Having spent 24 years serving in the Army, I am deeply aware of how important families are to the personal and professional success of any service member. My spouse and two boys are a huge source of motivation and I could not have made it this far without their constant support. I am also painfully aware of how much we ask from our Army families – regular moves, separation from extended family, changing schools, unpredictable hours and of course long deployments. Normal life has plenty of challenges with new additions to the family, financial strain, deaths of close family/friends or substance abuse.
The response to COVID-19 has only increased the stress on families, with home-schooling, cancelled vacations, disrupted PCS moves and social isolation making everything harder. Unfortunately, these sources of stress sometimes translate into conflict and across the nation there are increasing reports of domestic violence. Unacceptable anywhere, the Army is dedicated to taking action to protect our families, as well as getting help for Soldiers under extreme stress. They have heavily invested in programs to mitigate stressors both at home and at work, in addition to providing assistance to those in need.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There is no better time than now to pause, reflect and educate ourselves on how to look out for our teammates. The time is now to identify indicators early before stress translates into conflict that could potentially result in violence. In the 11th Signal Brigade, I expect leaders to engage with their battle buddies to recognize when something seems off or is cause for concern. We particularly need to take a hard look during significant family changes, as these can quickly change the internal dynamics. Knowing someone on a personal level takes a great deal of trust, which can only be built over time and with genuine concern for our teammates.
We also must empower our Soldiers and families with the knowledge of where to turn for help. The Army has several options available for families and Soldiers. The Army Family Advocacy Program offers classes in a wide variety of topics, from prevention to education. Open to all service members and dependents without charge, they have classes on marriage communication and enrichment, parenting, stress management and anger control. For more personal counseling, every brigade on post has an assigned Military Family Life Counselor. These professionals are available, again for free, to conduct individual and couple counseling with confidentiality. Similarly, military chaplains are available either through your unit or any chapel on post to help families work through issues and strengthen bonds. Army OneSource (myarmyonesource.com) allows access to both online training and free confidential counseling. By calling Army OneSource at 800-342-9647, any dependent and sponsor can receive 12 free counseling sessions with a civilian provider that is confidential and not reported to your chain of command. With all of these options, we all must take responsibility to connect struggling families with the service that best fits their situation to build a stronger family foundation.
In an ideal world, we would identify problems and intervene before they escalate into verbal or physical abuse. However, sometimes families need immediate intervention. There are many avenues open to report abuse – chain of command, military/local police, medical professionals, chaplains, Army OneSource, Family Advocacy Program and even local family advocacy groups. Fort Hood has a 24/7 crisis hotline as well, at 254-287-CARE (2273). Please, I ask that if you see a friend, neighbor or anyone struggling, reach out and connect them with one of these agencies to get help.