This paper investigates the different ways in which Australian Defence Force (ADF) partners use informal Facebook groups to navigate the challenges of military life. These private groups have grown exponentially with the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies allowing ADF partners to share information, seek support and navigate military life away from official support systems. This paper also discusses the types of ways partners form community and the opportunities and potential risks involved in the disclosure of sensitive information. A recent Defence families survey indicated that ADF partners see children’s education, quality and location of housing and partner employment as their most important concerns and will go online to seek information from other partners when issues arise. There are a range of opportunities for official support channels to harness the power of these partner networks to educate and support military families.
People who begin a relationship with someone who works in the military suddenly enters a world quite unlike any they have previously known. While the serving military member has an established workplace, connections and community, often the civilian ADF partner has to establish his or her own network while frequently moving around locations following the serving member’s military posting orders. The ADF partner needs to learn how to navigate the various contributors in the Defence community space, get used to their own company due to frequent serving member absences, change jobs often, have plans interrupted and possibly learn how to manage extended periods of solo parenting. In recent years the formation of online ADF partner communities has grown exponentially. This paper will examine the way informal Facebook groups provide military partners with an invaluable online community that allows them to connect with others, share information about the unique nature of military life, and learn about official support mechanisms.
What is important to ADF partners and families?
The 2019 Defence Census (Australian Department of Defence, 2020) identified that there are 58 476 permanent full time ADF members and 66% of ADF members had partners. Eighty percent of full-time members are male. According to recent ADF Families Research (Tan, 2020, p. 7) 92% of those that responded had civilian partners who were female. This research also identified that the most important considerations for ADF families are children’s education, quality and location of housing and ADF partner employment. Finding a supportive community is crucial for military families in order to be able to manage the unique challenges that service life presents. Prior to the introduction of the internet and the ability to share and form online communities, military families would meet in person on bases. Often military provided houses were located in close proximity to other military housing, and organised events were held for families on bases, particularly for those new to the location. As the internet and associated Web 2.0 technologies grew so did the participation in virtual community networking for military families. These interactions comply with the definition of virtual community suggested by Chiu, Hsu and Wang (2006) ‘Virtual communities are online social networks in which people with common interests, goals, or practices interact to share information and knowledge, and engage in social interactions.’ (Chiu, Military partners form online communities to ask for advice, seek support and engage with others in similar situations.
These online communities help to bridge geographical challenges and allow ADF partners to connect with others across Australia, not just in their local community. The formation of private Facebook groups for ADF partners continues to grow as the needs arise. Several groups for partners in Australia have several thousand members, while smaller local groups have also formed to find connections in the geographical posting locations such as Townsville Defence Partnersor by services such as royal Australian Navy Partners. When an ADF partner is moving to a new location, they will often seek advice as to what the new Facebook group is called in that location. These groups are moderated by ADF partners. Moderation styles are different depending on the group type. In these types of groups, the most common questions tend to centre around things like childcare and schooling recommendations, looking for medical practitioners, or organising in person meet ups in the local area. There has also been an increased level of partners sharing their own businesses in the groups as military families love to support other military and veteran-owned businesses. More niche national groups such as Defence Families Plant Lovers, Australian Defence Pet Sitting, Careers for Defence Partners have also been formed from a desire from military partners with a common focus to connect with others from across Australia for that specific purpose. Burnett, (2000) describes virtual communities as not only a place for social settings but as ‘information neighbourhoods’ where participants can come to the community knowing others share similar experiences, where they can ask questions, expect answers and exchange information.
Mental health and reaching out online
Wellbeing and mental health in the military space is of the utmost importance with the suicide rates of ADF members medically discharging being far higher than that of the general population (Australian Institute Health and Welfare, 2020). With this in mind, mental health of ADF partners and children is also of concern. Often it is the partner of the serving member that will notice the decline of mental health in the serving member and sometimes it can affect the partner and children as well. (Evans, Romaniuk, & Theal, 2021) Deployments and long absences from home of the serving member can leave the ADF partner feeling vulnerable and isolated, and it is vitally important that they are given support and provided with coping strategies if required. ADF partners often reach out for help and support in the Facebook groups from other partners, with others sharing their own experiences and offering advice on what works for them. Rea, Behnke, Huff, & Allen, (2015) discussed the importance that social media plays for military partners to connect with other partners particularly when the member is deployed, for personal insight, information and to gain comfort in knowing there were others that had experienced the same feelings. The military can place added strain on relationships and it’s not uncommon for ADF partners to reach out in the Facebook groups wanting to know what is normal and what’s not, especially when the member may have returned from a deployment (Nichols et al., 2015). There is a potential opportunity here to create social media content on healthy relationships that could be shared into the Facebook groups and encourage ADF partners to seek additional support for themselves.
