Creating New Holiday Traditions When Your Service Member Is Away

A service member watches her children open presents via video chat.

With your service member away and people around the world avoiding travel and large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the holidays may feel different this year.

There are things you can do to help make the holiday special for yourself and those you love, whether your service member is stationed far from home or deployed. Sharing old traditions and creating new ones can keep the holidays fun and meaningful, and help you stay connected.

You are an important influence in your service member’s life. Sharing traditions or creating new ones during this time of year shows that you are thinking about and supporting your loved ones. This is meaningful, as they – and you – may be feeling a lot of emotions, whether they express it or not.

Creating new virtual traditions

With video get-togethers more common since the pandemic started, your service member and other loved ones are probably comfortable with online visits. Think about scheduling one or more virtual get-togethers this season. Add in some holiday fun to make them even more memorable.

Hold a virtual “potluck.” No need to bring food to this get-together, just something else to share – a toast, joke, poem or favorite holiday memory.

Create a slideshow of holidays past. Collect photos and short videos from family and friends in plenty of time to create a slideshow or video presentation of seasons past. Use screen-sharing during an online gathering to show the presentation. Half the fun will be seeing each other’s reactions and sharing memories.

Schedule a holiday game night. Create and email bingo cards for guests to print out for a holiday bingo night. Or hold a trivia night of random facts, family history or a combination of both. Look into multiplayer online games that everyone will enjoy and that will create the feeling of being there with each other.

Open presents together. Get together virtually to share the experience of opening presents. If your service member has children, read a holiday story.

Watch your favorite holiday movie at the same time. If possible, watch while using video chat or social media to comment on the best parts in real time. If holiday movies are not your thing, you could choose a television series to stream and talk about.

Other new traditions to try

Here are some more ideas to bridge the distance gap and celebrate with loved ones. See if they work for you, and share them with others in your service member’s network of support.

Design family T-shirts or hats for family members to wear one day around the holidays. Put something meaningful or fun on them and then video chat or text pictures of yourselves wearing them. Send your service member one of the T-shirts or hats ahead of time, so they can wear it on the designated day.

Send a care package or even an experience. Sending a care package is a great way to brighten your service member’s holiday season, especially if they are deployed. Or you might consider sending an experience they may remember over time. Think about giving your service member a round of golf or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Create a photo book. Include images of you and your service member, together and apart, from throughout the years. Make a copy for you and send a copy to them as a holiday gift to share and look through together.

Encourage your service member to get together with friends. Missing home may put a damper on wanting to celebrate, but suggesting that your loved one get together safely with buddies and newfound friends can help. Remind them to embrace the local culture whether they are in North Dakota, the Pacific region or somewhere else.

Adopt a foreign holiday tradition. If your service member is stationed abroad, research the country’s holiday traditions and incorporate one or a few into your own.

Volunteer or send a donation on behalf of your service member to a favorite charity. Your service member is serving our nation. Take their lead and volunteer over the holiday season in your local community. Or donate to an organization on behalf of your service member, something that is close to his or her heart.

Send several holiday cards in the same package. Write a different note of appreciation and love in each one. Your service member can open one card a day leading up to the holiday. See these guidelines from the Postal Service to make sure your cards get there on time.

Send a homemade ornament with pictures of you, children or cherished pets on it.

Check out these other holiday resources from Military OneSource for ideas to help spark new holiday traditions for your family and alert your service member of available resources for the holidays and beyond.

Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you and your service member set realistic expectations ahead of time. Are you expecting to talk over the holidays? Do you want to send presents? Discuss what you want, and make sure it’s doable based on your loved one’s location and operational situation. And don’t forget the postal deadlines.

Deployment Basics By Service Branch

Service members walk towards their next location.

At some point in your loved one’s military service, you’ll probably hear the words, “I’m deploying.” What does that really mean, and how can you support your service member?

The word deployment can mean different things, depending on your service member’s job, and their unit and service branch, but it generally means a scheduled time away from the usual duty station, and usually outside of the United States. It may mean seven months on a Navy ship, 12 months at a forward operating base or three months in a town with restaurants and shops you’d recognize back home. Sometimes, your service member may serve in dangerous situations, but they have intense training and are well prepared for the challenges they may face in their specific mission.

The deployment cycle is the period of time from the notification of a deployment, through predeployment training, through the deployment and immediately after deployment. Every deployment cycle is different, but here are some general things to know:

Army deployment

Soldiers can deploy in large or small groups, or even individually. Many soldiers will do predeployment training at large training centers such as the National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, or at specific training centers located at bases across the country. An average deployment cycle will include months of training at their home base and at these specialized courses.

