By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 3, 2011 – Building resilience and providing long-term support are keys to strengthening military families and better equipping them to weather the frequent, multiple deployments so prevalent in this decade of war, the wife of the nation’s top military officer said.
“We’ve never asked a generation of families to do what this one has done,” Deborah Mullen, wife of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “We need to make sure they know we care about them, we care about their service, and we will be with them for the long haul.”
This message of assistance and support is one Mullen is working to pass on to as many service members, veterans and their families she can reach -– whether it’s on a trip across the nation with her husband, a tweet sent out on Twitter or, in her most recent social media venture, a blog.
Through her new “Family Forum” blog, Mullen plans to write on a wide range of family-related topics, including resilience, veteran and spouse employment and education, and psychological health and well-being. She also will pass on the latest information regarding support programs and resources.
“I have a number of ideas I think will span a lot of issues,” she said.
Her first post, “Family Forum: Supporting Military Families Year Round,” will be featured today on American Forces Press Service’s Family Matters Blog.
Along the way, Mullen hopes to elicit comments from family members to gain an even greater insight into the challenges they face, building on knowledge she acquired first-hand as a Navy wife and from speaking with military families around the world.
Mullen was a young Navy spouse when she first decided to advocate on families’ behalf. Thirty years ago, she recalled, her husband was assigned to serve as the executive officer of a ship. The families of the ship’s sailors were dealing with a significant number of challenges and she decided to step in to help.
“I realized at that moment that there are challenges and difficulties that I may not realize, that I may not be experiencing, but someone else is,” Mullen said. That experience set her on a family-support journey that continues today.
This past decade of war in particular, with its frequent and lengthy deployments, has presented challenges that will resonate for years to come, she said.
Dwell time, which is the time at home between deployments, is still a “very significant problem,” Mullen noted.
“I know services are working hard to increase the dwell time, but it’s still not where it needs to be,” she said. “Service members, particularly in a unit with multiple deployments, have been gone for a significant amount of the last 10 years. Families need to have a true reintegration of the family unit.”
Military spouses also need access to stigma-free psychological health care, Mullen said. “The symptoms they’re experiencing, it’s affecting them and affecting their children, and they need to get help,” she said. “We don’t know what the cumulative effects of these deployments will be on these families.
“We’ve been at war for 10 years and we have a generation of children who have known only war, only worry and fear,” she added.
Mullen also touched on spouse employment. Spouses often have trouble transferring licenses and certifications between states. States need to work together to decrease the barriers they face, she said.
Mullen praised recent efforts to assist with these and other challenges, citing the White House’s new “Joining Forces” military family-support campaign. This national initiative aims to raise awareness of military families and then call on Americans to step up and support them.
She also highlighted her husband’s “Conversation with the Country,” an initiative to raise awareness in American communities about the value of veterans and their families.
Mullen said she hopes these efforts will continue to grow over time, and that communities will reach out to military families -– whether active duty, Guard, Reserve or veteran -– in their neighborhoods, schools and jobs to ensure they receive the support they need and deserve.
“Military families are in communities across the nation,” she said. “We just need to try and find out who they are, thank them for their service and then find out what we can do as a community to support them.”