ADF Partner Employment
ADF partner employment is also an area of concern for ADF partners who move regularly with their military member and are frequently changing jobs. Unemployment and underemployment are often higher than in the civilian population (McCue, 2017). This can have a profound effect on the partner’s financial and emotional wellbeing. Out of a need for community the unofficial Facebook group, Careers for Defence Partners was created by an ADF partner to specifically look at employment in the military partner space. Gee, Jones, & Burke, (2017) suggest that over 50% of jobs are sourced through a ‘social tie’. The Careers for Defence Partners group has grown to over 2000 members who share online jobs advertisement links, training opportunities and advice for those looking for work. Some members of the page work in the recruitment sector or career development space themselves and will offer their own professional advice to other partners looking for work. Often links to official ADF partners employment support will be added in the group such as the Partner Employment Assistance Program (PEAP) offered by Defence to partners to help support employment prospects. The Facebook page of Defence Families of Australia (DFA), the independent advocacy body for current ADF families, indicates that the job posts that are shared to Facebook groups consistently receive a strong reach of numbers. This social network information sharing in a Facebook group has become invaluable to the ADF partner employment community.
Virtual communities are often considered places where alternative information is sourced and shared, compared with those of official channels. (Zha, Zhang, Yan, & Zha, 2015) Military virtual communities are no different. ADF partners in Facebook groups like to offer advice on anything from housing entitlements and policy, ways to cope with deployments to finding elusive phone numbers for duty officers on bases. With any online community there is always an element of risk with regards to the information being shared. In the military community this risk is known as operational security (OPSEC). This would include things like date and locations of deployments and other classified information. ADF members are well versed on what to say and what not to say online with recent media reports advising members to ensure they obey the ‘Defence Media and Communication Policy’ (Greene & Oakes, 2020). ADF partners however are under no such guidelines and often left to work it out for themselves. Johnson, Lawson, & Ames, (2018) identified that partners do not currently receive any official guidance from Defence about what they can and can’t post online and that it is largely left to the ADF member to advise or for the moderators of the Facebook groups to control the dialogue. DFA, published a blog post (Defence Families of Australia, 2020) on OPSEC and shared this to social media channels in an effort to inform and educate partners about what they can disclose online. Johnson et al., (2018) also identified that ADF partners have a deep sense of ensuring their ADF members remain safe and are committed to being safe online. There is opportunity here to educate partners to ensure OPSEC is adhered to. The moderators and groups do tend to self moderate posts that don’t adhere to perceived guidelines and posters will be pulled up if they overstep the boundaries. The official support channels such as Defence Community Organisation (DCO) could seek to harness the power of the unofficial Facebook ADF partner groups to provide such support to ADF partners. This could be done by creating engaging content on official social media pages that can then be shared into Facebook groups by ADF partners who work in such organisations or are familiar with them. This will ensure accuracy of knowledge sharing within those communities. This is especially important for new ADF partners that may be experiencing a deployment of their service member for the first time. This type of information sharing does not have to be limited to OPSEC but could include mental health directives and ADF partner employment information.
This paper has discussed the number of ways ADF partners join online communities with the increased use of Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook groups. There are a number of specific ‘information neighbourhoods’ that form when the particular need arises within the ADF partner community. ADF partners engage with each other to seek support for themselves, offer advice to others and learn about the intricacies of military life from other partners. There are some risks associated with sharing information online with information pertaining to OPSEC inadvertently being shared online. There are opportunities to educate ADF partners on what they can and can’t say online in relation to military security. ADF partners also seek support for employment and in managing mental health for themselves and their ADF members. There is a large amount of trust placed in these groups through knowledge sharing and disclosure, and there are opportunities for official Defence support channels to create engaging educational content that could be shared via official social media channels and then by ADF partners who work within the official organisations across to the unofficial networks.
