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Input alert!

June 17, 2009

This comment arrived under our Who We Are section, but it deserves its own post. If you haven’t read Kristy’s article, please do – our friend Indie Army Wife is quoted several times. You can leave thoughts here or at Kristy’s gmail address listed in the article, but please do speak up. The more our voices are heard, the more we can push for actual action on so many of the crucial issues facing military families today.

Hi All, My name is Kristy Kaufmann, I’m the Army wife who wrote the op-ed in the Washington Post, “Army Families Under Fire” 5/11/09.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/03/AR2009050301850.html

Since the article ran, I’ve been in contact with the White House, the Secretary of the Army, the office of the Sec. of Defense, Army family program directors and some congressmen and senators. It’s taken me 8 years and an op-ed to get in the room and I’m doing everything I possibly can use this “voice” to inject some urgency and reality into these conversations. I am completely unaffiliated and my only agenda is to speak for the many who have no voice and hold our leaders (civilian and military) accountable for doing what they say they are going to do (and doing it effectively).

We (military families) need smart people like you at the ground level who are unafraid to speak honestly and help provide solutions. I wouldn’t have taken the risk to write the article if I didn’t think it could affect significant change, but I’m just one person. I need to hear from others that are “in the trenches”; ours is the voice that has been missing from the conversations where decisions are being made. I have a direct line to the top right now, let’s use this opportunity!

Here are a couple of questions I’ve been asked by non-profits who want to help military families, they want input from the ground level. Please feel free to post them on Left Face, people can also respond directly to me at kkaufmanncool@gmail.com. I will keep all responses anonymous. I’m using “soldier” to represent all military members, regardless of branch.

1. What are the biggest problems facing soldiers (and their families) returning from deployment?

2. What could be done to address these problems?

3. Does the current military family support system work? If not, why?

4. How can veteran’s service organizations help military families?

5. If you had all the power in the world, what would you do to support soldiers and military families?

Thanks! Kristy

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2009 11:19 pm

    Okay, I’ll start. Just for context, we are a Reserve family in the Navy and my husband travels out of state for his Reserve weekends. We live in a city with an AFB, but really, we it’s on the other side of town and our military exposure is limited.

    1)Our biggest problem post deployment was employment. Because of the economy, my husband’s job disappeared while he was gone. Technically, of course he was covered under USERRA, but it was economic, not any form of military discrimination. We were lucky in that ultimately he did find a firm that clearly understood his capabilities and the breadth of experience his service has given him, but it took three months to find this firm. We know rates of unemployment are much higher for returning vets. An campaign to educate potential employers on the skills vets bring to the table is KEY. I’m not sure what kind of role Obama’s tax breaks played in my husband’s employers decision to hire him, but personally, I am happy that they will get that benefit.

    2) I’d like to see a public service campaign highlighting the skills returning vets have and more emphasis aimed at vets on how to translate their military skills into civilian jobs. These folks are serious goldmines of experience and skills. Put them to work!!

    3)I have told this story many times before, but the day my husband left for his deployment, there was another spouse at the airport who was despondent. When I got home, I called our ombudsman. Her response? “They’re leaving?!”
    I received two emails from this woman total during the course of a 12 month deployment. Needless to say, my experience with military family support systems was a complete joke.

    How do I think it can be changed? Eliminate the volunteer spouse. personally, i would go so far as to say eliminate the volunteer spouse from the same unit that is deploying, partly because of the potential for power trips and gossip, but also because I don’t think anyone going through a deployment should be expected to carry that burden. Sure, I know it helps people cope at times, but let them do it for another unit, not the one they’re persoally involved with.

    At the very least, make this a paid position and actually go through the process of interviewing people and holding them accountable.

    4) Honestly, the most helpful thing people did for me while my husband was deployed was cook for me. It was something concrete. I didn’t need pats on the back or pep talks, I needed action . A trusted babysitter. Help with yard work. Someone to call when the toilet blew up. Teachers at school who looked me in the eye every morning and asked “You okay? You need anything?”

    Getting vets’ groups to organize actual services would be great. Of course, it’s a two way street. Military families can help vets in the same ways.

    5)Well, of course I would create world peace and bring them all home, but then I’m sure I would wake up from that particular dream.

    There are definitely concrete things I would do – free college educations for Gold Star kids, expanding school support programs for schools heavy in kids of deployed families, REAL PTSD and suicide prevention screening and training…and yes, all these cost money, but what kind of liberal cred would I have if I didn’t believe that you get what you pay for?

