Health And Mental Health Needs Of Children In US Military Families: Military Family Demographics Back »

Written collaboratively by Sheila Snyder, former SDSU Extension Operation: Military Kids State Coordinator, and Benjamin S. Siegel, Beth Ellen Davis, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health.


Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is the U.S. Army's collaborative effort with America's communities to support children and youth of all branches of the military, impacted by deployment. The South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Youth Development, administers the program and its office is located at South Dakota State University’s West River Agricultural Center in Rapid City. Part 1 contained an overview of this subject, and Part 2 will focus on the Demographics of Military Families and the struggles they endure as a family.

The article, written by Benjamin S. Siegel, Beth Ellen Davis and the committee, pointed out that the demographics of the US military itself has drastically changed since the draft was dissolved in 1973. Once the military became an all-volunteer force with career options available, challenges began for the DOD such as housing, family services, overseas resources, education, aging, and an increased number of retirees. Other challenges were also experienced with the deployment of National Guard and Reserve. This change greatly expanded the number of Soldiers seeing Active Duty in wartime, which in turn, resulted in the involvement of an increased number of military children and families.

On average, military parents marry and have children at a younger age than civilian US parents. The National Guard and Reserve member have similar statistics regarding families, except that the guard and reserve members and spouses are slightly older and they have a greater proportion of school-age children.

Many of the same struggles are felt by military families as non-military families. The common struggles include child care, eldercare, parenting concerns, marital and education issues, and career choices. However, military families not only struggle with the issues listed above, but experience additional struggles which include frequent relocation and international moves, separations other than war, and the consequences of wartime deployment.

When dealing with deployment and the effects it may have on military children, the military structure is important to understand. With the different and unique qualities of each of the active duty and reserves, understanding the culture can assist pediatricians in understanding the context of a child’s experience of deployment. Four different service groups have an active duty component under the DOD, the largest being the Army, followed by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The five states with the most active duty members are California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

According to statistics gathered, active duty families tend to live on or near military installations, have neighbors, friends and perhaps even relatives who also serve in the military. Active duty families also are inclined to have community resources available to them, organized by the military, which include day care, financial and legal support. They have sponsors and are hosted by more experienced military families.

In contrast, National Guard and Army Reservists rarely live near a military installation and will seek health care and support from the communities in which they reside.

TRICARE, the health care entitlement program for military families, has eligibility requirements and benefit’s determined by the US Congress and administered by the DOD via TRICARE Management Authority. During activation and deployment, it is often necessary for families to change health care providers temporarily or permanently. TRICARE benefits remain up to 180 days after de-activation from duty.

Further articles will explore deployment and its relationship to the health and mental health of military kids.

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