The Top Issues Facing Military Families -- They're Not What You'd Think
The Air Force–veteran-turned-Army-civilian has been writing about families issues in the military since 2009 on the Defense Department blog "Family Matters."
The blog is for both military and civilians alike -- a bridge Sanchez is trying to gap.
"There's a big need for communities to step up and support and embrace our families," she told MyDaily. The U.S. military has been at war for nearly a decade, but less than 1 percent of the population is serving.
"People don't completely understand. It's much more challenging now because these families are under so much stress, they're deploying so much, over and over again," Sanchez said.
Sanchez, a mother of three young children, served in the Air Force for 8 years before going to the Army as a civilian employee at the American Forces Press Service. Her father is a retired colonel in the Air Force Reserves.
"Military families have that built-in resilience because they've gone through so much. So resilient that they don't always reach out for help or people might assume there's other people helping them," she said.
So, what, we asked, does America need to know about what they're facing.
MyDaily: What are some of the top issues for military families?
Irene Sanchez: Finances. It affects readiness. These service members can't do their jobs if they're stressing about finances at home. How can their minds be in the game. Also, spouse employment. Many spouses are having to move a lot and start new jobs, many of them have licensing issues from state-to-state. And concern for their children's education, to try and keep it consistent from one school to another.
Multiple deployments can put a strain on marriages. Do you have any advice?
The key thing I've heard from people with strong marriages is communication. They have to keep the communication strong. Technology is great for this. Also, work out a plan prior to deploying and decide how you're going to handle conflicts. Does the spouse want to know about every little thing back home? Communication is the key. If you create that foundation before you go, [the marriage] can weather it.
What's the biggest improvement the country has made, in terms of supporting military families over the past 10 years?
There's been an overall increase in awareness of the challenges. The challenges have been there. It's been 10 years. But I think the overall awareness of what military families are dealing with has improved.
Tell me about a military family you've met that stands out in your mind?
One of my most popular blogs was a guest blog, she was a grandma. She took in her two grandchildren when her granddaughter [a single mom] deployed to Afghanistan. Here she is, enjoying life and now she's taking care of two little kids. That really resonated with me. That's very inspiring to me. Military families with special needs children really inspire me, too. They really have a lot on their plate. I'm very inspired by military children. They didn't sign up for this. I interviewed several teens for a story once, just to see how they're doing, while mom or dad has been gone. They were missing graduations and birthdays, but they had a grasp that their parents are doing something bigger than themselves. Studies show that kids with deployed parents do better when they understand that concept.
Can you describe a typical military family?
No, that's impossible. [Laughs] But I think the common thread among military families is the fact that they're deployed so much. This has been the longest war with a volunteer force. The common thread is that they're all dealing with it. I think that is why they tend to be close and bond so easily. That caring and bonding and resilience -- that's what marks a true military family.
Elaine Sanchez (formerly Wilson), editor and writer for American Forces Press Services, launched the Family Matters blog to provide resources and support to military families, as well as to encourage a dialogue on topics ranging from deployments and separations to the challenges of everyday life.
Stephanie Gaskell is the editor of The War Report, a nonprofit, independent news site dedicated to covering U.S. troops deployed around the world and military life here at home.
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