Soldiers with specific skills may go individually or in smaller units. They will have different types of training requirements based on the job, their prior preparation and the location of the deployment.

Learn more about Army deployments »

Marine Corps deployment

Many Marine Corps deployments happen on Navy ships, or they may fly to their deployment location. The majority of Marine Corps deployments include approximately one year of training followed by six to seven months of actual deployment time. However, a significant number of Marine Corps deployments may be scheduled for one year or more.

The Marine Corps prepares to support a wide variety of missions, often on short notice. Deployment types include training exercises, force readiness, supporting ongoing missions and humanitarian support.

Learn more about Marine Corps deployments »

Navy deployment

Many Navy deployments are on ships or submarines. Whether your service member is permanently assigned to the ship or sub, or joining the vessel as part of a separate unit such as an aircraft squadron, they’ll spend many months before the deployment participating in a wide variety of training both on and off the ship or sub. Ship or sub-based deployments typically last six or seven months, though occasionally, they will go longer. The time at sea may be broken up by port calls, where the ship pulls into a town and the sailors are permitted to go ashore and enjoy some time off.

Sailors who deploy without a ship or sub may go to a variety of locations to perform a wide range of jobs. Their predeployment training may be part of their regular job, so there may not be much disruption to their regular schedule, or they may need to learn entirely new skills for the deployment. These deployments may be with Navy units, joint units or they may be assigned to a unit of a different branch of the military. The latter is usually called an individual augmentee job. Sailors deployed without a ship or a sub may go for as little as 30 days or for more than a year.

Learn more about Navy deployments »

Air Force deployment

Airmen participate in many different types of deployments. Most Air Force deployments involve flying to another location, often an overseas Air Force base, a joint base or the base of another service. Airmen may live on those bases or stay in hotels.

Some Air Force units have a faster deployment cycle, with shorter deployments and shorter times between deployments. While they still may follow the six to 12-month average of the other branches, they may also do a series of two to three-month deployments in quick succession. Differences in deployment tempo are usually based upon job and unit.

Learn more about Air Force deployments »

How You Can Support Your Service Member

Deployment can bring about a wide range of emotions for both the service member and the family at home. They may be excited to do the job for which they’ve trained, sad to be apart from their family and perhaps nervous about how the deployment will unfold. It’s natural to feel all these things, sometimes all at the same time.

Realistic expectations are an important part of making it through the deployment cycle. Three key things to remember throughout the process:

  1. Your service member has been training to use their skills during a deployment. They are well prepared to do this job and may be very focused on the mission they’re doing.
  2. Things can, and will, change frequently. Trainings and deployments can be moved up, delayed or cancelled altogether. Departure and return dates will shift. Communication may be limited. The more understanding you are, the more your service member will feel supported.
  3. Your service member will not be able to answer all your questions. Your loved one may not know the answer to your question, or they may not be able to tell you the things they do know.

You can help your service member by asking what they want and how you can help. For example, they may want you to come to homecoming for one deployment but not for another, based upon a wide variety of factors including location, likelihood of date changes and post-deployment requirements. They may need help with things like paying bills or storing their car.

It’s also smart to talk through a couple of “what-if” scenarios and to get some basic information. Be sure you know the specific name of their unit and at least one phone number to call if there is an emergency back home.

Whether you are a parent, sibling or friend, you probably have a lot of questions about your loved one’s deployment. Feel more prepared with Military OneSource’s Plan My Deployment and the predeployment checklist.

VISIT PLAN MY DEPLOYMENT

Check out the rest of the Friends & Extended Family content on Military OneSource to keep connected with your service member’s military life.

Military OneSource Virtual Resources Offer Personalized Support and Tools for Overall Well-Being

Military male jogging outside

Current as of October 2, 2020

Military life has great rewards – and some challenges. Deployments, moves and the uncertainty of current travel restrictions are stressful. In times of change, it’s reassuring to have a trusted source of information, resources and support. For service members, that’s Military OneSource — available 24/7 to help service members and their families thrive.

