SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) - The holiday season can be tough for people in the military and their families, and state officials are offering coping tips to make it easier for those close to the 15,000 Michigan residents who are deployed around the world.
Angela Simpson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 550 service members from Saginaw, Midland and Bay counties are among those away from home this holiday season. Most are on active duty in Afghanistan, Simpson said.
Those deployed from the Saginaw area include 125 members of the Michigan Army National Guard's Saginaw-based Bravo company, which deployed for a year in October.
Capt. Aaron Jenkins, also with the state military department, said holidays are bittersweet for active duty personnel and those awaiting their return.
"We miss so many holidays, we really learn how to appreciate the little things other people take for granted, like being with family during holidays, birthdays and softball games," he told The Saginaw News.
During deployments, families face a number of difficulties beyond the holidays, including issues back home such as a broken snow blower or a leak in the roof. For a number of reasons, Jenkins said, support groups can be important for military families.
"The families learn to be teams, just like the soldiers are teams," he said.
John Smith of the San Antonio, Texas-based group Operation Homefront recommended that soldiers and their families use technology such as Facebook and Skype to connect, especially during Christmas and other holidays.
Smith is a 30-year military veteran and said he experienced many Christmases without his family by his side.
Operation Homefront can help with emergency services, including financial help for home repairs and food assistance for military families. It also offers educational courses for dealing with emotional issues and morale-boosting events.