When my husband and I PCSed from Yuma, Ariz. to the Pentagon, it was a welcome change. I’m a Chicago gal and was desperate for city life, a fat National Sunday paper to devour, hip neighbors, Hungarian, and Ethopian restaurants rather than Mexican food, and a skyline punctuated with what my daughter Helen called, “the big white pencil.”
I was also ready for a break from squadron life and the now (thankfully) defunct Key Volunteer network that drew the ire of military spouses, service members, and military leaders across all lines. I didn’t want to organize bunco’s, glammy cammy formal fundraisers, hit up local businesses for donations to our auction, host a spouse gathering or put together yet another call tree.
I wanted to be a civilian.
With the desert in our rear view mirror and two toddlers in tow, we sped across the country – itching for a new adventure in D.C. and secure in the knowledge that once we moved into our new house our neighbors would surely want to BBQ with us on Sundays. The moms in my daughter’s kindergarten class would definitely include me in their uber-serious book club (no Fifty Shades in that bunch …). We would read the Post on Sundays and fend off invitations to swank parties flush with important people.
But we soon discovered that the majority of the civilians didn’t want to be friends with us – not for lack of personality (I hope) but rather we were foreigners to them, and temporary ones at that.
“Bless your heart,” said one woman when I told her my husband was a Marine. “Is he over there?” she asked her eyes wide. She wrongly assumed, as many did, that he was kicking down doors in Fallujah with an M-16 slung over his shoulder.
The civilians, I discovered, despite being at the epicenter of our government and military, knew very little about the members of the military and how we fared over the last seven years of war.
And so I did what an impressive 81 percent of military spouses do – I volunteered. A startup non-profit called Blue Star Families needed a newsletter editor and I offered my services. Their goal was simple: connect the one percent who serve in the military with the civilian population while building strength and resilience among all ranks and branches.
“Voila’. That’s it!” I felt like shouting. That’s exactly what this country needs. Forget the posh parties, I needed to be a part of a movement to educate the 99 percent about what life was really like for today’s military families. I needed back in the fold of MilFams and spouses who could empathize with me, discuss PCSing, commissary woes, and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Blue Star Families is stronger today and has done impactful work, including their annual survey that each year reaches the desks of our military and national leaders. Books on Bases, Operation Appreciation, Blue Star Museums and spouse resume building tools are just a few programs that directly support military families across the nation. Oh and that volunteer gig eventually turned into a paying job.
Our tour in D.C. was short-lived and low and behold we found ourselves heading back to the ruggedly beautiful Yuma valley. No “big white pencil,” but MilSpouse friends and a brand new person called the “Family Readiness Officer” (FRO). She and I planned a whine and wine about a week after we moved in.
Read more about Blue Star Families from Molly over at Military.com/spouse.
Molly Blake is a freelance writer based out of Yuma, Az. interested in issues that affect military families including deployments, children's education, spouse employment and others. She is also managing editor at Blue Star Families. Her work can be found on her website.