When you’re a new, young Army wife, you hear it all. “Wow, I could never do what you guys are doing!” “I didn’t think you were the military-type.” “Eh, time will fly by. He’ll be back before you know it!” “How are you going to afford anything on such a small paycheck?” “Let me guess…you guys got married for the money.” “Don’t you love that uniform?” The list goes on and on! But amid all the helpful and less-than-helpful comments are usually buried a few golden pieces of advice. Along the way, I heard a few secrets that really ended up being true about writing letters to my husband while he was at Army Basic Training.
1. Write Him EVERY DAY.
This was the best advice I ever got, hands down. It’s not that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write him every day, but reading stories about girls who never missed a day really motivated me! I made it a point to never skip writing him, and it was amazing. Writing ended up being therapeutic for me. It was a good way for me to collect my thoughts at the end of the day. And it really helped build communication in our new marriage too. Because of the frequency of our letters, we didn’t have to sacrifice sharing the “little” things of every day life and also the “big things” that we needed to talk about: my job, our moving plans, etc. My husband said getting a letter from me every day (even a pile up from a few days of no-mail) was a huge morale booster and made all the difference in the world. He liked knowing that I made him a part of my day, every day, and I liked making him a part of my day.
2. Wait for the Commander’s Letter.
I had no idea what this was at first. During the first two 30-second phone calls he got, I thought he would tell me what his address was. Some girls thought they were supposed to get this from the Recruiter before their solidiers left. What I eventually came to find out is that the commander publishes a letter about 14 days after Basic Training begins. He waits until then, because by that time, the soldiers have almost completed their Red Phase (the tough and gruff phase that helps them detox from the world they have previously known). A lot of letters from home would interrupt the mental training they are putting the soldiers through, and so he purposefully waits to send the letter out for a bit. When it DOES arrive, it will have all the information you need to address your letter.
It is possible (likely) your soldier will have sent you a few letters before you get the commander’s letter. If your soldier is in reception, his return address is extremely temporary and will be changing within a week. (Hence why you can’t write him back the first week). But if it’s his Basic Training address, that address should be accurate–as long as he remembered to put down his Unit information and roster number. In that case, you could technically send a response to that address, but again, your letters probably won’t be delivered until Red Phase is over (or almost over).
3. If You have Questions, Write those Last in your Letter, or as a PS.
This one helped me construct my letters a little more carefully. I tend to write down things as I think of them. But I learned it was so much easier for my husband to remember (and answer) my questions if I ended my letter with them. It’s a good rule to practice in any letter-writing circumstances, but is especially helpful for Basic Training letters. The soldiers’ free time is only an hour or so long in the evening, right before lights out. Their free time is split between doing laundry, writing you, reading your letters, and whatever else they need/want to do. So streamlining the information you need from them is just an extra way to make their life easier–and ensure you get the answers you need!
4. Number your Letters
Obviously, I wrote the date on the top of my letters. I also numbered the pages because I wrote long letters with identical stationary. Oops. But numbering my letters became really helpful during the times that mail call was skipped and my letters built up. My husband said it happened quite often that my letters would be delivered in a stack. I didn’t want to mark the outside of my envelope (see why here). But on the initial fold of each letter, I wrote the number of the letter as well as the date. While the date would work too, numbering the letters felt like a mini-countdown. My husband liked how easy it was to know which letter should be read first out of a stack of 11. Numbering probably wouldn’t be a super necessary step if you only write once a week or so, but if you write daily, consider numbering them!
5. Make a Letter Writing Station on your Desk
As I said, I was absolutely determined not to miss a day in writing my soldier. But the “secret” behind my success was setting aside a non-negotionable time every night to write him a letter. And I kept all my stationary needs well-stocked: stamps, paper, and pre-addressed envelopes. I know it sounds silly to pre-address envelopes. But I found that if I had everything “ready-to-go” then it was much less intimidating to sit down and write a letter. Even if I was tired, all I had to do was pull out a piece of paper and write a few thoughts or reflections down. Then everything else was all set-up. It also was rewarding to slowly use up my designated stack of envelopes or roll of stamps. I guess when you miss someone that much, any little daily countdown is a motivator!
In this world of advice-givers, you’ll probably run into a lifetime supply of opinions on how you should handle Basic Training as a loved one. It can be frustrating, especially when it’s coming from someone who has never been in your shoes. But as someone who has, hopefully something in here can help you the way it helped me. And if none of it helps, consider visiting one of these sources to get a better idea about Basic Training and letter-writing advice. If you have some words of wisdom of your own to share, please do so in the comment section below! One of your secrets could be the key to someone else’s Basic Training survival story. Thanks for stopping by!
I wrote a post a few months back about 5 practical myths you’ll run into when sitting down to write a letter to your soldier in Basic Training. Unfortunately, there are more myths than just those 5. I even wrote about those. The truth is, many myths aren’t all as cut-and-dry as we would hope. There are a lot of emotional myths (welcome to life in the Army) and I’m here today to bust those.
Maybe I’m the only one, but separation and lack of communication are usually a recipe for self-doubt and overthinking everything. It’s easy to try to shoulder the “blame” because as Army wives, we are used to (or getting used to) stepping up to the plate. It’s a nice quality, but it has to be tempered with reason. If you haven’t been hearing from your soldier, or you have, but communications just feel “off,” it is likely you might start pointing fingers at yourself. Your letters are NOT to blame. Don’t submit to self-doubt, and definitely don’t begin to believe these common emotional lies:
1. My Letters are Getting Old
They aren’t. I know I haven’t read any of yours, but I can tell you, they aren’t getting old. Receiving a letter at Basic Training is like Christmas morning for the boys. You might be that girl that sends a letter once every few weeks, and to your soldier, those are gold. But if you are that girl who writes him every day (hi, everyone!) you might be wondering if you’re letters are getting old. They aren’t. In fact, there is an unspoken competition among the soldiers (generally) about who gets letters and how often. Not only will you give your soldier a pick-me-up, but you’ll stroke his ego in front of the guys. If you’re still in doubt, ask yourself this. Have his letters or phone calls gotten old? Are you sick of hearing from him? No. It works both ways.
