It’s Christmas Eve and all is quiet around our house. We don’t normally do a lot this day, but this year it seems extra quiet.
My morning started with a message from our son in Afghanistan. I told him about the fund I started to supply needed items to the soldiers in his battalion. I have just about $1,000 in donations wither in hand or on their way here this week. He was thrilled to hear it. And when I say thrilled his comment was, “wow that is amazing.” High praise from a guy who hardly ever writes.
At noon I drove to the Veterans Administration hospital to drop off some Christmas cards to the chaplains office. I left the cards a the office door after talking to another VA employee who was also hoping to find the chaplain in.
On my way to the elevator I saw a man with a cane at the information desk. He was asking if anyone was there. I walked over to let him know no one was at the desk and I told him I was a visitor but would try to help him if I could. He wanted to find a restroom. Fortunately a gentlemen approached who looked like he might work there and told us the direction to go in. After brief introductions we walked together down a long hallway with photos of members of the military who were killed in action lining the walls. Before too long we found the restrooms. He assured me he could find his way back down the hall.
My next stop was right before I left the building. Two employees of the VA were standing by a Christmas tree. I could tell they had a lively discussion going. The gentleman asked me to come over and join them. Apparently they were debated the cost of the tree and the ornaments. They wanted a neutral third-party to help settle their discussion. It was a fun little conversation about ornaments, the tree decorations and shopping for them.
I am home now. The afternoon mail brought with it a few more checks for the soldiers fund. I am floored by the generosity of people. Some of the money donated comes from long time friends. Much of it is coming from people I have never met. It looks like the donations may exceed $1,000 when all the checks come in. Just amazing.
This past week while I waited to get my hair cut I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman there waiting for his wife. We talked about family and Christmas. When I told him one of my children is in the Army and is deployed he told me he served in Korea. He then pulled out a $20 dollar bill and gave it to me. He asked me to send something to my son with the money. A lady who over heard the conversation came into the room and she gave me a $20 as well. After my hair cut the receptionist said she would like to help too and gave me a $10! With the cash they gave me I ordered 96 more rolls of Ultra Plush Quilted Northern for my sons platoon.
This Christmas is a bit different from all the others. It is hard to have a loved one away, but really tough when they are in a war zone. Knowing we are surrounded by caring people, even people we don’t really know, helps.
Never again will I look at toilet paper the same way.
My son sent me a private message on Saturday morning. I had missed his Skype call the day before. He doesn’t contact me often so I wasn’t sure what was up. It turns out the toilet paper I ordered through Amazon.com arrived. I sent 96 rolls, enough for each member of his platoon to have a package. He told me the guys were treating it like gold. They received a number of boxes this past week, but the toilet paper was, “the hit of everything.”
I told my son to let his guys know I’ve got their a$$es covered. I am pretty sure he rolled his eyes when read my comment.
This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, the time in Advent when Christians reflect on joy. How interesting that something we take for granted, like toilet paper, would bring such joy to a bunch of deployed soldiers. When I go to the grocery store this week and come home with toilet paper I guarantee you my family will not be overwhelmed with joy. It is something they just expect to have. The only time it would become a topic of conversation is if I had forgotten to pick some up and we ran out.
Right after I corresponded with my son I heard from the Family Readiness Group leader for the battalion. I had offered to help gather needed items for not only my son, but anyone in the battalion. It turns out quite a few of the soldiers are in need of socks, t-shirts, underwear, baby wipes, and hand warmers. They are in remote areas without access to laundry facilities. It is getting quite cold and they need these basics. Many of the guys have not had the opportunity to shower. With no laundry facilities our soldiers end up having to burn their dirty socks and underwear with the other trash.
Who among us rejoices over waking up getting dressed and going to work in clean clothes? I know I will look at my everyday routine a bit differently now. I vow to appreciate what I used to take for granted. I have a nice home, with heat, running water, and indoor plumbing. I sleep in a comfortable bed, and have clean clothes to wear each day. I even have a variety of clothes. We have food in the pantry and the refrigerator. If we run out of anything we can find the needed items at a variety of stores near by.
I will never look at a roll of toilet paper or a trip to the bathroom the same way again.
If you would like to help provide basics to some of our deployed soldiers from Fort Stewart, please email me: [email protected]
We are about a month into my sons deployment. For the most part it isn’t too different from him being away at his stateside base or away at college. At least we pretend it isn’t most of the time. You see, you try not to dwell on the fact that he is in a war zone. He isn’t just away at work or college. He is in a dangerous place.
We are family members of a 1 percenter, a member of the U.S. Military. One percent or less of our population serves in a branch of the U.S. military. That means in our town, that is far from a military base, very few of our friends and acquaintances know what it is like to have a close family member in a war zone. For the most part people are supportive when they learn he is in a war zone. But at least once a week I have a less than supportive conversation, usually with an acquaintance, but sometimes with someone who should know better.
