U.S. military personnel are deployed in approximately 150 countries across the globe. Many service members are geographically separated from their families during assignments.
Deployed military members leave behind spouses, children and parents who must try to maintain life as usual while their loved one is away. In addition, they are often left to settle into a new community without the support of local family and friends.
Because the military family may be new to town or on their own, it can be even more stressful for them to locate childcare, register children for school, schedule doctor appointments and maintain a home. These problems are compounded when the spouse is deployed. In many instances, it can be just as stressful when a spouse returns from deployment, especially if that person has been injured.
How you can help
Military families that are settling into a new home and community have many needs that can be met by volunteers who may be able to babysit, help with errands, locate a handyman, jumpstart a car, or prepare a meal. Volunteers can also be a resource to find others in the community who can provide support.
Military men and women and their families make tremendous sacrifices as they serve our country. Your support lets them know how much their service is appreciated. Members of the military represent the leaders of the next generation. By supporting them we are encouraging them to continue their service—eventually outside the military, in our communities.
The Basic Steps
Take a grassroots approach and follow these steps to volunteer in your community. For more structured opportunities to help military families, go to our More Resources section to find additional opportunities with organizations with a strong track record of helping military families.
Step 1: Get Started
Although military populations vary from community to community, there are countless ways to connect with military families in your hometown.
Check in with local veterans service organizations. Or, if you live near a military or guard base, contact the base’s Family Resource Center.
Ask neighbors, school counselors, faith-based groups, and other community/fraternal organizations like Masons, Kiwanis and Lions Club to identify a military family in your neighborhood.
Educate yourself about military culture (see below for more information) and the different branches of service.
Step 2: Introduce Yourself
Introduce yourself to the military family and let them know that you are available.
Get more ideas on how to identify a family that could use some support with the attached Resources for Connecting with Military Families.
If none of your immediate neighbors are military families, try to find a common gathering place such as a library or guard base where you might offer to organize a potluck dinner during which you can introduce yourself and others who are willing to help.
Follow through. Continue to reach out and offer specific help. For example, you might offer to babysit once a week or ask if you can pick up something at the grocery store while you are out shopping.
Keep in mind that simply listening can have a valuable impact on the emotional well being of the family member. Everyone wants and needs to be heard.
Step 3: Spread the Word
Encourage others to reach out to military families. You can download and post this flyer at work or in your community (available for download in the 'Supplemental Materials & Information' section below).
Learn about Military Culture
Challenges Faced by Military Families
- Because of reassignments, known as PCS (permanent change of station), military families move much more frequently than their civilian counterparts.
- Nearly 1 million, or 43%, of military personnel are parents.
- The average military child will attend between six and nine schools in grades K-12.
- Wives of military personnel are less likely to be employed than wives of civilians.
- Frequent moves and family separations pose financial difficulties.
- More than half of enlisted personnel report financial difficulties and struggles to pay bills.
- Families of Reserve and Guard members do not typically have the support system or resources available to Active Duty members because they are geographically dispersed and may not live near a major military installation.
- The military emphasizes strength, courage and bravery, which can make it difficult for service men and women to feel comfortable asking for help.
- The military consists of four branches: Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.
- There are Active Duty military members and Reserve members.
- All of the U.S. military services have both active duty and reserve components. To the active duty (AD) service member, the military is a full time job. Members of the Reserves typically have another job in addition to their Reserve obligation.
- The National Guard is a unique component of the military reserves. Simply put, the National Guard is a state militia. The Governor of the state in which they enlist and serve commands the state’s National Guard members. Only the Army and Air Force have a National Guard component.
- All U.S. military services follow the same general structure of ranks and responsibilities for enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers.
- Enlisted personnel provide the “skilled blue collar” and technical support for the military, much as “blue collar” workers do to the civilian work force in America. Enlisted personnel represent 90% of military forces.
- Commissioned Officers are required to have at least a Bachelor’s degree. They are the managers of the military services, although in contrast to civilian occupations, officers are legally obligated to serve as leaders and are held accountable for this additional responsibility.
- The military has a fraternization policy, which prohibits personal and business relationships among officer and enlisted service members. Although it has most commonly been applied to officer-enlisted relationships, fraternization also includes improper relationships and social interaction between officer members as well as between enlisted members. This policy doesn’t apply to spouses, yet their friendships can still be influenced by it.
