By Elaine Sanchez
Nov. 1, 2011
Today marks the first day of Military Family Appreciation Month. In honor of the occasion, I created a Top 10 list of the qualities I most appreciate about military families.
Ten qualities hardly seem enough to encompass the amazing service and sacrifice of our nation’s military families, but I figured it’s a start.
What I most appreciate about military families:
10. Their sense of humor. I think this is a prerequisite for military families — kind of an “If you don’t laugh, you cry,” complex, particularly when it comes to deployments. For instance, my friend Vivian wrote a blog post for Family Matters last year about a piece of pizza. Her Navy husband had just deployed, and the pizza was the only remnant of the family’s last meal together before he left. “So there it sits, mocking me while growing another skin in our fridge,” she wrote of that pizza, “a smelly, and somewhat odd, reminder that the man of the house, an integral piece of our family, is gone again.” Funny … and sad.
9. They’re passionate — about everything. They give their all, whether it’s volunteering in their communities, with their family readiness groups or in their kids’ schools. What’s even more impressive is they do so while balancing careers, home life, kids and education.
8. They’re strong, even under extraordinary circumstances. Due to state-of-the-art technology and medicine, the survivability of this war is unmatched by any other, and service members are returning home alive despite devastating injuries. And when they do, their families are there to embrace them. In some cases, they give up homes and careers to care for their military loved one full-time. That’s strength.
7. They’re always willing to lend each other a hand. I visited an Army post about a year ago to interview military kids and met a teenager whose parents were both deployed in Iraq. He and his two siblings were staying with his parents’ friends, who had three kids of their own. I was amazed by the couple’s selflessness at the time, but since have heard of so many other examples that I’ve realized this caring and support is simply another aspect of the military family culture.
6. They’re resilient. A decade of war, frequent deployments, moves, career and school changes. Need I say more?
5. Military spouses. From the moment they say “I do” to a military member, they begin a life of service every bit as valuable as their spouse’s. They give up careers to follow their military loved one around the world, hold down the home front during deployments, and offer their unfailing love and support. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and they voluntarily shoulder this burden.
4. Military kids. They’re just amazing. They change schools, on average, six to eight times over the course of their parent’s military career. They deal with long separations from loved ones – who aren’t headed out for a business trip, but for a year in a combat zone. Despite everything that’s thrown at them, they are strong, brave and adaptable. I met a high school senior a while back who told me he was OK with his dad missing his graduation, prom and a host of other events. He knew the reason why — his dad’s desire to serve his nation — and that was enough.
3. Other family members. People often forget about the extended family members who serve too. The grandparents who open their homes to grandkids during deployments, the sisters and brothers who call and send care packages, a host of uncles, aunts and cousins offering their unwavering support. I spoke to a woman who took in her two grandchildren during her Air Force daughter’s deployment. She was nervous at first – it had been years since kids lived in her home full-time — but then gained a new bond with her grandchildren. And she’d do it again in a heartbeat, she told me.
2. Their service and sacrifice. They, too, serve this nation. They weather holidays, birthdays and major milestones without their military loved one. In the worst cases, they must deal with their loved one’s ultimate sacrifice. First Lady Michelle Obama expressed her gratitude for military families at an event to honor military kids last spring: “When we talk about service to our country, when we talk about all that sacrifice for a cause, when we talk about patriotism and courage and resilience, we’re not just talking about our troops and our veterans,” Obama said, “we’re talking about our military families, as well.”
1. They stand behind their service member. I know a military mom whose children – all six – had either joined the military or were about to. All had joined while the nation is at war. While she was concerned, rather than deter them from their choice, she chose to support them. She told me it was an easy decision. “I always tell [my children], ‘This is your time in history. You are where the action is and you’re fighting for us, for your country and for the lifestyle we all enjoy.”
I hope everyone takes a moment to thank a military family this month, and year-round. Or, even better, offer to give them a hand, whether it’s with child care, cooking a meal or helping to mow a lawn. As the first lady often says at her Joining Forces events, “Everyone can do something.”