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February 17, 2011

I have a confession.

by K. Tsetsi

–by Kristen Tsetsi

I don’t know very much about the pressing needs (mental and physical health, FRG support, etc.) of the military family. My husband and I have never experienced problems with the services the military and/or government provide. Neither have any of our friends. When you don’t see something happening immediately around you, and when you hear very little about it in the general media – when you have to go looking for it – it tends to be something you simply don’t think about very much. It just doesn’t occur to you.

As someone who has primarily been a creative writer, I’ve always been interested in the human condition and making one person’s unique experience accessible to others. That’s why “Like it for TIME” began: it’s an effort to draw attention to the overall experience of the military family. Whatever the people of this country – the 99% who have nothing to do with the military – know, or think they know, about service members  comes primarily from watching movies, reading books, and skimming YouTube videos. Books, movies, and other media have long tried to explain, and encourage empathy for, the soldier. I firmly believe it’s this large scale empathy that results in any movement that occurs toward improving conditions for service members.

When soldiers in Iraq weren’t getting the right equipment/enough equipment/adequately protective equipment and the story hit the news, people were outraged – because (I believe) they already had, instilled in them by movies and TV shows and books, an “idea” of who the soldier was. They could see him or her as a complex, living, breathing individual.

The same empathy for the military family doesn’t exist. Yet.

It’s imperative that people with no military experience come to know the family of the service member (whatever the country) as another part of the war story – one they must know as well as they know the soldier’s story if they’re to have a greater understanding of the overall war story.

Movies give us good soldiers and bad soldiers, courageous soldiers and cowardly soldiers, and even the perspectives of enemy soldiers.

The media typically gives us military families when a service member dies, or when someone “overcomes” a loss. What they ignore, perhaps because it’s not sensational enough, is the fact that death is not the only horrific deployment experience of the military family. The wait itself is often unbearable in a way that can’t be explained here without writing for a very long time. (For some insight, read a few of the Yellow Ribbon interviews.) “The people” aren’t aware of the many rooms in that special hell because they haven’t been told firmly enough by the media that they SHOULD be aware of it.

The initial goal of LIFT was to get the media’s attention to, in turn, get the public’s attention. Simply because, after ten years in the Middle East and multiple deployments, it’s something they must know.

But since beginning this campaign, I’ve learned a little bit – just a little bit – about the very real needs of military families that persist despite the efforts of many to improve conditions and availability of resources. According to “An Assessment & Approach: Enhancing Military Family Support,” developed in 2010 by military family advocate Kristina Kaufmann,

  • FRG [Family Readiness Group] funding remains unchanged (still relying on bake sales) and no funds are allocated to the MWR Supplemental Fund to assist in the outreach activities essential in building family and unit cohesiveness.
  • Culture at unit level concerning families remains unchanged. Front Line attitudes at installation/unit level still lack empathy, understanding and awareness and are at times viewed as defensive, dismissive, condescending, and judgmental.
  • Family programs are not meaningfully linked together or represented in a way to encourage understanding. Navigability of information sites, confusion regarding program objectives and value, as well as program duplication results in frustration by families trying to understand what is available to them

In her 2010 briefing “Enhancing Soldier & Family Support,” Kaufmann reports that she’s witnessed increased frustration and a decrease in morale in wounded warriors and their families at Walter Reed Medical Center. “Too often, WTs and their families report being: ‘disrespected,’ ‘bullied,’ ‘ganged up on,’ and ‘threatened.’ At the same time, a significant number of cadre and support personnel say they are overwhelmed, exhausted, unprepared, under-appreciated and resentful.”

I’ve only begun learning, and there’s obviously much more to know. While the problems don’t make me happy, what does make me happy is the fact that if this “Like it for TIME” effort works, it could (rather, I would hope it would) have the added benefit of helping draw more attention to the needs of military families.

I truly believe that if the general public comes to “know” military families, their overall support will grow exponentially.

That rarely happens without the help of the media, though.

Or without the voices of many.

Send your letter to TIME Magazine.

 

Please click here to visit on Facebook and “Like” it for TIME.

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