The homecoming of your soldier is one of the most anticipated events you can imagine. It is more exciting than waiting for Christmas morning as a child. It can also be filled with a little apprehension as you wonder what it will be like to see him again, have him with you in the home, sharing and experiencing life together as a family again. Help start your new chapter together with a special homecoming.
Planning the Homecoming
Homecoming after a long deployment means that there will likely be other people in your soldier’s life who want to be there for his return. Depending upon the size of your family, their proximity to where you will be for the homecoming, and the personal requests of your soldier, your celebration can take on many different looks. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions about the best way for you and your soldier to celebrate his return.
- Does your soldier have family and friends who have requested to attend the homecoming?
- Will the homecoming be too emotional for your children if there are dozens of family and friends wanting to share the time?
- Has your soldier indicated any preferences for his homecoming?
Once you get a sense of everyone’s plans, needs, and expectations, you can consider the following possible scenarios.
Celebrate the homecoming with just you and your children on the immediate day, giving your soldier time to adjust and your children a day or two to have their special time. Then you can host a reunion of sorts, inviting family and friends to a celebration.
Bring as many people to the homecoming as you can find! Sometimes soldiers and their families truly need this immediate togetherness. You can spend a short together at the immediate location, then move to your home or another venue, depending on size.
Surprise your soldier with a fan bus. Arrange to have a bus (or two!) waiting, filled with family and friends. You can all drive together to your celebration, and then have your private homecoming moments the following day.
How to Have an Amazing Homecoming
Whether your family needs or wants a huge party the moment your soldier returns or you prefer to slowly build up to that event, there are several great ways to create a magical and amazing homecoming for your soldier.
Have at least two people appointed as photographers, one for still shots, and the other for videography. These are moments you will cherish and want to be able to see later, as the moment will seem very surreal.
If you’re serving food, consider an “All American” menu of hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. Add in boxes of Cracker Jacks – you can even use these for centerpieces and party favors for the kids, and some apple pie and colored Jell-O for dessert (red, white, and blue, of course!). If your soldier has some favorite foods, you could always put in requests to family and friends to bring their best recipes. Maybe Aunt Jane makes his favorite cookies, while his mom makes his favorite lasagna. Getting others involved will lessen your workload, help others to feel a special part of the celebration, and serve your soldier his favorite dishes.
Get your community involved. Many neighborhoods or entire towns are more than willing to pull together and join in the celebration. They can line the road and hold flags, tie patriotic ribbons on their mail boxes, or perhaps even gather the local school choir to sing some favorite songs. Local businesses also might be willing to help with the costs of food, transportation, or decorations.
Make matching shirts for you and your family to wear to the homecoming. You can purchase iron transfer sheets at local craft stores and print your family name on them, then apply them to the shirts. Get creative and add a family crest or family pictures. Make sure to make an extra shirt for your soldier!
Maybe you just want to get back that familiar feeling and celebrate at home. Even if it is April, put up a Christmas tree, hang the stockings, and serve some gingerbread cookies. The best present of all will be the return of your soldier.
Photo credit: Jack
You’ve waited months, perhaps more than a year, to welcome your soldier home. You’ve shopped for food to make his favorite meal, arranged for his parents to visit upon his return, and helped the kids make signs welcoming him home. But are you really ready for the return?
Sometimes even after all of those sleeplessness nights, counting days until the return, the homecoming doesn’t always lead to sunshine and rainbows. There is often a honeymoon period when you won’t be able to stop looking at each other, and the kids will be stuck like honey to his side. However, some military families are caught off guard by the feelings of resentment that might emerge, the adjustment to new routines, and the fact that somehow life went on during deployment and not everything is just how it used to be.
Possible Threats to the Honeymoon after Homecoming
Even thinking about the idea that there might be negative emotions upon return from deployment might be more than you want to do. However, preparing for the possibilities will help to diminish the likelihood that these situations will occur, and the effects of them won’t have to be so severe. There are bound to be adjustments that need to be made – start thinking early about how things have changed for you during deployment and what those changes might mean to your soldier.
- The children have an earlier bedtime, necessitated by the fact that you needed an extra 30 minutes alone each night.
- The kids have had one authority figure in their life and aren’t used to the ramifications of two in the house.
- You have developed a new weekend routine. On Saturday the kids do their activities, you spend the afternoon working on projects, and in the evening you hang out with other kids and their moms.
