A few weeks ago I received my first “official” email from the military. It was a survey asking for responses from spouses of Guard and Reserve service members. The survey asked about the number of deployments, time away from family life, and other aspects of Guard and Reserve service I’ve experienced as a spouse. As the wife of an Air Force Reservist, these questions felt important to me. It was the first time I had been acknowledged by the military in an official capacity – well, besides when I received my ID card. It felt really good to be seen, and feel like I had a voice.
As I completed the survey, I realized how many services are available to families of service members – most of which I didn’t know about until completing the survey. I was reminded how differently our families have been treated for so long, and how that is changing and evolving because of the work of orgs like AMPA.
The survey highlighted the challenges of military life from the perspective of a Reservist family. It is complicated for those service members who are in the Reserve or Guard, working full-time civilian jobs and managing military responsibilities. There might be the perception that they only work “one weekend a month,” but any person who knows a Reservist or Guardsperson knows better.
Perhaps one of the most central aspects is the lack of community. On a drill weekend, my wife’s unit has folks driving in from as far as five hours away, some taking planes, to report for duty. These people have families – who are often quite far from other military families.
Well, that meant that when Susan deployed, I didn’t have an automatic community of people who were also dealing with a deployment to interact with, even in a casual way. We lived 1-½ hours from her base. It meant that when Susan returned home from deployment she came back to a community of civilians, many whom have no connection to the military. It meant a sense of isolation, feeling misunderstood, and seeking community.
These aspects of Guard or Reserve service can have even more serious effects. Suicide rates of service members who serve in a Guard or Reserve capacity are higher than those who are Active Duty. This is due, in part, to the lack of a supportive community of people with similar experiences to offer support. I certainly saw these patterns of emotions in my work as a counselor at the VA hospital.
We have to do better than that.
In this age of rapid “connection” to others via networks on the Internet, we need to also be reaching out in physical space to one another. We need to be offering support to people on the margins – whatever those margins may be – and think of how to build truly inclusive communities.
For so long, our families have been those families on the margins – looking in at our heterosexual counterparts with benefits, support, and community. My hope is in this time of inclusion and integration of our families fully into the fabric of military life, in an official capacity, we can embrace the opportunity. My hope is that we can do so with intention and focus, and with our eyes peeled to notice other groups on the margins seeking inclusion – and welcome them into our midst.
We are one military family, serving in different ways, and we owe it to one another to broaden our understanding of those differences. Then, and only then, can we assure that all service members and their families – Active Duty, Reserve, and Guard – have adequate support and feel included, seen, heard, and appreciated.