WSW: The Strain on Military Families

Nov 4, 2015

Michael Engel, left, and his father, John Engel, right, reunite with their family after a ceremony welcoming home the troops, Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, in Jackson, Mich. Father and son were both deployed in Iraq with Michigan's Army National Guard's 1461st Transportation Company.
Credit Tony Ding, the Associated Press

Update: the start time of Col. Pereira's presentation at WMU has been corrected - see below.  

Angela Pereira spent 25 years in the U.S. Army, retiring with the rank of colonel. For most of those years, she was a military social worker assisting those in uniform dealing with family problems as well as mental health issues like PTSD


Pereira will talk about the challenges and opportunities of family life in the armed services on Monday, November 9, at Western Michigan University.

Pereira came from a military family herself, with a father who was an Army NCO.

"I was an Army brat,"

she says. Pereira says civilians sometimes put too much emphasis to the challenges that do face people in the military and their families. She says that's one result of an all-volunteer service that many people have no direct contact with.

Angela Pereira
Credit Courtesy of Rafael Vargas

The challenges facing those in uniform and their families are real, and Pereira says civilians may not realize what all of them are. She says the biggest of those are frequent relocations and especially deployments overseas to combat areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. Pereira says those can put significant strain the the fabric of the family as roles shift and financial issues arise. And there is the obvious worry about the welfare of those who are in harm's way.

The Pentagon has no program to help people "marrying" into a military family. Pereira says that's left to informal family support groups sponsored by individual military units. As Pereira puts it,

"There's no 'Military 101' for people entering the military as a recruit, or as a member of their family."

Pereira says there are also issues that confront reservists called back to uniform as well as people retiring to civilian life after many years in the military. They can face a loss of identity and camraderie.

On the plus side, Pereira says military family life offers excellent opportunities for education and training. And she says those in uniform learn how to make friends and adapt to changing situations. And she says the pay is usually pretty good. Pereira says she hopes civilians can understand that, although they do face special challenges, military families are resilient. And despite news coverage about mental health problems and issues like domestic abuse within the military, she says the great majority are not in "crisis."

On the other hand, Pereira says there does need to be attention to areas like high divorce rates among those in the military, and to the problems related to PTSD and traumatic brain injuries suffered by combat veterans.

Pereira's presentation on military family life is sponsored by several departments and programs at WMU, including the university's Office of Military and Veteran Affairs. It starts at noon on Monday, November 9, in Room 157-159 at the Bernhard Center.