Service, Surveying & Strengthening Military Families

In the 10th episode of Solidary of Service, host Kevin Schmiegel chats with military spouse and Blue Star Families’ Co-Director of Applied Research Jessica Strong. Strong and Schmiegel discuss the results from Blue Star Families’ 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Find out what surprised them, what didn’t, what the results mean for military families, and how the results can be used to help bridge the military and civilian divide. Strong also discusses exciting changes to the newly launched 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, which will be open until June 7!

Find out how your family can participate in this year’s survey here:

11:07 [Military] families spend a lot of time apart and that was intensified during 2020 because people who were deployed were having to stay apart for longer due to quarantines or potential exposures. If you were geobaching, your ability to travel may have been limited due to covid restrictions. A lot of those issues we already saw got a little bit more intense for families. (Jessica Strong, Blue Star Families’ co-director of applied research)

11:59 For the past few years, we have kept tabs on mental health in general—service members, family members, veterans mental health—particularly their thoughts of suicide. This year for the first time we asked about whether children had thoughts of suicide and found that 6% of our active duty families responded that sometime in the past year their child had expressed thoughts of suicide, so we know it’s been an intense year for everybody. (Jessica Strong)

14:10 I think it’s really important for people to know that [the Annual Military Family Lifestyle survey] is statistically significant data that shows trends over time and [this] is important because it allows us to address the problems that exist. (Kevin Schmiegel, CEO of Operation Gratitude)

15:41 I was surprised to see the amount of discrimination that service members mention. Service members of color—26% of them—said they had experienced racial discrimination in their unit and command. (Jessica Strong)

20:25–21:20 The reason I think we get all excited and geek out about data is because its very validating, if you are coming from that lived experience yourself you are thinking, “I am not the only spouse who has struggled with employment after a move. I am not the only person who has struggled with mental health in the past year. I am not the only one struggling with time away from my spouse. It’s validating to see it’s not just you, you are part of a community, and everyone is going through some of these things. And that’s one of the things that COVID showed us over the past year, is we are strong together as a community and we do better when we are working together. It’s the power of certain tragedy that brings us together. (Jessica Strong)

22:00 We were expecting to see that everyone’s social isolation would have gone up [in 2020] because we couldn’t hang out with other people. But we actually found the opposite—that social isolation wasn’t that different than it was before because we are still connecting with each other. And I think military families are really good at connecting with people because we are very practiced in it from moving all of the time. So we just took those skills we had from connecting with people over a distance and applied them not to just with our extended families and friends from other duty stations, but applied that to our friendships with people [in our community] and helped our civilian neighbors who didn’t have those skills also build those connections from a distance. (Jessica Strong)

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