by Erin Whitehead, Marine Corps spouse
Yesterday, many Americans paused to honor those who have served and continue serving in our nation’s military. Flags were flown and prayers were said in civilian homes and backyards around the country.
But because of the nature of our lives, the military spouse community has a special understanding of the meaning behind Memorial Day. For us, it is not simply another day off work, a chance to BBQ, or the opportunity to save big bucks on a mattress or new car. It is about honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country… a sacrifice that can keep us awake at night with worry.
Sometimes, it feels as though the “civilian” community just does not get what the holiday is really about, which can feel frustrating and make us feel like we are in this alone. But the reality is that many Americans do understand the true meaning of Memorial Day. They do want to support our troops and understand, on some level, the hardships that they and their families have endured over the past 10 years of war.
But unless they’ve actually served or been a member of a military family, it’s really hard to truly “get it.” They want to do something to make sure our troops and families know how much they are appreciated… but how do they help when they don’t know what is needed?
It’s a two-way street. We have to be willing to share in what areas we can use support. We asked our social media community to share what things they think Americans could do to help out or simply show their appreciation for the sacrifices of service members and their families. We hope you will share this list with those civilians who want to show their support…because there really are a lot of them out there.
10 Ways Americans Can Support the Military Family
10) Take the time to learn what our life is really like.
There are many misconceptions about our lifestyle. The list is a mile long. Some of the most frustrating are that our spouses can return home for important events (holidays, births, all family emergencies), that once they return from deployment everything goes back to normal, and that we make a lot of money. But unless you know a family and can ask for their perspective, how do you learn more? There is no shortage of blogs written by military spouses, and they’re easy to find with a simple Google search. There are also many organizations that service military families—again, very easy to find online. And of course, you can visit www.baseguide.com to read our articles, follow us on social media, or subscribe to the magazine.
9) Leave politics out of it.
Our troops serve and put their lives on the line, despite their own personal political beliefs. Support for them should be the same. And please, when you learn that someone is military, or married to a service man or woman… don’t ask us what we think of the war. Don’t ask us who we’re voting for in the upcoming election. And please don’t give us your personal opinion on either topic. Please remember that the President, like him or not, is our spouses’ boss. Hearing an opinion that the wars have been a huge waste of money and lives can really anger a spouse. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your own personal beliefs on these topics, but unless we are already very close friends or family, we would just rather not talk about it with you.
8) Hire Us
According to The Department of Labor, military spouse unemployment rates are 26%, way above the national average. Many times spouses follow their service member to a duty station where they are either over or under qualified for most available employment. They often do not have the same network of contacts that may help a native of the area find a job, and often times when an employer finds out someone is a military spouse, they are reluctant to hire them. We get it. Who wants to hire someone who will only be here for 2 or 3 years? The thing is, you may only have a military spouse working at your business for a few years… but the skills and life experience we bring to the table are often times outstanding. We have learned to be flexible and make the best of complicated situations, we can handle tasks on our own, and we are used to working with people from all walks of life… just to name a few. Employing the spouse of a service member isn’t just for the benefit of the spouse. Easing the financial burden for a military family reduces the stress for the person serving… making it easier for them to focus on their job. And when our service member retires, or transitions out of the military, hire them too. Military service instills a sense of loyalty, a hard work ethic, and strength of character. Veterans have proven time and time again to be very valuable employees.
7) Offer a military discount.
Sure, a small discount helps out a military family. But it is about more than that. When a business offers that discount, they are saying “thank you” on a daily basis to their military customers, and it makes us feel appreciated. Many times, the entire reason some businesses are able to thrive in a town is because a neighboring military installation brings in thousands of patrons. Besides, it has been my experience that military families are very loyal. I will drive to the other side of town to use a business that offers even a 5% discount to military… because I appreciate them for showing their support, not because I think I am entitled in any way.
6) Don't Forget our Gold Star Families.
A Gold Star Family is a family who has lost a service member. Many times when someone is killed, there is an outpouring of support for the family… at first. But it seems to wane after a while as life moves on for the rest of us. For that Gold Star family, they live with the sacrifice their loved one made every single day. Their kids grow up without either mom or dad. Young widows/widowers try to put the pieces of their lives together again. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are changed forever. They need, and deserve, ongoing support from the very people their husband, daughter, father, or sister made that sacrifice for. There are many great charities that would welcome your help in making sure these families always have the support they need. I will share with you my favorite. Military Spouse Magazines 2010 Army Spouse, Nicki Bunting, started an amazing charity called “Bubba’s Belly Run”. It is in honor of her husband, Capt. Brian “Bubba” Bunting who was killed in Afghanistan shortly after returning from his two-week R&R at home. Not long after receiving his death notification, Nicki learned she was pregnant with their second son. The couple had always wanted a large family. While pregnant with her deceased husband’s child, she started this annual run to raise money for Gold Star families. In the past three years, they have raised over $100,000. To find out more information about how to donate, or to bring Bubba’s Belly Run to a town near you, please visit www.bubbasbellyrun.com. On this site, you can also inquire about sending a note of support to a family who may have lost a loved one several years ago. A note from a grateful American who just wants to offer continued condolences, thoughts or prayers can be of great comfort. Nicki saves every letter she has ever received so that her boys can one day read them and know how much people appreciate the sacrifice their dad made.
5) Admitting you don't know what to say is better than saying the wrong thing.
There are a ton of “Top 10 Things NOT to Say to A Military Spouse” lists floating out there on the Internet. I won’t rehash them all here. I truly believe most civilians mean no ill will when they say things that we may perceive as insensitive. Again, it goes back to simply not understanding because you haven’t had the same experiences that we have. As spouses, we need to learn to be less sensitive and help people understand how we feel. Instead of just getting mad, we can say “I know you didn’t mean that to offend me, but saying that you understand how I feel during deployment because your husband went to a conference in DC last week, minimizes what I am going through,” is perfectly acceptable. And for civilians, it is perfectly fine to say, “I wish I knew the words to say, but I don’t. I am willing to listen though, and try to understand.”
