Published: October 9, 2020
At the end of each summer, hundreds of thousands of military families begin their journey to new duty stations across the world. In any ordinary year, the typical transition challenges such as adapting to a new home, school, and community can be incredibly burdensome, but in the midst of a global pandemic and the continuing public health crisis, these challenges have become increasingly strenuous.
In Jacksonville, a Navy spouse and her two young sons just started their fourth school in their third state. Her husband is deployed, and her family was asked to make decisions about virtual or in-person schooling in July – the height of Florida’s COVID-19 outbreak and the uncertainty that came with is. All this, with the lingering expectation of another Permanent Change of Station (PCS) order coming this year. Having been a military spouse for fifteen years, she has developed her own toolkit of how to deal with moves, deployments, and the many other stressors that come with a life of service. Under the pandemic, those tools are harder to apply, though she remains optimistic because she has faced adversity on a regular basis.
We know how difficult moving a family can be, especially for military children whose friendships, educational experiences, community connections, and extracurricular activities are often completely uprooted by the frequent moves required by a military career. Through the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (CMSI), we also understand that 46% of respondents were extremely concerned about integrating into a new school if a child’s current school is not able to reopen this fall.
As stressors for military children have grown, we also know military spouses are facing uniquely difficult challenges of their own. Over the ten-week CMSI polling period between March and May, 13% of military spouse respondents said they have, or will, use paid time off or unpaid leave due to a lack of affordable and available childcare or school closures. This is in addition to the 17% of military spouses who lost their job or are unable to work because of the pandemic.
An Army spouse described the obstacles facing her family, explaining, “I have increased working hours teleworking [while] homeschooling my children because schools are closed due to the current crisis. I have to work longer hours to complete my duties and responsibilities for work due to the constant needs of homeschooling, cooking, and providing a healthy learning environment for my children.”
At Blue Star Families, where our team has studied these stressors for more than a decade while tracking the needs of our military communities throughout the pandemic, we recognize the need for an annual Welcome Week. We know that without proper support networks, whether provided by installations or made up of community members to talk to or to ask for a favor, military families are often left to handle their transitions to new installations on their own. This year, many military spouses will be forced to make this transition all while balancing teleworking and improvising as a full-time educator and healthcare provider.
The move to a new community can become increasingly difficult as the civilian communities that families are joining often lack a significant understanding of the military family lifestyle. This gap, where civilians may not understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families, can also prevent transitioning families from finding a sense of belonging and lead to increased social isolation.
With the launch of the first-ever Blue Star Welcome Week, we want the families who serve our country to know that they have support from their communities during this historically difficult year. Fall is a time when thousands of service members receive their new duty assignments, and families work to overcome the many challenges that come with moving to a new home. Welcome Week is an opportunity for military families to start off on the right foot. Our dedicated network of Chapter Directors and volunteers help run programming for all ages to connect children with their new classmates and teachers, introduce families to their new neighbors, and to have some fun.
Data from the 2019 Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) shows that 40% of military family member respondents do not feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community. Blue Star Welcome Week helps address the military-civilian divide by creating opportunities for community engagement that brings together community supporters, everyday civilian neighbors, and military families to help build stronger, integrated connections that help ease the stress of frequent moves.
The creation of a strong community foundation for transitioning military families will help spur change in communities across the country and alleviate some of the top stressors facing military families. Local leaders can work together to develop solutions to ease the pains of frequent moves, including providing military spouses with more flexible employment opportunities and enhanced access to childcare services as well as adjustments to educational programming such as better implementation of course placement to address issues caused by transferring school systems.
We believe Welcome Week only provides a sense of belonging to military families during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also raises awareness of the military family lifestyle for the next generation of service members and their families. We rely on the commitment of military families to help protect our national security, and it is our civilian responsibility to support their commitment by engaging community leaders and growing volunteer networks to welcome military families for decades to come.
Real Clear Defense
Inaugural Welcome Week Offers Key Support to Military Families
By: Kathy Roth-Douquet