1. Be friendly.
“Accept us as part of the ward, even if you know we won’t be there very long. Build a real friendship—that’s the biggest help,” said Lindsay Madsen. Sometimes when a military family enters a new ward, the members are slow to friendship, regarding them as transients because they may not stay. “I find that there’s a lot of support in the form of people just being my friend and being there for me, and keeping an eye out for me when they know my husband might not be around,” added Sarah Raines, a Montana resident whose husband, Darron, is in the Air Force.
2. Invite them to dinner and holidays.
“Invite military families to your home for dinner or for special occasions when spouses are deployed,” said Miranda Lotz. On two separate occasions, the Relief Society president in Miranda’s ward invited her over for a Mother’s Day dinner because her husband was gone. “Those special times are often the loneliest, and no one wants to intrude into others’ holiday celebrations, but being invited . . . makes your holiday more bearable.”
3. Donate to an Airman’s Attic.
Check with your local Air Force base to see if they accept donations from civilians. Sarah said this is a good place to take used things (not too damaged) that you were planning to donate to Goodwill. “It’s free for someone who’s in the military, and it’s especially helpful for young enlisted personnel because they’re brand new, they’re the lowest pay grade, and they can have some extra little necessities they need—some things like small appliances or clothes.”
4. Send care packages.
“You can send a care package to the deployed spouse with uplifting things to listen to or read, and news from home,” Miranda suggested. Especially welcome are packages of inexpensive, small items that are hard to find in the area where the recipient is stationed. You can also send items as part of a Church activity, Eagle Scout project, or simply on your own. According to the Church’s “Military Relations” section on lds.org, “Letters of encouragement from ward leaders and members can have a profound impact on deployed members and strengthen them in their resolve to live the gospel.”
5. Be an active home or visiting teacher.
According to the Church, military families with an absent parent can greatly benefit from home and visiting teachers. They can relieve pressure by providing breaks and activities which help uplift the spouse who remains at home. “Because most people serving in the military are men, it’s really important to have great home teachers for military members because they may not have a priesthood holder in their home,” Miranda said. In addition, Relief Society programs, activities, and sisterhood can be an especially great help for the wives of military members during periods of separation.
6. Provide everyday basics.
“Sometimes the needs for military families are different. If you see a need, step in,” Lindsay said. Church members should be eager to help out with car repairs, lawn care, child care, shoveling the walks, and other day-to-day things.
7. Arrange playgroups and adult activities.
“Sometimes . . . we feel that we chose this, so if we can’t do it on our own, we shouldn’t be in the military. But that is so not true,” said Brie Yates. “We are not any different than anyone else. We have bad days, we need help with the kids at church when we are there alone, and we need playgroups. Basically we just need good friends that are there for us no matter what.” She also suggested girls’ nights out as a good help.
8. Help provide some “me” time.
According to Brie, it helps a lot when people offer childcare so she can have a little alone time to get her hair or nails done. “If people bring dinner and invite us over so the kids can play, those things are priceless,” she said.
9. Invite to parties.
Sarah pointed out the importance of remembering the spouse that is still at home. “I think . . . we sometimes get used to the family unit in the Church and invite couples to do things, or families to do things. I think it would be helpful to remember that there are people whose husbands might not be here.” When throwing a party or event for families, you could invite the spouse and children—chances are they would love the friendly interaction.
Part of being a good friend is listening. According to Brie, “We make it because of great friends and family that support us and are willing to listen to [us] vent or cry when [we] need to.” Recognize that the first months of a deployment are the hardest, and pay close attention to the family as they transition to having the head of household gone. “It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll call them next week,’ . . . but if you’re thinking of calling so-and-so because her husband just left, she probably needs it right then,” Miranda said.
There are many ways to help support our servicemen and women and their families. “Latter-day Saints have hearts of gold,” Brie said. “We are all in this together. Compassion and charity are always there. I’ve been around a lot of nonmember military moms, and they are just blown away at how our church takes care of the military families.”