On the Ground: April 15, 2011
“On the Ground” is a new effort by LIFT to provide an ongoing discussion of the Joining Forces initiative from the military family perspective. General McChrystal, who serves on the advisory board for Joining Forces, holds a belief now communicated throughout the military: there is no substitute for absolute attentiveness to the troops on the ground, and a clear understanding of the challenges they face. The
input of military family members is invaluable to this initiative. It is imperative that the voices of military families be heard. Your thoughts, observations and ideas are precisely what is needed for Joining Forces
to be a success. We encourage every military family member reading this column to comment. This time
it is you, the military families, who are the troops on the ground. – LIFT
“Support our Forces” or “Joining Forces” ?
I have chosen to begin the discussion of the Joining Forces initiative with some observations about the Joining Forces website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces. While this may not seem at first to be all that interesting, I have chosen to discuss the website for an important reason: it is the “front line” of information, both for military families and for civilians. In the category of information for military families, I find the website lacking. Long after this week’s military family media hype is gone, the website will still be there. Its message should convey not only support for military families, but a true “joining” of forces between military and civilian populations. The fact that I put my thoughts into memorandum form is, admittedly, a little bit of tongue in cheek that I couldn’t resist, but the content is a serious message
that I hope we can convey to the Joining Forces advisory board. – TMarie
MEMORANDUM FOR THE JOINING FORCES ADVISORY PANEL:
SUBJECT: The Joining Forces Website
I would like to take the opportunity to commend First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for their support of military families in launching Joining Forces. This campaign has become the strongest display of support and unity for the betterment of military family life that this country has ever seen.
The initiative and enthusiasm of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden has sparked a renewed national interest in generating support, ideas and opportunities for military families among the civilian population. Civilians are not alone in looking for ways to make Joining Forces successful. Service members and their families are joining in as well.
As the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have spent time with military families this week, more and more service and family members are hitting the Joining Forces website and Facebook page looking for information. However, http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces appears to be explicitly designed for the civilian population looking for ways to express their thanks to the military, start a volunteer project, or join one.
How do military families connect with civilian projects? How do they find the businesses in their area that are supporting military families, or the volunteer groups who can help them? How does the FRG looking for 6 new baby cribs find out that the furniture store in the next town is going out of business and is willing to donate items to military families? How does the military spouse who just relocated find out about the organization that will help her write her resume and find a job? How does the dad, whose wife is on her second deployment, connect with the daycare offering free child care every Saturday afternoon for families of deployed soldiers?
“Support our Forces” is an excellent initiative, but truly “Joining Forces” – where the needs of military families are indeed ‘joined’ with civilian efforts to meet them – could begin to ease the burden that 1% percent of the population has shouldered through ten years of war.
SOLUTION PROPOSAL: I would like to make some suggestions to improve the ability of military families to harness the power of the Joining Forces website. Changing the perception of the Joining Forces website from that of a civilian portal to one that connects military families with civilian aid can be accomplished by changing the way the information is presented:
1) Directly address the military families who come to the website seeking information with FAQs, links to organizations offering assistance, and ways that we can also help our own. It is understood that the redirect to Serve.gov is necessary, however the link to “resources that help military families and veterans” should be immediately visible for military family members visiting the Joining Forces site.
2) Provide a ‘military match’ for each of the civilian opportunities on the site. Military family members should feel that the site is as much a way for them to connect as it is for civilians. The support stories and thank you messages shared via the USO can be augmented by a link for military families to read them via the USO.
3) Joining Forces links out to Serve.gov for the service of initiating or participating in a volunteer project. Provide similar links for military families to easily find what is being offered to them, whether it’s a ten percent discount from a local merchant or a volunteer group providing care packages for military children.
4) Put the word out that Joining Forces is looking for a software or widget developer to donate a program that will match the specific needs of military families and FRG with civilian offerings. The current program being utilized by Serve.gov (http://www.allforgood.org/) is cumbersome for this purpose and is not a dedicated resource.
If you would like additional information or insight from the military families “on the ground,” please feel free to contact the LIFT offices at: firstname.lastname@example.org.