- Military personnel are legally available for duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Resources for Connnecting with Military Families
Although military populations vary from community to community, there are countless ways to connect with military families in your hometown. If you live near a military base, contact the base’s Family Resource Center. School counselors, churches, synagogues and religious institutions and other community/fraternal organizations like Masons, Kiwanis and Lions Club may also be able to direct you to military families. The organizations listed below will assist volunteers who would like to help military families, or will help volunteers to direct military families to new organizations that can help them.
Check out these programs to see how you can best contribute your time and talent.
American Legion – www.legion.org
With nearly 3 million members in close to 15,000 American Legion posts around the world, the American Legion’s local posts assist veterans and their family members to file benefits claims and represent veterans denied benefits to which they feel they are entitled. They also offer career services, scholarship assistance, a family support network, and more.
American Red Cross – www.redcross.org
The nation’s premier emergency response organization aids victims of devastating natural disasters and aims to prevent and relieve suffering. They also support and comfort military members and their families; collect, process and distribute lifesaving blood and blood products; and have a deep history in helping military members and their families. Click on “volunteer."
Armed Services YMCA – www.asymca.org
Provides support services to military service members – with particular focus on junior enlisted men and women and their families. Services include childcare, hospital assistance, spouse support services, food services, holiday meals, and more.
Blue Star Families – www.bluestarfam.org/
Blue Star Families aims to raise awareness among civilians of the challenges of military life. The organization was formed in December of 2008 by a group of military spouses and now includes spouses and families from all services, veterans and civilians.
Coast Guard Ombudsman – www.uscg.mil
Serves as a link between a Coast Guard command and the families of the command. An Ombudsman can assist families to locate resources, communicate information from the command to the families, and take concerns of families back to the command.
Give an Hour – www.giveanhour.org
This national nonprofit organization provides free mental health services to members of the military, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, their families and their communities. Currently, there are approximately 6,500 licensed mental health professionals volunteering their time on the Give an Hour network.
Make the Connection – www.MakeTheConnection.net
This website connects Veterans and their friends and family members by providing information, resources, and solutions to issues that affect Veterans’ health and everyday lives. In addition to support, Make The Connection allows for shared experiences in the words of Veterans.
National Guard Family Programs – www.jointservicessupport.org
Offers a staff directory for each state, as well as a list of upcoming events and trainings. The site’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for National Guard members, their families, and their communities.
National Military Family Association – www.nmfa.org
A leading advocate for improvements in the quality of military family life. Educates military families about their rights, benefits and available services. Provides information about the issues that affect their lives and promotes and protects their interests by influencing the development and implementation of legislation and policies.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society – www.nmcrs.org
This Society partners with the Navy and Marine Corps to provide financial, educational, and other assistance to Service members and their eligible family members and survivors, when in need. Eligible recipients receive interest-free loans for emergencies or educational purposes and needs-based scholarships. They also offer budget counseling services, thrift shops, and visiting nurse services.
Operation Homefront – www.operationhomefront.net
Provides emergency assistance and morale to our troops, to the families they leave behind, and to wounded warriors when they return home. Operates a variety of programs – vehicle donation, furniture, holiday, as well as assistance services, including food, financial, moving, housing, hurricane relief and scholarship programs.
Serve.gov – www.serve.gov/vets.asp
Serve.gov believes that all Americans have a role to play in supporting troops and their families. The site locates volunteer opportunities by zip code and also has links to resources (www.serve.gov/vets_resources.asp) that help military families and veterans.
United States Department of Veterans Affairs – www.va.gov
The VA’s goal is to provide excellence in patient care, veterans’ benefits, and customer satisfaction. They offer a wide variety of services, including disability compensation, health programs, housing services, and has more than 1500 facilities across the nation. Complete a volunteer form at www.volunteer.va.gov and a local VA representative will contact you.
Veterans Crisis Line – www.veteranscrisisline.net
Veterans in crisis and those who are concerned about them can connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of whom are Veterans themselves.
USO – www.uso.org
Provides morale, welfare and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel and their families.
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) – www.vfw.org
The VFW, with its Auxiliaries, includes 2.2 million members in approximately 8,100 posts worldwide. Their mission is to “honor the dead by helping the living” through veterans’ service, community service, national security and a strong national defense. They helped to establish the VA; created a GI bill for the 20th century, and developed the national cemetery system, and also fought to improve VA medical center services for women veterans.