    I do also believe strongly in the expansion of a national service program. Many of the misconceptions about the military stem from the idea that service to one’s country is foreign to most people. Providing other, non-military, opportunities for people to serve is so important – expanding programs like Americorps for example – would help others learn about sacrifice and service.

    Oh, and I’d definitely require elected officials to wear 80 pounds of body armor on a regular basis. I recognize that sending them to Iraq isn’t really practical, but maybe we could make them do it in, say, a Bikram yoga class or something? (We’ll see just how many of you read my ramblings long enough to catch that.)

    • kimba permalink
      June 18, 2009 9:27 am

      LOL – I did 🙂

    • June 18, 2009 10:57 am

      In the brighter light of a new day, may I just apologize for the many, many typos in my comment. I just sort of ignored all those red lines and hit enter, didn’t I?

  2. June 18, 2009 8:18 am

    Okay- here I go! My background- we are active duty Army and my husband in currently deployed (his 3rd, my first)… I’m still figuring out these issues to some extent, but I am opinionated and will gladly throw my 2 cents in!

    1. I echo LopsidedMom on this one. JOBS! My husband will soon retire and our options are super limited given his MOS and I worry that if he doesn’t stay in a career with military ties (ROTC, JROTC) no one will realize his potential, experience and mad skills. The Vet unemployment rate is WAY too high and generally speaking these are folks with loads of potential and a totally untapped resource. We need to fix this!

    2. I think the tax incentives are a good start- make it profitable to hire these folks. But again, echoing LopsidedMom, we need to educate employers to their skill sets, abilities, and all the ways these amazing folks can be an asset to their company.

    Also, help them recognize that sometimes with folks like this, college degrees aren’t necessary, their breadth and wealth of experience should count for something. I can’t tell you how many jobs my husband has already looked into and is qualified for SKILL-wise but not Degree-wise. This is an issue for lots of retiring NCO’s and we need to create a situation that allows these troops (especially those with 15-20 years in) to get more than entry level jobs. (And the GI Bill isn’t the only answer to this, we need to get creative here!)

    3. Yes and no. If the FRG (Army) is run by someone who has a) the time, b) the resources and c) the support to do it right, then it works well. But more often than not, this isn’t the situation. I agree that these positions all need to be paid and specific goals/tasks need to be laid out so that expectations can be met and folks can be held accountable. These groups need to revolve less around socializing/status making and more around concrete help, support and education.

    I also think that the support network for families not in the general vicinity of their installation (ie- went home to live with parents during the deployment, didn’t choose to move shortly before a deployment like me, etc) needs to be beefed up and the DoD or someone needs to be more creative about creating support networks for these folks. I would love to see someone create databases (I know this is a huge task) that would allow military families of all branches reach out and find real tangible support in their location. I wouldn’t care if the only folks I had in town for support were Navy or Air Force (that’s not a dig!)… just having actual people to meet with when you are geographically separated from your Unit would be AMAZING. This is an area that is sorely lacking!

    4. I think that having lists of trusted service providers would be a great start. Who can you trust to do yard work? What is a reliable mechanic that won’t try to take advantage of me? Who does good home repair that, again, won’t fleece me? I also think that possibly Veteran organizations could also serve as a resource for finding other military families in your area. They could possibly host meet-ups open to all branches? But I do agree that this should be a two way street. If Vet’s organizations and MilFamilies relied on eachother, there could be A LOT of amazing work accomplished!

    5. At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, I agree with trying to bring peace to fruition and bring our troops home.

    But in all seriousness. I would stop using our troops as worldwide peace-makers. I would try to rely more on UN forces and support/augment these groups for situations like Iraq, etc. I would use our troops in more of a preventative role (rather than reactionary and risk becoming the go-to guys in everyone else’s time of need), focusing on intellegence, homeland security, keeping the US safe and working WITH allies and multi-national forces in supporting roles instead of taking over. If conflict wasn’t avoidable, I would focus on utilizing our forces efficeintly and evenly, paying close attention to OpTempo and staying within our means (both at home and in theatre).

    I would put real money, time and effort into fixing the woefully inadequate systems in place to deal with PTSD, suicides, substance abuse and relationship/family issues. I would also beef up the school and support programs for military kids… more after school programs, more counselors, more funding for special events. Anything to make deployments easier on kids. And yes, free college to Gold Star kids for sure.

