The month of May recognizes military service members and their families in many ways – including Military Appreciation Month, Military Spouse Appreciation, and of course Memorial Day. One lesser known day, May 21, 2016, marks Armed Forces Day, a time to honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States. At Fors Marsh Group, this day has particular importance as we’ve always had a longstanding commitment to supporting our troops through close relationships with multiple Department of Defense clients whose missions support troop wellbeing.
It’s no surprise to anyone who watched the news that today’s service members must navigate an increasingly complex and constantly evolving environment. The past 15 years have been characterized by the War on Terror and other conflicts that have involved frequent and sustained deployments for over 2.6 million service members.1 Such deployments have separated service members from their families and at times, result in physical and psychological injuries. Nonetheless, service members remain resilient, with 64% of active duty members reporting that they are satisfied with the military way of life. Further, 63% of active duty members report that they are likely to choose to stay on active duty. Most military members also report being satisfied with various non-military aspects of their life, with 71% reporting that their financial situation was comfortable and 80% reporting that they have a good relationship with their spouse or significant other.2 This is no small feat, and something that should be celebrated.
Coping with Stressors and Challenges
Military service provides many things that promote mental health such as a sense of purpose, identity, comradery, belonging, and meaningful work. However, we know that it also presents unique stressors and challenges, hence the occurrence of mental health struggles in some service members. Many service members struggle with issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. With the amount of change, disruption, and unknown in their lives, the military has made it a priority to counteract these mental health issues.
Comprehensive service member health is a top priority for the DoD and the military healthcare system is free and comprehensive. In the past 15 years, many programs have been developed to aid service members battling mental health afflictions, such as Military OneSource and the Army’s Total Force Fitness Initiative. Further, over the past decade, the DoD has quadrupled its number of mental health professionals to help active duty and transitioning service members and their families.3 However, many service members remain resistant to seeking help, with 67% of those deployed in the past 24 months reporting that they did not want support services (however, it remains unclear what proportion of individuals are in need of support services or not). Despite the availability of support services, the stigma associated with seeking professional supports persists, and more must be done.
Survey data suggest that the majority of service members do not face grave difficulty upon returning from deployment. In fact, nearly half (49%) of active duty members deployed within the past 24 months characterized their readjustment to being back home after their deployment as easy, with only 18% characterizing it as difficult. However, it is important to note that these results pertain to individuals who have opted to remain in (and not separate from) the Military. Integrating into civilian life presents different obstacles than does re-integrating into military life post-deployment, and organizations are coming together to promote more military-to-civilian transitional career programs, and support those who’ve served find their place in the work world.
How Can Civilians Support the Armed Forces?
As discussed, the men and women who serve in today’s Military face several challenges, including multiple deployments and the risk of physical and psychological injury, among others. Nonetheless, they report relatively high levels of satisfaction and wellbeing with various facets of life. This is a testament to these individuals’ strength and the support they receive from those around them, and a lesson that the rest of us should take notice of.
Resilience is one of the most important things taught in military basic training, and it’s one of the greatest attributes a service member, service family or civilian can have to get through the setbacks in everyday life. As a country, today, on Armed Forces Day and every day, we must recognize, appreciate and support those that are willing to voluntarily defend our freedom.
What are you doing to recognize the military members in your community today?