An Army Mom Reflects and Gives Thanks

We made it through our first Christmas with our soldier deployed. While we missed him, we did manage to have a very nice holiday with friends and family. Like many people I tend to become reflective this time of year. I thought I’d share some rambling thoughts and reflection about this past Christmas.

Two years ago Christmas day the first blog post I wrote for the military blog site Off the Base was published. The Making of a Military Mom started me on a journey I could never have imagined. When Bobbie O’Brien first asked me to contribute to the blog as the mom of an Army ROTC cadet soon to be officer my first response was, “Thank you, but I am not a writer.” Little did I know when I finally agreed to give it a try that my entries about our experience at The Citadel would be so well received. Eventually I posted my own blog. I’ve met so many wonderful people through this blog either in person, on Facebook, or through email. We have a very supportive community.

This Christmas a group of friends joined me and donated items to be sent to my son’s platoon for Christmas. We heard via Facebook the gift bags arrived right before Christmas. I was thrilled to hear all the boxes we had sent finally arrived. When I asked for photos he told me they would be coming. I checked email and Facebook several times a day hoping to see photos of our guy. A few days before Christmas our daughter asked me what I wanted most for Christmas. I told her, “I’d like a picture of soldiers in Afghanistan.” What a wonderful gift to receive Christmas morning in my stocking. While it wasn’t the picture I expected, it was one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received.

This picture was in my stocking Christmas morning. A gift from my daughter.
This picture was in my stocking Christmas morning. A gift from my daughter.

She also gave me a t-shirt with the little blue fish, Dory, from Finding Nemo. (In case I forget my name I can look at the shirt.)

In case I ever forget my name, I can look at my shirt. A gift from our daughter.
In case I ever forget my name, I can look at my shirt. A gift from our daughter.

A few days after Christmas an email arrived with three photos. Two of the platoon with the gift bags we sent and one of our guy in a hat we sent to him as a present. It made for a great start to the New Year. The guys look good and we could make out a few of the children’s Christmas pictures in the bags we sent.

Delta Company Christmas photo.
Delta Company Christmas photo.
Delta Company Christmas photo #2
Delta Company Christmas photo #2

New Year’s Eve 2012 marked the 19th year of working in the press box as a volunteer for what is now called the Chick-fil-A Bowl. No matter what changes I am going through in a given year the one constant for 19 years has been this activity. It is like a family reunion each year. My favorite person to catch up with is a gentleman our daughter calls Mr. Walter. He works for the Georgia Dome security during the bowl and his station is right next to the information table in the press box where I work. He is a wonderful, caring, man who is a wiz with statistics of all kinds. He was profiled in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the past few years. He is an Atlanta celebrity among event goers since he works at multiple venues. I always enjoy our time catching up together at the Bowl. It is also fun to see the various reporters and others who attend the game.

Dorie and Walter catching up during their annual reunion.
Dorie and Walter catching up during their annual reunion.
Members of the press getting ready for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Members of the press getting ready for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Before Christmas I put word out that the soldiers in our son’s battalion needed some basic supplies. While they had the basic necessities some are stationed in remote areas and could use a few more basics. The response has been amazing! Checks began to arrive right away. I am told more are in the mail now. To date I have received $1,200 to go toward supplies. Several other people said checks are on the way. I am working with the family readiness group to determine what is needed and the items should be on their way next week. An initial shipment of military cold weather socks are on their way to our son’s platoon along with another shipment of the coveted soft toilet paper.

I am overwhelmed with these gifts in addition to the many people who have sent boxes to our son and his platoon. Many of these people I have only met a few times, or only know through online networks like Citadel parent Facebook groups. Some are teachers and have sent boxes of goodies and needed items along with letters from children. My son tells me the guys really like the boxes I send the best. I really think he means the boxes of items I and our friends send. In a very real way I feel we are a small part of a huge family that includes: Citadel families, Army families, childhood friends, college friends, church friends, and a few caring people who read the blog and I have never met.

This past week a package arrived from a Citadel mom. It included a card and check and a very special gift for my daughter and me. A picture frame with two patriotic angel pins. Tears came to my eyes when I read the card. The sender is a military spouse. She has a first year knob at The Citadel and has given me some very helpful tips the past few months. She told me that while the Citadel parents are like family that the military family is even larger.

A beautiful gift from a Citadel mom who is also a military spouse. She is also our angel.
A beautiful gift from a Citadel mom who is also a military spouse. She is also our angel.

I am so blessed to have so many wonderful and supportive friends. I am beginning 2013 with the firm knowledge that our family is blessed to have such a wonderful group of people surrounding us with their care and their prayers.

Emotions of a Mom of a 1% Soldier

Chelle and Dorie visit with their soldier during Family Day at Fort by Stanley Leary
Chelle and Dorie visit with their soldier during Family Day at Fort Stewart.
photo by Stanley Leary

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:

Insights In Caring

Emotional Cycles of Deployment: An Army Mom’s Overview

Things You Should Say to a Military Spouse During Deployment

11 Things Not To Say To A Military Spouse

Military Families Ministry How to Get Involved

Laura and Chelle sort the donated goodies for the platoon.
Laura and Chelle sort the donated goodies for the platoon.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.

Social Media for Military Families

Army ROTC cadets at The Citadel take their oath at the commissioning ceremony the day before graduation, May 2011. photo by Stanley Leary

I am still learning about being the mom of a new second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Since my son is so busy in his new role, and because he has never been one to provide a lot of details, much of what I learn comes from web searches. The past few years I have also cultivated friends who are veterans of various branches of the U.S. Army.

One friend who is a fellow Citadel parent and a retired Army officer suggested I subscribe to a news source called Stand-To!: A daily compendium of news, information, and context for Army leaders. This site is helpful for getting a glimpse into the latest updates from the U.S. Army.

For general information and support several web sites are helpful. Goarmyparents. com was started as a personal blog of an Army mom. The site features forums, articles, pay charts, military lingo and a weekly chat.

The closed Facebook group, Army Moms, is a terrific place to connect with other Army moms to receive support and learn from the members there. You need to send a request to join the group.

Army Officers Friends and Family Support is a group that formed after LDAC 2010 (Leader Development Assessment Course). Each year the Public Affairs Office at Joint Base Lewis McCord do a great job of keeping friends and family updated about what happens at LDAC, including the address to send letters, scheduling of the exercises, etc. The LDAC 2012 Facebook page is here. Check the About page for links to their blog, photos and Twitter account.

I found the Airborne School Facebook page very helpful while our son was there. They post updates on the jumps and graduation information. Maps area available on their photo page.

Dorie and her daughter congratulate Citadel cadet, soon to be Air Force officer, Justin Wilson, right before his commissioning ceremony. May 2011 photo by Stanley Leary  is an internet database for organizing military blogs. a great place to spend time to learn from the contributors about their experiences.

An extensive list of Facebook groups for the U.S. military can be found on their official pages:

U.S. Air Force Social Media

U.S. Army on Social Media

U.S. Coast Guard Media Outlets

U.S. Marine Corps Social Media

U.S. Navy Social Media Directory

You can also go to the Topics section of WordPress and enter the military topic you are interested in to find blog posts. I’ve contributed to the military blog site, Off the Base for over a year. The site is maintained by Bobbie O’Brien of WUSF Public Media in Tampa, FL.

Armor BOLC graduation at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Building at Ft. Benning. photo by Stanley Leary.

Please take a minute and post links to the military social media groups you find helpful.

Airborne School graduation. November 2011. photo by Stanley Leary