There can be little denying that military families stick together; the sense of community experienced is unrivaled and serves as a support system during some of the most difficult times. But what happens when we return to the civilian life? Is it possible to rebuild a sense of community?
Returning to a civilian lifestyle following military service is likely to come as something of a culture shock. While those lifelong friendships and relationships that you’ve forged during your time away are likely to stay with you forever, the sense of loss and isolation and feelings of being unwelcome can linger long after you arrive in your new community. Do your new neighbors engage with one another as avidly as you’re used to? Do you feel as involved with community projects as you once did? It can be incredibly difficult, at times, to accept that you’re a part of this sedentary new world and are not living in an alternate reality occupied by those who understood you best. Wherever you’ve lived, and regardless of what you faced, you perhaps felt far safer surrounded by the community that you’d come to know. It comes as no surprise that so many of us struggle to adapt to this new sense of community following military life, and for us National Guard and Reserve families – it is a constant struggle.
Remember that you’re not alone
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone; however isolated you might feel, there will always be someone willing to discuss your situation and calm your concerns, as long as you know where to look. We have an array of resources that you’re actively encouraged to engage with, as well as a burgeoning community of military spouses and families who are willing to share their experiences with you. It’s imperative that support is offered and available to military families as they attempt to rebuild a sense of community following active service.
You might like to consider the following tips as a means to inspire your reintegration.
Consider what community means to you
Perhaps the simplest way to rebuild a sense of community following military life is to consider what community means to you, and think about the places that you might be able to find such a welcome. What is it that you’re searching for? What kinds of relationships are you looking to create and maintain? Now is the time to accept that things are going to be different. However, we cannot hope to rediscover our sense of community unless we understand and manage our expectations.
Inspiring young minds
Whatever you might be feeling following your return to civilian life, you can be sure that your children are experiencing a whole range of confusing emotions; military life might be all they’ve ever known, after all. The support offered by former military families has become integral to helping children and young people to adapt to life in a new community, inspiring them to become involved with their community and the many outreach projects it might offer. From talks and workshops to visiting places of education, former military families offer an enthusiastic and engaging opportunity for children or returning military families. Former military commander and CIA Director General (Ret.) David H. Petraeus is one such figure; his attendance at a Global Mentor Program held at the IB school in Singapore in 2015 would have provided numerous young minds with plenty to think about in terms of community – least of all encouraging them to become a part of something bold, brave, and exciting.
Get involved in community-led activities
You might discover a sense of purpose and acceptance via community service, or by volunteering with outreach projects, events organization, or school activities. Rediscovering the ability to embrace your community comes with identifying your place among the people you meet, and learning what it is you’re able to offer. Enjoy a diverse array of experiences, and surround yourselves with a new kind of understanding and support; the chances are your sense of community will soon follow suit.
Above all, be prepared to reach out to others, and to share your experiences whenever you feel comfortable to do so; the community that you’re rejoining is sure to have a great deal of respect for the gesture that you have made to our country. Embrace your community’s curiosity and kindness, and give what you can to ensure that it’s a place of which you’re proud. Whether you’re taking part in community-led events, offering your time to the less fortunate, or simply spending time with your friends and neighbors, remember that this is your home now; you needn’t leave military life behind in order to relish new beginnings.