WASHINGTON (Nov. 14, 2013) -- Service members' families also serve the nation and are the force behind the total force, a senior Defense Department official said, yesterday."Our military members are as effective as they can be because of the support their families provide them," said Barbara Thompson, director of DOD's office of family policy and children and youth. "[DOD] wants to make sure the people who are important in the lives of our service members -- spouses, children, parents, partners, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins -- are part of the military family."Military Family Month recognizes the sacrifices and contributions that family members make for national security, Thompson said, adding that it's important for families to know the country appreciates their tireless efforts to support their service members and communities.During Military Family Month, military installations will vary in their celebrations to recognize families, and family support centers will offer information on what's available, Thompson said. Year-round, however, support services exist through the Family Readiness System to help family members navigate any challenges they might face in their military lifestyle, she added. The system also includes resources for families who don't live on military installations.And that's where there's a growing need for community support of military households, Thompson said. For example, DOD offers a system involving professionals in a variety of fields, agencies, programs and services who are educated to meet the needs of military families.Two other initiatives that bring civilian resources together with military needs are the Military Families Learning Network and the How to Help program.The network comprises programs, services, people and agencies that promote quality of life for service members and their families, Thompson explained. Through the network, service members and families learn to take on new skills and challenges in all stages of their military life. The network primarily focuses on personal finance, child care, family development and network literacy, she added, but it is expected to expand to include military caregivers, community capacity building and relocation services.In the How to Help program, early childhood educators, extended family, friends, neighbors, financial professionals and experts in higher education also have learned how to help military families, using evidence-based guidance on how to help families with practical suggestions and links to community resources, she said.And individually, people who live in communities with military families can help to support their service member neighbors in several ways, Thompson said."People in the civilian sector who are not affiliated with the military need to realize that military members are an integral part of their communities," she said. "It's important to start by asking a question such as 'Have you served, or are you serving? And how can I help?'"One way people in the civilian community can begin to help their military neighbors is to learn about Joining Forces, an initiative established two years ago by First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Dr. Jill Biden, to mobilize support from every sector of American society to help service members, their families and veterans, Thompson suggested.Another community option to help support service members and their families is the Military OneSource website, which explains the military lifestyle and families' particular needs while living off an installation and in a neighborhood."It's important for the community to know where to go if they want to support military members and their families, especially during this month, since we're recognizing military families," Thompson said.