What Civilians Need To Know About Military Families {Guest Post}

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I am excited and honored to introduce you to Jenilee Goodwin who blogs over at Our Goodwin Journey. Today she is sharing a post with us about things she has learned about {civilians} ministering to military families.

I will never forget the moment I fully stuck my foot in my mouth during a Sunday morning service at our new church.

My husband and I had just taken a children’s ministry position at a church in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is the home of the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Because of its close proximity to the base, our church is home to many Air Force families.

Up until that point in my life, I had had very little exposure to military families. I had no experience into what makes their lives different from civilians, what makes their commitment so incredible and their service to our country so valuable.

One Sunday, I was up in our children’s church room, getting ready for service. Our main adult leader was in the Air Force. He worked in the surgery department of the hospital on base.

In our conversation, I casually said, “So, how long have you been in the Army?”

His eyes shot to mine like he couldn’t believe I just asked him that. “Well, I’m not in the army. I’m in the air force.” he said, not meanly, just informatively.

I discovered very quickly that I had a lot to learn about military life.

Having face-to-face time with career military families has given me great compassion for their sacrifice and dedication to our country.

The things that I’ve learned have become extremely valuable in ministering to and connecting with military families.

Lesson 1: Not all divisions of the military are the same. This may seem like a very simple concept, but it is not simple to those in the military. They carry great pride in being a part of their particular military division. I now know what a huge mistake it was, asking an airman if he was in the army. Most times, military men and women have very distinct reasons why they chose that career field. They specifically chose the air force or the army or the navy. When getting to know a military family, find out why they chose their division and career field. Learning that will help you connect in a new way with the military families you encounter.

Lesson 2: Try to learn their military lingo. The United States military has some incredible acronyms for absolutely everything. In our time here, we have learned that if you are going to have a conversation with someone in the Air Force, you would do well to learn a few of the phrases they may use. For example, when a military family is moving they say, “We are PCSing.” In other words, they are having a “permanent change of station” or simply moving to another base. Most military families are very kind and try to speak “civilian-ese” for us, but it is helpful to them if we try to understand what they are talking about when they use certain acronyms.

Lesson 3: Be a good listener. Military families have had wonderful life experiences. Take the time to hear about where they have been, how long they have lived in certain places, what moving has taught them and what their goals are for their military career. In our time here, we have learned about many different countries and cultures just from talking to military families!

Lesson 4: Don’t assume they know the area. If a military family is new or not so new to your town/state, don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with them! As much as our military bases try to help families transition to new places, they can not explain everything or show them around like you can do for them. Be helpful. Be willing to draw maps, give phone numbers, share city information and highlight things to do and places to go.

Lesson 5: Don’t put off plans… do them! We have a few dear and close friends that are military. Our base has educational programs that keep airmen here for only 18 months sometimes. These families are in and out so quickly! You make friendships and then they are moving (or PCSing) again! Be careful not to say, “Oh, let’s do that sometime!” and then never do it. Make plans and do them to enjoy the time that these precious families are a part of your lives.

Lesson 6: Teach your kids to be welcoming. Again, you don’t have a lot of time with military families. Teach your kids (and yourself) to jump into friendships. Don’t hold back because you might miss out on getting to know some great people. We have teased our military families, telling them that some of our favorite families have been military! Of course that isn’t necessarily true but it does speak to the fact that military families have unique experiences to share and they make wonderful friends!

Lesson 7: They don’t have family living near them. They don’t have the convenience of dropping the kids off at grandma’s house or asking their sister to go shopping or having little cousins to play with their kids. If they are having a baby, take them a meal. If it is a holiday when families normally get together, ask them over for a day of celebrating in your home. You will truly be able to minister to military families by becoming family with them!

Whether you live near a base, have family members serving in our armed forces or you are just curious about ways that you can be helpful to our service men and women, I hope that these tips will be a starting point for you to connect and minister to military families.

I know that our family has been blessed by reaching out, learning to understand and getting to know a few of the reasons military families are so special!

Jenilee is a homeschooling mom to 3 girls – Elayna, Annalise and Abigail. She serves with her husband, Jeremy, in full-time kids ministry. Jenilee loves a good book, coffee and blogging! You can read more about her family life, homeschooling adventures and other humorous Goodwin moments by visiting Our Goodwin Journey or find her tweeting about her day on Twitter @jenilee220.

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  1. Thank you so very much. Sometimes as a military spouse it’s hard to get civilian friends and acquaintances to realize these aspects of military life. I even sometimes feel rejected because people may steer clear of developing a friendship that they know wont last. I really and truly thank you for your openness and willingness to welcome the military families you encounter. I can’t tell you how sometimes just an invite is encouraging. I have been a military spouse for 16 years, first 11 years in Air Force and the last 5 in the Army. And I still find moving every year or two difficult and holidays are especially hard.{ We wont even mention deployments. } I am grateful for your tender acceptance, insight, and compassion for military families and for educating others about us. God Bless you in your ministry!

    1. Oh, you are so welcome! I hope that more people will take a look and realize the valuable friendships to be found in military families. Thank you for serving with your husband!

  2. Thank you. This was very informative! I don’t live in an area with military placement, but it’s a great article all the same.

  3. As a wife of a soldier I would like to thank you for seeking out ways to relate to and learn about the military family! We truly are different when it comes to many things, and I really think you captured them all well. I especially like that you brought attention to the last one. It is such a blessing to have a family or 2 that become your new family as you move place to place.

  4. This is a great list! (ESPECIALLY Lesson 7!) I had two of my three tweedles far away from family, and was so grateful for the friends who watched my other kids during doctor’s appointments and even while I was giving birth! And I would also add– don’t wait for them to ask! The times mammas could REALLY use some help is the day the movers are packing up the household goods. If you know when your military friends are moving, lovingly insist that you watch their young children. I have a hard time asking for help, but the one time a friend came over and swept up my littles as the moving truck arrived was a bigger blessing than I could have ever have imagined. She not only took care of them ALL DAY, but she fed our whole family that evening so we didn’t have to eat pizza on the floor of our quarters.

    1. I agree… don’t wait for them to ask. that is great advice! 🙂 It is hard to ask for help, especially to people you don’t really know very well.

  5. Thank you for this. I sometimes feel very alone when I am invited to events where you are expected to find childcare but no one realizes that you don’t know any babysitters. It is hard to live away from family and making a family from your church body is one of the biggest comforts!

  6. Wonderful, thank you! I am one of the clueless even with a brother many years in the USCG, yet would love to know more. Love your article.

  7. Thank you for your wonderful post and ministry to miitary families. I have been a military spouse for almost 18 years. We have five children and have moved 6 times in 11 years. It is very difficult to be not only apart from your spouse but your family as well. God Bless!

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