Covering a Service Member’s Back: Military Family Appreciation Month

Each United States active duty individual has a network of civilians that make it possible for the service member to concentrate on the job at hand. If they are single, family members or friends keep up a verbal, visual, or written correspondence to keep spirits up and encourage them during bad times. If they are married  and able to come home to the family most nights, spouses provide a sounding board to discuss the foibles of troublesome subordinates or superiors, and domestic concerns that the service member needs to know. When the active duty individual is deployed to a location where the spouse and families are not allowed (an unaccompanied tour in military jargon), the term “military family” adds another layer.

During an unaccompanied tour, the core family follows different paths for a while. The path of the active duty member is focused on receiving and following orders, interacting with his ship mates or squad, and living in basic (and sometimes rustic) conditions. The path of the spouse and children is focused on school, church, playdates, and the underlying anxiety of the safety of the dear one who is not with them . Unexpected household and medical emergencies surface, and the civilian spouse needs to make immediate decisions as to what to do when a child develops pneumonia, or the bottom of the water heater collapses and the utility room or basement floods. Sometimes the out-of-country spouse can be communicated with, but sometimes not. The wife, husband, or grandparent needs to independently make a decision based on the circumstances at hand. Most civilian spouses of deployed sailors or soldiers also develop a network of friends, neighbors, and relations to assist when another adult is needed. Many times, the oldest child is given more responsibility for younger siblings than is found in civilian families.

Then the active duty service member’s tour or cruise is completed, and he or she returns to the rest of the family. The core family is reunited; the paths converge again. But both parts of the rejoined family need to recognize that adjustment is needed. The civilian spouse needs to remember that now decisions need to be discussed and made together. The active duty spouse needs to remember that the family doesn’t operate on barked orders, but on partnership. The older children may chafe at restrictions imposed by the returned parent.

Military families also can be transferred frequently, usually every two or three years. Children of military families soon learn that just when they start feeling like they belong, Dad or Mom receives orders and they are off to a different base, port, or post.

November has been designated as Military Family Appreciation Month. If you have a cousin, former school friend, or church family member who is part of a military family, please take time during this month to text, write, or call them and let them know that you care. If you don’t personally know a military family, please consider donating to the USO (United Services Organization). The USO has more than 230 locations worldwide where service personnel and their families can find help and entertainment. Here is a testimonial from a service wife:

“Every wife dreads the day we have to put our husbands ‘back on that plane.’ Yesterday, I thought I would be all alone in this huge airport, left standing with my 6-year-old, crying and watching my husband, yet again, walk away from me. But this time, when it came time for my husband to walk away, I suddenly found myself surrounded by USO volunteers. They didn’t have to stand there and help me through my toughest moment, but they DID. I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done, and all that you do.”

Thank you to the military families who “cover the service members back” so they can concentrate on their mission.

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