2. My Letters are Too Long
Imagine being in a big hospital room with a bunch of other patients and their beds…the lights stay on and there is a continual chatter of noise. You’ve been given an hour to chill but you have nothing to do. You have no personal belongings to entertain yourself with–except a letter that just arrived. The longer, the better. This is how the soldiers (can) feel. They aren’t in hospital beds, but they are in big shared spaces with “free time” and nothing to do. Don’t shy away from writing long letters! It’s perfectly fine if you’re not a wordy person, just write in the length of style you’re comfortable with. But if you can write up several pages, go for it! Don’t hold back just because you are assuming your lengthy letters are annoying. They aren’t.
3. My Letters Aren’t Positive Enough, or They are Too Positive
It’s a fine line. You don’t want to gush about how great life is for you, because you know more than likely he isn’t having the time of his life. But you don’t want to write drippy and depressing letters because you want to boost his morale, not bring him down. It’s a personal preference thing, but I found that honesty is the very best course. If I was feeling down, I wrote about it. But I tried to balance it out with a positive story or occurrence from my day, to keep the letter from being a “downer.” Basic Training was just too long of a time span for me to “bite-the-bullet” and just push through emotional conflict. As newlyweds, I found it was vital to be 100% honest with my husband (and I still do!) because those first few months of marriage are a tender time to build communication skills. You can’t let Basic Training get in your way. Be honest and don’t overthink the positivity-level of your letters.
4. My Letters Just Depress Him
So, again, I haven’t read your letters. But do you have concrete proof that your letters are depressing him, or are you just assuming that? Try to remember that missing someone isn’t the same as never wanting to hear from them again. If your soldier has specifically told you that getting letters from home makes him extra homesick, then try to work on your style a bit. (see above) If you’ve been sending tons of “downer” letters, try to dial it back. Or if you’ve been sending extremely peppy letters about how amazing life is back on the ranch, maybe it’s making it harder for him to be away from all that. Whatever you do, don’t assume your letters are depressing him, unless he specifically tells you so.
5. My Letters Should Mirror His
Am I the only person who thinks this way? Sometimes there can be a communications-pressure to try to “stick” to whatever your soldier is doing. If he is opening up emotionally, you should swoop in with your own emotional update. If he seems down, your letters should be equally as “ho-hum” because you wouldn’t want him to feel like you guys are emotionally imbalanced. But I’m going to appeal to sticking with the truth again. Don’t feel bad if he is writing super detailed letters, or sleepy vague ones, or even self-examining monologues. Unless you talk in person identically, there is no need to write identical letters. It’s perfectly fine for him to be writing letters that dive heavily into what his daily training is like, while you stick to some fairly round-about updates on school and your job. Overthinking or manipulating your letters into some kind of mirror effect will only stress you out and keep you from freely speaking the truth.
Hopefully, none of these emotional myths EVER crossed your mind. Don’t let me put ideas in your head! But in case you are human and some of these slipped into your mind during those long Basic Training nights of separation, don’t feel like you’re the only one. Just know that there are hundreds of Army wives/fiancees/girlfriends going through all the same Basic Training nights with you. And there are many resources you can turn to, either for support or fellowship with people who are or have been in your shoes.
I hope the day that your soldier left for Basic Training, you were not a hot mess. Hopefully, you were surrounded by supportive friends and family, or at least that you loved your job and knew how to make yourself happy on that tough day. I hope you were able to stay strong during the entire block of training, and felt like time flew by. I think a lot of military wives would say they wished they were you.
If you didn’t come from an Army family already, a lot of what you’re experiencing is going to be very new. Unfortunately, friends and family don’t always support your and your husband’s decision to join the military. They might be just as scared and confused as you are, or much more so. There are a lot of things you can do to ease the burden, and there are also places you can turn to. Unfortuately, at this stage in your soldier’s career, you won’t have an FRG group to rely on (Family Readiness Group). In the future, they can be very helpful in situations like this one. For now, here are the sources you can go for support: (hint: they aren’t negative chat forums filled with lies and opinion and zero fact).
1. Army One Source
I honestly can’t give them a worthy enough shout-out. They were singularly the most helpful of all sources. In fact, within an hour of dropping my soldier off for Basic Training, they called me to “check” on me. They have a 24/hr hotline that you can call for anything–ANYTHING. You can call them for advice, for information, or even for sympathy. They will try their best to answer any question, and will spend as long as you need addressing your concerns. Even if they can’t give you an answer (like if you ask how your soldier is doing at Basic…they won’t know that)…they can still give you their most educated assessment (for instance, they will ask when he left and then deduct what phase of training he is on and tell you what it focuses on). Click here to visit their website.
2. Your Soldier’s Unit Facebook Page
I’m actually not a big social media person. But finding the Facebook page for my husband’s training unit was so helpful. Every two weeks or so, (sometimes longer) they would post some pictures of the soldiers training. I was almost always able to spot my husband in at least one picture. It helped so much! Seeing his training put visuals to the letters I was receiving, and really helped me feel connected. Bonus: pay attention to who else is visiting the page, because you might be able to make friends with a few spouses whose soldiers are battle buddies with yours. Unfortunately, the soldiers cannot contact you through the page, and there are guidelines as to what kind of questions you can ask on it. Don’t worry, the guidelines will be posted!
