By Terri Barnes
When navigating and building support networks for military life, personal connections make all the difference. For all the moving pieces—transitions, mental health, school changes, deployment, and more—many avenues of support are available, and a few helping hands can bring those pieces together. Department of Defense programs, nonprofit organizations, and military-oriented companies are effective in different ways in different situations
“One of the most important ways to learn what resources are available and worthwhile is connecting with others in the military community who have the experience you’re seeking,” says Kellie Artis, army spouse and chief operating officer at Millie, which offers resources and information for moving military families.
When heading to a new duty station, Kellie says “Connect with someone—preferably someone who is thriving there—and ask them everything you can think of. If you’re facing challenges with exceptional family member status, school transitions for kids, food insecurity, deployment stress, you name it, there is most certainly another military spouse that has dealt with similar situations and has insight to give.”
The Millie website lists information about military installations, finding help with real estate, school districts, and commutes, as well as transition checklists and toolkits.
“One of the most important ways to learn what resources are available and worthwhile is connecting with others in the military community …”
When it comes to counseling and mental health, Corie Weathers, army spouse, clinical consultant, and author of Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage says military families may not be aware they have many options. She agrees that someone to offer a starting point in the search can be helpful.
Within the military system, she says families can speak with chaplains and Military Family Life Counseling Program for short term or focused care. For civilian care, Tricare provides coverage.
“Families may not know they can find a local Tricare (mental healthcare) provider without a referral from their primary care physician,” says Corie. “Many clinicians, like myself, provide online counseling, or tele-health sessions. Individual counseling through Tricare for dependents, including children, is as easy as picking up a phone call and making an appointment.
Corie’s Lifegiver website includes a clinician directory to help military families find practitioners who serve the military community. Many of the care providers in Corie’s directory are also military family members or veterans.
School transitions are another prime concern for military families. Air Force spouses Amanda Trimillos and Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman, coauthors of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers, say personal connections are essential here too.
“Sometimes building a strong parent-teacher team starts with connecting with the school counselor and fellow military parents even before we arrive at our new location,” says Amanda, a military spouse and mother of four. “These groups can answer questions and offer suggestions for how to settle into a new school. As a teacher I especially appreciate when a parent reaches out to me to begin building the partnership as soon as possible – even before the first day of school.”
“Building a strong parent-teacher team starts with connecting … even before we arrive at our new location.”
Stacy says making connections is not only crucial, it also saves time and heartache when entering a new school and community.
“I can remember the feelings of being left out of the know at a new school and feeling alone,” she says. “I felt like I’ve disappointed my kids by not forging a way through a new community to provide a better transition. After so many years of military life, these experiences have armed me with empathy. We can help other families navigate the chaotic life of school transitions and maybe keep them from making the same mistakes.”
Amanda and Stacy moderate a Facebook group dedicated to connecting parents and teachers with one another to share support and information; and SeasonsofMyMilitaryStudent.com, has articles and resources especially for parents and teachers of military-connected students.
“We all looked out for each other … what meant the most to me was that I was not alone.”
Benita Koeman, coauthor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life, was inspired by experiences during her army husband’s deployments to create Operation We are Here. The website lists programs, materials, and ideas for supporting military families. Benita’s mission is to share avenues of support for military families and those around them, like local churches, civic groups, extended family, and neighbors.
Operation We are Here includes hundreds of links to services, books, military-connected businesses, blogs, websites, support organizations, checklists, guidance for families during deployment, wounded warriors, families of the fallen, and more.
Although having good information is important, Benita said friendships provided the best kind of support for her during deployment, recalling a particular neighborhood that became a powerful network of support during deployments.
“We all looked out for each other and carried on with shared memories, but what meant the most to me was that I was not alone,” says Benita. “I don’t think of that neighborhood as a geographical location. It represents a community of caring, military-supportive people.”
The many moving pieces of military life fit together better and are improved by strong friendships and a community that shares ideas, information, and resources.
“You are not alone,” says Kellie, “and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to this lifestyle.”
Terri Barnes is a military spouse and author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, based on her long-running column in Stars and Stripes. She is also the editor of several award-winning books from Elva Resa Publishing.