Story by Kellie Gunderman | Digital Marketing Manager, Blue Star Families

As a military spouse of almost 15 years, I had heard of the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS), but I had never taken it. In fact, I had never even downloaded a copy to review.

I suppose I thought, “Why should I?  I know what the concerns of the military community are because they are my concerns. They are my family’s concerns. I am a member of this community, so why do I need a survey to tell me what my thoughts are on military life?”

Every time I came across an article or social media post about the survey, I just kept scrolling.

And then I came on board as BSF’s Digital Marketing Manager.

After having the opportunity to work directly with the Survey team to amplify the 2017 MFLS, I learned valuable lessons about the survey, my misconceptions of what America understands about the military community, and my role moving forward as a military spouse and advocate.

“THE DATA IS IMPORTANT, BUT THE SOLUTIONS ARE THE KEY!”

I spent hours reviewing the MFLS Comprehensive Report. There was so much powerful data! In fact, I had reviewed the numbers so many times, I must have been spitting out data in my sleep.

  • 7,891 respondents.
  • 46% of military spouses ranked amount of time away from family as their top concern.
  • 51% of military families feel they don’t belong in their local civilian community.
  • 67% of female service members cannot find childcare that works.

Concerns. Stressors. Experiences. The problem was, I was so focused on the data that I wasn’t seeing the big picture.

What I really needed to be focusing on was why this survey is so important and… now what? What do we do with this data? The lightbulb that went on over my head began to burn even brighter at The Brookings Institute on the morning of November 16.

BSF Senior Advisor for Research & Policy Cristin Orr Shiffer sat on a panel alongside Anthony Kurta (performing the duties of Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness) and the Director of Applied Research and Analytics for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, Rosalinda Vasquez Maury. The panel was entitled: “Strengthening military readiness: The role of military families in 21st-century defense.” As the panel discussed topics including family separation, the cost of service, and military spouse unemployment, they also joined forces to present solutions. After all, what good are numbers if we’re not going to do anything about them?

“Community is a solution to many of these issues.” – Cristin Orr Shiffer

 

“CHANGE WILL NEVER COME IF WE IGNORE OPPORTUNITIES TO COMMUNICATE WITH AMERICA”

As a military spouse, I struggled with the frequency of my husband’s deployments, his decreasing pay raises, and how hard it was to find childcare help while he was away. But I thought that since my problems were everyone’s problems here in our military bubble, there was nothing I could do about it.

I have never been more wrong.

Having access to the Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Report was an eye-opener. For the first time, I was realizing that the big hot topics in the military community aren’t just deployments, pay & benefits and child care. I began to wonder if my friends and family outside of the military knew what military families have been experiencing during the past 16 years of wartime, and the unique challenges we face.

I began sharing the MFLS Comprehensive Report with anyone and everyone who could click a mouse. My family and friends outside of the military were completely dumbfounded by the information I handed them. I had been a member of the military community for so long that I forgot what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Sitting back, kicking up my feet and waiting for America to solve these problems for me was an expectation that suddenly seemed insane.  

How can the outside help us if they don’t know what the inside looks like?

I now take every and any opportunity to turn a “neighbor” into a “good neighbor,” not only by educating them on what we need but educating them on why – and HOW – they should help. Learn more about Blue Star Neighbors here.

“BEING AN ADVOCATE FOR THE MILITARY COMMUNITY MEANS BECOMING A STORYTELLER”

This survey is not a means to simply identify the concerns of the military community – it is a call to all Americans to seek out solutions. Working with the outreach of this survey taught me that the military-civilian divide is not as black and white as I have always believed. There is a gray area there, full of the faces, stories, and lives that will determine the future of our children and our country.

Who are the men and women behind these numbers? Who are the children that didn’t choose this life but are affected by it? How will the cost of service and retention decline affect the civilian population? What do those personal experiences look like?

We all have our own unique and powerful story to tell. Stories launch movements; they have the power to bring grown men to tears, raise skyscrapers and launch wars. People use stories to think, communicate and even dream. If we want America to stand tall for us, we need to share our stories.

I believe that the Military Family Lifestyle Survey and the Blue Star Families mantra – telling stories to connect military families to the rest of America – are, in fact, tools to lead our military families to a new age. I hope you will join me in advocating for our community by telling your story in hopes of creating a stronger nation where there is more understanding, security, support, recognition, and opportunities for us all.

To share your story with America, please visit us at bluestarfam.org/stories.