In the summer of 2020, during his family’s PCS (permanent change of station) — relocating for his father’s next station of duty in the Army — “John,” an elementary-aged kid, attended Operation Purple, a free, week-long camp made possible by the National Military Family Association. Because they were driving across country, he attended camp each day from the way-way back in his family’s car. Instead of tallying license plates or playing endless word games with his siblings, John joined camp on his computer — attending Nature Club, making art projects, embracing Lego challenges, and even joining dance parties from his seat. John, like many military children, has had to make many sacrifices in his young life — moving frequently, having to say goodbye to best friends, teachers, and coaches, and adapting to new schools and neighborhoods. But, in turn, being part of a military family has also made him strong and resilient.
The National Military Family Association (NMFA) understands deeply that “military families serve, too,” alongside their service member or veteran parent or spouse. In 1969, NMFA was founded by a handful of military wives who wanted to make sure their widowed friends were properly taken care of. A small, but determined group of spouses around a kitchen table has expanded into a strong force of military families representing all ranks and services. NMFA stands up for, supports, and enhances the quality of life for every military family through bold advocacy, innovative programming, and dynamic and responsive solutions.
The organization offers free summer camps for kids, childcare fee relief, and scholarships (with a year-round application process) for spouses to fund education, career, or business goals. “It is stressful for a whole family when a mother or father deploys or needs to relocate. At NMFA, we want to do whatever we can to support not only our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, guardians, and veterans but also their families who serve along with them,” says Director of Outreach Raleigh Duttweiler, a military spouse and mother of three. “We want to ensure that the families who stand beside the uniform have everything they need.” Ms. Duttweiler knows about this need firsthand. Her second child was born premature and the family struggled emotionally and financially to save him. “A friend called NMFA for me, which I had not heard of at the time, and soon our case was approved and the first of many huge boxes of prescription formula needed for my daughter’s survival arrived on the doorstep. I joined NMFA so I could help do for others what the organization did for my family.”
In 2020, NMFA launched its Research + Insights arm, which engages in research, data collection, and analysis in order to better understand the military community and generate meaningful insights in areas critical to military family well-being. The effort focuses on health, financial security, education, employment, and military children. NMFA distributes its research to partners, policymakers, and legislative leaders in order to inform both their own advocacy efforts and programs, as well as generate broader support and policies that provide the specific interventions and impacts military families tell us they need. “Our research is gleaned through surveys as well as our application process, which is very powerful,” says Ms. Duttweiler. “We learn from our families in real time, which helps us refine our programs as we wait for policy change, which as we all know can take time.” For example, last year, NMFA surveyed more than 2,000 military-connected teens and found that 65 percent of teens intend to serve. They also learned that a large number of military teens, with the added burden of COVID, feel isolated and experienced reduced levels of well-being. “This population is our fighting force of tomorrow. We need to support them now whether that means offering as many resources as we can in their communities or setting up more teen-specific programs like Operation Purple Camps for their age group.”
Ms. Duttweiler says that if she had a magic wand to make one sea change for the military community, she would remove the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) — a U.S. based allowance prescribed by geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status — from SNAP benefits. A government program, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. “Unbeknownst to the average civilian, many military families do not have enough food to feed their families and don’t qualify for SNAP benefits. There is a lot of red tape that can exclude them from accessing SNAP benefits,” she says. “Wouldn’t we want to do everything in our power to prevent food insecurity and change this pattern?”
Kids like John and parents like Ms. Duttweiler need — and deserve — undue support and empowerment. After all, their love and support are what nourish their loved ones as they serve our country.
Organization: National Military Family Association
Programs: Scholarships for spouses, Operation Purple camps, child care scholarships, information, advocacy, and resources for military families
Who qualifies: Military spouses and children
- Active Duty Service Members of all 8 Uniformed Services which are: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOA
- National Guard
- 100% Disabled Post-9/11 Veteran