Staying in touch can be difficult for deployed service members and their loved ones. The military has worked hard to set up communication channels, including email and other mail systems, to ensure that service members and those close to them can keep in contact across the miles.
Communicating in general
Whether you're communicating with your service member by regular mail or by email, it's important to keep the following in mind:
- Be sure you have the correct address. This helps to ensure that letters, packages, and email messages are delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Try not to worry or be disappointed if you don't get a quick response. Although it's important to communicate often, keep in mind that there may be times when your service member cannot respond right away.
- Let your service member know how much you appreciate his or her response. Tell your service member how much it means for you and other members of your family when you receive a letter or an email.
- Be sure to answer any questions your service member asked in an earlier message. If you ignore questions, your service member may worry about why you didn't respond.
- Try to express yourself clearly. Remember that you won't be there in person to explain what you mean when your service member reads your letter or message, so try not to leave any doubts about what you're saying.
- Be honest. You don't have to hide things or pretend that you're feeling fine when you're not. Your service member may be able to tell that there's something you're not saying.
- Remember to keep security in mind. This is important to remember when asking your service member questions about his or her overseas missions and when sharing messages from your service member with others.
- Be creative. Letters and emails are great, but there are a lot of ways you can make them even better. If you have children, mail or scan artwork or school papers. You can also send clippings from the local paper or recordings of a family gathering or a child reading, singing, or playing music.
Sending letters and packages
The following tips will help you send letters and packages properly. Your Family Readiness Group, Key Volunteer Network, or Spouses Support Group may also give you some specific mailing information.
- Find out about mailing restrictions. You can find out more on general restrictions and regulations specific to the area your package is going at the United States Postal Service site or the Military Postal Service Agency site.
- Keep some addressed and stamped envelopes on hand. This can make it easier to write a quick note. You may also want to send your service member pre-addressed envelopes to make it easier to send letters home.
- Consider numbering your letters. This makes it easier to keep them in order even if they don't arrive in the proper order.
- Take special care with packaging food items. Always check to make sure that any package you send meets regulations.
- Send calling cards. Look for the best rate you can get. Check the Exchange website. Also, contact your Family Support Center; they sometimes offer calling cards that have been donated through fundraisers on the installation.
- Send photos. You don't have to send professional pictures or photographs of special events. Some families document an ordinary day in photos and send them as a kind of picture story.
- Be prepared to fill out forms that list the contents of your packages. Be sure to list all items and don't let anyone have access to your package before it's sealed.
Using email and the Internet
Email is convenient, fast, and inexpensive, which makes it a great way to communicate during a deployment. These suggestions can help you make the best of this communication tool:
- Don't be too hasty. Because email is instant - or nearly instant - it's possible to send something that you may later wish you hadn't sent.
- Check out Motomail. If your service member is in the Marine Corps or is a member of another Service branch co-deployed with the Marine Corps, this free service lets you write an email message to your service member that is then printed out in hard copy and delivered - usually within twenty-four hours.
- Use the Internet for more than email. If you can use the Internet to stay in touch, there are a lot of things you can do beyond sending email messages. You can post pictures and messages on your own website or blog. You and your service member can also use a social networking site to stay in touch. Having access to a digital scanner will make it possible for you to send artwork or a child's report card.
Helping children communicate
It's important for children to feel like they are keeping in touch with a deployed family member on their own instead of hearing news or greetings secondhand. Here are some ways you can help them keep that sense of connection:
- Encourage your children to send artwork or write letters. In addition, make sure that your service member sends email or letters addressed and mailed directly to the children.
- Read books to children overseas with United Through Reading. Through this program, service members can read children's stories or sing songs to their children, on videotape or DVD, from installations worldwide.
- Help children find a way to communicate that works for them. Some children may like to audio record their messages, while others may like to write letters or send email. Others, especially younger children, may like to communicate with pictures. Help your children explore all of the different ways they can communicate. Encourage the deployed parent to follow the children's cues by responding with a recorded message or by drawing a picture of where he or she sleeps or of a typical meal.
- Give your children their own stack of pre-addressed envelopes and paper. Try to take the time to help your children think of things that their deployed parent may like to know about.
Keeping in touch without an email or postal address
For security reasons, there may be times when you don't have an email or postal address for your service member. This can be difficult for both of you. But it doesn't mean that communication has to end. These suggestions can help:
- Keep a journal of your daily life. A written log of your children's activities and your own everyday events will help your service member stay up to date. In the long run, your service member will feel included in family matters.
- Don't forget your service member's birthday or special anniversaries. It will mean a lot if you still wrap a birthday gift and get a card for birthdays even when you cannot talk. If you can't send out packages or gifts, keep them wrapped for your service member's homecoming.