Survey: MilFams and the Civilian Divide

community involvement

While the Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey may show that benefits are the number one topic on the MilFam mind, another issue from the survey stuck out to me: the civilian-military divide.

The survey, which is expected to be released at a press conference later today, takes a look at a host of military family issues including benefits, spouse employment, spouse education, military child support, combat stress and the use of social media by military families.

You can read my story now over at or see the results here on the Blue Star Families website later today.  

According to the survey’s results, 88 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement, “The general public is aware of the impacts of military service on military families.” In short, military families feel that the civilian community does not understand or sympathize with them. That number is down only 10 points from 2009 when the same question was asked.

Over 5,000 people responded to the 2013 survey, which was conducted online in November, 2012.

This isn’t the only study that shows these results. And while I don’t know of a study of civilians and their sympathy to military families, I suspect that they would report it as being generally high.

Which means that the programs — such as Joining Forces — are only making a small dent in how we feel about our relationships with our neighbors.

This is particularly interesting when you pair it with the survey finding that respondents have a high rate of community involvement. Sixty-six percent, for example, said they have volunteered with a formal organization within the past year. Fifty-five percent said they trust “all or most” of the people in their neighborhoods.

But we know from personal experience that the military community is very insular. we volunteer with organizations that serve us. We live in communities where our neighbors are also military families.

Maybe the problem with the civilian-military divide isn’t that the community isn’t doing enough to understand us — but they we aren’t doing enough to connect with them? If I really wanted to bridge the gap with non-military members, I’d volunteer at the local library. I’d shop somewhere other than the commissary. I’d join a local community book club.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.

4 Comments on "Survey: MilFams and the Civilian Divide"

  1. As a retired Viet Nam-era Vet (U.S.Navy), I have always believed that the civilian community was indifferent to the plight of our MilFams. I've always thought that we were a family, and we took care of our own. Instead of volunteering at the civilian library, I would expect a military spouse to volunteer at one of the many on-base facilities. One can assimiliate into the civilian community after they have left the service.

    • But then one has not much reason to rue the lack of understanding of the MilFam that 88% of the survey respondents attribute to the civilian community…

    • I would prefer to volunteer at a civilian functions that provide services to both military and civilian. That way if someone asks about what I think (as a military family member) about something regarding the military I can provide insight and lessen the divide. I don't see myself as any different than any other family. My husband has a dangerous job and we move frequently. Police have dangerous jobs too, and many civilian firms like their employees to move frequently.

  2. I initially agreed and then thought about it a bit more. I realized that yes, we do need the civilian side of things to understand the military side a bit better. For myself personally, I need that understanding from family when crisis's arise. I need that understanding professionally so that I am somewhat able to maintain my career (which has taken a large hit with all these PCSing). I need that understanding from civilian friends or co-workers to sometimes accomodate military-related issues. Although many of these things might be easy fixes (its hard for me to imagine being friends with anyone at this point that doesn't at least TRY to see where I am coming from), it does add an extra barrier of challenge, most significantly when trying to work in the civilian world, while living in a military lifestyle.

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