    And I totally second LopsidedMom on requiring our elected officals to wear 80lbs of combat gear and go to Birkram Yoga. But only after they had to do some Basic Training and get buzz cuts.

  3. kimba permalink
    June 18, 2009 9:43 am

    “How do I think it can be changed? Eliminate the volunteer spouse.”

    “At the very least, make this a paid position and actually go through the process of interviewing people and holding them accountable.”

    Hell yes. Let me explain why I feel this way.

    I have had exactly one experience with an FRG, and it was lousy. It was my first experience with a deployment, we had *just* moved, so I knew no one in town, I was unemployed and our house was barely unpacked. I didn’t know how to get around town or where things were. I was despondent when J left, and felt completely alone.

    The command never contacted us, and our sponsor, who we barely heard from before our arrival, was PCSing (!). In desperation, I Googled the name of the ship and found a link to the FRG. I called and was told there was a meeting in about a week. I went.

    I managed to get through about three of these meetings before I gave up. I could post a long list of reasons, but the bottom line is: volunteerism at this level in not reliable, and too much is at stake. Also, the nonsense about seniority is just stupid. In our case, the CO’s wife wasn’t interested in being helpful or being in charge of anything, and why should she have to be? Even better, why should the entire ship not get what they need because the CO’s wife isn’t involved? (Let me clarify here that I am completely ok with a spouse staying uninvolved with this stuff – hell, I do. No one should be forced to volunteer, regardless of their spouses’ rank.) I mean, she was a nice enough person, but I waited the entire two years – two deployments -that J was assigned to that ship and still never got a list of contacts. Unacceptable. Why not hire someone to take care of this? Or, barring that, why does a senior service member’s spouse have to do it? What if the spouse of someone more junior is qualified and willing? Why does one’s spouse’s seniority have anything to do with it? Personally, I think the families of deployed service members are happy to get meaningful help whether it comes from the Captain’s spouse or an E3’s. Who cares?

  4. kimba permalink
    June 18, 2009 10:09 am

    Ok, one more thing. (I haven’t thought about this stuff in a while, so bear with me.)

    I briefly worked for Fleet and Family Support as a contractor. Long story, but something that really sticks with me is the sad lack of online, real-time, on-demand help available. Tucker mentioned how cool it would be to have a list of trusted providers – well, that’s something Fleet and Family Support, or Army Community Services, etc. could have for people when they arrive at a new location. I tried to make this happen in San Diego, and was told by the person in charge that we 1) couldn’t have online resources for security reasons, and 2) we couldn’t appear to be endorsing anyone. This is rubbish, and it’s not helpful. Wouldn’t it be great to arrive at a new duty station and have someone there ask, “In what part of town do you live?” and then hand you a flyer that lists local grocery stores, parks, bookstores, coffee shops, etc.? Or a series of links on Fleet and Family Support’s local web page that direct you to resources in your own community? How could this possibly be seen as an endorsement?

    The majority of resources available where I worked were workshops, which were usually held during the workday. A no-go for working spouses, then. No child care was offered so that spouses staying home with kids could come, either. You’d be unsurprised to hear that these workshops were sparsely attended. Many of us suggested that the material being presented in these workshops could be available online, or could be presented in a setting that was more inclusive. For instance, evening sessions in a fun location, or daytime sessions that include kids or that offer childcare. Or perhaps in groups of people who have things in common with each other, like a “bring your kids, learn a little something and network for child care”, or “workshop and kid-free night at a restaurant”, etc. To my knowledge, these ideas weren’t implemented, and as I’m good friends folks who still work there, I know they’re still struggling to reach their target market.

    I’ll think on this some more.

  5. June 18, 2009 2:00 pm

    I don’t have anything substantial to add right now (or maybe ever), but I do want to say that I’m impressed with the suggestions so far! I’m interested in the feedback Kristy is getting from other channels, too — I’m so glad she’s put the call out.

  6. June 18, 2009 7:20 pm

    Here’s my Book – you asked!

