Every year, thousands of American families will have an empty chair at their holiday table. Some families will leave up their trees with presents wrapped until their loved one comes home. Over the years, family members waved bravely as their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives boarded airplanes to begin their deployment overseas with the US military. Many family members promised their soldiers that they wouldn’t cry…
My son Harrison joined the Army a year and a half ago, at age 19, after his brother left for the Marine Corps, at age 18, in 2011. Our holidays have been incomplete every year with one of the boys always on deployment, for the past six years.
Through their active duty, I have learned how to cope with my own anxiety while offering them positive reinforcement and support. Here are a few suggestions to help families endure the long months of separation:
• Utilize the family services provided by the military; there are many web sites full of useful information about our military personnel. Examples include: Military Family Network at www.emilitary.org and Military One Source at[NG1] www.militaryonesource.mil . Most of the units have their own Facebook pages and groups where you can find photos and important dates. Remember you are not alone, and thousands of families have loved ones stationed overseas.
• Regular contact is essential for our morale at home and theirs overseas. Most of the troops have access to email, but a handwritten letter from home is always welcomed. It’s not easy to get through on the telephone, so try to arrange, in advance, the best time for your soldier or Marine to call.
• Remember special occasions, such as birthdays and special anniversaries. It’s important to mail months in advance if you want to ensure the package arrives by a certain time. Check with your loved one’s unit, they usually have important shipping timelines available.
• Troops always appreciate a package of homemade cookies. Treats for Troops is another great Halloween option at www.soldiersangels.org/treatsfortroops. Pack them in protective padding and throw in several pairs of new socks for extra cushion.
• Don’t criticize military conflicts to your soldier overseas. While many Americans are quick to judge the war efforts, don’t let that criticism get to your family member.
• Tune into their emotions as much as you can. It’s a national tragedy that so many returning veterans commit suicide or suffer from other physical, mental, and financial problems.
• Don’t panic if you haven’t heard from them!!! They are often busy and unable to make contact for lengthy periods of time. Stay and strong and busy.
• Final caution: I once made the mistake of crying when my son called; he had been stationed in a dangerous area. He didn’t call again for a long time, and eventually told me I hadn’t helped his situation acting distraught and emotional. Be concerned but not hysterical, and try to end all conversation on a positive, loving note.
During this busy holiday season, keep in mind the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, spouses and others who are part of a military organization attempting to bring peace to the world. Having a loved one in the military during the holidays encourages us to focus our priorities on more important issues and not get caught up in the holiday hype. This year we’ll continue the tradition of lighting candles and offering prayers for the safe return for the thousands of military members who serve for our freedom. Someday they will return home, remove the yellow ribbons, and take their seat at the table.
As both my son’s have promised me, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”