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Memorial Day 2007: Lend A Hand

Taps at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington seemed awfully appropriate for Memorial Day today.  It is a mournful song, and that suits my mood this morning to a tee.

I went back to an older post that quoted a letter from Kevin Tillman, and it ticked me off all over again in the read.  Especially thinking about the day that I wrote it — I had just found out that my Great Uncle Larry had passed away, a man who had proudly served his country in the Navy during Pearl Harbor and Normandy in World War II.  A war in which my grandpa also served, as did several other Great Uncles.  Members of my family have served this nation in uniform for generations, including my dad and several relatives who are currently serving as well.

This article in the NYTimes today was really the frustrating icing on an already abysmal cake.  Frankly, the level of frustration on so many sides at the moment is palpable in just about every discussion I have.

In thinking about all of this, I walked back through my own support of a number of friends and family through the years when they were serving overseas — letters, care packages, phone cards, what have you — because serving in a difficult situation away from home is tough enough without some show of support from someone in their life.  And that goes double for worried family members back home as well.

There were a few requests in the comments this weekend for some ideas of what people could do to help in their own communities or for folks stationed overseas, and I thought putting together some links on what you can do to help would be useful.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if there are other ideas that you have done or know about, please share in the comments.

— Our local Democratic group meets at a local American Legion hall every month.  A lot of the membership, of the men's groups especially, are union folks — plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc. — whose skills come in handy when some local family needs a hand.  Sometimes, the folks at the Legion will hear of a military family in need, and will pass the message along and someone will quietly go over and fix a sagging porch or a busted pipe.  This is easy enough to do if you have some skills to help.  Usually local churches or even the reserves or national guard unit building will have some information on someone who could use a little help.  A lot of these folks are on a third or fourth or even more deployment, and their families are realy stretched thin in dealing with the little things.  It's a good way to reach out and make a huge difference.

— A number of the cops and firefighters in our area are reservists or national guard members.  First responders in most areas of the country don't make a lot — budgets are stretched thin in small communities as it is, and salaries are often not enough to cover family costs, so a lot of these folks have been part-time military volunteers for years as an additional way to help their communities (in flood situations or fires) and make a little extra.  The shift in how the reserve and national guard units are being used — no longer as emergency short-term troops but more as long-term parts of units — has caused a lot of problems for local first responder units.  I pick a day each year and bake some muffins or cookies and run them over to a local police or firefighter unit.  I started doing this just after 9/11 as a way to say thanks.  It is a little thing, but at least it is something.  Get to know your local firefighters and/or police officers, see what they need to stock for breaks or food, and contemplate a grocery gift card or a case of bottled water or something along those lines.  When they are shorthanded, it is tough to send someone out to get basics, and a decent break can make all the difference on a rough day for these guys.

— Speaking of military families and grocery needs, a lot of the folks left at home are stretching very thin budgets – especially in the case of national guard troops or reservists who have left very lucrative jobs to serve their time not just with substantially increased personal risk and fear for their family, but with a salary cut as well.  The same folks who may know about a family in need of repair help may also know of a family who could use help with groceries or babysitting or something else.  My husband's family had a tradition of selecting a needy family at Christmas, buying a number of items for them, sneaking them up to the porch, ringing the doorbell and then hiding so that the family only got the surprise help.  It's a wonderful tradition, and one that I've been thinking about replicating year round when I see a need.  Even a grocery gift card could make a world of difference, especially with gas prices what they are right now.

— If you happen to know a family with a member deployed or who has just returned, offer to sit with the kids for a few hours so the parent who is staying home can have a couple of hours to relax or have time to themselves.  A lot of families are living in areas near a base, far away from their on family support network, and they have no one to turn to for breaks.  Many base areas have set up a sort of round-robin babysitting tradeoff among parents in the area, but take it from the mom of a 4 year old — everyone can use a break now and then to recharge.  This is especially true when folks come home on leave — the parents need a little time to reconnect and your offer for babysitting so they can have a romantic dinner could be just what everyone needs.

— Back in December, the Christian Science Monitor had an article about an organization that was giving teddy bears to the kids of deployed soldiers and about other groups who were trying to ease the stress and pain of separation with counseling and other means.  I think this is a wonderful idea, and one that would be easy to replicate in your own community.  There were several resources listed and I'll link them here:

http://www.militarychild.org/

http://www.militaryonesource.com/skins/MOS/home.aspx

http://www.naccrra.org/militaryprograms

Books for Soldiers is a great organization which allows you to match up with reading requests from folks serving in uniform. 

AnySoldier is also a great group — allowing individual soldiers the ability to ask for things that they or their unit need.  (And you'd be surprised — things like toilet paper and wet wipes and chapstick and toiletries and such, up to and including requests for medical supplies for kids that military doctors need for their MASH units because children's tylenol doesn't come with the military supplies but they work on kids caught in the crossfire just the same.)

The USO operates centers in most airports nationwide, as well as providing programs worldwide for troops.  One little thing you can do is to drop off gently used magazines to the USO center while you are travelling through the airport.  Pretty much any kind are appreciated, from Allure to Mother Jones and everything in between — nothing like being stuck in an airport for hours between flights, and that magazine that you are contemplating throwing away could be the difference between boredom or something interesting to read.  Some of them also take book donations, but it can vary from site to site.  Doesn't hurt to ask.

There are a lot more groups out there, I'm sure, and I talked about several others that deal with grief counseling and assistance as well as other family help here in a prior post — but this is a good start.  Like I said, if you have suggestions, please do share them in the comments.  Somehow, the proactive human approach makes me feel a little better — and I hope someone else fins this useful as well.

(While searching for a good video for today, I stumbled across this wonderful Chet Atkins performance of Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.  It is some amazing guitar work, and a wonderful version of a song that I have always loved — as much for a piccolo solo as anything else.  Egregious, I tried to find a good full version, but apparently Sousa isn't so popular on YouTube.  Their loss.  The Chet Atkins version, though, is pure genius and well worth your time.  Enjoy.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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