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Why the Military Family should be TIME Person of the Year

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by Kristen Tsetsi

Speaking at Camp Pendleton in June 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “I’ve issued a national challenge—a challenge to every sector of American society to mobilize and take action to support and engage our military families.”

One of the easiest ways to respond to this challenge is to join the twitter or facebook “Like It for TIME” pages in support of making the American military family a candidate for TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year.

Social networking websites aren’t just silly distractions; they actually make an impact. In April of 2009, actor Ashton Kutcher and CNN received wide media attention when Kutcher challenged CNN to be the first to get one million followers. (The actor beat the news.) Later, in 2010, a facebook campaign succeeded in landing “Golden Girls” actress Betty White a hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live.”

If actors can use social networking sites to increase their personal fame, surely supporters of military families can be just as successful utilizing them for a far more meaningful pursuit: increasing awareness of a segment of our society that has long been underrepresented.

“Military families are the backbone of our service,” writes Iraq Veteran Jonathan Powers in The Truman National Security Project’s Memo to Congress: Conducting Successful Military Outreach: Rules of Engagement. “Their opinions strongly affect reenlistment as well as military morale. Yet according to a recent online Blue Star Families survey, 94% of military family members feel, ‘the general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families.’”

Military families will be the first to say they don’t want to be honored or praised, but Person of the Year isn’t an honor; it’s a “recognition of somebody’s effect on the world,” TIME Magazine editor Richard Stengel says in a YouTube video explaining the selection process. “Person of the Year is given to the person, group, or thing that has most influenced the culture or the news during the past year.”

Some might argue Person of the Year should go to someone who has had a more immediate and obvious impact on the culture or the news, like 2010 candidate Julian Assange, but evidence of the military family’s impact on popular culture can be found in Oprah’s multiple shows honoring the military family, in the upcoming fifth season of Lifetime network’s “Army Wives,” and in the E! Entertainment channel special, “E! Investigates:  Military Wives.” I would also argue that any time the wars in the Middle East are in the news, so is the American military family. Any time the media takes less ten seconds to announce the deaths of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan before launching into a longer feature story on a Hollywood star’s drug habit, they’re talking about the military family.

Rudy Giuliani was chosen for Person of the Year following the September 11 attacks because he “embodied what was really most important, what we learned about ourselves, which was that we could recover,” explains a TIME editor in the YouTube video.

The military family embodies what is most important after a decade of war and multiple deployments: a show of strength and undying support even in the face of acute anxiety and long family separations.

When the American Soldier was chosen for 2003 Person of the Year, it wasn’t for being famous in the news. It was, according to TIME, “[f]or uncommon skills and service, for the choices each one of them has made and the ones still ahead, for the challenge of defending not only our freedoms but those barely stirring half a world away.”

According to a February 2009 study conducted by Boston University’s Sloan Work and Family Research Network, “43.2% of active duty forces have one or more children.” Without a military family care plan—siblings, grandparents, spouses, or others to care for those children—the soldiers would not be permitted to deploy. Nearly half of our deployed forces would be rendered useless.

It’s time. It’s time to recognize the value of the military family, to get to know them in a new way, and to acknowledge the impact they’ve had on the country. Follow the twitter page or like the facebook page. Take the challenge issued by retired Air Force Colonel Dale Kissinger, creator of the military information and discount website

I … challenge the military associations, military organizations and DoD to get behind this effort. If MOAA, AUSA, Navy League, AFA, ROA, NCOA, American Legion, USAA, AMVETS and VFW (just a few examples) got behind this effort it would accelerate the attention. If an entertainer can have a million followers, why can’t we?

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