Advice for military parents​

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Do you have a son or daughter serving in the military?

Here is helpful deployment advice from military mom, Kathy Guzzo:

Kathy Guzzo is a Marine mom from Rockford, Illinois.​ who desires to bring support, peace, encouragement, and hope to women who have family actively serving in the U.S. military.


Deployment - What's a parent to do?
Copyright @ 2010
by Kathy Guzzo

As the mother of a Marine that was deployed in support of both OEF and OIF, I want to give a resounding cry out to other parents preparing for this experience to do all you can to be as equipped as possible. Once your loved one leaves, the emotions and questions become so rampant that the basics seem to be lost in day to day living. So start by thinking practical. Have a notebook nearby to write down any information your child relays and make lists of information you want to obtain, from his new address, to his superior’s names, to what he may want you to send in care packages. The more that’s written down, the less jumbled your thoughts will be while you’re trying to get a handle on the reality of deployment.

Next, is the important paperwork. A signed will and powers of attorney (POA) for health care and property are essentials for anyone being deployed. These are not topics any parents wishes to discuss with our children, yet it’s a necessity. The military can provide these documents or a local attorney will prepare them explaining the purpose of each one. The POAs are used for a variety of things, including access to bank accounts, paying bills, purchasing items and making medical decisions if necessary. In fact, parents have had to use the POA for property with regard to identity theft, which happens frequently to deployed troops and is much easier for someone stateside to handle.

Also, have a copy of deployment orders, not only because they have all your child’s military information on them, but at times are required for some things like having cell phones temporarily shut off. Prior to deployment, discuss how bills will be paid, obtain signed checks, get account and policy numbers such as checking, credit cards, loans, auto insurance, etc. It’s important to understand exactly whom your child is delegating  responsibility to while they’re gone.

You will want to create a list of military contacts. Each military branch has a liaison for families that remains stateside. If your child doesn’t have this readily available,
you should be able to get any information you need from the main web site for their branch. Since the military doesn’t readily inform parents, as they do spouses, you may have to search and ask questions but diligence is worth the effort for your peace of mind.

One important item you need to know is that in case of a family emergency you must contact your local American Red Cross not the military. The Red Cross will verify your emergency, contact your child’s unit overseas and have them contact you as soon as they are able. If possible, discuss ahead of time, which situations your child would want to be notified of by the Red Cross, and what would be okay to relay via a letter or e-mail.

Finally, finding support for yourself before, during and after a child’s deployment is almost as important as breathing. Because there is no database for parents of those deployed, it’s not always easy to find others experiencing deployment, but these connections are worth the search. Whether it’s an organized support group or just other individuals, they will become an essential part of your deployment navigation system.

They’ll give you reassurance that you aren’t crazy when you sleep with your phone glued to your hand or hold your breath when the doorbell rings or if you cry when something little reminds you of your child, and when on some days you are obsessed with watching the news while other days you avoid it at all costs. They can truly relate. So, during this time when everyday life takes a back burner and emotional extremes are inevitable, by doing what you can to be informed prior to the deployment you’ve taken a big step in this journey of twists, turns and unknowns.




Communication
Copyright @ 2010
by Kathy Guzzo

The need for parents to communicate with and do everything possible for their child kicks into overdrive when the child is deployed.  We are blessed to live in a time when there are several ways for families to communicate with those deployed. However, first and foremost we must have their correct complete mailing address. If it wasn’t available before they left search their unit’s web page or call the Family Readiness Officer (FRO) to obtain it.

Sending letters via regular mail, takes longer than other methods but we’ve all heard stories about soldiers that read and reread letters from home because a handwritten card or letter is like receiving a piece of someone’s heart. If your child’s unit is not always at a main base, they may get letters delivered in bunches. For this reason it helps to number the letters so if several are delivered at the same time, the order in which to read them is obvious. Making a copy of the letter for yourself helps remember what you told them about and may avoid repetition.

In this age of technology, there are several different options available for communicating such as e-mail and Skype. However, these are still not fool proof.  Their Internet service can be very intermittent, some troops aren’t near computers more than once a month, and because some of our troops must pay for Internet, if they aren’t set up with an account they have no access.  So don’t expect a quick response. Also, large attachments can slow down a system that already works at a snail’s pace.

