Building a Military Support Community Wherever You Are

Written by Jeanine Rickman


No one really knows what military life is like until they have lived it. Before I married my husband and entered into military life, I was older and had been a single mom of two girls. I thought I knew what I was getting into because of stories from friends and my grandfathers had both been in the service. I even welcomed change and wanted a new adventure. But when we showed up at our first duty station, it still took me quite some time before I found my groove and made friends.

Being separated by long distances from family and sometimes even your spouse can feel very lonely. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) reports that 43% of military families feel isolated from their communities. It is incredibly beneficial to have a support group wherever military life may take you.

As a new military spouse in a new city, my first strategy was to just keep busy. I took classes, volunteered, and filled all other free time pursuing hobbies. Unfortunately, this did not allow me to find or build the support our family needed. Here are some tips that have I learned along the way to help build support systems for my military family.


Living That Military Life

There are always pros and cons wherever you may live, especially when your moves are based on the direction of the military. One of the perks of living in a military community is being instantly surrounded by those who understand your lifestyle. Even if my neighbors are not my best friends, I know that they understand all the complications that go along with being an active duty family.

Our family chose to live in military housing and it was definitely the right choice for us. I love that my entire neighborhood is a built-in military family support system. Our housing works hard to partner with outside organizations and resources that support military families. An added benefit is that they often host community events, which are a great way to get to know new neighbors and are usually near resources. These types of events are where I first found some free resources for military families.


Participate in Groups That Have Built-in Military Family Support

One of my favorite things about being an active duty family is that there are so many free resources for military families once you know where to look. Even living in a military community, some of us have a difficult time making friends. Some people struggle with starting conversations with new people. By going on base, or to a military housing office and just asking, you can be given information on local military family support organizations.


Parent Participation and Support Groups

The “mom and tots” groups were lifesavers when my son was young. Provided through the ASYMCA, Operation Little Learners is a parent participation class held in the community centers of many military housing neighborhoods. These classes really helped us build relationships with the families who lived closest to us, forming our own military family support group.

We also enjoyed going to a nearby library located on base. Libraries in themselves are a wonderful free military family resource, not just for books, but also for story times, classes, and other resources that help build a community.


Creating With Others

Our family is very artistic. We love crafting and creating together. So, I tried to find creative activities that were offered for military families that were free or low-cost. We were lucky enough to find a watercolor class that offered free lessons for military families in our neighborhood once per week. It was great to meet other families who shared similar interests to our own.

Later, when my youngest was older, the two of us started attending a military craft and conversation class that was temporarily offered through our local ASYMCA. It provided two hours of childcare for little ones and allowed stressed military spouses to have adult conversation.

This class actually had the biggest impact on my life. I made more lifelong friends in this one class than anywhere else, so many of us are still close, even after the class ended and many have moved. Somewhere among the glue sticks, glitter, and amazing conversations, we formed incredible bonds. Most of us had young children and our spouses were often away for deployments.

We learned not just to be supportive of one another, but to actually rely on each other as an extended family. Several of the military spouses in our group battled depression and found that this time of military family support was their saving grace.


Really ACTIVE Support Groups

Getting outside and being active is not only a great way to stay healthy, but it also provides an opportunity to participate in a group of like-minded supportive military spouses. And the bonus? Both of these are fantastic for mental health!

A workout group is a gradual way to slowly become a part of a community without having to immediately start a conversation. Joining a stroller fit group was one of the best decisions I made when my son was little. Stroller Warriors is a nationwide running group and an exceptional free resource for military families.

I am not a runner. Thankfully, these workout groups include all fitness levels, so I was able to walk and do light workouts while chatting with other adults. They are not just for parents, either. These military family support groups welcome those with and without children. Even better, sometimes my active duty spouse joined our classes.


Military Family Support Organizations

There are so many amazing military family support organizations that offer all kinds of help for military families. The ASYMCA is one of our favorites because of its unique programs and services geared specifically for active duty families.


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