Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are struggling with discouragement, loneliness, and isolation, especially during the holiday season.
But for military families, this is especially true. Due to soldiers' deployment, many military families will be spending the holidays apart this year. And on top of that, with COVID-19 restrictions, holiday travel to see extended family isn’t an option for many families.
“Military life is hard; people often feel very alone,” Lisa Winbolt, a chaplain’s wife and homeschooling mother-of-four, told The Christian Post. “Our friends are constantly moving, we’re constantly moving, and then not having the stability of family brings it to another level. We’re already separated from family, but with the pandemic, we’re even more separated. We don’t know when we can travel because things are constantly changing.”
Winbolt understands firsthand the reality of military life. She works closely with other military wives at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, helping them establish connections, create community, and build their spiritual life.
She told CP that isolation is the biggest issue facing many military spouses, especially as the majority of military families move every two to three years. A recent survey found that more than a third of military families say they have “no one to ask for a favor.”
“It's a hard lifestyle, where soldiers are often gone and moms and children are left to continue on life without them,” Winbolt said.
And for children, the pandemic has amplified these feelings of isolation.
“Our military children are facing the double shutdown of not having their family around, but many of our schools are also still closed or virtual,” she said. “Children are feeling very isolated.”
To help support children of the military and honor service members and their families during the holidays, the American Bible Society's Armed Services Ministry recently launched a program called “Hero Squad.” The program provides a welcome box as well as four annual gift packages to children with a parent serving in the military through donor commitments.
Included in the boxes are an age-appropriate Bible, military-specific devotionals, Bible-based mental health resources, family activities, and more.
Winbolt told CP that the resources will significantly help children struggling this holiday season.
“We’re so excited for these resources that we can share through the Hero Squad with our neighbors and with our friends. We try to encourage people who are struggling and lonely to find their place in their love through God. He's the one that's going stay with us and sustain us, and never leave us,” she said.
The Hero Squad gift boxes, sent every three months to military families free of charge, are divided into three categories, catered to each age group's distinctive needs: Eagle Squad for kids aged 3-7, Junior Varsity for tweens aged 8-12, and Varsity for teens age 13 and older.
Chaplains can recommend families for Hero Squad and order free, military-specific Scripture resources to help military families through the Armed Services Ministry's website.
“It’s so important for us who are believers to help build community in this military world, and to connect women, children and families so that they have at least each other because we don't have our typical families around,” Winbolt said.
“American Bible Society's Armed Services Ministry is so helpful because it allows us to get Bibles and devotionals into people's hands and encourage them through the Scriptures.”
In what continues to be a difficult holiday season for many, Winbolt urged Christians to pray for the protection of military members, the mental health of their families, and that military wives and children would find community.
“I would encourage local churches that have military members in their congregation to adopt families and invite them over, to be surrogate grandparents or parents to these people who are without family and needing wisdom and love and encouragement,” she said.
“Military families are craving connection and encouragement, especially this time of year.”
Learn more about the "Hero Squad" program here.