We at home can sign up at www.motomail.us to send FREE quick letters via the Internet that are actually printed out, sealed and delivered to the recipient usually within three days just as if they were sent via the postal system.  Their complete address must be entered to register and then you are able to send up to five letters per day. These letters are limited in length with no attachments allowed. I know from experience this works extremely well and it’s a fast, easy way to send a quick note. Again, having the letter on your computer avoids trying to remember what was written. Unfortunately, Moto mail is not available to the troops.  Their only option to send letters is via U.S. Postal Service, which is free. However, they are charged regular postage rates for any letters or packages over one ounce. For this reason, I occasionally sent large envelopes with postage already on it, just in case my son needed to send paperwork or other items home, since stamps aren’t always readily available.

Assuming they’ll get frequent calls from their child has disappointed many parents. We must realize that like Internet access, the luxury of calling home varies based on their responsibilities, location, and the availability of phones. To prepare for calls, the family can register at www.oif.spawareurope.net/ for a phone card then give the child the pin. The account is managed online, making it very convenient. Other phone cards can also be used, but are more expensive per minute. When a call is made, there may be a delay, and since you may get cut off be sure to say the important things first. I always kept a notebook near with things I wanted to tell our son, and it was also handy to write down what he told me.

Packages are not only the highlight of the recipient’s day, but by purchasing and sending items, a parent feels they’re doing something tangible for their child. The post office offers priority flat rate boxes where regardless of weight the cost is the same. These can be picked up at any post office or ordered at no cost from www.USPS.com.

As far as what to send, think practical, like no chocolate in the summer, no liquids, aerosols, or items containing pork. Send food and hygiene items separately or put them in Ziploc bags. Even sealed food can get the taste of soap when packed in the same box. Sending homemade goodies isn‘t recommended, since delivery time can vary from one- three weeks, but things like rice krispie treats, homemade Chex mix, and dipped pretzels do ship well. Regularly send toothbrushes, q-tips, small packets of unscented wipes, eye drops, individual drink mixes, hard candy, lip balm and gum. Be sure to tape all seams of any box to keep out the sand. Whenever possible send extras since most packages from home are shared.

Nothing totally eliminates the emotional pain deployment brings to a parent but knowing that through letters, cards, e-mails, and packages they are brightening the long endless days their child my be experiencing, helps relieve a small part of the loneliness.




One day at a time
Copyright @ 2010
by Kathy Guzzo

Once a child has been deployed, the days and nights not only seem to be never-ending, but they tend to run together day after day, week after week, and month after month. Functioning at the bare minimum can be a major task, yet there are ways to meet the challenge like a real trooper.

Maintaining a regular schedule may help alleviate wondering what to do, while pursuing a new hobby can be a diversion. For many during this time the need to stay close to home is overwhelming and yet there are others that need to get away from the everyday schedule. Some fluctuate between wanting to stay busy doing household projects and days when curling up with a book is all they can handle. One thing to remember is not to allow thoughts that it’s wrong to enjoy life while a child’s deployed keep you from doing something fun with a friend or loved one. Whatever works for you is okay, the goal is finding a way to relax and feel the freedom to breath deep during a time of tension. 

Family and friends will do their best to be supportive, but if they’ve never had a loved one deployed their understanding will be limited. That’s why support from other military families can be a lifeline; they’ve ridden the same roller coaster of emotions and truly understand.

Also, during the upheaval of deployment some struggle with insomnia, anxiety, or depression enough they need to see a physician. This is nothing to be ashamed of, accepting whatever help’s available is the wisest thing to do.  Again, the goal is to do whatever is needed to do for you!

Journaling is a great form of release by recording thoughts or simply as a diary of daily events, an outlet to clear and refresh the mind. During our son’s second deployment at one point I was feeling really down so to keep my thoughts positive, I decided that each day I would write a sentence describing something I was thankful for and something good that happened that day.

Next, having a notebook available to jot down things you think of to tell or ask your child when they call is really helpful, since the mind tends to go blank at ‘hello’. It’s also great for taking notes while conversing because at times the excitement of hearing their voice makes remembering what they said impossible. And, if they use military acronyms, don’t waste time asking the meaning, write them down to look up later at a military dictionary website. 

Remember, during the call you may hear things that are upsetting, don’t fall apart while on the line, let them say whatever it is they need to say, then when the call ends you can release emotions as you cry in the shower, go for a run, or whatever works for you.

Another reason to keep a notebook handy is if the gut wrenching call comes informing you that your child has been wounded you’ll need to record the date, times, who phoned and any other vital information available. The more written down, the less to remember. Also, I suggest every military parent have international phone service or phone cards available just in case they’re needed. Everyone hates to think about this call, but being prepared relieves a lot of stress during the initial upheaval if the call does come. 

