We discuss anxiety and stress quite a bit on this blog as it applies to disorders and psychological struggles, but today, we’re going to focus on helping others manage stress caused by another situation: deployment.
It’s a well-known fact in the military community that no matter what branch, whether it’s Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, or National Guard, our men and women are deploying more often and for longer than they did twenty or thirty years ago. Not only are our active duty members dealing with the stress of being away from their families in stressful environments for months (sometimes years) on end, but their families are back home, missing them and trying to make the best of life without an important member of the family.
One of the struggles I’ve heard my fellow spouses talk about most is how people treat them when they’re separated from their loved ones. And while there are most definitely things you should and shouldn’t say to mil spouses. (Here’s a good list from Woman’s Day explaining what not to say to a military family, and why), actions still speak louder than words.
So today, we’re going to look at a list of ways to support our military families while a loved one is deployed. Instead of focusing on ways to relieve our own stress, we’re going to look at ways to help relieve others of their stress. I think you just might find that following Christ’s command concerning our neighbors (“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Mark 12:31) can really make an impact on our stress. It’s funny how God made us to work that way.
So without further delay, here are 9 ways to support a military family during deployment.
9 Ways to Support a Military Family During Deployment
1. A Card – It’s old fashioned, I know, but who doesn’t like getting cards? A card of encouragement doesn’t have to be complex or lengthy. Simply letting your friend know that she’s in your prayers, and that you’re thinking of her can make a great impact. It’s also easy on the wallet, i if you’re short on extra cash. It takes one card, an envelop, and a stamp. If you’re crafty, a handmade card can be a wonderful gift in and of itself.
*Note: I had a friend once tell me that while people were very supportive when her husband first deployed, it’s like they forgot once she got three months into the deployment. Sadly, while she was in the toughest part of their separation, people acted as if she’d had enough time to be sad, and needed to “get over it.” Worst. Sentiment. Ever. I like to wait a few months until after deployments have begun to send these notes. They remind the receiver that she’s not forgotten.
2. A Coffee Gift Card – This one is for the military spouse left at home. If you’re not aware of it, military families move quite a bit, often every two to four years, depending on the job of the active duty member. While taking your friend out for a chat over coffee might be just what the doctor ordered, that can be a hard thing to do from two thousand miles away.
But it’s not impossible. Gift cards are wonderful things. They’re easy to mail, and they can just speak volumes of love to your friend who just needs even just ten minutes away from the house. Unlike most gift cards, you don’t have to spend $25 or even $10 to give this gift. If I was taking a friend out for a cup of coffee, I’d spend probably $3-$4 on her. Not that much, right?
I can go down to my local Starbucks (one of my friend’s favorite places), and ask them to put $3.75 on a giftcard. Now, $3.75 might seem like an odd number, but it’s exactly how much one tall drink costs. And considering the number of military friends I have, I’m might be sending these out quite often. It’s an affordable number, and my friend can have a drink on me, knowing that if I was there with her, I would have taken her out myself. It’s an affordable way to send love in an envelope, so to speak.
*Note: Starbucks has a $5 policy where they want you to put at least $5 on a giftcard. (The one on my base will make allowances when I ask specifically for them to try.) If you talk to the manager and explain that this is for a military spouse whose husband is deployed, he or she might be more likely to allow you to put the smaller number on a giftcard if they understand the situation. If they won’t budge, and you can’t afford $5, you can try and send your friend dollars and cents, or find another coffee shop.
3. A Deployment Package – This one is for the military member who is deployed. My husband hasn’t been deployed yet, but we’ve had plenty of friends whose husbands have deployed. Since Wal-Mart isn’t the easiest place to shop at in the Middle East, our men and women overseas really appreciate some bits of home sometimes.
Before sending your friend’s spouse a package, first ask if you are allowed to. Not all deployed are allowed to receive packages or mail, due to security. If your friend says it’s okay for you to send a package, then your first best guess is to ask what the deployed member would like. Here are some of the answers we’ve gotten when my husband and I ask this question:
- Snacks – Sure, they get MREs (Meals ready to eat), but they’re just not the same thing as eating at home. If you send snacks, make sure they’re packaged well, particularly if they melt (like chocolate…if you send it, make sure it can’t melt into other portions of the package en route to its destination. Items like Fun Sized Snickers or M&M packages might be good for this). Other common desires include nuts, beef jerky, and cookies.
*Note: Anyone who gets a deployment package is expected to share with friends. Do your servicemember a favor, and instead of sending him five cookies, send him a whole batch if you can. His friends will make sure he doesn’t get to keep all of them.
- Stationary Kit – As much as we use email, there’s still nothing that quite replaces the feeling of getting a real letter in the mail. One of my friends told me that her husband and his coworkers just couldn’t get enough paper, envelopes, or stamps. It was heartbreaking to think that they wanted to write letters to their families back home, but couldn’t because they couldn’t get the materials to do it.
*Note: Again, the servicemember you’re sending the materials to will probably have to share with those around him. Try to send enough for a group, rather than just one person.
- Reading Material – Obviously, Barnes & Noble is a no-go in many parts of the world that one might be deployed to, as are libraries. If you ask, a spouse will often be more than happy to tell you what kind of reading materials would be appreciated. If you can find out specific magazine titles or books, these can be great entertainment for someone who wants to escape a little by reading when he’s off duty.
- DVDs/CDs/MP3 Players – They don’t get Netflix out there. Since many of our servicemembers now have laptops they can take with them (Again, this depends on the area they’re deployed to.), they can use the laptops to watch movies and TV shows and listen to music. Another friend I know sent her husband an MP3 player full of downloaded church sermons, since his schedule didn’t allow him to make Sunday Chapel as much as he wanted to.
- Small Toys – Believe me, large ones are off limits because the servicemembers have to bring everything back with them. But I’ve seen small toys bring much joy. In a deployment package our church small group sent to one of our members, an individual bought the servicemember a minitaure NERF gun. His wife later told us that he had a blast running by his friends’ rooms and pelting them with NERF darts. It provided some amusement in a place that didn’t have much.
*With Easter coming up, a fun idea might be to purchase some plastic eggs and fill them with little candies or gifts. This way, your servicemember has enough to share with his buddies, and he gets a taste of home in his Easter “Basket.”
4. A Care Package for Your Friend – Who says deployed servicemembers are the only ones who get packages? Sending your friend a little package of little gifts and pampering can be inexpensive and fun! Only you know what your friend likes best, but here are a few ideas:
- Bags of her favorite tea
- A pretty coffee mug
- Nail polish
- A bar of her favorite chocolate/ favorite candy
- A package of popcorn and a new DVD
- A pretty notepad and pen
- A new book
- A bar of her favorite soap
- A favorite magazine
- A cupcake
- New stationary
- A new necklace you made or bought
The possibilities are endless. Just placing one or a few little gifts can mean a lot to someone whose husband can’t give gifts as easily from far away.
5. Frozen Yogurt for the Kids – Another gift card idea, people are more likely to accept a gift if it’s for their children. The next time you see your friend, hand her an envelope with money or a gift card inside to the children’s favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt shop. Just tell her, “Hey, I know the kiddos miss their dad right now. This is for them.” Write a note inside explaining that you want the kiddos to enjoy an ice cream on you. You’ll do wonders to lift the kids’ spirits, and that mom will get a lot of joy from seeing the her children’s delight.
6. Family Pictures – Many families want to send pictures of growing children or even just spouses to their loved ones far away. Unfortunately, a photographer can be expensive, and sometimes, Facebook pictures just don’t seem to cut it. There are a few ways to go about this one.
a.) If you feel so led, you can do like you did with the frozen yogurt and buy a professional photography session for the family. If the session is already booked, or the photographer is already paid, the familiy is more likely to accept.
b.) If you don’t have the money for a professional photographer, but you can take decent pictures with your own phone or camera, offer that! Our phones do awesome things these days! The family can still dress up like they would for a professional, and you can work out with them what the best location to take pictures would be. The sky’s the limit. Parks, backyards, and even living rooms can make great locations! The servicemember isn’t going to critique the details of your work. He’s going to be looking at the faces of his darling family.
After your session, you can use more inexpensive means to print up some photos. CVS has a great app that allows you to upload pictures directly from your phone to be printed immediately. You can also download the photos to a CD that the family can use for future prints.
c.) If you can’t afford a regular photographer, and you can’t seem to take a picture with sticking your thumb in front of it, you probably know someone who does take decent pictures with a phone. See if that friend would be willing to come help out. It’s amazing what people will do when they hear a military family is in need.
7. An Anonymous Gift – This gift is one that can be for the whole family. If you feel so led, military families with deployed spouses are often strapped for cash. Even if they’re getting Hazard Pay (which has been cut back by the government in recent years), the pay system is often late, and with the military member gone, it can take months to get pay problems fixed. These common problems can leave young families in a real pickle. And nothing says stress like a military spouse trying to make ends meet while her husband is away.
Even if pay is coming through alright, military families, particularly with young children, might lack the funds it takes to care for their deployed servicemembers. They might want to send their own deployment packages, but can’t afford the items or the shipping. Still, it can be difficult to accept money from someone you know. Understandably, few people want to feel like a charity case.
That’s why if you want to give a family some money, the spouse will be more likely to take it if she doens’t know where it’s coming from. If you want, type up a simple note saying, “I know you’re going through a tough time right now. Keep your chin up. Here’s $25 to take the kids to a movie. Sincerely, A Friend.” You can ask another friend to give it to them, or ring the doorbell and drop it on the front step, whatever floats your boat. The idea is that you’re letting them know people care about them, that they’re not alone, and that knowledge can make all the difference.
8. A Moment’s Peace – Parents whose significan’t others are deployed are not just moms or dads; they’re both. This can obviously be draining, difficult work, and sometimes, even an hour of peace can do wonders for their mental health and physical stress levels.
a.) You can offer to babysit for them. It might seem silly, but just the chance to go grocery shopping alone or run a few errands without children tagging along can be great ministries to these families. You might babysit just once or twice during the deployment, or you might do it an hour a week, something for your friend to look forward to.
b.) You can offer to get someone else to babysit and take your friend out for coffee or Margaritas! Lending her an ear, allowing her time to just talk face-to-face, uninterrupted with another adult can work miracles!
9. Ask – This might seem obvious, but a lot of people are afraid to do it. Just ask your friend what he or she needs. You might or might not be able to help, but getting some dialogue going at least lets your friend know you care. Whether it’s an hour of babysitting, something you can pick up from the store, or even nothing, if your friend’s got it all under control, it’s an act that shows you care. It also lets your friend know who she can turn to in the future if she needs a hand.
We’ve Barely Tipped the Iceberg.
There are a plethora of things you can do for military families to let them know you care. These are just a few of many ideas you can take advantage of. Whether you’re sending love to the servicemember or his family, you’re helping the family as a whole. It will make the servicemember feel great if he knows his family is being cared for while he’s gone, and it can encourage the spouse to know that she’s not the only one missing her best friend.
Do you have any tips to share about caring for deployed families? Do you have any questions? If so, please share them in the Comment Box below! Also, if you sign up today, or are already signed up for my weekly email list, I’ll be sending out more links on ways to specifically care for military families in my newsletter. Thanks so much for reading! As always, feel free to contact me. I love to meet people!
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