Happy Thanksgiving from NMFA!

Though many will be together today, there are some that are not. With warm hearts, and hopes of holidays spent together soon, we wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

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A Full Home and a Full Heart, Thanks to 3 Midshipmen

macy-comes-home-087It’s just before Thanksgiving and our house is abuzz with excitement. You can feel it; the anticipation of days off from school, delicious food, and decorating for the upcoming Christmas holiday. You know–it’s that cozy, warm, fullness in your heart feeling. The holidays. Friends, family, and magical moments with the people you love.

But every now and again, for us military families, you get hit with an intense moment of loneliness. I felt it the other day when I was walking through the parking lot on the way home from running some errands. The wind blew and made the air chilly for Southern California… and I felt it. The need for my family. For the traditions from home. And for those friends who’ve known me since I was young. I feel it at least once every year during the holiday season and this year is no different.

Our assignments with the Air Force have all been full with new experiences and adventures, and amazing people who I am so grateful to know. I have loved all of our assignments, but the one I hold on extra tight to is our time in Annapolis, Maryland when my husband (remember, he’s Air Force) was a professor of Engineering at The United States Naval Academy.

This assignment was special for many reasons, but what made it extra special was our experience as a Sponsor Family for several young Midshipmen from The Naval Academy. We signed up to be a sponsor family within days of arriving in Annapolis, and I was so eager for the experience. Little did I know, these three particular young men would end up meaning so much to all of us.

Weekend after weekend, we would drive to the Academy promptly at 12 noon, and our 3 Plebes (freshman) would pile into the minivan, crisp in their uniforms, sitting among the car seats. Duffle bags of laundry in hand, we would drive home, and for the next 12 hours (they had to be back no later than 12 midnight) our home was their home. They would sleep, eat (oh, they ate so much), play with the kids, help around the house, do their laundry, study, and watch A LOT of TV.

These boys became like my sons–my kids’ older brothers. They were at our house the day we brought our 3rd child, Macy, home from the hospital. I will never forget taking pictures of these boys holding 2 day old Macy. They were at our house just days after my own father unexpectedly passed away. We always did our best to be there for them; break ups with girlfriends, failed tests, and when one of them also unexpectedly lost his father. Three years of ups and downs.

I loved having them around the most during the holidays, when the semester was winding down for them, and the buzz of going home to family and friends occupied their thoughts. That feeling of loneliness, longing for family and old friends, wasn’t as strong. My home was full, and my heart, fuller.

Cooking and decorating was more enjoyable knowing it was going to be enjoyed by, not only by us, but our “Mids,” as well. Those three young men, although they had no idea, were giving our family an extra purpose, an extra drive to make our house feel warm and welcome. They made our time in Annapolis meaningful. Although we opened our home and time to them, they gave us so much more.

Being a sponsor family is an experience I will always look back on with a grateful heart. Sadly, we weren’t in Annapolis for their entire four years at the Academy because the Air Force moved us to Los Angeles at the end of their junior year. Text messages and emails show up often, with updates from life in the Navy and Marine Corps.

I hope they will always know how special they were to our family, how often they cross our hearts, and even though they are no longer students, we are always here for them. And nothing will change that.

Jenny-ZollarsPosted by Jenny Zollars, Air Force Spouse

These MilSpouse Bloggers Got It Going On!

With more of our family members joining social media, it’s getting easier for military families, like mine, to keep loved ones updated with our lives—especially if OCONUS orders send us overseas. Many military spouses turn to the interweb to document their own military journeys, and many have found their way to blogging.

Blogging has quickly become a great way for military spouses to find others in the same boots, and some online friendships turn into real life friendships. If you’re a military spouse looking for a new way to keep the family updated with stories and photos – try blogging.

And while you’re at it, you have to check out some of our favorite military spouse bloggers:

My Camo Kids: An Army Wife Life
Wife of an Army Infantryman, registered nurse Lora’s blog shares the wild and crazy that comes with having 5 kids, from ages 15 to age 4! She chronicled her husband’s three deployments, and writes about her journey towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Lora knows how to keep the plates spinning!

My-Camo-Kids-Blog

Embrace the Adventure
Jordan, a deep-rooted southerner who married her college sweetheart, a United States Marine, uses her lifestyle blog, Embrace the Adventure, to do just that: embrace, navigate, and appreciate the unique and fulfilling lifestyle that the military has to offer. With a captivating smile and spectacular photos of her family’s life in the Golden State, Jordan’s blog instantly makes you feel like you found a new friend.

Embrace-the-change

Ramblings of a Marine Wife
If you want humor, Kara’s blog is the first stop. This working mom of two and Marine wife holds an MBA, and a witty take on life. From What She Wore Wednesday posts of her sassy (and dressed-better-than-us) daughter, to sharing all the best details from their family’ tour in Okinawa, Ramblings of a Marine Wife is one to add to your daily reads.

