, and we are grateful for all of them. However, the men just ask that you’re conscious of both genders that serve as military spouses.

Got A Female Spouse You Want to Appreciate?

Alice Swan helps us realize that small things can make a huge impact with the ladies!

Neighbors: Do you live near a military family? You could drop off a plate of cookies, a restaurant gift certificate, or a casserole on Military Spouse Appreciation Day to recognize the sacrifices that spouses makes on behalf of our Nation.

Family members: Is your daughter, son, sister, brother, niece, nephew, etc. married to a service member? A card of thanks and encouragement would be a wonderful gesture. So few of us get meaningful mail anymore, so what a great surprise it would be to find a note of support in the mailbox.

Community: Churches could offer a Spouse Appreciation “Night Out,” providing free child care, or a Spouse Appreciation Breakfast or Tea. Local businesses could offer special discounts to military spouses. Wouldn’t a spa day be a great offering by a local salon?

In addition to these awesome ideas, the National Military Family Association created free Military Spouse Day eCards that you can customize for the military spouse in your life. Send an eCard to show your appreciation today!

How do you show appreciation to military spouses? As a military spouse, what has someone done in the past that meant a lot to you?

Military Spouse Motto: “I’ll see you when I see you!”

Military spouse motto: I'll see you when I see you!There are many things to get used to when you are introduced to the military. There is the “hurry up and wait,” the “probably won’t call you for a week,” the “it’s out of my control,” and my favorite—“you will see me when you see me.” Let it be known that my husband and I appreciate food on our table. Matt is honored to be a part of the Coast Guard and I am right there with him. However, I would be lying if I said everything ran smoothly all the time. In fact, just writing that statement made my nose grow.

Us support spouses learn from the beginning that we need to remain calm and flexible when making schedules for the family, fun, and travel. I had a very hard time learning this concept. Matt would tell me that he would be home one day and by the next day, he would find out he wouldn’t be coming back for another two days. Or the ship was due to pull in at 10 am and then didn’t show up until 6 pm. Or we’re set to go on week-long vacation and he is kept back two days for inspections so our little trip is delayed. I have been told before that he will be home a week early just to see him a week after his arrival date. So, I decided to stop asking.

Matt thinks it is a control thing with me. But, I am willing to bet that other spouses would like a definite answer on when their husbands or wives are coming home. It is about planning and the excitement of seeing one another again. We get our hopes up at the prospect of meeting them at the dock and our first embrace since they left the house. From the moment our spouses leave, we are counting the seconds until they are home. It would just be nice to know when they are actually coming home.

So, after many disappointments, I learned that I will see my spouse when I see him. My advice is to stop looking at the clock. Try to keep busy. If you are anxious and bored, that is your issue, not your spouse’s. Too many times I see people get angry with their spouse about scheduling and arrivals. It isn’t worth it to be mad at someone who has no control over the situation either. We confuse excitement with anger and then the arrival is ruined. Learn to accept the choice we made to marry into the military and know that this is how it is. It’s our way of life and we’re stronger because of it.

Posted by Rebecca Brinkley, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association. A version of this post originally appeared on Rebecca’s blog I Know It’s Tough.