It’s absolutely amazing how much I’m getting done in the basement for my organizational project. I’m finding things from years ago. I trashed a bunch of old papers from school (rightfully so, I was a horrible writer in school, what was I thinking!) I’ve parted with a lot of baby stuff from the girls, and I’ll be going through their old clothes soon too. What really caught me though was a stack of letters from friends/family to my husband while he was deployed to Iraq. He’s busy working two jobs right now, and I hijacked him last night to help me more in the basement, so I didn’t want to take anymore of his time. Sent him a quick text to ask if I could glance through them to report back what was in them to see if he wanted to save them and I was shocked at what I found after he gave me permission to read through them. I don’t want to call anyone out or dwell on about the gory details, because this was about eight years ago and I learned a long time ago to focus on the positive and not hash out the past because it’s not worth it. I do want to leave a quick guidelines from what I’ve learned in two deployments to help people decide what to write in their letters to their friends and loved ones and the things that should best be left out. If you’d like some advice on what to write to a soldier you’ve adopted, I have some advice for you too!
- Why haven’t you responded? Please do not ask your soldier for the reasons s/he hasn’t responded to your letters, emails, PM’s or any other method you are able to contact the troops. There are many reasons not to ask this, here are a couple. Your soldier may be in a Communication Blackout. This means all communication methods have been shut down for security. They may not have the ability to contact you. I know during My husband’s first deployment, they were frequently in blackout and he couldn’t contact me no matter what. Another reason is s/he may not have time. While the leaders do their best to provide breaks, soldiers first priority is their mission. Nick was working 16 hour days and often still had other obligations preventing him from getting enough rest. He was exhausted and stressed, responding to letters and emails was usually an intention he had, but could never find the time. Heck, he didn’t even respond to me half the time and I’m his wife! He felt bad enough knowing he needed to talk to people on his list, he didn’t need it pointed out to him.
- Why didn’t you spend time with me on your leave? The down low on this one is that while some people are all about getting together with droves of friends and family on their two week leave (or even when they first get home after a year of deployment) there are some soldiers who want nothing to do with masses of people, or even just a few friends. This does not mean they don’t care about you. It does not mean they don’t want to see more of you after they decompress from a year of stress and exhaustion Some soldiers need social time to de-stress. Other soldiers, like my husband, need quiet time away from people (sometimes even me) just to relax. This is normal reactions based on introverted and extroverted personalities. Also, there can be a lot of friends and family who are all wanting their time with their friend/family member they have been away from for a year. Giving each one individual time means the soldier doesn’t have time for himself. Please be respectful of the stress a soldier has gone through and remember it is probably not about you, if you think it is, a letter to the soldier is not the place to communicate it.
- Don’t guilt trip your soldier. Please, please, please do not tell your soldier how much people miss them and they are doing a shoddy job paying respects back, they’ve changed because they aren’t contacting you, that they don’t care because they haven’t spent time with you or responded to you, or anything else that can guilt trip a soldier. Remember, like I said before, their focus is on their mission while they are gone and then on destressing and relaxing when they are back. It’s not about you, don’t make it about you, and don’t guilt the soldier into feeling bad for these things when they have little control over it all.
- Don’t blame the spouse/significant other. I will be the first to say it, I do not control my husbands actions, no matter how hard I try to, I don’t. I like to think he listens to me, but that’s because he agrees with me most of the time and is doing it because he wants to. There are many times that I have asked him to do things, and if he doesn’t want to or doesn’t agree with it, he won’t do it. Actions of the soldier are of the soldier alone. Don’t blame the significant other for any actions the soldier does or does not take, you don’t know what is being said on the other end. Maybe the significant other is urging the solder to do things and they are not following through (because of the many reasons listed above) or maybe the significant other is not urging them, in which case it becomes the choice of the soldier to act. Either way, it all comes down to the choices the soldier makes. Do not, under any circumstances blame the spouse/significant other for actions or inactions of the soldier. Even if it were the fault of the significant other, a letter is not the place to complain about that person’s significant other.
- You’re not making an effort. I don’t think I really need to explain why this is such a bad thing to say to a soldier, mainly because they are out there protecting your freedoms and fighting for your country. To say they are not making an effort for that reason, and every other reason I listed above is just wrong. Deployment is something the majority of citizens of this country will thankfully never have to face. Even if a soldier is not making an effort when they are home on a regular day, do not tell them this in your letter to them while they are deployed. Wait and have a face to face, serious conversation to find out what’s wrong. It could be something serious like depression or PTSD or it could just be that the relationship has drifted apart. Things like that happen, but you’ll never know until you talk it out.
- You’ve changed. No matter how true this is, it’s best to leave this out of letters. For the most part, this is actually a fairly cliche comment anyway and probably shouldn’t grace a conversation because it’s extremely vague. People do change, it’s not always a bad thing, and often it’s good. Just because someone isn’t the same person they were a decade ago, doesn’t mean they should go right back to being that person they once were. Most likely it means they’ve either grown up or taken a different path in their life. If you aren’t as close to this person as you once were, this difference in path may explain why you feel they’ve changed so much. Maybe do a little something to get to know the new person better to learn why they are the way they are because they obviously mean enough for you to find the need to say something, or forget about it and accept the change as it is. When it comes to being a soldier. In most cases, yes, they probably did change. The military will do that to you (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, it all depends on what you’ve seen and experienced.)
Ok, so those are some insights into what not to say to a soldier while deployed, here are a few things you should talk about with a deployed soldier.
- What’s the weather like where you are.
- Thank you.
- What has the family been up to.
- What’s the low down on the TV show your soldier follows but can’t due to deployment (unless they don’t want you giving any spoilers)
- Send pictures lots and lots of pictures.
- Talk about work (unless it’s super negative, then skip that one)
- Talk about the pets.
- Talk about friends (not gossip, just the good stuff)
- Be positive. There is so much negativity going around and your soldier does not want to be where he is, doing whatever he is doing, so keep it positive to help get them through the day.
- Talk about a home remodeling project. If you’re like me, you’ll design something with them in mind, then lie and tell them it’s something they’ll hate.
- Tell them you miss them, and leave it at that. No guilt, just a simple I miss you. I’m sure they miss you too.
- Ask them if they need anything or want you to send anything in a care package.
- Tell them funny stories. Did you attempt to do something they normally did and it failed big time? As long as no one was hurt and the end result is 100% funny, share it, let them know how much they are needed, but you’re making do in the mean time.
- Talk about what meal they want to eat when they get home. Most likely anything is better than military food.
- Write to them 100 reasons you love them.
If you’re running out of ideas I provided some additional creative ideas for inspiration on the post Writing Letters to Soldiers: Friends and Family and Writing Letters to Soldiers: Adopted Soldier Edition.
Do you have anything to add to either list? I’d love to hear your suggestions.