More than 2 million children in the United States have had at least one parent deployed in military service since 2001 and some 900,000 children have had one or both parents deploy more than once. Most of us are very aware of the sacrifices members of the military make to serve their country. But we don’t often consider the sacrifice that the families make too. Whether it’s missed birthdays and holidays, a new house every few years or watching their parent/spouse live with emotional and mental struggles following service, each member of a military family takes on additional burdens.
Military families deal with everyday struggles (like health issues, schooling, and finances), but sometimes they juggle these challenges as a single-family home when mom or dad deploys. In addition, regular transfers to new bases (sometimes out of the country) can be emotionally taxing for everyone. Fortunately, these families aren’t left without tools to help make things smoother.
Apple may have trademarked the phrase “There’s an app for that,” as a marketing gimmick, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Thanks to advancing technology and the creativity of techs and designers there are dozens of iPhone, iPad, and Android mobile apps for military members and their families that can help make life just a little bit easier.
When going through the list of apps designed for military members and their families, we discovered that there are literally dozens of mobile apps that are high quality and helpful. To help narrow down the list of apps included on this list, I chose a few categories and highlighted apps that fit those specific needs. Each category (money, family life, kids, communication, and health) include two top-notch apps as well as a few honorable mentions, where appropriate.
We opted to focus on topics that offer unique challenges to military families. Active duty and retired members (and their families) often deal with different health challenges, financial challenges, and lifestyle challenges. The apps we chose provide helpful information and tools specifically geared to the things military families struggle with most.
Here are the best apps:
The Best Financial Apps for Military Families
Military families can find help with a variety of financial needs including access to companies that offer military discounts, financial education, and military-friendly sales sites.
This app allows military members to find an array of discounts in their own neighborhood. Creators of Discount Soldier keep the information up to date with content added by military families and the community. Members of all branches of the military can use Discount Soldier to find activities and deals specific to their neighborhood. The app includes a map search to help users locate the closest deals. If you spot a deal, you can submit the info to the app for other military families to take advantage of. Users love how easy it is to navigate and that they can support businesses in the community that offer support to military families.
Free for iOS
Call Dibs is the military-family answer for Craig’s list and eBay. This app lets military family members buy and sell items to other military families. Users can personalize their experience by choosing to buy/sell with specific branches as well as active or retired military members. The easy to use interface includes photos, pricing, the length of time the item has been listed, and distance from the user’s current location. Users love that it’s easy to use and that they can work within a trusted community to help other families.
Honorable mentions: The Army OneSource Money Matters app provides financial education for any military family. Commissary Rewards is an official app for military family members to track and use rewards they earn by shopping at commissaries around the world.
Top Apps for Military Family Life
The apps in this section help families deal with everyday difficulties including deployments, housing and finding the right services when they move to a new community.
Military By Owner
Free for iOS
Moving again? This app makes it a ton easier to find a new place to lay your head. This app is geared towards military families and allows users to search by proximity to bases as well as proximity to your current location. Users can search for homes that are for sale or rent. Features in this app include the ability to save homes the user is interested in and easy to access information about the seller so they can reach out quickly.
If you have a family member that’s deployed or living elsewhere during their service, this app lets you know exactly when your loved one will be home. You can even set the program to monitor more than one event (for example a visit and final return home etc.) Users love that this app allows them to customize nearly every aspect of the display. As a fun bonus: a soldier, inspired by spreadsheets and calendars used to count down the days until it was time to go home, created this app.
Honorable mention: My Airforce Life is an app that provides access to a lot of information about schools, health services, community services and housing. While the name is geared toward members of the Air Force community, the information in the app would be helpful to any military family.
The Best Apps for Military Kids
The apps in this section are geared towards little ones with parents serving in the military. They can help kids figure out ways to talk about their feelings and recognize that other families are going through similar circumstances.
Focus on the Go
This app is a fun game for any family, but it’s particularly helpful for families that deal with a lot of change. Fun, colorful activities help parents and children learn how to talk about their feelings and deal with difficult situations in a more productive way. The app teaches kids how to identify feelings and to recognize whether they are comfortable feelings or uncomfortable feelings. An in-app activity allows kids to create “comic strips” where they can share any thought they have with someone they trust. For little ones who have a hard time talking about feeling lonely, sad, or frustrated, this tool can be a fun way to let them share their emotions without the pressure.
Kids love the colorful pictures and simple activities. Parents love that this game is a simple way to open the door to more difficult conversations.
Sesame Street for Military Families
Kids love and recognize the Sesame Street characters. The stories and games are all available in English and Spanish on this app. Kids have access to storybooks, videos, games, and articles. Sesame Street for Military families also includes a parent guide and additional support options. This app is great because it factors in the transitions that little ones may have to face as part of a military family. Some of the stories and games address sensitive subjects like deployments, injuries, and grief, so parents may want to check out those videos to make sure they’re appropriate for their little ones. Parents will love the access to articles and stories that offer advice on a wide range of topics and kids will love interacting with characters who understand what they are feeling.
