Is it Broken? If So, What's the Fix?


I knew something was up yesterday as soon as I turned on my phone and opened my inbox. And it was. A big article in USA Today about the stresses being placed on military families.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - During the worst of Bravo Troop's 15-month tour in Iraq, when soldiers were dying in bunches, families here poured out their fear, frustrations and even hysteria onto one young woman: Bana Miller.

She's not Army. She's not trained. Her only qualification, then at age 24, was being an officer's wife who volunteered to run Bravo Troop's Family Readiness Group -a job of e-mailing and organizing potluck dinners in peacetime.

But when Bravo went to war, she became a social worker, grief counselor and a 24-hour hotline overnight. At various times, wives threatened to commit themselves to a mental institution or go to the media if Miller did not help bring their husbands home.

"I was in this alternative universe thinking: 'What has my life become?' " says Miller, who grew up in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia and married the boy she met in seventh grade.

As the Iraq war nears a sixth year, the Army has more than 3,000 volunteers such as Bana Miller, and many are buckling under the pressure of duties that they never expected would be so hard or last so long. The Army and Marine Corps lean on these family support volunteers to be the first stop for families struggling to deal with war, separation and loss.

Click here to read the full story.

Some interesting things happened yesterday. A Veteran's Service Organization and at least one lawmaker are quite interested in hearing the opinions of military families. What, realistically, can and should be done to better support military families? We're asking for your help, and for your honest, no-holes-barred opinions. 

Regular SpouseBUZZ readers know that we don't do a lot of whining around here. We try to embrace the suck and emphasize the many wonderful aspects of military life. And we like it that way. However, that doesn't mean that there are not fundamental issues that should be swept under the rug and never discussed. Especially on a forum such as SpouseBUZZ.

Military spouses are the glue that holds everything together during war time. For the most part, we graciously accept our roles, and we fulfill them quite well. But much is asked, and sometimes it's hard to just hang in there. And there's nothing wrong with feeling that way on occasion. And it doesn't make you whiny or unsupportive. It makes you human.

I am extremely interested in hearing your opinions on how, in a broad sense, the military can realistically improve the lives of those on the homefront. On a more specific note, I am interested in your thoughts about volunteer burnout, and what we can do about it. This caught my eye:

Volunteer burnout has touched Army and Marine Corps bases nationwide, says Fonta Footman-Mitchell, director of volunteer services for the National Military Family Association, a support and advocacy group with liaisons at U.S. military installations. From 5% to 7% of the association's own volunteers also have quit, she says.

Though neither could provide statistics, the Army and Marine Corps are seeing an increase in turnover among volunteers, according to Marine Lt. Col. Jacqueline Melton, head of family readiness programs, and William Bradner, a spokesman for the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.

And what do you think about compensating volunteers for their work?

The Marines, Melton says, are spending $30 million over two years to shift from volunteers to paid staff members. The Army is spending $45 million to hire about 1,000 full-time workers to help some volunteers, Bradner says.

Some say the Army could go even further.

"If I had my wish of wishes, all the (volunteer family support programs) would be run by paid employees," says Michele Votel, wife of Brig. Gen. Joe Votel, assistant division commander for the 82nd Airborne Division.

This is your chance to have your voices heard. People are paying attention. What do you want them to know? What needs (realistic) do you have that are not being met? What programs could be better organized to maximize the benefit to you and your family? How do we deal with the volunteer burn-out rate that we are seeing with FRG and Key Volunteers?

I do like the mantra, "ask not what the military can do for you, but what you can do for the military." And spouses ask themselves that very question every single day. And they answer it, too. But if money is going to be allocated to the homefront, which appears to be the case, how should it be spent?

Please give careful consideration to this and give us some honest feedback. We desperately want it, and we want to pass it on to people who need to see it. "Bring my husband home" doesn't qualify though, even if you want that to happen (who doesn't?). Let's stick to reality-based solutions and substantive, meaningful suggestions. For those of you who are uncomfortable leaving your feedback in the comment section, email it to us and we'll publish it anonymously, with no attribution.

Tonight at 9:00 EST on SBTR, we'll be discussing the USA Today article at length. We'll talk about your suggestions and we will take your calls. Please join us in the chat room. This is important stuff, and we need your involvement. This is, after all, our lives.

Update 1/22/08: Please click here for an update to this post.

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