Why Do I Serve Military Families? They’re My Family, Too.

welcome-home-troops-girl-with-signGrowing up, you always hear stories about soldiers and their families. You see them on TV, in movies, or commercials, but it’s not until someone you love becomes a soldier that you really understand what it means.

That’s how it was for me until I was 15 years old, when one of my cousins, Michael, joined the Marine Corps. The United States had been at war for a couple of years and I remember, perfectly, the day of my cousin’s first deployment to Iraq. I was on vacation with my family and I remember thinking, here I am with my family on vacation while Michael was on his way to war. It didn’t seem fair. That’s when I finally understood what it meant to have a love one be a member of the military.

Two years later, one of my brothers, Chas, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. This was no surprise to us; since we were little, we always knew he was going to join. Two years after that, my other brother, Brian, joined the Army National Guard; which was a big surprise for my family.

My brothers had always been the most important men in my life, but when they joined the military, they somehow became even more important to me.

In 2011, both of my brothers were deployed to Egypt and my cousin, Michael, was on another deployment in the Middle East. I remember saying goodbye to them, watching all the other families say goodbye to their loved ones, just before those buses drove away. I felt so far away from them and was having a hard time dealing with it. There was a feeling I couldn’t explain to anyone, and that never went away. I also saw how difficult it was for my family during that year when both of them were gone. That summer, while they were still deployed, I decided to take an internship at The Reserve Officers Association to try and feel closer to them. It worked, not only did I feel closer to them, but I felt that I was doing something for them.

The military changes your family dynamic. When my brothers joined the Army National Guard, it felt like I gained a lot more ‘brothers,’ and not only that, but their families became my family, too. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do: give back to service members and their families–who have given up so much to protect this country. Over the past few months I have been asked the question, “Why did you decide you wanted to serve military families?”

The answer is an easy one for me: they aren’t just military families, they are my family.

Who do you know that serves in the military? Honor them with a small gift, today.

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Legislative Assistant

How to Win at PCSing with 4 Easy Tips

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PCSing is an adventure with the opportunities to live in new places, meet new people, learn new things, and have new experiences. It’s an adventure hoping your furniture fits in the new house, and learning the driving style/etiquette of your new town. PCSing is a total, ‘bring all of your worldly possessions, your family, and your pets’ kind of adventure! And I just finished another one.

Here are four tips to win at PCSing:

Control what you can and let the rest go.
This will help save your sanity! I typically think about what I will miss about my current neighborhood, or town, and then I start finding replacements in my new community. I usually start to feel better once I find our house (usually through AHRN.com or militarybyowner.com), a new doctor (thank you TRICARE Provider website), a salon (hooray for AVEDA!), and a vet for our puppy. There are a million other, more important things I still need to find, but for some reason during our recent move, finding these four things put me at ease to tackle the rest of my very long to do list.

Be organized.
A list and a calendar are always helpful to me. The list gets really long, but checking items off of a list feels so good, and the list itself keeps me on track. Without my calendar, I would be lost! Keeping track of deadlines is an absolute must during a PCS. The reminders on my iPhone calendar are laughable on a normal day, but during a PCS, they are extra hilarious, with reminders like “finish the mayonnaise” at the top of the list!

Don’t be sentimental, it’s just stuff.
I’m not a ‘stuff’ person. If you are, that’s okay. I actually love the day the movers come, and the house is empty at the end of the day. When the movers arrive, I always tell them my goal is for the house be emptied, with no injuries in the process! I also tell them I like the items in my house, but it is just stuff, so if an accident happens and something breaks, it will be okay. I have said this numerous times to numerous packing and moving teams. One time, I thought the crew was going to faint! I really mean it: It’s just stuff! If something is really important to us, we move it ourselves.

Location. Location. Location.
Every time we move, I look forward to learning about a new place, or even rediscovering a place we may have lived before. I know this sounds overly optimistic, but it’s true for us! There are good things everywhere. The other positive point of a PCS is if you aren’t happy about where you live, or where you’re moving to, remember that you won’t be there forever. You will get to PCS again!

Friends are everywhere.
Saying goodbye to friends is one of the hardest parts of a PCS. I have learned there are friends everywhere. Maybe not lots and lots of friends, but I have found at least one absolute, real friend everywhere we have lived. I have also learned it’s okay to be selective about making new friends. Don’t rush into friendships because you live near a person, have kids at the same school, are part of the same unit, or have the same hometown. Being new to a community can be lonely at first, but be confident enough to find the right friendships. You want to truly be a friend to others and allow them to be a friend you. After you move around for a while, you find that you start to see some of the same wonderful familiar friendly faces again and again. The military community is a small world!

