Celebrate Your Freedom by Standing Behind Military Families!

military-kids-raising-flagOnly a few more days until we celebrate the birth of our great nation, and the smell of bar-b-que, fireworks, and sunscreen will fill the air. The Star Spangled Banner will play loudly, and we’ll take a minute to remember the price of freedom.

But is a minute enough?

While most of us will be enjoying a long holiday weekend, we ask you to show your support of those military families who will spent, yet another, holiday apart. An easy, quick way to show you support is by helping us on our quest to win $25,000 through the Crowdrise Veterans Charity Challenge 3!

With just a few clicks, a few dollars, and a few pats on your back for being awesome, you’ll help us in two ways:

1. Now through July 2, Crowdrise will give an additional $20 for the first 100 donations of at least $20! Free money?! Awesome!

2. You’ll become one of the selfless military family supporters who keep NMFA’s  mission alive by continuing to serve the ones who stand behind the uniform.

We hope your holiday weekend is relaxing, and filled with joy and fellowship. Please take a few minutes and clicks to help fill a military family’s life with those same things.

Donate to the National Military Family Association’s via Crowdrise.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Georgia Doesn’t Want “These People…” and They Mean YOU, Military Spouse!

Georgia-Bar-Doesn't-Want-These-People---Military-Spouses

This week, as part of my position here at NMFA working on spouse licensure issues, an article from The Daily Report popped up in my news feed. It detailed a recent board of governors meeting from the State Bar of Georgia. Apparently, things got heated when board members were asked to vote on whether or not to allow military spouse attorneys the opportunity to provisionally practice law in Georgia.

One board member was quoted as saying, “Why should we let these people come in our state who may not know a…thing about Georgia law and maybe get [their clients] in more trouble than when they started?”

As a military spouse, being called “these people” will always get me riled up. It’s not a very nice thing to say, and I am being nice by putting it that way.

But here’s the thing: I LOVE being one of “these people,” and the board member who called us “these people” obviously doesn’t know that “these people” are amazing.

“These people” include military spouses who started out their lives with a plan, and things changed. They married a service member, committed to selfless sacrifice, duty, and honor.

“These people” followed their service member, with tens of thousands of dollars in law school loan debt and left high paying job offers behind. They put the commitment of their service member ahead of their need to make money.

Yet, “these people” remain committed to service of their own, advocating for clients and causes.

“These people” spent thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours studying and sitting for bar exams, which would only serve them for two or three years. Many of “these people” have three or more active bar licenses before the age of 35, that require them to take continuing legal education courses annually (which cost money), pay annual dues, and adhere to the same code of ethics as their colleagues who are actively practicing.

But “these people” will earn less than those colleagues because they relocated with their service member spouse, over and over again. “These people” have been embraced by 12 states and the Virgin Islands, who recognize the value military spouses bring to the table, and provide a provisional license if a military spouse is licensed through exam in another state.

What “these people” are not asking for is a handout, a lower level of professional, or ethical scrutiny, or different standards. “These people” are asking for a reasonable chance to share their talent and commitment; an opportunity to advocate and represent, and to bring their very specialized, unique and broad perspective to the legal profession in the state where their service member spouse is stationed for what will be too short of a period of time to sit for another state bar exam (a 6-12 month process).

“These people” are serious, professional, dedicated, smart, ambitious, and repeatedly challenged in ways you can’t be if you practice law in the same place your whole career.

“These people” inspire me, and I am lucky to be able to call myself a member of the Military Spouse JD Network, made up of “these people” around the globe, working to, not only, improve each others ability to work and thrive in our careers, but to provide legal assistance and support to other military families.

And the amazing traits of “these people” aren’t limited to attorneys. Military spouses who need licensing accommodations include teachers, nurses, mental health providers, and more.

“These people” are committed to helping their communities, no matter what state they live in. Do not turn “these people” away. I promise, we are worth the trouble.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director and JD

Beat the PCS Summer Time Blues: Keep Your MilKids Connected

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PCS season during the summer months is a blessing and a curse. For military families with school-age kids, moving during the summer break means your kids will be able to finish the school year and say goodbye to friends. Yet, at the same time, it may be difficult for your kids to make new friends at your new duty location during the summer months when school is out.

So how do you keep your military kids connected and engaged during the summer months and help them make friends before the school year starts?

Here are 5 tips that have helped my kids make new friends during the summer months:

Parks: We have made it a mission to visit a new park each Friday afternoon. We have several parks in our new community, and my children love to play on the play equipment and meet new kids. Visit your community’s park and recreation division for a list of neighborhood parks.

