Published: July 22, 2021
Meet Quiana. She’s a Veteran Navy spouse, mom of three, and Blue Star Families’ National Chapter DEPLOY Fellow, a position made possible by USAA. With her husband having served 24 years in the Navy, Quiana is intimately aware of the sacrifices military families make every day. In fact, during those 24 years of service, Quiana’s family moved seven times and endured seven deployments. How did she make it through those often challenging times? By doing what she does best: connecting with people.
Those people can make the unbearable feel a little more manageable. In fact, according to the 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 52% of respondents reported they found friends to be the most helpful during a separation. But finding those friends—your people—can be difficult, especially when you consider that military families move every two to three years on average, and they’re constantly restarting and acclimating to a new community. It’s intimidating to put yourself out there with a new group of people, which often leaves military families feeling disconnected. So much so that, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, only 27% of active-duty family respondents feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community.
But knowing how important relationships are to navigating military life, Quiana wasn’t willing to accept that as her reality. “I genuinely like to celebrate and connect with people,” Quiana shared. “In every community and every role I have had, I have leaned into these gifts.” And lean in, she did. Quiana took on professional and volunteer roles throughout her time as a military spouse, allowing her to not only build relationships for herself but also advocate for all military families. And to be there as a supporter for families while they navigate various challenges.
That advocacy—positively impacting all military families—is so important to Quiana, especially when it comes to military families of color. “For families of color, racism has been happening all around us our entire lives and, unfortunately, the military community is no exception,” Quiana explained. “Microaggressions happen all the time. Hair policies that target textured hair, dress codes that target ‘urban’ styles, flexible advancement or retention policies used to advance ‘choice’ candidates, low appraisals on our homes, my husband being discriminated against at work, and our children facing aggression and racial slurs that go unacknowledged by those in leadership positions; these things happen every day, and most never speak up. It can be awful. We have been in the position of having no advocates, and it’s a scary, lonely place to be.”
Discrimination is a very real concern. According to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 26% of service member respondents of color report experiencing racial discrimination in their unit or command, and 21% report experiencing racial discrimination in promotion and career advancements. That’s a major problem when you consider the stability and future of our All-Volunteer Force. If service members don’t feel connected and respected, they won’t continue their service. If they’re worried about their family members and how they’re faring at home, the same outcome is true. In fact, from the 2020 #BSFSurvey, we know 8% of veteran respondents of color cited racial discrimination as one of the reasons they left military service, and over a third (38%) of all active-duty service member respondents report “concerns about the impact of military life on my family” is a reason they would choose to leave military service, making it the most common reason.
That’s why Blue Star Families’ mission is to ensure all military families feel a sense of belonging to their community. Knowing families of color, in particular, were facing additional hurdles to accomplish that, we had to do something to connect them with the resources, programs, and people that would allow them to thrive. But, as it turns out, that’s easier said than done.
According to the Pain Points Poll, military families of color are less likely to hear about support and resources available to them. Why? Lack of representation. “Spouse clubs, ombudsman [and other branch equivalents], and Key Spouse programs are often headed and attended by spouses whose service members are high-ranking officers or in key positions, which are disproportionately Caucasion,” Quiana said. “You end up with events and activities that military families of color might not relate to. And if they do, they might not feel comfortable attending. Seeing someone who looks like you in a leadership position empowers you to get involved and to do something in your community. Without representation, military families of color aren’t hearing or receiving critical resources.”
It was from that understanding and acknowledgement that the DEPLOY Fellowship program was born. “DEPLOY Fellows is a Blue Star Program within our Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI) designed to diversify and expand the pipeline of leaders in the military community,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and Founder of Blue Star Families. “The effort will embed and train individuals from historically underrepresented populations into Blue Star Families’ organization as paid staff in national and Chapter roles. Through our training, we’ll seed a new generation of leaders throughout the veteran and military family support space.”
Thanks to the partnership with USAA, in her new role as the National Chapter DEPLOY Fellow, Quiana can continue to lean into her passion for connecting with people. With her son now serving in the Navy as well, Quiana is dedicated to creating positive change and delivering resources that will empower her community. “Change happens when people care,” Quiana shared. “To help them care, we swap stories. Those stories channel energy. They can travel and touch others. I hope my story touches someone.”
The Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative and DEPLOY Fellows Program were created after hearing from and listening to military families like yours. And we don’t want to stop there. Take the survey to share your diverse experience as a military family of color. Tell us what challenges your family continues to face and opportunities you are looking for to enrich life as a military family. Together we can impact change.