The fact that the months while a child’s deployed are a long journey with many twists and turns, but one thing I told myself on a daily basis was this “In the course of American history, millions of mothers have gotten through having a child at war, if they could do it, I CAN DO IT! And you can too! It might be a day at a time or sometimes an hour at a time, but your mission will be successful. 

Below is a poem I wrote as we spent the last few days with our son prior to his second deployment.


Time

Just a week away
Until we must say good-bye
The hours seem like minutes...
The days like hours and...
The week like a day.
So little time, so many emotions;
Respect, fear, hope, pride,
Honor, anxiety, sorrow,
Joy, emptiness, amazement,
And love overflowing.
As the departure is approaching.

He'll never be "Out of mind",
When he's "Out of sight".
The memories and dreams
Will continue daily as
The concerns the mind will fight.

Time will change
While he's gone.
THe minutes will seem like hours...
The hours like days...

The days like weeks...
And a week like a month.
However, time will go on,
And like our confident, resolute Marine
We must focus on our task;
Praying, loving, encouraging, and supporting him,
Becuase that's all of us he's asked.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathy Guzzo




When your child returns from war
Copyright @ 2010
by Kathy Guzzo

Even as an adult the only thing I could relate to the word “homecoming” was high school dances and football games, that is until my son went to war at the age of 19. Now when I hear the word “homecoming” the image in my mind is of families reuniting after a long tenuous separation. While I know that the joy is overwhelming, questions fill the hearts and minds of those that remained at home. The unknowns and uncertainties don’t all disappear with the physical return of a loved one. Whether your child is single or married, the questions can be all consuming to the mom of returning troops. What should we expect? How should we act? React? Can we hug them? Do we ask questions or wait for them to share? What’s normal? Not normal? How do we handle our emotions and theirs? These are a few questions cluttering my mind in January 2006 as our son returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan.

My lack of understanding caused me to respond in ways I later regretted. As a mom, regardless of the age of our children, we not only want what’s best for our children, we are sure we know what’s best for them, after all God blessed us with them, right? Wrong! The natural thing for us to want to do is to get them back into the swing of things; back to who they were when we last spent time with them. 

However, this is a time when we should not necessarily follow the direction of our maternal instincts. Weeks prior to their homecoming, we need to ask God to rid our minds of any preconceived ideas or expectations we may have when it comes to their return. Our children are no longer who they were. As a result of things we’ll never comprehend, they’ve matured and changed. Our responsibilities as mom shouldn’t be to try to bring back our little boy/girl, but to realize all change isn’t bad. We do this by accepting who they’ve become, then meet them where they are. With God’s love, mercy and grace we can be what they need when they need it, which at times may be just to ‘be’ with them.

Deployments affect not only those that left but also those that remained stateside. There’s no turning back the clock, no return to “normal.” There is now a “new normal” for the entire family and it shouldn’t be up to them to come home feeling they have to fit into our lives. We need to be willing to find where we fit into theirs.

As moms, we need to accept the fact that the buddies our child was with 24/7 are just as much his family now as we are, and in some ways more so. I saw firsthand how my son communicated with his buddies with just a nod, a slight grin or look of anger. They didn’t have to say a word. This camaraderie can easily make a mom feel replaced or unneeded resulting in her pulling away. Instead, we should encourage this contact, especially if they seem to be withdrawing.

During the re-entry phase patience, listening and observing are essential. Moms have a keen sense when it comes to their children and we need to use that to become aware of emotions, small irritants, unhealthy habits, etc. Some Veterans may talk about their experiences freely, while others consider the topic of deployment taboo. Ask if they want your opinion and then be open and honest without judging. Watch for opportunities when just a sentence or two from you can be the gentle nudge they need.

The symbolic umbilical cord that was severed when they deployed must remain severed. We shouldn’t try to re-establish their need for us. Because they’ve been on their own for months constantly taking orders, they may find following strict house rules tough. Keep things simple. Don’t schedule activities for them when they return (however, you may want to ask if a massage and pedicure would be appreciated). Always try to honor their wishes and requests. Don’t assume and don’t demand. If necessary, run interference for family that may be anxious for a visit. Give the returning loved one plenty of time to breathe, to relax. 

