1. What is Operation: ScreamFree?

Operation: ScreamFree is a mission to help U.S. military families around the world grow calmer and closer, increasing their ability to survive the traumas of service, deployment, and war. This trauma includes an escalating divorce rate among soldiers with repeat deployments, worsening grades and behavior issues among children of deployed soldiers, and dramatically increased rates of spousal abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. And often, children suffer the most. According to a recent studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine:

  • child abuse and neglect rates increase by 195% when the soldier spouse is deployed
  • emotional abuse cases increase by 221% upon the soldier’s return
  • 17% of children with a deployed parent over a 4-year-period were diagnosed with a mental health disorder

For more details on all of these effects on the whole family, I urge you to check out the Dallas Morning News’ series on the military family, which you can find here.

2. Who is the organization behind Operation: ScreamFree?

The ScreamFree Institute is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to calming the world, one relationship at a time. It was created in 2009 as the primary vehicle for developing and delivering the revolutionary relationship approach of becoming "ScreamFree." This approach centers on individuals becoming less emotionally reactive, and more thoughtfully responsive. Learning to focus on managing themselves, rather than others, ScreamFree individuals are working to take full responsibility for all of their emotional reactions, thereby helping others in their relationship systems do the same.

This relationship approach is not new, for it is at the base of the soundest relationship wisdom of the ages. Modeled in history by leaders like Abraham and Jesus, and in the last century by revolutionaries like Gandhi and Rosa Parks, this nonreactive approach was best articulated through the development of Bowen Family Systems Theory, a theoretical base now taught in academic institutions around the world. Putting this theory, combined with other philosophical and religious principles, into a practical, popular language has been the professional mission of the Founder and President of The ScreamFree Institute, Hal Runkel.

A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, international speaker, conflict negotiator, and relationship coach, Hal Edward Runkel first articulated the ScreamFree approach in his first book, the NY Times bestselling ScreamFree Parenting. That book, now available in nine languages, started a movement among parents around the US and the world, and it directly led to the creation of The ScreamFree Institute. It was followed by Hal’s 2011 book, ScreamFree Marriage, already appearing now in five languages. Along the way, passionate partners came together, along with Hal, to form an organization that could best deliver this revolutionary approach to the world.

Jon Kaplan was among the first of these passionate partners, and since its inception, Jon has been the Managing Director of The ScreamFree Institute. After 15+ years in the software world, Jon discovered ScreamFree in 2004 and has been passionately involved ever since. Jon brings a background of sales, business development, marketing, and technology to the organization, and he is principally responsible for its day-to-day operations. His passion for helping people find peace in their lives is what drives his work every day.

Hal and Jon, along with their wives, Jenny and Tasha, have been the driving force behind the organization since the beginning. They have always been surrounded by fervent volunteers and staff, including Brenda Carroll, Tiffany Jenkins, Teresa Meyer, and Michelle Yarbrough. The ScreamFree Institute also boasts a network of 100s of trained and certified leaders, armed and equipped to deliver the ScreamFree message in multiple settings. These leaders are led by two in particular, Sarah Holley and Kelvin Teamer. Sarah is a gifted trainer and counselor, and she serves The Institute as Director of Leadership Development, keeping the network of leaders connected and continually equipped. Kelvin is a marriage and family therapist, and an exceptionally skilled presenter and trainer, and serves The Institute as a lead trainer in the best practices of communicating and leading others into the ScreamFree way of relationships.

3. How exactly does The ScreamFree Institute help Military families?

Since 2008, ScreamFree has been traveling out to military installations for a) trainings and b) classes, c) sending ScreamFree Parenting and ScreamFree Marriage products directly to families worldwide, and d) consulting with high-ranking military leadership about the best ways to make the ScreamFree principles active in families’ lives.

