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January 19, 2016

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Military Divorce Rate

By Josh Gilliam -

Have you ever heard someone say the divorce rate in the military is upwards of 60%?  Over the years I have heard everything from 30% to 80% thrown around in chapel services and FRG meetings. Truthfully, I have made comments to the same effect during Marriage Retreats!

What do you think the actual rate of divorce is? What if I told you it was around 3%? Yep. That’s right – just 3% of military marriages end in divorce. A massive 206-page study by the Rand Corporation titled Families Under Stress accounted for every marriage in the active armed forces between 1996 and 2005 and reported that the mean rate of divorce is 3%.  This time period is especially appropriate because in encompasses 5 years of peacetime and 5 years of war.

The researchers concluded, “There is no consistent evidence that the normal expected demands of military service lead to higher rates of marital dissolution in military couples” (66). In another place the study said: “Despite the demonstrable stresses associated with military service and deployment and the widespread assumption that these stresses lead to the deterioration of military marriages, our analyses revealed little support” for such a relationship (xxiii). Interestingly, a different study found the same to be true of Vietnam era marriages. The evidence simply does not support our urban legends (fears) that military marriages are destined for failure.

The paper concludes with offering some possible reasons that military marriages are able to thrive despite the stress. One is that the armed services tend to attract persons of integrity and hard work—both valuable qualities for a strong marriage.  Furthermore, in recent years, military leaders have placed a high value on marriage and family, and devoted resources to strengthening them.

I thought it was interesting that the lowest rate of divorce across all populations was Marine Corps Officers. I, for one, am glad I married one! (Don’t be fooled by the dreads; Katie was in the Marine Corps for five years). The graph below shows the Marine Corps stats.

All this to say – I’m encouraged! We do not have to choose between our families and our professions. They may actually complement one another. 

But this is not to say that being married to a serviceman is easy. I have deep respect for the women who knowingly allowed their husbands to join the military over these last 15 years of war. It’s no small thing! But I sense that the same strength that allowed you to join the military will see your marriage through as well. 

I also recognize there are others out there who are in the middle of the struggle, and your strength is failing. As you read this post you are wondering if your marriage will be part of the 3%. It’s real. I do not mean to minimize the difficulty. Military Clan exists is to do our small part in moving the divorce rate down to 2% in the years to come. So keep the faith – and stay tuned.  

January 05, 2016

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Military Life: “Adjusting the Adventure”

By Katie Gilliam - 

As we pulled out of the driveway last Wednesday morning, we told the kids, “The only thing we can guarantee is that this will be an adventure!”  Weeeeelllllll…I guess it depends how you define adventure…

We decided several months before that what we really wanted for Christmas was to be with my sister’s family.  They are also military, they also have a large family, they also eat 10 pounds of oatmeal a week—so many reasons to love them.  Only issue—they’re stationed in Germany.  No problem.  Get mug shots taken at Walgreens of youngest three children (one is a wiggly baby mind you), sell your firstborn child to pay for passports for three said children, board dog in a doggie prison, hop on a Space-A flight a few days before Christmas and we’re golden!  

Back to the driveway comments… 

We were heading down to Charleston for what looked like a wide open flight that we were sure to get on.  My sis had grocery shopped for us, put chocolates on the girls’ beds, bought bright red nail polish, etc., etc.  However!  By the time we got to the terminal, they had moved up the showtime several hours (yes we know that these flights are subject to change without notice blah blah blah) and two families had shown up with leave dates before our’s.   As Josh stood at the counter haggling with the employees, a SGT came running in to say that a flight to Ramstein that hadn’t planned on taking passengers was now taking 9 and to get some folks on that flight.  Ahhhhh!  A miracle!  We needed 8 seats, we’re standing here ready to go.  Pick me, pick me! No, they told us, you can’t get on that flight either.  You missed that show time as well.  Forget about your Christmas miracle.

Here’s where Josh kicked his powers of persuasion into high gear, and by that I mean he utilized his favorite line—“Let me talk to your supervisor.”  This jump started another lovely haggling session from which the girls and I excused ourselves to the family waiting room.  The people pleaser in me simply cannot handle the psychological pressure exerted here.  

To make a very long and tragic story a bit shorter,  as they were processing our paperwork they found that three of our kids had passports expiring in less than three months.  Now you might think that the expiration date on your passport is the date that your passport expires.  That is, in my humble opinion, a very logical conclusion.  But this is the military, and logic does not count for anything.  So even though we would be returning a month before the passports expired, we were refused travel because of the “90-day rule”.  I’ll skip the weeping of the disappointed children in the terminal as they watch other happy children boarding flights to Germany.  “Get in the van kids.”

