March 29, 2004

Civilian Support For the Military

There's a very good article by Phil Carter over at Intel Dump on how the army is handling family support. The one bit about things that concerns me is the civilian/military gap that seems to be growing.

And even though they feel at least somewhat supported by their nonmilitary countrymen, the spouses do not feel particularly well understood by them -- not even by their own extended families. With the community of wives living on and around Army bases offering an attractive alternative, this generation has broken the long-established pattern of going back home for the duration of a husband's deployment. ... military wives see a gap between themselves and the civilian world. About 90 percent of spouses said they were satisfied with the respect the American public shows soldiers. But Davis, wife of the 101st Airborne Division lieutenant, spoke for many when she said: "The farther away you get from post, the less understanding there is."

Often, the spouses see good intentions thwarted by a lack of comprehension. Desaree Venema, whose husband has been gone for a year as a senior sergeant in the 4th Infantry Division, said that in her nonmilitary neighborhood, residents have been supportive, shoveling snow and babysitting her daughters "when I have a bad day." But when they complain about a spouse having to go on a week-long business trip, she said, "I just about have to draw blood from my tongue" to stop from shouting at them.

"It's wonderful to put the red, white and blue Dixie Cups in the chain-link fence to show patriotism, but you need specific tools," said McConnell, the Fort Carson youth services coordinator. Civilians sometimes will say things such as, "It's good your dad can e-mail you because it shows he's alive," unaware of how scary it will sound to a child -- especially when the e-mail breaks down, said Mary M. Keller, executive director of Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit group.

I can just imagine the benefits of a "how to support the military" FAQ list. Civilians need to know how to properly commiserate with a military spouse about that one week separation. It's unnatural not to mention it, but remembering the other side of the conversation is in the middle of an even longer separation, I would think, would be vital.

I think that the military families understand that we mean well but somebody from that side of the fence should be clueing us in on how not to be so ham handed and foolish in our expressions of support. Taking the small amount of time to learn such things is one important way that we civilians could contribute. It wouldn't be some central, heroic thing but if it saves a few marriages along the way (and helps ease soldiers back to US life), it's certainly worth the expenditure of time and effort.

Military people, we're willing to be educated on this stuff but we don't have a clue. You don't expect a raw recruit to know how to blow his nose, why are you expecting us to know how to stand with you without telling us?

Posted by TMLutas at March 29, 2004 11:59 AM