Is your military family on the verge of a PCS adventure? Are you excited or nervous? Tell us your tips for winning at PCSing!

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer Services Coordinator, South Region

Memorial Day: All Gave Some, But Some Gave All

“Memorial Day is hard… It hurts more than any other day. I can’t exactly say why, other than the obvious, but there is something about it that I just, I feel.”  –Antonette Hornsby, Gold Star spouse

It’s been three years since Antonette’s husband, CW3 Brian Hornsby, died after his helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan. Those who die in service to our country leave behind more than their legacy–they leave behind a family. This Memorial Day, before the barbeques and parades, take a moment to remember the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom.

For families like Antonette’s, today is more than just another day. Remember CW3 Hornsby, and all the other lives lost in service.

Together We’re Stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

5 Things the Operation Purple Program Gave My Military Family

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When my family was chosen to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat®, I was excited—but also nervous. It was a great opportunity! I’d get to spend a week with my family unplugged from the world. We’d have an adventure in the Grand Tetons. My kids would get to hang out with other military kids with some of the same experiences. So why was I nervous?  As the spouse of a Vermont Air National Guard member, my husband’s base is about 2.5 hours away, so I don’t really spend a lot of time with other spouses in the same situation. How would I fit in with other military families at Operation Purple?

It turns out… I’d fit in just fine. It has been almost been a year since our trip to Teton Science School, and it’s still the vacation that we talk about to anyone and everyone who will listen to us. The experience was unforgettable and had a lasting impact on our family. Here are five things Operation Purple gave my military family:

  1. An Outdoor Adventure. Goodbye iPhones, tablets and TVs. During this family retreat, it was great to just BE with my family. We hiked, canoed, rafted, and dined family-style with others. I really wanted my kids to meet other kids who had gone through a deployment. I hoped it would give them a sense of belonging.
  2. 5-things-opc-gave-my-milfam-2Friends Who Understand Us. My kids hit it off immediately with another family and made friends within 5 minutes. They sang songs in the van with their new friends, and we had a nice adult break away meeting, where we could introduce ourselves and talk openly. The whole environment was fun and relaxed, with ice-breakers like “the one with the longest hair has to serve dinner,” or “whoever has blue eyes is on cleanup duty.
  3. The Opportunity to Give Back. Each Operation Purple Family Retreat includes a stewardship project, and ours involved pulling invasive weeds. It was really important for us to give back to the beautiful area that had given us such a beautiful week, and there’s just something about working with your hands that makes you feel both relaxed and exhausted.
  4. Time to Plan for the Future. How long will we live this military life? Are our kids happy with the choices we’ve made? What are our plans for the future? These are the type of questions that aren’t always easy to talk about when you’re rushing from school to one activity and then another. Our week together gave us time to discuss our future in the military with our children.
  5. A Renewed Sense of Pride. Being around other families like ours was like looking into a mirror for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, I felt extremely proud that we had made it through another deployment as a family. And you know what else? WOW! My kids are amazing! A documentary crew working on a PBS special airing this Memorial Day took an interest in my family, and I am thrilled and proud to share our military story with America.

We feel extremely blessed to have attended an Operation Purple Family Retreat and wish all military families could have that same experience. Military life isn’t easy—thank you Operation Purple for lifting some of the load.

Are you looking for a way to reconnect your military family? Check out our website and apply for an Operation Purple Family Retreat!

Posted by Sarah Noble, military spouse

Win a FREE Photo Session for Your Military Family!

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In honor of Military Family Appreciation Month, we’ve teamed up with 25 amazing military spouse photographers to bring you the contest to beat all others! You’re not going to want to miss out on this opportunity!

We’ve got photographers in all corners of the world, ready to offer you a free photo session for your military family! Yes – we’re talking to you, in Germany, and you, in Japan! And entering is as easy as a few clicks. If you’re near any of these locations or installations, we want you to enter!

All of these amazing photographers are military spouses donating their time for this awesome contest. Stop by their websites and like their Facebook pages to check out their work!

Colorado Springs, CO:  Reflections by Rosie Photography
Fredericksburg, VA:  Jessica Green Photography
Washington, D.C.:  Tiny Sparrow Photography
El Paso, TX:  Julie Rivera Photography
Montclair, VA:  Judith Lovett, Photographer
Des Moines, IA:  Britney Brown Design Photography
Newport, RI:  Ellie Lynn Photography
Jacksonville, FL:  Amy Hensley Photography
Pensacola, FL:  DJENNphoto
Sangdahlem AFB, Germany:  Little Bit of Life Photography
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA:  Simply Immaculate Photography
Naples, Italy:  Athena Plichta Photography
San Diego, CA:  Ashley Langtry Photography
Taunusstein, Germany:  Little B Memories
NAF Atsugi, Japan:  Lina Elyse Photography
Ft. Leavenworth, KS:  Patton Portraits
Charleston, SC:  Haley Hickman Photography
Ft. Hood, TX:  April Kroenke Photography
Huntsville, AL:  Vanderport Designs
Monterey, CA:  Momma Mea Photography
Oahu, HI:  Tabitha Ann Photography
Maine: Neola Photography
Ft. Rucker, AL:  Emily Grace // Photography
Ft. Drum, NY:  Wunderkind Photography
RAF Lakenheath, UK:  Danielle McCown Photography
Ft. Polk, LA:  Chaque Bonne Memoire Photography

