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How you can help military families make the switch to civilian life

Here's how to help a neighbor, friend or family member who is transitioning from the military to civilian life.

Retired military member reading

For 24 years, Lois Crozier dreamed of her "someday" life. A former Intelligence Analyst with the U.S. Army, she'd traveled the world with her husband, Brian, an Air Force officer. They had two boys.

But as she hung up her keys in their Midwestern "someday" home, she felt unexpectedly alone. Brian had left for the day at his new civilian job. She'd taken the boys to school and became confused by a gridlock of minivans — everyone else seemed to know which lane was drop-off and which was pick-up.

At the school drop-off areas at military bases, there had always been other moms looking for friends. Everyone here already has their friend groups and their families, Crozier thought. Where do I go now to find that someday friend and someday job?

Every year, nearly 200,000 service members like Crozier and her family experience transitioning from the military to civilian life. The adjustment is tough, says Kathy Broniarczyk with the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University. In addition to navigating new communities, they're looking for jobs and figuring out the civilian healthcare system. Some are also managing the impact of deployments.

Want to help? Here are some ideas.

  • Reach out. Don't wait for a military family to happen into your world. Ask around to find them, says the nonprofit National Military Family Association (NMFA). Loop them into your carpool and online groups that share information about local services. Invite them over.
  • Plan a gathering. "At base schools, they would have an ice cream social just for the new kids," Crozier says. The tradition gave her boys a friend group right away.
  • Help with job connections. Don't forget that both partners likely need support. In a study by the Rand Corporation, almost two-thirds of military spouses said the military lifestyle — with its frequent moves and high time demands on service members — had negatively impacted their own career opportunities. If you're hiring, find candidates through groups like Military Hire and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Check the MFRI's How to Help series for more.

The Croziers' transition took three years, Lois says. Her aha moment: "We'd been on a family vacation, and I walked into the house and thought, Oh, it smells nice. I'm glad to be home." By then, she and Brian had made good friends, the kids were doing well in school, and she'd landed her dream job as an information services librarian.

"Nobody transitioning out of the military should give up on finding that someday life, because it's there," she says. "It just might take more time than you expected."

November is military family month

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