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April 21, 2011

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On the Ground: April 21, 2011

by K. Tsetsi

–by TMarie

Have you heard the news?

U.S. Military Soldiers Have Families.

Who knew?

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces,
“a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members
and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.”

And what do most major media outlets want to focus on about this initiative?

General Stanley McChrystal.

Fine. Let’s talk McChrystal.

But for once, let’s talk about McChrystal from a perspective that matters – the military family perspective, the perspective of the very people he has been asked to advise on. And let’s pretend for a moment that the media will NOT descend into a debate about McChrystal’s past actions or any other entanglement of rhetoric that might detract from the issue at hand. The issue is this:

After more than a decade of war, the military family is beyond strained –

it is broken.

And we need help.

And by Presidential appointment, one of the people who will speak for our families and offer guidance and support to the Joining Forces initiative is General McChrystal. General McChrystal will be a voice for military families for the future, and he will serve us well not because the President of the United States asked him to, but because this military family is asking him to.

And we are asking him to do more than look at the stats, and the briefs, and confer with higher-ups and policy makers. We are asking him to listen.

We are asking him to listen to the bloggers who have been on the front lines trying to change public perception and writing about military family issues since at least as far back as 2005. We are asking him to listen to our FRG leaders, who have been holding the military family together in an all-volunteer, unfunded effort since Operation Desert Storm. We are asking him to listen to the movers and shakers who are out there trying to make a difference, trying to raise awareness, and trying to heal this family.

We are also asking him to do more than advise in the role he has been appointed for.

We are asking him to “Listen, learn … then lead.”

Listen, learn … then lead, is the title of McChrystal’s TED Talk, given in March of this year. In that talk, McChrystal says of the military today, “we’re operating a force that must have shared purpose and shared consciousness.”

Yes. And that “force” that he speaks of is not only comprised of military service members – it is held together by their families and loved ones. And we, as military families, need to share that purpose and share that consciousness about our role in today’s military, and about the obstacles we face. Our job of communicating this cannot be underestimated.

We need to comment on blogs, we need to write to our congressional representatives, and we need to go out into our communities – especially those with a small and unnoticed military population – and we need to start talking. We need to talk to schools, scout troops, civic clubs, volunteer organizations, and the media, and we need to use all of our resources and all of our talents to make ourselves heard.

McChrystal closes his TED Talk by saying, “If you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.” If that’s the case, General McChrystal, sir, then this military family needs you on your feet – and we need you on your feet right here on the ground with us – where military families have been battling for over ten years and are now bone-weary and falling apart.

That is the only perspective that matters to the military family.

 

“On the Ground” is a new effort by LIFT to provide an ongoing
discussion of the Joining Forces initiative from the military family perspective.

 
 

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 23 2011

    We are asking McChrystal to do all of those things, but there’s a danger in that.

    I think part of the problem is that military families are relying on people like McChrystal and Michelle Obama to do it ALL. It takes a lot more than a figurehead to create change and motivate people. We have to want it enough for OURSELVES.

    Military families have to be their own voice rather than relying on others to be a voice for them. Use the known, famous, or powerful voice as an advantage, yes…but don’t sit back and wait for it to be done. Get active, get in the conversation, gather… DO.

    If there’s a divide between the military family community and the civilian community, it’s there largely because military families like to prove they’re self-sufficient.

    But you know what? It can’t happen both ways – military families can’t be isolated and self-sufficient on one hand, keeping out the outside world, and then expect on the other hand for the outside world to take an interest in whatever needs they have and make an effort to ease some of the burden. If understanding and empathy is desired, there must be some engaging.

    Otherwise, no one will care – because they haven’t been given a chance.

    Reply
    • Apr 25 2011

      I completely agree with the need for military families to acknowledge their own responsibility to take action. Where I struggle with this initiative is in addressing just ‘how’ military families are supposed to let anyone know 1. they exist and 2. they need help without seeming self-serving? Can I call my accountant and say, ‘”Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden are asking Americans to lend a hand to our military families. Would you be willing to do my taxes for free? Oh, ok. Well, how about a discount?” Can I stand in an elevator, turn to my neighbour and say, “Hi, I’m a military wife, would you like to know what it’s like to enroll my kids in 4 schools in 6 years?”

      Last week, on my way into Costco, I was walking behind two servicemembers in uniform. A lady walked up to them and with tears in her eyes, extended her hand in thanks to both of them. My heart burst with gratitude. Yet silently I thought “Ma’am, I know you don’t know this but I’m a military wife, my husband is gone right now, I’m completely frazzled and I really, really need you to see me too.”

      Long before the Joining Forces campaign (anyone remember DoD’s America Supports You campaign?) I realized when it comes to letting people know you’re a military family and you need help carrying the load, there’s just no winning. Everyone has their own load, what makes me so special?

      That is until it dawned on me that I CAN call my Congressmen, let them know I’m a military wife. I CAN call my Congressmen, ask them to co-sponsor and pass military family legislation (HR 687, The Military Spouses Employment Act, is out there right now folks). I CAN monitor how military family friendly my Congressmen’s actions actually are. I CAN do all of this without being perceived as self-serving in the least. As a matter of fact, doing so is my responsibility.

      In 2009, we passed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act.

      So what is the ‘DO’ you mentioned? For me, it’s advocating for myself, a military wife, in a way that benefits us all.

      How I wish military families were sexier than a royal wedding. How I wish the ‘state of military families’ message would trump the messenger. How I wish the effort to spotlight military families won’t be overshadowed by/married to the upcoming Presidential campaign season.

      But I’m not leaving anything up to wishes. I’m picking up the phone. And everyone is more than welcome to join forces.

      Reply

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