Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Supporting Our Troops And Their Families

April 26, 2003

A North Dakota reader sent me the following e-mail.

"Would you be willing to address marriage and family life for the deployed soldier and family members who remain at home? During this time of crisis many men and women are away from their families due to deployment with a number of military establishments. My husband is one of the soldiers who is gone.

"As a wife of an Army Reservist I've always been aware that this could happen, but I still need support now that it has happened. Most family, friends, and co-workers are supportive. However, a handful of people are very unsupportive. For example an acquaintance asked "why I hadn't been to gym" when I commented that my schedule has changed due to my husband being activated. He commented, "You guys don't have to cry. You took the money for many years, now it's time to pay up."

A colleague comments. I visited with Paul Davis, a psychologist and colleague at MeritCare in Fargo. He served in the U.S. Army providing counseling and support to troops and their families. He made the following points.

- Little things, such as bringing supper over, mean a lot. Make inquiries about them and what they are doing. "Do you need anything?" Keep a positive perspective.

- If you don’t know anyone personally, volunteer with agencies that support soldiers and their families.

- The money involved in being activated hardly covers the loss of income, increased expenses, and the pain and hardship of a spouse being gone.

- Whether you were for or against the war, support the families and the troops regardless of your views. Families need appreciation for the adjustments they are making. The troops need to know how much they are appreciated for the job they are doing. When they come home, they need a hero’s welcome.

- Send short letters, e-mails, cards, and small packages. Notes from strangers add to morale.

Family perspective. I also solicited views from family members who have spouses currently deployed. These are their ideas.

One woman told how a plumber came three times to help with a stopped toilet and charged only for the parts. She receives lots of moral support at work. Her co-workers monitor her, encourage her, and put together a nice care package for her husband. Their thoughts and prayers are with her family. Contact from home and friends, "makes him feel so good!"

Other little things include school children making hand made cards, support and concern from extended family, church members, and expressions of gratitude for the effort. One disappointment for her is how her husband’s employer or co-workers have made little effort to stay in contact or inquire about him or his family.

It is hard for her to ask for help, but she is learning to overcome her pride. A number of summer projects have been put on hold. She is touched when she sees people wearing yellow ribbons in support of the troops.

A teenage daughter in the same family noted that she appreciated supportive comments about the soldiers in general and not just about her Dad. She also didn’t like people who expressed sympathy or acted like he was already dead. He is not "gone forever". She liked upbeat positive comments and seeing yellow ribbons.

The wife of a soldier and the head of a family support group for the deployed troops had these thoughts.

She felt that people should appreciate and support the troops whether or not they had feelings about the war. They have chosen to follow their commander-in-chief and give service to their country. Certain communities have yellow ribbons down Main Street. This is appreciated. Efforts that come straight from the heart such as raising pennies for the troops mean a lot.

Schools have recognized the children who have relatives who were activated and serve in the armed forces. It made the children feel proud and special.

"Little things are huge. Sometimes it is just a hug."

She gave examples like helping with childcare, fixing a leaky faucet, getting help in mowing the grass, helping with a move, or anything that relieves a burden.

She also appreciates positive comments and a big smile. Families are trying to be as positive as they can. Some comments come across as condolence messages - like a death in the family. By being aware of body language, people can tell when they hit a nerve and can back off.

Besides caring for her young children, she personally gets up at 4:15 a.m. to send e-mails to 200 families in her group with pertinent information about addresses, fund raisers, medical care, cheap flights and other information. It helps the families in her group cope.

An inspirational thought. I received this message from the Internet. "It’s the soldier not the reporter who gives you freedom of the press. It’s the soldier not the poet who gives you freedom of speech. It’s the soldier not the campus organizer who allows you to demonstrate. Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need."