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(Not) home for the holidays

ASU Tillman Center director offers tips to help families cope with being separated during the holidays

Uniformed United States military man, talking to family on phone

Photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Suzanne Ringle

December 21, 2023

What’s not to love about the holiday season? It’s fun, it’s festive and it’s a time of celebration and reflection.

It usually begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day. For millions of Americans it’s their favorite part of the year, filled with meals, family reunions and get-togethers — and lots of shopping.

But the holidays can be hard for military families and their loved ones when servicemembers are sent away on duty. Deployments often send American troops to combat and non-combat situations around the world and can last anywhere from a few months to a year.

Thousands of military parents are deployed each year, leaving their children at home while they are serving. Research shows that when military families are separated, most dependents often demonstrate a high level of resilience and increased sense of responsibility. However, deployments can sometimes lead to anger and attention difficulties, increased levels of fear and anxiety, sensitivity to media coverage and reduced school performance in children, adolescents and teens.

Portrait of Michelle Loposky
Michelle Loposky

Arizona State University’s Michelle Loposky has experienced this situation firsthand. As a former U.S. Army combat field medic who was deployed after the Bosnian war in the Stabilization Force humanitarian efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Loposky was separated from her family during her deployment in 1995–1996. 

Loposky, director of development and strategic partnerships for ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center, spoke to ASU News on how military families — or anyone separated from loved ones — can cope during the holidays.

Question: Members of the military make incredible sacrifices for their country when they serve. The holidays are particularly hard for military families when a member is serving abroad. Can you explain some of the hardships the family might experience? 

Answer: The hardest part of having a loved one not home for the holidays is just that: not home. It’s difficult to celebrate when those we love the most aren’t there. It’s especially hard on the loved one deployed because they are missing out, not only the holiday festivities but the special memories they won’t be part of. 

Q: What are some ways they can stay connected through these challenging times? 

A: With technology today, military families can stay connected through phone calls, video chats and writing letters. I remember when I was deployed, I didn’t have the opportunity to call or video chat with my family during Christmas. One of my most treasured moments while deployed was receiving a care package from my mom. I got it in time to open her presents during Christmas. She sent me all kinds of stuff like socks, snacks to share with my friends and a Christmas letter expressing her love, how much she was proud of me and how much she will miss me most during the holidays. It’s these special moments that keeps us connected to home but also keeps us going, to stay focused and safe so we can return to our loved ones.

Q: What’s a good way to help military dependents feel loved and supported during the holiday season? 

A: Just like any child during the holidays, quality time is how they will feel loved and supported. Giving time to donate gifts, helping their parents out, really anything to support is what one can do. One only has to reach out to organizations that support our military families during the holidays. 

Q: Is there anything the Tillman Center is doing this year to support ASU veterans and their dependents at ASU?

A: The Tillman Center understands what our military families have gone through and are going through. This is why, through our Family Matters programming, we find ways to not only engage with our military-connected students but their families. Just like in military, we keep the family unit in mind.

And what does that entail? From our Family Matters Brunch during ASU Family Weekend to our New Dependent Welcome Events at the start of the fall and spring semester, we intentionally take on a holistic approach in providing support to our students. We want to convey to the parents and even the spouses of our military-connected students (that) they are in good hands. They too are our family. Whether it’s advocacy assistance, finding the right resources or helping with their GI Bill Educational Benefits, (the veterans center) is here for them. We strive to create more initiatives, scholarships and events for our ASU military families. Stay tuned to see what we have in store in 2024!

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