    1. What are the biggest problems facing soldiers (and their families) returning from deployment?

    Expectations – that all will be wonderful and after the huge banner filled hello (haven’t had one yet, this one won’t be either…) they will all walk off into the pink sunset and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, this ecstatic homecoming is often not the case, and tensions are often high during this time of transition. Each member of the family has grown and changed, and not always in ways the other members can or want to understand. The returning soldier wants it all to be the way it was when he/she left – their children have grown, their spouse/significant other has changed, and have had to shoulder more responsibility and are loath to give it up. The baby they left behind, is now a toddler who may not recognize them and refuses to be hugged or have this stranger put them to bed, the teenager may be still harbouring the anger they felt at not having that parent around. The spouse either wants to give all those tasks/chores/responsibilities back to the returning soldier (who is thinking that coming home will be a vacation after the last months of responsibility 24/7) or doesn’t want to give them back (which can challenge the authority the returning soldier wants to assert). The returning soldier may be used to barking out orders and having them unquestioningly obeyed – when teenage son doesn’t hop to it, or even worse looks at the other parent for guidance – tensions just ratchet up.
    PTSD and other psychological problems take this level and move it higher and higher.

    2. What could be done to address these problems?

    Support – for those who need it (which includes the family members) there needs to be counseling. There should be counseling BEFORE, and not just the “check a box”/death by powerpoint “don’t kill your dog” en masse sessions, for all parties. We are desperately in need of counselors for our children and spouses, who are NOT just good counselors, but who understand the military – the language, the way things are done (or not done). National service – is an answer I also endorse, if the counselor/psychiatrist/psychologist gives so much time to these needs, they will get so much training paid for, or a partial forgiveness for student loans.

    3. Does the current military family support system work? If not, why?

    How much time do you have? Because like my fellow milspouses, I could write you a book! I have yet to have a decent FRG. I’ve seen a couple, in other units, and when I pointed out these great ones to the leadership in mine – it got ugly. The first National Guard deployment – if there WAS an FRG, it was for the young wives with little kids and consisted of play dates. Important yes, but what about the rest of us??? The second deployment (National Guard) leader – appointed herself due to her 1st Sgt Husband (we called her J*** myhusbandisthe1stsgt) and hated the internet, news, telephones etc. wanted us to do scrapbooking… which is ok for those who want to, but what about information?
    The present Active Army IA deployment – I’ve received emails from the former leader to see how I am (2 in 6 months) and notifications of meetings and fundraisers held in the afternoons that I can’t attend since I work downtown. BUT, I’ve been told we have a paid Family person (don’t know her title yet, she’s still training) so I’m hoping. I talked to her the other day, again volunteered to help with the vFRG and when she asked why we didn’t already have one, – well OPSEC is such a great excuse for command to use when they don’t want to actually have to do something. We don’t even have a phone tree – why? OPSEC!

    4. How can veteran’s service organizations help military families?

    I’m the wrong person to ask. When I asked for assistance from a local vets organization during the second deployment, I was told they could give me the name of a handyman for hire…
    They should/could have lists of those who want to help families during deployment, and what they can help with. Plumbers, mechanics, emergency sitters… the list is long. And the vets could be there to help the returning soldier understand they aren’t alone – remembering when we were National Guard and some soldiers came home to small towns where there was no one else from the Guard available. A “battle buddy” for the home?

    5. If you had all the power in the world, what would you do to support soldiers and military families?

    Wave my magic wand and stop these constant deployments, give us better connectivity with our down range spouses, make the rear det responsive… A lot of things. But what I’d really want, is for the rest of the country to WAKE UP and remember that we are fighting two wars, and that we need more than flag waving and yellow ribbons on the backs of cars to show support for the military.

    • kimba permalink
      June 19, 2009 1:09 am

      “OPSEC is such a great excuse for command to use when they don’t want to actually have to do something. We don’t even have a phone tree – why? OPSEC!”

      Hell, yes. Honestly, it’s like “for your security” at the airport – ofter nothing more than an excuse to do things poorly.

      “…if the counselor/psychiatrist/psychologist gives so much time to these needs, they will get so much training paid for, or a partial forgiveness for student loans.”

      Awesome idea!

  7. June 19, 2009 7:18 am

    Given the extreme toll multiple deployments have had on the individuals, spouses and children, I think there has to be a limit on them, and also the wait time between deploying has to be increased. The recent decision by Obama Administration and Gates to not add the formerly planned extra brigades to Ft. Stewart and other bases is not only disappointing, it’s short-sighted.
    They want to curb the suicide rate? Start there.