Financial counseling, career guidance and tax help

The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has caused global financial worries. Military OneSource offers free financial and career resources including:

Resources for physical, mental and emotional well-being

Military OneSource has tools for service members and families to care for body and mind. A few of the available resources include:

  • Health and wellness coaching can help teens and adults get on track. Start with healthy eating, physical fitness and managing stress. 
  • Online tutoring and homework help from Tutor.com. This free service has temporarily expanded. It now covers any adult or child member of a Department of Defense civilian, National Guard and reserve. It also applies to wounded warrior military families. Even adults enrolled in a college or professional development course may be eligible. As always, the service is available to military children in grades K-12. Access Tutor.com through the MWR Digital Library.
  • Chill Drills are audio tracks developed to help service members relax and de-stress. 
  • Wellness apps can help your service member regroup and reboot. Learn deep-breathing techniques to relax and unwind. Find personalized tools to handle stress and anxiety during self-care breaks. All apps were developed by the DOD, Veterans Affairs and other partners. 
  • Military OneSource non-medical counseling can help with stress management. Counselors work with you to resolve marital and communication issues, parenting skills, grief and more. Military OneSource counselors know military life. They understand your challenges. Sessions are confidential.
  • Video non-medical counseling for children and youth offer children and teenagers tools to develop healthy coping skills to manage life’s stressors.

Personalized support to strengthen relationships

Even the strongest relationship can bend under the pressure of life changes. Learn to deal with deployment, permanent change of station and living through a pandemic. Military OneSource services can strengthen important connections:

Determining eligibility and getting started with Military OneSource virtual support

Military OneSource support is available to active duty, National Guard and reserve, their partners and their children. For eligibility, see Military OneSource Confidential Help Eligibility.

Service members and family members can access services by creating a free account on Military OneSource. They can start a live chat or call 800-342-9647. If outside of the country, use international calling options.

Stay up to date on information to help your service member navigate the coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

In times of change, it’s reassuring to have a trusted source of information, resources and support. For service members, that’s Military OneSource — available 24/7 to help service members and their families thrive.

Supporting Military Children During the New School Year

schoolgirl with backpack wearing mask

Current as of September 11, 2020

The start of a new school year can be both exciting and a little scary for kids. They may wonder if the work will be hard, if their teacher will be nice and if they will make new friends. With the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic adding a new layer of unknowns, children – and their parents – may be feeling more nervous than usual.

Although military families are known for being resilient, they are not immune to stress. Frequent moves mean children must leave old friends behind and start all over again in a new school or settle in for home learning. A parent’s deployment can effect a child’s ability to focus on school. That’s why a strong community of support is so important. As a friend or family member, you can help the military family in your life rise to the challenges of schooling during COVID-19 by letting them know you are there to listen to their concerns and to help in any way you can.

A new school year during COVID-19

If anything is certain during the pandemic, it’s that nothing is certain. Some schools are fully open but could shut down if COVID-19 cases spike. Others offer remote instruction only, while still others have implemented a hybrid of in-classroom and virtual learning.

You may have strong feelings about the best learning environment for the MilKid in your life, but what your loved ones really need now is your support. Try to understand that everyone’s decision is different and there is no one right answer. The decision to send a child to school is a deeply personal one that each family must make on their own.

  • Ask your loved one what schooling looks like for their child this year. Try to listen without judgement.
  • Ask for specific ways you can help. Remind your service member and their spouse that you are there to support them and their family.
  • Respect the family’s decision even if you don’t agree with it. There is no clear right or wrong response during this time.

Talking with the MilKid in your life about school

Children will react differently to the changes depending on their personality and individual circumstances. A home-schooled child will likely be less affected by school district decisions than one who recently moved to the area and is enrolled in a local private or public school. Some children have trouble focusing on lessons in a remote environment, while others do better without the distractions of a busy classroom. Through simple conversations, you can get a sense of how the military child in your life is coping with the changes.

  • Ask your MilKid about their typical day at school, wherever the schooling happens.
  • Be reassuring and positive, even if you’re worried. Children can pick up on negativity or concern.
  • Ask about favorite subjects and activities, classmates and teachers.
  • Let your MilKid freely express any concerns, fears or sadness. Sometimes children just need someone to talk to.

Ways to support your MilKid’s learning and emotional health during COVID-19

No matter how well children do in school, having adults who are engaged with their education can improve their confidence and help them excel. Here are ways to stay involved with your MilKid’s schooling, whether they live nearby or are adjusting to life overseas:

  • Send gifts that encourage learning and creativity, like puzzles and art supplies.
  • Make or buy masks in prints that your MilKid will enjoy wearing.
  • Offer to be your MilKid’s homework buddy and help with studying. Use video chat and screen-sharing if you aren’t able to be there in person.
  • Give your military child a special photo in a frame for their school desk or a funny sticker to place next to their webcam if learning remotely.