3. Your Soldier’s Training Website
All the bases where Basic Training is located have websites. And on these websites are not only FAQ’s, but often training videos. I reccomend watching them, because even though they won’t be a film of your soldier, they will still be an accurate depiction of what your soldier’s training is like. While this source won’t necessarily swoop in to save you (the way Army One Source can), it may have some helpful information for you. And if nothing else, it’s another way to feel connected.
4. Army Family Information Center
Once your husband fills out all the required paperwork for registering you as a dependent, your information will be used to welcome you into the Army. The day my husband left for Basic Training, I got an invitation via email from the Army Family Information Center. The welcoming was perfectly timed! I really appreciated the outstretched hand, and they sent me a link to join a Army spouse’s support group. The support group was comprised of new Army wives going through exactly what I was, and it was managed by seasoned Army wives. They occasionally did a live chat session, inviting us to all ask our many questions (though by that point I didn’t have many to ask). Army families are great at helping each other out, and this was a really nice experience for me.
I’m not just saying that because I’m a blogger. I found that sometimes reading a blog was better (ALWAYS) than the comment section of military-themed social media posts. The tricky thing about military lifestyle blogs is that the various parts of the Army can be so different that it’s hard to get all your answers from one blogger’s experience. Shop around and find a few you trust, and follow them. You’ll probably get answers to questions you didn’t even know you had!
If you’re already alone while your spouse trains hard at Basic Training, consider checking out one of these links. And if your man hasn’t left, it’s not too early to begin setting up a little support system for yourself. Remember, the Army Family Information Center will only contact spouses, so be sure that your soldier has all the paperwork necessary to register you as his dependent (for many, MANY reasons beyond that). Army One Source is also designed for military families. But the Facebook unit pages, training websites, and blogs are all open to the public, so even if you’re not married yet, take a look at those in your time of need!
Best of luck to you during this important time in your life and your soldier’s career! Basic Training isn’t easy for them or for us, but the reward is greater than the pain. I really believe that. If you have any other online sources to recommend, leave a comment below! And if you have a question, feel free to post that there too. I will be sure to answer it. Thanks for stopping by!!
Army Basic Training has its highs and lows, for the soldiers and their families. The highs can be pretty high (hello, Family Day) but the lows can be low. One of the best way to combat those Basic Training blues is through love letters! It can be very romantic to pen letters to each other every day. But it can also be stressful if you’ve been hearing rumors that swirl around the ever-famous Basic Training mailing system. I’ve busted some myths before, but here are 5 more letter writing myths you can disregard during your letter writing sessions:
1. The Drill Sergeants are Hiding my Letters
It’s true that sometimes the Drill Sergeants have to resort to withholding mail as a tool of leverage. But rest assured, they can’t do this for weeks on end. That in itself is a total morale killer and the Drill Sergeants have the important job of balancing motivation with morale. If they every “withhold” mail, it’s usually for one of two reasons. 1) The guys are practicing field training excerises in the field, and when they do that, there is no mail call. 2) The Drill Sergeants are withholding the mail for a few days to increase motivation. A FEW DAYS. If you’re soldier has sent you quite a few letters but has yet to receive any of yours, that does NOT mean he is in trouble and isn’t allowed to get mail. It simply means that there has been a delay in sorting mail. He will definitely receive your letters in due time.
2. The Drill Sergeants Open my Letters
The Drill Sergeants won’t open his letters (though they very well might open his packages, if he gets any). However, if a letter arrives with a suspicious feel–like lumps of gum or a stack of photos, they will ask your soldier to open the letter in front of them. The soldiers are not permitted to have any candy, so it will be confiscated on sight. If for some reason the candy makes its way through the letter and into your soldier’s locker, he will get in even more trouble for having it in his possession. Moral of the story: don’t send gum. Onto photos…as long as they are appropriate, they will not be confiscated. See my original post for guidelines on sending pictures. Again, if the envelope arrives puffy or like it is stuffed with photos, he will most likely have to open the envelope in front of the Drill Sergeants.
3. He is Too Busy to Read my Letters
There are some days that the soldiers will be very busy. And on occasion, their day and night will be spent in the field, meaning they can’t receive mail (see above). But for the most part, they are given at least 1 hour of down-time before bed to unwind, talk, and get ready for the next day. If you send him a letter, just know that he WILL get the chance to read your letter. And he will love it.
4. The Letter Rules are the Same as When my Friend Attended a Few Years Ago
Unfortunately, this one is totally a myth. The “rules” vary from month to month–in fact, they vary from platoon to platoon! There are some rules that are set in stone: no inappropriate photos, no packages of candy, etc. But some are a little more flexible. It all is dependent upon the Drill Sergeants. Some of the Drill Sergeants are very picky, and will even ban newspaper clippings (does anyone read those anymore?). Others are okay with the clippings, but draw the line at decorated envelopes (those don’t get confiscated, but the soldier gets reprimanded with PT). Know the basic rules, and then err on the side of caution. Don’t be afraid to ask your soldier too! He might tell you that everyone has been getting scented and colored envelopes, in which case you can do it too. But there is no harm in playing it safe during your first round of letters, until you find how his Drill Sergeants have been reacting to mail.
5. My Letters Need to be Extremely Varied
After the first 10 letters, you may start wondering if you need to mix-it-up a bit. A lot of Basic Training letter guides will tell you to send sports clippings, hollywood updates, or even “themed” letters. There is nothing wrong with those! (clipping rule–see above). But there is also nothing wrong with sending a regular, normal letter (or card)! There is no way for your soldier to add “variety” to his letters, and I’m sure you never get tired of his! That goes both ways. There is no harm in adding a special element to your letter, but don’t feel pressured to create drastically different letters each time. The creative obligation can become overwhelming and you wouldn’t want it to be the reason your letter production slows down! Write from the heart and you can never go wrong.
