At two o’clock in the afternoon on September 11, 2001, I heard a knock at my door. There stood a young sailor who handed me a flyer and said, “Thank you for your assistance.” To my shock, my husband was getting called up for a spontaneous deployment. The flyer had a list of items I needed to pack in his sea bag and instructions to bring it to the pier at five o’clock that afternoon.
Like the rest of the country, I was horrified by the morning’s events. But I didn’t have time to process – all I knew was that my husband was on a ship in the New York Harbor, and he needed my help. I packed up his stuff, drove it to the pier, and didn’t see saw him again until months later.
Our country has been at war for the 19 years since that day. As my husband’s commander put it: “Surge has become standard.” And the burden of maintaining that exhausting ops tempo has hit our service members and their families hard.
Yet our lived experiences as military spouses and families are not accurately reflected in most public discourse surrounding war and peace. Too often, military service is leveraged on the political stage to push for aggressive, hawkish foreign policies that make it harder to end wars and take us closer to starting new ones. What many well-intentioned voters don’t seem to understand, though, is that warmongering and divesting from our country’s diplomatic pillars makes our service members less safe, not more. And those actions do not reflect the sentiments of many of us within the military community.
The military family is not a monolith; we are as diverse as the communities we come from. We range from liberal to conservative, from religious to not, and from every ethnic background. It’s about time our diverse points of view were more thoroughly reflected in our country’s politics. I can’t help but think that our foreign policy would look different if they were.
That’s why we started the Secure Families Initiative (SFI). Our goal is to provide members of the military community with the information, skills, and encouragement necessary to become more active participants in our country’s conversations about war and peace. While we are military spouses and have built this project with partners and family members primarily in mind, our resources should be similarly valuable for service members as well, both former and current.
Why is this important? Because military families know better than most the consequences that wars abroad have here at home. We have a uniquely up-close-and-personal perspective that provides voters and political leaders with a more complete picture of what committing troops overseas actually entails. Telling our stories can help bridge the military-civilian divide, and better represent the plurality of views held by those who have signed up to serve.
Most fundamentally: this is important because we too are constituents who deserve to be heard by their elected officials.
SFI is a nonpartisan program, driven by values that should find consensus across multiple political persuasions. Even though our backgrounds differ, we are all united in wanting to make sure our loved ones in uniform are safe.
At SFI, we believe the United States should and does have a strong military force, but that our armed forces should not be the only arrow in our foreign policy quiver. Our country should also have a well-resourced diplomatic corps to pursue peace as our first resort – and by doing so, shield our armed forces from unnecessary danger. After all, in the words of former Defense Secretary James Mattis: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
We also believe the process of Authorizing the Use of Military Force should be maximally deliberative and transparent. If our loved ones are called upon to demonstrate the ultimate bounds of their service, we want to feel confident in the necessity and justness of that decision. Bringing the War Powers back to Congress would go a long way toward this goal.
If these goals resonate with you, join our group. You don’t have to be an expert on all things politics to get involved. Whether you have questions about registering to vote, you want to learn more about being an effective advocate, or you’re already primed to take action today– we’re here to help. We also welcome contributionsif this sounds like the kind of work you want to support.
Your voice is powerful and can make an impact. And now is the moment to put it to use.
Authors: Sarah Streyder is an Air Force spouse and founder of the Secure Families Initiative. She has served in the White House and has a Master’s in Public Policy focusing on international human rights.
Erin Thomas Anhalt is a Navy spouse of over twenty years and social media consultant. She has worked on several political campaigns and is the mom to three kids, a dog, and some chickens.