Swim lessons: It’s hot during the summer months and swim lessons are a low-cost way to keep cool, learn or practice skills, and meet new friends. My kids have taken lessons at pools on base and in the community. Check with your installation aquatics department, local YMCA, or city’s aquatics program for swim lesson opportunities.

Grab a book: Local libraries and the Department of Defense (DoD) and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) both offer summer reading opportunities and hands-on activities to keep your kids engaged. Read to Rhythm is the 2015 DoD-MWR summer reading program theme.

Pinterest: I’m not a crafty mom, but Pinterest has great tips for keeping kids busy during the summer. To find local activities, try combining the following search terms “your location” + “kids” + “activities.” If a local mom’s group has a Pinterest page, you should be able to find it here.

Follow event calendars: Whether you live on a military installation, or in a civilian community, local summer events are bound to be nearby. Find local event calendars and look for activities to entertain your family. Free summer concerts, movies in the park, or annual rummage sales may be the perfect opportunity to engage in your new community.

How do you help your military kids meet friends and stay busy during the summer months? Share your tips in the comments section!

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Staying Connected After Transition: Goodbye Military Community?

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It was just over a year ago when my husband officially retired and we moved to a non-military area. Losing our military community felt like I had lost a piece of me. My husband and I both felt adrift. But I knew I had to regain that connection…somehow.

Even though I wasn’t in a military area anymore, I continued my volunteer work with the National Military Family Association (NMFA). I may no longer know from personal experience what’s going on at this base, or that base, but I’m still a member of numerous military spouse Facebook groups, and have many friends who are still active duty. I keep an eye and ear out for questions I can help answer, and stay on top of issues that NMFA might need to know about. And I’ve been able to support military families through numerous remote volunteer projects, too! It’s been a gift to be able to continue serving my beloved military community in this manner, and be connected virtually.

Knowing there were probably others like us in our new non-military community, even Reserve and National Guard families, I started a local Facebook group for spouses of Marines. I posted about it in our local area Facebook groups (moms’ networks, neighborhood groups, etc.) and was excited when spouses would speak up from the crowd and say, “Yes!  My husband is a Marine veteran,” or “This is great! We’re in the area on recruiting duty and would love to connect with other Marine families!”

The group now has 56 members and we’re planning our first get-together! I’m thrilled about the prospect of going out to dinner with some fellow military spouses and enjoying that ‘sisterhood’ again!

Interested in keeping or regaining that connection to the military community?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Be open to sharing your story. You never know if that other mom or dad sitting two rows down in the bleachers at your child’s game is currently serving, a veteran, or military spouse. Share your story; you just might hear, “Me too!”
  • Volunteer for, or get involved with a military-related organization, like the National Military Family Association, your local VFW or VA, or even some of the unique organizations out there, like a local chapter of Team Red, White & Blue.
  • Start a Facebook group for other local military families. Spread the word about it through your neighborhood, school, place of worship, and other networks. Seek out other transitioned families, as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, and the “onesies and twosies” out there, like those on recruiting duty, or the ROTC staff at local colleges.
  • Teach your kids’ school about military life. Schools in non-military areas need to be enlightened on the life of a military kid, and how to best support them. I’ve heard from several families whose kids say their teachers and fellow students think it’s weird they’ve lived in so many places, including overseas, and as a result, their kids feel like outsiders. Take things into your hands and meet with the administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other important people involved with your child. Share what your child has been through, and how they can best relate with him or her. Provide them resources so they can educate themselves on military families. If there are several current or former military kids at the school, consider suggesting the formation of a club for them.
  • Encourage your local governments, Chambers of Commerce, and visitors’ bureaus to include information on their websites, and in welcome packets, for inbound transitioning families. This can be a list of resources, like the contact information for local veterans’ groups, the closest military ID center, the VA, and other pieces of information valuable to military families.
  • If you become active in a place of worship, suggest they ask new members if they are a military family, and link them with other military families in the congregation. A former church of ours actively sought to identify military families and assigned a deacon who had been a military spouse to those families so they would always have a point of contact and support.

One of the greatest things about being a military family is the closeness of the military community; it’s truly a remarkable thing. I viewed it as a second family. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things about transitioning out of the military is losing that closeness and having the feeling of almost being catapulted out of that community into civilian life. If you’re a civilian family and know someone transitioning out of the military, take some time out of your day to help them through by welcoming them into your community!

Are you a transitioned family? How have you stayed connected to your military community?

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC spouse, mom

Operation Purple® Healing Adventures: Surviving Doesn’t Happen Alone

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In the middle of the Pocono Mountains, families are learning to survive–and not just in the wilderness. Wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families gathered over the weekend at Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, for an Operation Purple Healing Adventure. Families spent three and a half days hiking, canoeing, conquering a ropes course, and finding their ‘new normal’ after their service member’s injury.

Though most wounds were invisible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), other injuries gradually started to become more apparent as the activities took place. One Navy veteran, who was medically discharged because of a lumbar injury, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take his children on a 3.5 mile hike to see a natural waterfall. The next morning, with a slower pace and slight limp, he joined his family for breakfast.

Service members know how to survive, and at Healing Adventures, their families are learning, too.

“Don’t let it touch the ground,” one Army veteran whispered to his daughters, as they lowered the American flag during camp’s nightly flag ceremony.

“Now fold diagonally 13 times into a triangle,” he instructed.

“Dad, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!” one daughter said.

He grinned, “I’ve done it a few times before.”

Healing Adventures isn’t only about the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, parents take part in a group session with educators from Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), where they speak openly about their struggles with injuries and life after military service. They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of their ‘new normal.’

An Army National Guard veteran shared, “When I came back from a deployment six years ago, things changed…and I just wondered when everything would stop changing. Being deployed, we knew each day would be different and we were prepared. Being home, you just want things the same. But each day is different…and it’s hard.”

On the second day of camp, families worked together to navigate hiking trails and a ropes course. They learned to communicate effectively, encourage consistently, and eventually, survived as a unit.

Overcoming obstacles are common for military families; constant moving, multiple deployments, mental illness, and visible and invisible injuries are hurdles that take skill and precision in conquering, but with the proper tools, navigation, and resources, like Healing Adventures, families find the confidence to tackle life together.

“This is the first year I’ve started to get involved with some veterans groups to retrain and reintegrate myself, and find my brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back into ‘the normal world,’” said one Army Reserves dad.

As the weekend came to a close, and families roasted s’mores together recounting the day’s adventures, one thing was clear: surviving doesn’t happen alone.

Are you a veteran military family? What survival skills have you learned to cope with life after the military?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com

Never Fear a PCS Again: 4 Steps to a Great Teleworking Career!

4-steps-to-teleworking-career

Telecommuting: working at home by using a computer terminal electronically linked to one’s place of employment.

I think many military spouses fantasize about the glowing beacon of landing the perfect telecommuting job. A job that moves with you from one duty station to the next. A job where your bunny slippers are part of your professional wardrobe and your job-related moving stress consists of ensuring your new location has high-speed internet access.

So how do you find this perfect-for-mobile-life telecommuting job?

You don’t.

Step 1: Start by looking for a job you love, where you can use your skills, education, and training to be successful. I think some struggle because they’re only looking for a telecommuting or a remote job. The place you love might be in an actual brick and mortar building. Don’t count those places out.

Step 2: Excel at your job. Become the go-to-person for your special skills. Be the asset your boss can count on to get the job done. Become your own shiny star in your work universe.

Why put forth this much effort if you’re moving in a few years?

Because you’ve created a successful track record of working hard and proving that you have what it takes to get the job done!

Step 3: Pitch a telecommuting plan to your boss. Review your job duties and descriptions. What portions of your job can be done offsite? What duties must be performed in an office? Next, explore your company’s telecommuting policies. Do they have a telecommuting policy? If not, look for samples in like-industries and provide examples to your employer. Talk to colleagues who telecommute and ask if they work under a formal telecommuting policy. Then, make a pitch to your boss. Show how your job duties can be conducted offsite successfully, and request the opportunity to stay with the company in a telecommuting role. Another tip: take every chance you have to explain why the company benefits from keeping you on staff, even remotely. You’re a shining star, remember? To make things even better before you pitch your telecommuting plan, try working offsite a few days a week before your move.

Step 4: Set yourself up for success once your employer agrees to your new telecommuting arrangement. Have a dedicated work area just for work. Ensure you have a space that clearly separates your work life from your home life. Be familiar with your human resource policies on teleworking, and adapt best practices in your own personal work. Set clear expectations, like the frequency and methods of communication to best connect with your office headquarters.

Teleworking can be a glowing beacon for a lot of military spouses. Take your time and try these steps to create your perfect telecommuting job!

Are you a military spouse who telecommutes? How did you start with your employer? What advice would you add to our list? 

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager (and teleworker!)