Honorable Mention: All fixed up is a customizable storybook app that lets kids change the story to fit their life. They can choose a male of female lead (mom or dad) and why the parent is going away (work, military etc.) Children can interact with the story and it ends with a heart-warming message. Kids and parents will both enjoy this sweet app.
The Best Communication Apps for Military Families
Apps featured in this section focus on making communication easier with family and friends who live far away. These are particularly great options for families who have a member deployed elsewhere.
Like Skype, ooVoo offers free video chat and voice calls. The app also allows for group messaging so family members can all visit, no matter where they are. The group video call allows for up to 12 different callers at once. If video calls aren’t an option for your deployed family member, the app allows free voice calls anywhere in the world. This is a great option for families who don’t want to spend a bundle on long-distance calls. The winner of the 2016 Mobile Excellence Awards, ooVoo works on computers and most mobile devices. Families will love the app’s technology works to reduce and/or eliminate dropped calls. Families will also love the ability to call a cell phone from a computer or a computer from a cell phone. The app is cross-platform friendly.
Free for iOSMemory Hive provides a private way to share memories, photos, and text messages with a select group of friends. This app is safer for kids to use (as they share pictures and text with their family in a private group rather than a public page.) The app is flexible so that users can share memories to Facebook or Instagram with a click of a button. Users create “hives” or groups of friends that can see specific memories. Each user can select which memory to share with which hive. The app also creates highlight reels of memories. *The current version of the app includes 50 MBs of storage. Additional storage is available via in-app purchase.
Honorable Mention: Circle of Six deserves a little more than an honorable mention as this app is a simple solution for individuals who are involved in a less-than-healthy relationship, feel like they’re stuck in a sticky situation or suffer from suicidal thoughts. Users choose six friends to add to their circle. If they need help they can click a pin and notify their friend to come get them (with GPS coordinates) on the sly. Other icons include a phone (call me and pretend you need me) and a chat box (I need to talk). If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or PTSD, this app can be a great tool for reaching out quickly in a time of need.
The Best Apps for Military Health
The apps in this section focus on health issues, particularly stress and PTSD. You’ll also find a helpful first aid app that provides lots of information that you can use to as a refresher course or when you’re working in the field and in a pinch.
The practices taught on the Tactical Breather app work for soldiers in combat situations and for military members or family members suffering from PTSD or other emotional difficulties. The app teaches to control their breathing, heart rate and reaction to emotional situations. The app was inspired, in part, by Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s book “On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.” Users will get a comprehensive overview of the tactical breathing program, a tutorial and practice mode. Users will love that they can personalize the app for the voice gender and background graphics. The app developer notes that if users aren’t hearing any sound to check their device’s mute settings.
Army First Aid
$1.99 for iOS
This comprehensive digital first-aid app may say Army on it, but military members (and their family members) from all branches can take advantage of the 600+ pages of first aid information. Topics covered include first aid basics, rescue breathing, bleeding, shock, weather-related injuries, snake bites, broken bones and rescue carries, among others. The app includes plenty of additional information that can be helpful on a hike or in the field like identifying dangerous fish, insects, plants, and spiders.
Honorable mention: PTSD Coach. The PTSD Coach provides information about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder including signs and symptoms, relaxation skills, anger management, a self-assessment and help for finding professional help. The VA-created app allows users to track their history and add music for relaxation activities.
Navigating the military family life
Whether you are new to the military life or you have a few years under your belt, there’s always something new to learn. While the apps listed above are great tools, they are far from the only resources you have available.
The Military Wife and Mom offers a few tips for making the best of your time as a military family including:
Do some research: Make sure you become familiar with the programs available for military spouses and family members. Understanding all your benefits can help save money on healthy expenses and other incidentals. Pro tip: Learn the lingo so you can keep up with conversations!
Find friends: Make nice with other military spouses and families. It’s always good to have a buddy to chat with and you can swap ideas and complaints with someone who understands what you are going through. It’s not always easy to make new friends, but it’s worth the effort. Many military families move a lot and live far away from their family. Having a support system in your community can make it a little easier.
Check your expectations: Birthdays and holidays will be missed, vacations postponed or canceled and homecomings may be a little more difficult than you expected. All of this is normal. Understanding and accepting that these are part of a life will make accepting them and working around them a lot easier.
Kids handle deployments differently: Patience is key with little ones who may respond to deployments and moves differently. Prepare for anything and learn a few tricks to diffuse a situation if they’re emotions take control.
Stay in touch: With overseas deployments, it’s important to stay in touch as often as possible. Make a communication plan (but allow for wiggle room when schedules go sideways). When your partner returns home, maintaining open communication is key for transitioning back into daily life. If you have kids, have a backup plan just in case talk-time with the deployed spouse doesn’t work because of tech issues. Go for ice cream or grab a movie to counter the disappointment.
Life as a military family certainly has its challenges, but families can sleep proudly at night knowing that the things they sacrifice ensure that other families are able to sleep safely too and that there are many people willing to lend a hand or offer a listening ear (and maybe free babysitting?!) when needed.
If you have a loved one serving in the military, what apps do you use that make everyday life a little easier?