We moms are a proud bunch, always wanting to show off our children, but don’t parade them around to family, and friends like a trophy when they return. This is the time to keep your pride subdued a little because for reasons we can’t comprehend, they don’t always feel like heroes and the extra attention can make them uncomfortable. In their opinion they were just doing their job and for various reasons some may even feel a sense of guilt at being home.

Adjustments with family, friends, the public, work, driving, even restaurants will be an ongoing process. They may seem jumpy, don’t sleep, eat sporadically, avoid crowds, want to be alone, give only short answers, seem distracted, angry, or unemotional. Don’t be too overwhelmed by all this at first, but you may want to keep a mental note or even a notebook of questionable actions, responses, sleep habits, etc., in case at some point you feel he may need some professional help. However, don’t push the words PTSD or counseling as that may cause resentment. Remember that jumping at the sound of a balloon popping, not being comfortable driving, or being restless at night, doesn’t necessarily mean they have PTSD it may be they just need time. If they are also laughing, doing things they enjoy, hanging out with friends they are probably okay.

Their priorities may seem messed up for a while, they may drink more alcohol than before, use obscenities, or they may not want to go to church. Again don’t badger, love, prayer and patience is the answer. 

Their digestive systems may be affected, introduce heavy homemade meals and desserts slowly. They may have their days and nights reversed allowing opportunity for quiet times of sharing. Be prepared to go with the flow as you may find that their preferences in movies, food, discussion topics, even clothes have changed.

Like us, they’ve been on a life-changing journey and now need to find the best direction for them to take to reach their next stop. Therefore, regardless of who they’ve become because of their experiences, what they need is to know that they’re unconditionally accepted, respected, honored, loved and that home and family will always remain their soft place to land.

Every child returning from war is going to react to deployments differently, because their experiences were unique to them and their personality. Three years after our son’s second deployment, I still see areas of his life where he struggles because of his experiences at war, which as a mom really tugs at my heart. When I notice these things, I wonder if I should mention them, but I don’t, choosing instead to accept that those things are part of the amazing young man he is today. There isn’t a step-by-step guidebook to get us to the end of this journey other than the Bible, so that’s where we must look when we doubt what to do next. I’ve learned that for moms whose child has lived through the uncertainties, traumas, and fears of war, God is still God. He is faithful to give those same families peace and hope if we depend on him.




What is "normal for a parent of a deployed Soldier?
By Kelly Hutchinson, Proud Army Mom from Kansas

If you are a military mom or dad with a deployed or soon to be deployed soldier, you may find this helpful. I am an Army mom and am in the final stages of my son’s first deployment to Afghanistan. In fact, as I write this, he should be leaving that country within the next 48 hours. With his deployment finally wrapping up after a long, tough year, I want to share a few insights based on the journey I have traveled.  

It has not gotten easier, but please know that there are many resources available to you. You’ll need to get quite creative with your coping skills.  It’s easy to lose perspective. People around you, even your most dear loved ones - parents, best friends, spouse (if not the parent of your soldier) cannot know what you are feeling and cannot relate to your emotions as a parent of a loved one in a war. Find those who also have a military child deployed. Get to know them whether in person, in a support group, a chat group or on Facebook. Lean on them. Try not to become frustrated with co-workers or friends who try to support you, tell you that you are overreacting or give well meaning (but bum) advice! I cannot stress this enough: You will find the BEST support in others who also have deployed sons and daughters.   

So, in terms of your emotions, your reactions and your thought processes, what exactly is "normal"? I went through and still go through all of these things. I consider myself to be a strong, well-adjusted individual, but boy have I had my moments. You will too, so I hope that the information below both helps prepare you for some things you may experience and above all, helps you to feel more normal!  

Although my son strongly cautioned me several times to not watch or read national news, you cannot completely avoid it. It’s on the radio, on TV’s in stores, and all around us. Every time I saw or heard a news clip about Afghanistan, I could literally feel my chest tighten, my breath shorten and my heart begin racing as fear gripped me. I would frantically search a map on Google to see where the incident happened and if I could figure out if it was near my son, then I'd jump onto Facebook or Yahoo Chat and try to see if he or any of his buddies were online. If they were not, despite the common sense fact that it was the middle of the night across the globe and they should not BE online, I would panic further. Stay away from the national media as much as possible. They sensationalize everything and most of the info they release is a few days old. If it's on the news, your soldier was not involved - you would KNOW already if he were.