Australian Department of Defence. (2020). Defence Census 2019: Public report. Retrieved from https://www1.defence.gov.au/about/census
Australian Institute Health and Welfare. (2020). National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2020 update. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/64a2cab8-19ff-49aa-9390-197a1ec0b81c/aihw-phe-277.pdf.aspx?inline=true
Burnett, G. (2000). Information exchange in virtual communities: a typology. Information Research, (5), 4. Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/5-4/paper82.html
Chiu, C. M., Hsu, M. H., & Wang, E. T. G. (2006). Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories. Decision Support Systems, 42(3), 1872–1888. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dss.2006.04.001
Defence Families of Australia. (2020). What is OPSEC (Operational Security) online? – Defence Families of Australia. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://dfa.org.au/what-is-opsec-operational-security-online/
Evans, J., Romaniuk, M., & Theal, R. (2021). Evaluation of mental health first aid training for family members of military veterans with a mental health condition. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1), 128. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03139-9
Gee, L. K., Jones, J., & Burke, M. (2017). Social networks and labor markets: How strong ties relate to job finding on facebook’s social network. Journal of Labor Economics, 35(2), 485–518. https://doi.org/10.1086/686225
Greene, A., & Oakes, D. (2020). ADF personnel warned about social media use after offensive Instagram account uncovered. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-10/adf-personnel-warned-about-social-media-use-after-instagram/12749150
Johnson, A., Lawson, C., & Ames, K. (2018). “Use your common sense, don’t be an idiot”: Social Media Security Attitudes amongst Partners of Australian Defence Force Personnel. Security Challenges2, 14(1), 53–64. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26488491?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
McCue, A. (2017). Military (ADF) Spouse Employment & Career Development. Retrieved from https://www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellow/amanda-mccue-act-2017/
Nichols, L. O., Martindale-Adams, J., Zuber, J., Graney, M., Burns, R., & Clark, C. (2015). Support for Spouses of Postdeployment Service Members. Military Behavioral Health, 3(2), 125–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/21635781.2015.1009210
Rea, J., Behnke, A., Huff, N., & Allen, K. (2015). The Role of Online Communication in the Lives of Military Spouses. Contemporary Family Therapy, 37(3), 329–339. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-015-9346-6
Tan, C. (2020). Australian Defence Force: Families research 2019, (July), 1–87. https://dfa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2019-survey-report-2.pdf
Zha, X., Zhang, J., Yan, Y., & Zha, D. (2015). Sound information seeking in Web 2.0 virtual communities: the moderating effect of mindfulness. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(9), 920–935. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144929X.2015.1027876
27 thoughts on “Finding Community Online as a Military Partner”
A great paper Michelle with so much insight into the world and community you are a part of!
I found your research to lend a positive perspective to the idea of creating community and the benefits it might have ‘offline’. As you mentioned, having a lack of your own family around means that the military families become your own. I am sure this sense of communty is irreplaceable! I found it interesting to read how communicating with your spouse has evolved over the years. Unbeleivable that you have made it 20 years as military family! It made me wonder if having a community to support and understand you has contributed to your ability to function and thrive, both in yourself and as a family? If this community and indeed the ability to share experiences and problems with others in the same boat was not available do you think you would have had the same positive relationship with military life?
Hey Jess – lovely to ‘see’ you here!
Thanks for commenting – I think we have always tried to make the most out of the situation we land in. I probably painted quite a rosy picture. It hasn’t always rosy. But we have certainly grown with each other and we’ve always made communication a very important part of our relationship. As with our military friendship circle. I have again been very lucky. I have met lifelong friends both in and ‘married’ to the military and I really do credit that luck with our overall experience. I have certainly had to draw on some resilience from time to time, but online and offline community, some sort of social connection in my mind is essential to not just surviving military life but living it well – I won’t say thriving, that hasn’t always been the case. But we do make the most of it where we can.
Thanks for your paper Michelle, I had no idea about the depth and variety of social media supports for defence families.