Video chats are also a fun way to spend time together on activities that help with learning and growth. Schedule sessions to:

  • Try new recipes together. Follow the same recipe and compare results. Or coach your student through the steps.
  • Exercise together. This can be as simple as dancing to silly songs if your MilKid is very young. Older kids might enjoy pushup contests or yoga.
  • Work on art projects. Show each other your progress as you go along.
  • Conduct simple science experiments together.

Educational resources for military families

Military OneSource offers online resources that can supplement your MilKid’s learning. Military installations also have a number of offices and programs that can help. Your service member and their family have access to these resources:

  • The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library offers an amazing variety of education and entertainment resources for all ages. Programs include BookFlix, Explora Primary, Mango Languages, Tutor.com and many more. The Teachables program offers printable activities for children pre-K through grade 6.
  • Sesame Street for Military Families offers many different resources including activities, games, videos and the Breathe, Think, Do wellness app.
  • Military OneSource education consultants can assist you with questions about your child’s education. These one-on-one sessions are free, confidential and can provide you with referrals to in-home tutors and tutoring centers in your area as well as public and private school information. Call 800-342-9647 at any time to schedule an appointment. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.
  • Home-schooling resources can be found on installations. Available to help are installation school liaisons; child, youth and teen programs; and activities through the installation’s Department of Defense Education Activity school. Your service member can find these programs and resources on their installation at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.

Schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory so expect that your loved ones may feel unsure along the way. Make it a point to celebrate all the milestones and achievements, big and small. Your MilKid may be the student, but everybody is learning and deserves recognition.

Career Coaching for Military Spouses

woman smiling on computer

Being a military spouse has great rewards – and a few challenges. Frequent moves are a good example of both. It’s exciting to experience other parts of the country and the world. But it can be hard to sustain a career when you have to pack up and leave every few years.

If your service member’s spouse is struggling to find a job, they may be eligible for free career coaching and other resources to help build a career that will follow them wherever they go.

The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities Program

The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, provided by the Department of Defense, offers career coaching and a wealth of tools and resources to prepare for, and find, a great job. Encourage the military spouse in your life to check out the resources and tools on the MySECO website, including:

  • Self-assessments
  • A resume builder
  • Scholarship finder
  • A free year-long upgrade to LinkedIn Premium
  • Job listings from Military Spouse Employment Partnership employers who are committed to hiring military spouses

SECO also offers a number of personal services, such as on-demand resume and cover letter review, a job search resource that provides spouses with customized job leads with MSEP partners, and more.

Career coaching tailored to military spouses

Both new and seasoned military spouses might feel alone in their efforts to establish a career. A number of our SECO career coaches are veterans or military family members themselves and have personal experience with finding ways to overcome those hurdles. They can help military spouses identify education and career goals and tap into resources to meet them. A SECO career coach can also help military spouses:

  • Find education or training programs that fit their mobile life
  • Research ways to pay for education and training
  • Maximize their search for jobs
  • Build networks and self-market
  • Conduct video mock interviews
  • Pursue entrepreneurship

Career coaching packages for all situations

SECO career coaches offer specialty consultations for military spouses who are interested in a specific career path. Industry-specific coaching packages include:

  • Intelligence and cybersecurity
  • Science, technology, engineering and math
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health care
  • K-12 education
  • Federal employment
  • Information technology
  • Freelancing

SECO also provides career transition coaching packages to help military spouses navigate life changes. Career transition coaching package topics include:

  • New spouse
  • Career readiness
  • Career pathways
  • Re-entering the workforce
  • Permanent change of station
  • Working remotely

The military spouse you care about can take advantage of the free resources to strengthen their skills and meet their goals. Connecting with a SECO career coach can open the door to a meaningful and enriching career for the military spouse in your life.

Military spouses can contact a SECO career coach at 800-342-9647 or through the Live Chat feature in the header of the MySECO website.

Career Coaching for Military Spouses

Deciding on a career or finding a job isn’t easy when your family moves every few years. The military spouse in your life can get help through free career coaching from the Department of Defense.

How is the Military Protecting My Service Member During COVID-19?

Military wearing protective masks

Current as of June 4, 2020

The Department of Defense remains committed to the health and safety of military members and their families. This time of coronavirus disease 2019 is no different. The DOD continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to stop spread. The DOD offers free resources through Military OneSource. Each program helps with different military-life challenges or seasons.

Testing and Surveillance for COVID-19

Learn about the DOD’s expanded testing for coronavirus disease 2019 and other measures to detect the disease early and stop its spread.