This brings me to my next point, which is the military notification system.  Be very clear about how and when you will be notified in the event of your soldier’s illness, injury, or God forbid, death.  My son was very open, honest and patient in explaining this to me. I am incredibly grateful for that. Many of you may have a daughter-in-law or son-in-law who will be notified first. Some of you may have an ex-spouse, the other parent, whom your son or daughter is closer to, and may have selected that person as the first notification. You need to know who will be notified for your own peace of mind. I would also highly encourage you to set aside your differences with those closest to your soldier in this time, whether it’s an ex-spouse or a daughter or son-in-law you are not close to, please focus on what’s best for your soldier. 

Be sure to sign up, if your soldier authorizes you, for the notification. In the Army, it’s called FRG – Family Readiness Group. Once you sign up, you will receive email updates and letters about your son’s unit. Understand that the notification process works like this: If you receive an email, your son was not injured or involved. The first time I received an email that began “KIA Notification: We regret to inform you...” I nearly fell apart. While it is tragic, unsettling and difficult to receive these notifications of soldiers Killed in Action or Wounded in Action, you KNOW it was not your child. I eventually found comfort in sending cards with letters of sympathy to the families of the fallen and cards of well wishes to the injured from my son’s battalion. Your FRG will usually share addresses within a few weeks if the families are receptive to notes of sympathy or flowers or memorial donations. If you receive a phone call from FRG, your son is alive. He is wounded or sick, but he is alive. Try not to panic and for gosh sakes, if you are driving, PULL OVER! Take notes on the call. Trust me, you will not remember it if you don’t write it down. If God forbid your son is killed in action, you will receive a personal visit from military personnel. One more important note: The military needs to be able to reach you 24/7. There are forms available to share your contact information. If you leave your home, go on vacation or must travel on business, please update the form with your FRG so you have the peace of mind that the military knows where you are and can quickly find you, should it be necessary.    

The first few times that my son was able to call me from Afghanistan, the line was very static-filled, there were lots of voices in the background (other soldiers also calling home) and it was hard to hear him. It was a very frustrating experience. Expect this.  Do not expect frequent calls. The soldiers are busy over there and often if they do have down time, they must travel and wait in line to contact home. Never ever pressure your son to call you more frequently. Gratefully accept the bits of contact you can get here and there.

Send letters and care packages frequently as often as you can, within your time and financial constraints. (More tips on care packages can be found in a link below).  

Within a few weeks of my son’s arrival at a base in Afghanistan, he was able to have Internet access several times a week. I adjusted my schedule, getting up at 4 AM so I could chat with him at the end of his day at least a few times a week. The first few times, he would be mid-sentence and suddenly drop offline. I panicked. I just knew that his base had been hit by RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades). When you are online with your soldier, please realize that he is in a third world country with less than reliable technology. He is just as frustrated as you are, probably more so. When he drops offline, DO NOT PANIC. Nothing is wrong beyond the simple constraints of bad technology! A bit more on communicating with your soldier: Some soldiers find that Google or Yahoo Chat or Email is more reliable. In some areas of these countries, Facebook stays online fairly reliably. A few are lucky enough to even have webcams with Skype. Many have no Internet access at all and you will have to learn to patiently wait for phone calls. Find out which technology your soldier has available as a method of communication. If it is Internet based and you are not familiar with the program, please jump in and learn it! You’ll have better communication with your soldier.  

A few months into his tour, I was home one evening and a black sedan came down the street, slowing as it approached my house. It pulled up to the curb and stopped; slid a few feet further and then stopped again. My knees buckled and I let out a sound, sort of a primal scream like a wild animal. I tried to see through the window and yet I didn’t want to. My significant other had no clue what was going through my mind, this was my fault for not preparing him. He raced to me, thinking I was having a heart attack or seizure, he hadn’t even seen the car at the curb.  Turns out, it was only a little old lady from around the corner. Her little dog had gotten loose and she was creeping along the street trying to find him. My companion was very shaken by what appeared to be an extreme overreaction to a harmless car in the street. I knew I was not nuts but it's hard to explain what is in a military mom's head. The civilian’s first reaction is “How can you even think like that, honey, nothing is going to happen to him.” And you don’t, in general, “think like that”, but when you see a sedan or SUV that you do not recognize and they pull up to your house, your immediate thought is “family notification.” And you crumble. After a few moments, I calmed down and had to resist the urge to run out to her car and scream at her “Do NOT pull up to my curb.  Do you realize you scared me to death?!?!? MY SON IS IN A WAR ZONE!!!” This is normal, but I caution you to keep perspective and try hard not to assume the worst.  And don’t yell at innocent little old ladies who are frantically searching for their lost terrier. It’s just bad form!

