When you’re in the military, you tend to get a lot of support. If we go in public in uniform, we get thanked fairly regularly, and there are always enough handshakes and hugs to go around. We get discounts at some stores, and I’ve certainly had a drink or two bought for me or “on the house.” While there have been a few unfortunate encounters, I have never felt unloved while in uniform.
In my humble opinion, however, all of that support should be directed towards something even more worthy. Our families and loved ones are the ones that deserve the greatest honors. They have one of the toughest jobs on the planet, and they should be getting the hugs.
When I get underway, I have a job that keeps me busy. I routinely work 20 hour days, and there is very little room for the pain of loneliness. Sometimes, it may be tough to get through the night, but I’m always able to power through and keep my mind on my work. It may not be the most romantic way of going about things, but it’s helped me keep my sanity through 3 deployments so far.
It’s much harder on the family that stays behind. They have to keep everything together by themselves. The future of the family falls on their shoulders. Spouse have to take care of all their normal responsibilities along with everything that the servicemember just left behind. That may include small things like making car payments or watering plants. Often, however, it’s major events like raising children. Everything in the house becomes their responsibility. On top of all that, there’s the constant worry at the back of their minds. Where is he (or she)? What is he doing? Is he safe? While they certainly keep themselves busy, there are no 20 hour days to keep your mind completely occupied.
Then, there’s the children. Sometimes, they are old enough to know what’s happening. They understand that mom or dad is leaving for 6 months or a year (or longer). They know that he or she won’t be there for graduations or basketball games or driving lessons. Maybe they appreciate what their parent is doing or maybe they resent it. Either way, it’s incredibly tough for them.
Other times, the kids aren’t old enough to figure it out. All the know is that mommy or daddy used to be there, but they aren’t anymore. Maybe they understand that he or she will be back in the future or maybe they don’t. Maybe, when that plane of ship comes back, they’ll actually recognize each other.
These are just the immediate examples. Things can be just as tough for other family members and loved ones like parents, siblings, girlfriends/boyfriends, grandparents, and best friends. What happens to a support system when the thing they support leaves? The answer is that they need to be supported themselves.
While I absolutely love the handshakes and the care packages, I would much rather have those things go towards my family. It doesn’t have to be something major. If you know a military family, you would be amazed what simply having dinner with them would accomplish. They don’t want charity. They just want someone to talk to every once in a while and maybe take their mind off things. The above picture shows a service flag. If you see a window with one flying, it means that family has someone deployed (note: there may be more than 1 star to indicate more than one person deployed). That might be a good time to ask yourself if there is anything you could do to make their day a little better.