9 Holiday Gifts for Families with a Deployed Service Member

A U.S. Navy chaplain sets up Christmas packages for service members while deployed to the Middle East, Dec. 8, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/ Ariana Acosta)
A U.S. Navy chaplain sets up Christmas packages for service members while deployed to the Middle East, Dec. 8, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/ Ariana Acosta)

The holiday season is filled with joy and laughter, presents and quality time with family. For many this is the most wonderful time of the year.

But not for everyone. For military families with a deployed service member, the holidays require a little extra love and a little extra creativity as kids and adults alike cope with missing a family member.

The following is a list of 9 gift ideas for service members and their families when the holidays fall during a deployment:

1. Hug-a-Hero

For young children missing hugs from a loved one, this is the perfect gift. Whether your child ends up calling it Mommy Doll or Daddy Doll or Hug-a-Hero, this is a great way for children to cope with separation.

2. USO Wishbook

The USO Wishbook lets you purchase gifts for service members to celebrate special occasions. You can purchase gifts like comfort food packages, deployment kits, tech to connect, phone calls home and long distance bedtime stories. After purchasing a gift, send an e-card with a personal message.

3. Operation Homefront's Holiday Meals and Toy Drive

Operation Homefront will distribute meals to thousands of military families around the country through their Holiday Meals for Military program. Registration varies by location.

Operation Homefront also has a Holiday Toy Drive program to distribute toys and gift cards to military families. Visit your local Dollar Tree store in November and December to donate toys, and check out Operation Homefront's Facebook page to stay updated on events and registration.

4. Portraits of Love 

Portraits of Love works to set up photo shoots for service members' families across the country. The goal is to create memorable portraits to send to the service members overseas and to their families at home.

5. Trees for Troops

A big part of Christmas is a festive tree. Trees for Troops provides free, farm-grown Christmas trees to service members in all branches of the military and their families through donations, sponsorships, grants and volunteers.

6. United Through Reading

United Through Reading allows deployed troops to read books to their kids even though they aren't home. Service members read a book aloud at select locations while being recorded with the help of a volunteer. Then the volunteer will give you the video, and (at most recording locations) the book, that you can mail to your child. Click here to find recording locations.

(Recordable books are also available at stores like Hallmark, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com so kids can send one back to their deployed parent and show off their reading skills.)


Looking for Christmas stockings? These military-themed stockings are great for the service member who is away and the family at home. They're available for all service branches, and you can also get family support stockings for spouses and parents. And you'll get free shipping!

8. Homemade Gifts

Spouses, kids and the deployed service member can all get creative with homemade gifts for little cost. Cards, scrapbooks, collages, ornaments, outstretched arms traced on a large sheet of paper to send a hug – homemade gifts are always meaningful because of the time, effort and love put into them. Stock up on art supplies by using military discounts at Michaels and JOANN.

And what service member wouldn't love to get some homemade baked goodies? Not all goodies will make it one piece, so give cakes in a jar a try. Click here for the recipe. 

9. Gift Cards

When in doubt, you can't go wrong with gift cards. Gift cards for the base Exchange are perfect for both the deployed service member and the spouse at home. Don't forget the NEX price matching policy while shopping!

Other gift card ideas for spouses at home include massages, restaurants, a meal delivery service, housecleaning services, local entertainment like museums or movie theaters, photo sites and their favorite place to shop.

If you're planning to ship gifts overseas, don't wait too long. For more information on shipping, visit our guide to holiday mail deadlines.

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