Ramblings-of-a-Marine-Wife

SpouseBUZZ
If you have ever googled anything military related, you’ve probably landed on SpouseBUZZ before. That’s because the Military.com owned site doesn’t leave any topic unturned. From “What not to wear to a military ball” to asking blunt questions, like “Why the low expectations for military spouses?” SpouseBUZZ lets your voice be heard. And we’ll be the first to tell you: all the juicy conversations happen in the comment sections.

SpouseBUZZ

Jo, My Gosh!
Started as an outlet to share the creative care packages she was sending to her then-fiancé during his deployment, Jo, a Navy wife, continues to share her creativeness with care packages. But now, she also gives a true taste of what military life has been like for her, with stories, tips, and a list or two from the now-seasoned military spouse.

Jo-My-Gosh

M.O.M (My Own Moment)…Please!
Jennifer is a Navy spouse, mom of two children, and one crazy English Bulldog. She’s the founder of MilitaryOneClick.com, and blogs about real life: the good, the bad and the ugly (including the time she had to scrub baby poop off her husband’s forehead while in public). So, naturally, sometimes she just wants to scream, “Can I have My…Own… Moment…please!?”

Mom-Please

Who are some of your favorite MilSpouse bloggers? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Are Veteran Kids Military Kids, Too?

NMFA-Veteran's-Day-2014-165“I’m a military kid too, right Mommy?” Zana, my 4-year-old asks hopefully. “I want us to be a military family!”

Clearly, I’ve been talking about the National Military Family Association a lot. And our recent trip to New York for the Veterans Day sealed the deal–military kids are awesome. Both girls had the privilege to walk with dozens of military families representing our Association in America’s Parade. Our message was so powerful that even a 4-year-old heard it loud and clear. It’s cool to be part of a military family!

But are we a military family?

My older daughter, Lira, was born when my husband was an active duty Marine—so she was definitely a military kid. But is she now? And what about Zana? Does being the child of a veteran count?

I thought about the poem written and recited by military kid Laura Marin at our Veterans Day reception:

“I’m an unrooted child. My life is mostly in brown boxes.”

“I’m leaving behind all that is familiar, again. I’m facing the unknown one more time.”

dave-and-liraNone of this describes my kids’ lives. We’ve lived in the same house, since transitioning out of the military, with no plans of moving. They don’t have to deal with deployments and separations. They don’t have to change schools or constantly make new friends. But they do have that military kid spirit.

They are proud. They are resilient, and even though one of my daughters wasn’t born and the other can barely remember when Dave was in the military—they are military kids.

They are growing up with a love of country. They respect and honor service. And like many veteran kids—they have to deal with the after-effects of military life . Dave was medically separated after having his spine fused (among other injuries), and can’t physically do what he once could. Going for a run isn’t an option, but he’ll ignore the pain and hold the girls on his shoulders when we go for a walk.

So Zana, yes. We are a military family. And we share this sentiment, also from Laura’s poem:

“Sleep peacefully in your beds at night United States of America. My family and I got your back.”

Do you think kids of veterans are still military kids? Let us know your thoughts!

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Our First Duty Station: Making a House a Home on a Newlywed Budget

rachel-marston-dityFort Belvoir, in Alexandria, Virginia has been the first official duty station for my husband and I since getting married. Before he received orders to Fort Belvoir, he’d never heard of the installation, and honestly, it wasn’t one we were expecting. Despite not knowing much about Fort Belvoir, I was just excited to put together a home with my husband, so the unknown wasn’t much of a concern for me.

Getting married was the easy decision for us, but deciding to live on-post or off-post took a bit more consideration. Searching for housing was an emotional rollercoaster for me. After all, I was planning my wedding AND a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) at the same time. I saw my husband’s leave time between an overseas tour and a stateside move as the perfect opportunity to get both done.

Eventually, we decided living off-post in an apartment would be an advantage to us. Right now, it’s only my husband and I, and between the two of us, we don’t really have many belongings. He was coming from barracks life, and I had been living with roommates. Our goal was to get the most out of our Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) straight out of the gate, so to speak. One of our favorite tools for accessing the housing market and staying in budget was AHRN.com. It allowed us to use our BAH rate to find a home off-post that fit our needs.

AssemblingFurnitureOnce we moved my belongings to Fort Belvoir, we realized we didn’t come close to filling our two bedroom apartment. We knew we didn’t have much, but we didn’t anticipate an empty living room! (All the living room furniture in my previous apartment belonged to my roommates.) Whoops!

It was important for me to have things from everywhere my husband and I have traveled and lived, so I brought a little Texas flair, and he brought a little Boston. We met while we were both in New York, so we have many decor items from there, too.

