Walking through the Atlanta airport in December, I felt a rush of happiness when I saw troops making their way through the crowds, almost running, to reunite with their families.
I watched as others just glanced at the troops, not giving a second thought. If they did, it would most likely be, “Oh, they just came back from a war, thank God they are home now.”
Most folks do not realize that there is another side to the military.
While the troops spent months in a warfront, their families battled the war on the home front.
Today, our troops make up only 2 percent of our country. That being said, many Americans do not have the direct connections to service members as they did back around World War II or Vietnam.
What military troops and their families go through is not a reality to most people because they are not personally connected.
Many of us see what is presented in the media, but most Americans do not realize that the troops are not the only ones who are called to serve.
Two million children deal with saying goodbye to a parent as they head off to war, sitting around the dinner table every night with an empty seat, not being able to kiss their parent goodnight, and acting like everything is fine.
I know this because I’ve lived it.
I am very proud of my father, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Goetz, for his service in Iraq in Afghanistan these past four years.
Dealing with his deployment was very hard on the whole family. My mom learned how to run the household as a single parent, my brother did not have a man in the house to play ball with or just look up to, and I missed my best friend.
My family Skyped my dad often. We spent Christmas morning with him through video chat, and I still asked him for help with my homework over email, but it was never the same as if he was home.
The fact that he was in a war zone miles away always played in the backs of our minds.
Last April I was honored to be named Operation Homefront’s 2011 Military Child of the Year for the Air Force in Washington, D.C.
At the awards ceremony, it was overwhelming to not only see the support America had for our troops, but for their families as well.
Michelle Obama, the guest speaker, commented, “We often lose sight of the fact that our Armed Forces is largely a force of families. And a lot of folks don’t realize that when our troops are called to serve, their families serve, too.”
When a parent deploys the family learns how to function and life continues. But once the parent returns, “Everyone has to readjust and reconnect as a family figures out how to come together after those months away,” said Obama.
This could mean a service member coming home to a crawling child they have yet to meet, or coming back to a little girl that is not so little anymore.
Reintegration is not always easy. They miss so much during the months when they are away that relationships with the rest of the family can become strained, leading to more stress in the household.
Newton County 4-H is collecting anything a family might do together, such as new or gently used family movies, board games, sports equipment, books, arts & crafts, baking tools, non-perishable snacks (microwave popcorn, candy, dry cookie ingredients), and anything else that could be a family activity.
4-H’ers will assemble the items into gift baskets to deliver to Moody Air Force Base in Marietta to be distributed to troops coming home this summer and fall.
The baskets will serve not only as a thank you for their service, but also as tool for family reintegration.
A service member’s family’s strength and support helps our troops serve and protect our nation.
I think it is time we give back and show our gratitude, for not only our troops who serve, but the families as well.
To donate items or funds or to learn more, contact 4-H at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-574-4625.
Nicole Goetz is a freshman at Oxford College and an intern with Newton County 4-H.