That really is the golden rule in all of this: Write from the heart. The key is to WRITE. Write, write, write and enjoy those response letters. There’s no emotional equivalent to seeing one of those little white envelopes in the mail! Especially the first one. Who would have known in this modern world that sometimes the best kind of communication is good old-fashioned letters? Go write some!
For help with that, take a peek at my post about properly addressing Basic Training letters.
I am an Army brat. I have experienced the joys of adventuring across the country as a kid, and the fears of falling asleep with my dad fighting on the other side of the globe. Every time someone asks where I’m from, I have to do the whole awkward explanation, “well, you see, I lived a lot of places…” at which point their eyes glaze over and they wish they hadn’t asked me. Long story short, when my husband enlisted, I thought I knew everything.
Of course, I didn’t.
And I still don’t.
There are some things that will never change about the Army, whether you’re a dependent spouse or a dependent child. Parades, formal balls, big neighborhoods full of kids: some things never go out of style. But there are some things (most things) that are drastically different, depending on your relation to your sponsor. There are many facets of military life that I had to rediscover when I made the flex from Army brat to Army spouse. (In case anyone is wondering, being an Army spouse is better!) I wish someone would have helped me edit my picture of the Army life by telling me these three realities:
1. Expect Delays.
The Army is famous for it’s “hurry up and wait” policy. As a kid, I do remember gaps of time between my dad’s assignments, as well as cushions of time off between our moves. But those were pleasant delays. As a new Army wife, I experienced very quickly the other kind of delays. The kind of delays where your soldier finishes training, but has to stay on site to await his order. And he is told his orders will be ready within two weeks. But they are not. And so you are living states apart, just waiting. You get the point. It is agonizing, aggravating, and completely unavoidable. My advice: talk, talk, talk through everything. Sometimes, the delay is frustrating but you KNOW it’s going to end (like he WILL get orders eventually). Other times, the delay may be months long (due to injury, or a hold up with getting a clearance) and you have to consider new options (like moving to where he is).
2. Your paycheck is flexible.
While it’s true that anybody can google how much base pay your spouse is earning through the military, those numbers aren’t quite as set-in-stone as I originally thought. Yes, there is a consistent base pay that will not change under any circumstances. But there are many factors that go into the bonuses and deductions you will see on your LES. For instance, jump pay (for Airborne soldiers) is an add-on, however if his jump status becomes inactive, so will the bonus. Similarly, you should be receiving a BAS (food allowance) monthly, but if he is scheduled to eat at the facility on post while training, you won’t be receiving that BAS anymore. The good news: flexibility goes both ways! You can make more money than you initially expected, depending on what your soldier is and isn’t eligible for. For instance, if you live off-post, expect a BAH (housing allowance)! You can certainly rely on a steady influx of base pay, but pay attention to your LES each time your soldier begins or ends a training period or school, because things might change monetarily for you.
3. Being a soldier can get expensive.
Or in other words, his wardrobe might cost just as much as yours! While it is true that soldiers are initially issued the basic clothing necessities when they arrive at Basic Training, that’s definitely not all they will need for their careers. It’s not costly at all to switch patches and ranks as your solider earns promotions and enters various units. But the daily wear and tear on the uniforms adds up over time. There is the costs of dry cleaning and sewing, as well as boot/dress shoe polishing. Sometimes the uniforms need to be replaced, and other times they need to be adjusted depending on the unit. Do. not. get. me. started. on. packing. lists. If your soldier attends a camp or training program, he will have to purchase hundereds of dollars worth of equipment. He will need duplicates, he will need necessities, he will need duplicate necessities. Everything! And yes, occasionally your soldier will receive a clothing allowance, intended to help offset the cost. But it is extremely infrequent, and does not at all add up to the amount that he spends on his uniforms yearly.
None of the above “shockers” are a make-or-break deal for me with the Army. But they definitely took me by surprises, and added some time to my adjustment period from brat to spouse. If you’re a military spouse (or brat, or both), what took you by surprise when your spouse joined? Hopefully nothing too bad! Leave a comment below. Thanks for stopping by!
If you are a military spouse then you have probably spent your fair share of holidays apart from your spouse. Our first Thanksgiving married was celebrated via Skype, and to this day, we still have yet to spend a single Halloween together! The separation can be especially difficult if it occurs over Christmas. It’s hard being apart for any holiday. But at least none of the others have songs playing in every store about “being home” during them. You probably already have a set of Christmas traditions, but consider adding in a new one to mix things up during separation.
1. Decorate your tree with red, white, and blue ornaments and lights.
One of my friends does this when her husband deploys, and I think it’s such a good idea. Decorating patriotically can serve as a constant reminder for “why” you are both enduring holiday separation. While the tree can primarily be covered in red, white, and blue, I think a yellow ribbon in place of the star wouldn’t be out of place!
2. Set up a mini-tree instead.
When we were apart during the holidays, it was too hard to try to set up our Christmas tree as if everything was normal. Because it wasn’t. At the same time, having a bare house when the entire town was fancied up was depressing. A good balance for me was making my house feel Christmasy without setting up the way we usually did together, with all the special ornaments and the family tree.
3. Find someone who is having a rougher Christmas than you and help them out.
This is definitely not a case of misery-loves-company. It can cheer you up to help someone else, and remind yourself that you don’t have it all that bad. Of course its lonely to be apart during Christmas. But you have the rest of your lives to spend together once he returns home! There are others though who are expecting to have a rough Christmas, whether that’s because they are homeless or terminally ill or abandoned, and they aren’t necessarily looking forward to better years in the future. You have all the Christmases of the future to look forward to, but they might not.
4) Begin a new Christmas decoration tradition.
We all have our own way of decorating each year–whether that be a manager scene or a nutcracker collection. But consider changing or adding to your collection something new. Put yellow-ribboned wreaths on each window, or buy a soldier santa for your front lawn. There are many, many, many military-themed Christmas decorations. Collecting nutcrackers was a good way for me to add a bunch of soldiers to my decor. If all else fails, there is nothing more classic than a Christmas wreath for your front door that shows off your patriotism.
