Published: September 4, 2021
When Facing Back-to-Back Long-Term Separations, #MilFams Rely on Community Connections to Survive
When you think about the sacrifices military members make, your first thought might be of those on the frontlines―service members deployed overseas to defend and protect the freedoms we all enjoy. What most Americans don’t understand is that our military families are serving and sacrificing alongside their service members. The reality is, separation is an inevitable part of military life, and it can leave families feeling very isolated. Between deployments, temporary duty assignments, and moves, they’re constantly saying goodbye to loved ones—whether it’s their service member, or their friends and family. In fact, time away from family is consistently a top-five issue for military families year after year, according to Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS). It’s no wonder why because it can make life very lonely at times.
Jessica, an Air Force spouse and mom to five-year-old twins, understands those feelings. At the beginning of their marriage, Jessica’s husband was gone 150-200 days out of each year due to temporary duty assignments. In the last three years alone, her family has gone through two deployments and a handful of shorter separations. “Especially in the beginning, before I knew many people and knew what kind of resources were available to our military families, I felt very alone,” Jessica shared. While she struggles to navigate the difficulties of military life, sadly, she may not feel like her community understands, and therefore can provide adequate support for her family. She’s not alone. 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.
Despite the challenges, Jessica has learned to “adapt and overcome.” She understands firsthand that if she feels stressed at home, it’s harder for her husband to focus on the mission. She knew she needed to find resources to create connections and build a community to support her through each deployment and move. With the help of Blue Star Families, Jessica could do just that. “Participating in [Blue Star Families] programs has helped build morale, relationships, friendships, and community,” Jessica said. “They allow us to bring military families together; to interact with our civilian community. We have had opportunities to educate each other and build friendships that are so important to surviving military life.”
Making that kind of an impact is so important. Based on findings from the 2020 MFLS, we know that, while 46% of active-duty service member respondents feel a sense of belonging to their unit or command, only 27% of active-duty family respondents feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community. In today’s modern military, a large percentage of families live within the civilian community; not on the installation. To empower family members to feel fulfilled at home, we need to ensure they are connected to their civilian neighbors.
In Jessica’s case, that sense of connection makes all the difference when facing multiple deployments, separations in a short period of time and the isolation that comes with it. “To be able to come into a local business and host a safe event for our military families means everything,” she said. “These events are a place to gather and connect. We have so many good memories from Blue Star Families events in several different communities. The Yellow Ribbon Tree project is my favorite event of the year. Each tree honors not only deployed service members but also their families. This past year, my girls and I set out to decorate three Yellow Ribbon Trees in our local community; one at a Starbucks on base, and two at Starbucks stores in our civilian community.”
Jessica went on to share, “My husband was deployed this past holiday season, along with a few of our friends. It meant so much for my family to be able to honor them by writing their names on ornaments that were displayed on each Yellow Ribbon Tree.”
We want all military families to feel supported and recognized within their local community. With that in mind, Blue Star Welcome Week was created. “Blue Star Welcome Week is an annual event, piloted and designed to welcome our military-connected families to their new communities,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, Founder and CEO of Blue Star Families. “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.”
Blue Star Welcome Week 2021 will take place 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, 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.