Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

Five Visible and Invisible Aspects of Military Culture Every School Counselor Should Know

MS in School Counseling candidates learn about this distinctive U.S. culture.

Like all good school counselors, those who work with military students and families must learn about the culture of the community they serve. And fully understanding military culture involves recognizing its more familiar aspects, as well as those that lie beneath.

In “Understanding Military Culture: A Guide for Professional School Counselors,” author Rebekah F. Cole uses G. McAuliffe’s iceberg concept to introduce these visible and invisible cultural aspects: military language, hierarchy, sense of rules and regulations, self-expectations, and self-sacrifice.


“McAuliffe encouraged counselors to explore both the visible (above water) and invisible (below water) aspects of culture. Culture that is most easily observed by outsiders, like the tip of an iceberg above water, is considered surface culture. Culture which is not observed by outsiders, like the larger part of the iceberg under the water, is considered either shallow culture or deep culture. Shallow and deep culture correspond to more intense emotional experiences that may require extensive counseling services and support from the school counselor,” she writes.

Cole’s article, from The Professional Counselor, is required reading for students earning an MS in School Counseling degree online at Walden University. In the course Introduction to School Counseling, master’s degree candidates develop knowledge of the current issues and directions for the profession, the requirements and challenges of being a professional school counselor, and much more.

Cole’s exploration of military cultures is a valuable resource for all prospective school counselors, and particularly for students who have chosen Walden’s Military Families and Culture specialization. To learn more about the distinct military culture, join MS in counseling students in reading this excerpt from Cole’s article:1

In order to fully describe the nature of military culture and its meaning for military students and their family members, this article begins with an exploration of the surface-level aspects of military culture (language, hierarchy, sense of rules and regulations) and then progressively explores the more emotionally intense shallow and deep aspects of military culture (self-expectations and self-sacrifice).

1. Language

The first area of military culture explored in this article is language, which is a visible, surface-level aspect of the military lifestyle. Encountering military culture has been compared to navigating a foreign country, with its language an important aspect of this navigation. Each of the military branches has its own set of terms and acronyms that relate to job title, position, location, services, time, and resources for military service members and their families. Each military branch also has its own set of moral codes, such as honor, courage, and strength, which affect the service member’s personal and professional outlook. Learning and understanding the language embedded in military culture is essential for professional school counselors in order to remove any communication barriers between the school counselor and military students and family members.

2. Hierarchy

Hierarchy is another important visible, surface-level cultural aspect of the military community. Rank and order are rigid in the military, with service members expected to show respect for and compliance with their superiors. This authoritarian structure may be mimicked in the military family’s home life as well. Overall, a service member’s rank determines how much is earned financially, how much education is provided, the level of access to resources, and the expected amount of responsibility. The service member’s rank impacts the family members’ identity and sense of self, as the family identifies with their position in the military community. School counselors should be aware that rank may influence not only the family’s economic level, but their stress level as well, as it may determine the length and frequency of the service member’s deployments.

3. Sense of Rules and Regulations

Moving deeper beyond the visible culture, military culture embodies a strong sense of rules and restrictions, as there are clearly defined rules and expectations for military service members and their families, including etiquette guidelines for spouses and children regarding dress, mannerisms, and behavior in public. Military families are directed where to live, when they can travel, and with whom they can socialize. Additionally, higher ranking service members receive authority over the family’s personal life. For example, if a child is misbehaving in school or if the family is experiencing financial difficulties, the service member’s superiors may become involved. Failure to abide by rules and expectations may result in expulsion from the military.

4. Self-Expectations

Another invisible aspect of military culture on a more intense emotional level are the expectations that military service members and their families hold for themselves. Today’s military is a volunteer force, and service members freely join the military lifestyle. For these military members willingly serving their country, the concept of warrior ethos is prevalent in the military community, as both military members and family members take a sense of pride in their ability to overcome challenges on their own. Military culture also promotes the notion of strength and emotional control, which in turn propels a fear of appearing weak, especially in regard to mental health. School counselors should recognize that this pride may impede the military family members’ sense of comfort seeking assistance.

5. Self-Sacrifice

Embedded deeper within military culture is the notion of self-sacrifice. Guided by the ideal that the individual is secondary to the unit, military family members face numerous deployments, relocations, and separation from each other. These challenges are expected and anticipated, as they are a constant reality for military families in times of war and peace. For example, the deployment cycle is continuous, affecting family members as they prepare for, experience, and reunite after the deployment. In the midst of these challenges, over half of military family members have reported that they are satisfied with the military lifestyle, emphasizing their commitment to routinely facing and overcoming challenges.

“While other cultures have been explored in-depth in the professional school counseling literature, military culture has not. Military culture is often unfamiliar to educators who encounter military students and their families regularly. Every school district in the United States has a child who is in some way connected with the military, and 80% of all military children attend public schools. Therefore, it is essential for school counselors to be knowledgeable in navigating military culture in order to support military students and families,” Cole says.

Find Your Niche With an Online Counseling Degree

If you’re interested in earning a master’s in school counseling online, you can match your professional interests to your course of study. Choose from Walden’s General Program or select one of the following specializations: Military Families and Culture, Addiction Counseling, Crisis and Trauma, and Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling.

Walden also offers an opportunity to expand your career possibilities by graduating with two counseling degrees. The MS Dual Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling prepares you to pursue licensure or certification as both a mental health counselor and school counselor. In this dual degree master’s program, you can select a General Program or one of five specializations, including Military Families and Culture and Forensic Counseling.

If you are a veteran or on active duty with the armed forces and are interested in earning a degree to prepare you to become a licensed professional counselor, you may be eligible for a military tuition savings. Walden offers a 15% tuition reduction for service members, veterans, employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and their spouses.2 To find out more about options for military students, contact a Walden Enrollment Specialist or visit the Military Benefits and Financial Aid page.

As a leader in distance learning for 50 years, Walden designs its online degree programs for working professionals who want to learn and advance their careers without having to step back from their jobs. Maximize your potential with a master’s in school counseling and get ready to help your future students do the same.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering MS in School Counseling and MS Dual Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

2This tuition reduction cannot be retroactively applied. Tuition reductions are applicable to tuition only and do not apply toward books, materials, and other supplies or fees needed for a course. Walden may change the tuition reduction offered hereunder at any time, but such change will not affect the tuition reduction for students who are currently enrolled at Walden and using the existing tuition reduction. All tuition reductions, grants, or scholarships are subject to specific eligibility requirements.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,