Are you ready to win? ENTER HERE!

Entries are being accepted until midnight on May 31, 2015. Winners will be selected June 1, 2015.

Have trouble viewing the entry form? Visit our Facebook page and click the “Enter to Win!” tab.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Survive and Thrive: Fort Campbell, KY!

The-Author-and-Hubby-in-Historic-FranklinPeople always say “You don’t know you what you have until it’s gone.” That’s definitely the case with my experience at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It wasn’t my first choice of a place to live (it took me months to find a job in my profession) and our current duty station, in Washington, DC, was certainly more exciting. But in retrospect, I miss a lot of things both about Fort Campbell, and the surrounding communities, Clarksville, Tennessee, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and of course, Nashville, Tennessee. So with six years of ‘country-livin’’ experience under my belt, here are my recommendations for how to eat, drink, and be merry at Fort Campbell!

Eat!
I’m a serious foodie, always looking for the next food fix. Have friends and family visiting? Take them to the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery in Clarksville’s adorable downtown. Try the beer cheese dip appetizer and any of the pizzas with the garlic crust. Another downtown delight is Edward’s Steakhouse (good for Valentine’s Day dinner out—try the filet mignon).

Clarksville has a surprisingly good assortment of small, non-chain restaurants with food good enough to make me crave them all the way from our current duty station in DC, like the 101st Roll at Kohana, the Kalamata Olive Load at Silke’s Old World Breads, the refreshing fruit water, coconut pecan chicken, and tasty dessert selection at The Looking Glass, and a mouth-watering spinach cheese curry at Tandoor Indian Bistro.

Try the low country shrimp and grits and smoked Gouda mac-and-cheese at Harper House in Hopkinsville. A little further up I-24 is Patty’s 1880’s Settlement, which is the home of the world’s yummiest pork chops, serious Southern pies, and adorable bread with strawberry butter served in flowerpots. There are tons of great places to eat in Nashville, but the absolute must-tries are the Loveless Café, with their biscuits with homemade preserves that are worth the trip, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, an Ohio based chain, perfect for any ice cream connoisseur. I could go on, but I’m making myself too hungry.

Drink!
If you wonder what people do for fun out in the country, I’ll give you a hint: it involves music and drinking. There are usually two main events happening in the Fort Campbell vicinity on a Saturday night: Jazz on the Lawn, at Beachaven Winery in Clarksville—where I love the sweet Cumberland White, and Pickin’ on the Porch, at MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, KY (whisky and moonshine galore).

Other worthy watering holes are the Blackhorse Pub and Cloud 9 in historic Clarksville, which is perfect for ladies night out. And of course, don’t forget to visit Nashville’s famous Broadway Street for endless opportunities to enjoy a cold one while you savor the songs of the South.

Be Merry!
For a true country music experience, even if you’re not a huge country-music fan, visit the Bluebird Café in Nashville, a tiny club featuring performances by iconic and newcomer songwriters. Don’t miss Cheekwood Garden and Art Museum and the adorable historic town of Franklin, TN for more good restaurants and great shopping.

Clarksville-Farmers-MarketFor shopping closer to home, visit Miss Lucille’s Marketplace in Clarksville, to check out antiques and knick-knacks. Take in a performance at the historic Roxy Theater, or take a spin on Clarksville’s Greenway, a Rails-to-Trails multi-modal path. During the summer, don’t miss the fried fruit pies and farm fresh produce at Clarksville’s Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. Another fun weekend trip is an excursion to the nearby Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area, a great spot for camping or boating (just bring bug spray, for the love of Pete!). And there’s a great sports scene, too: one of our favorite pastimes was watching the hometown Nashville Predators hockey team play, which usually offers discounted, and sometimes free, tickets for military.

Even Fort Campbell proper offers a great sense of community, with a fantastic DFMWR program which offers the Eagle Challenge Fitness Tour–a series of 5Ks, 10Ks and fun runs. There are great outdoor recreation and aquatics programs, and a new walking trail in and around the Clarksville Base Area of post. Fort Campbell also has a killer community yard sale in the spring and fall. My husband insisted I also give a shout-out to the Dawg Haus hotdog restaurant, near Campbell Army Airfield, which offers a series of gourmet hotdogs in a casual environment.

