7 Things Every American Should Know About Military Families

Hello, America. It means a lot to military families to have the entire month of November set aside for National Military Family Appreciation Month.

Over the last 13 years, you have seen military families like mine send our loved ones off to war. You have seen us welcome home our darlings. You have seen us pack up and move with them (again). Or stand by them after an injury. Or even lay them to rest.

But do you really know  military families? A Pew Research report said that 71 percent of Americans admitted that the public doesn’t understand the problems faced by those in the military.

every american

In honor of Military Family Appreciation Month, here are things to know about military families: 7 things every American should know about military families:

 1.We are here because we want to be.

The draft ended in 1973. That means every Marine, sailor, Coastie, soldier, or airman is in the military because they want to be. They chose it.

More and more, we military spouses are here because we want to be here too. Every move is a choice for our generation. Geographic bachelorhood (where the family doesn’t move with the service member) is common among families with teenagers or an immovable mortgage. When we move it is because we want to be with our service member more than anyone else in the world. That includes you, Ma. Sorry!

 2. Every spouse is not female.

When you think of military families, you probably picture a big guy in a uniform with his little wife in red dress with a couple of patriotic kids clinging to their legs. That’s a nice image.

Another nice image features a great woman in a uniform with her husband in a plaid shirt and a determined expression. Or picture two dual military mates both in uniform. Picture same sex couples in that uniform. Picture single parents with kids. Picture the parents and siblings of all those military folks. Military families reflect American families -- in all their shapes and sizes

 3. Even the American Red Cross can’t bring your service member home early.

Extended family members and neighbors often think that the American Red Cross can bring home a service member for a family crisis or funeral.

“We don’t make that decision,” Peter Macias, Director of Communications for the American Red Cross told me recently. “The C.O.s (commanding officers) make that decision.”

The Red Cross is the right place to call to get in touch with a service member during a crisis (so keep their number and your service member’s command and rank on your cell phone), but they can’t bring them home. BTW -- neither can Ellen, Queen Latifah, or even -- gasp! -- Oprah.

4.We live in your neighborhood.

You might think that all military people live on military bases in military housing and shop only at the commissary. Nope. Two thirds of active duty military families live in the community. Your community.

Right now there is probably at least one military kid going to school with your kids. One military family shopping at the Target next to you. One military parent waiting to hear from their son or daughter abroad. Check for bumper stickers and license plates. They are everywhere.

5.We aren’t looking for a handout.

You might have heard that military spouses have a high unemployment rate. It isn’t because we are part of the Bonbon Brigade. Military spouses have trouble getting a job because in America we get jobs by using our network. When you move every 2.5 years, it is hard to know anyone or be known by them.

Be generous and offer an interview to a military spouse or veteran. Give us a chance to convince you how we can be an asset to your company.

6.Military retirement does not come easy.

My neighbor across the street once told me that he should have joined the military. “I coulda put in my 20 and been making retirement pay by now,” he assured me.

I smiled and nodded at the guy. I enjoyed his fantasy as much as he did. Because every American ought to know that more than half of all people who join the military get out after their first enlistment. Even more get out before they ever hit the ten year mark.

Retirement pay is used as a tool to entice military members to keep their jobs during the part of their career in which deployments and moves get tougher and the outside world wants the skills mid-career military members have.

You also need to know that promotions are not automatic and the older you get the harder they are to come by. The military is strictly an up or out organization.

7.We make charming lifelong friends.

At our neighborhood pool, a woman once told me that she never makes friends with people in the military. “They move away and break your heart,” she said.

Not so. In the age of Facebook and Skype, military folks make charming lifelong friends. And if you make friends with folks in the Navy, we tend to live in places with beaches and guest rooms. Just sayin’.

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

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