When Robyn Green, director of the Naval Academy Primary School (NAPS) in Annapolis, thinks of the impact civilian families have had on her family’s experience in the military, she says “They have made our journey a remarkable one.”
She and husband R.B., a coach with the Naval Academy’s football team, have fielded the challenges that come with military life both before and after welcoming their young twin sons, Grant and Garrison. Although change has been one of the most reliable constants in their lives, it’s been worth it, she says, thanks in part to the camaraderie and support of both the military and civilian community.
Whether a service member spends most work days at a desk, is on a third combat deployment (like R.B. was, prior to having kids), or has long since retired, those who’ve donned a military uniform in any capacity have likely done so with loved ones by their side or in their hearts and minds. Family members may not log the miles or face the risks inherent in serving, but their daily sacrifices are many and often go unseen.
November is Military Family Month, and there are a number of ways to show gratitude for those in uniform and their families this holiday season. “Military families are forever blessed and changed by the lives we lead,” Green says. Showing appreciation for their unique lives and lending a hand might just change yours, too. Read on to learn more about how to support the military families in your community.
Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore USO
The USO at BWI airport provides troops and their families with a comfortable space, food and support. In addition to assisting with a variety of events and helping staff the organization’s center, volunteers can also contribute by stuffing care packages for the USO’s PACK 4 TROOPS program.
USO Center Operations Manager Shawn Sabia notes that USO volunteers are an integral piece of the region’s support structure for military families. “Our volunteers are really unique in the nonprofit world,” he says. “They open and close our centers, stay late when a big flight gets stuck at the airport, and help bridge the gap between the American public and service members in our community. It is heartwarming to see volunteers interacting with our military and their families. At first, they may offer a simple cup of coffee, a friendly conversation or resource, but as they become a part of USO-Metro you see them making a real difference in the lives of so many service members.”
Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs
Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Dana Burl says Maryland National Guard soldiers and airmen are overlooked at times and are very much deserving of support. “These soldiers and airmen continue to deploy overseas and to hostile areas, leaving their civilian jobs and families so that they may serve our state and nation,” she explains. She adds that many work at various levels of government within the state and may be activated to carry out Guard or Reserve duties.
Sending care packages or “adopting” a National Guard/Reservist family are two ways of showing support, Burl says. “While deployed, spouses and partners remain to take care of the home and children. Just last year, a private sector employer in Annapolis adopted a Maryland National Guard Unit deployed to Afghanistan, sending care packages for soldiers but also supplies for the schools and hospitals in which they were working,” she says.
Charlotte Hall Veterans Home
Burl also recommends donating to veterans and their families at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County. It’s “an assisted living and skills nursing home for veterans and their non-remarried spouses,” Burl says. She notes that items often requested are basics as well as underwear, gloves and socks. The home will also accept gift cards to purchase necessities. charhall.org
VA Maryland Health Care System
“Each year, there are hundreds of veterans from across the state that will spend their holiday season at one of our three inpatient facilities,” says David Edwards, chief of public and community relations for the VA Maryland Health Care System. “Many of these hospitalized veterans may not have an opportunity to see their family members or friends during this very important time of the year.” Edwards says assistance from the community helps to make the holidays a bit brighter for the system’s inpatients.
Making visits, participating in entertainment and activities, gift giving, and sending holiday cards are all ways to connect with veterans and provide a sense of family for those who may be missing it during the holiday season.
Military Mental Health/Rehabilitation Initiatives
A soldier’s experiences overseas often leaves him or her with physical or emotional injuries. Supporting groups that work to ease service members’ challenges upon return from deployment is another way to assist the military. If you’re interested in offering this type of support, look in to volunteering with organizations such as the Military Veteran Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, or Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Hitting the pavement in honor of or to raise funds for the military is another easy way to show support. A quick search of events in your area should provide a handful of opportunities to participate in a solo or family walk or run. In our area look for Annapolis 9/11 Heroes Run; America’s Adopt A Soldier 5/10k Walk/Run (Northern Va.); Race 4 Heroes, 5K Walk, Run, Roll or Fly (Solomons); Marines Helping Heroes 5K Challenge (Hanover); and Veterans Day 10K & 2M Walk (D.C.).
Military Family Life:
The day-to-day life of the military family may be a bit of a mystery to civilians. We reached out to a few families to see what means the most coming from the community.
Around the Neighborhood
Page M.: “I had a neighbor help me with yard work and handyman type jobs. It was such a help when I was solo parenting pregnant with a toddler. Often, he didn’t even ask; I would come home and the trees were trimmed! It was so thoughtful.”
Robyn Green: “Civilian Families have been a major help for us. They stepped in to mow the lawn, babysit the kids, give rides to school, make a meal, etc. They have helped to throw welcome home parties and just been there to listen.”
Kate L.: “Invites to dinner meant the most. Especially when (son) L. wasn’t talking yet, dinner was such a quiet, lonely part of the day!”
Robyn Green: “School is different for military kids because their friends, teachers and home environments change frequently. It’s rare to find a military child in one school for more than three years, yet the resilience those students have at their core
Mary-Blake S.: “The weekends were hardest for me. Getting through the weekdays seemed doable alone, but when the weekend rolled around and everyone else’s spouses were home to hang out and spend time together—that’s when I felt the loneliest. I always appreciated couples and families that included me and my kids in their
‘family time.’ ”