Many of us look forward to spending time with family and friends during the holidays. But sometimes it’s just not that easy for our troops to do the same if they’re stationed thousands of miles away, can’t afford the plane ticket home, or are in the middle of training.
Thankfully, there are a lot of really great programs that can help connect your family to those service members to provide them with a little piece of home.
Several bases and surrounding areas offer Adopt a Service Member programs. If you’re interested in participating, you may need to make a few phone calls, but the time spent will be worth it. Some programs have specific names like “Operation Home Cooking,” “Adopt a Marine,” “Adopt a Soldier,” etc.
I always recommend starting with your closest ASYMCA (Armed Services YMCA) or your nearest USO office. If that doesn’t yield any results or none of those are nearby, contact your local base installation public affairs office. Maybe even spend a few minutes Googling your city and some of those keywords to see if an article in your local newspaper pops up with more information and links.
I’ve signed up — what’s next?
You may be a bit nervous about hosting troops you don’t know. I found a great list of some recommended do’s and don’ts from the Army MWR page, and then added some of mine below.
Army MWR’s Do List
- Give them time to warm up. Remember that they came to your home to relax and enjoy themselves
- Thank them for their service
- Allow them to get comfortable. Service members will be in uniform. Suggest that they may bring a change of clothes and/or shoes to change into during their visit
- Offer to let them call home; allow them privacy to make their calls
- Adhere to service member guidelines and standards
- Encourage them to share their Thanksgiving traditions and customs
- Get their contact information so you can keep in touch and follow up
- Take pictures and offer to share them
- Allow the service member an opportunity to take a nap. Typically the service members are arranged to be picked up as early as 0800 and dropped off around 1800
- Have breakfast and snacks available for service members upon their arrival, since dinner may not be served for several hours
- Share past photos of Thanksgiving dinners and past military guests
Army MWR’s Don’t List
- Don’t offer alcohol or tobacco products
- Don’t be offended if they don’t share everything about their job; it may be due to OPSEC
- Don’t overload them at once with multiple questions. After a simple introduction, let them relax
- Don’t make the conversation about you and all of your military experience
- Don’t worry about cooking all of their favorite foods. They will appreciate the home-cooked meal and eat what they choose
- Don’t say anything that could be perceived as derogatory about political topics/issues
- Give them a quick tour of the house. Show them available bathrooms and rooms where they can relax. Offer them a place to smoke and discard their cigarettes, in the off chance one of your service members smokes. It’s the polite thing to do
- Leave the football game on all day. Chances are they really want to watch it
- Do offer alcohol if they’re of age, and provide an opportunity to serve themselves from an area you can control. If you see it becomes a problem, then tidy up and make an offhand comment about cleaning up the kitchen and leave it at that
- Buy some Tupperware and send leftovers home with them. If they don’t want the food, they’ll throw it away, but at least it’s a chance to give them a good meal for the next day
- Offer an assortment of meal choices. Maybe cook a ham and a turkey or make mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. You never know what that one home item might be that they’re really missing
- Never underestimate the amount of food a service member can put away. Make a lot of food and encourage them to help themselves to anything they’d like to eat. They may be embarrassed at seconds or thirds
- Ask before taking any photos of them. Chances are they won’t mind, but it is the polite thing to do
- Ask if they would mind if a photo went on social media before you upload it. Make sure you ask if you can include their name — some don’t want their photos and names out there for safety reasons
All in all, have fun with this. It’s a wonderful way to give back to our service members. Enjoy the day!
This article originally appeared at Military1.com