|“The Unobserved Strength of Military Families”
By Kathy Roth-Douquet and Laura Dempsey
The recent AP story on the toll of the recent conflicts on military families may be well meaning, but also is skewed journalism that leaves people with the impression that there is a widespread epidemic of violence and mental instability in the military community. Like many stories covering military families the piece quotes no hard evidence to back its more sensational claims then goes on to make the claims anyway.
We need to be careful about how we discuss the effects of these conflicts on military families. Clearly multiple deployments have taken their toll. The problems listed in the article are occurring. But the extent of the problems is not known, nor is the prognosis for these families once the war ends.
The bottom line is that our military has never experienced this kind of sustained long term foreign war with such a relatively small and largely married force, and we need to find ways to make it more endurable. But there is a lot more health and resilience in our combat forces than the story reflects. It is also not a foreign experience for people to find strength in their marriage and bonding as a result of weathering the challenges of deployment. And the Marine Corps, which has a similar proportion of its force deployed with less distress, is not mentioned, and therefore whatever lessons there are to be learned there (hint: 7 months for battalion-level combat deployments instead of 15 month deployments) are also unmentioned.
We cannot dismiss the very real problems facing military families as a result of the current OPTEMPO. But exaggerated claims of families on the brink of mental instability and emotional ruin are premature, and run the risk of offending those who are proud of the strength they’ve brought to the challenge.
Another potentially awful byproduct of articles such as this is the risk that the American public will revive the Vietnam-era stereotype of the combat soldier (and now it would appear his family as well) as a dangerous, mentally unstable character. This is especially troubling given the total lack of comprehensive, analytical data on the issue.
Clearly this war is taking a toll on our military families, who have had to bear the burden of the Iraq war alone for too long. Combat troops and families have been heroic in the resources they’ve brought to bear, but we need to do far more to make the burden more bearable.
We need to take a closer look at the damage being done, get better numbers on the extent of the problems and find out if the problems continue after a soldier separates from the service. We also need to take lessons learned of the success stories, and recognize and celebrate the successes.
Finally we need to make absolutely sure that our country is providing a robust support system for its military families and recent combat veterans and their families that is commensurate with the honorable and heroic service that they continue to provide for this country.
Filed under: war |