When my husband, Bob, was flying the Stealth F117A Fighter a jet went down in flames in Kosovo and the phone went crazy. There were boat loads of people calling to see if we were okay and what made things more challenging was that every pilot’s family who had their phone number listed, had media camped out on their front driveways. It was not a fun time for any of these families and the inordinate attention from media and well-meaning friends only made it worse.
Today, we have a Marine stationed in Afghanistan and the headlines in the past few weeks have indicated tragic news amongst some of our troops. When these things happen, we use them as an opportunity to educate our friends and family about genuine ways to help while a military member is stationed in harm’s way. And keep in mind that harm’s way isn’t just in the Middle East, training can be dangerous as well, so these apply across the board. Consider sharing this blog with your communities so they can know how to proactively help. Here are five things you should not say to a military family:
1) Are they OK? — When you read bad news or see it on TV and you know someone who has a loved one there, don’t bombard them with “are they OK?” messages. In some cases, you are the one alerting them to something that is wrong. Something they didn’t worry about until you highlighted it. I know your heart is right and you mean well, but they sometimes have the opposite effect and increase anxiety over their loved one until they hear from them. Instead, check their Facebook page for updates.
2) You always worry about your family members, no matter where they are. Someone actually said this about their adult child who was attending college in San Luis Obisbo. She said this AFTER I had stated my son was in Afghanistan. Really? It’s not the same to send a family member on a business trip or to school, unless that family member is going to he combat zone. Instead, please continue to pray for the safety of all our troops, and let the families know you are supporting them this way.
3) Oh, we are going to be out of Afghanistan soon. Then they act as if that statement means you shouldn’t be concerned anymore. Um, my loved one is there RIGHT NOW. Your statement minimizes the fact that we have military troops currently there and other hot spots around the world, no matter what is suppose to happen in the future. Instead, please don’t forget our troops when they have been there for a long time. Mail and care packages tend to fade away after they’ve been deployed a few months and they still have a long time to go.
The mail doesn’t have to be elaborate, expensive or hard to assemble. In fact, our son appreciates humorous cards as much as anything.
4) You guys have a lot of benefits like housing, medical care and combat pay. The average E-1 gets about $16,000 a year and if he or she is married, they qualify for additional basic housing allowances, which are minimal. Yes, military members get TriCare and for that we are thankful. But we have fewer choices and still have to shoulder some of the burden of rising medical costs. Those who serve in our armed forces have skills that would earn them considerably more in the civilian sector and they won’t be shot at in order to earn that pay. Housing and medical issues are readiness issues that allow our men and women to serve without worrying about how to pay rent and for a doctor for their baby. Instead of telling us all the benefits of our service, thank military members and their families for being part of the 1% of the population who protects the freedoms of the other 99% in our nation.
5) If I were you, I’d be really worried about what is going on in Iraq. Or we hear a variation of “if I were you, I’d be upset.” I’ve written 15 published books and I really want to write one entitled, “What Were You Thinking?” Don’t you wonder what people are thinking when they ask us some of these lame brained questions? The main idea is that they are NOT thinking, they don’t always filter their words. In fact, sometimes family members and friends take it for granted that you are tough and resilient and don’t have bad days because you’ve been a military spouse or parent for a while. No, you never get completely used to wondering if your loved one will be safe. So please don’t increase our worry with neanderthall comments about what we should worry about! Instead, reassure us that you have got our backs and offer to babysit, trim the grass or make us a meal. That would be one less thing for us to worry about!
If you are a military family, what are things you do not want to hear?
Please continue to educate friends on how to interact with military families during tough times. Thank you to all our friends who are praying for our Marine, all his men and all of the other troops as well as their families. And for you Heroes at Home, just know that we love you, we are proud of you and together we will be all right.