4) Don't offer to help, just help.
Most military members and their families are very proud. We may face some unique challenges, but we like to believe we can tackle any and every thing that comes our way. The reality is that sometimes we could use a helping hand… but you won’t find us asking often. So if you say, “Please let me know what I can do to help” to a spouse who is holding down the home front alone for a year, they will graciously respond with, “Okay. Thank you!” But they will probably never ask for help. If you know a military family living in your neighborhood, there are simple things you can do. If you are mowing your lawn on a Saturday, just pop over next door and mow theirs, too. If you notice the trashcan is still at the curb two days after pick-up, pulling it to the side of the house is a nice gesture. Have enough pizza points for a free pie? Order a pizza to be delivered one night and stick a note on the door saying “Please don’t cook tonight, pizza will be delivered at 6pm.” Know a new mom who is about to come home after delivering her baby while dad is deployed? Leave a bag of essential grocery items at her front door, so she doesn’t have to navigate the store with a brand new baby. If you are friends with the next-door neighbor whose wife is at six weeks of training in the summer, ask “Can Susie please come have a sleepover with our daughter”? If you don’t know a family, Blue Star Families is a national organization that can help you find a way to help military and their families in your area. www.bluestarfam.org
3) Let Congress know that you support our troops.
There is always legislation affecting our military being discussed in our nation’s capitol. It doesn’t matter what your politics are: Making sure that our service members and veterans are fairly compensated and have services and programs available to them should be a bi-partisan issue. Let your elected officials know that while we all know tough decisions sometimes have to be made in government, Americans are committed to making sure that those who volunteer to defend our freedoms are taken care of if those sacrifices leave them with a lifetime of physical and emotional scars. Our troops are not asking for more than what they have earned, but one of the biggest ways you can support them is to make sure our country keeps good faith with the military. Call your congressional representatives and say, “I support our troops, and it will be reflected in the way I cast my ballot”.
2) Teach your children what a real hero looks like.
The number one way to make sure our troops are appreciated and supported in the future is to teach our kids what it means to serve in the U.S. Military. There are many different kinds of people that kids seem to look up to these days. Some of them are great role models, and some of them are less than perfect examples of what it means to be a responsible, productive citizen. If you are looking for a true hero for your kids to look up to, there is no shortage of them in our Armed Forces. For example, take Sergeant Dakota Meyer, veteran of The U.S. Marine Corps and a Medal of Honor recipient. The story of his bravery in combat is impressive, but so is the way he currently lives his life as a hardworking, upstanding citizen and role model. His twitter feed features a #morningmotivation every day that I enjoy reading. A recent post read “The keys to success: Sincerity, personal integrity, humility, courtesy, wisdom and charity.” You (and your teenagers) can follow him @Dakota_Meyer at www.twitter.com. Another hero to learn more about is Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, who during his third tour to Afghanistan was critically injured by an IED. During that explosion he lost portions of both arms and legs and is currently only one of four living quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His strength and courage as he recovers from his injuries is inspiring, and his attitude will make you believe that you too can tackle any challenge you face. To learn more about his story and to get links to his You Tube clips, visit his website at www.travismills.org. Your children may not end up one day serving in the military. But by teaching them about the sacrifices made and about some of our nation’s finest, hopefully they will grow up to be appreciative of those who do serve, and will find some way to be in service to their country as well.
1) Say "Thank You", and say it often.
Some of the most touching moments we experience happen when complete strangers stop my husband to say a heartfelt “thank you.” This is perhaps the simplest thing on the list, and one that cannot be overdone. When you see someone in uniform, extend a handshake and a “thank you for your service.” When you see an older gentlemen wearing a VFW hat, ask him when he served and tell him how much you appreciate him. This may seem like a small thing, but many of our service members and vets don’t expect much. To know they are appreciated is validation enough.
When polled, members of our military will tell you over and over again: The reason they signed up was not simply for the GI Bill, health benefits or to see the world. I believe the majority of them say that it was a desire to serve their country. Their families support them unconditionally because they love them, and believe their job is important. Many military families will tell you that they do not need help, and that the only thing they want is to make sure their service member is taken care of. It is true… military families are often times strong, resilient and capable of handling things on their own. To be honest, they really don’t need the help of their fellow Americans.
But that isn’t the point. The fact is that a small percentage of our population has volunteered to serve our nation. When called upon to do so, they will lay down their lives in defense of every single one of us, and sadly too many of them have done just that. Isn’t it the responsibility of all Americans to recognize these brave men and women for their service and to do whatever we can to show our appreciation? Lending a helping hand to a military family isn’t about charity—it is a way to let our service members know that while they are serving, America will take care of their loved ones in their absence. Helping our Gold Star families is a way to say, “We can never understand your loss, but are humbly grateful for the sacrifice your loved one made.”
As a military spouse, I can tell you that I am just as proud and independent as the next person. I choose to continue to support my husband’s career, despite the hardship because I believe in what he does and I love him dearly. I do not feel entitled to any special perks because of my husband’s service, and I don’t expect a handout.But I will tell you that when civilians take the time to show their appreciation, it makes those lonely nights, the frequent moves, the stress of yet another looming deployment… a little easier to handle. And when my husband, a Marine who has served for 16 years, gets a tear in his eye because of the kindness of a stranger who genuinely appreciates what he does… it gives me a bit of understanding into why he wanted to serve this amazing country in the first place.