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Mark, Back From Afghanistan: Lessons I Learned
By Bonnie Hurd Smith
Exactly a year and two days ago, my dear friend Mark returned from Afghanistan. He was/is a Navy reservist, and he served with distinction and honor. And, he came home.
His wife, my very dear friend, just reminded me of this anniversary, and it took me right back to that time and made me think about some incredibly important things I have learned during the past year since his return.
Please let me share them with you.
But before I do, let me just state that the most beautiful words in the English language are "safe on American soil." It seemed to take forever for Mark to come home. The military kept changing dates, times, etc. Mark's wife kept calling me with updates, and I remember losing all patience one day and saying, "Just tell me when he is safely on American soil!" The day she could was a memorable day.
In the interest of Mark's privacy, I will not go into a whole lot of detail. I am more interested in passing along to you what I have learned, so that you can embrace it and pass it along to others in your life.
For one thing, I wish I had known then what I know now. For example, I know now that every time Mark's wife had to cancel getting together with me because she was expecting him to Skype, I know now that she was always thinking, "This could be the last time." While I was mildly annoyed to have plans cancelled, she was waiting to see her beloved husband's face and hear his voice, potentially for the last time. At the time, I was so wrapped up in my own stuff I wasn't paying attention. Shame on me. But not any more.
There's so much more that can be said, but here are three specific things you can do for someone who is in active service and for his/her family. For simplification, I'm going to use a male pronoun.
1) Be there. Even if his wife says she is fine, know that she's not. And don't ask how you can help, because, again, she will say that everything is fine and she doesn't need anything. Figure something out. Send flowers. Take her out for lunch. Take the kids for the afternoon. Whatever makes sense, but just be there - and make sure she knows that you are. Don't be a pest, just be there.
2) When he comes home, thank him for his service - and not just verbally. Send a card, write a letter. Put it in writing. In fact, do this before he comes home. You have no idea how much it means to people serving overseas to be thanked by all of us who are the beneficiaries of what they are doing.
In Mark's case, because he was a reservist, he was not part of a unit that went overseas. One day, he got a call. His lovely wife drove him to Logan Airport, he boarded a plane, went to Army training for two months, then Kuwait, then Afghanistan where he could easily have been killed at any moment. When his time was up, he boarded another plane, flew back to Logan, his lovely wife picked him up, and he was back home. No ceremony, no acknowledgment, no thank you.
Even for men and women who did not have this particular experience and who were part of a unit, they still need to be thanked.
3) When he comes home, know that he is not the same person. Be patient, loving, open, and give him the space and time he needs to figure out how to "be." The fact is, he will never, ever be the same. You can talk to any veteran who has seen combat, and the memories are as fresh as if it happened yesterday. Even World War II guys. It's like yesterday.
So...Be there, say thank you, be patient and loving. That's what I learned, and what I wanted to share with you.
I am more grateful than I can say that my friend Mark came home. So is his wife, who adores him, and with good reason.
Sometimes, even a year later, when I'm in Mark's presence, I am overcome by how lucky we are to have him here and how easily he could not be.
If you know a military family, please think about what I have said.
And if you don't please think about supporting Operation Troop Support. Here in Massachusetts, we have a very active and effective branch in Danvers. Find a way!
And thank you for "listening."
Bonnie Hurd Smith, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on how businesses can support local history to attract customers, improve customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian, author, and public speaker.
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