This Christmas, while the rest of us are ordering enough food and drink to last several days and making sure the children have been avoiding the threat of going on Santa’s ‘naughty list’, spare a thought for the military families whose service person is away from home over Christmas.
As portrayed in our Christmas film ‘… Love, Grace’, there will be at least 2,000 Army families who will be apart, not just on the run-up to Christmas, but the big day itself. Wives and husbands will be serving in theatres of operation across the world, training foreign forces, helping to protect the vulnerable on peacekeeping missions, and performing other critical duties where providing stability and security are 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
At home, hundreds of soldiers will be working on Christmas day, supporting the NHS in hospitals or providing local authorities with the manpower our personnel can provide at short notice. And right up until the big day and just after, even more soldiers have been drafted in to support the latest vaccine booster roll-out announced last night by Boris Johnson.
Previous years have shown us that that nature and the environment don’t care about timing. Our service personnel could give up their Christmas at a moment’s notice to help another family who have been flooded out of their home.
Just like their soldier, the military family is a vital component of the Army’s arsenal, supporting their service person around the clock every day of the year with pride. How do wives and husbands cope without their significant other to help chaperone the children and in-laws, and help prep the veg and carve the turkey?
Thanks to technology, many people now can see and speak to each other over smartphones and laptops, sending their love and wishes simultaneously across thousands of miles, just like the star of our Christmas film Corporal Fernanda Atherton, who is both a soldier and a military wife.
Busy mum, Cpl Fernanda knows all too well what it’s like to spend time apart from her husband, Sergeant Carl Atherton, seen in the video on the tablet face of the ‘fake’ Dad, created by their real daughter, known in the film as Grace.
Sgt Karl, Army Air Corps, has deployed all over the world, including three tours of Afghanistan as well as exercises in America, Oman, Germany and Estonia, so the family knows what it’s like to be separated for special days and family celebrations, including birthdays.
Cpl Fernanda and Sgt Karl have four children between them, and two dogs. She says: “As a family, I feel we have been supported by both our units very well,” especially when one of them has been away for a long time.
“We were fortunate enough that Karl came back home early from his deployment, meaning that we get to spend Christmas together," she continued, "However, filming the video and realising that this is reality for many soldiers this year, and every year, made me feel very emotional.”
Where are the three services on duty over Christmas?
- On Christmas Day 2021, 6,100 sailors, marines, soldiers and aviators will be deployed around the world, serving on 22 operations in 30 countries, from Estonia to the Falklands.
- Currently there are 900 military personnel committed to help the NHS and the Government respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Military medical and healthcare professionals will be deployed across the country to help the national effort to administer booster jabs.
- There are around 7,000 personnel on standby in the UK who can be called upon to support winter resilience operations at home, like the military response to Storm Arwen.
- More than 400 military personnel have deployed to support the rollout of booster jabs of the coronavirus vaccines, with a further 500 vaccinators preparing to help bring extra protection to thousands of people this winter.
- On duty in London will be soldiers from the Coldstream Guards, the Grenadier Guards and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment who will guard Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Horse Guards, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle over Christmas and into the New Year.
Where can families find support
Families can find a whole host of resources available to them, either through their partner’s unit, Army Welfare Service, Army Families Federation or their local Hive.
Army Welfare Service https://www.army.mod.uk/people/support-well/the-army-welfare-service-aws/
Armed Forces Covenant https://www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/support-and-advice/families/