The Service and Sacrifices Military Families Make
It takes physical and emotional strength for military men and women to do their jobs. Part of their resilience is undoubtedly fueled by the support and sacrifices made by their families.
Military families are the pillars behind service members through deployments, frequent moves, new schools and long periods apart. Here's an inside look at the sacrifices they make every day to help those who serve our country.
They Are Our Nation’s Families
“Military spouses go above and beyond in support of their loved ones,” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Virginia.
The NMFA provides spousal scholarships, camps for military kids, and retreats for families reconnecting after deployment and for the families of the wounded, ill or injured.
“When I talk about military families, I talk about military families as belonging to our nation,” she said. “They are our nation’s families. They’re not from any one town or any one state. They are part of all of us and it is up to all of us to support them.”
Willingness to Sacrifice
Military families are making a sacrifice and doing it proudly, said Wessel Raezer who noted spouses and children of military members face unique challenges that comes with the territory.
“They accept that this is part of their role in our nation’s defense,” she said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. highlighted military families during his keynote speech at a recent NMFA Leadership Luncheon, referring to military families as the key to the military’s lasting strength.
In his speech, he said, “Were it not for the strength of our military families and their willingness to sacrifice, we couldn’t protect our nation and way of life like we do.”
On the Move
Some military families move every two to three years, with children attending seven to 10 schools by the time they graduate high school, said Bana Miller, communications and public relations manager at Blue Star Families, a nonprofit organization in Encinitas, California, that supports military families and helps create a bridge of understanding between military and civilian families.
Families move from one duty assignment to another during the summer. The organization launched Blue Star Museums across the country where over 2,000 museums offer free family admission for active duty military families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
“Having that access to museums instantly plugs them into the arts in their neighborhood,” Miller said. “It provides an opportunity to create family time whether a service member is coming back from deployment or is being deployed.”
Many American children grow up in one location and keep in touch with people they attend high school with. In contrast, “the nice thing about military kids is they have friends from all over the place,” Wessel Raezer said, “but it is not quite the same as doing K through 12 with the same group of kids.”
Military spouses sacrifice their own careers, oftentimes, in support of their service member’s careers, said Miller, adding continuous moves play a factor in job retention and personal finance.
“When a military spouse compromises his or her career, or is constantly job hunting, that could affect not just their self esteem and mental health, it also effects the financial well-being of the family," Miller said, right now as well as when "they are looking to build retirement and pay for college and other things that many American families need two incomes to obtain."
When a service member is deployed, a variety of emotions can emerge not only for the spouse, but also for the children.
“It is a difficult thing to sometimes explain to kids why mommy or daddy is gone for months at a time,” Miller said. “It is not just service members who serve, it is the entire family that serves alongside them.”
There are kids whose parent isn’t there for graduation or the little league championship, explained Wessel Raezner.
“It is conflict and emotion," she said. "While they are proud of their parent for their service, it is also hard because mom and dad aren’t there for that important event in their life. These kids are very grown up in some ways. One of our goals is to help them be kids and help parents support their children.”
Being Part of a Military Family
Wessel Raezer married Tim Raezer, now a retired Army officer who served for 23 years. The couple has two grown children who were raised in the military lifestyle.
“Military siblings tend to be very close because they are the positive in each other’s lives,” Wessel Raezer said. “We were moving around and I saw it in my kids how siblings become good friends. That is your stability as you are moving around.”
Major Matthew Miller was already a commissioned officer when he and Bana started to date. Childhood friends, the couple was married in 2004 and today have three children ages 2, 4 and 6.
“He was deployed to Iraq for 15 months in 2006-2007 before our children were born,” said Miller. “In just the past year, he was deployed to South Korea, which is a stressful time to be going to South Korea. He missed our oldest child’s first day of kindergarten and first lost tooth.”
Murphy’s Law of Deployment
Major Miller also missed the first broken bone.
“Military Families call it ‘Murphy’s Law of Deployment,’” his wife joked. “Anytime your service member is gone the car is going to break down, the basement is going to flood, or your child is going to go to the ER. Anything that can go wrong during a deployment, will — and it is a military spouse’s running joke.”
Major Miller is currently home from deployment. “He left last spring and came back March 2018,” she said. "He has been back six weeks now and we are excited to have him home."
