Hot chocolate, holiday parties, eggnog, and good cheer characterize this time of the year. It is a time when, as a nation, we engage in a season of festivities, enjoying the comforts of our loved ones, our friends, time off from work, and a nation at peace and rest.
Yet there are many who won’t be celebrating with their most cherished persons this holiday season. This past Thanksgiving a New York Times article titled “What Thanksgiving Looks Like in a War Zone” reminded us of the men and women of our military who are separated from their loved ones this and many other times of the year.
November was officially declared National Veterans and Military Families Month in recognition of the sacrifices and separations our service members – and their families – make not only when deployed but nearly every day.
Many service members have shared their stories with me of these unique difficulties unparalleled in the civilian world they protect. Service members missing the birth of their children, those who lived with their spouse for just a few months of years of marriage, who have seen relationships and marriages fall apart, all due to the sacrifices needed to protect our great nation.
A military family isn’t left with many options. The spouse and children can travel with the service member as they rotate around military bases every 1 to 2 years, uprooting themselves and their lives, careers, and communities. The family can also remain in one spot, building a life but living away from the member of their family who is in the service.
Dual military couples sometimes can find a good medium but even then the nature of the duty required can create strains. After all, daily military life even in a non-deployed requirement often requires long days, unexpected interruptions and activities, day-after-day field exercises, convoluted ability to plan things like family vacations, a legal inability to rebalance commitments, strict timeframes, and more.
When deployment comes these stresses increase multifold. The service member is in an often inhospitable environment facing daily heavy strains, restricted comforts, and constantly anxiously on their toes even if not in combat arms. Their spouse, children, parents, friends, relatives face the worry of not knowing each day if they will be soon receiving that fateful visit and call, joining the sacred rolls of Blue Star and Gold Star families, as well as having to try to provide and live their lives without their service member.
The 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families confirmed this with “time away from family” ranking as the top concern of active duty service members and spouses. It ranked well above issues such as housing and benefits, both of which have been – rightly – the focus of much public attention.
It is reassuring that the American people and our elected representatives, when confronted with these issues, are tireless in trying their best to address them. In the most recent National Defense Authorization Act these measures included a large pay raise and various attempts to address housing, household goods, childcare, and other essential family support areas.
Yet amid all this service members and military families grit their teeth and take these sacrifices – amid countless other strains unique to military service – for the greater good for serving and protecting our nation. Perhaps the greatest resources for service members are other service members, as all who join this brotherhood and sisterhood experience the hard way the demands it requires.
This holiday season we should enjoy as much as we can the prosperity, security, and opportunity that those standing watch on the wall have given and provide us. At the same time it is worth giving a thought – and a prayer – for our nation’s military members and their families too who each and every day endure, fight, and win for the greatest country in the history of the world.