When Civilians Touch on Our World


I live in a civilian community now, and while I couldn’t have more support from them when my husband is gone – and often when he is home as well! – it is still fairly common for us to have communication glitches.  My gallows humor definitely draws some weird glances – even from people I’ve known for years (although they’ve pretty much learned to roll with it).  Our penchant for acronyms is really not “normal”, either.  And then there was that time I got up too late to make my son and daughter lunch for their summer camp and they ended up taking MREs.

There have been times when I’ve sat down with civilians who didn’t know our family was military until it came up in conversation, and the reaction was not positive.  It has happened, but it’s happened rarely enough that I can count each instance on one hand and still have fingers left over.  Most often, the reaction people have upon finding out we’re a military family is curiosity, and there is also usually a desire to show some sort of connection; for instance, a grandfather who fought in World War II or a father who had been in Vietnam.

Sometimes, though, when our military affiliation comes up in conversation the first reaction I get is, “What can I do?”

Although this happens a very good percentage of the time I talk to people, it never fails to astound me – particularly in today’s economy.  It’s not the experience my father had when he came home from Vietnam and went back to college, that’s for sure.   And the offers I get are sincere.  People who are overwhelmed in their daily lives, sometimes underemployed or stretched thin with college tuition, mortgages, and car payments  still have a first and genuine impulse to do something to show they care and that their support is tangible.

This happened to me earlier in the week when I was at the gym for my regular Monday boxing class.

I’m a regular there now and I know a lot of the people who show up on a regular or semi-regular basis.  When the coach paired us up to practice a simple jab/cross combo I found myself with a gentleman that I regularly say hi or wave at when we find ourselves in the same class.  We hadn’t had a chance to talk before, and I found out his son is attending Harvard.  He found out that we’re an Air Force family and that my husband recently returned from another deployment.

As the exercise progressed, we talked about another mutual friend of ours who is also a gym member and I mentioned how awesome I thought she was because whenever I tell her that we’re looking for donations for one of the military charities I volunteer for she finds a way to donate.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And she does it without a second thought,  as reflex.

The gentleman in class then asked which charities I volunteer for – and when I told him about Sew Much Comfort he was immediately intrigued.  So much so that after class he asked for the web address.  I was glad to spread the word and that he was interested, and I did not expect that the next time I saw him in class (Wednesday) he would let me know that he had actually followed up and checked out the website, then donated his monthly tithe there.

I thanked him profusely, which he waved off.  Then he thanked me again for introducing him to “such an interesting and worthwhile cause.”  It really felt great.

And it just illustrated something that I’ve felt so many times before – that people really want to help, they just don’t always know how.

There are many good and worthwhile military charities out there – from the all encompassing household names like Soldier’s Angels to  more mission-specific organizations like Hire Heroes, even military families plugged into the community and network have a hard time finding what they are looking for.  I can only imagine how much more difficult it might be as a civilian to connect with an organization that supports the military in a way that they can really connect to.  And even more importantly – and organization that is honest.

When you don’t understand the lingo and have no one in the community to refer your questions to, zeroing in on the best use of your donated time or dollar can be difficult.

It’s easy to miss that, I think.  Our world can be tough to understand, and even tougher to be a part of on the civilian side of the fence.  And honestly – when you’re three months into a 12 month deployment with multiple toddlers at home, a sink full of dirty dishes, an angry mother-in-law, and a dog with anxiety issues – who wants to play Ambassador for Military Families?  No one, really.  The energy is just not there.

Sometimes, though, the opportunities show up wrapped like presents underneath the Christmas Tree.  All you really have to do is unwrap them and say thank you.  And those opportunities, when they show up, can be a bright spot in an otherwise dingy day.

I remember every time a civilian has approached me to offer help without being asked, not because it has happened so rarely, but because those are the times that it is really driven home to me how much people care.

About the Author


airforcewife started her military journey as an Army National Guard wife, but upon experiencing base housing decided to aim high and made the switch to the Air Force. That's worked pretty well for Air Force Family so far, even though airforcewife holds the spouse world record for Come to Jesus talks with various members of the command.

Air Force Family has four children, two pit bulls, and a Mother-in-Law who lost her mind eight years ago. Despite the reputation of pit bulls, airforcewife would like to assure you that her Mother-in-Law is truly the most dangerous of the group, and is banned in more places than the dogs.

airforcewife gets through Air Force Guy's frequent deployments and TDY's by frequently attending her boxing gym, after the chance discovery last deployment that hitting things really does make life better. She also volunteers as the Ambassador for Sew Much Comfort to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and in a variety of other causes throughout the year.

airforcewife has no idea what the future holds, but decided five years ago that she wants to be Andi when she grows up.

  • Daniel

    Happy new year! I’m really happy for you;and is my prayer that the help you need will be granted.

  • Coho1938

    I am retired AF. When I talk to a Civilian they cannot believe that you don’t receive free medical care. That the Bx; and commissary sell’s the same junk from China at approx. the same price as Wal-Mart does. Also civilians think that we receive a huge retirement. The average Civilian thinks the military retiree is a free loader, in the same category as if you were on Welfare!
    Most civilians don’t believe that military retires priority at the base hospital is last, if they will see you at all. When you go to the Base Pharmacy You are addressed by your first name; or by your last name, never by Mr. or Mrs. or your former rank. I don’t think the modern AF airman even knows what military courtesy is.