What do you immediately think of when you hear the phrase “military family”? What probably comes to mind is a family with one active duty Service member parent, frequent relocations, and a lifestyle centered around that Service member’s role in the military. Although research shows that this may be the norm, there are other types of military families that live a different version of the military lifestyle. The families I want to specifically discuss are National Guard and Reserve families. Service members in the National Guard and Reserves component of the military typically have a full-time civilian job in addition to their part-time military responsibilities. This is why Guardsmen and Reservists are often affectionately referred to as the “weekend warriors” with the tagline “one weekend a month, two weeks a year.”
Both of my parents were Service members. My father is in the Army National Guard, whereas my mother is in the Army Reserves. Because neither of them are active duty, I did not have to deal with frequent relocations. These factors have exposed me to a different lifestyle than the majority of my military-connected peers, and over the years, I have found it more difficult to find people I can relate to or that understand the unique challenges I have experienced as a military child. The National Guard and Reserves lifestyle has led me to have a one-of-a-kind opportunity for navigating life as a military brat that I’d like to share with you.
Common Challenges of National Guard/Reserve Families
National Guard and Reserves components face unique challenges. Two of these common challenges are related to deployments and living far from a military installation. In relation to deployments, I saw my parents wear their military uniforms very little, and they did not talk about their service as much as they did their “regular jobs,” so it almost felt like they were not in the military. However, when they did have to leave town or were occasionally deployed, it was tough to adjust. I was not used to seeing them pack their bags with unfamiliar military gear, wearing their Army Combat Uniforms (ACU), or being away from home for reasons that I did not completely understand.
Living far from a military installation poses a challenge for the Guard and Reserve families because they are not close to all the supports afforded to active duty military families that live on installations. Such supports can take many forms ranging from programs and resources to people that can relate to your lifestyle. For example, growing up, my friends did not understand why my parents were working over the weekend when they had already worked a full week at their “regular jobs.” These unique challenges experienced by National Guard and Reserve families may be difficult to overcome, however, there are resources designed to help them prevail.
Resources for National Guard/Reserve Families
Family Readiness Organizations are another useful resource for National Guard and Reserve families, and these groups look different across the branches of the military. For example, in the Army, one would look for the Soldier and Family Readiness Group whereas in the Air Force one might look for an Airman and Family Readiness Center at their closest military base or a Key Spouse Program. These are organized networks of military members and their families that can be a good source of information on where to find specific programming and services. They can also provide support and a sense of community and allow you to connect with people who share similar experiences. More information about how to get involved with each branch’s family readiness program can be found by accessing “How to Join a Family Readiness Group” on Military.com.
Military OneSource is another resource that offers a lot of helpful information for military-connected families. Their resources range from health and wellness, deployments, and those specific to National Guard and Reserve families. In addition, they provide confidential counseling over the phone or via an online chat to take charge of and address stressors related to military life. Military OneSource is a free service that military members and their families can access online, 24/7.
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) was designed to specifically support National Guard and Reserve families prepare for deployment, life during deployment, and reintegration post-deployment. Throughout the deployment cycle, YRRP organizes and tracks programs and events happening across the country to promote well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families, and communities. YRRP also hosts a library of online courses related to health care, education, and training opportunities, and financial and legal benefits. These resources can be used to help improve well-being pre-, during, and post-deployment.
From my experience as a military brat, I have learned a lot about what makes National Guard and Reserve families different from other military-connected families. From everything I have learned during my life, my greatest takeaway is knowing that, at the end of the day, we are all one big military family doing what we can do to support one another. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we are not alone and that there are resources designed to help us succeed.