How to Support Our Troops in a Meaningful Way
Did you know that less than 1% of the population are actively enlisted the U.S. Armed Forces? Only around .04% of the population to be exact… And of living Americans 7.3% are veterans, which equates to approximately 22 million people.
The military is a fraternity that can be difficult to understand and typically does not reach out for help. The responsibility is on civilians, and friends and family members, to learn the best means of helping their service members.
The most beneficial way to support active service members and veterans is communication (as it is with any healthy relationship). Communicating as regularly as possible via Skype, mail, email, text or phone, offers a level of comfort. It provides service members with the opportunity to inquire about home, their family, and friends.
Remember to be mindful of their environment and situations when communicating; try to keep it as positive as possible.
Tips to better support active service members and veterans
Prior to Enlisting: People enlist in the military for a number of different reasons. Whether it is driven by their desire to fight the war on terror, to earn a G.I. Bill, or to experience the close bond and comradery with their peers. When a friend or family member is first entering the military, take the time to show your interest and ask them why they are joining.
It is important to ask this question because it provides insight and defines what service truly means to them. Supporting them with endless encouragement as they embark on this new journey in life will create motivation and excitement, and provide them with the peace of mind that they have a support structure back home.
Active Duty: The military journey has begun. Most personnel entering the armed forces are in their late teens and early twenties. Upon stepping off the bus at basic training they are exposed to the harsh, structured, military environment. From there, they find challenges and situations that were otherwise unimaginable; long deployments, homesickness, and even traumatic environments.
Your service member will want to share stories, typically involving military jargon (you might be completely lost but that is okay). Allow them to vent. Ask them if they need any support, and acknowledge them for their service. These are small reminders of home. The constant flow of communication, whether it’s a text, call, or letter, makes home feel a little closer.
Care packages are also a must. They help to alleviate the stress of having the necessities when stationed in isolated environments. A care package is more than a simple gift, it’s like receiving mail as a kid for the first time; remember the excitement? It’s not a package with a million dollars, diamonds or a fancy car, it means much more than its material contents. The package is a box of sunshine from home.
After Separation or Retirement: Relocation is one of the first things that many service members do upon exiting the military. For those that choose to return back to their hometown, they are greeted by excited family members, happy to be reunited with their loved ones. They may think that things will return to the way they were before, but it’s usually not that simple.
The transition period can be quite difficult. People, places and even society itself has experienced subtle or major changes, often including the veterans’ support system. The service member is now a veteran, his/her colleagues that shared the common interest are no longer there and adjusting to the lifestyle change may take some time.
The VA also has stacks of veteran benefits paperwork to sift through, this is where service members experience the true definition of, “hurry up and wait.” From furthering education, finding a new home, collecting unemployment, to finding a new career, these are just some of the many tasks that awaits newly released service members.
Ask them if they have a plan. If not, encourage the development of a plan and if there is any way to provide support. Show concern, be patient and have as much understanding as possible during their transition period.
Over the years, a select few have answered the nation’s call. Equipped with the courage to not only sacrifice their lives, but time spent with family, and their overall way of life, they are driven by the greater goal of defending our nation’s freedom, safety, and democracy.
There are many different stages within and after a military career where support will be needed. As a friend or family member it can be challenging at times, sacrifices are made on both ends. Remember to listen 2x more than talking, offer encouraging advice, and make the service member feel like home is right around the corner when they are deployed. It is a great opportunity to give back to the ones we love and honor.
Written by: Brandon Johnson, Veteran of The United States Navy
 Chalabi Mona, “What Percentage Of Americans Have Served In The Military?” DataLab, FiveThirtyEight, 19 Mar 2015, http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/what-percentage-of-americans-have-served-in-the-military/.