Strong Families Key to Military's Strength, Top NCO Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

COLUMBUS, Ga., Nov. 6, 2013 - Healthy military families are essential to guaranteeing the health of the overall force, the country's senior noncommissioned officer said here today.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Lisa, addressed Military Family Summit attendees at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center here.

The Military Family Summit, sponsored by the Congressional Military Family Caucus, brought together military and civilian experts on resilience, financial readiness, education and employment from around the country and across the services.

"Regardless of the service branch, we have some of the very same challenges," said Lisa Battaglia.

Building resilience into military families will help them to confront challenges without being sent into full retreat, the sergeant major said. Sharing similar challenges means service members and their families can cross service affiliations to share ideas and methods for addressing those challenges and developing resilient families, he added.

"What may work for an Army family may, in fact, work for a Marine family ... [or] a Navy family, without having to spend further, unnecessary efforts or monies on replication of resources," he explained.

That sharing of ideas and resources already happens across the services, the sergeant major added. For example, joint schools train and educate service members with similar military specialties, he said.

The influence of family members and communities on total force fitness shouldn't be underestimated, Battaglia said.

Addressing fitness as a mind-body-spirit concept will help to build resilient families by developing trust, communication and teamwork in family relationships, the Battaglias said.

"I love talking about total force fitness, because Lisa and I use it," the sergeant major said. "We use it because we believe in it."

Until her husband started using the total force fitness resilience program, Lisa Battaglia said, he didn't know he was unfit.

"When he came back from Iraq, he was different. He was very, very different," she said. Post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury were causing sleeplessness and agitation, she continued, but as a service member, he'd learned how to carry on with the mission without regard to his personal health.

"He had basically convinced everyone around him ... that he was OK -- that everything was fine," she said. "I know him too well, and he wasn't fine."

It took some time to convince Battaglia to speak to a professional, she said, but when he did go, "it was one of the best things that he's done for himself and our marriage."

Marriages, like the military, can't survive without effective communication, the sergeant major said.

With so many military families residing in communities outside military installations, the Defense Department is placing increased emphasis on community and public-private partnerships, Battaglia said.

The fiscal challenges ahead of the military will affect military families, he said. "We ask you ... to keep faith in your leadership as we work through it, and we work through it together," he added.

"Even though most of this is beyond my control, I find myself as a military spouse trying to focus on what is in my control," Lisa Battaglia said. That includes maintaining financial discipline and preparing for the unexpected, she added.

To help service members and military families be prepared to confront challenges -- unexpected or otherwise -- the Defense Department introduced a number of initiatives, Battaglia said. One of them, Transition GPS, is intended to prepare service members to return to civilian life, he said.

"About 236,000 service members transition per year out of our armed forces," the sergeant major said. "The better we prepare our men and women and families to transition, I think the [closer] we are to completing our obligation as military leaders."

Unemployment compensation claims cost the Army $515 million in 2012, he said, and the other services also are spending significant amounts. It would be better for the nation if that money were invested up front in preparing service members to join civilian society, Battaglia said.

The Battaglias have twice prepared for the sergeant major's retirement, Lisa Battaglia said, and each time she also attended the transition assistance programs.

"We as military spouses should attend these [classes] with our spouses so that we're better able to understand the transition process and be an active participant," she said.

Service members and their families are the heart and soul of the military force, the sergeant major said.

While years of war and budget uncertainties may have strained military families and cast uncertainty among the ranks, the military families as a whole remain strong and resilient, Battaglia said.