Commentary: What is a ‘military family’?

Each November, the president signs a proclamation declaring it as Military Family Month, so as we prepare to enter this family-filled month, I ask myself: What, exactly, is a “military family”?

The answer varies widely depending on whom you ask. For my purposes, I break it down into two general categories. The first of these is the basic family unit, which can consist of spouses, children, possibly parents and/or siblings, a dog, a cat, a hamster, etc.

In most cases, these family members have never taken an oath to defend the constitution and the United States of America — Yet, there they are, serving alongside us, their service members: enduring long hours, frequent and lengthy separations and, most obtrusively, permanent changes of station.

While these relocations could be welcome changes of duties and scenery, many times they are laden with the tension and anxiety of putting all your belongings in boxes and bidding adieu to friends, neighbors and the place that has become home. Again, our family members are right there with us, enduring the hardships military life brings.

For this, our families are forever the champions: the glue that keeps us on point, ready to do the nation’s business. Personally, I have the greatest admiration for my wife, who has had to reestablish multiple households and find new jobs in new places more times than I can count, and my kids, who have had to endure many changes of schools and the coming and going of friends, and even my dog, whom I had to put in a crate for 17 hours to move overseas (and back).

My life in the military wouldn’t have been nearly as successful or enjoyable without the love and devotion of my family. I am eternally grateful for them.

However, many members of the military are single and do not possess the aforementioned “family unit,” which brings us to the second “military family” category: the military at large. From my experience in the Air Force, the military is similar to the basic family unit in that we take care of our members and provide for their welfare.

For our single service members, I hope they view their coworkers, supervisors, commanders, dorm-mates, neighbors and all other military members as their family. Military life can be tough, especially as one moves away from a childhood home or from parents for the first time … or even in the years that follow. But we are part of a special segment of society. I remember my supervisor always made sure I either had what I needed or knew how to get it.

It makes me so proud when I see people taking care of each other, and we cannot afford to let the Wingman concept of being there for our military brothers and sisters diminish. So, in honor of the military family, both in the traditional sense and the larger familial Force, thank you for being part of it. We need you. Your value to the institution is immeasurable.

This is the real crux of the military family at large: ensuring no one feels alone or without support while serving our country. It is everyone’s responsibility, whether you are married with children or a single Airman living in the dorms, to ensure our brothers- and sisters-in-arms are taken care of.

It’s the military way, and it’s the family thing to do.

Chief Master Sgt. Brian Zimmerman is 436th Mission Support Group superintendent at Dover Air Force Base.

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