Written by: Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University & MFLN Military Caregiving Concentration
The summer is coming to an end. It’s always a bittersweet time for me. As a professor, I am fortunate to have some free time between semesters to explore and travel. While I am excited about the start of the new academic year, I also grow nostalgic for recent adventures. More often than not, these involve hikes through mountains and woods in various places across the United States.
This past summer I was able to spend some time hiking in the Rockies. While these were short treks not far from trailheads and amenities, preparation and readiness were crucial. Doing so requires an appreciation for both the fixed features of the landscape and those features that are in flux. In anticipation, I referenced trail maps and guide books and packed my gear. Once on site, I checked weather reports, and stopped by ranger stations to inquire about current conditions.
On the trails, granite outcroppings, loose talus, and steep inclines are constants. They are fixed features in the landscape: here now, in the past, and for the future. Walking through rough terrain reminds you that good boots, plenty of water and power bars are the order of the day. The altitude is also a constant. Hiking above 10,000 feet means that you need to anticipate the effects of thin air on the body.
But other conditions are not set in stone — so to speak. Most of all the weather is changeable. A late summer snowpack blocks access to familiar trails, forcing alternative routes. The threat of rain requires different gear than a sunny day. The risk of late afternoon lightening puts you on alert. You take along a map, but realize that situational awareness is essential.
High altitude hikes over complex terrain and changeable conditions serve as a good metaphor for the experiences of those professionals whose work focuses on assisting military families. Family readiness is the objective. As the Department of Defense has noted, this involves, “The state of being prepared to effectively navigate the challenges of daily living experienced in the unique context of military service.” Doing so requires an appreciation for those fixed features in the landscape, such as long-established practices and policies that make military life distinct. It also requires an awareness of constantly shifting circumstances and challenges that take form in changes to the way programs and services are delivered and in the way we understand human needs and conditions.
Through its many resources and learning opportunities, the Military Families Learning Network is dedicated to military family readiness and support. A quick survey of the network’s many webinars, podcasts, blogs, and videos provide a deep reservoir of knowledge and information to draw from. I am especially excited about the MFLN’s upcoming Virtual Conference that is organized around the theme of “Relationships for Readiness.” This free, three day virtual conference starts on September 17 and continues through September 19, 2019. Through virtual presentations, panel discussions, and opportunities for participant interaction, the conference will focus not only on the fixed features of the military family readiness system, but also on new issues and emerging practices in the field.
Our journeys are best when we are prepared to encounter that which is known and that which is uncertain. Be it on a high mountain hike, or navigating the complexities of helping families help themselves, readiness is key.