Beyond the Front Gate: Working with Military Families

To many on the outside, entering a military base can be a stressful, worrisome and an uncomfortable situation. Getting through the gate involves driving by and letting an armed military member check your ID, sometimes making you go to the pass house to get sponsored on. It’s not uncommon to drive by tanks, or to see helicopters flying overhead, and to those who live and work on base, it’s the norm.

Being a part of the military means being a part of a sub culture, that from the outside looking in has many myths and assumptions made about it.  From things as simple as “everyone in the military is rich” to more serious issues like assuming everyone has PTSD and a drinking problem. The truth is most of these families are just like everyone else, with the exception that for long periods of time they are missing a loved one, who is out serving our country.

From a mental health prospective, treating a military child or family can be very similar to treating a family in the civilian world. We have the ability to work on social skills, coping skills, working through anger, identifying emotions and so much more.  We also get the opportunity to be a listener, to fully focus on a child who may have two or three siblings at home with a deployed dad, and a mom running the show alone. This gives the child the opportunity to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of everyday life without one of their parents.  It also gives the child the opportunity to discuss and talk about all of their feelings, without hurting their parents’ feelings. Often time military kids act tough and don’t want to tell their parents they are hurting, because they know it will make them worry. Military kids are tough; they are resilient through a lot of situations, but still struggle and have a hard time with constant change in their lives. With hard work from the kids and their families, we are able to teach them skills that will last them not only through deployments and trainings, but also through life.

Submitted by Kate Coffey, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at PFCS.   Kate provides counseling services at two elementary schools on Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.