At a veterans day luncheon at our church a few weeks ago a veteran and JROTC teacher asked me what my son is doing in Afghanistan. When I told him the general description he said, “Wow you must be worried. My son was over there, but he didn’t have THAT kind of assignment. I’d be worried all the time if I were you.” Definitely not a helpful or supportive comment.
In the grocery store a neighbor asked how we are doing. I told him I was there buying things to send to my son. His response? “I thought we weren’t sending anyone over there any more.” Really? I couldn’t believe he didn’t know we are still sending troops.
These interactions reminded me of the many blog entries I have read written by spouses or family members with deployed soldiers. I can now relate to their posts in a whole new way.
Most of the time I don’t allow my mind to go to the scarier scenarios. But when I do I know I am not alone. Many military moms before me and now have the same fears. I’ll list a few to give you an insight into what a military family carries with them under the surface.
My son, and many, many others, have to wear armor and carry a weapon just about every where they go. It isn’t for show. They never know when they will need to protect themselves, and the people they are with, from an attack.
I used to like surprise visits. Now I dread the thought of an unexpected knock on the door. If there is a death in a war zone an uniformed team from the Army will visit the next of kin to let them know the horrible news. If you are going to visit a friend with a loved one in a war zone, call them first to let them know you are coming.
Related to the unexpected knock is the late night phone call. Don’t call late at night unless it is an emergency. We hope when the phone rings late at night it will be our soldier calling to say hello. We dread that it will be bad news.
Another upsetting scenario is the unexpected dark car in the driveway or in front of our house. Again, if you are going to visit, call first let me know what kind of car you drive.
Spouses or parents of deployed service members should have an up to date passport. If there is a severe injury it will help to get out of the country quickly. In some cases they will expedite a passport. I don’t want to think about that need, but I do want to be prepared.
Just FYI. . .as part of his job my 20 something son had to detail what his wishes are if he should die in the war zone. We had to discuss his wishes. While it wasn’t an easy conversation to have, I am glad to know what my son would want. Most non-military parents will never have this kind of conversation with their children when they start their first job out of college.
I know people who have no experience with a military member try to relate our experience to what they have experienced. You really can’t. Maybe certain aspects are similar, but unless you have a family member who has to carry a weapon to protect themselves while away on a trip, it isn’t the same.
I have a young teen at home who misses and worries about her brother. Please be sensitive to her feelings, and mine, and don’t express your worries or feelings about the war. It doesn’t help.
We appreciate offers to pray for us and our son. Sending us patriotic emails with photos of flag draped coffins and a note about their sacrifice is not helpful.
Patriotic music and other songs that remind me of my son will make me tear up. Allow me those moments.
I will keep my cell phone with me at all times, on vibrate when appropriate. I never know when my son may call. I will answer the phone no matter what is going on if I see it is him.
Please understand that at different times I can talk about the situation and other times I may cry. Crying is a normal reaction to what we are going through. Don’t stop reaching out and being supportive because you are uncomfortable when I get teary. Stay and listen. Hugs are good too, at least for me. Some people need a few minutes to stay in their fear and grief and don’t want a hug. If in doubt what to do to support someone, ask them what they need to feel supported.
For the most part my friends and extended family are supportive. This past week I found out the number of men in my son’s platoon. I had a week to collect and send items for everyone so they would get there for Christmas. The out pouring of donations and financial support was amazing. Within a week we had enough snacks and gifts to fill a gallon size zip lock bag for each person in the platoon, plus four other large flat rate boxes of items.
Friends from several different aspects of my life donated items and money. A few I have never met. One person, a friend of my son, came to help sort and pack everything. It was wonderful for my daughter and I to spend time with one of his contemporaries.
One local Citadel mom is a school teacher. She had her 3rd grade students write notes and draw pictures. We included one in each bag for the platoon members. She also provided hot chocolate, instant coffee and baby wipes for the care packages.
Other Citadel families are sending their gifts directly. I smile when I think of their caring and support.
If you’d like to be helpful to a family whose loved one is deployed ask them how they would like to be supported. It varies with each family. Our son is single. That adds a different dynamic than a married soldier. We have a good idea of what he is doing, but can’t tell others. Please don’t be offended if we can’t tell you everything. We can say enough that you should be able to know we need a friend.
The holidays will be over soon. The talk of giving slows down and people move on to their exercise routines and weight loss discussions in the new year. Our soldiers will still need gifts of essential items and home-made goodies as reminders that we appreciate their willingness to serve in the all volunteer armed forces. Mark your calendars for early January and send a card letter or package to someone who is deployed.
If you would like to learn more about military families and how to support them during deployment, I am including some links: