Memorial Day honors service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. While they set aside the comforts of American life and place themselves in danger, their family members are making enormous sacrifices daily.

Chart Source.

As Jeff Hensley, former fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy and a spokesman for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote in The Huffington Post earlier this month:

 When I think of the men and women I’ve served with over the years, I think of words like selfless, committed, courageous…sometimes heroic. These are probably the same words that many Americans use to describe veterans. But when we stop to consider all we owe to those who sacrifice for our liberty, I doubt that military family members are at the forefront of our thoughts…The truth is all of these adjectives are equally well-suited for the unsung millions who have faithfully supported our men and women in uniform through a decade of war.

As loved ones are away serving on the battlefield, their family members back home provide immeasurable support.

“The love and support of family makes all the difference,” wrote Hensley. “In war, everything you thought you knew about the world is put to the test…You lean on your battle buddies to protect your life. But it is often your loved ones back home who protect your humanity.”

Research shows that marriage is positively associated with well-being for both men and women. For example, married individuals have better physical and psychological health and are less likely to abuse alcohol. Sadly, the unique stresses of military life put couples at greater risk for marital breakup. (Fortunately, there is some evidence that marriage education can help decrease divorce rates for military couples.)

Besides the challenges faced during times of deployment, members of the military and their families continue to face struggles after the return home. Beverly Perlman, founder of Band of Mothers, noted in The Daily Caller that “our warriors and their families have a long way to go to returning to a normal life.” These challenges, she said, include dealing with injuries as well as “post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of their service.”

“We can and we must do better at helping them make the adjustment,” Perlman wrote. “Let’s start now by remembering to honor their service….let the warriors and their families know that you are thinking of them. Let them know that you are grateful for all they have sacrificed for their nation. For those who have lost a loved one, let them know that while you can never fully share their pain and loss, they are in your thoughts and prayers.”

The contribution of service men and women and their families is “a debt we can never fully repay.” Their sacrifice and dedication allow Americans to take advantage of the blessings of liberty every day.