Staff Perspective: Military. Friends-Giving. Family.

Staff Perspective: Military. Friends-Giving. Family.

Kimberly Copeland, Psy.D.

“Do you always come with a posse?” It’s a question frequently asked by my parents and friends and the answer is “Yes, of course I do.” That’s just how I roll. Community is important whether it be known as one’s adoptive family, pack or tribe. We all need one and, as a part of a military family, I have learned the importance of creating family wherever I go, and so it is a habit – learned and perfected over time. With any new transition in my life, I look forward to expanding the already large “family” of friends I have cultivated throughout the years. To me, the connections run deeper than blood. It is an unbreakable bond of shared experiences, struggles, celebrations of triumphs and unwavering support, unaffected by distance or time.

As the holidays approach, I become acutely aware of the young Service men and women who may not be going home to family this holiday season for one reason or another. Maybe duty calls, deployment or command schedules are packed they don’t really have the type of relationship with relatives that “feels like family”, in the positive sense. I understand. Whatever the reason, I am always happy to hear of those planning to celebrate with a good old-fashioned “Friends-Giving”. On Thanksgiving Eve, I spent much of the day asking and hearing about other folk’s plans for Friends-Giving, ranging from the traditional turkey potluck to movie and shrimp scampi at a designated friend’s home. Whatever the plans, they are sure to include the camaraderie of friends – old and new – and a really good meal.

This just goes to show you how military friends can create an impromptu family.

It reminds me of my own homegrown family created long ago. In fact my “aunties” can tell you stories of when I was a toddler, they have known my mom for that long. My mother lost her own family long ago, with the exception of a younger sister and my grandmother, and was separated from even them for many years and almost 10,000 miles. Had it not been for my adopted Aunts, her military family circle might have been nonexistent. It all happened following an advertisement in the base newspaper and a note posted on an Air Force base bulletin board, where my father asked of other Airman if they might have foreign-born wives in need of practice with English and in want of friends. The answer to this came in the form of a group of women, three of whom would become closer than sisters to my mother. To this day, they remain the best of friends.

My mom, having arrived from Vietnam and now living on an Air Force base, was lonely and my active duty Dad wanted to help her make friends. Little did he know, his advertisement would create a lifelong bond between at least three families. The posting was enthusiastically answered by several men, with wives from Vietnam, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. These women committed to regularly calling on one another, helping with childcare and household duties and supporting their husband’s military careers. They also prioritized friendships and having fun. Mom fondly remembers, “We all had a really good time.” She explained the “schedule” to me: Wednesday nights were Ladies Night’s with all the women getting together for Bingo and dancing at the NCO club. The dads remained at home with the kids on babysitting duty. Friday nights were Boy’s Night Out, with all of the women gathering at one home of a pre-designated hostess to cook, eat and allow the kids a play date with each other, as they laughed, talked and shared the recipes of their respective homelands. My mother recalls how much this helped to alleviate the pangs of homesickness many of these young women felt, as well as helping them to acculturate to and learn to love their new homeland.

As a child, I knew summer seasons would be filled with visiting our extended “military family” in support of new PCSs. We often visited each other at various duty stations and weathered through the many changes any other family might have, be it TDYs, deployments, births, tragedies, marital dissolutions, the creation of new blended families, retirement, kids growing up and becoming parents themselves. It feels like I have a hundred cousins, at least…

Now the cycle continues, with my geo-bachelor husband there and me here surrounded by other military wives and friends. I know my story is not unique to my family and that’s what makes it so special. The mission for us becomes one to care for one another, to give support, create a community when needed, and to remember that – no matter what – we are family and whatever comes our way, we can handle it – together.

For that I am forever thankful.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Kim Copeland, Psy.D., is a Military Internship Behavioral Health Psychologist with the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Copeland is currently physically based at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.