Independence Day Military Family White House Picnic: What Service Members Would Ask Donald Trump

The nation celebrates the 242nd anniversary of the United States declaring independence from the British Empire on Wednesday, and President Donald Trump is preparing to host military service members on the White House lawn for an annual picnic.

As America reflects this week on its founding amid Lee Greenwood songs, sizzling steak BBQs and kids running around in red, white and blue apparel, Newsweek asked both current and former service members what they would ask the commander-in-chief if they were among the military families being welcomed to the White House to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Many of the service members and their families mentioned the president's rhetoric, military divorce rates, government assistance programs and contaminated drinking water, as recently reported by The New Republic, among the issues they would raise. In many cases, military families face the same social and economic issues threatening their civilian counterparts despite the civilian-military divide within the U.S. population.

One active-duty U.S. Army warrant officer, who asked not to be named due to Pentagon regulations on contact with members of the press, told Newsweek he was concerned about Trump's Twitter tirades and remarks directed at U.S. allies and NATO leaders.

"I'd ask [the president] if he's concerned about our image abroad," said the married U.S. Army warrant officer and father of two. "With all the loose rhetoric, families living in overseas locations may have to deal with increased friction, should [he] tone it down?"

The officer pointed to the president's June remarks, in which he criticized the German government's open-door policy toward migrants. "Crime in Germany is way up," Trump tweeted, when in fact, crime statistics released in May 2017 by the Federal Criminal Police Office showed that Germany experienced the lowest level of crime in 25 years.

The White House told Newsweek by email that both active duty and veteran military families, including Gold Star families and military members assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland have been invited to join the president and First Lady Melania Trump for an afternoon picnic before the evening display of traditional fireworks over the D.C. beltway.

Military families told Newsweek they fret over the amount of time spent away from family and wonder about the quality of their kids' childcare and future education. Anxiety over pay, health and retirement benefits grow prevalent as many military families require a dual income to make ends meet. Still others—more than 23,000 active-duty troops—are using the government food stamp program to supplement their income. Some service members told Newsweek they fear the deep cuts proposed by the White House to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

These stressors and others stemming from marital issues and 16 years of war are some of the more prevailing concerns facing military families, according to a 2017 survey by Blue Star Families, a non-profit organization designed to strengthen the military family dynamic.

Erin Anhalt, a former campaign manager for Democrat John M. Galbraith and spouse of a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, told Newsweek she would ask about "the erosion of civil rights and laws protecting women."

Anhalt also raised concerns about TRICARE, the Pentagon's health care program for uniformed service members, and how it generally does not cover reproductive services or assisted reproductive technologies. And, as a parent, Anhalt said she would also ask about what changes to the department of education mean for her autistic children. "Since [Trump's] election, I've been increasingly concerned for the future for my kids," Anhalt said.

And Lucas Dyer—a self-described "big Trump fan and supporter"—would ask the president about what he can do to help mitigate high military divorce rates. Dyer, a former Marine staff sergeant and married father of two whose first marriage ended in divorce, said he attributes his divorce to the multiple overseas deployments and lack of downtime when back in the United States. Roughly 21,290 service members out of 689,060 married troops divorced over fiscal year 2017, reported.

"What would he do? Or [what] could he do to help decrease this rate?" Dyer said.