Our tribe has a name

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Late last year I took part in a Canadian Forces Women’s Influencer Event and it gave me an amazing insight into the opportunities in the Canadian Forces and some of the amazing ladies who are taking advantage of them.

At the final dinner, one of the presenters, BGen. Cadieu, took advantage of the setting and presented me with his Commanders Coin. I had no idea he was going to do that, and it was incredibly kind of him to recognize me at the event, even if entirely undeserved. When he gave it to me, he spoke about the importance of the family unit when it comes to the military, and he took the time to emphasize how vital he felt it was for the military to recognize and support military spouses and families. Trevor is a friend and someone I’ve known a very long time. I have so much respect for his opinion so to have him take time to do something like that meant a lot to me.

It was a really key moment, to have what we do commended, not just for me but in general for families, because we know I’m just there as one of many. While it feels nice of course to be recognized for something I spend a lot of time on, the real truth is I’m not some special unicorn. All the military families in the country are doing the same things as I am. I write shit down. Only difference.

Weeks later the base paper wrote about this Women’s Influencer event. And a photo was in the paper of BGen. Cadieu presenting me with the coin.

I’m referred to as “one of the women.”
At a Women’s Influencer event.
Oh, Army.

Now, the article wasn’t about military families, or about me. At all. So this little tidbit wasn’t a key point. Maybe there’s a reason there’s no name. Maybe they didn’t remember it and didn’t think to ask. Maybe it’s a privacy issue, though I’m sure I signed my life away to attend. There could be a ton of reasons why the caption gives Trevor’s name and not mine, and doesn’t explain the reason for the presentation. And, to be honest, I don’t care even a little about having my name in a base paper. It’s happened more than a few times over the years at various bases and papers during the time I’ve been doing this and, to be honest, they’ve gotten my job, my hometown and the number of kids I have wrong before, so mistakes happen. Clearly.

The more I thought of it, though, the more I realized that it wasn’t really about me. It’s about the idea. Overall, while this particular insignificant oversight isn’t important on it’s own, it speaks to a louder narrative and not only to military families. But all families. And all tribes.

We were made to live in community.  It takes a village and it takes an entire family to make it. Not just for military families, but for first responder families and for doctor’s families and for oil worker’s families and all other dynamics.

The best resiliency is found in community. In the support of friends and family. In building networks that will hold you up when you can’t. That’s what we are told at all the fancy conferences and events and workshops, and it really is what works. Members do best in their careers when they have the support of their family. Families flourish when they have a community behind them. And the military, it asks a lot of their families.

Families that are willing to give up the job and move again. That are willing to conduct relationships over sketchy satellite phone calls or maybe a Skype connection for a half year or longer. Families that take on Brookfield when the posting message comes in the middle of a deployment. Families that have the member’s back, day after day, year after year.

This past weekend I had drinks with a group of friends who are also spouses from my husband’s unit. All of them have been married longer than I have, and they’ve encouraged and supported their spouses through sometimes more than half a dozen deployments, and for some, even more moves. Some have given birth alone, have lived apart from extended family their whole marriages, have moved without their spouses help, have left more jobs than they can remember, and have spent sleepless nights both during deployments and during reintegration. Some have noticed the first signs of post-traumatic stress and found help, have sat by hospital beds, and have attended Brookfield meetings, realtor assessments, childbirth classes and the funerals of their spouses comrades, alone.

If we, as a culture, are going to recognize the importance of the family unit and tribe as paramount to strong mental health and resiliency both within the Forces and outside it (and we should because research like this and this and many more show its value) then we need to start recognizing the tribes who take on that role.

Not in silly pictures in tiny papers. In our everyday lives. Noticing the sacrifice of the wife celebrating Christmas at home while the member is part of the Disaster Assistance Team. Recognizing the husband living apart from all his family while the member is posted to another province. The police officer’s partner who is juggling hockey practices while the officer is working overtime. The firefighter’s child at the dance recital without a parent during a big blaze.

So much has been done recently to start recognizing the family and the tribe behind those who serve. We ask families to build their support networks, learn coping strategies, take workshops, practice skills that build resiliency. It’s work, but worth it.

And no one is asking for their name in lights, or a shiny medal, or parade.  In fact, mostly the opposite. No one chooses this life for the money (obviously) or the fame. We are all just doing the best we can like everyone else.

It seems fair, though, that one of the steps towards teaching the family how to be resilient and strong also involves taking the time to remember their names.

 

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3 Comments


  1. Kim,

    As a newly retired Mbr, (less than a year) now ex-Sr NCO, AKA Crusty Old Chief Petty Officer working as a public servant in Ottawa, I have been reading your work for several years now.
    Since my wife also served and we were DINKs we did not have the same view of military spouses so your viewpoint has been very instructive when dealing with subordinates.
    That being said, I would like to tell you my view point on “one of the women”.

    I was sitting in a meeting of an engineering team working on a solution to a project problem, a mix of Military and Public Servant Engineers, an a Fat Chief Tech in the corner.
    We are all sitting around a conference room when an Engineer proposed a solution, pointed to two Member of the Engineering team (who were female) and said “The “Girls” can take care of that section.”
    No one blinked an eye except for the Fat Angry Chief in the corner, (Junior to all the engineers and commissioned officers.)

    “The Individuals that you have pointed out are both Professional Engineers who are serving Canada as members of the Canadian Public Service.”

    “You use words, words will influence, that influence will either be positive or negative.”

    “You will use words that influence the positive!”

    “The team members that you recommend to take that task are Ms. XXXXXXXX and Ms. XXXXXXX, and you will never use the phase “Girls” in a professional setting again.”

    For 10 full seconds you could have heard a mouse peeing on a cotton ball.

    My Boss, another Professional Engineer, admitted that I was right and that he was at fault for not speaking up sooner.

    The male team member apologized for the comment and the meeting moved on.

    It was such a simple 60 seconds to stamp out the negative influence, but no one at that table was willing to speak about the elephant in the room.
    Except, of course, for the Fat Chief in the corner…… Just saying…..

    Every single one of my female friends in the technical trades has been sexually harassed or assaulted in their career. 12 out of 12…..

    It was one of those core ethos tasks I took on as I found friends that were disadvantaged in the CAF due to their sex. As I got higher in rank, I worked to influence for a positive outcome not willing to ignore the Elephant in the room when he came stumbling in.

    Now that I am retired and in the Public Service I will still continue, for in my mind I am still that Fat Chief in the corner willing to kick at the elephant in the room.

    Keep up your great work, you words truly do have power to influence the positive.

    Yours Sincerly
    David Yalden-Thomson

    Reply

    1. Bravo Zulu, David!
      As a retired Infantier and father of two professional daughters, I salute you.
      Brian

      Reply

  2. Au contraire, Kim. You *are* one special unicorn.
    In life, the difference between those who succeed and achieve their goals and those who don’t is one small, simple, but hugely influential thing.
    The “successful” – however you define your success – write it down.
    BZ for another great blog post, which I have shared by eMail to all my old fart friends, asking them to pass it along to younger Military families they know.
    Brian

    Reply

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