5) Save Christmas for when he returns.
As an Army brat, growing up we often didn’t celebrate holidays on the day they were supposed to be celebrated, if it meant leaving my dad out of it. Consider opening a few handmade gifts with your children, or with family if you have any visiting. But save the “real” Christmas present exchange between you and your spouse for when he is home! It’s just as fun as the real Christmas Day celebration, I promise.
At the end of the day, being alone for Christmas is hard. And even though familiarity is comforting, don’t try to make the holiday be exactly like it was on the other years. It’s going to be different, and so embrace it and make it so. Even though it’s really hard being “left behind,” think about your loved one who doesn’t even get to be home for Christmas. No matter what kind of separation you are enduring, try to make your soldier a part of the day. Call, video chat, or even just write a long in-depth “Christmas edition” letter. Any way you can feel connected during the time apart is a good thing. And remember, next year, you won’t be spending it apart!
My husband and I had been married for less than a month when the day came for him to leave for Basic Training. It was heartbreaking. I was pining away for Family Day–we both were. Those 9 weeks of training were the longest we had ever been apart (we lived 8 miles apart before we were married). When Family Day rolled around, I flew across four states just for the occasion. And it was TOTALLY worth it! (Side note: 4 modes of transportation was a lot though–I recommend simplifying if you can. haha)
There are quite a few things to share about Family Day, but let me start out with a quick disclaimer. Each battalion may vary in their Family Day procedures a little bit. The following information is all based on my personal experience. While it might not be identical to the Family Day of your soldier’s battalion, you can expect something similar!
What Family Day is:
Family Day is essentially a weekend break for your soldier. It is designed for family (and friends) to get the opportunity to spend time with their soldier-in-training. It’s gives your soldier a breath of fresh air and some quality time outside of the platoon.
What Family Day is not:
It is not a two-day pass of freedom for your soldier. (Unfortunately!) He will have many, many, many rules to follow while he is spending time away from his training area. While he won’t have to physically train at all during the Family Day weekend, he will absolutely have to adhere to a (large) set of rules. It’s also not an overnight pass. That was a hard one to swallow.
When Family Day Occurs:
It occurs over a weekend– meaning Saturday and Sunday. Usually it takes place about half-way through the training cycle. But not always. The Family Day for my husband’s company was in the ninth week of his fourteen weeks of training. If you are your soldier’s first point of contact, then you will receive a letter from the commander (that all-important letter I have referenced before) stating when Family Day occurs. If you are a girlfriend or friend and aren’t receiving communications from your soldier’s commander, you might be able to access the information via your soldier’s Company Facebook page.
Who can Attend Family Day:
Family Day is completely open to all family, fiancees, significant others, relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, frenemies, and neighbors of the soldiers in training. There are no tickets or reservations required. And if no one comes to spend time with a soldier, he or she can still enjoy some time away from the training area.
The Family Day Schedule:
This is a brief synopsis of what mine was like:
7:30am arrive at the Basic Training area
8:00am an “introduction to the Army” briefing
9:00am soldiers and families reunite
free time all day off-post and on-post
7:00pm drop-off time
There are no activities planned for the family and soldier to participate in together. The solider will have a special formation beforehand (early on Saturday morning) during which the Drill Sergeants will talk to them about Family Day rules. Meanwhile, the families will gather in a classroom and receive a brief “introduction to the Army Family” as well as learn the rules that the soldiers will be under during Family Day. During the introduction, you might get addressed by one or two of your soldier’s Drill Sergeants, but most likely the Company Commander. You will learn a little bit about what your soldier has been doing the past few weeks, and then go over A LOT of rules. At my Family Day, we were also given a chance to ask questions that are related to Family Day. It wasn’t a question-and-answer session about how to deal with the Army or ask about your soldier’s future assignments– but if we were confused about the rules, that was the time to ask.
After the families are released from their briefing, the soldiers will be finished with theirs. At the Family Day I attended, the soldiers were all outside finishing up their briefing when we walked out of the classroom. We reunited right there outdoors once they were dismissed. Some Family Day procedures may include having the soldiers come to meet their families indoors in the classroom. I think it just depends on which briefing is finished first.
Once you pick your soldier up, HE IS YOURS UNTIL drop-off time. Yes, there is a drop-off time. And since it will vary from Family Day to Family Day, I won’t state an exact time here. But just know, that time means EVERYTHING. If you drop your soldier off even two minutes late, it is highly probable he will be recycled and have to begin training all over again. Do not, under any circumstances, drop him off late. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way for you to “take the blame” for him. Even if you are 100% at fault for why he is late. That is the Army life. It’s the soldier’s responsibility, completely, to be back at the appropriate time. He cannot be shielded by wives or parents or even his children’s excuses. So, no matter what you do on Family Day, DROP HIM OFF ON TIME.
The second day, Sunday, is similar to the first day of Family Day. The only difference is that there is no family briefing. Your solider will have to report to his morning formation, just like the day before. Though he probably won’t be told all the rules again, he will definitely be told what time he needs to return by. Once he is released from formation, you may pick him up and take him off just like yesterday. His drop-off time MIGHT be earlier, since it is the day before training. ASK your soldier. Do not drive off until you know what time he needs to return by. Once you know, drive away and enjoy your day together!
**Special note to those whose Family Day falls on a Federal Holiday weekend: You lucky duck! It is extremely likely that your soldier will get a 3-day weekend with you! Obviously, you need to double-check the commander’s memo (the invitation either mailed to you or posted on Facebook) because it will confirm or deny this phenomenon.