Are there any negative aspects to the community? Is some behaviour criticise or judged by the social media pages?
Best wishes, sonia
Thanks for your comments on my paper.
Military families are quite resourceful and tend to find and form communities each time they move. We don’t always have family and friends around. You can often post to a location and know no one. Social media provides a good way to connect with others and find that collective knowledge from those that understand military life.
I think with any online community not everyone is going to ‘play nice’ but in the communities, I have been in, poor behaviour tends to shut down by the moderators and the community itself. For example, as discussed in my paper, the notion of OPSEC, if someone starts to discuss something that could be seen to be against Operational Security Guidelines, you will find that they will be picked up on it and told to modify/delete their post. Depends on the group.
I think one negative aspect is for those not linked in with the groups. I personally have met people and found out about all sorts of information via military Facebook groups and I wonder what the trick is to connect with those not linked in. Do you have to be online and active on Facebook to find out information?
Thank you for your paper, and you have some very interesting points that you have made. This was the first paper I have read, where this has a personal experience to it, which was very refreshing to read, and I could identity with some of your points. I found the most interesting thing was how finding supportive communities are essential for military families. In some ways, I can relate as my husband is a FIFO worker, and I often thought how there could be a community based around this. It can be incredibly lonely for families and just sharing the challenges that you face. I guess Facebook is a great way for people to connect if they wish. I do wonder, however, if they haven’t offered something like this rather than Facebook, and this questions me if someone does write something that may be inappropriate language, how is this dealt with within the group page. Some of the comments already have mentioned how there needs to be a better structure for communication channels for a support network. We have seen the Facebook platform changing with technology affordances and people’s trust within a community. Citizens feel comfortable sharing and discuss their challenges, and would these communities then start to talk about political matters and have discussions. How could you monitor the situation and some citizens would be free expression themselves through these online communities. If you would like to read my paper, I look at how platforms can have freedom of expression and how Facebook has moved strategies to encourage political discussions. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/facebook-and-twitter-have-become-a-third-space-for-citizens-to-have-freedom-of-expression-on-political-views/
There certainly are some parallels between the FIFO community and the military community. Isolation, loneliness and being separated from your partner.
The Facebook groups have been created from a need to find community. I have found that the moderators of each group tend to be quite good and call people out for saying anything that could be considered inappropriate. The community also helps to moderate itself.
Sometimes there are political discussions in the groups and depending on the moderators and how the conversation goes, depends on if they are paused or not. They don’t tend to get too political though. They mostly tend to be around military life.
Like in your paper I think ADF partners can be influenced by what they read in the groups. That is where I see the opportunities for getting more official support information into the groups.
Good afternoon Michelle,
Thank you for such an informative and thought-provoking paper. I have a brother in the Navy and know that we don’t get to speak often because he is either too busy or has no signal to make calls and whatnot.
Incidentally, his partner is also in the Navy, but they do not work in the same places. Your paper brought a few questions to mind. As previously mentioned by a few other commenters, isolation must be a challenge for the families of ADF personnel. Do you think that social media addresses the challenge of isolation well enough? Could more be done, for example by the government, to help with the challenges of isolation as well as issues of underemployment and unemployment?
I also wonder what, if any, support is available for people in situations where both partners in a relationship are serving ADF personnel. This paper definitely identifies areas for future research, including how better support systems might be put in place to support ADF members and their families. There would also be families of ADF members who do not use social media, and I wonder how they deal with networking and isolation without the help of social media.
Thanks for commenting on my paper.
There is support for ADF families provided by Defence. I think perhaps the issue is that families sometimes aren’t aware of what is available. I feel that a more strategic approach to communications to families might be one way to look at this. There are some more supports for partners in the employment space provided by Defence. One is called the Partner Employment Assistance Program (PEAP) which provides funding for career support.
Social media for me personally has definitely helped with isolation and loneliness. Just knowing there are others out there dealing with the same things and understand the unique nature of military life is strangely comforting. I have seen online connections made which then crossover to offline. As I have mentioned in some of the other replies there is this element of trust that the military community has with its own.
Duel serving couples are supported like other families. They do have access to the same supports.
