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Supporting Military Families Year Round

by Deborah Mullen

This was originally published on the Family Matters blog run by the Department of Defense and later appeared on the Joining Forces blog.

During the Month of the Military Child in April, there were picnics and parades, fairs and festivals in communities across the country—all to recognize and honor military children for their special contributions to our nation.

There is no issue nearer or dearer to my heart than reinforcing to our military children that they are, indeed, a key part of the military community and how equally important it is to recognize the sacrifices they make every day.

It’s one thing to be a military child during peacetime, quite another during a time of war. Every day, these young ones shoulder worry, stress and responsibility far beyond their years while mom or dad is deployed. It’s not just the missed birthdays and soccer games or helping mom with extra chores that dad would normally do. It’s the fear that their world can crumble at a moment’s notice.

When their parent comes home, the stress and challenges don’t necessarily disappear. It’s a safe bet dad didn’t return quite the same guy he was when he left. He, too, may have emotional and even physical challenges to face. And he, too, may be afraid…and perhaps even afraid to admit it.

Many of these kids have known only war…only worry.

Dealing with these things months and years on end, demands resilience and toughness – qualities innate to military children and something most are particularly proud of to be sure.

I can personally attest to the inner strength military families develop through deployments, frequent moves and new cultural experiences. There is, of course, much to love about a military life and a lot to value about the richness and diversity it brings to our children’s perspectives.

But as I meet with military families across the country, it is clear to me that a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has challenged them, stretched them, and tested their resilience and strength in unprecedented ways.

That reality isn’t always readily seen or understood by the rest of America.

My husband Michael speaks frequently on this topic. He notes that today, less than 1 percent of our nation’s population serves in uniform.

We are concerned that people who used to have day-to-day connections with military men and women and their families may not know much about them anymore, so they are simply unaware of the stress and challenges these families face—a situation compounded by the fact that most military families bear their burdens quietly.

It is evident to me that people care and want to help. Often, they just don’t know what to do to support our military families in the ways they need it most, particularly as they transition back to their communities and to civilian life.

That’s why April’s Month of the Military Child and May’s Military Appreciation Month are important efforts that help us get moving in the right direction. They keep us talking. They offer avenues for appreciation and action. These things can only strengthen the connections between communities and our military. I also believe they can only strengthen our country.

There are many ways, big and small, to get involved. However people choose to support, the concept is straightforward. Our military men and women and their families do so much and sacrifice so much to take care of America. This is about doing everything we can to take care of them—together—not just in April or May but year round.

Deborah Mullen, a Navy wife and mom and a military family advocate, has been married to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for 40 years.You also can follow Mrs. Mullen on

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