Rare is the person who does not support our troops. Some of us have more opportunity to show our support, because our soldiers are serving now. Many of us are aching to welcome our soldiers home, and when they return, we want to give them the welcome they deserve. If you love your soldier, your welcome will be a great one, no matter what steps you follow. You can't do love wrong. But if you want to do something that will show your soldier that he or she is special, try some of the following suggestions:
- Show your pride. A positive attitude is crucial. If your soldier's unit has a ceremony for returning soldiers, attend it. If your soldier is not returning as part of a unit, create your own ceremony. Invite friends and family. Tie some yellow ribbons around the place. Hang some bunting. Hold up a banner. Give the kids some small flags to wave. Heck, give everybody flags! Have some people say a few words. It's OK to be corny and sentimental. It doesn't matter what the ceremony is as long as you show your love, your appreciation, your gratitude and your pride. Soldiers understand ceremonies. They will appreciate it.
- About those decorations. A banner is always a great addition. It is also a great activity to get the kids involved. Go to a party store and get some military or patriotic cups, plates and napkins. Add some streamers, balloons and confetti. If anything, this is the easiest part. A quick web search will turn up lots of ideas for decoration themes.
- Food, refreshments and preparations. These are a must, even for a short celebration. People will be waiting, probably longer than you plan. Have something to drink and something to nibble on, and a decorated cake is a great idea. Remember the kids. Give them something that does not have TOO much sugar or they will be bouncing off the walls. You might want to have some games or activities to keep them occupied until the festivities start.
- Do it right. Your soldier may or may not know much flag etiquette, but they will notice when things are just not right. Never let a flag touch the ground. Don't give flags to tiny tots. They will just drag them on the ground, and that disrespects the flag. If you hang a flag, the blue field with the stars always goes to the upper left, whether you hang it vertically or horizontally. The national flag always goes to the right of or above other flags. Right is the position of honor, and so the U.S. flag is positioned behind and to the right of the head table or speaker as he or she sits or stands facing the group. Instead of flags for decorating tables and hallways and doorways and such, it is really a good idea to use plastic or paper bunting, that decorative material with the stars and stripes. There are no "rules" to follow for bunting, and it looks great.
- Do it once. Have one big homecoming celebration. Your hero needs to figure out what it means to be normal again. There may be TV coverage at the airport, but the family should do just one welcoming celebration. After that, start finding out what the new normal is. Your soldier will appreciate some home cooking, some of the simple things in life. Your soldier's life has not been simple for a while. Let your soldier come down to earth.
- Include your soldier in your plans. It is OK to make the homecoming celebration a surprise, but involve your soldier as soon as possible in the reunion process. What is comfortable? Where do the kids and parents fit in? How do friends fit in? Plan for rest and relaxation. Your soldier has likely been stressed for some time, so he or she will need time to decompress.
- Communicate honestly. Be honest about your feelings. Encourage your soldier to do likewise. Remember the part about being understanding. Avoid blunders. Communicate!
- A couple of "Don'ts". A lot of people have a lot of strong feelings about today's war. Their opinions are as valid as anyone else's. But your soldier didn't start anything. Your soldier does not make foreign policy or decide when or where to serve. Leave politics at the door. It is the soldier who guarantees your freedom to think and speak as you choose. Respect the service, the sacrifice, the commitment and the dedication. Don't make value judgments about the cause at the soldier's homecoming. It is the wrong time, the wrong place, and it sends the wrong message to the wrong people. If you don't support service in the armed forces, then just don't say anything and be respectful anyway.
- Be understanding. No matter where your soldier has been, if you have been separated for quite some time, there will be a period of adjustment. If your soldier has been away for six months or more, you both have changed some. Each of you has had to learn to cope and get by without the other. You and your soldier had to be strong and independent during the separation. And even though getting back together will be pure joy, there will be times when you rub one another a bit the wrong way, not because anyone has changed for the worse, but because you are not exactly the same persons anymore. Your old assumptions are no longer quite valid. This is especially true of spouses. This transition is more difficult after a longer deployment. Even within the strongest marriages and in the most loving families, there will be stress. Both the soldier and the loved ones at home need to be understanding. Also, if the homecoming celebration is held on the actual day of return to the States, your soldier may have been awake for many, many hours. Your soldier and you will be stressed, and exhaustion will not improve things. You and your soldier have fantasized about this homecoming. Be realistic. Not all fantasies come precisely true, but they can be wonderful just the same.
- Don't push. Homecoming is joy mixed liberally with stress. Your soldier may have seen and done things that he or she won't want to talk about. Don't rush things. Your soldier needs time. Your soldier may never want to talk about some things. Let your soldier decide how much he or she wants to talk about the deployment and the duty. Especially at homecoming time, let it be. Don't be in a hurry. You can't really make up for lost time, so don't try too hard. Just use your time together wisely and lovingly. Take time to get used to being together again. Take time for yourself as well.
- Be supportive. Did your soldier get deployed to a war zone? War is hell. Coming back home is heaven. Don't remind soldiers of hell upon their return. They have a tough transition to make. Show your appreciation, and ask those in attendance to do the same. Again, not everything will be perfect. Remember that this is reality, not fantasy. And the reality is that there is often so much stress after the homecoming that someone may need counseling. If you need it, get it. It will be there for you.
- Have fun! But enough of the heavy thoughts. Yes, there will be some solemn moments, but remember that this is a celebration. Laugh, love, and loosen up. Smiles and laughter should rule the day. The homecoming of a soldier is a joyous occasion. Be a fun part of the homecoming. Don't overdo the alcohol. Have designated drivers. Be safe. Be happy. You've earned it.
And from the bottom of my heart, much thanks to your beloved Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines for their faithful service.