Those families that don’t use social media are of concern. I have often thought about how to connect with them. Requires a better real-life approach perhaps from the units they are attached to?
Can information be sent to them directly by email or snail mail? Certainly requires a multi-faceted approach. Lots of food for thought.
Apologies for the late response, it has been a busy week with the conference proceedings.
You mentioned that families aren’t always aware of what support is available, I wonder if there can be a simple approach to communicating what is available to families. Email and snail mail sounds like a great idea, maybe these methods can direct spouses to support networks and social media spaces? I don’t know if there are functions that military spouses attend with their partners, but if so they may be a good place to network. Maybe gatherings can work alongside social media to share knowledge and strengthen community ties, which is something I’ve suggested in my paper.
Your paper really made me think, so I had a few other questions come to mind that I was curious about.
Would you consider these social media spaces as more networks or communities? I was thinking it might be different for everyone and some people might make stronger ties than others because they move frequently? Other people obviously form stronger ties as you’ve said, you’ve seen some friendships carry over into offline spaces. It is good to hear that there is that element of trust amongst these groups, it must go a long way towards being able to seek support.
It sounds like these kinds of social media spaces are the kinds of communities and have the kinds of benefits I was referring to in my own paper, linked below.
Thank you for sharing your paper with us. It has certainly opened my eyes to the challenges associated with ADF life. My son (14) is keen on entering the armed forces in the next couple of years so it is reassuring to some degree, that there are social media groups that offer support to ADF families.
I could imagine that these Facebook groups would be tight, connected communities; offering acceptance, empathy and insight for those that join them.
Have you found that the Facebook groups have mostly replaced the face-to-face ADF partner communities of pre-Web 2.0, or supplemented/enhanced them? What of friendships made on the Facebook groups? Do they exist and to what depth?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thank you, Vanessa.
Thanks for your comment. My husband has been in the RAAF now for 25 years and it has been a very rewarding career. His father was in the Army for 40 years. Good luck to your son!
ADF family life can have its challenges but we always try to make the most of it. Support for families continues to improve and the community as you say is very ‘tight’ and do look out for each other in a sense. I know as a partner I have made lifelong friends in military life. The friendships run very deep with the military community. Often you don’t have your own family around, so the military family becomes that family. Especially during challenging times such as illness for yourself or children when the ADF member is away. When they are away it is almost a given that something will break!
Speaking of my own experience and observations, the online groups haven’t replaced face-to-face contact as such, if anything I think they open people up to the community more. Often in groups, local face-to-face events are arranged. There is often a sense of trust with other military partners that they know how crazy this life can be at times. There is often a sense of loneliness when the ADF partner is absent for long periods and I know these communities can be a place of support. Just knowing that you are not alone. Years ago when I was a new partner there was not that instant community online. You had to find it yourself in the town or the city to where you were posted. That still happens, but the online communities can and have the potential to facilitate it somewhat.
As with any community not everyone plays nice and there can be blow-ups and tantrums also. But at its core, it is an incredibly supportive community. This does require you to put yourself out there somewhat but I have found the groups to be mostly very supportive.
Those in the groups are also very knowledgeable. Years of experience, where other partners can ask how to navigate the system.
I am finding a lot more of the younger and ‘new’ partners seek advice and support online and end up finding community.
Excellent paper, Michelle! You managed to pack in lots of personal insight and research into a well-written article. I have learned a lot about a subject I had zero knowledge of, and your photographs were a charming touch. Thank you!
My ponderings are as follows.
The digital era certainly has improved socialisation and support for groups such as ADF partners. It’s a perfect group to study pervasive awareness and persistent contact because they move around so much and are at risk of feeling lonely and isolated. I’m sure some of the partners make strong connections (life-long friends) from these weak-tie connections on online groups. Not many civilian partners would understand the challenges that ADF partners face, which must bond them closer together.
I wonder if there is an emphasis on keeping social connections within the defence organisation for security reasons? You mentioned that partners are not well-versed in OPSEC and mostly have to work it out for themselves. Do you think this creates a bit of fear when communicating with those outside the defence community? Having specific ‘information neighbourhoods’ or business and interest groups such as ‘Defence Families Plant Lovers and Australian Defence Pet Sitting’ would be of help if that were the case. But I also wonder if being too assimilated to the defence community might not further distance partners from the broader community. Or perhaps there are so many people in the defence community that the groups are diverse and represent a wide range of people as other community groups do?
