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Monday, May 20, 2024

It’s Military Families Month. Here are just some of the obstacles they face to keep their families together

U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog Max, 633rd Security Forces Squadron explosives detector, joins the Pontello family for a family photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, April 23, 2019 (WYDaily/U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)
Air Force Military Working Dog Max, 633rd Security Forces Squadron explosives detector, joins the Pontello family for a family photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, April 23, 2019 (WYDaily/U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)

More than finding a new home, life in Hampton for Kristie Cunningham has meant starting all over again.

She’s had to find a new job, new doctor, new hairstylist, and new schools for her two kids — this is her 11-year-old son’s fifth new school.

And, with her husband serving in the Air Force, Cunningham said her family has done this seven times before and often faces the misconception “it’s easy because the military does everything for you.”

“Even though they’re moving your stuff for you, they don’t move your life for you,” she said. “You don’t get to take everything else that you liked about that place with you…all of that is like starting over.”

The family moved into their rented home, site-unseen, in August and before they left their previous station in Hawaii, Cunningham said social media was her go-to for recommendations on doctors and schools in the area.

“I was able to connect with some families whose kids actually go to some of the schools we were looking at so that was a big help,” she said.

One thing Cunningham hasn’t yet been able to figure out is how to successfully transition her professional occupational therapy license to Virginia — she said the process to find a job in her field has been “frustrating” despite receiving assistance through the base’s Airman and Family Readiness Center. 

Maybe it’s regulations, perhaps it depends on where you are Cunningham said, the agencies provide “general” information or refer you to the next agency, “kind of like you’re playing the game of cat and mouse.”

Kendra McMullen’s husband will soon retire after 20 years in the Air Force but struggled to find a special needs program for her 5-year-old daughter when they moved to Hampton Roads from California in August.

Like Cunningham, McMullen said she looked to social media for guidance before they moved but also said though the military has the resources to help make a transition easier, they weren’t successful in doing so in her case.

“I think the resources are there but the right people aren’t in them actually helping inbound families,” she said.

Her husband originally had a Department of Defense trained sponsor or a volunteer from his unit assigned to be a point of contact for questions and information before the family arrived in August — McMullen said the person never responded to their calls or emails.

“It might seem like we’re old hats at this and every [change of station] is the same but it’s not, it takes a lot of time to readjust,” she said. “We’re trying as best as we can but a lot of us are kind of winging it on our own every time we transition…we just need more patience than most.”

November was designated National Veteran and Military Families Month in 2016 as a means to appreciate and recognize the significance of military families to the service member and ultimately the country’s warfighting mission.

The Peninsula is home to more than 27,000 military family members, according to the Joint Base Langley-Eustis website. 

In a signed proclamation, President Donald Trump said it’s “our duty to provide [service members’] families with the resources they need to thrive in our communities.”

“Accordingly, under my administration, the Department of Defense has created programs for military families that support access to quality childcare and spousal employment and promote occupational licensure reciprocity between states,” the document reads.

MSgt. Bryon Baranski’s job as an Air Force First Sergeant uniquely includes focusing on a military unit’s people and their wellbeing — when military members transition into his squadron, Baranski said he is one of the first people they are required to see.

“When people move into Langley from other bases I help them get settled in and make sure their families feel a warm welcome,” he said.

The idea is, these families would see Baranski to learn about the agencies established to assist in their transition, including free hourly childcare for incoming members.

Baranski said he often refers incoming members to and agencies like the Airman and Family Readiness Center’s school liaison officer, their Key Spouse Program, and a “Plan My Move” class where they’ll hear from supporting organization and learn more about the local area.

Even with the resources, Baranski said no matter how much experience a military family has moving, it’s never easy to have to uproot and it’s up to that new extended family to welcome them home.

“The military is an extension of a person’s personal family…hopefully the gaining unit makes families feel as welcomed as possible and as if they are part of the family,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: WYDaily multimedia reporter Lucretia Cunningham is not related to Kristie Cunningham.

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