Military families are the Canadian Armed Forces’ centre of gravity.

As a husband and father who spent four decades as an airman in the Royal Canadian Air Force, I consider this metaphor to be my personal mantra. I believe this expression perfectly describes what a military family is: the point over which the entire body of our military finds its balance.

Much as an aircraft’s stability depends on its centre of gravity, the unconditional support military families offer their loved ones directly impacts their ability to face the challenges of military service.

When Canadian military personnel are called on to spend long hours performing their duties, provide emergency relief across Canada, or be deployed for months at a time overseas, it is the family that provides a sense of stability to the serving member. In many ways, the family experiences many of the same fluctuations of military life that our serving members go through: constantly changing schedules, being ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and the unfortunate possibility of dealing with life-changing loss and injury that come with protecting one’s country.

Until this point in our nation’s history, military families’ self-sacrifice has gone under the radar. From the First World War, through to the second, the eyes of the nation were naturally focused on the warriors who set off to fight the scourge of tyranny that had overtaken Europe. When I now think about soldiers from that time-period, such as the RCAF’s no. 110 Army Cooperation Squadron that set off for Britain just after Valentine’s Day in 1940, my eyes are focused on the loved ones left behind. The monumental task of keeping life on the home front together, both without knowing when one’s loved one would return, or if they would return at all, required incredible courage. Seeing how my own wife and children held down the fort while I fulfilled my duties both at home and abroad, I now recognize that they are part of this great tradition of brave military families.

With the advent of Military Family Appreciation Day on the third Friday of each September, I hope Canadians will begin to recognize that military families face complicated and unique challenges. These experiences can either strengthen or weaken a family’s resolve to continue supporting their loved one who wishes to serve in the CAF. If a family doesn’t have its loved one’s back, whether in battle or in getting through the grind of training cycles and military life in general, our military simply won’t be able to have our backs, as the expression goes.

When the RCAF was preparing to launch its Aviation Task Force into Afghanistan, my colleagues and I recognized as Commander 1 Wing, that we had to make sure not only our aviators were looked after and prepared for their mission, but that their families were as well. Through open lines of communication, we quickly began to understand that our soldiers’ ability to succeed depended greatly on having an effective family support system. Combat effectiveness and resilience are only possible when people are being taken care of. Although the CAF provides as much as it can to all its personnel, there is a level of care that only a family can provide.

Keeping an aviator balanced and able to focus is a matter of life and death.

Although the historical contribution our military made in the two world wars and our mission in Afghanistan loom large in the public consciousness where the Canadian Armed Forces are concerned, I want people to understand that Military Family Appreciation Day is about the daily sacrifices military families make for all of us, both on the home front and in the 20 countries our military is currently deployed in.

Last summer, the first summer of my retirement, I enjoyed uninterrupted leisure time with my family, whom I personally celebrate for having made my military career possible. This past summer, Canada seized the opportunity to recognize and honour the contributions of the unsung heroes who help keep our country strong and free. Let’s take this opportunity to thank military families for their service in the CAF and to keeping our country safe.

Lieutenant - General (Ret’d) Alain J. Parent, CMM, CD, is the Former Acting Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and an Honorary Council Member of Together We Stand.