Giving Thanks and Supporting Our Soldiers

Boxes packed and ready to go to our soldier and the battalion chaplain.

As I wrote last week, this time of year holds some wonderful memories, but also the grief of losing both parents to cancer at this time of year. To counter act the feelings of loss I’ve developed positive ways to deal with my grief. This year with a son deployed my coping mechanism has turned to efforts to support the troops.

The Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church (RPC) played a big role this year in the outreach efforts. Members of the committee donated Christmas stockings filled with goodies to send to the battalion chaplain to be distributed to soldiers. We joined the efforts of Military Families Ministry in sending out the stockings. Military Families Ministry was co-founded by a friend and fellow contributor the blog Off the Base, Tracie Ciambotti. If you don’t have the address for a deployed service member, you can contact the nonprofit to find out how boxes can be sent. Their web site offers several ways in which groups or individuals can support deployed service members.

Christmas Stockings for soldiers from the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

In addition to the stockings the Prayers and Squares ministry made and prayed over 100 prayer squares. The 6″ x 6″ squares of fabric have 5 strings or ribbons attached to them. When people say a prayer for the recipient they tie a knot. As I mentioned in a previous post the squares were prayed over at the veterans day luncheon and also by the middle school youth group at RPC. Each square was put into a ziplock bag with a card explaining what the knots symbolize. Half the prayer squares went to the deployed soldiers and the other half went to Fort Stewart to be given to family members of the soldiers deployed. Letters of thanks from the middle school youth went into the box with the prayer squares as well as hot chocolate packets, tea bags and snacks bars.

My daughter helped me get the boxes to the post office before Thanksgiving. Most were addressed to the chaplain, but one went to our soldier. In his we put warm hats, scarves and gloves along with his requested brands of special items. We also included some special items.

Prayer Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

For years our daughter would visit the Santa at the mall near our house. Now that she is 14 this tradition has changed a bit. Instead of dressing in her best Christmas dress she wore her “Fangirl” t-shirt, hoodie, and bracelets. I was also in the photo this year with my Hero On My Arm “Army Mom” messenger bag. A copy of the photo went in my letter to our soldier. Our daughter wrote a special letter to her brother and the reindeer Santa gave him went in the box too. I choked up a bit when we visited with Santa and I heard Chelle tell him, “Please keep my brother safe.” When Santa asked her what she wanted for herself she said, “That’s all I need.”

Chelle, Santa and Dorie go over their very short, but important, Wish List.

Opportunities to support military families are all around you. One of the nicest things you can do is to ask the family member how they need to be supported. For us, sending boxes to our soldier helps us feel like we have a big support network. We are collecting items this week to send 14 Christmas care packages to soldiers  with our soldier. After a quick Facebook post I heard from several people who would like to contribute. Letters, cards and pictures drawn by children are a terrific way to say thank you for your service. We hope to get the boxes in the mail by December 3. Please let me know if you would like to contribute to the mailing. We are looking for hot chocolate packets, instant coffee packets, baby wipes, beef jerky, dried fruit leather and other individually wrapped snacks.

While I am grateful for the many people who support us, I am still astounded at the people who have no idea we have thousands of soldiers deployed right now. I haven’t heard negative comments as much as ignorance of what our soldiers are doing. I am learning to use these comments to motivate me even more to be one more person getting the word out to support the troops.

An Army Family Prepares for Deployment

My oldest son graduated from The Citadel in May of 2011. He entered Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) training shortly after graduation.  The past year has felt a little like limbo. He is mostly in training and is enjoying his time as a young single officer. He has a nice condo near his base, plenty of friends to get together with on whatever free time he has. All that will change in a few months if his orders to deploy in the fall are carried out. I’ve been told by friends in the military that deployment orders can change at the last-minute so I shouldn’t  focus on the deployment date, but I should remain prepared.

Nelson received the Ironman Award from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal at the Armor BOLC graduation.

While my son has been in training to lead a platoon, I’ve been studying about being an Army parent. Websites like and the Facebook group, Army Moms, have been very helpful with my preparation. I recently ordered two books. The first is by a fellow contributor to the Off the Base blog, and founder of the nonprofit, Military Families Ministry, Tracie Ciambotti. Battles of the Heart. Tracie’s book is an honest look at what being the mother of a soldier is like.

The second book I recently ordered is A Handbook for Family & Friends of Service Members: Before, During and After Deployment published by  THe Defense Centers of Excellence and Vulcan Productions. The book addresses the various stages of preparation family and friends of a member of the service may go through when a loved one is in the service. The book has a number of resources for families listed including the Real Warriors website. I found their information for families section very helpful.

Our new ACU bags from Hero On My Arm.

Reading and research are very good tools to help with any change. For me I also need to develop my own rituals to help with the transition. This year for Mother’s Day I asked for a bag made from an ACU (Army Combat Uniform). I researched the various web sites and decided Hero On My Arm offered the largest number of choices, and had an easy to navigate website. My bag is a custom-made Elizabeth bag. I ordered a Premade Bag for our daughter. The pre-made bags are up to 50% off what a customized bag costs.

The owner and CEO of Hero On My Arm, Seneca Hart, was very helpful when I spoke to her by phone about how I’d like the bag to be customized. She suggested a section be added for my iPad.  We are very pleased with the customer service and the workmanship. The bags arrived about 8 weeks after I placed the order.

I added two name tags and a yellow ribbon patch for each bag at an additional charge. You can select the color and type style of patch you would like. Since I ordered at Mother’s Day they offered a free key chain with the order.

My customized keychain.
The “Elizabeth” messenger bag was customized with a section for my iPad.

Our preparation process began when our son was in high school and decided the military was the career for him. It is a process the entire family moves through. Reading books and web sites are helpful, but I find the best resources are finding friends who have been through it and are willing to share their tips. While he hasn’t deployed yet I know it will be an emotional roller coaster. One military wife put her advice to others into a blog post. One I think anyone in touch with the family of a deployed  soldier should read, Things I Wish I Had The Courage To Say During Deployment.

We are all a bit nervous, but push on with our day-to-day lives. Creating small rituals to help us get ready. I didn’t pay much attention to how my daughter, 12 years old at the time, was processing the fact that her big brother was graduating and being commissioned. Then one day for a language arts class she had an assignment to pick an inspirational person then find a song that reminds you of that person. She wrote about her brother. When she couldn’t find a song to match how she felt about him she composed and wrote a song for NaNa, a name she gave him when she was a toddler. I get a bit teary when I hear it, Brother’s Love.