Imagine moving to a new city, state, or even country every few years. Now picture doing all of that with small children, moody preteens, or high schoolers who want to graduate with their friends. Finally, think about what it would be like to deal with all of those stressors, and then learning that you or your spouse must leave to another country for several months. Congratulations, you are just beginning to understand a little of what U.S. military families go through. There are many ways to support military families on the 4th of July that will help them feel seen and appreciated in the community.
According to a demographics report by the U.S. Department of Defense, in 2015, across the Active Duty and Selected Reserve population, there were 2,120,505 military personnel and 2,783,141 family members, including spouses, children, and adult dependents. Many military families, like those of Tabitha S. Moyer, a USAF Veteran and the spouse of an active duty USAF member stationed overseas, spend very little time near extended family and friends. Moyer tells Romper:
"Of our 20 years of military life, 14 have been spent living overseas. We've lived in Southern Spain, Hawaii, Turkey, and currently Okinawa, Japan. We've been extremely fortunate! However, with these amazing experiences, come sacrifice in many ways. One of the most prevalent are holidays away from friends and family."
There is a good chance that you know or live near a military family going through something similar this holiday season. Here are some ways to help military families on the 4th of July, and beyond.
1. Send A Care Package
Military families stationed overseas may not be able to celebrate American holidays in the same way they would back home. Consider sending a holiday-themed care package. Some items you can include are:
- A 4th of July T-shirt
- A baseball cap
- Snacks that have red, white, or blue packaging
- Red and blue pens
- A red, white, or blue journal or notebook
- Books with red, white, or blue covers
- Matching toiletries such as a red toothbrush, blue mouthwash, and white tube of toothpaste
- Hygiene products such as roll-on deodorant, soap, aftershave, and feminine wash (these are limited and more expensive overseas and are always appreciated)
Ship it in a USPS Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box decorated with matching care package stickers ($7)
2. Video Chat
One of the hardest things for military families is to be away from home on the holidays. It's even more difficult to see their hometown friends and family celebrate without them. Moyer says:
"Oftentimes, those of us who are living abroad due to military life feel disregarded, left out, or not missed. This is more the case during holidays where gathering and celebration are abundant."
Make some time during your 4th of July celebrations to video chat with your loved ones who are stationed far away. Show them that they truly are loved and missed, and help them feel included.
3. Don't Forget The Spouse
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), being a single caretaker and worrying about a spouse's safety overseas can take a physical and psychological toll. When a servicemember is deployed, the military spouse often feels lonely or forgotten. This is especially true if their current "home" is not their hometown. Amanda Caldwell, whose husband, a USAF pilot, is deployed about 50 percent of the year, lives several states away from her hometown. In a recent interview with Romper, she says:
"I often feel lonely when he's away because people tend to forget you're still here. Most of our friends started as his friends, so the closeness with them isn't there like it is with people back home."
Make it a point to include the spouses and children of deployed servicemembers not only in your 4th of July celebrations, but in community and family events year-round.
4. Introduce Yourself
If a military family moves into your neighborhood, introduce yourself and offer to give them some information about their new community. This is very important during holiday seasons, where they may miss out on a big event because they aren't aware of it. "Consider that they don't know much about community events or gatherings," Caldwell says. "Around here there are farmer's markets, a car show in the main town, a block party, fireworks, parades, all of which I wouldn't know about without some people giving me information about it or adding me to Facebook events."
5. Invite Them Over
Military families move around a lot. Even if they are experts at learning new cities and finding local events, they may long for the intimacy of a backyard barbecue or sitting at a friend's kitchen counter drinking a glass of wine. Consider inviting them over and helping their new community feel like home.
6. Write A Letter
Deployed servicemembers love to get letters in the mail, especially from kids. A U.S. Army Sergeant (who asked to remain anonymous due to the confidential nature of his unit) tells Romper that, "the letters from kids that I received while overseas brought my morale up. It always put a smile on my face to see how much the children looked up to us."
According to the Military Postal Service Agency, letters sent directly to APO or FPO addresses may take up to 13 days to deliver. Make sure that you address your letter to a particular servicemember, as following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, letters addressed to “Any Servicemember, Any Wounded Warrior, Any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine” are prohibited and will not be delivered.
Even if you don't know any deployed troops personally, you and your children can still write letters to be shipped inside care packages through organizations such as Operation Gratitude.
7. Be Considerate Of Combat Veterans
The U.S. Army Sergeant ask people be considerate of veterans living in the area during the holiday. "Fireworks may trigger traumatic experiences for those that have been at war – especially the 'whistling' fireworks," he says. "They have a very similar sound to mortars."
Avoid setting off fireworks in residential areas, especially on days that aren't holidays , where the sounds are unexpected and can be startling to anyone, especially a veteran with PTSD.
If you or someone you love is a combat veteran, you can order a free lawn sign that reads, "Military veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks."
8. Offer To Lend A Hand
One way you can help a deployed servicemember this 4th of July, and year-round, is by being available to lend a hand to their spouse and children when necessary. Caldwell says that when her spouse is deployed, he feels confident knowing that his family has someone to count on something were to happen.
"If our car broke down we have somebody that we can call to help us. I have neighbors to help us take out the garbage because I've got a 1-year-old at home and it's a long walk," she says. "They will also plow or shovel the driveway when there's snow."
9. Say "Thank You"
One of the simplest things you can do to support a military family this 4th of July is to reach out and say thanks. According to the APA all people benefit from community support. A simple "thank you" to a servicemember or a military family helps show your gratitude for their sacrifice. This kind of emotional show of support is important to everyone's health and well-being.
10. Plan A Kids' Play Date
This 4th of July, consider planning a play date with the child of a military family. The APA warned that children of military parents can face more emotional difficulties than nonmilitary children. In addition, parental deployment can increase a child's risk for depression. Participating in activities and making friends has been shown to lower the levels of stress in adolescents of military families.