Here’s how you can help the military community when something goes wrong


(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart/Released)

By J.G. Noll

In the early hours of this morning, the Navy confirmed the names of seven sailors who lost their lives when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship south of Tokyo Bay Saturday morning. This weekend, the military community–and Navy community in particular–held its collective breath, hoping and praying that the seven who were reported missing would be found safe.

It is a shocking accident–one that will be investigated in the coming days and months. But no branch or specialty is immune from human error, changes in the weather, or twists of fate. It is sad and heartbreaking, but it is true: The military community will again feel the pain of another tragedy in the future. We just don’t know when that will be.

So what can we do, especially when we are thousands of miles from the locale where it took place?

Don’t spread gossip

Every family deserves the dignity of being notified of a death or injury by the military– not by social media or the grapevine. If you hear something that is unconfirmed, keep it to yourself. Don’t put it out on Facebook, don’t go into Nancy Drew-mode, and, if you know the relatives of the person in question, don’t contact them yourself to see “if it’s true.” The military community seems like a large one, but it’s actually very small. There’s a very real possibility that the family in question could find out about their loved one’s status through a flippant message before being officially notified. Don’t be a party to that.

Donate to the USO

Known for its fun and flashy morale-boosting efforts, the USO also provides comfort and help to service members in times of crisis. They have programs dedicated to wounded service members and their families and the families of the fallen including USO Warrior and Family Centers, Survivor Resource Kits, child and adult survivor camps and counseling, and coordinating the dignified transfer of service members’ remains.

Give to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society

Sometimes an accident or tragedy can affect those involved financially. Sailors who lived on the USS Fitzgerald are suddenly homeless–and many of them lost everything in their berths during the accident. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society steps into that void to provide financial assistance through interest-free loans.

Support the Air Force Relief Society

Similar to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Air Force Relief Society offers loans and grants to military families that find themselves in tough financial times. Assistance extends to active duty airmen, retirees, family members, and survivors.

Donate to Army Emergency Relief

Offering financial help to military families in crisis, Army Emergency Relief also helps to fill in the gaps. Because some military families have little or no cushion in their bank accounts, interest-free loans and grants can mean a world of difference as they work to get back on their feet.

Roll up your sleeve

If you live in the area of the accident, get to a blood drive. Giving a pint of life to someone who needs it feels great and is vitally necessary to those fighting for their lives. Make it a habit, and you can help to make sure that hospitals and clinics aren’t scrambling for blood when a crisis occurs. (And you’ll get a doughnut or cookie out of it, so that’s always an ancillary win.)

If you’re near the area, pay attention to local reports and messages coming from the news and the military. If there’s an opportunity to raise funds, collect food or belongings, or help in another way, jump on it. One day in the future, we may be the ones thankful that someone stepped in to offer assistance when something went wrong.