- Your mom spends at least 2 afternoons each week at your house, helping with the kids and household chores.
- The financial planning has been on your plate and you have developed a method to the madness.
- You’ve met new friends and enjoy one evening a month going somewhere special with them as a treat for you.
While all of these scenarios are not necessarily negative ones, the effects they might have on your relationship with your soldier upon his return could become negative if you’re not prepared. Make a realistic assessment of how your relationship looked and worked before deployment and make sure that you don’t just assume that it will continue in the new routines without compromise. Your soldier will be facing his own readjustments so it is imperative that you work together as a team to make the homecoming a long lasting positive experience.
Make sure you communicate regularly about daily life. You might be used to independent living and decision making, but you need to remember to include your soldier in the daily routines.
Be watchful for signs of PTSD in your soldier or other stress related issues. Don’t hesitate to encourage him to seek help or talk with someone yourself. Also keep in mind that you might benefit from sharing with a third party how you are adjusting to life after homecoming.
Be aware of changes in the kids’ behaviors, either increased anxiety over your soldier being gone for even a few minutes, or rebellious behavior that tests the waters. Nip this in the bud and work together with your soldier to form a parenting unit. Don’t let the kids create a great divide between you now that you have just gotten him home.
Soon after homecoming sit down and revisit the responsibility list. Maybe you will continue to mow the lawn now, and he wants to take over weekend cooking for the family. Go over the family calendar and get your soldier up to speed on the activities of everyone and how he can participate and help. Just don’t direct the show – form a team. Whatever your decisions are, work on making them together.
Photo credit: Rachel
Well, my son made it home safely from the sandbox and I am deeply grateful. A lot has happened between the time he left and made it back home, more then I really thought. One daughter started Kindergarten, the other two had birthdays that came and went. His birthday came and went as well as mine and his brothers. A milestone birthday for my youngest who turned 18. His cousin got married, his dad got remarried, my son reinlisted for another 5 years, life continued on in our part of the world.
This time around he had the homecoming that he should have had the first time and even though he thought he did not deserve it, he was very happy when all was said and done. This got me to thinking, because he told me, prior to coming home this time, that he felt he was not a hero in any way, shape or form. He feels that what he is doing is nothing spectacular or special in any way. He has a humble heart.
He didn’t understand at first, why we wanted to have a party for him, even when I told him that many people feel that all of our military men and women are doing something special. It wasn’t until he saw how many people were there at the airport (even those on the flight waited for him when they saw us) and then at the house waiting for him, that he finally understood that he meant so much to so many. He also understood that it was not just for him, it was for all of us as well. The family, friends, neighbors, veterans, other mothers who came because their own child is not here right now. The hugs he got from the veterans and that he received from other military family members showed him that not only was he missed, but that each one of those who were there, who were hugging him were in essence hugging their own brother, son, cousin, uncle, etc., again, through him.
So what got me to thinking so hard was the fact that my 18 year old didn’t understand either. Mind you, my children were brought up knowing of previous wars but they never knew anyone really close to them who had served recently. My father, although he served in WWII, passed away when they were young so they don’t really remember him. Their dad’s father does not speak of the Korean War at all to them. So I had to explain to my youngest that those who showed up, many of them Vietnam Veterans, did not have a homecoming of the sort that we were planning. I had to explain the state of mind of many during that era to him and he finally understood. What also struck me, was that my soldier son did not think he deserved this! My goodness, last time he was home he told me a story about a sniper and hearing me call out his voice when he was running like hell and when he turned, surprised to hear me calling out his name in the middle of the day, in another country, that he had a bullet go whizzing by his ear! That’s why we made such a deal out of this homecoming!!! He was able to get off of a plane and hug us, we were the lucky ones
The realization of how important he is to so many came to him a little later in the day, but at least it came to him. He hugged me and marveled at all those who were there. His brothers in arms, his military family, showed up in force to greet him and I know that it swelled him with pride to be a part of such a large, loving family. Believe me, our own family is not small by any means, but this was something new to him. These were men and women who were also able to make it home under dire circumstances, who came to greet him. He was so honored.<
We have spoken about others, however, who don’t have homecomings like this if any at all. It’s not that they are forgotten, it’s not that no one cares, it’s the fact that there is not much publicity about their coming home some times. I myself have been talking about it for about two months! I understand the fact that we cannot announce deployment dates, troop movements, etc., but our men and women need to know that we stand behind and beside them 100% and this is something that is slowly being realized by the general public. Many families don’t know about the Patriot Guard Riders escorts, or how their local Veteran’s Associations will provide a color guard if they are able. My eyes were opened a little bit wider when I realized that one of our own Blue Star Moms son had no homecoming a couple of years ago when he arrived either. She wasn’t aware of organizations who assisted with homecomings until our first meeting a couple of weeks ago. Which is my point, if my own son doesn’t think he did anything special, how can we get the point across to the general public that he and many others before him and those standing next to him in battle are special to us here at home?
