By Elaine Wilson, AFPS
Nov. 9, 2009
Since starting the “Family Matters” blog, I’ve written about the challenges military families face – the relocations, deployments, reintegration and school adjustments – in an effort to help ease military families’ burdens in some small way.
But after this morning, I feel like I’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg. Earlier today, I heard firsthand from nine military spouses about the ups and downs, trials and tribulations, fears and frustrations military families face in their everyday lives. I was impressed and amazed by their courage and candor as they came forward to help initiate change.
The spouses were invited to offer their perspective on military life during a family member panel at the Defense Department’s first National Leadership Summit on Military Families today at the University of Maryland.
The summit drew more than 300 military and civilian leaders who provide support to military families. The participants gathered to discuss the effectiveness of the military’s family support and readiness programs as part of an ongoing effort to improve them.
The spouses represented each military service, active and reserve components, and ran the gamut from military life “newbie” to seasoned military wife. They were invited to share their experiences in the presence of leaders who have the power to help implement future change.
The spouses were asked about everything from the challenges they face to the improvements they seek. While the responses were varied, a few themes threaded their way throughout the conversation: child care, education, Tricare, care for special-needs children and outreach for geographically dispersed families.
I’ll be sharing all of their perspectives in upcoming posts, but in today’s, I’d like to focus on their thoughts on child care and education.
Samantha Moore, wife of Marine Corps Maj. David Moore, has a 2-year old son, a 4-year-old daughter and another on the way. She and her family are assigned to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and will move to Camp Lejeune, N.C., next summer. Her husband is facing two upcoming deployments. This will be her first time facing a deployment with children, and by that time, she’ll have three.
Moore said child care is absolutely vital for military families. She’s a big fan of the military’s child development centers, she said, but unfortunately it’s very tough to get care on base.
“If you’re not that crazy, wonderful mother … who gets up when the new spots come available on Monday morning at whatever time, and she’s up at 6:30 a.m. on the phone, one of the first 10 people to call, then you don’t get those drop-in spots,” she said. “That means those appointments you wanted to make, you won’t get to make, that lunch with your girlfriends you wanted to have, you won’t get to have.”
Moore said she asked about part- or full-time day care for her daughter and was told she would be No. 48 on the list. “We’ll leave far before she gets to the bottom of that list,” she said. “If child care is as difficult to get at Lejeune … then I’m really in trouble.
“Because that’s how you survive through deployments,” she explained. “You hang out with your girlfriends; you get a break from your kids. That’s how you get through these things, with your friends, your network of resiliency. Child care is a huge component of that.”
Part of the problem can be boiled down to supply and demand, a Marine spouse said.
“Our childcare facilities are phenomenal,” said Karen Beaudreault, wife of Col. Brian Beaudreault of Marine Corps Base Quantico, “so good that the demand that’s out there is not met by the availability. Spouses use child care to work, to attend command-sponsored functions and to get together with their girlfriends. And with the current operational tempo, it’s even more important we have available child care for our families.”
Ending the child care discussion on a high note, Patricia Davis, an Air Force spouse and 22-year Air Force veteran, praised military families for always looking out for each other.
“On our base we started a Mothers of Preschoolers [program] because we had mothers of preschoolers who didn’t feel connected,” she said. “This program has just taken off — all because of one spouse. It’s amazing to me, when there’s a need found, there’s someone there to meet it.”
Taking on a different aspect of child care, Brandi Goosey, an Army spouse from Fort Stewart, Ga., noted that the military has a plethora of DVDs and materials to help children through their various issues, but said she feels that nothing can take the place of face-to-face interaction.
“I believe we need a support group where the kids can go and talk about their feelings to each other and to rely on each other, especially during deployments,” she said. “We don’t have the one-on-one meetings to support the kids and talk about the things they’re going through, the challenges they face.”
To illustrate her point, Goosey described an experience she went through with her son when her husband was deployed. Her husband had come home for a visit and she and her son were on their way home after dropping him off at the airport.
“My son says to me, ‘It’s your fault,’” she said. “‘It’s your fault daddy’s gone.’ He was 5 at the time. In his mind, it was my fault because I dropped daddy off at the airport. If he had had a group to talk to, to explain, that would have been helpful through that experience.”
Education also came up during the panel during the panel discussion as a concern for the spouses. Davis, a mother of a fourth and sixth grader, said the quality and consistency of good quality education is “huge for me.”
Her children have been in three different schools since they’ve started their academic careers, she said.
Many of the military schools have liaisons to help military kids and parents, but some do not, said Melida Collins, wife of Army Guard Chaplain Quinton Collins, of Fort Belvoir, Va.
Collins said that a while back she had to move for medical reasons. Her son, who requires special needs services, waited for his care plan and when it arrived, the tests promised at the previous school had not been administered.
“They get shuffled and teachers don’t understand why kids are behind,” she said. “I think that if we had better liaisons assigned to our children, more proactive liaisons, we might be able to get something done with their education.
“I’d love to put him in a special school, but the resources aren’t there, and frustration … and deployment add to it,” she continued. “You feel like nobody is there.”
On a positive note, the spouses praised the interstate compact that will enable children to more easily transfer credits from one state’s school to another. As of today, 26 states are signed up, officials said. But, the spouses said the nation can do better.
Rondah Owings, wife of Navy Lt. Kenneth Owings, of NAB Coronado, Calif., wrapped up the conversation with a suggestion that the military create an online resource where parents can find information about schools nationwide.
I learned a lot today, not just about the challenges of military child care and education, but about the resilience of military spouses. These spouses are weathering multiple deployments, moves, schools, jobs, years of marriage and are still standing strong.
I think Collins summed up their strength best when she noted, “We stand together. If we fall apart, our families fall apart.”
Check back tomorrow for more on the summit’s family member panel.