Do you think that ADF partners reach out for help and support on Facebook groups because there isn’t enough systemic support offered by the government? I found this to be the case when researching my paper on survivors of sexual assault. Or do you think it is a preferred place to go, because of the transient nature of these families, or some other reason? It is great that social media has opened up new avenues for support to bridge the gaps that already exist.
I think your suggestion for the DCO to harness ADF social media groups is a good one; perhaps they could make use of your professional skills :). I’m sure you would have many ways to engage and support ADF partners, especially new ones, wherever they are.
Thanks so much!
It looks like my formatting only worked somewhat Michelle, sorry it is a bit bunchy!
Thanks for your lovely comments!
You are absolutely right in assuming that military families can feel isolated and lonely. I think that the Facebook groups can certainly go a long way in supporting families that feel like this. There is a certain element of trust in other military partners online. And yes, I have made lifelong friends in the military community. Lots of shared experiences, both good and bad.
I don’t know if there is fear as such when communicating outside the community. There is often misunderstanding perhaps with ‘civilian’ friends around deployments and long absences from home. Things like “I don’t know why you do this” and “that seems unfair” often get thrown our way. We know our partners want to be in the military and for some (not all) we just accept this is the life you have if you happen to love someone in the military.
There is support, the trick is finding it, knowing what is available and for Defence to find some creative engagement strategies to connect with partners and families. There are probably a lot of things that could be done better to support families during service so that when the member leaves service they are already connected and know how to navigate civilian life. There is a lot of work going on in this space now.
I work for DFA (Defence Families of Australia) which is the national advocacy body for ADF families. We do work with various stakeholders across the Defence space including DCO and their communications have improved in the last few years. We are only a small organisation ourselves, but we do work to try and advocate for families.
I noted in your paper, that when people write things in these private groups, they often feel seen and heard. I think this happens in military groups also. Just knowing people know what you might have experienced can help and support a possible stranger on the internet. Pre Web 2.0, this would have had to have happened in real life and I think the internet facilitates this far more effectively.
The next trick is to engage with those not on Facebook! Is Tik Tok next?
Thanks for your reply and expanding on these things. I understand a bit more about the value of these groups when you have specific experiences and accept certain things that civilians may not have insight into, e.g. partners being away for extended periods.
It’s good to know there is support out there and that you are actually working in this area! I’m sure your learnings through this course are invaluable to DFA.
Learning about web media, I think it is a good idea to have a web presence across different platforms, rather than e.g. create a specific app and have members just use that. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube etc are ubiquitous these days and most people have some experience with them. Having content and support across popular platforms, that link to a main hub (app or website), is a good idea. Does the DFA have a podcast?
The digital/Internet world is like anything technological, it is constantly changing and updating and is largely driven by the user end experience. For me, the key is to keep up with the latest developments and what works for people and what doesn’t. You never stop learning.
Keep up the great work!
Hi again Eve
At the moment DFA reaches across Facebook, Instagram (which is growing), Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. You can access any of these from the website
We have also produced a series of webinars and videos which I upload to YouTube.
I would love to do a podcast but my time and DFA resourcing are pretty limited. I am only part-time and I am the whole Comms team! You are right though, this study has certainly enhanced my learning about digital media and communications and vastly improved my work. This is actually my last subject!
There is an excellent podcast on Australian military life from the views of partners called the Military Wife Life which is produced by a Navy partner who is also creating community online.
I would dearly love to start creating content for TikTok, there is a whole new community of younger military partners coming through now who would be considered Generation X.
After reading many of the excellent papers on this conference site on TikTok I believe it is the next place to connect and potentially share valuable information about support services. I might have to sub-contract my teenagers into creating content for me.
Thanks so much for passing on these links! I’ve had a quick look and it looks like the ADF has a good grasp of having a professional presence in the digital space, especially around forming community. What tool do you use for your YouTube vid? It looks great!
