Dance, Sing and Drink Wine

Daily Necessities of Life – and Coffee Helps Too

Today’s Military Family

What do you think of when you think of a “Military Family?” Most people probably imagine a family living on a military base where the kids salute the father as he leaves the home on base each day and marches off to serve. A lot like that show that used to be on Lifetime where everyone lived on base and shared a common military-family bond. The soldiers came and went while the families bonded together creating relationships that lasted a lifetime because they shared a unique way of life.

The face of a Modern Military Family -- Our most recent family portrait taken last fall. Allen is now living at home with us  as a Citizen Solider until he is needed again.

The face of a Modern Military Family — Our most recent family portrait taken last fall. Allen is now living at home with us as a Citizen Solider until he is needed elsewhere again.

Well, not this military family. We are what I like to call the “New Military Family.” We are a National Guard Family that served as an Active Duty Family for eight years from 2006-2014. We floated in a grey area between National Guard and Active Duty (so our pay and medical often get messed up or entirely missed). I can count on my fingers the numbers of times my husband came home during those eight years, and he was never home for more than 120 days at a time. But we never lived on base, and our support system, while strong, was anything but traditional.

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Our family in early 2009. Allen left for Afghanistan the next day.

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While my husband may have served far more than most National Guard soldiers ever will (and, frankly, seen more combat than most current active duty ever will as well), more and more of our troops serving overseas are just like our family. They are National Guard families whose soldier is plucked out of the civilian world and sent to serve his or her country from six to eighteen months at a time. In fact, our numbers are so strong that at many times over the past few decades of conflict, National Guard troops made up about 50% of the deployed population.

army-wivesYes, the face of the military family is changing. It’s not like Lifetime’s Army Wives anymore. Actually, it really never was like that show at all.

 

We never lived on an Army base where we’d be surrounded by people with similar lives. Instead, for the first two years, my two daughters, Callie and Audrey, and I closed up the house we owned and moved in with my parents on the other side of the state. When my oldest started Kindergarten, my husband came home for a few months and we moved back to our home where we had no family, I had only a handful of friends and my children had no friends. It broke my heart to see Callie, who was still just four-years-old, have to start kindergarten now knowing one single kid at her school.

But one essential part of being any type of a military family is the ability to adapt, and adapt we did. Over and over.

Allen left for Texas three months later. Two days in to that tour, I found out I was pregnant with our third child and only son, Travis. then Allen went to Germany for a bit.  He was home for the birth but then left for a 14-month tour of Afghanistan when Travis was just four months old. From there he spent two years in Indiana and then left for an extended tour in Liberia.

When Allen was promoted to Major in the field in Afghanistan, the kids and I celebrated for him at home. We sent him this picture of his son (who didn't remember him) wearing his new rank.

When Allen was promoted to Major in the field in Afghanistan, the kids and I celebrated for him at home. We sent him this picture of his son (who didn’t remember him) wearing his new rank.

We got through those eight years with long distance support from family, new friends we met along the way and other families similar to ours near and far. I never had an active Family Readiness Group (FRG) composed of the families of the other soldiers my husband was deployed with because he always deployed as an individual. He wasn’t with 100s of soldiers that he had trained with for years. He was on his own. Back at home, my kids and I were on our own too. We gave new meaning to the marketing phrase, Any Army of One!

Many well-meaning people helped, others thought they were helping but really weren’t, and some people did some hateful things (our house was egged, flags were stolen and yellow ribbons were destroyed).

How Can YOU Help A Military Family?

The next chapter in American history is going to happen soon, and more families will join our ranks as Non-Traditional Modern Military Families. So, how can you best support them? Well, I’ve put together a little list things that might help you help them. I’m writing this from the viewpoint of a wife whose husband has been deployed, so in this case the soldier is always the Husband/Father. However, this list could easily be adapted to a family where the Mother was the soldier as well.

Do remember that we chose this life. There is no more draft. Please don’t blame the government for soldiers leaving their families. We made a choice, and we made a plan to survive.

Do understand that our children, on the other hand, did NOT choose this life. They were either born in to it or they were dragged in to it not knowing any better.

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These are the real heroes in my mind. The numbers in the this picture depicts the time my kids have lived with their father deployed. They’ve sacrificed more in their short time on this Earth than most people every will in a lifetime.

Don’t think that our kids don’t crave male attention. They need it too. It’s instinctual. I remember Travis always crawling in to the lap of a father at the dance studio while we waited for his sisters to finish class.

My kids were lucky to have an incredible Grandfather as a constant in their lives. He still is and always will be, but not all families have Grandparents.

Our elementary school was wonderful in always steering Callie (whose personality needs a strong male alpha) in to classrooms with male teachers as much as possible.

Some of the fathers of my children’s friends also were happy to step in when they saw me in over my head. I’ll never forget the relief of watching my daughter’s soccer coach talk to her about how proud he was of the way she stood up to a bully at school (she clocked him good three times) and then talked to her more about better ways to handle bullies before it comes to throwing punches.

And I will be forever grateful to the Dad (also a soldier who had been deployed) who stepped in and coached Trav’s soccer team so I wouldn’t have too. Actually, that was probably more of a favor to the kids on the team than to me, but still …….

Moms stepped in too when they saw I was getting overwhelmed. Two friends followed Audrey in their vans while she took an alternative route home from school one day all the while calling me on their cells to let me know what was going on. Others never said no when I called and asked them to help me get my kids to all of their multiple after school practices.

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Honestly, I see a little of myself in all these characters, but then again, I just can’t relate.

