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
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

Is War From the Homefront Sabotaging Military Marriages? ‘Good Kill’ Says Yes.

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Last night, I attended the D.C. premiere of the new Ethan Hawke-January Jones movie, “Good Kill,” about Air Force pilot turned drone operator, Maj. Tom Egan. If you’re interested in drones, you’ll learn a lot from this movie—but what hit home for me was how this service member’s high-stress job impacted his relationship with his wife.

As a drone pilot, Maj. Egan often kills dozens of people, watches the aftermath on the computer screen, then drives home to his wife and kids. The film explores how the emotional stress and responsibility of being a drone pilot creates a wedge between his wife and him. Mostly, he shuts down. “It’s not about the security clearance, I just don’t want to rehash it.” But when he does confide in her he admits, “I feel like a coward every day.”

Their marriage heads south fast, due to his internal struggles, alcoholism, and anger management. In one scene, they talk about how things were so much better when he was actually flying planes over Afghanistan for months at a time. “It was scarier back then, but at least we made each other laugh.”

In the Q&A following the movie, I asked Ethan Hawke and Director Andrew Niccol why they chose to depict the relationship that way. Niccol said that’s what the drone pilots he interviewed experienced. As he explained, there’s no time to decompress; they can’t compartmentalize; their family doesn’t understand what they’re dealing with on a daily basis, or how – even though they’re technically “home”—they can’t be available in the same way other non-service members are.

There’s a scene in the movie when Maj. Eagan sends a last minute text saying he can’t pick up their kids from school.

“You promised,” his wife reminded him. “And I had an appointment today.”

“Was your appointment life or death?” he asked. “Because mine was.” He had been assigned—at the last minute—to keep a group of soldiers safe by watching them through a drone camera so they could get some sleep.

That part of the movie hit me like déjà vu. I was taken back to my first year of marriage. It was Valentine’s Day and we had plans. I’d made a candlelit dinner and a handmade book chronicling our first year together. There I was in Jacksonville, North Carolina waiting for my Marine to come home and celebrate. Hours later, sometime after 10pm he came home apologizing, but there was nothing he could say. I was hurt and enraged. He begged me to understand, saying a life-or-death situation kept him at work. One of his Marines had attempted suicide in the barracks and nearly succeeded, and he was dealing with the aftermath—the hospital, the NCIS agent, the rest of his Marines. Meanwhile, I was dealing with the fact that he didn’t call, text, or come home on Valentine’s Day.

The line between the battle front and the homefront is blurred, and military life is hard on families. Let’s remember to care for all of our military families, whether that service member is deployed or at home.

As “Good Kill” shows us, we don’t know what burdens they may be carrying.

Can you relate to this movie? How do you deal with the unexpected changes in military life? 

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

The Unsung Heroes: Military Families

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April 17th, 2015 was my five year anniversary, and of course, my husband was away serving our country, so my cat and I celebrated together. Friends and family alike congratulated us from near and far. The well-wishes got me thinking: what’s the meaning of ‘family?’

Webster’s Dictionary says family is “a group of people who are related to each other.”

I have one of the best “blood” families in the world. My parents are my biggest champions and supporters. From the day my husband and I got married, my parents have been there for us; giving us an amazing wedding, being my cheerleaders through a crazy 13-month Master’s program, while I worked AND commuted over 110 miles round trip each day. And they were there for me when I wanted told them I wanted to make my real estate dream come true. My parents are such wonderful sources of knowledge–I wouldn’t be here without them.

Sure, that’s the family that Webster’s talking about. But Webster ignored an essential component to the military world.

The unsung family: our military family.

Our military family LITERALLY picked me up off the floor. They gave us a couch to crash on when our last minute PCS orders across the country (and our house purchase) fell through. They are the ones who get us through the trying moments of military life–those moments where blood family couldn’t pick us up off the floor and help us, because being available and present virtually just wasn’t going to make a problem go away.

When we first moved to Texas I was lonely and overwhelmed. Even though I’d lived in Germany and China, and convinced my husband I could live anywhere, this duty station was my Achilles heel. I was miserable and defeated before we even got started.

