Supporting Military Families
Alexis Sanders - July 05, 2011
With troops on the battlefield, LDS communities find many ways to support and honor military members—whether of our faith or not. Wards and stakes write letters, make them the subjects of their Eagle Scout projects, and host Veteran’s Day events such as luncheons, dinners, and flag ceremonies. All across the country, members are stepping up to give thanks to those who have devoted their lives to our protection and privileges.
Other support programs in which Church members participate include the non-profit Cell Phones for Soldiers, Letters to Soldiers, and the Saints at War Project, a BYU project dedicated to collecting the wartime stories of LDS veterans of conflicts from 1830 to the present day.
“We’ve had several thousand accounts shared with us here at BYU. We couldn’t begin to acquire them by ourselves,” says Robert Freeman, a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. “We had to rely on families taking time to interview their veteran family member or friend, perhaps on a tape, and then we could very often transcribe it.”
Cell Phones for Soldiers was founded to raise money for soldiers to call home by collecting old cell phones and donations. Organizations such as Letters to Soldiers have been sending letters, care packages, and support to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait since 1999. Anyone can write a letter and submit it. Afterward, Letters to Soldiers prints and sends the letters to the soldiers who need them most.
Support given directly to soldiers is most certainly felt by their loved ones at home, but the brave men, women, and children who live apart from their battle called family members fight their own battles at home. Military families face everyday issues such as shoveling the walks, repairing the car, and caring for children alone. Loneliness, frustration, and worry are common emotions for them.
In order to alleviate some of the worry our soldiers feel on duty, it’s important that we help support their families. But what things can the average Church member do to lift the burdens of military families?
According to Sarah Raines, a Montana resident whose husband, Darron, is in the Air Force in Montana, it is essential to keep home peaceful. “I think my husband does do a difficult job and . . . it’s helpful for him if he can come home and know that home is a safe place. . . . It makes it a little easier for him to do his job and support our little family.”
The following advice was given by military wives across the nation on how we, as an LDS community, can best help support troops and their families, thus keeping home safe and peaceful:
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,” says Lindsay Madsen, who’s stationed with her husband, John, in Montana. Sometimes, military wives explain, when a military family enters a new ward, the members are slow to friendship, regarding them as transients because they may not be there for long. “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,” adds Raines.
Invite them to dinner and holidays. “Invite military families to your home for dinner or for special occasions when spouses are deployed,” says Miranda Lotz, who lives in North Dakota with her husband, Greg, who serves in the Air Force. On two separate occasions, Lotz explains, the Relief Society president in her 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.”
Donate to an Airman’s Attic. Check with your local Air Force base to see if they accept donations from civilians. Raines says 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.”
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,” suggests Lotz. Especially welcome are packages of inexpensive, small, hard-to-find items 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.”
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 who relieve pressure by providing breaks and activities; these help uplift the spouse remaining at home. Relief Society programs, activities, and sisterhood can be a great help for the wives of military members during separation. “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 without it,” says Lotz.
Provide everyday basics. “Sometimes the needs for military families are different.
If you see a need, step in,” says Madsen. Help out with car repairs, lawn care, child care, shoveling the walks—any of the tiny day-to-day things.
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,” says Brie Yates, whose husband, Don, is stationed in the Air Force in New Mexico. “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 suggests girls’ nights out as a good help.
Help provide some “me” time. Yates says 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 says. Offer Internet access. If a family doesn’t have Internet access, share yours. “Using Skype, the kids can see [their dad],” says Lotz. “It’s one thing we do when he can’t be with us for family night or prayer. . . . I think technology is there to make [separation] more endurable. Using that to help your kids . . . is a way to reconnect with dad.”
Invite to parties. Raines points 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, you can still invite the spouse and children who are still at home; chances are they would love the friendly interaction.
Listen. Part of being a good friend is listening. According to Yates, “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,” says Lotz.
There are many ways to help support our servicemen and women and their families. “Latter-day Saints have hearts of gold,” says Yates. “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.”
© LDS Living 2011.