'Time Away' Remains Top Troop, Military Family Worry: Survey

Families await the arrival of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during the ship’s homecoming. (U.S. Navy/Maria G. Llanos)
Families await the arrival of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during the ship’s homecoming. (U.S. Navy/Maria G. Llanos)

Absence from home remains the top concern among active-duty troops and their families for the second year running, according to the results of an annual military family survey scheduled for release Wednesday.

The survey, fielded by Blue Star Families and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), queried more than 10,000 people between April and June of last year.

The survey is set to be released Wednesday during a summit in Washington, D.C. The event will be livestreamed on Military.com.

Until 2017, pay and benefits issues were regularly identified by respondents as their top concern, said Kathy Roth-Douquet, Blue Star Families chief executive officer. That "time away" has now placed in the top spot for the second year running speaks to an ongoing worry over isolation and military family support within communities both on and off base, she said.

"The flip side of social isolation is that family separation is that much harder," she said. "When you have a very stable network and part of your life experience is one of family members leaving to do their job, it's not as much of a strain as when all you have is each other."

Roth-Douquet said the results highlight the need for lawmakers and Defense Department policy officials to take a hard look at choices that can lead to that instability. For example, although military members and their families know that deployment is a pivotal part of their jobs, it's important for officials to consider whether every absence or relocation is "really necessary for the mission," she said.

In the absence of those policy solutions, she said, military families can benefit from building strong connections on and off base, something military spouses who responded to the survey said would be aided by better employment opportunities.

"As our force gets earlier in the generations, young people very strongly believe that they need two incomes," she said. "So as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are being replaced in the force ... just the sense that this is a requirement is growing."

More than 60 percent of respondents to the 2018 survey were active-duty family members, while 16 percent were either currently serving troops or veterans. About 50 percent said their rank or their service member's rank was E-5 to E-9, while 20 percent identified as O-4 to O-6. About 13 percent of respondents identified as E-1 to E-4 or O-1 to O-3.

The questions included on the survey are not the same year-to-year, said Jennifer Hurwitz, Blue Star Families' applied research manager, a practice that allows researchers to dive deeper into trends, ask better questions and better target solutions.

For example, this year's responses have led Blue Star Families to begin funding 10 community chapters nationwide, she said.

"Last year, we looked at 'sense of belonging' at the surface level, and this year we extended that conversation," she said. "We found ... that nearly half of military respondents indicated that they did not have a sense of belonging to the civilian community, and slightly less felt a sense of belonging to their military community. And that was surprising to me."

Blue Star Families officials said they hope, as always, that the survey results will fuel both discussion and change on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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