Spring Cleaning: Reflections on Common Interests in Civilian and Military Caregiving

Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University and MFLN Caregiving Team Member

For much of our country, spring has been slow to emerge this year. However, the promise of warm weather also brings with it the expectation of some spring cleaning. Figuratively speaking, for me this means going back through notes and resources relating to military families and caregiving issues. In my research, a topic that emerges again and again is the notion that there is a divide between military and civilian culture. With an eye toward caregiving issues, I spent much of the winter looking at the literature on this topic. Let me share some observations and resources with you.

The idea that there is a divide between military personnel and the general civilian population goes back decades. It was first popularized in the late 1950s and tended to focus on political and ideological distinctions between military leaders and their civilian counterparts. In more recent times, the focus has been on apparent divides between rank and file military personnel and their families and the broader civilian world. These differences have become popularized through mass media and popular culture. Thomas Ricks’ “The Widening Gap between Military and Society” published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1997 stands out as one of most visible and influential treatments of this topic. In the past 20 years or so, there has been no shortage of attention to this apparent divide. At their best, commentary and coverage have helped us to understand the unique challenges and pressures – as well as opportunities and rewards – of military service and life. At their worst, these portrayals perpetuate negative stereotypes of military personnel and families being disconnected from the mainstream of society.

We need to caution against these differences being overdrawn. While acknowledging and honoring distinction, we also need to understand the similarities and connections that exist between civilian and military life. For example, as noted in my last blog by looking at Department of Defense reports we found that approximately 80 percent of active duty military personnel are assigned within the continental United States (CONUS) and that almost three quarters of all active duty military families in the United States live off-installation. The implications of these statistics are obvious – there are close connections between military families and civilian communities.

Fortunately, there are researchers who are looking closely at the similarities and differences in military life. Their research provides a more nuanced and informed look at this important topic. For example, a short article by Rahbek-Clemmensen and his colleagues published in Armed Forces & Society in 2012 helps to map out some categories for comparison including those relating to cultural and demographic factors. A 2013 article by Kudler and Porter published in The Future of Children thoughtfully reviews some of the issues and needs relating to military children and call for civilian institutions, such as schools and clinics, to provide a community of care. An article published in Pediatrics in 2012, by Davis and her colleagues provides a brief yet comprehensive review issues and needs relating to military children’s healthcare and their connection to community-based services.

Much of the work that we do with the MFLN, be it in our Military Caregiving Concentration Area, or other concentration areas, is to offer programming that seeks to bridge those gaps that might exist between the military and civilian world; to acknowledge and honor genuine differences; and to find common interests to discover and create new approaches in caregiving support for all. As the warm weather approaches, please take some time to join us in our webinars, blogs, and podcasts.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on April 20, 2018.

Walking Alongside our Service Members, Veterans and Their Families

by Anita Harris Hering

         The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it,                             but what they become because of it. – John Ruskin

Ruskin’s quote could very well define my family of eight – three sisters, two brothers and my parents. Volunteerism within our church and the community never was something scheduled around our weekly duties and jobs, but rather our duties and jobs were scheduled around when we were to volunteer. Being actively engaged with the needs of our community always came first.

Our parents made volunteering a priority and helped us kids to understand the importance of volunteering in the community such as with The American Legion, VFW, Lions, making picnic tables for the community park, partnering with local churches on an Ecumenical summer kids program, bringing food to the local food shelf (even though we didn’t have much for ourselves), etc. I learned that being present to others in the community, was (and still is) what one does while here on earth. I learned the value of meeting people where they are in life and then moving forward together.

My volunteer experience as a child is what brought me to the place in my heart and influenced my current volunteerism efforts. I have been passionately active in our local nine city Central Minnesota Warrior to Citizen – Beyond the Yellow Ribbon (BTYR) program as early as 2005 when the seed was planted, when it was proclaimed a BTYR program in 2010 by then Minnesota Governor Pawlenty, and even now.


What is a Yellow Ribbon Community?

“A Yellow Ribbon Community unites all areas within a community to create a comprehensive network that connects and coordinates agencies, organizations, resources and employers for the purpose of proactively supporting Service members and military families”. 

Over the years, our BTYR team has been awarded with many awards (from military branches and units, corporate and private donations, gifts, and even the prestigious St. Cloud State University Husky Award from Student Life & Development and the campus Veteran Resource Center) for building community capacity and synchronizing community, county and company resources in support of Service members, veterans and military families. Our team has successfully collaborated with the local military Family Assistance Centers, nonprofit organizations, state and federal support partners, and the community as a whole to identify and address gaps in services to provide support to military connected residents. Which brings me to the greatest honor that I received in 2017.

In 2017 SFC Mark Wood surprised me with a plaque for our Central MN Warrior to Citizen – BTYR and for me personally. I was also presented an AMERICAN FLAG which B Co 2-211 GSAB flew over Afghanistan in Operation Resolute Support – Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

     (L to R) Mike Mills, SFC (retired), OIF III MNARNG, Anita Harris Hering,                    and SFC Mark Wood, MNARNG Readiness & Training Manager, B Co                      2-211th GSAB


While the Service members were working overseas, our BTYR team served as the local boots on the ground to provide support and services for the families and spouses. The wording on the plaque summarized our efforts.


Wording read during the presentation

I was honored and humbled to be recognized for my contributions to the BTYR efforts as together we support our Service members and families. I encourage everyone to engage in building his or her community’s capacity. In what small ways can you walk alongside Service members, families and Veterans in your community? How can you build community capacity and create or contribute to a rapid response team?

         I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still                                  I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will                                      not refuse to do something that I can do. – Helen Keller  


Anita Harris Hering joined the University of Minnesota Extension as an Extension educator in 2005. She has extensive experience with youth, adults, volunteers, educators, community partnerships, Service members, Veterans and their families.