Staff Perspective: Recognizing the Experiences of Diverse Military Families - A Brief Introduction to Blue Star Families Racial Equity & Inclusion

Staff Perspective: Recognizing the Experiences of Diverse Military Families - A Brief Introduction to Blue Star Families Racial Equity & Inclusion

Dr. Jenny Phillips

For anyone working with service members, Veterans, and their families, the Blue Star Families (BSF) organization represents an important source of information and resources for understanding and supporting military families. With an overarching goal of empowering military families, BSF works to connect them with their civilian neighbors to foster communities of mutual support. CDP references many BSF resources and studies, notably their annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, in our trainings on military culture and military family experiences.

In December 2020, BSF announced a new Racial Equity & Inclusion (REI) Initiative with the goal of supporting and improving the service experiences of military families of color. While consistent with BSF’s overarching mission and a general societal shift to emphasize diversity and inclusion efforts, some might question the necessity of this military-specific diversity initiative. The military is often identified as one of the most diverse of our national institutions. Many may assume individual differences in race, religion, and other personal characteristics should be less problematic thanks to the diverse population and the unified purpose and mission of military service. For example, one of my colleagues recalls that during their experience in Marine Corps Boot Camp in the 1990s, recruits were never identified by their race or ethnicity; there were no Black Marines or White Marines, only varying shades of Green Marines.

Contrary to some lines of thought, the military is not immune to issues of omission or inequity based on race and ethnicity. This is true both historically when one considers issues such as segregated units and policies that marginalized people of color, and more recently with ongoing issues of racial and ethnic disparities in the military. The existence of these contemporary issues can be observed in some of the outcomes of one of the first BSF REI Initiative products, the Blue Star Families’ Social Impact Research 2021: The Diverse Experiences of Military & Veteran Families of Color. The larger study included a survey with responses from more than 2,700 active duty service members, Veterans, and their family members from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Surveyed topics included community and social experiences, economic issues, health care, education, and identity and culture.

A few of the findings highlighted by BSF include:

  • Although military family respondents of color reported the perception that they received better quality health care than their civilian counterparts, 40% reported being unable to find culturally competent providers for medical and mental healthcare.
  • Racial and ethnic identity impacts many military career-relevant decisions for active duty families of color. Nearly half (46%) reported that they take the potential for racial/ethnic discrimination into consideration when ranking installation preferences and a third (33%) reported weighing the same considerations when deciding whether or not to remain in service.
  • While the vast majority (79%) of active duty service members of color report that the military has had a positive influence on their professional growth, military spouses of color reported substantially higher unemployment rates and lower earnings than their civilian counterparts.

As indicated by these select findings, the full results of the study highlight both advantages and disadvantages perceived by individuals of color serving in, or connected with, the military. While the study is not without limitations (i.e., used a convenience sampling method, participants of color were purposefully oversampled, data collection occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and a time of social unrest), BSF plans to use the information gathered from this initial REI Initiative effort to help inform policy recommendations and the development of new resources and efforts to support military families of color. For more information about this study as well as the ongoing efforts of the BSF REI Initiative, check out some of the resources at the BSF websites linked below:


  • BSF REI About: Information on this history and development of the initiative.
  • BSF REI Five Impact Areas: Information about and links to the five identified areas targeted by the BSF REI Initiative: Research & Advocacy; Leadership; Training; Collaboration; Community Impact
  • BSF REI Research and Advocacy webpage: A landing page for all of the research related activities for the REI effort. Includes links to the full report, executive summary with recommendations, and infographics from the Blue Star Families’ Social Impact Research 2021: The Diverse Experiences of Military & Veteran Families of Color. This page also houses links to “Deep Data Dive” videos discussing the study and its outcomes.

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.

Jenny Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director of Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD.

Blue Star Families. (2022). Blue Star Families’ social impact research 2021: The diverse experiences of
military & veteran families of color
. Blue Star Families’ Department of Applied Research.