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17 Nov 2021


Research, like The Significance of Military Contexts and Culture for Understanding Family Well-Being: Parent Life Satisfaction and Adolescent Outcomes, highlights the importance of formal and informal supports (DeGraff et al., 2016) for military families. Many are familiar with the major stressors in military life such as deployments and permanent change of station (PCS). However, military members, spouses, and children also experience the everyday stressors that their civilian counterparts experience (like a school bully, job loss, parenting stress, juggling the family schedule, and learning their boss’s leadership style). The unique factor military members and dependents experience are that everyday stressors are in addition to the unique military stressors. Military leaders and youth professionals should care about these challenges.

Why should they care about these challenges? Because understanding the why behind the stressors helps professionals and leaders accurately support military-connected individuals. The research conducted by DeGraff, O’Neal, and Mancini demonstrates there is a positive relationship and higher life satisfaction when the military member and civilian spouse use available resources or feel supported by the military (DeGraff et al., 2016). Further, when a spouse is satisfied with their military life, it directly impacts their Service member’s life satisfaction (DeGraff et al., 2016).

The good news is there are resources and supports in place to help families through times of stress and to overcome challenges. In the Air Force, Squadron leadership (e.g., commander, flight chief, First Sergeant) plays a vital role in the satisfaction of its members and their dependents. A squadron is often the airman’s first introduction to the installation, and they are charged with promoting organizations that support their members. The squadron is also charged with developing a volunteer spouse program. In the Air Force, this is known as Key Spouses. Key Spouses are volunteers who support new Airman families with transitioning to military life, sharing resources, and supporting them in times of need. The support provided to the civilian partner is important because their perceived support directly influences the satisfaction of married active-duty Service members. The same research also shows that spouses who feel supported have a positive influence over their children’s academic performance and their Service member’s preparedness for work (DeGraff et al., 2016).

Let’s put this into context. I am a Key Spouse for the Air Force. A member in a squadron I served in lost their child during a visit to their home state. This was heartbreaking news. How did the squadron step up to support this family? As a team they worked with the military cemetery for burial rights, Key Spouses created a meal train for when the family returned, leaders spoke to the family and directed them to support agencies and provided additional time off, and their flight leadership went grocery shopping for them. You see, when this family came back to their installation, the squadron was their only support. The military plays a major role in how they support their people. If the military needs their people ready at a moment’s notice, they must put the effort into supporting every level including rank, enlisted, officer, civilian employee, spouses, and children. Supporting agencies, squadron leadership, and volunteers like Key Spouses play a part in how the military supports their families.

Overall, I believe the military is working to support their families at all levels. Resources like Military One Source, partnerships with 4-H and the Boys and Girls Club of America, its chaplains, Family Readiness, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Key Spouses’, and other support groups all play a role. The report “Spouse Psychological Well-Being: A Keystone to Military Family Health” found that female spouses need a broad range of supportive programs for their families, including stress-related resources; they likewise need the distribution of information about resources related to psychological issues (Green et al., 2013).

And, as military spouses, we must accept support. A study on National guard families after combat: Mental health, use of mental health services, and perceived treatment barriers report that “over a third of participants indicated having at least one mental health problem” (Gorman et al., 2011). In the former study, the Service members indicated embarrassment related to services while spouses noted pragmatic reasons (Gorman et al., 2011). Spouses who feel alone, unsupported, or overwhelmed by a military spouses’ service need to identify or seek solutions and create a realistic plan to support their personal and family needs.

Asking for help is hard. Once we’ve done so, though – and once we’ve accepted an offer of help – a sense of relief washes over us. That relief is the feeling that military spouses are not alone. That was the case for a spouse who called me one night. She reached out to me as a Key Spouse when she was overtaken with worry about her husband for a few months and gained the courage to call. I listened to her concerns and reassured her that there were programs to support her and her husband; I provided support.

Support is a 7-letter word, but a word that brings so much meaning. How we support our families in the military matters. As a youth professional, active-duty member, unit leader, civilian contractor, or DOD employee, let us support every level of the military with the utmost care they deserve. We now know that when spouses are supported, life satisfaction for the whole family unit improves. For me personally, I understand the why from the research and personal experience. In the song by Matthew West (2020) titled Truth be Told, he shares that we tell lies with ourselves and others. One lie is that we have it all together and the other is that everybody’s life is better than ours. These lies keep us from reaching out for help. We need to speak the truth, we need to share our brokenness, and most importantly support each other.

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