  • The trainings we conduct are 2-3 day “train-the-trainer” intensives, working to best equip family professionals working on post (social workers, Family Readiness leaders, marriage & family life consultants, in-home visitation experts, psychologists, chaplains, etc.) to best help the families they serve. Specifically, these certified trainers are equipped to lead small group ScreamFree classes and work one-on-one with parents and couples through the ScreamFree curricula. These leaders are then networked with other military family professionals at other installations to share their most effective practices in helping families get calmer and closer.
  • The classes we hold are for families on installation to attend in order to directly experience the ScreamFree message in a large group setting with me and/or our highly trained and experienced staff. These classes are extremely critical in mitigating the effects of the stigma that is sometimes associated with reaching out for any kind of help. By hosting an on-installation, relaxed, funny, and inclusive class, soldiers and their spouses are offered the space and grace they need to not only admit their struggles, but see that their struggles are not unique. In these classes, there is no rank that delineates the leaders from the followers, because in these classes, commanding generals and their wives are sitting next to single-parent privates, and all kinds of family constellations in between. In these classes, we’re all on the same level playing field, because we’re all allowing ourselves to admit that family life is incredibly difficult for anybody, and yet allowing ourselves the grace to learn from our mistakes and regain a sense of leadership in our own lives and homes.
  • The products we’ve provided to these families have included books, CDs, DVDs, personal study guides, and everything else you can order the ScreamFree website. These have gone primarily to participants in the classes we lead, and in the ongoing small-group classes led by the trained family professionals. Through the generosity of you, our ScreamFree supporters, we’ve also been able to donate books and other resources to over 1,000 families at military installations around the world. Currently, for instance, there are ScreamFree products in the hands of families at over 30 military installations around the globe, touching thousands of families.
  • The consulting invitations we’ve received to consult with and speak to military leadership has been remarkable, and humbling. No one can tell me that military brass doesn’t care about its families, or isn’t working hard enough to ensure that these ongoing wars don’t destroy the families involved. I’ve had the chance to meet top leaders at some of the largest military installations, and I’ve had the chance to speak publicly to thousands of leaders and family professionals at conferences and seminars. These are passionate, caring leaders working ceaselessly to improve family life for all soldiers, while they also work ceaselessly to end these wars and bring soldiers home. They have continuously praised ScreamFree for our efforts to assist their efforts, and they love how our programs and products are able to cut through the stigmas and reach those families that are usually the most reluctant to ask for help.

4. Is the U.S. military paying for ScreamFree’s products and programs, and if so, why is Operation: ScreamFree raising funds for its work with military families?

Yes, the U.S. military pays for ScreamFree to provide services and products to its soldiers and their families. And these funds help significantly to offset The ScreamFree Institute’s basic operating expenses. And combined with revenue collected in all of our other endeavors (working with schools, churches, businesses, and individual families), these funds ensure that no donated funds ever go to pay my salary…or for that matter, that of our Managing Director. And this is a policy and a practice that will never change. However, we have raised and will continue to raise additional funds so that we can do even more to assist Our Nation’s Finest Families. Here’s why:

  • We want to help many more families. As you can probably imagine, the military is spending billions to aid its families. But not only is that not enough to support the millions of families serving our country, those billions are shrinking each year. As the world economic crisis continues, budgets for aiding military families are necessarily contracting. This is simply the reality of the new world we inhabit. Thus, for instance, we have just entered into an engagement with the U.S. Army to deliver and distribute ScreamFree Parenting products and programs to 5,000 Army families across the U.S. This is a huge number and will make a significant impact. But keep in mind, there are approximately 1 million Army families worldwide. We need to train more professionals, meet with more families, and get the ScreamFree Parenting message into more homes. That takes additional funds, and that’s how we can all pitch in and participate.
  • We want to do more than what we’ve been doing. As we’ve traveled to military installations and conferences around the U.S., we have met with hundreds of families and trained hundreds as well. What we are continually left with, however, is a feeling of lost opportunity. An experience of unfinished business. We want to do more to ensure that the ScreamFree message is not just planted, but has a chance to take root and grow. Inside a family. Into a movement. We believe this takes three elements:
    • Continued follow-up. We are currently setting up infrastructure and personnel within ScreamFree that can enable our trainers to keep up with our trainees. This means developing relationships with military leadership, this means regular interaction between ScreamFree and its newly certified military family professionals, and this means building technology to ease, and make appealing, regular interaction.
    • Accurate measurement. We are always trying to collect as much accurate data about how our trained leaders are continuing to use the ScreamFree curricula with Army families, but we can do so much better. We need to know when and how to tweak our delivery, develop new outreach tools, equip our trained leaders, etc. This can only occur with regular, precise measurements practiced throughout our engagements. This type of measurements will also open doors to larger funding opportunities to further the reach and effect of ScreamFree.
    • Facilitated connection. So far, we know that the greatest way any family comes to know and experience ScreamFree is by one changed life opening up to another. You know this, because hearing or reading about other families and how they’ve changed is most likely how you came to know (and hopefully work toward becoming) ScreamFree. This is true for all families, military or otherwise. In order for anyone to actively seek out a new way of relating, they need to interact somehow with another person who’s already traveled a few steps ahead. This goes for all families, military or otherwise. We’re working to implement the most effective means toward assisting these conversations, both through technology (primarily social media, but also through the possible development of a ScreamFree app and other useful, cutting-edge technologies) and explicit teaching of how best to attract and appeal to others.

As you can imagine, all of these initiatives take people and innovation. And, of course, all of that takes resources. That’s why we raise funds. From explicitly printing and shipping books to spouses while their loved one is in Iraq, to building website infrastructure that educates these spouses to speak to and through their struggles with their deployed partner, that’s why we raise funds. At ScreamFree, we’re aware that we have discovered and developed a life-changing way of leading our lives and families, something we call becoming ScreamFree. And with such a potent “weapon” for change, we’re not satisfied with just doing what we get hired to do. We raise funds so that we can do so much more.