Last year, my Army Wife apron, Home Fires was part of Support and Defend, an exhibit at the VETS gallery in Rhode Island devoted to art by military service members and their families. That show went well and much of the artwork went to a follow-on exhibit There and Back Again. I am excited to announce that thanks to the tireless efforts of curator Paul Murray, the show has been expanded as Journeys Onward and will be on view at Hygienic Art Gallery in New London, CT from April 29 through May 27th, 2017. My apron will be joined by The Other Woman, shown above, Suck It Up, Absence II, and Unravelling (all of which can be found under The Army Wife within the Galleries tab above). It’s an honor to represent the spousal side of the military family, and I’m especially thrilled that these artworks get the opportunity to go out into the world again and speak for me — hopefully sparking conversations.
I was thinking about writing this on Military Spouse’s Day (the friday before Mother’s Day), and again on Mother’s Day after watching Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden on the Martha Stewart special highlighting military moms, and finally after listening to an NPR piece on military families. I guess being a military mom with a deployed husband and all it’s attendant business got in the way of timely blogging (smile).
One of the things that kept coming up, that I don’t think was answered well, was how can civilians help military families — especially when they are not near a base, or don’t know any specific family or service member. I thought I’d share a few ideas.
• FRGs (Family Readiness Groups) were mentioned as a source of support. Most every unit has one in some capacity or another. If you know a family, ask how you can support their FRG. The first time TS&WGH (that’s my Tech Support & World’s Greatest Husband) was in Kuwait/Iraq, one of the moms of a single soldier was thousands of miles away, but supported the FRG by sending goodies for care packages and things like 100 plastic eggs for the family Easter party. We loved her.
• ACS is a great on-post resource that you can reach from off-post. The acronym stands for Army Community Service (and I have to believe that the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard have similar entities). ACS provides military-life skills classes for families such as how to read the pay statements, help applying for on-post jobs, parenting tips, money management, courses on volunteering and running FRGs, etc. ACS also has loaner kitchen basics for when you first arrive and haven’t gotten your household goods yet. As “den mother” for TS&WGH’s company in 2003, I learned that I didn’t have to have the answers to the families’ problems, I just needed to know where to look for them — and that was most often ACS. Long story short, I’d call ACS at any post and ask how I could help or donate.
• Similarly, the USO provides support to the military. They are not only entertainment for the troops. They operate respite areas in airports (we used the Frankfurt Airport USO as a meeting spot if we ever missed visiting family at the arrival gate) often with snacks and phones for troops to call home. They give phone cards to soldiers to call home (Operation Phone Home in partnership with AT&T). They organize travel outings at overseas posts. Donate to, or volunteer for, the USO and you’ll support both troops and their families.
• Army Emergency Relief provides interest free loans to soldiers and their families in need.
• Volunteer at a VA hospital or clinic.
• Scout groups and similar can “adopt” a soldier and write letters. Or, make cards to be sent to troops so that THEY can write home. My kids LOVE getting monthly handmade cards from TS&WGH care of Operation Write Home.
• If you are an educator, counsellor, or school administrator, find out if there’s any military kids in your school and talk to them. During TS&WGH’s first deployment here in Hawaii our kids’ school (off post and with low military enrollment as opposed to other area schools that are predominantly military) the school VP had a lunch club for kids with deployed parents where the kids could talk to each other and/or to the school counsellor about how they felt and how they were coping. My son said he appreciated the opportunity and that there was a girl who cried daily in school, but after meeting a few other kids who also had deployed parents she calmed down a lot.
• Buy a service member and his or her family a drink or a meal. Just say thanks if that’s how you feel.
• Ask at church if there’s any military families in the congregation. Ask them how you can help — babysitting, making a meal, mowing the lawn…
• My son says that staying busy helps him miss his dad less. I also try very hard to keep the kids’ routines as much the same after daddy leaves as when he’s here. So, keeping those kid oriented activities going is a great help. Is your local sports coach or scout leader deploying? Fill in for him or her so the kids have continuity.
I’ve been thinking about what I would want in terms of support from the greater community. Essentially, it came down to thinking about how you’d feel if (or when) you are alone without your usual support system. I get tired of doing everything all the time. I doubt I’d hand over balancing my checkbook to someone else, but I’d happily hand over the vacuum, the kids, or the oven every now and then. So, offering to babysit, or make a meal, or to support an organization that supports military families are all small, but wonderful ways to lend a hand. I know there are many more ways to help. Leave your favorite(s) in the comments if you’d like.