Finally, after a year of planning and lots of agonizing PCS details, we began putting together our first home. Not only did we incorporate where we came from, but we also had to be mindful of our budget. We created the home of our dreams on a very tight (and newlywed) budget using these tips:

IKEA for the win! I know, I know. The furniture isn’t really built to last forever, but it’s great to have as temporary starter furniture. We bought our couch, coffee table, side table, entertainment center, DVD case, curio cabinet, and tall lamps there. We plan to get more ‘durable’ items in the future.

Give the thrift store a try, too. Our installation has a thrift store on-post and there are also several other stores in our area we visited to pick up some items. You can land a deal on some great designer home goods and art work for your brand-new home at a steal of a price!

Scope out your options online. Practically everything in my home office was acquired online and shipped to my home. That made it easier for the bigger items because it came straight to our door. There are websites out there offering free shipping, which came in handy for us! Overstock.com offers their Club O program to military members for free, which includes a 5% discount and free shipping, too. Be sure to read the reviews on items online. We bought our futon bed online on Target.com, but we were able to see it in store, too. So if you have the luxury to go to a brick and mortar store to see it in person, do it!

Do you have any tips for newlyweds on putting together their first home?

rachel-marstenPosted by Rachel Tringali Marston, Army Spouse, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia

From Growing Up a Military Kid to Helping Today’s Military Kids Grow

vets-day-parade-1It’s a story you may have heard—or even lived. A young girl watches her dad go in and out of the hospital due to injuries sustained at war. Yvonne Brunner’s father came back from the Korean War with physical injuries, a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). All of those things placed a heavy weight on Yvonne’s family, who didn’t have a support system in place. She knew, even at a young age, that she wanted to help those kids who grow up each day facing the stresses and consequences of war—but how?

Yvonne grew up to become a Navy spouse. Her husband is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and a paramedic with the Nassau County Police Department in New York. Meanwhile, Yvonne has served as Children & Youth County Chairman at the American Legion Auxiliary, a position that eventually led her to us. She became a volunteer with our Association in 2013 and has become a rising star to military kids.

Yvonne started going to elementary schools in her area, teaching kids about the American flag, hosting mini-parades, and holding a contest called ‘Red, White, and Blue: What the Flag Means to You.’ On Halloween, she handed out safety coloring books. During the winter holidays, she baked cookies and cupcakes and participated in toy distribution programs for military kids.

“It has been cathartic,” Yvonne said about her volunteer experience with our Association. “A journey of self-healing. “

Yvonne’s passion for military kids aligns perfectly with our Operation Purple® Program. When American Legion Auxiliary hosted a fundraising concert on Long Island, C.J. Ramone, who was performing, introduced her to comedian Dave Attell. She shared her experience and desire to help military kids, and they were moved to action. The three of them put together a concert benefitting the Operation Purple, and Yvonne acted as a one-woman dynamo—funding the event upfront and promoting it through radio interviews, town hall meetings, and hitting the pavement distributing flyers throughout Long Island.

The concert raised more than $6,000, and inspired Dave Attell to make two additional $25,000 donations and host a comedy show fundraiser on Veterans Day.

“Each and every one of us is an incredible person, capable of extraordinary things,” Yvonne said.  “It is my continued hope that we all join together to give back to our service members and their families.  Our children are our hope. They are our ‘littlest warriors’ who, by the simple act of saying good-bye, become the symbol of hope for peace.”

karen-cookPosted by Karen Cook, Volunteer Services Coordinator, North Region

Dave Attell and 4 Comedians Whose Names Start with “J” Supporting Military Families

When we first met comedian Dave Attell more than a year ago, we never could have imagined where we’d be together today. After performing at a fundraiser and being disappointed with the amount of donations we received, Dave gave NMFA $25,000… and then a few weeks later another $25,000, along with a promise to do more to help military families. This Veterans Day in New York City, Dave came through on that promise, big time.

He invited some of the top comedians in the world to join him on stage for “A Salute to Military Families,” a benefit at the Gotham Club in our honor. Besides Dave, a superstar himself, here was the lineup:

Jamie Kahler: Navy vet and host on the American Heroes Channel (AHC)
Jeffery Ross: the Roastmaster on Comedy Central
Judah Friedlander: best known for his role as Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock
Jim Gaffigan: author of bestseller “Fat Dad” and “Food: A Love Story”

These guys, whose names all happen to start with a “J,” kept the side-splitting laughs going all night. They also took the time to hang out before the show and get to know the military families, veterans, and friends of NMFA who’d be in the audience.

Thank you, Dave, for being the host with the most—and for caring about military families.

Together we are stronger.

Donate to our mission today.

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