blue star neighbour
CNN  — 

This week is Blue Star Welcome Week, recognizing the hundreds of thousands of military families who recently moved to new duty stations or even transitioned out of the military.

When you think of military families you might picture them living on military bases. While many do, most actually don’t: they’re your neighbors. And most of these neighbors of yours don’t have a local emergency contact to put on their kids’ school forms. They don’t know someone in the area well enough to ask for help if they need some while their service member is deployed or away at training.

They’ve also probably seen a thing or two, lived in a place or twelve, and would love to hear about your lives and tell you about theirs.

There’s this persistent trend in the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted each year by the nonprofit Blue Star Families that just screams out for some simple kindnesses to bridge the gap between civilian and military families: only about 30% of military family respondents said they felt a sense of belonging in their local civilian communities.

Civilian, military or veteran – we all know the effects of social isolation coming out of the pandemic. Can’t we do better – for all our families?

This week, I’ve worked out a short list of ways I’ll be trying to bridge the gap between civilian and military families and make my community a friendlier place to live.

  • I’m going to check in at my child’s school and see if any new military kids enrolled this year so that I can reach out to their families and welcome them.
  • I’m going to organize a weekend hike for a few military, veteran and civilian families.
  • And my longer term goal: helping military spouses with a background or interest in journalism as they seek employment in the industry.

Military spouses are adaptable, committed and bring essential perspectives to newsrooms and other places of employment. Unfortunately, their talent is often overlooked when they’re auto-screened out of the job applicant process because of their inevitable gaps in employment from PCSing (making a permanent change of station) every few years.

Their employment is essential to exposing civilian communities to military families and to the health of the military. Easing financial stress in military families can help alleviate risk factors for mental health challenges and food insecurity.

Maybe this Blue Star Welcome Week could be a reminder that there are National Guard or Reserve families living in your neighborhood. When they’re not activated, they have normal civilian jobs just like you, even as they train with the military regularly on weekends. You might not even know they’re there, but it’s not too hard to find out. Just ask around. Many of their families weathered periods of the pandemic without their service member as they were called up in huge numbers to fill gaps in the national response to Covid-19.

If you’re feeling inspired this week – or any week – to welcome a military family in your community, offering some insider knowledge is a great way to go.

“Where to go for that slice of pizza, the best shopping, the best doctors, what … about that school official? Is there something I should know?” says Laura Abubekr, an Army spouse of 12 years and a fellow with Blue Star Families’ diversity and inclusion effort.

She also appreciates recommendations that are specific to her multi-cultural family: Abubekr is Mexican American, and her husband is Ghanaian American.

“Where can I get my son’s hair products or find out where a good loctician is? Where can we find seasonings for [the foods of] our cultures?”

Abubekr and her husband moved last year from Hawaii with their three kids, leaving a civilian community to live in on-base housing in the Washington, DC, area during the deadliest Covid-19 surge of the pandemic.

Along with the usual headaches of changing duty stations – vents in the new house painted shut? Check! – she found this move to be the most isolating of any her family has made.

She hopes speaking about her experience can help others and she encourages military families to make an effort to make connections as well.

“If [families] are supporting military members we need to have a solid home base and with that comes building community. Since we leave our families it’s up to us to build our family. Family isn’t always blood,” she said.

Abubekr says a warm welcome from new neighbors can be a lifeline for military families who she finds are often reluctant to ask for help.

“And things you would discuss with your other neighbor [who’s] not military at coffee, please discuss that with us. We want to wear our military hat with our civilian hat at the same time and bring in that balance,” she explained.