MVE TIG Week: Sarah Baughman on Cultural Competence with Military Service Members

My name is Sarah Baughman and I am the National Project leader for the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN). The MFLN connects the resources of Land Grant Universities and Cooperative Extension with military audiences. Working across institutional cultural contexts has been one of our challenges. Our academic institutions have very different cultures than the military and helping each learn to work with the other has been key to our success. The hierarchical nature of military service branches is distinctly different from the flat, individualistic culture of academia. Understanding the work culture of our partners and clients has improved our communications and our programming.

We’ve learned quite a bit as our program has matured and hope you find the tips and resources below useful in your work with military service members and their families.

Hot Tips: There are five branches in the military, each with a unique culture, language, values and identity. The five branches are: Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. Be sure you are using the proper terminology and images with each branch.

Rank matters.

Check your assumptions. The popular narrative around military families is deficit based. While military families certainly have challenges unknown to non-military families they are also resilient.

Include or recruit an advisor or key staff member with military experience to help guide your work with service members and their families.

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom relied heavily on the National Guard and Reserves. Guard and Reserve families are more likely to be in rural areas or far from common military services available to active duty service members on or near installations. This presents unique opportunities and challenges for these families especially during times of deployment.

Military service members are mission oriented. The mission comes before the individual. Be clear about the mission of your program or project and who is tasked with each component.

Military families often do not identify themselves as military. Consider asking if clients are in the military in your program applications or intake forms to better serve those clients.

Rad Resources:

Dictionary of Military Terms

Understanding rank – What are those stripes and bars?

Guide to Military Uniforms and Insignia

Common military terms and lingo

Evidence based programs and practices for the military can be found at the Penn State Clearinghouse

Research on Military Families can be found at the University of Minnesota REACH program

The Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MVE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Military and Veteran’s Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MVE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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