Published: October 13, 2021
Applied Research and Social Impact DEPLOY Fellow Focuses on Creating Positive Change for Future Generations of Service Members
Meet Charo. She’s a Marine Corps spouse, mom of two, and, in partnership with USAA, recently started serving as the Applied Research and Social Impact DEPLOY Fellow for Blue Star Families. Charo comes from a military family, with her father serving 36 years, retiring as the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. You may be surprised to know that, since the end of the draft in 1973, military and veteran families are the largest recruitment pool for new service members. In fact, 80% of recent troops come from a family where at least one parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, or cousin also served. More than 25% have a parent who has served.(1)
The statistics show that military families, like Charo’s, who celebrate and encourage continued military service to their children are extremely important to maintain a strong fighting force. So the question is, would Charo, a former military dependent and current military spouse, recommend serving to her kids? Maybe, but change is needed.
Her experience as a military dependent and spouse has had its challenges. “There is a great deal of uncertainty that comes along with being a military family,” Charo shared. “My mother, being a military spouse of 36 years, exposed me to the realities of this world. Although it can be beautiful, it can also bring a great deal of challenge and pain.” Along with the common stressors of frequent moves, long working hours, and constantly needing to reacclimate, Charo has also had to navigate the fear and anxiety around being accepted in a new community as a military family of color.
“Being stationed in an area that is not as safe for a family of color can be nerve-racking and
extremely stressful, especially when you have children,” Charo said. “Constantly wondering if they are experiencing racism while at school, ensuring that the medical professional treating you or your children are viewing you as a patient and not as a person of color, being afraid that your children will be the only ones of color on an installation; it’s a never-ending cycle of mental distress and anxiety. Although their parents signed up for this life, the children did not. I remember my mother having similar fears. In 40 years, the same fear still resonates, which makes me ask the question, ‘Why haven’t we made any improvement?’”
It’s not just Charo asking that question. And it’s not just military families of color who worry about the impacts of service on their families. In fact, over a third (38%) of active-duty service member respondents to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey report that “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. But Charo is incredibly proud of her father and husband’s service, and she wants to feel confident that if her children choose this life, they will have resources, programs, and laws in place to ensure they are protected and have access to quality care.
Quality medical care that is readily available hits very close to home for Charo. Her husband was wounded in 2011 after he stepped on an IED during a deployment. He lost his left leg below the knee and sustained several other injuries. Despite this life-changing event, he elected to remain on active duty and continues to serve to this day as a U.S. Marine.
But access to services can present another challenge for military families of color. According to the Pain Points Poll, military families of color are less likely to hear about support and resources available to them. “A lot of resources are shared through word of mouth or on military spouse pages,” Charo shared. “People aren’t sharing with others outside of their immediate group. If you aren’t ‘in the circle,’ then it’s hard to find the information.” That may not seem like a huge deal if you’re talking about the best breakfast place in town, but difficulty finding resources extends to medical care as well. Services, including mental health care, are not always easy to find or utilize. That’s a major concern, especially when you consider that, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, only half (51%) of active-duty family respondents with children feel they can access high-quality mental health care for their child(ren). Those children, to Charo’s earlier point, didn’t choose this life, and they may not have access to the critical mental health services needed to support them through the difficulties they may face.
Charo is passionate about changing those statistics. Now, thanks to the support of USAA, in her new role as the Applied Research and Social Impact DEPLOY Fellow for Blue Star Families, she has the ability to do just that. “DEPLOY Fellows is a Blue Star Program within our Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative 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.”
With a background in clinical operations for military treatment facilities in the National Capital Region and experience working with the wounded, ill and injured at the Wounded Warrior Regiment, combined with her personal journey helping her husband through his recovery, Charo has an incredible foundation to pull from in her new role. “My passion lies in changing Department of Defense policy from the medical and mental health perspective to allow for improved services for our service members and their families,” Charo shared. “I hope to create positive change for all military families and in doing so, I hope to change the lives of families of color, and provide them with the tools, support, and resources to feel as though they are a part of the military family.”
To that same point, as Kathy Roth-Douquet pointed out, “It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve your country. But no one’s going to do it if it hurts their family.” By strengthening all military families with strong communities of support, Blue Star Families helps ensure military readiness at home and abroad.
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. Connect with us 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.
(1.) Department of Defense New Recruit Survey, 2013