“My story is not unique by any stretch — every military family has a very similar story,” Miller noted.
Always a Soldier
Even when military service members are not deployed they are in-and-out of training. Miller said, “They may not be around as much even when they are not deployed.”
Military servicemen and women often are recognized for their sacrifices in service of their nation, but the day-in and day-out sacrifices made by their families is usually overlooked.
“There are lots of different ways military families sacrifice," Miller said, "but the reason that service members and their families sacrifice is because they do believe very deeply in the mission and believe in serving their country.”
More Than Words
Inspirational quotes are a nice tribute to our military families, Weller Raesner said, however, it’s not so much what people say about military families — it’s how they treat military families.
“We’re talking ‘mom’ and ‘apple pie,’” she said. “Everybody loves military families — but how do you show that love?"
"How do you show that respect, how do you welcome a military family into your community, how do you welcome a new military child into your child’s school?” she asked. “If you’re an employer how do you prioritize hiring military spouses? Even though they may be in your community a couple of years, they bring in incredible talent and skills and perspective.”
There are many military organizations across the nation just like National Military Family Association and Star Families that provide support and programs to military servicemen and women and their families, and invite all Americans to help them in their mission.
“I think a lot of times people who want to support military families who sacrifice so much but don’t know how,” Miller said, “So, we want to be that outlet to connect military families — our Blue Star Families — and those who we call our Blue Star neighbors.”
As part of its program, Blue Star Families conducts a yearly survey that takes a comprehensive look at the current needs and priorities facing today’s service members, veterans, and their families. Results are presented to Congress and policy makers and the Department of Defense, and with NMFA, use the results of the survey to and identify key aspects of military life to effectively target resources, services and support programs, Miller said.
Among the many support programs National Military Family Association offers military families include multiple scholarship and funding opportunities for military spouses — from degree funding, career advancement funding, and spouse-owned business funding.
Since NMFA’s scholarship program launched in 2004, it has awarded nearly $4 million in scholarship funds to more than 4,000 military spouses across the nation.
“Military spouses go above and beyond in support of their loved ones,” Raezer said. “And for many, that means putting education, career, and business aspirations on hold while their military member serves our country.”
Military spouses who are trying to get a degree are trying to figure out how to get it when they know another move is eminent.
“It takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree but our military families can move every three years,” she said. “This is the kind of conversations that military families are having all the time. ‘How do we balance individual career goals, the well being of our kids, support for our service member in times of war, and working toward enhancing and stabilizing family finances?’”
Military Spouse Appreciation Day
President Ronald Reagan recognized the sacrifices of spousal commitment with Proclamation 5184 on April 17, 1984. Congress made "Military Spouse Appreciation Day" part of National Military Appreciation Month in 1999.
Subsequently, the Department of Defense standardized the date by declaring the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as “Military Spouse Appreciation Day” to show appreciation for the sacrifices of military spouses.
Over the years, United State’s presidents have honored our military families and the sacrifices they selflessly make on Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
In a May 5, 2016, address, President Barack Obama said:
“Serving alongside our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen, our nation’s military families give of themselves and give up their time with their loved ones so we may live safely and freely. As part of On Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we honor the spouses of those who have left behind everything they know and love to join our Nation’s unbroken chain of patriots, and we recommit to giving military spouses the respect, dignity, and support they deserve.”
In a proclamation dated May 10, 2018, marking this year’s National Spouse Appreciation Day, President Donald Trump wrote:
“Military spouses shoulder the burdens of a challenging and demanding lifestyle with pride, strength, and determination. They demonstrate uncommon grace and grit, and although most military spouses do not wear a uniform, they honorably serve our nation — often times without their loved one standing beside them.”
There is an abundance of anonymous military family quotes that inspire and honor those who make sacrifices for our country. Some include:
- "Home is where the military sends us."
- "The strength of a family, like the strength of an Army, is in its loyalty to each other."
- "A soldier’s family is strong enough to face being alone, lucky enough to welcome him home."
- "Part of military life is about saying goodbyes — sometimes too often, but it is also about new adventures, new places, new hellos and welcome back kisses."
Pass It On
As Winston Churchill once said, “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”
So, honor our brave servicemen and women and their families.
As another military quotes says, “Thank our military and their families for carrying the load — pass it on.”