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Military Families as an Invisible Pillar of the Military Profession

I will begin my introductory thoughts with a touch of humour. Just over a hundred years ago in the Austro-Hungarian army, it was not desirable for young officers to marry too soon and start a family. Their thoughts had to stay clear and their hearts in the right place – in the country, not the girl. A Slovenian soldier today can thus be happy to be able to marry and have a family. This cursory and humorous historical comment also touches on the content described in more detail and more seriously in the following pages of this special issue.

Military families have been an important topic in different fields of science around the world for at least 50 years, while Slovenia is breaking new ground by putting down what is currently known and taking a comprehensive approach to studying military families. Since July 2019, the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana, with the cooperation of The Peace Institute, has been carrying out the project  Military Specific Risk and Protective Factors for Military Family Health Outcomes with the support of the Slovenian Research Agency. The researchers are very grateful to the Slovenian Armed Forces for supporting these research efforts, and to the editorial board of Contemporary Military Challenges for being willing to devote the entire issue to this important topic which, we have to admit, represents a support, although a marginal, activity alongside other military challenges. We are also aware, however, that support is very important in any fight, and may significantly contribute to victory.
The introduction identifies the study subject of this issue of the publication. Family is placed in a civilian environment, but where do we place and how do we understand a military family? There are no military bases in Slovenia in which families are subject to military socialization; there is no intertwining of the military hierarchy with the social status of a family. In a welfare state like Slovenia, military families are not offered any special benefits that would set them apart from other families in the civilian environment. In the United States, for example, military families are often physically separated from the civilian environment and subject to military requirements; in Estonia, the term military family is associated with former Soviet officer families; in Sweden, the term is neither known nor used. And in Slovenia? 
The Service in the Slovenian Armed Forces Act, adopted in 2007, which significantly contributed to the legalization of comprehensive support for members of the Slovenian Armed Forces, defined military families indirectly by listing those, in addition to SAF members, entitled to comprehensive care.
Our research shows that a military family is understood as a family in which at least one family member is employed by the Slovenian Armed Forces. We are talking of different forms of military families – it can be a parent or a child employed by the SAF; it can be a nuclear or a multigenerational family; a family in which both parents are employed by the SAF; or a family in which the military boots are worn by either the father or the mother. A military family is more than the legally defined core family of a SAF member. It is a question of identity and military culture which is passed (or not) on to the immediate or extended family. Likewise, the challenges and problems faced by SAF members are passed on to the family and may lead to mental, emotional and physical health problems, as well as poor interpersonal relationships and relationships between parents and children. Different risk factors are present in the wider society, not just the military, yet the military profession is particularly demanding. 
With regard to the opinion of a part of civil society, people face risks in many different professions in which parents are often away on business trips; moreover, work overload today is very common. A peculiarity of the military profession, however, is that parents are not away on temporary duty for only a few days, but are absent for several months, sometimes repeatedly. The tasks that military parents must perform during their absences are not daily routine obligations, but are often associated with an increased level of threat and the possibility of injury or even death. It is not uncommon for parents to be absent at the time of their child’s birth, and perhaps see the child for the first time when they are no longer a newborn. Work overload is not measured in hours of work during working hours, but in weeks in the field, mud, cold, wind, heat, and other adverse conditions. Work risk is not defined as the possibility of a work accident, but is a conscious decision of an individual who is willing to lose their life while performing tasks to achieve the goals of our nation.
At this point, it would be difficult to say that all of the above only affects SAF members. It significantly affects their entire families. Sacrifice, coordination, stress, fear of losing a family member, and a range of other emotions are present in the entire military family, from children and partners to grandparents. 
At the time of writing this editorial, SAF members are facing a new challenge, as they represent one of the most important elements in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus epidemic. Within the project Military Specific Risk and Protective Factors for Military Family Health Outcomes, a cross-sectional study was conducted in April 2020, in which it was determined how military families have adapted their daily lives to these extremely unusual circumstances. Based on the opinions of the respondents, it can be concluded that military families are quite resilient and adaptable.
However, they are not indestructible, and would sometimes welcome support, whether coming from friends, colleagues, or in the form of formal support from the SAF or the state. Particularly vulnerable are families with pre-school and young children of compulsory school age, for whom measures at the time of the epidemic were least suitable and appropriate. In a time of quarantine and social self-isolation, during the closure of kindergartens and schools, and without the support of grandparents, military activities, such as several days of absence and military exercises, can a difficult challenge for a family and can lead to health problems.
Satisfied and healthy military families are certainly a good basis for the successful and dedicated work of SAF members. Most likely, this is an important factor in deciding to continue one's career in the Slovenian Armed Forces.

At the end, I hope you don’t mind, dear members of the Slovenian Armed Forces, if I address you directly. It is not just you who are serving the homeland, but your entire families who support you emotionally, logistically, organisationally, and in other ways; who adapt their everyday lives to your work requirements; subordinate their careers to your military mission; do not blame you when you are away on international operations and missions just when your child is celebrating their birthday or needs comfort because their pet has died. Again and again, in an upright manner, although sometimes with bitterness, they accept your departures and arrivals, being aware that soldiers are calmer, more successful, more confident in performing their tasks, and consequently safer by knowing they are supported by their families, an invisible pillar of the military profession.

prof.dr. Janja Vuga Beršnak

(text was published as an editorial to a special issue of  a Contemporary Military Challenges) 

Back to list of notificationsPublished: 19. June 2020 | Category: Vojaške družine, Vsebinske ugotovitve