As I scramble around doing last-minute shopping and other preparations for the Christmas holidays, I occasionally stop to count my blessings. One of those is that, during the nearly half century we’ve been married, my husband and I have always been together on these holidays. The closest we’ve ever come to being apart at this time of year was in the middle 1970s, when Mike departed on Jan. 4 for a three-month temporary duty assignment, leaving me and our three young children to deal with snowy Vermont.
Being apart on important holidays has been the reality for a lot of people I know, including our two sons. Last year, our older son was on a solo overseas tour and unable to come home for Christmas and the New Year. This year, it is our younger son doing a remote tour.
Though the extended family pulls together to be supportive of one another during times of separation, it is particularly difficult for the spouses who have to be both mom and dad, carry on with their own careers, and handle all the normal daily chores that are usually shared. Be it dinner, baths, bedtime, chauffeur duties, homework supervision, tantrum management, grocery shopping or any of the other myriad duties necessary to ensure a smoothly functioning family life, it is challenge enough when both partners are around and fully engaged.
Add to that the normal concern that one feels about an absent family member, and it makes for a stressful time. It doesn’t matter where that family member is – a war zone or a First World capital. Because you are not with him or her, you worry.
I’ve spent more than 20 years volunteering with an organization that has seen and supported so many families who deal with long-term separations on a regular basis. The National Military Family Association wants you to know that, just because military families routinely deal with separations, it does not make those separations somehow easier. For many, each new separation becomes more difficult. I know that these families support each other and their extended families seek to support them. But I also know that they could use your support too.
This time of year brings out the best in all of us. We seek to help others in a variety of ways: we donate to the Salvation Army; or to food banks; or Toys for Tots. Many of us also look for ways to support our deployed military. We want to send them cards or packages. We give money to the USO to help them provide entertainment for troops posted far from home. Military folks I know really appreciate these efforts.
They also appreciate you thinking of their families.
The National Military Families Association is a 48-year-old 501c3 non-profit that has been working to build resilient military families. It provides scholarships for trailing spouses to help them finish their education or build a portable career. It offers summer camp experiences for the children of deployed or wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. It puts on “Healing Adventure” camps for wounded military and their families.
And to help families cope with those separations that I spoke about, it offers retreats to bring families from all uniformed services, including the National Guard and Reserves, to beautiful outdoor locations to spend quality time reconnecting after a deployment.
As you consider sharing this time of year, please keep our military families in mind…and be generous to them and those who support them.
Jeanine C. Hayden is a contributor for the Cipher Brief. She is on the Board of Governors of the National Military Family Association. NMFA has a Charity Navigator 4-star rating, and a Guidestar.org Gold rating. Donations can be given at: http://www.militaryfamily.org/
For this holiday week, The Cipher Brief is giving this space to individuals and nonprofits that support the national security community, and inviting our readers to learn about and support them. This is a preview of a future weekly feature to highlight charities in this space, with preference given to those with a Guidestar.org rating of gold and above. To those giving back, we say happy holidays and thank you for what you do. — Suzanne Kelly, CEO & Publisher, Brad Christian, COO, & Kimberly Dozier, Executive Editor