Do invite us places. Just because we don’t have the whole family home doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate things like the 4th of July. If you’re going to a big event with other families, ask us. We’d probably cherish the chance to interact with intact families. It’s a lot better than sitting wrapped in a blanket surrounded by strangers with complete families watching fireworks.

Don’t be offended if we say no, and please don’t quit asking. One thing many military wives do is find a ton of activities for their kids. I don’t know if it helped or hindered, but I know it kept us busy. We often did turn down playdates because of the constant shuffle between dance, soccer, music, art, gymnastics and more, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t appreciate a raincheck.

Don’t compare us.

We are not single wives. While we are playing a dual role, we do not have the added burden of also being the sole financial support for the family.

We are not like the women whose husbands travel for work. No, our husbands are not on business trips staying in hotels and coming home in a week or so. We go to bed and wake up not knowing if our husbands are dead or alive. It’s not a business trip.

Do step in and help out. No one has everything under control all of the time – certainly not someone trying to be both Mom and Dad to multiple kids at any given time. Find out what is going on and take action if necessary. If the wife sounds overworked, stop in see what needs to be done. Do her dishes or help her kids get the laundry put away and tomorrow’s lunches made. Send your husband or son over to mow her lawn or shovel her driveway. Even the simplest and mundane tasks can build up. 

Don’t offer non-specific help. I had a lot of people say, “Call me if you need anything.” Do you think I ever called any of those people? Understand that most military wives would rather drown in despair than admit they need help. Either offer something specific (“I’d like to take your kids shopping for your Mother’s Day gift.”), or don’t offer at all. I went home and cried once when I found out a friend’s church had been making meals for her and her two kids during her husband’s deployment. My Mother is the only one who ever did that for me in eight years.

Be open and honest about what you can and will do, but more than anything, be consistent. I needed just as much if not more help in the final years of deployment as I did in the first few. My needs changed over the years as our family grew, but I needed help all along the way nonetheless.

Do keep your opinions to yourself. If you don’t believe in “the war,” or you do not like our current administration, just keep it to yourself.  Saying something like, “I support your family, but I just hate what our country is doing,” might make you feel better about standing up for your beliefs, but you just make the person you’re talking to want to punch you. Yes, I heard that a lot and it took everything I had to just smile and find a way to say, “Thank you.”

Trust me, no one hates war more than soldiers and the families they leave behind, but we have to believe in it as it is the life we live. Save your opinions for FaceBook.

Do understand that our lives will go to hell and back when the soldiers come home. I ran our home for eight years. It was all me. When Allen came home for short periods, he found a way to fit in. When he came home for good, it wasn’t so smooth. He didn’t even have a closet in our house anymore. It took months for the kids (and our new dog) to accept him as an authority in our family. We are still transitioning over one year later, in fact.

Do give us space when our soldier comes home so we can rebuild our family, but …..

Don’t abandon us either. One fellow wife summed it up best when she said, “I never know who he will be when he comes home.” Does that sound like a woman who might need a girlfriend to take her out to coffee once in a while? Just give her a call and invite her out.

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The local Girl Scouts made yellow ribbons and the local Boy Scouts showed up at our house (unannounced) and decorated our yard just days before Allen returned home from on of his deployments.

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It should be noted that the Boy Scout leader in this photo (holding Travis) is a Retired Lieutenant Colonel himself.

It should be noted that the Boy Scout leader in this photo (holding Travis) is a Retired Lieutenant Colonel himself.

Don’t judge (or let your children judge) our children when their personalities change when Dad comes home. They don’t know this guy, and they’re going to challenge his parenting at every turn – even it if means turning in to someone they weren’t before. Add on puberty, and we’re talking drastic changes in behavior, appearance, friendships and more.

A Quick Note On Monetary Donations

It seems everyone loves to donate to the veterans or to help military families. But do you really know where your money is going to? I see lots of people selling things and saying the money either goes to vets or their families, but our family has never seen a dime of any of it. I’d like to think most people are legit, but unless the folks selling something at a stand outside of a store have a member of the VFW right next to them, I’d be hesitant to give openly.

If you would like to donate monies to help vets and their families, these are just a of my favorite (legit) organizations. You can also find out about local donations simply by calling your local American Red Cross or United Way.

Operation Military Kids

USO

Veterans of Foreign Wars

American Legion

The Patriot Guard

Finally …

Do remember that no two people or families will be ever the same. Every person and every family is unique and will have unique needs. If a family you know will be or already is going through a deployment, have a frank discussion to find out how you can help. And then do it.

Thank you, and God Bless!

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6 comments on “Today’s Military Family

  1. Carol Hoffman
    July 9, 2015

    A really good article. These families deal with so many things the rest of us just never think of.

  2. Jessica Lynn
    July 13, 2015

    Active duty military has been part of my life for so long now (as a spouse) that it’s hard for me to see what it’s like from the other side. I think this did a pretty good job of explaining things. I do wish, however, that your very last point was up there at the beginning!

  3. Amberly
    July 13, 2015

    Thank you for sharing! I’m studying to become a Family Life Educator and working with Military Families is something that we feel is important because their dynamic is so crazy! I’ll be saving this for reference later!

    • Julie Smith
      July 13, 2015

      Wonderful! I’m always happy to help!!

    • Julie Smith
      July 14, 2015

      Please do save it! Also, feel free to reach out if you have anymore questions. Cheers!

  4. Julie S.
    October 21, 2015

    I love this! I’m a National Guard wife too, and it is quite different not being an active duty wife and being on base (or living anywhere near one). People’s perceptions of a military family are very specific, and we definitely don’t fit that mold.

Whatcha Think? Let me know, please!!! Cheers!

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This entry was posted on July 9, 2015 by in Parenting, Seriousness (it happens), Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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