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Why community is key to warfighting

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: February 24, 2020

As I waited in line at the commissary, I perused the military newspapers in the rack — Hmm, so the Air Force is allowing beards now, huh?

“Do you have any coupons, my dear?” the commissary cashier said, interrupting my reading with the thick Rhode Island accent that I’d come to recognize so well. I handed her the scrap of paper that entitled me to 50 cents off a pound of deli ham.

After discussing the weather with the bagger while she loaded my groceries into my car, I tipped her and was off on my next errand. Wednesdays are good for getting things done on base. Washing the car at the auto center, mailing packages at the post office, lifting weights at the gym, buying groceries at the commissary, picking up refills at the clinic pharmacy, stopping by my favorite spot to hunt for a few pieces of beach glass.

We lived on this base four years ago. Now we fall into the category “retiree and family,” but I still drive across the bridge and through the gates every week. Why? My base neighbors have moved on. I know only a handful of people by name. The Stop & Shop has a better produce selection. There’s a post office a half mile from my house. The vacuum at the auto center doesn’t work that well. But, after 28 years of active-duty military life, I have learned that spending time on base boosts my morale.

Unlike civilians who are able to plant roots and form community bonds in one area for a period of time, military life requires us to be constantly mobile, adaptable, ready for separation and change at a moment’s notice. We typically aren’t in any one location long enough to integrate into the local populace. But we seek community for sustenance just like civilians do.

We find it in the little things — on playgrounds, in base neighborhoods, at the Shoppette, in the combined clubs, in the clinic waiting rooms, at the base theater, at the gym, on the running trails, in the Exchange, at the gas station, at the commissary and in military newspapers.

Last week, the Pentagon proposed plans to chip away (again) at those little things that form our military community. Namely, the DOD wants to divert funding away from the Stars and Stripes news organization and other military support programs to pay for warfighting technologies. The irony here is that even the best-equipped warfighters won’t stay in the military if they don’t have a sense of community.

In 2019, Stars and Stripes distributed 7 million copies of its US Weekly print edition, distributed 4.2 million special publications worldwide and had 18.8 million unique online readers. Millions read Stars and Stripes because it is the only independent news organization that covers military community issues, and is delivered to troops overseas who do not have access to online publications. On NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Stars and Stripes Editorial Director Terry Leonard explained why Stripes is important to military readers. “[O]ther news organizations won’t cover ... the pay, the benefits, what your life is like, the different things that happen to military families, military children, military schools ... It gives them a sense of ... having a normal life even though they’re stationed 9,000 miles from home.”

If our family hadn’t found a sense of community at duty stations overseas and in the U.S., our military family would not have served on active duty for 28 years. Humans seek fellowship, familiarity and understanding that only comes from being a part of a common culture. Military people, military bases and military stories become our support network, our home away from home, our community. This sense of security is critical to warfighters’ motivation to continue to serve long term in the face of hardships, dangerous duties, separations, moves and deployments.

If the DOD reduces funding for “low-priority” military community programs, it will certainly be able to afford more weapons. But can it afford to lose the warfighters uniquely qualified to use them?

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com
Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@googlemail.com