More than 2,000 Michiganders are actively serving in the military today, and 658,469 of our neighbors are veterans, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. They deserve our gratitude and support. May is Military Appreciation Month so here are some simple ways you can express your gratitude this month and throughout the year.
Schedule a Pickup
Spring is an excellent time to sort through your possessions and look for items that are in good condition, but rarely, if ever, get used. In most areas you can easily schedule a pickup online with the Vietnam Veterans of America or Purple Heart.
Send a Message or Package
The USO makes it really easy to send a message to our troops so that they know we are thinking of them and appreciate what they do. You can select a pre-written message or customize your own. While online you can also send a package of comfort food for only $15 or for $25 you can provide phone calls home or help welcome a hero back.
Adopt a Hero or Military Family
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Homefront Hugs is an organization started by a former US Air Force pilot’s wife who is also the daughter of a Foreign Service and US Army Officer. They invite people to “adopt” a veteran or military family for at least six months to lend support. If you are unable to make that long of a commitment you can also write letters and cards or donate toward postage to ship packages to deployed troops and wounded warriors.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets provide an excellent way to show support for our military. Post messages of appreciation, share stories of military heroes, or add pictures of the heroes in your own family who have served. It’s a great way to demonstrate support and reach a wider audience than your personal circle of connections.
Do something simple like offer to cut the grass or pick up groceries for a neighboring military family whose loved one is deployed. If you don’t know any military families personally www.serve.gov is a good place to learn about volunteer opportunities in your area. You can search by interest (e.g. military families or veterans) and location. Michigan is also home to five Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in need of volunteers: VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Battle Creek VA Medical Center, John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, and Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw.
Look for and patronize companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to veterans support and/or provide discounts to veterans. Let them know that is why you patronize them. One local example is Jar Head Salsa and Tortilla Chips. The brand was created by a veteran, and a portion of the proceeds go to support Veterans of Foreign Wars. Another local option is Bravo Zulu Brewing Company in Williamsburg, which is also veteran-owned and makes donations in support of first responders as well as military personnel and their families.
Hire a Vet
One of the biggest challenges facing military personnel when their service to our nation ends, is job availability. The discipline and dedication it takes to be in the military proves to be a solid foundation for a great employee, they just need opportunities. If your company is hiring, seek out vets. One excellent local resource is Suits for Soldiers (a.k.a. The VET Program), based in Rochester. This nonprofit was started by a veteran. While in Afghanistan he read about a soldier who was incredibly qualified for a job, but lost out because he did not have a suit to wear to the interview. The organization began by providing wardrobe and has since expanded to offer resume and job hunting assistance. The Pure Michigan Hire a Vet program is also an excellent resource for how to recruit vets and periodically hosts job fairs targeted to that audience.
Funds are always needed to support veterans and military families. Nearly every entity mentioned in this piece relies on monetary donations. One more of Michigan’s shining gems that is worthy of your consideration is the VFW National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. This remarkable organization welcomes families of active-duty military personnel and veterans into its small-town community where they may live for up to 4 years. They work to identify what each family needs and wants to accomplish, during which time families are provided with: housing, education, daycare, case management, recreation, and, if needed, even basic necessities like food, healthcare, and clothing.
Visit a Museum
Gather the family and pay a visit to a museum to learn more about the heroic people who serve our nation, and the conditions under which they serve. Michigan is home to several unique options including: Selfridge Military Air Museum in Harrison Township, Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in Bay City, Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, and Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.
Acknowledge Memorial Day
In addition to barbecuing, baseball, boating, and other ways your family may choose to enjoy the long Memorial Weekend, make a point of stopping to acknowledge the true meaning of that day. March in a parade, visit a local monument, attend a church service, stop by a cemetery, or find another way to acknowledge those that died for the freedoms we enjoy each day.
All politics aside, it takes a special person to bravely volunteer to serve their nation, and a strong family to stand beside them. They all deserve our support and appreciation for upholding the freedom we so often take for granted, so make a point of saying thanks or pick up the tab for the next brave soul in uniform who crosses your path.
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