9 Polite Ways to Answer Ignorant Civilian Questions

I don’t care for the term "civilian-military divide." It infers an "us and them" mentality and I’d rather dedicate space to breaking down that wall. Still, considering less than eight-percent of 314 million Americans have even performed military service, I get that there is a disconnect.

And it’s one that is highlighted by the trivial or ill-informed comments people make to members of the military and their spouses. Maybe they mean well, but it doesn’t always come off that way. Still, we can be ambassadors and change perceptions one person at a time. Our attitude, what we say and how we respond to questions and comments, can help bridge the gap.

So tell us, what kinds of questions and comments have you received lately? Do any of these conversations sound familiar?

You’re lucky you receive free benefits for your whole family. Yes, Uncle Clyde, I’m grateful for Tricare especially when so many civilian families cannot afford healthcare. But is anything ever truly free? The spouse whose soldier comes home with severe PTSD, TBI, or missing limbs and needs extensive, indefinite medical care understands the hidden price.

I wish I too could stay at home with my kids. There are two sides to every coin. Many SAHM/SAHDs like being home with their kids, and many don’t have a choice.  Daycare is too expensive, but also many military spouses including those without children want to work (and even more have degrees) and still can’t find work … and no Jemma, it’s not just because of the current job market, either. You see, many employers….

How do you do it? I couldn’t live with my spouse being gone for so long, so often. MilSos, how do you answer this one? Do you have a polite way of saying that your spouse is doing a job some shouldn’t do, others can’t do and most wouldn’t do? Do you say that your soldier doing his or her job affords others the chance to have jobs that bring them home every night?

Don’t you worry about him being in a war zone? I couldn’t do it. I don’t tackle this one head-on. Instead, I relay my husband’s accounts about the advancements he’s witnessed with each (Iraqi) deployment. Females were treated like property and had no voice (and many still don’t). But now some are going to elementary school, pursuing higher education and others are even driving cars.

If only my husband would go away for a year. I need a break. I tell my story here. “Well Iris, absence can make the heart grow fonder, but it’s the quality not the quantity of the absence. During a 15-month deployment—on a chance phone call—my fiancé-soldier told me he was scheduled to fly to another location that morning. Hours later, CNN reported that a helicopter leaving his area had exploded, killing all soldiers on-board. I didn’t hear from him for five days.”

When is your husband going to get a real job? My husband’s mother used to ask this question often, especially when he deployed. Last September she called from overseas, “He in the Army 25-years now, enough is enough, Man,” she said in her island accent. She passed away a week later. I’d gladly field that question again and again if only she were still here.

If I could move every few years, I’d redecorate and explore new places. Here’s when I start making associations. Now remember, you can’t get a job and money is already tight. Also, you just PCSed to a rural town and the closest Walmart, entertainment or shopping is hours away, and its slim pickings on-base (okay, maybe a worst case scenario but it’s not always a bed-of-roses either). Be careful with redecorating too because that really cute vase you scored online, well, next PCS it might not make it.

The government shutdown doesn’t affect you anymore. Thankfully, soldiers’ paychecks are now protected and death benefits to families of the fallen were addressed. Recent news stories say that military paychecks will be on the line if the government defaults on its debt.

Also, many furloughed civilian employees are veterans and retirees themselves, more are our co-workers, friends and neighbors, and many live on a limited budget. Those in the midst of PCSing—their stuff may be stuck in transit. When the commissaries closed, it wrecked the family budget of hundreds of lower-enlisted soldiers.

In the military we ARE all one family—what affects one, affects all. An Air Force tech sergeant demonstrated that when he recently returned his paycheck saying he didn’t want it if his brothers and sisters had to go unpaid during the shutdown. He’s since launched an online campaign.

There aren’t soldiers in Iraq anymore and they’re leaving Afghanistan, too. They’ll all be home soon. “No Grandpa, sometimes a small element is kept in-country and servicemembers in all branches are currently stationed or deployed to hot zones all over the world…”

What other types of dialogues do you engage in to help change perceptions? What are some of difficult questions you’ve encountered and how did you answer them?


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