If your son or daughter is deploying, you're likely to experience mixed emotions. While you're proud of your service member's accomplishments, you may be concerned for his or her safety, especially if the deployment is to an area of conflict. It's important to keep in mind that your son or daughter is capable, trained, and well-equipped to carry out his or her mission. Also remember that the best thing you can do for your son or daughter is to offer your support.
Preparing for deployment
Before your son or daughter deploys, discuss a plan for staying in touch. Make sure that you know the following information:
- Your service member's address. Use the proper address for your service member to send letters and care packages and be sure to include your return address. Place your label on one side only and remove any old labels on the box. Do not list the city or country as this can delay delivery. List your service member's full name, rank, unit, and Army Post Office (APO) or Fleet Post Office (FPO). For example:
Sgt. John Smith
Unit 20450 Box 74
APO AP 96278-1000
- Your service member's social security number. This will be important if you need to get in touch with your son or daughter about an emergency at home.
- If your son or daughter will have email access. If so, don't expect fast replies. Depending on where your service member is stationed, email may not always be available.
- Whether your son or daughter plans to call you and how often. Again, this may be difficult to know.
- How you can get information about your service member's unit. Find out from your service member's installation command whether unit newsletters, family support groups, or unit websites are available to you.
Keep in mind that communication with your service member may be difficult for a number of reasons, including power outages, travel, and remote locations. Also, there may be limitations on what your service member can reveal to you.
If your son or daughter is married, the Service branch will focus their communication with his or her spouse, so work up a plan to get your information through your service member's spouse.
Managing your emotions
Even though your son or daughter is an adult, you are still his or her parent. It's natural to be concerned for your child's safety, especially when you don't know what he or she is doing or can't be in touch as often as you would like.
- Establish a support group of family and friends. Being around people you care about and who care about you is comforting. Make sure there are people you can call when you're feeling sad or anxious.
- Find others in similar situations. Talking with other parents in the same situation can be comforting and will allow you to share information. Find out if there is a chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America near you. There are also some popular online parent support groups such as Marine Parents.
- Limit your television news viewing if your service member is in an area of conflict. Reports like these may leave you feeling more anxious than informed.
- Ask about the designated communication point of contact for the unit. Be sure the point of contact has your contact information, including any addresses where you may be staying away from home.
- Volunteer your time to causes important to your service member. This can be a good outlet for your emotions and energy, and a good way to show support for your son or daughter. Here are some places to start:
Staying in touch
Notes and treats from home can really boost a service member's spirits.
- Send care packages. Be aware that there are certain things you cannot send, depending on where your service member is stationed. In general, you don't want to send any liquids, anything that might melt, or any pork or pork by-products (to the Middle East). Visit the United States Postal Service for restrictions.
- Use a sturdy box. Pick up free flat rate shipping boxes at the post office. Packages cannot weigh more than 70 pounds and cannot be larger than 108 inches in total circumference (total width all the way around plus total length all the way around). Your service member's unit may have additional restrictions.
- Use reusable packing material. Cushion fragile items with small packages of tissues, copies of the local newspaper, even zip-closed plastic bags filled with popped popcorn.
- Leave plenty of time for your care packages to arrive. Visit the Military Postal Service Agency for estimated delivery times.
- Write letters. It's always a good idea to number your letters. Due to the unit's operational requirements, letters may arrive out of sequence and numbering will help.
- Contact your service member through the American Red Cross if there's a family emergency. Find your local chapter in the Yellow Pages or on the website. If you call, make sure you have your service member's full name, rank or rating, branch of Service, social security number, military address, and information about the deployed unit and the home base unit.
Preparing for a homecoming
When it's time for your service member to return home from deployment, you're bound to be thrilled. But it's important to try and keep your expectations in check. Your son or daughter has had many different experiences since you were last together and is likely to have changed in some ways. If your service member is married, be sure to discuss homecoming plans with his or her spouse.
- Let your service member set his or her own schedule. If your service member is due home on leave, you're likely to want to celebrate with family and friends. Ask what kind of celebrating he or she has in mind. At this point, catching up with sleep and spending time with friends may feel like enough.
- Take your cues from your service member. You may be full of questions, but your son or daughter may not be ready to talk about his or her deployment. Try not to press for information. Instead, be available when he or she is ready to talk.
- Encourage your service member to seek help if you're concerned about his or her behavior. Some behavior changes to look out for include mood swings, sleep disturbances, rage, fear, and difficulty concentrating. This may be normal in the beginning, but it's cause for concern if the changes are severe or continue over time. If you have concerns, ask your service member to speak with a military chaplain, his or her installation Family Support Center, or a Military OneSource consultant at 1-800-342-9647. A Military OneSource consultant can explain the free, non-medical counseling options available through Military OneSource. A consultant can also help you and your service member get in touch with your local military treatment facility, TRICARE, or the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury if medical counseling or services are necessary.