Protecting against COVID-19

Your local government set guidelines to keep the community healthy. The DOD has taken these steps to help keep military members healthy:

  • Authorized telework when duties allow
  • Started daily health screening for jobs where remote work isn’t possible
  • Restricted personnel movement and travel (now resuming in phases as local conditions allow)
  • Required face masks on base when 6-feet of social distancing isn’t possible
  • Began tiered COVID-19 testing of military personnel

Installations are taking additional precautions. Read about your service member’s location.

Protecting your service member during deployment and redeployment

As deployments and redeployments resume, the DOD prioritizes:

  • Protecting military and civilian personal and their families
  • Safeguarding our national security capabilities
  • Supporting the nationwide response to the pandemic

When your service member deploys or redeploys, safety measures will include:

  • Appropriate screening at the assigned place of duty or point of embarkation
  • Assessment of exposure history, temperature and any COVID-19 signs and symptoms and past test results
  • Consultation with a DOD health care provider if direct screening isn’t possible
  • Evaluation and testing, if necessary, of anyone with a fever or affirmative responses to screening questions
  • Isolation following DOD guidance for anyone who tests positive during screening or meets the clinical case definition of probable infection
  • Mandatory 14-day restriction of movement for all service members before deploying outside the United States (or after arrival, with permission)
  • Mandatory assessment before redeployment to see if 14-day restriction of movement is indicated

Protecting your service member’s pay and benefits

COVID-19 has changed routines around the world. This includes many service members’ duties and training. The DOD understands that can heighten anxiety. So it has acted to protect pay and benefits.

Financial assistance and counseling

Closures have strained finances for many. Resources are available to help service members, including:

Military OneSource is here 24/7 to keep you informed. Visit our Coronavirus Updates for Our Military Community page.

For DOD updates for the military community on COVID-19, view these sites:

The DOD continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies to respond to the outbreak and prevent its spread. The DOD offers free resources through Military OneSource. Each program helps with different military-life challenges or seasons.

This Memorial Day: Honor Heroes and Make Meaningful Connections With Your Service Member

American flag

Current as of May 1, 2020

Memorial Day weekend 2020 will likely look different this year. Parades, concerts and public ceremonies may be canceled because of the coronavirus 2019 disease pandemic.

If some of these traditional events won’t be happening in your community, you can turn to other ways to remember and honor those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. Whether your service member is near or far, you can mark the day together in ways that are particularly meaningful to you.

Talk about who you will honor on Memorial Day

We remember all of our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, but your service member may be mourning a specific loss this year. Talk about family members and other loved ones who are on your mind. Ask if you can join your service member in honoring anyone special.

Let your service member know the ways you will observe Memorial Day. You may decide to take time to quietly reflect on those you’ve lost. Or you and your service member may find comfort in connecting with others.

Ways to honor someone important to you and your service member

Here are a few ideas to consider while you and your service member talk about ways to remember a fallen hero.

  • Post a tribute on social media. Online platforms are virtual gathering places where we celebrate life’s joys and mourn our losses. Create a tribute page for your fallen loved one. Share pictures, memories, favorite songs and other remembrances.
  • Reach out to others who share your loss. Connect through a phone call, text, send a card or write a letter.
  • Send flowers from you and your service member to the family of someone who lost their life in service to the country.
  • Make a donation to a nonprofit that was important to your fallen hero. Or ask about possible volunteer opportunities.

Marking Memorial Day 2020 in times of social distancing

Following the rituals of Memorial Day tells your service member that you are proud of our military and thankful to those who served. Here are ways to share this important day despite the miles that separate you.

  • Make and send poppies for your service member to wear on Memorial Day. Typically made from red crepe paper, poppies are worn to honor the sacrifices of American service members during war. Look for instructions online. You might even make enough for your service member to pass out to others to wear on Memorial Day.
  • Fly the American flag. If you have a flagpole you may want to follow the formal flag-raising ceremony. Raise the flag briskly on Memorial Day morning, then lower it to half-staff to honor the fallen. At noon, raise the flag to full staff for the remainder of the day. If you’re unable to be with your service member, consider sharing this moment on video chat.
  • Observe the National Moment of Silence. Stop what you are doing at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, and observe one minute of silence. Use this time to reflect on those who lost their lives.

Important holidays bring us together, even when we are physically apart. For more information about Memorial Day, see Remember America’s Military Heroes on Memorial Day Weekend.

Service members and their families can stay up to date on all the latest military-related information on COVID-19. For Department of Defense updates for the military community regarding the virus that causes COVID-19, view the following sites:

Whether your service member is near or far, you can mark the day together in ways that are particularly meaningful to you.