Then an amazing wife “adopted” me. She provided dinner for me between my 6 hour break between work, and the classes I was taking to complete my Master’s degree, since home was 52 miles away at the time. She nourished and brought me through those early days by just being there for me. She offered her kitchen table to cry on when it was needed. Her family even watched me walk across the stage when I finally finished my Masters’s. One Thanksgiving, alone and unable to make it to see my family, she brought me into their holiday traditions; I went with them to the in-laws’ house and Christmas tree picking. I was a 6th family member–no questions asked. I was included and it meant something to me.

When our fourth PCS move came, we had a last minute, traumatizing move to California. I was happy in the town we were in at the time (Virginia Beach) and I didn’t want to leave. It was during this PCS where we arrived to a base with no accommodations, so we stayed in a hotel until we closed on our house…which, unfortunately, fell through. Between spending a small fortune out of pocket for a hotel room, buying an unexpected house, and me not working, my blood pressure, and mental well-being was off the charts.

Until a member of our Officer’s Spouses Club saw me at the first meeting I attended in our new town.

“Would you like to stay with us?” she asked.

I remember thinking, this is never going to happen because it’s too good to be true. It DID happen and she was my angel. She not only came through, but she put up with me through my roughest moments and helped us get back on our feet! She said the things I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear them. She was a friend when my husband couldn’t be there.

But even more memorable was the first deployment my husband and I went through; we lost someone in our squadron. In that moment, the meaning of true sacrifice came to fruition, and it was rough on us all. A dear friend was there for me through every rough moment. She checked in on my cat when I needed to leave (this was a big deal because she is allergic) and she made sure I was cared for.

These unsung heroes even saw my dream, filled my weak spots, and stood by me when I launched my blog, ReluctantLandlord.net.

These are just snippets of millions of stories woven throughout the military community—one with an amazing group of people I am blessed, and honored, to call family. We are there to celebrate and praise, and we are there to lift up and hold. We have car seats in cars/garages even when our kids are too old or too big, because we’re ready for a moment’s notice when another needs them. We become emergency contacts after only days of knowing each other, and no matter what, we are ready to step up.

These are the members of the unsung family. The family that steps in when the blood family just can’t be there. I am grateful and honored to be on this journey with you over the past 5 years. I can’t wait to see where the next year leads me. I only hope I can offer an ounce of the great leadership, friendship, and love I have seen and been honored to receive.

Posted by Elizabeth Colegrove, Navy spouse and blogger at ReluctantLandlord.net

This One’s For You, Military Spouse!

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May 8th is Military Spouse Appreciation Day—a day to recognize and thank the person who ties up all the loose ends in our lives that we don’t always have time to deal with ourselves. In my nine years of active duty service in the Navy, my wife has been with me for eight of them. I couldn’t have accomplished as much as I have without her. Our spouses deserve to have the spotlight on them, not just on Military Spouse Appreciation Day…but every day we put on our uniforms and lace our boots.

Being a military spouse is sometimes harder than most people think. Let me tell you just a few reasons why my wife is awesome:

She keeps me motivated. She’s always encouraging when I miss rank advancement by only a couple of points. And when I don’t score as high as I want in my college classes, she’s there to push me harder in the next class.

Her skills in the kitchen. I’ll just say this: award-winning chicken salad. Literally.

She’s involved in my Command. I love that she cares about other military families, and serves voluntarily as our Ombudsman. (And it’s nice to see her during the work day, when she is doing things for our command Sailors, Marines, and their families)

Her unending support. Whether I’m shining my boots, ironing a uniform, or studying for an upcoming exam or an awards Board, she’s always there to help…even if we just talk to pass the time.

If you’re a service member, take my advice: on your break today, call your spouse, say “Thanks for doing what you do!”

And to my wife: don’t worry about dinner tonight…Chick-Fil-A, Franzia, and I have it covered.

Have an awesome spouse? What do you appreciate most about them? Send them an eCard to show your love!

matt-s-headshotPosted by Matt S., Logistics Specialist, United States Navy