What I've Learned During My Son's First Deployment

I'm inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. photo by Stanley Leary
I’m inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping.
photo by Stanley Leary

My son’s battalion will return home soon. I’ve looked through my photos and notes about the year. During that time I have mailed over 443 pounds of needed items to both my son, his platoon, and the battalion. That number includes a Christmas mailing providing gift bags for each member of the platoon, a large shipment of items to the battalion headquarters of underwear and socks, as well as Easter, birthday and regular care packages. Putting these mailings together was a community effort. It helped me pass the time by providing helpful items to our soldiers. Many of my friends sent their own boxes. I know my son and his soldiers appreciated their gifts.

In addition to reviewing the notes and photos of mailings, I’ve been reflecting on all that I have learned this year.

I’ll list these in no particular order:

While many people in our community are clueless about what it is like to have a love one deploy, so many others are extremely supportive.

The unexpected ring of the door bell can make your thoughts race and your heart pound.

Missing a Skype call really stinks.

Corresponding via cell phone to a deployed soldier in Afghanistan is amazing.

My friends and many others who read my blog are some of the most supportive and generous people ever!

The battalion commander of my son’s battalion is a very caring person.

The Family Readiness Groups are very supportive. Be sure your soldier lists you as an approved contact so you can get the updates.

There is no way to fully prepare for a child’s deployment.

The pain you feel for a fallen soldiers family is real, but can’t come close to the pain they must feel.

Helping to support deployed soldiers by sending packages and notes of support is a great way to deal with my own anxiety about deployment.

The various Facebook groups for parents/family of deployed soldiers are a good resource, but some have too much drama.

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.

Do not post any information to Facebook that could endanger our deployed soldiers. Cyber stalking does happen.

The extended Army family is amazing.

Some of our deployed troops do not get mail from home. Send extra so your soldier can share. Don’t judge the families. It is expensive to mail boxes, not everyone can afford to send things.

Never under-estimate the joy a roll of soft toilet paper can bring to a deployed soldier.

The single soldiers return to the US without a lot of support. Support the rear detachment office with your donations for welcome home items for the barracks.

The company, Covert Threads, offers great socks at a good price.

Take items out of their original box and put them into zip lock bags. The soldiers have to burn their trash and the bags can be used to keep dust off of other items.

Quite a few companies offer free shipping to APO addresses. Just Google “free shipping to APO” for a list of companies/organizations.

Cigars are appreciated. Island Smoke Shop is a great resource. A Combat Humidor makes a great gift too.

When people ask what they can do to support you and your soldier, keep a list of needed/wanted items handy. Ask people to help supply them.

The people at the local Post Office like to hear how my son is doing.

Many of our soldiers can’t send mail or communicate their thanks, but they are very grateful for our support.

A call, Facebook message, or a photo can make your whole week.

Clean underwear and socks are always appreciated.

Blue Star Mothers, Blue Star Families can be a great support network to plug into.

Memories in Stitches will make a Gold Star banner for a fallen soldier’s family. She also makes Blue Star quilts.

You can find Blue Star pins and flags at a reasonable price online.

As hard as it may be, read up on the potential effects of war on the soldiers and the ones who love them.

An overview of some of the mailings of the past nine months. . . .

Prayyer Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
Christmas Stockings for soldiers form the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Christmas Stockings for soldiers from the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.
Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.
A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.
A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.
We sent some fun items for Easter too.
We sent some fun items for Easter too.

Giving Thanks and Supporting Our Soldiers

Boxes packed and ready to go to our soldier and the battalion chaplain.

As I wrote last week, this time of year holds some wonderful memories, but also the grief of losing both parents to cancer at this time of year. To counter act the feelings of loss I’ve developed positive ways to deal with my grief. This year with a son deployed my coping mechanism has turned to efforts to support the troops.

The Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church¬†(RPC) played a big role this year in the outreach efforts. Members of the committee donated Christmas stockings filled with goodies to send to the battalion chaplain to be distributed to soldiers. We joined the efforts of Military Families Ministry in sending out the stockings. Military Families Ministry was co-founded by a friend and fellow contributor the blog Off the Base, Tracie Ciambotti. If you don’t have the address for a deployed service member, you can contact the nonprofit to find out how boxes can be sent. Their web site offers several ways in which groups or individuals can support deployed service members.

Christmas Stockings for soldiers from the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

In addition to the stockings the Prayers and Squares ministry made and prayed over 100 prayer squares. The 6″ x 6″ squares of fabric have 5 strings or ribbons attached to them. When people say a prayer for the recipient they tie a knot. As I mentioned in a previous post the squares were prayed over at the veterans day luncheon and also by the middle school youth group at RPC. Each square was put into a ziplock bag with a card explaining what the knots symbolize. Half the prayer squares went to the deployed soldiers and the other half went to Fort Stewart to be given to family members of the soldiers deployed. Letters of thanks from the middle school youth went into the box with the prayer squares as well as hot chocolate packets, tea bags and snacks bars.

My daughter helped me get the boxes to the post office before Thanksgiving. Most were addressed to the chaplain, but one went to our soldier. In his we put warm hats, scarves and gloves along with his requested brands of special items. We also included some special items.

Prayer Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

For years our daughter would visit the Santa at the mall near our house. Now that she is 14 this tradition has changed a bit. Instead of dressing in her best Christmas dress she wore her “Fangirl” t-shirt, hoodie, and bracelets. I was also in the photo this year with my Hero On My Arm “Army Mom” messenger bag. A copy of the photo went in my letter to our soldier. Our daughter wrote a special letter to her brother and the reindeer Santa gave him went in the box too. I choked up a bit when we visited with Santa and I heard Chelle tell him, “Please keep my brother safe.” When Santa asked her what she wanted for herself she said, “That’s all I need.”

Chelle, Santa and Dorie go over their very short, but important, Wish List.

Opportunities to support military families are all around you. One of the nicest things you can do is to ask the family member how they need to be supported. For us, sending boxes to our soldier helps us feel like we have a big support network. We are collecting items this week to send 14 Christmas care packages to soldiers  with our soldier. After a quick Facebook post I heard from several people who would like to contribute. Letters, cards and pictures drawn by children are a terrific way to say thank you for your service. We hope to get the boxes in the mail by December 3. Please let me know if you would like to contribute to the mailing. We are looking for hot chocolate packets, instant coffee packets, baby wipes, beef jerky, dried fruit leather and other individually wrapped snacks.

While I am grateful for the many people who support us, I am still astounded at the people who have no idea we have thousands of soldiers deployed right now. I haven’t heard negative comments as much as ignorance of what our soldiers are doing. I am learning to use these comments to motivate me even more to be one more person getting the word out to support the troops.