On the way home we discussed every feasible and un-feasible (infeasible?  I don’t know) way of getting the passports renewed (although you actually can’t renew a minor’s passport, you need a new one…see all the useful travel info you’re gleaning here?!).  We had plans to drive all over these great United States, hiring mobile notaries, bartering for same-day passports, flying out of any terminal on the East Coast, leaving the dog in prison forever.  But in the end, we just couldn’t make it happen.  Sad faces all around…

We sat the kids down when we got back from the airport and asked them to each pick one thing that would make Christmas special to them.  One kid wanted to go ice skating (believe it or not you can ice skate outside in South Carolina.  Who knew?).  One kid wanted to watch a Christmas movie.  Lil Tessie just thought a cup of eggnog was all that was needed to make her Christmas magical.  We put everything on the calendar and set about making a Christmas to remember.    We saw Handel’s Messiah.  We walked up and down our street handing out cookies in costume as a Living Nativity (that picture was us).  We smooshed ourselves all into one little booth around a piping hot pizza.  And we laughed…a lot. 

To me, the whole snafoo was a perfect example of how nothing ever seems to turn out like you think it will in military life.  The “dream assignment” you were promised fails to materialize…  Your husband gets tapped for a deployment when you thought you were getting a training assignment (and you just had a baby, ahem)…Everyone gets sick right before the perfect homecoming is supposed to happen.

But I have found that although the adventure we are handed may not be the one we signed up for, I sure wouldn’t want to trade it for anything different.  When we missed out on the dream assignment, I made the best friends of my life.  When Josh had to deploy right after baby #5 was born, I found out that I have the greatest support network on the planet.  And when we didn’t get to go to Germany for Christmas, I got to snuggle on the couch with my whole family and watch my husband laugh and cry his way through Miracle on 34th Street.  We might need to adjust our idea of adventure to the kinder, gentler version.  

So it wasn’t quite the globe trotting Christmas we had in mind..but the beauty in the military adventure isn’t so much in the high-flying excitement –it’s that we are doing it together.

 

January 05, 2016

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Military Kids: Deployment, PCS, and Report Cards

By Josh Gilliam - 

In April 2006, West Point faculty member David Lyle published an important article in the Journal of Labor Economics titled: “Using Military Deployments and Job Assessments to Estimate the Effect of Parental Absences and Household Relocations on Children’s Academic Performance.” Whew! That was a mouthful. Basically, he looked into the impact of army PCSs and deployments on children’s test scores. In this post I try to make the author’s findings assessable to folks who do not have time to decode academic journals.

Some studies have found that moving hurts a child’s academic performance.[1] Other studies have found that such moves broaden a kid’s worldview and therefore enhanced his classroom performance.[2] This study observes over 13,000 military children from ages 6-19 to learn the truth.

The findings… (drum roll) … deployments and military moves appear to have a small adverse effect on test scores. Here are the major findings:

  • The average negative decline in test scores – across all groups – is about 2%.
  • Children of Officers perform twice as poorly during deployments (relative to their non-deployment scores).
  • Test scores decrease as deployment length increases. Those with parents who deploy for 1-6 months have a 0.63% decrease in scores. Those deployed more than six months (over a four-year time period) suffer an average drop of 1.5% in scores.
  • Kids whose mother deploys suffer a 5.07% decline in scores (much greater impact than deployed Fathers). But since this sample size is relatively small, this is only true (statistically) in deployments longer then six months.
  • Deployments have larger adverse impacts on elementary school children (relative to those in high school).
  • Children who have PCS’d more than five times score 1.5% less than those who have moved less than three times.
  • There is no negative effect of military moves on officers’ children.

Most military parents will not be comforted by the relative small impact reported. If you are anything like me, you will be looking for ways to minimize or – better yet – eliminate these effects.  Military Clan exists to help us do just that.

We believe that these negative effects can be mitigated or eliminated by creating a stronger connection with the deployed parent. Our blog, podcast (forthcoming), and products are aimed at giving parents tools to build STRONG. MILITARY. KIDS. We can do it!

 

[1] U.S. General Accounting Office. 1994. Elementary school children: Many change schools frequently, harming their education. GAO/HEHHS-94-45, 1–55. Washington, DC: Health, Education, and Human Services Division. 

[2] Piaget, Jean. 1977. Moral judgment: Children invent the social contract. In The essential Piaget , ed. H. Gruber and J. Jacques Vone`che. New York.

January 05, 2016

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"Let The Little Leopard Girl Cry": A Child's first Deployment

By Katie Gilliam - 

We are pretty used to being “that family.”  With six girls (Yes, six girls. Yes, all biological. Yes, we are saving for weddings…) we tend to be the cause of more than a few, um, “scenes.”  But that night, we took it to a whole ‘nother level.  