Family Day Rules for the Family:
The Army can’t really issue out rules to the family or friends of the soldier, but there are still a few that exist:
Do not go anywhere on the training grounds except where the signs and aides tell you to go. You are NOT allowed to go into your soldier’s barracks. There will be a sign or two directing you to the parking lot, as well as aides (soldiers) who will be directing you from the parking lot to the gathering area (our gathering area was a classroom). Don’t go anywhere except where you are designated to go.
You can’t let (or make) your soldier drive. Anyone except the soldier is allowed to be the driver, because they aren’t permitted to get behind the wheel.
You can’t go very far away with your soldier. He will have mile restrictions that, as his visiting family, you must stay within. The mileage restriction is usually a 25-mile radius, but you will be given the exact rule during the briefing. Don’t worry though, there will still be plenty to do within the restriction! Your soldier will just be thrilled to be leaving the training area footprint with you. This rule obviously only applies when you are with your soldier. There is no restriction on the visiting family outside of Family Day hours. It’s a rule simply to keep families from taking the soldiers too far away, risking no return for evening formation.
Family Day Rules for the Soldier:
There are many. So many. 🙁 Unfortunately, this is not a complete list. Don’t worry, because you will be told (and possibly be given a pamphlet on) all the rules. It might vary from battalion to battalion, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.
The soldier cannot drink, nor can he smoke.
He can not wear anything besides his uniform in public(no going swimming or changing into comfy clothes).
As stated above, he is not allowed to drive AT ALL. Nor is he allowed to travel outside a certain mile radius. Though it’s a strange rule, he may not sit on the ground (don’t ask…).
He cannot bring snacks, or any other prohibited items, back to his barracks at the end of the night.
Until he is dismissed from formation (in the morning), he cannot leave the training area.
He can’t return late (missing the return formation).
There are more, but those are the basics. <–haha see what we did there?
Family Day Warnings:
During our family briefing, we were given some heavily suggested “guidelines” that technically weren’t rules, but were basically warnings. While the soldier is allowed to make purchases, and often families like to go shopping during this time, we warned to be wary of making big purchases. Unfortunately there are quite a few shops surrounding Army posts (at least the ones where Basic Training takes place) that target brand new soldiers. They sell boots (an expensive item) and other pieces of equipment that your soldier might want. After so many weeks of training, he be tempted to buy because “he needs a better or newer thing that he has worn out during training.” It’s totally a reasonable thought from your soldier-in-training. But BE VERY CAREFUL. The Army only allows certain items to be used. There are regulations on any piece of clothing or piece of equipment. Many surplus stores sell dupes and “similar” items that are not Army standard. If he buys an expensive pair of boots but they don’t qualify according to Army standards, he won’t be allowed to wear them. To be on the safe side, don’t shop for anything Army-related off-post. He has already been issued the amount of equipment and uniforms that he will need to complete Basic Training.
There are also a lot of “deals” that air on Family Day weekends. Car dealerships will prey on new soldiers who have a pile of cash and haven’t been able to spend it. Just be careful and remember your soldier can’t have much at all in his barracks. Even if he makes many, many purchases, it is likely he won’t be able to bring most of it back with him to the barracks. (Especially not a car!) You don’t want the Drill Sergeants to confiscate his new purchases!
Family Day Suggestions:
Your soldier will probably have a lot to tell you! Try to go somewhere you can talk and catch up. Drive around town and find a place to walk. It has been a while since he has enjoyed a leisure meal, so you could treat him to one. Often this will be your soldier’s first chance to receive military discounts at restaurants and stores! The day will go by quickly, so don’t try to do too many activities at once. Just focus on being in the present moment, and giving your soldier a well-deserved break from his daily training. If there is something he has been running low on, like letter-writing supplies or calling-cards, it is a good time to go shopping for some. Whatever you do, don’t worry about trying to meet his Drill Sergeants or “see your soldier in action.” You will see his leadership at the graduation ceremony, and there may be a ceremonial display of training during the graduation weekend. Family Day is all about spending the day away from the training grounds with your soldier! I also recommend that you spend the final half-hour of the day just chatting in the parking lot–that way you can squeeze out every last minute of the day without risking him missing formation.
Purchasing Souvenirs of the Day:
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll want to purchase a little token to remember the trip by. It is very likely that there will be a table of gift items available for purchase before and after the “introduction to the Army” briefing at the start of Family Day. Many military units sell gift items on days such as Family Day, as fundraisers for future unit events. However, if those aren’t being sold, you can also purchase military-themed gifts at the local Post Exchange located on post. Another option is to visit one of the local military museums, as they always have a gift shop with plenty of merchandise.
Final Thoughts about Family Day:
Family Day was two of the best days we had during our first year of Army life. It’s such a welcome break from being apart, and really helps alleviate the burdens of separation. Even though it’s not an overnight pass, consider visiting your soldier for Family Day! While travel is expensive, and it makes sense to place a priority on graduation day, Family Day is still a great opportunity for families to reconnect. If you can make it work, I would definitely recommend visiting for Family Day.
If you have any further questions about Family Day that I didn’t cover here, leave a comment below! Thanks for stopping by. If you want any further information on dealing with having a soldier in Basic Training, consider reading my posts about writing Basic Training letters, and how to address them.
“One day of one September / I never can forget. ” –Hilaire Belloc
On the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, I thought I’d share something from the day that remains close to my heart. When I thought of publishing this, my intention was to tell “my story”. Most of us remember September 11, 2001. Most of them have their “moment” when they first found out about the attack. Everyone remembers what they were doing that day. You can ask any co-worker, neighbor, friend, or family member and they will remember the exact moment they found out that America was under attack. My story of the day can be summed up in one sentence, but I don’t want to do that because even if the day can be recapped in a handful of words, the feelings cannot. And after some thought, I don’t want to spend this post telling “my story.”