    I’ve been talking to many former and present military spouses at Pendleton about PCS’ing the family unit. For the most part, they’ve done it. But there are many who are questioning having to pick up and move away from family and friends when they’re going to a base where they don’t know anyone, their kids are going to High School, and their spouse will be away anyway. I think one thing that should be considered is letting families stay where they are, adjust the BAH to that area and not make them jump through hoops that involve letters to the Pentagon justifying why they want to stay. Sure, there are instances when letting them stay in their home will cost more per month, but how do you put a price tag on the decades long bases of support they have where they are? Especially when FRG’s can be hit or miss.

    • June 19, 2009 8:32 am

      what I always thought was so sensible is the British way of doing this – a person joins a Regiment, and stays with it (unless they request a transfer) for their entire career. For the families, this means that they stay at one base (unless the entire Regiment moves overseas and even then those who don’t want to go to Heidelberg or Malta or wherever, can stay at the base) For the soldier, they KNOW the guy next to them, they KNOW their commanding officers, no “getting used to the new guy”. Children know each other, they aren’t moved from one base/school to another every couple of years. Just makes more sense to me..

      LAW

      • June 19, 2009 9:52 pm

        The current system is insane. I’ve worked with special education needs for 15 years. I know firsthand that parents who have kids with special needs in stable normal conditions STILL can take years to access the mental health, physical, educational services in their community. Moving from place to place only means each time they go they have to restart the entire process again. It makes programs like EMFP LESS effective because they are having to work with parents who are always starting over, rather than working toward some longer-range goal once the child is settled.

        I have also met Milspouses with mental health needs of their own. They too need to find consistent services to tide them over the long run. The consistent change of scenery, the hit and miss of a support group, the having to constantly say good bye can force them into what seems to be an endless rut.

        Letting the family have the OPTION of PCS’ing and letting them keep their current BHA without having to jump through the hoops of mutliple offices and letters to the Pentagon would be a great step toward letting them enjoy some stability.

        The way I look at it, my husband is like a CEO. He flies. We don’t.

  8. Jessica permalink
    June 19, 2009 9:40 am

    I’m an active duty Army wife and we are getting ready to PCS to Fort Campbell, I have been married to my soldier for 3 years and I will answer your questions to the best of my ability.

    1. What are the biggest problems facing soldiers (and their families) returning from deployment?
    Change, our family has to continue without our soldier and our soldier has to continue their life as well. The spouse stays home and picks up the responsibilities that the soldier was originally doing and when the soldier returns home it’s hard to reintroduce them the “chores”. Children who are too young to realize who this person is when they return and don’t want to hug them or even understand the excitement/piece of mind of having them back home. Lastly, counseling. It’s so terrible that our soldiers are looked down upon for needing or wanting additional counseling. I’m sorry but if I had to endure half of what they go through I would probably be crazy.

    2. What could be done to address these problems?
    Deployments that don’t last as long would be a great start, ideal for me would be 6 months versus the current 12 months and 15 months was absolutely crazy! You have to figure even if they are deploying for 12 months there is still JRTC (training for Army) prior to deployment which already take them away from their families. Second longer leave, two weeks R&R doing a 15 or 12 month deployment is not enough, a month would be ideal. More in depth counseling, but you also have to change the mindset of some people who are already in the military which probably won’t ever happen.

    3. Does the current military family support system work? If not, why?
    No…. My mother-in-law was a military spouse and she spoke of these FRG meetings that made it sound great, it’s not. Our current unit hardly ever meets and when they do most of the guys dread it because they already spend too much time at work. It should be more of a spouse thing only so that people are more comfortable and rent out a restaurant, bar, etc. and provide free babysitting. Most military families have children and it’s hard for a spouse to be able to chat when they are constantly keeping an eye on their child.

    4. How can veteran’s service organizations help military families?
    I don’t know much about this except for what my grandpa says and since I don’t have first hand experience I don’t want to comment on it.

    5. If you had all the power in the world, what would you do to support soldiers and military families?
    Start off by letting them know they are supported! You still have morons protesting at funerals of our fallen heroes, obviously these people don’t support us. Second, make military benefits available only to the military, not gov’t contractors, DoD employees etc. It’s crazy that we are charged the same amount at daycare as an E-6 as a DoD employee who makes $100k+ a year. Change deployments, it would be awesome if we didn’t have to do them, but at least make them shorter, leave longer, and no more hardship tours!

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