I had been wondering how the parting would go, trying to prep the girls for Daddy’s deployment, seeing if I could preempt whatever might make it a bit more messy than usual (and usual is pretty messy)… 

To be quite honest, I would have put my money on #3.  Smack dab in the middle of our clan, she is not about to be overlooked.  She is passionate, fierce, brave and…loud.  It certainly did not help that the deployment ceremony was at 11:00 at night.  I mean, come on people, what child can be expected to keep it together at that hour?  

I know what you’re thinking—why take them to the ceremony at all?  Why not say a nice quiet goodbye at home like other parents and let him softly slip away into the moonlight while you carry the sleepy children to bed and tuck them in tight with a comforting lullaby?  Well, because that would be the logical and reasonable way.  That would be the responsible and grown-up thing to do….and no one here is into that.  

We are into the event of it all--the blaring Toby Keith music, the floodlights, the tearful families waving goodbye while holding American flags.  We want the whole experience…and quite frankly, I was hoping we would be one of the sweet, tearful, flag-holding families waving goodbye…quietly.  But no. 

We did quite well holding up our sweet family façade while we milled around, took pictures, said our initial goodbyes.  Even keeping it together while the Soldiers fell into formation and did a little right face action.  But then… they stepped off.  And that is when it all crumbled.  I remember so well what little #3 was wearing that night.  It was a little leopard-print turtleneck dress.  She was four at the time and had this habit (still does when she gets really fired up) of balling up her little hands into fists and stomping her little feet in place as fast as she can.  It didn’t take her long to reach full throttle, stamping her patent leather heels and thrusting her fists downward through the air and screaming at the top of her little lungs “NOOOOO!!!  I WANT MY DADDY!!!  I WANT MY DADDY!!!  NOOOOO!!”

Over and over and over.  Ear-piercing, gut-wrenching screams.  Tears streaming down her face, anger and grief and confusion all trying to find a way out.  And when it found its way to the surface, she just let it rip.  People were horrified and gawking… extremely uncomfortable glances shooting our way.  Silent yet forceful pressure bore down on me.  “What is that mother thinking?  Why doesn’t she shush her kid?”  Although extremely covetous of other people’s good opinion, this time I knew there was only one thing to be done.

I stood next to her with my arm around her shoulder and just let her go for it for those excrutiatingly long minutes.  As the last of the formation marched out of the hangar (Josh dying inside as he listened to her screams), what felt like a mob of people converged on us to try to shush and comfort this screaming little leopard girl. 

Wonderful, well meaning people wanted to just make it stop- to make what we were all feeling stop.  To clean up the mess.  One woman said, “It’s going to seem like just a second and he’ll be home.”  I’m thinking “WHAT?!?  He’ll be gone a quarter of her life, lady! It’s gonna seem like eternity!” 

Josie refused to be comforted.  A testament to her fortitude, she screamed and shook and stamped until the last person had left the hangar, continued for the entire looooong walk to the car, kept it coming for the whole car ride home (we had to roll down the windows so our eardrums didn’t burst), and screamed her little self all the way up to bed. As I put her to bed that night, I told her that I wanted her to cry every single tear that wanted to slide down those cheeks – that she could shake and scream and stomp until it was all out. 

Because your dad leaving hurts. And it doesn’t hurt less if you shut up.  In fact, in the morning she woke up with that indomitable spirit all sparkly and shiny and ready to face the world again.  And I am convinced it was because the sadness was welcomed, the grief and anger found a safe place to unfold and just be…she was able to feel her feelings until they moved on.  She needed the same thing I need when I’m in pain—for someone to recognize it hurts and wait with me until it passes.  For some of our kids, that could be a long time – much longer than that night with #3.  But let’s encourage each other as we help our kids through this journey of military life; and cheer for each other as we stay with our kids in the middle of the mess… and just let our little leopard girl cry. 

Would you share a story of just being with your kids during the pain of deployment?

January 05, 2016

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Helping Kids Through Deployment

By Josh Gilliam - 

In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article entitled: “Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children From Military Families.” It examines how military kids are doing in three areas: social, emotional, and academic. 

The study is based on 3,014 interviews with military kids between 11-17 and their non-deployed parent. Proportionate samples of each branch of service participated. The National Guard and reserved components composed 38% of the population.

The five PhDs that authored the study were from the Rand Corporation and were funded through a grant by the National Military Family Association. That is to say, the study is relevant, scientifically faithful, and objectively funded. It sure caught my attention. The full article can be downloaded at: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/125/1/16.full.pdf.

But I must warn you… It is a bit academic and technical. So in hopes of making this research more accessible to regular folks like us, I have summarized the most import findings below:

1.  The mental health of the non-deployed parent was significantly associated with child well-being, particularly child academic engagement, emotional difficulties, and peer and family functioning (Chandra et al, 20). This confirms our most hallowed proverbs – “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and “Happy wife, happy life.”

