Spending the better part of a year on a deployment 3,000 miles away from home is hard for anyone and can feel like an eternity.
On the ride home, many vets think about the first thing they're going to do when they return, like biting into a perfectly-grilled cheeseburger, getting a good night's sleep in their own bed or taking a long hot shower.
Aside from those iconic ones, here are a few things you could do to welcome back your spouse and make his or her homecoming a glorious affair.
1. Bring unexpected family members
Consider bringing man's best friend along — the one who walks on four legs and thinks his returning buddy is king. There's nothing better than the welcoming face of a faithful pup after a long time apart. Returning home is an emotional time for everybody, so why not bring everyone?
2. Bring tobacco
Puffing a fresh cigarette or packing your lip with a fresh pinch of dip can make a world of difference for someone who spent that last 13 hours on a plane and is itching for a hit of nicotine.
Sure, this isn't the healthiest gift. But it could make your loved one do a celebration dance when they're packing a freshie.
3. Bring a cold beer (or beers)
General Order #1A prohibits service members from drinking alcohol while deployed — and it's rarely lifted.
It's a known fact when you want something bad and can't have it, you want it even more. Heineken, Corona, or PBR are just some of the popular choices sold at the local base PX.
Letting your spouse toast a few with his or her buddies for a job well done is a great and inexpensive way to close out a stressful deployment.
4. Have an escape plan checklist
Unfortunately, it's not always a situation where your loved one can just walk off the plane and go straight home — there's always a list of "to-dos" before he can pull chocks. So make sure your spouse has a get-home-quick plan so those logistics hurdles don't get in the way of a quick trip to the casa.
- Find the family, hug it out and take a quick photo.
- Mark your seabag and other baggage so the kids can spot and retrieve it while you drop off your weapon at the armory.
- Meet at the car and load up.
- Find the nearest exit gate with the least outgoing traffic.
- AND GO!!!
5. Have a clean house
Being cramped into a small bunk on a ship or sleeping on a narrow cot in a dusty tent takes its toll. Entering a cleaned up and tidy house — even a modest one — can feel like you just walked into a newly designed multi-million dollar mansion.
6. Make a home-cooked meal
Some military installations have better chow halls than others. And a lot of deployed personnel had to make due with eating MREs or C-rations three times a day, which are tough to stomach over a long deployment.
So there's nothing like sitting down at the table with your family over a perfectly cooked steak with all the fixings.
7. Bring a change of clothes
After months of doing laundry in a bucket, having some fresh clean clothes that don't have a last name stitched above the pocket is a step in the right direction when trying to return to normal.