“I don’t know how you do it.” Ask any military spouse, and they have heard a well-meaning civilian friend or family member say these words, usually during a deployment or on either end of a PCS move. And most mil spouses shrug off this compliment (is it a compliment?) just as their active duty spouse does.
The military life is not for the faint of heart but for the past few decades; it has been entirely a voluntary fighting force. “You knew what you were getting into,” is also a common phrase heard by the military community. For the active duty warrior, yes but for their families, not so much. Oh sure, in theory, there are expectations of numerous moves, changing schools, making new friends, frequent goodbyes, and the dreaded deployment. But the reality of living through these staples of military life and still keeping some semblance of “normal” is at times challenging.
November is set aside by Presidential Proclamation as Military Family Appreciation Month. It is a time to recognize and honor those who didn’t “choose” this life but rather are living it because they love someone who did opt to step up and defend this nation. And there are plenty of ways civilian friends and neighbors can truly honor and thank military families for the sacrifices made in support of those who keep our nation safe.
The best way to truly be supportive and find out what a mil spouse or their family needs is to ask and then LISTEN. Many a spouse is told, “Let me know if you need anything.” But the truth of the matter is, a military spouse is pretty independent and is not prone to seeking out help. When he or she is going on and on at the bus stop about how tough it is getting the kids to all their activities with their spouse away, an offer to provide a ride or pick a child up from practice would be greatly appreciated.
When you figure out what the need is, take action. When my husband deployed, a girlfriend decorated my front yard for my birthday. My kids were young at the time, so she knew that with my Marine gone, my birthday would be on the back burner. I was touched, and the kids loved the decorations!
Share their Interests
Most military spouses volunteer a lot of their time. It is a great way to immerse themselves into a new community. Military kids get involved in many of the same activities as their civilians counterparts. But ask any mil spouse what it is like having a daughter join a new Girl Scout Troop and feeling pressured to sell a ton of Thin Mints to the new neighbor you just met last week. Admittedly, the “pressure” is often self-inflicted but try explaining to an 11-year old why she can’t out sell Susie Q who grew up in the area and has more relatives in a four block radius than you have in the entire eastern seaboard. So purchase that box of Do Si Dos that you know you want or volunteer to stuff care packages alongside your military friends at the local USO. Shared interests are a great way to bond.
Don’t Keep Your Distance
Some civilians consciously keep their distance from military families because, chances are, the mil family will be moving on in two to three years. There is a tendency not to get too emotionally involved. But if military families led their lives this way, they would never feel connected. It’s important to a military family that their kids feel at home at a new duty station as soon as possible. Military families see a new neighborhood or a new school as an exciting opportunity to meet new people and learn new things from their adopted community. And many times, the military family moving away, actually moves back to the area, so there is a chance to reconnect with old friends.
Actually Celebrate the “Military” in Military Holidays
Invite a military family to celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veteran’s Day with you. If you volunteer with your Parent/Teacher Organization at school, organize a slide show to honor military and veteran members of your community on Veteran’s Day. My kids loved seeing a photo of their Dad shown on the big screen during the annual Salute to Veterans at their school.
Avoid Been There Done That
Don’t tell a mil spouse, “This is how we’ve always done it.” There is nothing more deflating than volunteering at your new church or school and finding that they are not open to any new ideas. One of the benefits of the nomadic military lifestyle is that military families get to experience all types of cultures and situations. They can be a terrific resource for new ideas
Be Like Family
Military families tend to be stationed far from family and friends so traveling home to celebrate major holidays, or special occasions may not always be possible. While the tradition with your civilian family may be to invite extended family from across town, go the extra mile and invite a military family to share your holiday. Or better yet, make every effort to accept if an invitation is extended by a military family even if the event seems like it would be reserved just for family. My civilian friends have supported our family on numerous occasions attending birthdays and church events when extended family couldn’t be there.
Military families feel honored that their active duty or veteran family member serves their country and they take pride in whatever sacrifices they may have made as a family along the way. Being embraced by a civilian community that takes action to show their appreciation is what Military Family Appreciation Month is all about.
Author: Carla Olivo, PCSgrades Strategic Communications Coordinator, previously served as the Director of Communications for Operation Hug-A-Hero and as the Community Relations Officer for the Delaware Department of Transportation. This Marine spouse feels blessed to have civilian family and friends who were always there to support the Olivo family through five PCSes. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.