It’s difficult for me to remember or imagine from my comfy on-post home what life is like beyond my gated support community. But for National Guard, Reserve or active duty families who choose to live far away from a base, the importance of civilian community help and an attitude of understanding could not be more clear.
When it comes to dealing with the stress of reintegration issues, community support and understanding is just as important as it is during the actual deployment. Research shows that those who are surrounded by community -- whether military or otherwise -- have better mental and emotional health in the long run, and that translates into stronger relationships.
But American civilian communities still seem pretty clueless about helping and supporting military families. Until recently even Oprah Winfrey did not personally know anyone in the service or, she said, even think about helping them.
The real problem with community support, says Devin Holmes, executive director of WarriorGateway.org, is in connecting those who need help with those who want to give it. The organizations are out there, he says, but with so much information to wade through, the sides have trouble finding each other.
His organization is working to bridge that gap through a comprehensive portal of local military centric organizations on WarriorGateway.org. There you can type in the kind of service you want, your zip code and the searchable directory will pull up organizations in your area that fit what you want. For example, searching “childcare” for the Fort Benning, Ga. area brings up several of local daycares and organizations providing that service.
Holmes said the directory will eventually also include a rating system that allows users to come back and review the service they used, much like Google allows you to do for restaurants. Users can then avoid services that are not what they claim to be.
While a directory does fill a serious gap, there has to be more than just that. Free or reduced cost services are nice -- but more than anything military families need their surrounding communities to have understanding attitudes.
The CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project in Augusta, Ga. is a prime example of this. It works to connect the community with injured servicemembers in the Veterans Affairs system. Laurie Ott, who until recently helped lead the project, said the organization works to connect existing DoD and VA programs to community members who want to help. All is done with the goal of making the system better.
“I think it just takes a community spirit and leadership who are willing do what it takes to improve the system,” she said. “Augusta has that, and I think other communities have it too. It’s a matter of finding the people that just step up and volunteer ... DoD and VA were working very well together before we came along. We just brought the community piece.”