Growing up in the military I have never thought about what it meant to be an “outsider.” This lifestyle has always been a part of me. Though I never intended to become an Army wife, sometimes life deals you the hand you are most capable of playing. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to me or anyone else in my family that the college boy I fell in love with turned out to be a soldier through and through.
Though I have always lived this life, I must tell you it still isn’t easy. Being the daughter of a soldier and being the wife of a soldier are two completely different animals. However, I do believe that my childhood experiences helped train me, so to speak, to embrace and succeed within my role as an Army wife.
The military’s acceptance and inclusion of a soldier’s spouse and children has come a long way in recent years. Once upon a time the idea of a FRG (Family Readiness Group) was unfathomable. Nowadays spouses and children have a plethora of resources available to assist and support them through PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves, military living, and deployments.
Unfortunately, the system is not perfect and most times friends and extended family are left spinning without knowledge of how to survive a loved one’s deployment. I think it is important that we acknowledge and value the integral role friends and family play in not only a deployed soldier’s life, but the lives of the soldier’s spouse and children’s lives as well. Sadly, many friends are just not aware of how they can help or what they can do to support the soldier, the spouse and themselves during times of deployment.
Photo by The U.S. Army
Here are some tips on how best to support a friend if the friend is the soldier:
- Communication ~ The old saying “communication is key” is a lesson that should definitely be heeded. Most of the time, the soldier just needs a little piece of home. The soldier needs to know that the people left behind love and care for him or her. Communication is often a life line for a homesick soldier. Even if the soldier does not respond, keep writing…they are reading. Communication can be implemented in several ways and only takes a few minutes a day or can be something as simple as a half hour each week. Here are some ideas to keep communication open with a soldier during deployment:
- Hand written letters
- Cards (birthday, holidays, etc)
- Care Packages ~ Nothing says “I’m thinking about you” like a box full of goodies. Care packages should be personalized to the particular soldier. If you ask for a list of interests there are many things that can go into a care package. If you work in an office, you can hang a list of interests and people can donate goodies to the soldier. One tip is to get a flat rate box from the post office and grab a handful of customs forms. The flat rate boxes will cost the same amount no matter the weight so you can stuff them as full as possible. Also, as you place items in the box, write them down on the customs form so you won’t have to go back through the box to fill it out later. Here are just a few ideas of items to send in a care package:
- Music CDs
- Snacks (candy, chips, gum, crackers, beef jerky, etc.)
- Listen ~ Though we don’t have a lot of control over how much the soldier can communicate with us, you can still make sure the soldier knows you are there to listen. Try to answer the phone as much as possible when he or she calls. When the soldier calls or writes, be responsive. Even if you don’t know what to say, just listen. And if you have to say anything, say “thank you.” Thank you for fighting. Thank you for standing the 125 degree weather. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for doing this so I don’t have to.
- Talk ~ Please, whatever you do, don’t stop talking! Let me share my experience with you. When The Hubble would call home I felt guilty every time. All I would do was sit on the phone with him silent at the other end and I would babble. Or I would be busy talking to Little Butt. After each phone call I would kick myself because I never really let him talk. I thought “doesn’t he need to get things off his chest?” I finally came to realize that he needed me to babble on incessantly. He needed me to converse with Little Butt. Me talking about my, what I deemed trivial, day-to-day life allowed him a kind of escape from the daily horrors and frustrations he was facing. It gave him a sense of belonging. Of being part of the family.
- Share ~ Don’t hide things. I have been known to be guilty of this as well. There is a fine line here though. Let me explain. A soldier is under a tremendous amount of stress when deployed. He or she does not need to hear about the things that are inevitably falling apart at home, right? In a way, yes. But in a way, no. They need to know. You don’t want to hide things or leave them out. But instead of crying your eyes out and unloading on the soldier, fix it first. Deal with the problem then unload and let them know you got it. One of the most frustrating things for a soldier is not being around to help when the going gets rough. We just need to be able to do it tactfully. Make them feel included, but not overburdened.