We’ve all signed up for those mandatory fun events on base and left them five pounds heavier from nervous eating and with memories of awkward interactions with field grade officers. Anyone else leave these events sufficiently hydrated because you don’t know what else to do with your hands besides drink? Say no more. We are sharing the secret sauce that will make your next military family day a day no one wants to miss.
Leading up to a military family day (and all throughout the year, really), hold periodic meetings open to all spouses and share upcoming events. Whenever possible, invite the commanding officer (CO), executive officer (XO), and the designated family readiness lead for the unit. Crowdsource for new activities, military family day location suggestions, and vendor recommendations.
This also helps busy families add events to their schedule or request off of work. The collaborative effort brings new ideas to the table and welcomes past experiences from seasoned spouses — no point reinventing the wheel.
2. Break Up the Shop Talk
The service members see one another day in and day out, so they may not have much to catch up on — that doesn’t stop them from talking about tanks, and missions, and planes, and stuff. Break up all the shop talk so service members and spouses alike can get to know each other a little better. Icebreakers might sound intimidating, but a low-key, small-group version at the table can be a little easier to swallow. Try a PG version of “Never Have I Ever.” Write one or more questions down for each person at the table to answer. Swap answer sheets and have the table guess who is being described. It’s a good conversation starter and helps new arrivals in the unit make new friends.
Have the CO announce (or hail) the new family members, say where they are originally from and share an interesting fact. Sometimes it’s difficult for new members to open up without a little help. We also recommend having a few spouses reach out to new members of your unit before these big events so they don’t feel intimidated walking in.
3. It’s All Fun and Games (For the Kids)
Kids can’t wait to see what their parents do all day. Even though planes and Humvees are cool on their own, kids still need to be drawn in. Have a camo face-painting station or an MRE taste-testing table. Host friendly competitions, like watermelon eating contests or cornhole tournaments with little prizes to encourage participation without intimidation. Have kids navigate an obstacle course and carry ammo cans. You can even get creative and tie your unit mascot into the agenda for your military family day.
4. Cash In on Base Pricing
Military bases offer some of the best rates on party rentals. Cheap or even free cabana, pavilion, or facility rentals are a thing you should be pursuing. Even if your base isn’t in a picturesque setting, check out your installation’s recreational equipment catalog. Camp Lejeune, for example, has at least 130 pages of rentals for you to choose from that won’t drain your fundraising account.
Your installation’s inventory will depend largely on the base population. You’ll likely find the basics, like tables, chairs, and coolers. But you may also have access to inflatable bounce houses, lawn games, potato sacks, and tug-o-war ropes. And, we’ll just leave this right here: dunk tanks might be available on your installation — you’re welcome.
5. Feed the Masses
Food has a comforting way of bringing people together. Ask spouses and service members to bring their favorite family-style dish to share. Who is in charge of food for your military family day? They can assign potluck types (appetizer, entree, dessert, and drinks) by shop, rank, or last name.
We recommend bringing a label for your dish which shares the name and key ingredients so those with food allergies can enjoy what’s best for them. We also recommend you label your stuff with your name if you want it back — go ahead and add that label maker to your Amazon cart.
6. Provide Ways to Connect
“Umm — can I have your number?” That is one of the most awkward questions when you’re asking someone you just met. Provide spouses and families with ways to connect and interact on a regular basis, long after the military family day wraps up.
A spouse-only Facebook group is a great way to keep connections growing between new acquaintances, and it keeps communication open between events for playdates, lunch dates, and unit updates. Host monthly get-togethers to keep your friendships strong and future family days fun!
Need some help deciding what dish to bring to your next military family day? Try our list of No-Fail Potluck Dishes!
Photo Credits: Eastern Sky Photography, NC