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Supporting Military Families

Alexis Sanders - July 05, 2011

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In the ranks of today’s Latter-day Saints, there are thousands of Saints who serve, or have served, in the armed forces. These Saints are soldiers 24 hours a day, and whether located overseas or at home bases, they continually fight battles in an effort to maintain the freedoms we enjoy. While we work to sustain these soldiers, how can we also help to support the loved ones they leave behind?

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.
Tags: Family
Comments 4 comments

sparrow said...

11:20 AM
on Jul 05, 2011

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My son-in-law was killed in action almost 2 years ago - leaving his wife (my daughter) and their two children. They were not active members but they are children of a loving Heavenly Father. One of the things she finds most difficult and overwhelming is trying to be both a mom and a dad. Military wives tend to be pretty self-reliant because circumstances (during deployments) teach them to be. But knowing their other-half is not returning can test even the strongest. Befriend these military families - accept them and don't let their standoffishness wear you down.

jkcook said...

11:35 AM
on Jul 05, 2011

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Another great way to help those left behind is to serve a couples mission and request to serve in a military ward. When our base is deployed down-range, there are very few priesthood holders left. Regular missionaries can't help a sister and her kids because there's no priesthood there. Sacrament meetings are run by the few men left--the few Germans who attend our mixed ward. A missionary couple is invaluable with their church and family experience and their ability to visit anyone. If you want a foreign mission but prefer English, it's a great way to be overseas and serve the Lord and your country at the same time.

russandandi said...

11:35 PM
on Jul 05, 2011

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I am a military wife with no children and am so grateful that this article was written. I feel blessed because we have military relation missionaries in the area I live in and they look after us spouses very well. It is so beneficial to have couple missionaries with a military background because they really understand our unique challenges, and it allows them to get in the door since there is both and Elder and a Sister. My husband and I are considering a mission when we retire, and it would be great to give back as a military relations missionary. My best friends in wards across the nation have always been other military wives. I feel so blessed to be a member of a church where no matter where I go, there is always a community of friends waiting for us. I love how this article addresses inviting the spouse to activities or family events, especially at the holidays. It does really make a difference. Thank you LDS Living for printing this :)

rickenrota said...

12:27 AM
on Jul 06, 2011

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5 years ago, my stake (in Spain) closed the Servicemen's Branch (one of the oldest branches in Spain). A hard choice was placed before the local leaders, which brach to close. The local branch (who's membership and active priesthood holder numbers dropped suddenly due to many local families suddenly choosing to no-longer attend or affilieate with the church or the local branch) or a Sevicemen's Branch that was able to sustain itself. Although there were far more Servicemen and families when compared to the few that remained in the local branch. The local Stake choice to close the Servicemen's branch As my family speak both Spanish and English well, it has little impact to us. How sad it is to Servicemember family's who want or need the to blessing of having church meeting and instruction in their native language (English). They now get to listen to translation by untrained individuals who try their best to convey the message or lesson as best possible but just cannot translate everything said quickly enough. Not to mention how tiring it is on the few who do speak both languages who are asked to translate with little to no notice. How sad it is to see the Stake leadership choose to maintain a local brach to the detorment of our service members and their families. The servicemembers here with families support those who come here deployed away from home and family, ensureing they have away to get to church and Family Home Evening/dinner invitations. It just seems very strange to see how the church supports those who want or need to church in their native language (like in the US) or how Servicemembers in Germany or even Japan are able to attend church in English. It seems here is Spain, the need of Servicemembers to have church in English is either overlooked or ignored.
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