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FAMILY

For military recruits and their families, COVID-19 means an extra long goodbye

Graduation ceremonies and leaves of absence are currently on hold for military recruits.
Graduation ceremonies and leaves of absence are currently on hold for military recruits.Dan Page

In early October, my parents and I dropped my 18-year-old brother off at a hotel outside of Boston, about an hour away from our house. He would stay there overnight before swearing in at a military facility in the city and heading to the airport early the next morning. Then he would fly about 2,000 miles to the Air Force base in Texas where he’s now completing basic military training, or BMT.

In a time before COVID-19, our goodbye wouldn’t have been so hard — or so long. After my little brother finished BMT, my parents and I would have traveled to base to watch him graduate. And just like any college student, he would have been able to fly home for winter holidays.

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But now, because of the pandemic, I don’t know when I’ll see my brother again. In-person graduations have been suspended to help curb the virus’s spread. Domestic military bases are operating under travel restrictions — virtually nobody in, nobody out — which means my brother probably can’t celebrate the holidays at home this year. And my family is hardly alone in this. With tens of thousands of new recruits in the US military this year, Americans from coast to coast are navigating similar heartache after seeing loved ones off for BMT.

My parents and I are having a rough time with this extended separation, so I went looking for some advice. Major Jennifer Coleman hails from Rehoboth and serves as flight commander for behavioral analysis service at the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing in San Antonio. I reached her by phone to ask for some tips on adjusting to this new reality.

Q. Many recruits leave home for the first time for training. How can loved ones back home make the adjustment easier for them during all the added stress of the pandemic?

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A. One of the biggest things is continuing to provide support in the way of letters. I know in these current times, we’re into technology, but snail mail is actually really fun to receive. So many trainees I see in the clinic really value the letters and pictures they receive from home. There is no limit on the number of letters that family members can send to their loved ones in BMT and I would absolutely encourage folks to continue writing on a regular basis.

Q. What about families back home? Any tips on dealing with such a long separation?

A. Probably the most important aspect is focusing on what we can control. In a time of uncertainty, refocusing our mind-set can be really helpful with reducing anxiety and stress.

Q. In terms of BMT graduation, how can families still honor this accomplishment without in-person ceremonies?

A. Our training group commanders have done an excellent job recognizing that this is a milestone that needs to be celebrated. All of our graduations are being held via Facebook Live. That way, friends and family are still able to see their loved one graduate.

Q. What words of advice do you have for those celebrating the holidays physically apart from a loved one this year?

A. It’s really hard when you’re spending the first holiday away from your family. I think a lot of our deployed service members and their families experience that strain. It’s a pretty amazing thing that someone has raised their right hand and said “I am going to help defend the Constitution of the United States and I am going to serve.” Part of serving requires sacrifice. I think practicing gratitude for their loved one who is willing to put their life on the line for the freedoms of this country doesn’t necessarily make it easier but [it can] buffer some of the hardships.

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Interview was condensed and edited. Grace Griffin can be reached at grace.griffin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GraceMGriffin.