I know there are many groups out there, but if there isn’t a Blue Star Mothers group in your area to meet with, then start one if you’re a mom. There wasn’t one in my area so I started one. Volunteer with them, get involved. Be at as many homecomings as you can. If you have a few extra hours a week, spend it volunteering with Wounded Warriors at a VA Hospital or at your local Veterans Association. Involve your local community to the achievements of those in the military through your local newspapers. There are so many ways to show you care and it does not always have to be monetary. You don’t have to always be over 18 to help. I have a scrapbook that I am doing for my son of his time in the military, you can show up and take pictures of homecomings and send them to the family for their scrapbook; write a letter to a soldier; be a penpal to a family friend in the service; get your school organized to send packages overseas; contact your local Veterans group and ask what you can do to help. Anything you do will be greatly appreciated.
Because if we don’t let them know now how much we care, if we don’t get the word out, if we don’t write down their stories, who will?
My son, Cpl. Dark Prince, USMCR, deployed in March of this year. That day of deployment, as many of you have experienced, is the lowest point in a mil parent’s life. It just sucks like a Dyson, doesn’t it? You are right at the beginning of a deployment. The clock has just started but (thank God) it has FINALLY started!! You walk away after saying goodbye to your son or daughter thinking something like “Well..I don’t have to live that moment again.. at least for now.”
But at the other end of the deployment, there be dragons as well….
For starters, you end up playing homecoming date roulette with your Family Readiness Group/Family Readiness Officer. There’s a “window” of homecoming. That window can be as long as 7 days or as small as two but the bottom line is that nobody really knows when EXACTLY your loved one is coming home at the beginning of the homecoming phase.. It wreaks havoc on those who are coming in from out of state and trying to make hotel/flight reservations. For this deployment, we are in that category. It’s frustrating but trust me…everyone else is frustrated as well. If you are dealing with this right now or soon to be dealing with this, you’re in good company. We all are playing on that roulette wheel.
If you are traveling to a homecoming, make sure that you have the FRG/FRO/Battalion contact phone number. This will be your lifeline once you get to where you’re going and awaiting your loved one doing the same. They will have the latest updates/ changes in times and locations, etc. Tattoo that damned number on your arm if need be but make sure you have it.
Be flexible. In the Marine Corps, we refer to this as Semper Gumby. I know that’s an easy thing to type and I also know that’s not an easy thing to do You.still.have.to.do.it. Things change. Quickly. Be ready for that. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, things will change. It’s the one thing you can count on.
Between now and the actual homecoming, there are things that you can do to keep busy. Make a welcome home sign for your son or daughter. I’ve seen some very clever signs so I’m a little intimidated as I contemplate what I want to put on a sign to welcome my son home. I’m not very artistic so if you saw a cute sign at a homecoming, comment here and let me know. I don’t mind being a copycat. I just mind not having a cool sign.
Get with your FRG/FRO and see if they need folks to make the beds in the barracks for the guys coming back. Seriously, if you just got off a 30+ hour flight from Kuwait..the last thing you want to do is make your own bed. This is something that we as milparents/families can do to help welcome our guys home. It doesn’t take long but it does help pass the time as you wait for your loved one to come home.
If your child left all of his civilian clothes at home (mine did as well as giving me some clothes that had been cooking in his room for several days before he left..ugghh!!) , you might want to consider bringing some of them down to him/her. They will just love getting out of their utilities/cammies.
Most importantly, savor the moment of homecoming. You have earned this moment too. Don’t dwell on the stuff you didn’t do or the problems that you had with the deployment. Those are things for another day. On the day of homecoming, pat yourself on the back for surviving and hug your child. Hard. Close. Revel in the moment. There are few moments as joyous as this one.
Urrahhh!!! Hooaahhh!!!, etc…..