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.
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.