As a military family the day is rarely far from thought. The world changed for America that day and for military families, it hasn’t stopped. For the military child, mother, father, spouse, September 11, 2001 was just the beginning of what seems to be the never ending road to war.
The other day I was reminded of the continued fight we military families face and how disconnected the public still remains. It was during an interview with a local corporate marketing executive who initiated a conference call with military non-profits to see how a group of organizations could market to military families. Ah the loaded question.
I’ve heard military families are the new “marketing niche” of the decade. At first one thinks great, someone wants to help us. But after pealing away the pitch, one has to ask, exactly how do we access this support? Are we to “shop” military support and throw it into our checkout cart and purchase it online?
As a non-profit owner assisting military families there are a ton of organizations trying to buy their market share of the military niche. I’m in contact with them daily and I have yet to have one organization ask simply, “what is it you need?” And by the way, as quick as they appear wanting to help, they’re gone. If it’s not the anniversary of 911, Veterans Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day (which isn’t even a military observance) they seldom ask “what can we do for you?”
Military families rarely ask for help. By the time we figure out we need help, we’re so lost in the abyss of information provided by well meaning military support organizations that the moment to act has come and gone and 911 is our only option. 911 may be a close friend, mental health hotlines or medical support but it’s rarely Target or Walmart and it definitely isn’t the internet shopping cart.
Military families aren’t asking for entitlement programs, free houses, concert tickets, free tickets to ballgames etc. What they truly need is advocacy, commitment and lastly a chance for a successful return to the civilian world. A marketing niche implies that we’re the flavor of the month. Perhaps that is why so many organizations fail at gaining the market share of military families. We are not a commodity to trade and sell.
Eleven years into war and a soldier “thinks” of committing suicide every 36 hours. A soldier “ends” their life every 80 hours. The average age today of the soldier killing themselves is 17 – 21 and they have yet to deploy. It’s not just the soldier who is in need of support; it’s the spouse who also suffers from PTSD and the fear and sacrifice of deployment ignites their symptoms; or the child with special needs who must now also adapt to life without a parent. It’s the high school senior who has moved to five different schools since middle school and now faces the possibility that they won’t have the credit necessary to graduate because their state didn’t sign the Inter-State Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.
As I realized this was just another call from a well meaning organization who wanted to somehow connect with military families during the 911 Anniversary I decided to answer his question.
1. Military families need corporations to be educated on the needs of their employees who are serving, have served or are family members of those serving. Robust connections through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for individuals dealing with PTSD, TBI, family issues arising from deployment service would be a first step. The only way for our society to combat suicide or those in need is to educate ourselves on the signs, the behavior and lastly how to reach out and connect with that individual who is hurting. Seminars open to your employee population on Suicide Prevention and Awareness would not only help educate everyone but show those in need that they are not alone, that their employer cares and that someone has their “back”.
2. Day care programs, pre-tax incentives or even educational savings programs to support day care programs. The spouse who now finds that they must return to work because their soldier is no longer able to work is caught between the needs of their child and their employer and day care is at the heart of the matter.
3. Tuition Grants for children of military families to assist in tutoring, ACT/SAT test prep and other needs up to and including secondary education;
4. A well informed and educated supervisory staff and human resource professionals that understands that FMLA now applies to providing secured time off for a spouse or parent to assist in their soldiers rehabilitation, doctors appointments or to spend time with their soldier while on leave during deployment; USERRA understanding and how it applies to our National Guard and Reserve soldiers;
5. Staffing personnel specifically recruiting our soldiers and spouses who have been discharged from the military; assistance in writing resumes – translating their military education into life skills that are marketable;
6. Volunteer Hours approved for projects to participate in military events, family days, or physically assist military families with household chores, home maintenance and other hardships that may impact a military family.
None of the above fit into an online grocery cart but the marketing power of corporations and civic minded organizations that can leverage the above needs of the military family will be rewarded with the most committed, hard working and skilled workforce seen yet in this century.
We will never forget that day in September that changed the world…and there is no doubt that America and its citizens are forever indebted to our military. If we want to pay tribute to the fallen, it’s not in a moment of silence or tears; it’s in honoring their commitment matched only by giving back to those who have given the most. We are not a marketing “niche” we are people who’ve been called to honor the oath to serving this great nation. There is no greater gift than giving back…and no greater reward in honoring those who’ve sacrificed so much with a commitment to helping them find peace in a world where war has become the norm.