Before we started Blue Star Families, I often felt my military life was hidden from the rest of the country. I had a career before I married my husband, a Marine, and so I would travel occasionally to business meetings in DC with catered food and subdued lighting, from Jacksonville, NC, where my husband was deployed to Iraq. In Jacksonville, our spouse support meetings involved metal folding chairs, fluorescent lighting, and grocery store cookies for refreshment, and my three year old would wander around the house in the middle of the night ‘trying to find daddy.’ It often seemed back then that in many cities and huge swaths of the country, no one knew anyone who served, and what we military families faced just wasn’t on other folks’ radar screen.
A lot of that has changed over the last few years and we like to think we’ve made an impact with Blue Star Families too.
In a little more than two years, Blue Star Families grew from a small group of military spouses to a national organization with tens of thousands of members, dozens of chapters, and programs that affected hundreds of thousands of people – and now, with our suicide prevention and wellness campaign, we hope to reach millions. I am so proud of our group, and the fact that this effort is absolutely home-grown – we’ve pooled the talents and resources of the military and family community, plumbed volunteer and pro bono resources, and really just harnessed the energy and the pent up desire to make a difference in the community that already existed.
Blue Star Families started when a small group of us got together based on the conviction that things were hard for military families during this period of long war, disproportionately hard since only 1 percent of our country serves in uniform – but that there were ways to make things better, and that we, as military family members, were experts in a way in how things could be better – in what we needed, and what we could accomplish. We felt it was important that there be a platform for military family members, on the ground where they lived – regardless of their service members’ rank or branch of service – to be able to sit at the table with experts and contribute to solving our problems. For us, there’s nothing abstract about these problems – my children have moved many times, changed schools, had their father deployed to war three times, including most of last year. Others among us are caregivers of wounded warriors, or parents of young infantrymen – from our leadership to our chapter directors to our volunteers, the majority of our organization is intimately affected by the issues that face military families every day.
Our programs don’t just support and empower military family members, but connect the larger society to our community. We are proud of our community and the legacy of service associated with it. We believe society is strongest when there are meaningful ties between the larger society and its military. Families are a perfect bridge, because we are the civilians who also serve.
Kathy Roth-Douquet is a co-founder of Blue Star Families and the CEO of the organization. She is the wife of a Marine Corps officer and co-author of the books How Free People Move Mountains and AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service – and How it Hurts Our Country. She currently lives in Germany with her family.