Indeed, one of the very best things we can do for our military kids is to take care of ourselves and our spouses. I often hear Soldiers say, “My kids are the most important thing in my life.” I am grateful for the sentiment and thankful anytime we are able to prioritize family over career. But our priority is most effectively placed on our spouse. When we prioritize the welfare of our spouse – and love him/her well – we create an atmosphere for our children to flourish (more about this in another post).

2.  Children of families living in military housing report fewer difficulties during deployment than those living off post (Chandra et al, 20). Soldiers often tell me that they must live off post in order to get away from work. And this might be a necessary step for the health of the service member or spouse. Every situation is so unique. But I invite you to incorporate this finding into your next housing decision. 

I can say with certainty that for our Military Clan, my six kids are happiest living on post. Let’s review some of the benefits:

  • First, although I get pretty annoyed at the overwhelming security at the gates, (have you ever forgotten your ID?…) I can be reasonably confident that Lord Voldemort is not trolling the neighborhoods. This confidence translates into a longer leash for my kids, who want nothing more than to go run and play with their friends (like we did growing up!).
  • Second, in post housing neighborhoods, there tends to be children of similar age. Since housing is generally structured by rank, families often are in the same life-stage. This means there is a larger pool of kids just waiting to play. As I write this I am looking out the window of our off-post house. Across the street lives a very sweet 80-year-old woman. To our right is another widow. In the house just to our north is a very private family with teenage kids (they build their fence when we moved in…). On the corner lot, the house sits empty. Although my kids have identified some friends, it does not compare at all with post housing.
  • Third, on base military kids go to school with other military kids. Each installation is different, but this can be a real benefit during deployments. Let’s face it- kids don’t have the social intelligence to empathize well with other kids. So children from civilian families struggle to relate to someone whose dad is deployed. It makes for awkwardness. But in DoD schools, everybody is in it together.
  • The military community on post tends to rally around those families with service members deployed. They just get it.  They know what you need and they deliver.  When I was in Afghanistan in 2013-14, our on post loop was next-of-kin to my wife and kids.  They shared meals, kept our kids out of the road, babysat while my wife ran to the commissary.  One couple would even bring my wife wine once in awhile (she was homeschooling 5 kids and was next to crazy-shhhh). 
  • Lastly, service members can live closer to work. Have you ever felt you did not have enough time to play with your kids? Would it change your family dynamic to get on the carpet for 10 extra minutes each evening and wrestle with your boys? Well, this can be accomplished by reducing your commute. And it just might be one of the factors making on base kids happier.

3.  Total months deployed – over the last 3 years – were significantly linked to a greater number of difficulties (Chandra et al, 21). I am not one to avoid deployments nor suggest that others do so. We have signed-up to serve, and America honors service members precisely because of the sacrifices involved. But let me share something I have learned over 16 years of service (and many conversations with commanders). You ready?… People who take broadening assignments are almost always in better emotional health when they return and bring value-adding experiences back to the force. These factors equate to better evaluations and promotions. And by-the-way, a broadening assignment just might save your marriage! So don’t be afraid to step away from operations, for a time, and serve in non-deployable units.  

4.  Increased age was associated with increased challenges among military children (Chandra et al, 21). Typically, when kids are young, the service member is trying to establish herself in the military. When kids are young, parents are more likely to seek and/or accept those hard career-progressing assignments. But as children mature, parents must give increased attention to shaping their environment. An excellent exercise would be to sit down with your spouse and create a family time-line that details the major milestones for each child. Then the service member can seek assignments that compliment major family events (high school graduations, starting middle school, etc.).

5.  Girls of all ages reported significantly more school, family, and peer- related difficulties during deployments (Chandra et al, 16). As a father of 6 girls, this point touches me deeply. During my last 9-month deployment one of my daughters really struggled emotionally. Her response to my departure was so acute that I contacted the family life chaplain, and they began meeting weekly. At mid-deployment he assured me, “She just misses her dad. Once you get home everything will return to normal.” And it did. To this day she says that my homecoming was the best day of her life. I am not sure precisely how to apply this finding, but I do hope this blog will provide a venue to share encouragement and ideas.

6.  There were no statistical differences between the services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coastguard [Chandra, et al, 24]). We are all in this together.

7.  More study is needed to determine the longevity of these effects (Chandra et al, 24). While concluding, the researchers note that their findings are limited to the experiences of children during, and just after, deployments. They allow for the resiliency of our kids and suggest they can fully return to their pre-deployment social, emotional, and academic levels.

This has been our experience, and I believe it wholeheartedly! But it does not happen by accident. Military Clan exists to provide tools, resources, and encouragement to help parents help kids through the adventure of military life. Let’s believe – and labor for – STRONG MILITARY KIDS.