Military Spouses Should Speak Out Against Wars of Choice. Here’s How

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Airman hugs his spouse after returning from a deployment
A U.S. Air Force Airman hugs his spouse after returning from a deployment at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Jan. 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mercedes Porter)

Sarah Streyder is the Founder of the Secure Families Initiative and a proud Air Force spouse. She is an advocate for principled foreign policy, and passionate about elevating military spouse voices. Sarah encourages everyone she meets to get involved, organize, and vote.

I am a military spouse, and my voice is missing from our country’s conversations about war and peace.

Stories of trade-offs and heartache are a dime a dozen in the military community. Our country has been at war for 19 years, and that has consequences for our troops and their loved ones. Frequent moves and deployments make it difficult – sometimes impossible – for families to stick together.

Some people talk about our military’s operational tempo as if it’s the way things will always be because it’s the way things are now and always have been. But I don’t have time for that kind of fatalism! Our military’s operational tempo stems directly from our country’s foreign policy. And we have a choice in how our country engages in the world around us. We can promote aggression, or we can prioritize diplomacy as our tool of first resort – and in doing so, protect our service members from unnecessary danger.

My husband is an active-duty Air Force sergeant, and I am tremendously proud of his service. His job has also been hard on our family. Like many couples, our marriage has been filled with bittersweet moments.

I remember the day Jason shipped off to boot camp, because it was the same day I met the president. After working as a White House intern for three months, I was finally getting to meet the boss. On my way to the West Wing, I got Jason’s last goodbye phone call before he’d be out of communication for two months. All I could think about for the rest of the day was how much I missed him.

The same thing happened three months later, when I got offered a full-time job in the administration. I called Jason to tell him the good news, and he said, “we’re getting stationed in Nebraska.” I spent hours agonizing between a once-in-a-lifetime job and getting to live with my spouse. I chose the former, which meant we spent our second year as a married couple living halfway across the country from each other.

When given the option to pursue peace or promote aggression, I know which world I’d rather live in. And I know many spouses who would agree.

The most important thing military spouses can do to push against wars of choice is to vote. But not all of us vote as often as we could. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), only 36% of military spouse respondents said they vote in every election, even though 69% believe voting is a civic duty. The main reasons respondents gave for not voting came down to a lack of information and motivation. Only 40% of spouses felt it was easy to get information about voting and only 27% felt actively encouraged to vote.

That is why I decided to launch the Secure Families Initiative (SFI) – a program to mobilize military spouses as foreign policy voters and advocates. With the help of our parent organization, Foreign Policy for America, we plan to train and organize members of our community to speak up and out about principled American engagement in the world.

Why? Because I believe we are this country’s most under-utilized voices in favor of a diplomacy-first approach to foreign policy.

Military spouses know better than almost anyone about the hidden costs of war. Our public discourse talks about wars in terms of blood and treasure, which are very real. But for us, they’re so much more. Wars can be measured in missed birthdays and pricey care packages; in grocery store meltdowns and emotional homecomings; in disrupted careers and constant anxiety. When our loved ones deploy overseas, we’re the ones left behind to keep the family operating.

When the U.S. defunds our State Department, we lean more heavily on our service members to solve problems that don’t have a military solution. When our country engages in forever wars, we demand an unsustainable operational tempo that makes it harder to recruit for our all-volunteer force -- now that’s a national security nightmare.

SFI is creating a home for people like me to take action – opportunities built by mil spouses, for mil spouses. We hope to empower this community to share their stories with clarity and fearlessness.

Are you a military spouse who’s confused about where or how to vote? Have you thought about getting more involved in advocacy, but you’re not sure where to start? From non-voters to regular policy wonks, we have something for everyone. If this sounds like a program you could use, check us out at www.SecureFamiliesInitiative.org.

It’s not hard to find voters who care about supporting military families, but most don’t understand the reality of what our lives are really like. Too often, military service is leveraged on the political stage to push for policies that actually run counter to our best interests. If we can bridge that awareness gap, I believe we can make better decisions as a country.

As military spouses, our lives are directly impacted by the foreign policy decisions made by our national leaders. We deserve a voice at the decision-making table.

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