Out of all the important things our Soldiers do, one of the most important is developing ties with our local communities.  The impact of those ties may not always be tangible, but it is vital for the communities and the Army. In particular, there is a clear connection to readiness as community relations assist in attracting the best and brightest to serve in our Army.

The Thunderbirds strive to avoid allowing a large divide between civilians and the military defending their freedom, and through volunteerism and community relations we help bridge that gap.  Through those activities we show our fellow Americans our similarity and shared values in many ways, while at the same time providing positive examples and growing as individuals.

For example, Soldiers who volunteer at schools help students and their parents see us as members of the community who want to help others succeed.  It also shows the caring and parental side of Soldiers that many times is left out of social depictions.  In addition, it provides mentorship to the students and maybe even a positive parental figure who provides the students with different experiences.  Military to civilian interactions at local schools can help a child gain confidence in their reading abilities and can be the difference between passing or failing math.  Meanwhile, it also serves as a positive and rewarding experience for Soldiers.

Some Soldiers also serve as volunteer coaches for after-school sports teams.  These Soldiers also provide positive role models and mentorship while helping children and teenagers stay healthy and active.  They also help teach teamwork, resiliency, leadership, discipline, respect, confidence and sportsmanship.  The additional help can allow the coaches to spend more time with individual team members, focusing on specific ways to help them improve.  In some cases, the volunteer hours put in by Soldiers are what keeps the programs and teams going.  Studies show these types of after-school programs help keep youngsters out of trouble while reducing school absences, and increasing grade-point averages and the chances of graduating high school.

Community relations, while not necessarily community service, are also important in closing the civilian-military divide and building relationships.  Things like providing color guards, bands, static displays, hosting open houses or events open to the public and participating in parades gives civilians in our communities a glimpse into the lives of the military while showing we are part of the community, demonstrating good will and exposing people to new cultures and ways of life.

Although none of these effects can be physically touched, they are definitely felt by the individuals and society.  The social connections between military and civilians lead to a better understanding for both parties, and they can lead to a more secure, respectful and trusting relationship for those involved.  Impacts for the children and teens occur in ways that help them develop to be better members of society, regardless of whether they join the military or not.  

Finally, these activities open up the world to Soldiers and communities who may not otherwise come in contact with people who are different – ethnically, religiously, politically or otherwise.  The positive relationships built though volunteerism and community relations helps us see past the differences to the common ground and shows that different is not necessarily bad.