By Lieutenant Colonel Kyle Hurwitz, USAF
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense and its Components, or the U.S. Government. Author’s wife is the Applied Research Manager for Blue Star Families.
As a member of the US Armed Forces, have you ever found yourself wondering how you could have your concerns heard, or how your opinion could possibly influence Congressional policy making? Perhaps you’ve wondered why the installation’s Child Development Center (CDC) had the hours that it did and other than raising the issue to the CDC or somehow bringing it to the attention of the installation’s Chain of Command, you were unsure how you could affect change.
I have good news. Through Blue Star Families (BSF) annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS), you have just the venue by which to have your voice heard about this and a multitude of other issues which affect quality of life for military families. What started in 2009 as a small survey with around 2,700 respondents has grown to become one of the most important military family lifestyle surveys, with more than 7,800 respondents influencing the Department of Defense, Congressional and even Presidential policy.
Results of the 2017 MFLS directly led to the introduction of Senator Kaine’s Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018. This act would expand hiring and career opportunities, improve access to continuing education programs, help to ensure military families can find affordable childcare, and provide better transition and employment resources for military spouses. Findings from an explicit recommendation in the 2015 MFLS report led to CDC hours expanding across the Department of Defense, and results of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 MFLS were used in Congressional testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee on ways to improve military family readiness.
One of the significant thematic findings of the MFLS in recent years is the lack of financial readiness or financial planning by our service members. Survey results show that lack of financial readiness is one of the most important issues impacting our military members. The 2017 MFLS reported that 49 percent of respondents had less than $5,000 in savings. As someone who has supervised Airmen for 20 years, I cannot count the number of times I have dealt with an Airman with financial issues or where finance issues were a root cause of family or other discipline issues. Although most of the military branches have numerous financial planning resources, many of these are focused on financial planning and financial readiness as the service member transitions from the military. In the 2017 MFLS Comprehensive Report, a quote by a Marine Corps veteran caught my eye. The veteran was right on target when mentioning the importance of “starting to prepare for my last day on my first day… Whether two years or 30 years in the future, our military really needs to think about the world outside early and often in the career.”
Of the 7,800 survey respondents in 2017, 4,300 were active duty spouses. However, only 559 active duty service members out of a total active force of over 1 million took the 2017 MFLS. If you are a leader in any branch of our Armed Forces, I encourage you to discuss the 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey with your Soldiers, Sailors, Marine, Airmen or Coasties. Through this survey their voice can be heard and policy changes can be made.