Tips for Combat Veterans and Military Families on Halloween

by RM Harshman, USMC (ret)

October 31, and the days that lead up to Halloween, hold memories from our childhood. We would wear our carefully-planned costumes and walk with our friends and/or parents from house to house, receiving our favorite sweets and some of our not-so-favorite ones as well.


Wife of RM Harshman with son

As the night came to an end and all the candy bowls were emptied, we would count and sort our treasure-filled sacks and buckets. With candy surrounding our sprawled bodies on the living room floor, we would begin the inevitable candy trade and safety check, shortly followed by empty wrappers and aching bellies.

Today as parents, we want our children to enjoy Halloween as we did. So, we keep a watchful eye throughout the night and are sure to check their candy for impurities, and perhaps skim a few of our favorites off the top.

Every year, families walk from house to house repeating the timeless phrase, “Trick or Treat,” followed with, “Thank you. Happy Halloween!” But this holiday doesn’t always play out the same way for a veteran, combat warrior or caregiver.  I admit that Halloween is a difficult time for me personally. The added stresses can feel more like a trick than a treat, especially as a parent.

Here are a few tips that my family implements to keep this holiday less spooky and more fun.
Leave a bowl of candy at the front door or end of the driveway.

I do not enjoy complete strangers approaching my family’s home, and I definitely do not enjoy them being disguised. To counter this, my family and I simply leave a giant bowl of candy at the end of the driveway while we go house to house.

Plan your trick-or-treating route.

Our children enjoy dressing up and strolling around our neighborhood to admire others’ costumes and decorated houses, I do not hinder their enjoyment because of my paranoia or discomfort. Rather, I prepare for the evening. I make a plan as to what route we will wall, which houses to avoid and which houses are a must to visit.

Dig out your handy-dandy reflective PT belt.

Who knew those “trendy” issued reflective safety belts would be so useful! I dig out my reflective gear to illuminate my family in the darkness of night, and be sure to walk with a battle buddy family, who carries like-minded morals and behaviors.

Talk about your trick-or-treating game plan as a family.

Every Halloween is successful for our family, because we prepare for it. My wife prepares our children with do’s and dont’s, and helps me prepare for what we are getting ready to do. She will walk with the children to the front doors of homes, so that I may keep an eye from the street and still witness the joy that consumes our children.

Check your children’s candy at the end of the evening.

We always inspect our children’s candy. A few things I look for include open/unwrapped candy, unusual discoloration, torn wrappers, and anything that just doesn’t look right. If it doesn’t pass inspection, we toss it! We also throw away homemade treats, unless we personally know the family who distributed them.

With some planning and mindful measures, we can all have fun this Halloween. Now be safe, be vigilant, and make some memories.