On a similar note, I probably should share that I nearly wrecked my car in traffic one day. The phone rang; it was not a number I recognized, so I answered. The male voice on the other end of the line said “Is this Kelly?”  I said yes. He then said my last name and asked to verify if this was whom he was speaking to. I said (not so patiently with my anxiety rising), “YES, it is, who is THIS?” The voice then said “M’am is your son named ____ _____?” (Removed for privacy reasons). By now, I was quite rattled and said “Who the HELL is this?” His next words brought the fear of God to me.   “M’am, this is SGT_________.” I missed the rest of the sentence, hopped a curb in my car and realized I needed to pull over NOW, so I did, by now I was shaking and I realized my knuckles on the steering wheel were white. I asked him to repeat what he had just said, by now, I was shouting. I don’t know what, but I was shouting into the phone, which rattled the poor man quite a bit too. As calmly as he could, he repeated that he was “SGT so and so” with the Kansas Highway Patrol and he was calling about a check that had not cleared. It was written by my son six months ago for his vehicle inspection. Now, I knew that a state trooper would not call me with a notification. I knew that. But after he said the word Sergeant, I could not function, my mind went absolutely blank. At the time, I was unable to comprehend or focus on what the man was trying to tell me. I’m certain he thought I was a nut case, until I managed to blurt out that I had a son in the military overseas, rambling incoherently at this point, I frantically tried to explain to him that I had only heard him say that he was a SGT and I had gone numb and been unable to process what he was saying. He was extremely apologetic and kind. I was very apologetic too, and pretty embarrassed by my reaction. And we got the $15 check cleared. All is well. But wow, those moments will happen and it’s best if you have some idea of how quickly your brain can travel in the wrong direction and send you into a complete tailspin.

Let’s move on, shall we? Here is some more advice. See a doctor, counselor or therapist if needed and as often as needed. Do NOT be afraid or too proud to seek professional help in coping. I have read that seeking help is a trait of a very strong person. Indeed, seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It takes incredible courage, especially if you see yourself as a “strong mom” and a rock and anchor in other’s lives.  I know first-hand that counseling, group therapy, Blue Star Moms, friendships with other military parents and professional resources, as well as prescription medication taken appropriately as needed, are incredibly beneficial. We military moms and dads may be tough as hell, but we do need to recognize and react when it’s time to seek professional help. Anti-depressants, sleep aids, anxiety meds and talk therapy can work miracles. Seek them out.  If loved ones around you are telling you that you need help, LISTEN. Get yourself that help. You cannot be a support to your soldier if you are a train wreck yourself.  Not to mention that you cannot function in your many other roles, as spouse, parent of other children, employee, volunteer and citizen, if you do not seek help when it is clearly needed.

Find your higher power, mine is God. If you already have that higher power and are firmly anchored, good for you! Rely on him. Pray, seek wisdom, patience, courage and give thanks, always give thanks for you do have many blessings. Each person has a different belief and I respect that, but I do encourage you to find that higher power, strengthen yourself and cast your burdens. Prayer is powerful beyond words.  

Get a current passport. For me, it was peace of mind. The day my passport arrived, I held it in my hands like a security blanket. I know that I will not need it, but it was comforting to me to know that I had the legal ability to travel outside the US, if my soldier were to be sick or wounded.

DO NOT involve your soldier in petty things going on back home. He must be laser focused in life or death situations. Talk it out with him ahead of time if you can. Agree upon what types of things he wants to be notified of and leave all the trivial stuff at home. Petty disagreements with relatives, work problems, financial problems, and so on. Do not bother your soldier or drag him down with these things. Keep your conversations with him happy and light. Listen more than you talk.  Be as supportive as you can. I am not encouraging you to lie about major issues, but you do need to keep in mind that while he is well trained and mentally prepared for his mission, you can assist by not distracting him with things that seem important to you, but could shake his focus on what he is doing. Remember that he is in a war zone, in life and death situations. The fact that his brother’s truck was repossessed, you could not pay your light bill, Great Aunt Mary broke her hip, or you got written up at work is not information that he needs to be distracted by.    

