This week is Blue Star Welcome Week, recognizing the hundreds of thousands of military families who have recently moved to new duty stations or even left the military.
When you think of military families, you can imagine them living on military bases. While many do, most actually don’t: they are your neighbors. And most of these neighbors of yours don’t have a local emergency contact to put on their children’s school forms. They don’t know anyone in the area well enough to ask for help if they need it while their service member is deployed or in training.
They’ve also probably seen a thing or two, lived in a place or a dozen, and would love to hear about their lives and tell you about theirs.
There’s this persistent trend in the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, conducted each year by the nonprofit Blue Star Families, which simply cries out for a few simple niceties to bridge the gap between military and civilian families. : Only about 30% of military families surveyed said they felt a sense of belonging in their local civilian communities.
Civilian, military or veteran: we all know the effects of social isolation in the wake of the pandemic. Can’t we do better – for all of our families?
This week, I put together a short list of ways I will try to bridge the gap between civilian and military families and make my community a friendlier place to live.
- I’m going to check into my son’s school and see if any new military kids signed up this year so I can reach out to their families and welcome them back.
- I’m hosting a weekend hike for some military, veteran, and civilian families.
- And my long-term goal: to help military spouses with experience or interest in journalism as they seek employment in the industry.
Military spouses are adaptable, committed, and bring essential perspectives to newsrooms and other workplaces. Unfortunately, their talent is often overlooked when they are automatically excluded from the job application process due to their inevitable job gaps of PCSing (making a permanent change of station) every few years.
Their use is essential to exposing civilian communities to military families and military health. Relieving financial stress in military families can help alleviate risk factors for mental health problems and food insecurity.
Perhaps this Blue Star Welcome Week could be a reminder that there are National Guard or Reserve families living in your neighborhood. When they’re not activated, they have normal civilian jobs just like you, even when they train with the army regularly on the weekends. You may not even know they’re there, but it’s not too hard to find out. Just ask. Many of their families made it through periods of the pandemic without their service member as they were called up in large numbers to fill gaps in the national response to Covid-19.
If you feel inspired this week, or any week, to welcome a military family into your community, offering some insider knowledge is a great way to do it.
“Where to go for that slice of pizza, the best stores, the best doctors, what…about that school official? Is there something I need to know?” says Laura Abubekr, Army wife of 12 years and member of Blue Star Families’ diversity and inclusion effort.
She also welcomes recommendations that are specific to her multicultural family: Abubekr is Mexican-American and her husband is Ghanaian-American.
“Where can I get my son’s hair products or find a good dentist? Where can we find condiments for [the foods of] our cultures?
Abubekr and her husband moved from Hawaii last year with their three children, leaving a civilian community to live in on-base housing in the Washington, DC, area during the deadliest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Along with the usual headaches of changing workplaces: are the vents in the new house painted shut? Check! – He found that this movement was the most isolated of all that his family had made.
She hopes that talking about her experience can help others and encourages military families to make an effort to make connections as well.
“Yes [families] they’re supporting the military, we need to have a strong foundation and with that comes community building. Since we leave our families it is up to us to build our family. Family is not always blood,” he said.
Abubekr says a warm welcome from new neighbors can be a lifeline for military families who she says are often reluctant to ask for help.
“And the things you would discuss with your other neighbor [who’s] not military in the cafe, please discuss it with us. We want to wear our military hat with our civilian hat at the same time and strike that balance,” he explained.