This day doesn’t serve as a reminder of what I went through, during or after the day. Or of what I remember from it. It serves as a reminder for what others went through. Of what happened to people I don’t know, or never will know. And so I’d rather spend this post telling someone else’s story.
When I visited Ground Zero, there were two spots that struck me most profoundly, the first of which was the Survivor Tree. The Survivor Tree is a living piece of history–the only living tree that survived the fall of the World Trade Center. It’s a Callery Pear that was severely damaged during the attack, not unlike so many human victims of the day. But after some tending and healing, it was restored to it’s plot in Ground Zero, where it remains a symbol of hope, memory, and resilience. The before and after pictures are highly moving. This tree is a hero in its own way–it showed that being victimized isn’t always the last step. There is surviving. There is rebirth. And there is hope. It made it through the attack, and the years of aftermath from the attack. So can we.
The other place that struck me most was the Memorial Pools. These pools are the largest man-made waterfalls in the US. They are bottomless so to speak, and sit on the footprint of the original Twin Towers. They are covered in bronze panels that are inscribed with the names of every victim from the 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks. At night, light shines up through the names of the victims, illuminating them. In the void of hopelessness, those victims and heroes shine.
There was one plaque in particular that struck me. On the South Pool the was a bronze panel dedicated to a flight crew member from Flight 77. Her name was Renee A. May, and the plaque was dedicated to her and her unborn child.
That deeply struck me.
There was a baby, a living person, inside of that flight crew member. And the death of her meant the death of her child. Two people. A mother and a baby were killed on that day.
Sometimes the media reduces children to a mere “hassle.” Sometimes babies are reduced to being a woman’s “choice.” And sometimes babies are even deemed to be an “accident.” I think that plaque serves to remind us all of the dignity of children. Just as the mother deserved recognition for being a victim, so did her baby. To those in this world who are not sure what really counts as a human life, that plaque recognizes that human pregnancy is the growth of a human life. That plaque stands as a memorial for two lives lost for a reason.
The heroic woman who lost her life, and the tiny child who was also a victim that day, deserve the bronze panel set out for them on the South Pool. The Survivor Tree also deserves its hallowed plot of ground. There were so many names of heroes inscribed in that memorial, none of whom I ever knew. But they were there. It mades me realize that everyday there are countless heroes who we will never see or know existed. But they are there.
So today I would like to take the time to call all heroes to mind–especially those of the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks–both known and unknown. In memory of them, I would like to thank the heroes that I do know. There are many. And to those I don’t know, you maybe not be known —
Anyone who has waited for their soldier’s return from Basic Training will tell you that the letters are absolutely the best part of the wait. And any soldier will probably agree! Writing them might come pretty easily, but making sure they arrive at their destination is another thing. Here are seven steps you can take to ensure a smooth delivery of your Basic Training letter:
Step One: Start with a Clean White Envelope and a Black Pen
Sounds boring, I know. But if you read my last Basic Training Letter post (5 myths busted) then you’ll know that it’s sometimes a big deal to the Drill Sergeants if you spice up the envelopes. And it’s a big deal in a bad way. To spare your soldier the risk of punishment, don’t put anything on the envelope except a stamp and two addresses. Bright pink envelopes, stickers, and perfume aromas are only risks that could get your soldier in trouble. While some Drill Sergeants don’t care about that kind of stuff, some do–and they use it as an opportunity to give your soldier grief. Don’t feed the Drill Sergeants.
Step Two: His Name and Number
His name is important, but maybe even more so–his roster number. To the Drill Sergeants, he is known by his roster number. The first letter in the number designates which platoon the soldier belongs to, and the other two letter indicate which soldier he is. Ex: Roster Number 101 means he is soldier number 01 (they go alphabetically by last name) and in 1st Platoon. Failing to include that number on the envelope is a big deal. They go by roster numbers. Just remember that. Which is why Step Seven below is very important.
Step Three: His Unit
This matters because your soldier is not in the only training unit on post. It’s just as important to write as his name and roster number. Write it exactly how it is specified in the Commander’s letter (see Step Seven). Exactly. You can also write it the way your soldier does on his return address labels (as long as you include the roster number). That’s what I did. But don’t make up your own variation– either do it exactly like the commander or exactly like your soldier. Either one will get your letter to the right place!
Step Four: The Address
This is just important because the US mail requires it. After all, this is still “regular” mail in the end.
Step Five: A Stamp and Your Return Address
Duh. See Step Four above. *Note:* Letters that go undelivered to the soldier (because you didn’t include his roster number or unit, or because he graduated) will not be returned to you. I know I said it’s US mail…but nobody is going to take the time to return your letter to you if your soldier doesn’t receive it.
Step Six: End with a Clean White envelope
Like I said in Step One…don’t decorate the envelope after you seal it. Clear plastic tape is fine if your envelopes have a hard time staying shut (for some reason, mine always did). But otherwise, leave the envelope plain and inconspicuous. You never want your mail to be the subject of unwanted attention for your soldier. The point of your letters are to bring him relief and comfort! And I know there are exceptions–some girls get away with all kinds of decorations on their letters. But since there is a 50% chance that this will cause problems for your soldier, I recommend erring on the side of caution.
Step Seven: Wait for the Commander’s Letter
This one is the hardest (but most important) of all the steps. The Company Commander sends out a letter to all the soldiers’ points of contact on the first day of Basic Training (it arrives 2.5 weeks after your soldier left home). It specifies the unit and address of your soldier, as well as some guidelines and general information. WAIT FOR THIS LETTER. Your soldier gets the chance to write his roster number on the outside of the envelope. That roster number is necessary (see Step Two). Do not send your letters before you get this roster number…and you most likely won’t get it until the Commander sends out his letter.
