Military Appreciation Month
By Maranatha Bivens, Communications Specialist
My family moved 12 times over the duration of my dad’s Army career, and only four of those station changes took us to an actual military installation. That means that we ultimately spent two-thirds of our time as just another anonymous military family in civilian communities all over the country. This might be an interesting statistic to some, but more than 70 percent of military families recognize this as the norm.
In a lot of ways, as tabloids say of celebrities, military families are just like “us.” My friends’ dads went on long business trips while my dad went to train in the field for two weeks. Sure, new jobs or promotions often meant we were piling into the minivan and travelling cross-country on short notice, but other than that, there didn’t seem to be any major difference between my family and my friends who had parents who were electricians or accountants. But I came to understand that there are major differences in the lifestyle, particularly in 2003 when I was in college and my dad deployed to Iraq for the first time. Everyone was aware of the war, but there was a direct effect on my family that others didn’t experience. This awareness aside, the last thing I was going to do was stand in front of my 8:00 AM Biology class and discuss the ways the Iraq war had become personal.
When you’re growing up, all you want to do is fit in. You could say that military families have this down to an art. They adapt to each new location quickly and quietly, as they are often packing to leave for a new assignment before they’ve even had a chance to unpack some of those boxes in the basement. But all this blending in might be happening too seamlessly, as the extraordinary commitment of dynamic military families often goes unnoticed in civilian communities.
Coupling the basic pressures and responsibilities of life with those that are the result from an ongoing war means that many military families are humbly dealing with unprecedented amounts of stress. With military families in your church, on your sports teams, and in your classroom, opportunities to lend a hand could be hiding in plain sight.
The National Military Family Association created Finding Common Ground: A Toolkit for Communities Supporting Military Families, a guide filled with action items tailored to the specific role you fill in your community. Getting involved is easy, and the sentiments behind every gesture, grand or intimate, are deeply felt and appreciated. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Look around you. Raising awareness in your community and strengthening your ability to support starts with raising your own awareness. Are there military families in your neighborhood making the same trip to and from school each day? What about in your daughter’s ballet class? What about the household tasks that you do on the weekends, such as cutting the grass, that a family could use some help with? Do you and your next door neighbor get together to talk and watch bad reality TV every week? Next time, invite that military spouse who could probably use a break as well. Teaming up with others for social events and carpooling to school or activities doesn’t just lighten their load—it lightens yours, too!
- Match your interests to current needs. You’ll have more enthusiasm and creativity if you’re doing something that you already love to do. Have a passion for photography or putting scrapbooks together? Maybe you can help a military family document the time while a service member is deployed. Many military parents coach little league teams or act as troop leaders for the Scouts, leaving a void when they are deployed. If you were planning on playing a scrimmage with your friends on Saturday morning anyway, why not sign up to help out with a youth league that practices on the same field?
- Share what you know. Moving to a new community, particularly one not near a military installation, involves a lot of troubleshooting. My family tried every horrible Chinese restaurant in town before we found the go-to spot for quick mid-week meals. Which grocery store has the best deals? Which mall has the better stores? Where’s the hot-spot for teenagers on a Friday night? Jot down a list of your favorite or essential places and give it to a newly relocated military family or single service member to make their adjustment period a little easier.
- Listening. It’s free and can be done anywhere or any time. You are uniquely positioned to support military families, and that support often starts by simply tuning in to what’s going on. As a former dramatic teenager, I can attest to the fact that kids often equate appreciation with simply having the opportunity to be heard. Should any problems or issues persist that are out of your purview, there are numerous resources available to point them in the direction of further assistance.
- The National Military Family Association has three publications designed to help communities better understand the needs of military kids, teens, and families. Visit www.militaryfamily.org/publications to learn more about these resource guides.
- Joint Services Support is a program of the National Guard Bureau. Open to all Guard, Reserve and Active Duty families - regardless of Service, JSS provides information on programs and services available in your community. For more information, go to www.jointservicessupport.org.
- The American Legion is the Nation’s largest veterans organization. Visit www.legion.org to find a post in your community.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is a Veterans Service Organization with 2.1 million members. Visit www.vfw.org to find a Chapter in your community.
- United Services Organization (USO) is an organization dedicated to lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families. Visit www.uso.org to learn more about their programs.
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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