Where do we stand: military families and the CAF

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For those who have followed lately, you saw that last month took me on a little tour of Ontario.

I thought I would be smarter than I’d been with my travels in the spring when I was constantly back and forth. I decided that when I was contacted by MFRCs that were in a similar area, I would book them one after another so that I could get to everywhere in one trip. In and Out. Easy-peasy.

Right.

By the time I made it to Ottawa I was at my 4th location in 4 days and ready to fire my personal assistant for booking that kind of ridiculous schedule.
Except I don’t have an assistant.

Sigh.

That evening I was scheduled to MC an event marking the 25th anniversary of Military Family Services.
That afternoon, however, found me with a pint at the Mill Street Brewery hoping by some miracle I would have inspiration to write something.

I thought I had to change.
I thought there’s no way I can just use the same voice I always do, I need to clean it up, to present a more put together self.
So I tried. I really did.

Which would have worked if I was anyone else. But I was still me, and back at the hotel I still realized I had chipped off half my manicure AFTER I ordered the Uber, so I was still painting my nails in the car while writing on a paper in my lap.

When I arrived, it wasn’t long before the foyer filled with military personel, military family services staff and government officials. There were cameras everywhere and military members in all directions wearing those fancy gold cord thingies that show they were the aide to someone with red bars on their collar or swords on their shoulders.

I have a feeling I would have felt awkward even if Dh was there, but without him I felt even more out of place.
My biggest concern for the entire night was where I was supposed to be standing.
I don’t wear a uniform.
I don’t work there.
I don’t belong.

Where do I stand, as just a spouse, in a room full of high ranking military members and dignitaries?
Where do I stand, in the context of the CAF?

As I awkwardly lingered off to the side, occasionally inserting myself into people’s conversations so that I looked like I belonged for a minute every once and a while, I caught a glimpse of the Chief of Defense Staff and his wife as they came in. Catching her eye, all of a sudden Mrs. Vance broke away from the group she was with and approached me.

“Are you Kim?! I’m Kerry!”

I smiled, because I know, of course, who she is. What I don’t know is how she knows who I am. We chatted a couple minutes while I expressed my complete shock as to why I’m there in the first place, and my nervous energy about the entire night while she encouraged me that all will be fine.

This is easy for her to say. She clearly knows where to stand.

A whirlwind of time and uncomfortable standing around later I’m in front of everyone with my co-MC ready to start the show. I glance over while shifting my weight in the ridiculous but really cute shoes I wore and Mrs. Vance gives me a gigantic smile and a hidden thumbs up.

You guys, she’s the best.

That one little interaction, that one thumbs up, it changes every edit I’ve made to my notes.
I’m not there because I can clean myself up and have it together.
I’m there because I never pretend to.
So I don’t.

I don’t pretend to be put together.
Instead, I say this:

“Everyone is here today because they come with impressive qualifications. Higher education, incredible military careers, dedicated public service.

I’m here because when I was 19 I dropped out of college to marry an Armoured Reconnaissance soldier and have babies.”

From there I told our story the best I know how.
I joked about sword parties and moving fairies.
I questioned why no one takes seriously my proposals to move the Regiment to Turks & Caicos.
I took a deep breath before mentioning the funerals and the ramp ceremonies.
I pointed out that I’m not unique and my family is only one of a very big picture, of hundreds of families who are all doing the best they can.
I explained why I loved being part of our community and the opportunities it’s given me.

And then I tried to sum up military life.

Is it the midnight phone calls that catch your breath? The nights you lay awake wondering if you’ll hear a doorbell? Is it Mess Dinners? Is it the adventure? Is it the fear? Is it the pride? Is it the deployments or the moves or the pile of green in the garage?

The truth is I don’t think it can be summed up with any of that.

I had spent that week and this past year speaking with diverse military communities all across the country and in the US. From Ladies Nights Out at training bases to Family Network events for our Special Forces families, from Air Force Galas to Embassy staff seminars, from Women’s Day activities to OSISS retreats.

What I’ve learned is that the military community defines itself by the people who make it up.

I don’t know how I earned the privilege to speak with such incredible groups of people but every time I have I’ve ended with a challenge for them.

We are responsible for our own resiliency.
No MFRC is hosting paint night because they they think your mad bird-in-sky painting skills are going to get your through the next deployment.
What they are offering you is a chance to meet a community. Whether that’s at a paint night or a play group or a choir or a place of worship or a book club.
Whether it’s at your MFRC or your local library or mom’s group or neighbourhood watch.

They can’t make us be a community.
Instead they offer opportunities, via pottery and canvas and Halloween parties and ladies nights out. And then they hope we use that opportunity to build on our resiliency by building on each other.
You can lead a military family to it’s support network but you can’t make them be a part of it. That’s on us.

My goal, everywhere I’ve gone, has been to convince families it’s worth it to find that community and put in the time to help it grow.

And I couldn’t in good conscience do that without taking the opportunity I had in Ottawa, in front of our CAF leadership, to challenge them as well.

I don’t believe that their strength is in their programs or services.

Their strength is in who they are offering those services to.
So I told them what we all know.

Military families are already strong.

And if I’m going to spend my time encouraging them to keep trying, even when the system may have failed them before, to keep pushing to build their communities and find their strength, then I’m asking that very system not to let me down.

The rest of that night I spent introducing dignitaries, making small talk with government officials, hugging people with titles like “Her Excellency” and attempting not to get Dh posted to Nunuvet.

But those moments that I had, I hope I used the voice I was given the best way I could.

Because I think I figured out where to stand.

I figured it out the moment the CDS’s wife, who is, at the heart of it, just another military spouse doing her best, walked over and stood with me.

That’s exactly where we all can stand.

Wherever we want.
Together.

 

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