What if I told you that the military support message coming from a pair of female celebrities and First Lady Michelle Obama was actually on target?
It may be one of my biggest non-secrets: Reporters are born skeptics, and I focus some of mine on the White House's military family and veteran support campaign, Joining Forces. I've written about it before. Our former editor Jacey wrote about it, too. We were concerned that the program is just for show or a campaign stunt. We felt like they thought the answer to all military support woes was more programs, when we were already up to our eyeballs in programs that don't seem to be working.
We speculated that Joining Forces and all the niceties that go with it would quietly disappear sometime between President Obama's last election and when he leaves office, or that supporting military families would go out of style and Joining Forces would be a distant memory. Joining ... what?
When it comes to my skepticism over basic military family and veteran support from the White House, I am happy to be proven wrong. I want family support to be there, working behind the scenes. I don't care who the current residents are. I just want them to be moving in the right direction for this community.
Now a new cover story -- a question and answer piece with Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington and Michelle Obama -- in the May, 2015 edition of Glamour magazine is giving me hope that maybe, just maybe, the messages that are currently coming out of Joining Forces are actually what people need to hear, not just promises and programs that just look good on paper but don't do much (although there may be a little of that still, too).
If you haven't picked up a copy of the magazine, you can read an excerpt of the story here (but you should grab the whole thing if you can because it's just that encouraging).
When we look at how the rest of America perceives the military community, in my view we see two extremes.
On the one hand, there seems to be a perception that military members (and often, their families) are set apart because we are what as seen as "too special." Some in this camp think it's because we act entitled. Others think it's because the military community really has done extraordinary things. Because of that, the perception goes, we need or even "deserve" lofty help that the average person doesn't know how to offer, so they don't do or offer anything.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is an idea that military members and their families have had it so hard that we are irreparably broken and, therefore, a little scary. People like to help, but they don't know what to do with something so damaged and unknown. So instead they avoid and ostracize.
I doubt these two polar perceptions are planted intentionally. But when society only talks about military veterans and families in terms of the wonderful, hero-worthy things (reinforced by "reunion porn" news stories, celebratory commercials, worshipful discount programs and movies with widows crying by gravesides) or the very broken things (the Dr. Phil "Heroes to Monsters" debacle leaps to mind), we create a public image that contains little to no middle ground.
Which brings me back to the Galmour article. This article strikes a balance in tone that I appreciate. Washington, Parker and Obama acknowledge that it's hard, as a civilian community member, to know how to help or to feel OK even asking if they can.
"And I feel intimidated by their service; I feel ashamed that I haven't served. So I almost feel like I'm patronizing by inquiring how to help," Parker says in the article.
But they also note that, while the vast majority of the military community is not facing extraordinary challenges, opening your arms as a civilian community is a good thing.
"One thing I want to clarify -- that every service member, veteran, wants us to remember - - is that the vast majority of people returning from service come back completely healthy... But when we do come across someone who is struggling ... we have to develop a culture of open arms and acceptance so that they feel comfortable saying, 'I'm a veteran. And by the way, I need a little help," Obama says.
All good things.
I know many in our community are tempted to immediately dismiss anything the Hollywood machine or the Obama administration does just out of principle. I get it -- we as a community have been majorly burned and jaded by the flippant way military funding has been treated by lawmakers (both in and out of the White House) and by some Hollywood portrayals.
But in this instance (and possibly this instance alone) I think those folks nailed it. And I find that encouraging.