DALLAS, TX, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton
136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)
When considering the sacrifices of military members across the Armed Forces, many think of the various deployments, relocations and the physical tolls that are consistently associated with the cost of service.
One aspect that is often overlooked are the families that support service members across the globe. Millions of men, women and children willingly give up their stability, their careers, and their homes among many other things every few years in order to support the nation by being the backbone of those who fight to protect freedoms.
To offer support and gain insight on the challenges that military families face, Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, arranged a listening session to hear from military spouses during her visit to Dallas, Texas, May 4. During the meeting at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the Second Lady was introduced to eleven spouses from all branches of the Armed Forces to hear about the benefits and struggles of military life, and improvements that could be made to aid transitions in the future.
"I think frequently the servicemember is the one in the limelight or there's more attention on our servicemembers when really behind the scenes we have these hidden warriors, who are the spouses and the children, and they make a lot of sacrifices as well," said Pence. "So sometimes it's needed just raising a little bit of awareness and letting them know 'we are grateful and we appreciate you,' and we hope they hear us."
The listening session ran for 45-minutes, allowing for every military spouse present to emphasize particular challenges and elevate issues that have potential to improve the lives and illuminate the problems of "hidden warriors."
"There are several challenges that have been brought to our attention," Pence said. "[Spouses] having a sense of identity, if they have to change jobs all the time or can't get a job in their chosen career, something they've trained for. It's difficult. [Having] a sense of community is difficult. Anytime they move, making new friends, finding a bank, stores, housing, education. There are a lot of issues they face just because they are such a mobile society."
Two military spouses from the 136th Airlift Wing were selected to attend the session with the Second Lady: Tech. Sgt. Dan Ledesma, 136th Airlift Wing production recruiter and Mrs. Heidi Bearden, 136th Force Support Squadron Airmen and Family Readiness program manager.
"It was a huge opportunity because we had the ability to represent not only our spouses but also the other members of the 136th Airlift Wing and their families," said Bearden. "From a spouse standpoint, being able to talk about some of the issues our Airmen face and being able to verbalize the stresses and strain that requirements cost our families is important. I was also able to bring up some key issues from a programmatic standpoint, and by listening to the spouses, learned ways we can improve our communication to make sure that information regarding programs and opportunities actually reach our military families."
The Second Lady will be continuing to participate in several listening sessions at military installations in the coming months. In the fall, her team aspires to gather the information presented, and focus on one or two issues they may be able to remedy to assist military families.
"There is something about military spouses, when you sit in a room with them, they are so resilient and so strong," Pence said. "They are amazing people in their own right, and their attitudes are so positive. I'm glad that so many of them are willing to be vulnerable and say if this were fixed, it would help a lot of other issues. They are amazing men and women and we appreciate them taking the time to help us get a better understanding. We don't know it all, and we really want to hear from them and what they want us to bring awareness to."