I think you are right about TikTok, I don’t have much experience on the platform either, but I will have to get my head around it if I want a well-rounded web communications education lol. I’ll have a read of the TikTok papers this week for sure, thanks for the hot tip 😉
And well done on finishing your studies! Not long now!
Firstly, my respects to all past and present members of the Australian Defense Force, and also to the wives, children and extended families of our serving members – I thank and salute you all.
I can’t begin to imagine the anxieties that come with being an ADF partner. It takes a very special person to serve and an even more special person to be the backbone of serving member.
I would like to start by congratulating you on your paper. It was informative and really brings home the realities of the sacrifices made by people like yourself, so that those serviving can do what has to be done to keep our great country safe.
I was amazed to read, however Michelle, of difficulties faced by people like yourself, when it comes to communication. I had always assumed that video up-link was often accessible to families prior to Web 2.0 and all the convenience it brings. I guess some of us really do take for granted the roll that social media applications are playing in keeping ADF partner’s lives as normal as possible. Until recently, l almost only ever saw the negative side of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. However, for families like yours, l realise now how important these social media platforms are for linking and support purposes – like you mentioned with mental health, job change, employment, housing. l can see now how it is genuinely relied upon to keep families like yours in contact with others that can also appreciate and understand your position for guidance and support.
Good Luck, to you and your family and thankyou.
Congratulations on your paper, it is a real eye opener.
Thank you for your kind comments.
It is a unique lifestyle that military families live. I think sometimes it can be very misrepresented in the media.
It has lots of good points, but navigating the various challenges can be tricky especially for those new to military life. Prior to social media, we did have some video calling (Skype) when the serving member was absent but of course, that would depend on the technology available. Prior to that, and I am showing my age now, there was a satellite phone, which would often drop out and you would not hear from them again for a week. Bases also have notoriously poor phone connections. But potentially good internet, so we have often chatted on say Facebook Messenger rather than speaking on the phone. Military families are very adept at communication and finding out what works.
Many parts of the middle east didn’t always have great internet. Crews on Navy vessels often had limited communications. This has vastly improved. Time differences can also make connection hard.
Communication can also be limited when members attend courses or go on field exercises, which in today’s connected world can be frustrating when normally you can contact your partner immediately.
Partners often turn to the online community to ask for advice or to read about the experiences of others in similar situations.
Having been ‘married’ to the military for twenty years this year, writing this paper did cause me to reflect on how much has improved, however, families are still working their way through the same issues. I would like to see a little bit more innovative ways to support families in this sense and social media seems like one of the ways to get messages across to inform those families of what support is available.
As I was reading, I kept thinking that these groups would have been great and beneficial to me and my former partner (still serving) as I was transitioning out of the military and back into the civilian world, although we were still posted to that location for another couple of years. One of the most demoralising things about leaving the military is once you leave, it is like a door being closed to you. The advent of social media platforms such as Facebook made it easier to re-establish connect with friends, however had these platforms been active they could have possible acted as a bridging system between the two worlds and assisted me in creating new friendships away from the military, but with the sphere of the military.
OPSEC is an interesting topic as ADF Personal get yearly training on various topics including that of OPSEC and you are correct partners are expected to fend for themselves and learn the hard way. On discharge I had to sign a type of Non-Disclosure form, that forbade me to discuss anything for up to and including a period of 2 Years. Do you think that the Defence Service Partners that are in place for families (I can’t remember the name of the ones in Townsville anymore) can play a part in consulting with Defence and creating a guide for partners and families?
Firstly, thank you for your service! Thanks also for commenting on my paper.
I do see many Facebook groups (communities) being established for those who have served. A lot of these talk about how to navigate things around the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and what to do on transition. It’s pleasing to see Defence has established the Joint Transition Authority (JTA) and the way people transition from Defence is consistently improving. I often see official links being shared in these online communities.
I don’t think you are alone in experiencing a sense of loss when leaving service. There are many Ex Service Organisations (ESOs) that support veterans but again perhaps a disconnect when you leave and you are left to find the one that suits you? And there are so many ESOs.
From memory, there was a Defence Fasmily Matters (DFM) magazine article about OPSEC several years ago but not much since. It would be great to have a guide (even an online link) that could be given to new partners so they understand what they can and can’t say. That being said, the groups do tend to moderate themselves fairly well. I have seen some partners ostracised online though which is difficult.
