Building Community in Special Operations

Finding People Who Show Up

Special Operations can be a difficult community to find your people or “build your tribe.” There are a few reasons for this struggle… Some are mission- or unit-dependent, and some are not. Many Special Operations families stay at one unit for long amounts of time and some choose to live further from the military installation. This distance makes nice-to-do meet-ups like many unit-sponsored events a challenge. Frequently, our unit spouses are professionals with an established career or they are simply busy keeping up with their growing family. In our community our family rhythm is often the only remotely steady or predictable routine. SOF families have their own routine that changes very little despite constant deployments and training.

Sometimes sustaining those friendships is the biggest challenge. The regular “home and away” routine that accompanies deployments and training can hinder developing friendships because family norms change to accommodate the service member’s schedule. Or possibly your kid’s soccer or baseball season took you out of the loop for a few months. Whether it is a change in routines or the regular military moves that a portion of us experience, meeting new people and sustaining true friendships is a unique challenge. The boat we sail in is simply very small and incredibly busy. 

Looking Beyond the Unit

Conventional wisdom is to build your network of friends around the unit or Family Readiness Group. While this can be an effective way to meet people who understand the unique demands of the Special Operations lifestyle, it is not the only way to find people you connect with. In fact, studies show that if your community is very stressed then you need friendships from outside of the community to thrive. To make organic connections with people, search for people who share your interests, values, and goals. 

To make organic connections with people, search for people who share your interests, values, and goals. 

Many seasoned Special Operations spouses are very involved in their community in ways that are both meaningful and interesting to them. Like running? Find a local running club and make a running buddy. You will probably find friendship and fitness. Value faith? Join a place of worship and attend a group function or volunteer on a committee that responds to an issue you care deeply about. Want to learn a new skill or return to school? Sign up for local classes to learn how to cook, paint, code, or teach. Whatever you’re interested in, find a way to pursue it and you will likely make good friends. Connections made over shared interests are both meaningful and effortless, and many of these outlets are easy to plug back into when that deployment comes or the soccer season wraps up. 

Make it Happen

Once you’ve found those people, show-up for them and expect the same from them. Check on people… Ask them how their week was. Make plans to get together, and then do it. Time spent together deepens connections and friendships. On the other side of the coin, if people regularly flake on plans, they’re not putting in the same level of effort and it might be time to let that friendship go. It happens – especially when meeting new people – but it doesn’t mean the attempt was a failure. We can learn things from every new experience, and every new person we meet. 

by Mary Duffy, MSOFC Contributor

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