You will, at times get really angry. You'll see smiling happy families, your son or daughter's friends partying and going to college or goofing around without a care in the world. Work through that resentment. You'll get angry at cheery families in Wal-Mart or co-workers complaining about meaningless things like a flat tire, a child who got a “C” on a school paper or a cold sore on their lip while your son is in a war zone.  At times, I wanted to climb up on the roof and scream because a person around me was complaining about something that seemed very trivial to me.  Please remember:  THEIR life did not change when your child joined the military, yours did. Don't resent them for that. And, when you find that you do, take a deep breath, stay calm, and hold your tongue. Rest assured that anger is a normal reaction for a parent of a deployed soldier.  

Ditch the energy vampires in your life. You know who they are. The people who suck the positive energy right out of you and are constantly negative and upsetting. You do not need those people around you while you are coping with a deployment. Even if it's a loved one, an aging parent or a friend of 30 years, it is now time to distance yourself for your own best interests. Please. Let someone else support that needy or negative person.  While coping with a deployed son or daughter, you must stand up for yourself and surround yourself with loving, positive people. You cannot afford to be dragged down by energy vampires in your life at this crucial time of coping with the constant turmoil of a child in a war zone. 

Take care of yourself. Don't make the fact that your child is in a war zone the central fact of your life. Your life cannot revolve around this. In fact, your soldier would not want it to. Your life must go on. Eat right, find creative outlets or hobbies, read trashy love novels, eat healthy food, walk your pets, write poems or a journal, volunteer, work some overtime, listen to music, or have coffee with a friend on occasion. Do whatever you need to do to feel good about yourself and continue your life outside of being a military parent. 

If you have an online presence, PLEASE be careful what you post. OPSEC rules exist to protect our military. Do NOT post specifics about the whereabouts of your loved one, his missions or anything that could compromise his safety and that of his battle buddies. When posting, keep in mind that your son, and his battle buddies, will likely see your posts. This is not the place to carry on about your fears, your worries and how much you miss him. Be positive, keep it light, post a variety of things going on in your life and ALWAYS remember that YOU must never distract him from his mission.  

To summarize:  
  • Find your resources.  Network with other parents of our deployed military
  • Do not watch the national news!
  • Find out about your military notification system.  Talk to your soldier openly.  Get connected to this valuable resource and understand the process.
  • Talk to your soldier ahead of time, or as soon as you can after he arrives, about best methods of contact.  Do not limit him because you don’t understand technology or are apprehensive about Facebook, Yahoo, etc.  LEARN IT and follow your soldier’s lead.  Prepare for little or no communication at times.  Expect static-filled, frustrating phone calls.  
  • Keep your focus and perspective.  Prepare for a phone call that could rattle you.  Do not obsess about a sedan or SUV in your driveway or at your curb.  Talk it out with close friends and family.  Prepare yourself.
  • Get professional help if you need it.  Join a support group, see your physician, get a good counselor.  Remember, the weak try to do it alone.  The strong seek help.
  • Speaking of that, find your higher power.  Cast your burdens at His feet.  During the time your son is deployed, there will likely only be one set of footprints in the sand, because He will carry you.  Let Him. 
  • Get a passport.  It’s cheap, easy peace of mind.
  • Do not involve your soldier in petty things going on back home!
  • Do not resent your friend and family for their problems.  Remember, YOUR life changed when your son went into combat.  Theirs did not.  Keep your perspective and anticipate that you will get angry.  Prepare to deal with that anger in an appropriate way.  
  • Ditch the energy vampires in your life.  Invest all of your emotional energy in being positive, strong and healthy.  Make your soldier proud!  
  • Do not make the fact that your soldier is at war the central fact of your life.  Keep up your hobbies and creative outlets or find new ones.  Socialize with friends, even if you don’t feel up to it.  Keep to a regular schedule.  
  • ALWAYS FOLLOW OPSEC!  Always keep in mind that what you post online, say on the phone, mail or email to your soldier can impact him.  Make that impact positive!

I'll leave you with this:  Thousands upon thousands of moms and dads have been through what we are going through. And they made it. You will too. Check in with your military support friends often, whether in person, on Facebook or a website.  After all, you are reading this on Operation We Are Here.  YOU are what we are here FOR!  Share what you are feeling, hoping, dreaming so that you can walk this path with others who are also in loving support of our sons and daughters and spouses. I hope you find my words to be of some help, mixed with a bit of humor and a bit of comfort.  That was my intent. Stay strong and God Bless!
Photo courtesy of Kathy Guzzo
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