Published: September 14, 2021
Former #MilKid Aims to Open Doors and Create an Inclusive Community
Meet Brandy. She’s a former military kid and just started as the Communications DEPLOY Fellow for Blue Star Families. With frequent moves taking you away from family and friends and deployments causing added separation and stress, it can be hard for military families to find a place they truly feel at home. In fact, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS), only one in four (27%) active-duty family respondents feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community. The struggle can be particularly true for military kids who haven’t had the opportunity to plant roots in their lifetime.
With her father serving in the Navy, two Aunts and an Uncle serving in the Air Force, and both grandfathers with past military service, Brandy understands more than most the feelings of isolation that can come from life as a military child. “As an introverted child it was difficult to make friends,” Brandy recalled. “I would rely on being able to hang out with the other ‘base kids’ since I wasn’t sure how accepting the civilian community would be of the ‘new kid.’”
We all know navigating middle school and high school can be hard, even when you aren’t new to town. Social circles that dominate schools can feel intimidating and unwelcoming. Add in a lack of understanding surrounding the military community, and finding your place as a new high school student can feel impossible. That lack of understanding isn’t just impacting military kids either. In response to the 2020 MFLS 79% of active-duty military families feel the general public is largely unaware of the daily challenges they face. Not feeling seen and understood by the community in which you live, can leave adult military family members feeling isolated and lonely.
For Brandy, not feeling seen and struggling to find a place to belong had another challenging layer. “I am bi-racial but white-passing,” Brandy shared. “I have, at times, felt like I didn’t have a ‘place’ to belong to on either side. It can be hard to understand how you identify and find acceptance within the community. To already be struggling with my own self identity and then to also not have a permanent residence creates a challenge on another level to find a place to belong. In addition, moving to small towns because of the military also made things difficult. Racist comments have been made in front of me because they did not know I was that race. It’s scary to know how they’d really feel if they knew I was bi-racial.”
Brandy needed to find a safe place to call home. She found that through volunteerism. Brandy started volunteering with Blue Star Families where she could connect with other military families and build confidence in herself. What’s more, through her volunteer efforts, Brandy was also able to develop relationships with a supportive civilian community. Now, as an Austin resident, Brandy is planting her roots and continuing to make an impact by participating in local park clean-up efforts.
While Brandy has found her footing she still thinks back to her time as a military child and her struggles to belong. “I have loved volunteering and bettering my community,” Brandy said. “But I still feel like there is more I can do, positive change I can bring to the military community and military kids like me. Being able to change close-mindedness and opening up doors for cultural inclusion within the military makes me feel like I am helping to solve not only my local community issues, but also helping those who are based all over the world.”
Now, as the communications DEPLOY Fellow, Brandy will have the opportunity to do just that. “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.”
In her position, Brandy will be able to spread the message of inclusion through communications campaigns. She’ll also be able to increase the awareness and understanding of the sacrifices the military community in general makes and how civilian neighbors can show up in support to make the military families near them feel welcome. Brandy is getting right to work, starting with Blue Star Welcome Week. “Blue Star Welcome Week is an annual event, piloted and designed to welcome our military-connected families to their new communities,” said Roth-Douquet. “It’s an opportunity for communities across the country to open their arms to military families by inviting military and civilian members alike to participate in events, provide messages of support and appreciation, and simply engage with military members. Our goal is to ease the transition and create a great sense of belonging for military families in a big, meaningful way.”
This year, Blue Star Welcome Week will be celebrated from September 25th – October 3rd. We hope you’ll join us to honor the military families in your neighborhood. Participate in a local event, introduce yourself to your new neighbor, reach out and connect with us. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference for those who sacrifice so much in service to our great country. Learn more about ways you can get involved at www.bluestarwelcomeweek.org.