April, as you know, is the Month of the Military Child. And May 10 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Don’t forget that November is when we celebrate the Month of the Military Family.
As I look back on the months since I was selected to be this year’s representative of the military spouse community, I see some troubling patterns. As a country, we seem to prize recognition over action. Recognition, of course, feels good. But frankly, we don’t need any more proclamations, directives, months, days or “attaboys.” What our families need- and what our kids in particular need-is action. Not another meeting to talk about our issues. Not another study or hearing to consider our issues. We need to DO SOMETHING about our issues!
WE’RE VERY GOOD AT TALKING
Recently I attended a Department of Defense Military Family Readiness Council meeting. The Family Readiness Council is a federal board created by Congress to consider military family issues and make recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. The meeting was headed by the acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness (she reports directly to the Secretary of Defense). Essentially, all military family programs and policy come under this office.
In the years since the council was created, it hasn’t accomplished much reform or action. They meet just once a year, even though their mandate is to meet twice per year. At the meeting I attended, the Department of Defense announced to the council that it would be evaluating all the military family programs across each of the services-this is after the same programs were evaluated last year. This 120-day review will look at whether or not these military programs are effective at reaching and helping military families.
Karen Golden of the Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA) put it succinctly when she said, “The bottom line: For three years, this council has been talking a lot about the evaluation of military family readiness programs. Now, a new task force has been created to do what the council is mandated to do-evaluate and access family readiness programs. A lot of talk-and not a lot of action.”
COULD IT BE DIFFERENT?
I think about the bureaucratic crawl with which things happen at the Dept. of Defense. The same can be said for many of our military family support organizations. These groups often seem as concerned about their relationship with the Department of Defense as they are with families they supposedly represent.
And then I think about our military kids, who we’re supposed to be celebrating this month. They aren’t going to be kids for long. There’s an exceptionally small window in which we, as parents and friends of these children, can make a difference in their lives. Action, not talk, is what matters.
So, as you’re considering where to spend your time volunteering or how you can make a difference for our families, focus on one thing: Action.
If you go to a meeting, and they seem mainly intent on scheduling the next gala, ask yourself whether or not this is truly the best use of your time. Ask yourself if you could get this organization to make real, concrete progress or if you should devote your energy to an organization that’s really doing meaningful, measurable things.
Finally, when April and May and November come around each year, don’t be lulled into thinking people, the Congress, or the president are introducing lasting change and progress because of a national day or month of proclamation. Let me be clear: Recognition is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a needed thing. But we as a military family have to hold our leadership accountable for what they are doing, not for what they are saying.