Townsville has an excellent Community Centre called Geckos. I am sure they would have some great input for information that could be given to new partners.
This is a great paper! Especially because you have such a personal connection with the topic. These online communities sound so beneficial and important it’s almost surprising that the Defence Force doesn’t have official groups and forums where they address common queries and problems – like the OPSEC etc.
You mentioned that there used to be catch on military bases. Do these still happen concurrently with SNS groups? Or are catch ups and friendships now initiated purely online by the individuals themselves? Did networking and dynamics change during COVID?
Thanks for your comments.
Apologies for the delay in replying. I have had an injured hand and everything is taking me twice as long!
There are still some events happening on bases. Most bases need an ID for access. Partners need to know how to do this and it must be initiated by the member. During the pandemic obviously, catch-ups in person could not happen but there were some initiatives for Zoom catch ups.
Some of the Community Centres got very creative with things like online trivia nights. Possibly when more families lived on bases, there were more opportunities to meet other ADF families informally. For the most part, most military housing is more spread out now. There are some exceptions.
I think it would have been hard to post to a new location last year and try and establish a community especially in Victoria, as the various lockdowns would have made it difficult.
I often see in the Facebook Groups, partners reaching out to others to establish friendships offline. Defence Community Centre (DCO) which is the Defence family support branch do run coffee mornings and events. During the pandemic, they ran information webinars for the first time which was a good way for families to learn about Defence life. Defence Families of Australia (DFA) who I work for also ran some webinars.
I think the main issues are nothing is consistent. I would love to see a more strategic approach to communications with families to help support the ADF community so families are well supported.
I think I heard on ABC radio that there is a mental health enquiry into the Australian DF. Perhaps when recommendations are made after the inquiry one them will be the connectedness and wellbeing of family units and partners as well… it seems a logical step.
Thanks for bringing it to my attention 🙂
Current there is feedback being provided into the Terms of Reference for the
Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide. This has only been recently announced.
Some of the themes in this do include looking at family support. As I mentioned in my paper it is often the families that know that something is not ok with the ADF member before the workplace. This will be quite a far-reaching enquiry and as a family advocate, it will be interesting to observe its progress and eventual recommendations.
Thanks for sending through a link to your paper, Michelle. This is a good exploration of the literature around social media engagement and military partners in Australia. I especially like your use of Burnett’s ‘information neighbourhoods to analyse the online ADF partner community.
I’m interested to hear what you think is missing from the field- what areas of future research do you think should be explored?
Thanks for your comment. I was excited to be able to use one of your papers too!
Sorry for the delay in replying. I have had an injury to my hand and typing (and everything else) has been slow.
I think Defence needs to look at more of a multi-faceted approach to communication to ADF families. Currently, it appears quite ad hoc. During the pandemic, Defence Community Organisation (DCO) definitely upped their engagement with webinars and more information type social media posts. This was good to see. Defence Families of Australia (DFA) is not quite resourced to produce a large scale communications plan but could do so by collaborating with other stakeholders in the space with information that is consistent and engaging, and that could be shared into the more informal groups.
I would like to see more of this across different social media presences such as Defence itself and the services. I would also like to see more communication from the units. Some units are great at communicating with their families, but it very much depends on who is in Command at the time. This became apparent to me looking at members that were working away from their families. The families don’t appear to have a lot of contact with Defence.
Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and even Toll could look at more a strategic communications plan in getting information out to families regarding housing and relocations.
ForceNet which is a new internal communications platform within Defence has a lot of potential. There are some bases using it well in communicating to families, but again very ad hoc. Nothing is consistent when families relocate.
Some Community Centres do a great job in communicating to families but again, many are staffed by volunteers and nothing is consistent.
In Canada, they have Military Family Resource Centres (MFRC) at every base. I would love to see some research into how to make something like this happen in Australia. So that each time you post, you know exactly where to go for support.
It’s often left up to the ADF member to let their partner know about support. It would be better if Defence could speak directly to families. This is happening in parts, but slowly.
As far as further study goes, I would like to see some research on new partners and what their needs would look like to enable them to navigate the complexities of military life.