For most U.S. citizens, it’s difficult to even imagine the sacrifices that military service members make every day to keep the rest of the country safe. More than one million men and women are active members of the U.S. military, and hundreds of thousands of these service members are currently deployed overseas. Deployed service members do not get to press pause on their responsibilities across the globe when the holiday season arrives. Hundreds of thousands of deployed service members spend the holiday season outside the warmth of their home and without the company of their faraway loved ones. This also means that hundreds of thousands of U.S. families are forced to celebrate the holidays without the company of their deployed son, daughter, husband, wife, sister, or brother.
While the holiday season is generally thought of as the happiest time of the year, it can also be one of the most difficult times of the year for active military service members and their families. It might seem like there is nothing you as an individual citizen can do to show your gratitude for the loyalty, dedication, and sacrifices of active military service members. However, anything you do can make a positive difference in the life of at least one soldier—even if your efforts seem small or insignificant to you.
Options for Giving Back to Soldiers this Holiday Season
If you want to give back to soldiers this holiday season, you have many different options. There are countless holiday programs that are designed to give U.S. citizens the opportunity to show their support for military troops and the sacrifices they make.
Some of these programs facilitate correspondence between citizens and deployed service members and allow you to send messages of gratitude and good wishes their way. Others accept donations of care packages including food, personal hygiene items, magazines, etc. and send them to soldiers who are deployed overseas.
Adopting a Soldier for the Holidays
Letters and care packages are both much appreciated by deployed service members, but adopting a soldier for the holidays is another meaningful option if you have a little more time and money to invest into giving back to deployed soldiers. ‘Adopting’ a soldier usually means hosting a deployed soldier in your home and inviting him or her to celebrate a holiday—such as Thanksgiving or Christmas—with you and your family.
Most military bases run official programs that find host families for soldiers during the holidays. Many non-profit organizations and community groups also run similar programs. The best first step to adopting a soldier for the holidays is to contact the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office of the military base that is closest to you and ask them for more information on your local options for adopting a soldier.
How to Host a Soldier this Holiday Season
Adopting a soldier can be a very special, meaningful experience for you and your family as well as the soldier you choose to adopt. It is an honorable effort that can also be a lot of fun and can even become a rewarding holiday tradition for your family. It is a much more personal way to show your support for service members than just mailing a care package, and it gives you and your family a chance to get to know and show your gratitude for a real soldier face-to-face.
However, adopting a soldier for the holidays can also be nerve-wracking and stressful. The key to successfully hosting a soldier for the holidays and ensuring a positive experience for everyone involved is to make the soldier you host feel as comfortable as possible in your home. As nervous as you feel hosting a stranger, the soldier you host likely feels just as nervous to be celebrating a holiday with a family he or she has never met before.
There are many ways to help you, your family, and the soldier you host relax and enjoy the holiday together. Introduce yourself to the soldier warmly but do not pepper him or her with questions. Be inclusive and involve him or her in your family’s holiday traditions and activities. Also, be attentive to the soldier’s personal needs and feelings and offer him or her access to your phone to contact his or her family at any time.
Remember that hosting a soldier for the holidays is a big commitment. Your responsibilities as a host for a soldier require you to provide food and shelter for another person and to stay attentive to the needs of the soldier you’re hosting while they are in your home.
If you don’t feel comfortable taking on the responsibility of adopting a soldier, that’s okay. There are many ways that you can show your support and gratitude for active service members this holiday season without inviting one into your home. Make sure that you are able to provide a warm, comfortable, positive environment for a soldier before you agree to host one for the holidays.