It is commonly known that military personnel and their families do amazing things for our country. Regardless of how you feel about war and conflict, people say they “support our troops,” but what does this really mean? How do we really support our military families?
Here in Utah, there are two primary military installations, Hill Air Force Base near Layton, and the Dugway Army Proving Grounds, west of Salt Lake City.
Hill Air Force Base is one of 10 Air Force Materiel Command centers that conduct research, development and testing needed to keep the Air Force weapon systems ready, and Dugway Proving Grounds is one of the largest Army proving grounds in the United States.
So to say that Utah has a strong military presence in our communities is a very true statement.
One thing to know about military families is that every family member makes some sacrifice to help their service member provide for our country. Military deployments are often viewed as a challenging time for families as they cope with separation and not knowing where their loved one is and if that person is safe.
Communities are often quite good at supporting families during deployments through various supports and resources, such as church groups, carpools and providing meals or a shoulder to lean on.
However, we as a community often fail to realize that support is needed not just during deployment but upon return of the service member to civilian and community life.
Returning to families and civilian life is often more challenging than the joyful homecoming reunions suggest. People change and grow during deployments. Children who were infants in diapers when a service member deployed are now walking and perhaps even talking upon their return — and may not know this stranger now living in their home. Older children have taken on more responsibilities to help the at-home parent.
These changes in roles and duties can make reunions challenging as members of the family figure out their place in the family unit. How does the service member find his/her own place back in the household?
It is often during this period of reunion, after all of the joyful hugs, tears and thankfulness related to the safe return, that families face the challenges of putting the pieces back together to re-establish the lives they once knew.
It is during these times that members of the community can offer a helping hand, a kind word, a prepared meal, the offer to watch the kids or mow the lawn so the family can focus on spending time together and getting to know the people they are now.
So next time you run into a service member or his/her family member, ask if there is anything you can do to help them. They have done and sacrificed so much to help our community and our country. Volunteer your time to help them focus their time on their families!
Pamela Payne is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.