If you’re headed to Fort Campbell for your next duty station, don’t worry, you’re in for a treat! Get ready to eat, drink and be merry!

Have you ever been stationed at Fort Campbell? Tell us what you’d add to the list!

Laura-Yates-headshotPosted by Laura Yates, Army spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

6 Things I Learned Being a Geo-Bachelor Military Family

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I live 1,200 miles away from my husband, Kevin.

Some may call us a geo-bachelor family, but I like to think of us as ‘closer than a deployment, farther away than a couch snuggle.’ Our adventure in this lifestyle began in July 2014, when orders landed him in beautiful sunny California. Career timing was just not right for me to move along with him, and our daughter was starting middle school, so our family decided it was best for Kevin to go alone.

The decision for families to separate by distance, not by love, is one I’ve found many families make, often when the military members gets up in rank, or years. It’s harder for the kids to keep moving schools, or for the spouse to take another hit to their career when the husband only has a few years left. With so many of us encountering this situation, there is so much we don’t realize until we are entrenched.

Here are a few realities I’ve learned in the 10 long months we’ve been apart:

My husband is not a bachelor.
Sure, he’s living in a house with a roommate, but this is not a frat house. Girls are not hanging all over him, there are no keggers, and pizza is not a food group. Ok, pizza might be a food group. Otherwise, he leads a pretty boring life. When I call, chances are he’s playing board games with said roommate, napping, or watching TV. He still is married and devoted to me.

I can’t always be there, and neither can he.
I recently got a text message from my husband. “Honey, I love you. It’s been great knowing you, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you.” My heart sank. Sent just before he went into surgery, this would be the last message I’d receive if he never woke up. I was in the middle of a phone call with a client, and tears began to stream down my face. I couldn’t be there for him at a time when I really should have been.

He can’t be there for us, either. Kevin gets phone calls when we are on our way to the ER with a possible broken foot (again), and I’m sure he wishes he could be sitting with us, waiting for the x-rays, instead of stuck in his room 1,200 miles away. Other, less severe moments happen without him, too; he’s missed first school dances, first crushes, and first crushed hearts.

Communication is hard. Like really, really hard.
Communication is hard when you don’t have body language to back up what you’re saying. Arguments break out over internet connection problems. Relying on cell phones and Skype to have an emotional relationship is also trying, but we’re working through it. Slamming an “off” button on a cell phone is a lot less satisfying than a door, though it’s a lot more childish. We’re working through all of this and realizing that it’s just hard for both of us when we can’t reach out and hold each other’s hand.

When he visits, it’s not the same.
Kevin has his house, and I have mine. Except my house used to be where he lived, too. This makes visits seem a little awkward. Something might be out of place, or moved, or new, and all this ‘change’ makes things stressful on both of us. It isn’t how he left it, and that change reminds him of the distance between us. The reality is we each have a house that is our own to keep how we like it, and we shouldn’t judge the other person for living their lives without the other. But deep down inside, my house is his “home.” I have to learn to be sensitive to that fact.

I have it easier.
I stayed, surrounded by family and friends, in the comfort of our family home. My husband packed up 1 room, and moved 1200 miles away, knowing not a single soul. He’s met a few people, but I have it easier than he does. At the end of a long day, I have someone to come home to, who can listen to my day, give me a hug, and tell me it’s going to be okay. My husband has a roommate. Hugging would make things uncomfortable between the two of them, I think.

We are closer than we have ever been.
Despite the distance and separation, we are closer and more in love than we ever have been. Call it necessity, call it survival, or call it love; being a geo-bachelor family is trying. So are deployments, and TDYs, and frankly everyday life. We knew making this big decision could, quite possibly, push us apart, but it was not a death sentence on our marriage. Instead, we have grown closer. We now set aside time in our busy lives for each other. We are even more dedicated to each other than we ever have been in our past 12 years of marriage.

It was a difficult decision to divide our family, and choose to stay put, for the sake of our daughter’s education, and my career. Many people questioned our decision saying things like, “Why wouldn’t a wife want to be with her husband?” but we looked at the long-term path in our marriage and knew we had some serious relationship Super Glue that was going to hold us together. And we have held together, better than expected (not perfect, but better).

In case you were wondering, Kevin came out of surgery just fine and told me that message was supposed to be a joke. We’re still working on our communication through text message skills. Ugh.

Have you ever been a geo-bachelor family? What tips do you have?

kim-robertsonPosted by Kimberly Robertson, military spouse and blogger at 1200 Miles Away