“How to Keep a Military Family Close,” Ensign, July 1992, 66–67
Family togetherness is a great challenge for military families who periodically face separation. In 1973, after three years of active duty, I received orders to go to Guam without my family. How could I leave my wife and two sons, only two and one-half years old and four months old? How could I satisfy my family responsibilities with ten thousand miles separating us?
When I arrived at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, I soon realized that there were thousands of others who were separated from their wives and children. Many had found excellent ways to keep in touch with their families living half a world away. Following are some of the ideas they shared with me:
Write letters daily to those who require it and less often to others. A short note written to someone every day can help keep your mind on others and off yourself. Help your children feel special by sending them personally addressed letters in separate envelopes. Remember birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with a card or letter.
Send gifts occasionally. It shows family members that you are thinking of them and it gives them something tangible from you. Gifts need not be expensive but should be fun and unpredictable.
Exchange audiocassette tapes. It is faster than writing and less expensive than a phone call. Tapes bring the sounds of home to you and the sound of you to your home. You can include bedtime stories, segments of personal history, or advice for a troubled family member.
Make phone calls on special occasions. Carefully planned and controlled to reduce expense, phone calls can allow you to say “I love you” in a personal manner.
Exchange photographs with loved ones back home so you can see changes in your children, such as new hairstyles or braces on their teeth. Photos of you help folks back home understand your new surroundings.
In addition, both husband and wife, if they are to weather the storm of imposed separation, must honor commitments made early in their relationship. They must maintain the same standards as if they were still together.
Keeping spiritually attuned is another essential element to family unity during times of separation. Pray regularly for your family—for their health, protection, and success. Build inner peace by reading the scriptures and attending church.
I was grateful to find other Latter-day Saints at Andersen Air Force Base. In addition to church services, we met on Monday evening for family home evening. We studied various gospel themes, and our group became a mutual support group. As I watched how some of these Latter-day Saint military families handled family home evening, I realized I could still be very involved with my family. Some of these men had planned family home evenings a year in advance. Topics had been selected from the family home evening manual and assignments had been made in advance. The men now regularly prepared their parts on tape or in writing and sent their messages home for use on Monday evenings. Certainly this kind of involvement solidifies the parent’s role in guiding the family during times of separation.
My wife and I do not relish the thoughts of additional family separations, but we are better equipped to deal with them after our successful experience while I was in Guam. We are grateful for the examples of others, equally committed, who have been successful in keeping their families together while temporarily living apart.—Val B. Jones, Provo, Utah