It is very likely that your soldier will have written you before the Commander’s letter arrives. And you of course want to write him back. I know. The wait is a killer. But be patient– do not send your responses until you receive the Commander’s letter. Your letters won’t even be given to your soldier until about 3 weeks into training anyways. Red Phase. Sending your letters early won’t do any good–and you even run the risk of not addressing them properly (missing the roster number) if you send them too early.
**Special Note for Girlfriends and Fiancees* Your soldier is given an envelope on the first day of Basic Training to fill out, and that envelope is the one that the Commander uses to send his letter in. If your soldier uses his parent’s address, or a roommates, then the Commander’s letter will go to them.
The Finished Product
When it’s time to mail your letter, the envelope should read something like this:
Soldier’s Rank, Full Name, Roster #
__ Company, __ IN REGT
Fort Benning, GA 31905
And don’t worry if your envelope looks different from that– as long as it matches the Commander’s letter you’ll be fine! And as long as you wait for the Commander’s letter, the only problem you’ll have to deal with is patience. That’s the hardest part. But wait for it, and in the meantime, just write the letters and hold onto them. By the time I could finally send a letter, I had written 18 of them. haha But at least they all arrived!
I wish you and your soldier (and letters) all the success in the world! If you have any specific questions about sending a Basic Training Letter (or otherwise) that I didn’t cover here, leave a comment below. Thanks so much for stopping by!
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We had only been married for three weeks when my husband left for Army Basic Training. It was hard. We missed each other so much. As an Army Brat, letter-writing wasn’t new to me. But I wasn’t prepared for Basic Training letters. During those first few weeks, when I wasn’t on Pinterest pinning inspirational homecoming pins, I was researching the do’s and don’ts of letter writing to my soldier at Basic. Looking back on it all, some of the guidelines I encountered were true, but some were totally myths.
Myth 1: You Can’t Send Him Pictures
The guys are allowed to have pictures, but they aren’t allowed to receive anything beside letters, if that makes sense. About a month into Basic, our wedding photographer sent me the photos. I wanted my husband to see them SO BAD because #1 I loved them and #2 I knew they would be a total morale booster. But I knew if I sent a padded envelope of wedding photos, he wouldn’t be allowed to receive them. The trick here is to put the photos in the right size envelope.
I chose small envelopes, ones that were the size of the photos, and grouped them into small stacks of 6 photos or less. I even bound them together with flat ties so that they wouldn’t slide around. In short: they were the illusion of a thick greeting card, but in reality they were four envelopes of wedding photos. It was totally worth using 4 stamps up at once–the drill sergeants had no idea and my husband loved it! Even his battle buddies found them to be a pick-me-up, and they hardly knew us!
Just remember–you can ONLY send appropriate photos.
Myth 2: You Can Send Him Sticks of Gum
Even though you can get away with sending him pictures, you absolutely can’t send him gum. Ranger school is a different story. But at Basic, the soldiers are not allowed to have candy. Any candy found is considered contraband and will get your soldier in trouble. If he is seen chewing the gum outside of food hours, they will know he had it in his room. And if they find it on him (whether that be his uniform or his locker) he will get in trouble. You don’t want to get him in trouble for something as trivial as gum!
Myth 3: It’s the US Postal Service…He’ll Get the Mail
Yes, it’s the US Postal System that shuffles your letters to and fro the states. But it’s also the US Army that shuffles the letters fro and to him. Even though you specifically address your letter to your soldier in his particular platoon, the entire company’s letters all arrive at the same mail room. And though the mail room sorts through the letters at a fairly normal pace, it’s not guaranteed that they will sort all the letters as quickly as the post office does. Also, if your soldier is in trouble, on a detail, or out in the field training, mail call may not happen that night. Be assured, they will arrive eventually. But they may arrive in bunches sometimes. And they may not arrive as quickly as his letters make it to you.
Myth 4: Keep Your Letters Positive
This one is only kinda a myth. It’s true that your letters, for the most part, should be positive. After all, nobody wants to get a letter full of lemons every night. However, emotions play a new role in your soldier’s life. I haven’t met an Army wife/fiancee/girlfriend who hasn’t said that her soldier wrote her a letter with true feeling. I don’t mean either good or bad emotions, I just mean real feelings.
If he is writing you and telling you that this-or-that has been tough, it’s okay to do the same. An unconvincingly peppy letter is more likely to stress him out, as he might be able to tell you’re holding back. Be real and be honest, just don’t be critical or overly dramatic. As anyone who is in a real relationship knows, nothing bad ever comes from being honest. While Basic Training can be a tough time for couples, it shouldn’t change your basic communication skills–which include telling the truth.
And if you’re reading this and wondering why you haven’t received a “feelings” letter from him…no worries. It will come. That is not a myth.
Myth 5: My Friend Squirted All Her Letters With Perfume, So I Can Too
This one is frustrating. Some girls totally get away with dousing their envelopes in perfume. Others can’t. One girl lovingly decorated her letter with stickers, only to have the drill sergeant make the receiving soldier do a certain number of pushups for every sticker. It totally depends on the drill sergeants. To err on the side of caution, I made my envelopes as nondescript as possible. White business envelopes. Black pen. The only “decorations” were fun stamps: hearts, flowers, etc. Something he couldn’t get blamed for.
My advice: if you are the perfumey-sticker-type, wait to send those til AFTER he tells you how the drill sergeants act during mail call. If his DS’s are pretty relaxed (hard to imagine, I know!) and just hand out the letters, then you should be good to go. But if they use mail time as an opportunity for harassment (which is semi-likely) then just keep the outside of the envelope boring and let the magic take place inside it.
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Hopefully this myth-busting assuaged your fears and made writing those Basic letters a little easier. Sending the first few letters is always the hardest, so don’t worry if it’s tough right now. And if you have any other myths to share about Basic Training letters, leave a comment below!
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