New in Town During a Global Pandemic: One Military Spouse Shares How Being “Home for the Holidays” is a State of Mind

By Nicole Vogel

I’ve heard that military families don’t put down roots, we grow vines. I’ve always loved that saying.

We were thrilled that we’d be “growing vines” at our next home out west when we packed up our house on the East Coast a few months ago and moved our small family thousands of miles away from what was our “home” for two years.

We’ve never spent much time out west, since we’ve primarily lived overseas in Germany or on the East Coast. We told our extended family and friends it would be an easy flight for everyone to come visit us anytime … and then COVID-19 happened. Now, without plane rides, it’s a “short” 20-hour drive.

We have spent many holidays away from our extended family, especially when we lived overseas. During our time there, our friends instantly became our family and during the holidays we all shared each other’s traditions and delicious family meals. These are memories we’ll cherish forever, and to this day, we still consider those friends our family.

This holiday season feels a little different to us since we’re in a new town where we haven’t made many friends or connections, even after a few months of being here. COVID has gotten in the way of allowing us – and many other military families – to socialize and connect with others after moving to a new area. By this point under non-COVID circumstances, we would have already gotten together with my husband’s coworkers at one of their houses, or gone to a picnic to meet everyone’s families, which always gives me a chance to make friends and new acquaintances. I would have also gone to a few events on base or in the local community to meet some friendly faces.

However, this year, I’ve been focused on trying to keep myself and my family healthy and safe.

Although times are tough, we remain strong as a family unit. We’ve learned and cherish creating new traditions each location we move to and we love to explore the surrounding area to appreciate the holiday decorations or go on a family hike and spend time outdoors. For many civilians this year, this may be the first time they are unable to spend the holidays with their extended family; however, for many military families, this is the norm for many special occasions throughout the year.

Don’t get me wrong; Will I miss seeing my uncle’s festive sweater this holiday? Yes. Will I miss my mom’s homemade chicken and noodles that I crave when I’m homesick? Yes. Will I miss catching up with hometown friends I haven’t seen in months or even years? Yes.

Even though I will miss out on making so many memories back in the place where I grew up, I have learned during our military journey that we have been able to make so many precious memories throughout the years far from home in simple ways, like when my husband and I make gingerbread cookies with our kids or watch holiday movies that we’ve already seen 20 times. I’m so thankful that we’re together in our new home this holiday. Many military families aren’t that fortunate, with their loved ones deployed overseas. As we spend time with our families this holiday season, those particular service members and their families should remain at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers.

This is also the time that I ask local communities to seek out any military families that may be a neighbor or live close by, and to simply make a connection with them to see if they need anything or would like a local recommendation to a great local spot or park where they can explore. Once you make a connection with a military family, you will have lifelong friends, and now is the perfect time to reach out and simply say “Happy Holidays! Welcome to the area and can we help you with anything?”

Help spread your hometown roots as we continue to grow our vines this holiday season. Wishing you all a joyous holiday season and cheers to a Happy New Year.

- Nicole Vogel, the author, is an 11-year Air Force military spouse and is the Senior Program Manager of Military Spouse Programs at USO Headquarters.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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