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Tips From the Guard's Spouse of the Year
What are some common challenges Guard families face?
Most people don’t even know they’re military families. People may not be aware that your spouse is deployed or that you’re separated for any reason. That extra layer of support from your community, neighbors and friends is not as accessible. And most people don’t walk around saying, “My spouse is deployed,” so it’s hard to get people to reach out and support them.
Other than programs like Military OneSource and Yellow Ribbon, what can Guard families do to connect and gain a sense of community?
Talk to your child’s pediatrician, a mental health provider, the counselor or teacher at school. Make them aware there’s [an upcoming] deployment and your kids will need extra support. Ask if the school counselor can meet with Johnny every week. Before [a deployment], reach out to a mental health agency and come in with the entire family. This should be part of the pre-deployment checklist, like setting up a power of attorney and making sure bank accounts are OK. Also, ask your company’s HR rep about the EAP [Employee Assistance Program]. It is free and available, and they can talk you through situations over the phone. And reach out to other family members and have them check in with your family [during a deployment]. They may not understand what it’s like to be separated.
If you live near a base, even if you’re not affiliated with it, go on the base. During my husband’s deployment [to Kosovo in 2012–13], my three children and I lived on the [Laurence G.] Hanscom Air Force Base [in Bedford, MA], which took civilians and DoD and Guard. I knew we’d need that support. The kids went to a DoD school. They had groups devoted to parents who were deployed. There were military family life counselors. The chaplains were wonderful … caring and present.
Also, there are lots of online military organizations and groups. Reach out to your FRG [Family Readiness Group], too, which has a lot of resources and is a great source of information.
What is the biggest stumbling block for Guard families when it comes to reaching out for support?
With mental health in general, the first thing is to tackle the stigma. Prepare the family so they know they shouldn’t feel ashamed. In the military, we tend to say, “I can handle this,” [but] it’s OK to say, “No, I can’t.” No one can handle it on their own. You should not be afraid to reach out for help. It’s not a negative.
After a deployment, do you think Guard families need the same level of support?
Absolutely. It’s actually more important then; it can be a tough time. Go back to the same people you approached before the deployment, because they might think your struggle is done. Educate them that it’s not. Sometimes it’s harder. Go to family therapy, even if you feel OK. Everyone has grown and changed, and you have to get to know each other again.
A WEB OF SUPPORT
In addition to building strong community partnerships, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee encourages Guard families to seek support from among thousands of available online resources. Here are a few of her favorites:
OperationHomefront.net: Provides financial and other assistance to military families and Wounded Warriors.
CourageBeyond.org: Assists service members and their loves ones facing PTSD.
GiveAnHour.org: Offers free and confidential online counseling.
MilitarySaves.org: Provides financial advice, resources.
TeamRWB.org: Connects Veterans through physical and social activity.
MilitaryFamily.org: Offers scholarships for spouses, kids’ camps and retreats for Soldiers and their families.
HomefrontUnited.com: Provides support and resources for service members.