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Military Families Week: Time to Stop Keeping Their Struggles at Arm's Length

Posted: 04/11/2012 9:39 am

I'm delighted that today marks the start of the Huffington Post Media Group's second annual Military Families Week. We'll be honoring our country's military families, putting the spotlight on their sacrifices, helping connect them with employment resources, and letting our readers know how they can help.

We launched Military Families Week last year to coincide with the formation of Joining Forces, the program announced by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to create and secure private-sector jobs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, the First Lady said it was time to "build upon our nation's great patriotism by asking all Americans to take action and ensure our military families have the support they have earned." The goal, as Jill Biden added, was to turn our "gratitude into concrete action."

A year later, the need for action remains. America has been a nation at war for more than a decade, which only deepens our responsibility and our debt to our servicemen and women. The fighting and burden of sacrifice is being shouldered by a tiny percentage of our citizens -- all of whom volunteered -- and it's been far too easy, for far too long, to keep their struggles at arm's length. And it's even easier to forget about the hardships endured by the families they leave behind.

It's why, in December of last year, HuffPost published an e-book, Beyond The Battlefield: The War Goes on for the Severely Wounded, by HuffPost's senior military correspondent David Wood. The book is dedicated to telling the stories of the challenges faced by wounded veterans and their families that continue long after the soldiers return home.

So we are delighted that the First Lady has recorded an exclusive video for HuffPost's series "The Moment I Knew," sharing her personal story of the moment she knew she wanted to help military families. "I heard so many stories of the strength and grace, of the sacrifice and service that truly define what it means to be in a military family," she says.

And we're rolling out other features that will put the focus on soldiers and their families. We've created a slideshow of reader-submitted photos of their loved ones who have served in the military (send us your photos here). Another slideshow spotlights First Ladies who devoted energy and time to military families in need -- from Eleanor Roosevelt to Florence Harding, who was an advocate for the rights of returning World War I veterans.

All week, we'll feature blog posts that provide glimpses into the lives, stories, and struggles of those who serve -- and those who love them. Like Bianca Strzalkowski, a military wife (and Military Spouse magazine's 2011 Military Spouse of the Year) who proposes solutions to a little-discussed aspect of military life: the way military spouses often struggle to complete their educations.

We'll also feature a post from Mark Cubbedge, of the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project, who tells the story of Corporal Anthony Villarreal, a soldier who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, where he was badly burned by an IED. Corporal Villarreal recalls waking up in a military hospital and sensing that his wife and children were at his bedside. "But I had had surgery to replace my eyelids, so it was hard for me to look."

To coincide with Military Families Week, our current HuffPost Book Club pick is What It Is Like to Go to War, by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes. It's a book about the spiritual and psychological cost of warfare on everyone -- the soldiers, their families, and society at large. To deepen the conversation, HuffPost reached out to veterans, military chaplains, and family members of those currently serving. It prompted many moving responses, like the one from Tracey Scharmann, whose husband was deployed to Iraq in 2003. In a post titled "What It's Like to Stay Home From War," she wrote: "I know what it's like to see my child win her first swim meet or dance on stage for the first time or laugh that hardy little infant laugh for the first time. I don't know what it's like not to be able to do that."

So please join us in celebrating the launch of Military Families Week. As always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.

Add your voice to the conversation on Twitter: twitter.com/ariannahuff