According to the Department of Defense, there were more than 1.3 million active-duty members in the United States military and 16.5 million veterans in 2021. These individuals put their lives at risk, give up time with their families, and forego their personal comfort to keep the country safe from foreign and domestic threats. Taking part in military awareness and appreciation is a small way to recognize and repay the sacrifices that they’ve made.
Many people who serve in the military face substantial economic, health, and personal challenges. This list of resources will help you learn more about the history and culture of the military. Most importantly, it will show you ways to best support former and active service members and their families through the difficult times that are common in the military community.
Importance of Military Awareness and Appreciation
The American military is a fundamental part of the country’s history and development, and service members have an integral role in protecting the nation and its citizens. By becoming more aware of the military, the public is better prepared to assist active military members and veterans, who experience a wide range of difficulties both during and after their service.
Common concerns for active service members and veterans include:
- Homelessness: The United States government estimates that more than 33,000 veterans experienced homelessness in 2022.
- Mental health: Members of the military are at high risk of experiencing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and substance abuse, with some experts estimating that around 20% of military personnel have experienced either depression or PTSD.
- Suicide: According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate for veterans in 2020 was 57.3% higher than that of non-veterans.
Making an effort to learn more about the military and to actively recognize the experiences and struggles that military members face helps ensure that their physical, emotional, and mental health remains a top priority for the government and everyday citizens.
Resources for Learning More about Military History
Understanding the history of the United States military is an important step toward comprehending and acknowledging the sacrifice and dedication of its members. These resources are a good place to begin learning about how different branches of the military have developed and evolved:
- Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA): The AFHRA collects historical materials related to the Air Force.
- U.S. Army Center of Military History: This program includes information about the Army and the military as a whole, including major conflicts, art, and photography.
- Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC): If you’re interested in learning about the Navy, the NHHC provides access to archival records, exhibits, and information about major historical events.
- Military Women’s Memorial: This organization is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of women who have served in the military.
- Army University Press: This group publishes books, journals, and films related to the past and present of the American military.
Ways to Show Appreciation to Active Military and Veterans
Posting a message of gratitude on social media is a quick and easy way to show appreciation to members of the military, but it’s unlikely to have a real-world impact. Instead, try engaging in one or more of these activities:
- Attend local events: Take part in an event that’s designed to recognize service members and veterans, such as a parade or service, and express your thanks directly to the veterans who attend with signs, handshakes, and kind words.
- Visit veterans in the hospital: Some veterans at VA hospitals don’t have a strong social network and feel isolated, so volunteering to spend time with them or to provide support for a hospital program can have a positive impact on their mental health and ability to heal.
- Donate to charitable organizations: Look for a reputable organization and donate money, food, or supplies to support veterans and active service members who are struggling overseas or at home.
- Connect with a military member: Groups such as Soldiers’ Angels allow citizens to write letters to service members so that they feel less alone during their time in the military.
Resources on Military Culture and Traditions
The military has a unique culture built on loyalty, tradition, and community, and it can be difficult to understand if you’ve never served. Several organizations have compiled information about different traditions and customs, including:
- Health Service Research and Development: As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, this organization provides detailed written and video information to explain military culture.
- Military OneSource: In addition to providing extensive information for new members of the military and their loved ones, Military OneSource also describes military customs and traditions that may be unfamiliar to the general public.
- Association of the United States Army (AUSA): The AUSA has online resources and published materials that help new military members and their families understand the traditions and customs of the military.
- Military.com: This site includes information about some of the most significant traditions within the military and what they represent.
Important Days and Months for Showing Appreciation to Active Military and Veterans
Although showing appreciation for the military should occur year-round, there are certain periods of time when people gather and unify to make a stronger statement. In 1999, the United States Senate passed a resolution to designate the month of May as National Military Appreciation Month. During this month, organizations and individuals have the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of veterans and active military members.
In addition to Military Appreciation Month, there are many individual days dedicated to specific aspects of the military, including:
- May 1st, Loyalty Day: On this day, American citizens have the opportunity to affirm their dedication to their country and to recognize their heritage.
- May 8th, Victory in Europe Day: Also known as VE Day, this holiday recognizes Germany’s surrender in World War II.
- Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Spouses of military members also make significant sacrifices, and on the Friday before Mother’s Day, Americans are encouraged to recognize the part that they play in the country’s safety and well-being.
- Armed Forces Day: This holiday, which is celebrated on the third Saturday of every May, celebrates all members of every branch of the military.
- Memorial Day: On the final Monday of May, Americans remember fallen service members who have lost their lives while serving in the military.
- November 11th, Veterans Day: This day was designated a federal holiday in honor of all veterans who have served in the armed forces.
Some people also take advantage of Public Service Recognition Week, which is typically held during the first full week of May, to recognize military members alongside all other government employees. This week is an excellent time for organizations to educate the public about how members of the government make the country stronger and more functional.
Engaging with the Military Community
The military has a large community consisting of not only active service members and veterans but also their spouses, children, parents, and siblings. From hosting a fundraiser to becoming a mentor, these groups offer a variety of ways to make a difference in the military community:
- Operation Gratitude: Through this organization, children and adults from anywhere in the country can volunteer to write letters to deployed troops, veterans, and first responders.
- Our Military Kids: This group accepts donations for extra-curricular grants for children of deployed service members.
- American Corporate Partners (ACP): The ACP brings on volunteers to serve as mentors for service members who are transitioning back into civilian life and looking for jobs after serving.
- Gold Star Wives of America: Spouses and children of fallen service members often need financial support, and you can donate to this group to help ensure their futures are secure.
- Hope for the Warriors: Volunteer to become a mentor to a veteran, paint a rock for a service member’s grave, or participate in a race to show your support for service members and their loved ones through Hope for the Warriors.
- Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation: Start a fundraiser through this organization to help children of service members who died in the line of duty attend college and achieve their goals.
If you’re looking for other types of information related to military appreciation, such as how to help a service member in crisis or where to turn to find volunteer opportunities, take a look at these resources:
- Fisher House Foundation: This nonprofit organization offers housing to family members of patients who are receiving treatment at military and VA medical centers.
- Give an Hour: Through Give an Hour, military members who are struggling with mental health disorders can connect to a network of trained professionals who provide no-cost counseling.
- Veterans Crisis Line: If you’re a veteran or know a veteran who is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, call the Crisis Line at any time of day to receive support.
- American Red Cross: The Red Cross accepts blood donations and has volunteers who answer emergency calls, teach mental health workshops, and provide care at hospitals.