A Different Kind of Halloween: How Transition Changed Things

halloween-katieGhosts. Goblins. Princesses. A young Marine. Families dressed as the Jake and the Never Land Pirate characters. These are my 10 years of Halloween memories.

I love celebrating Halloween on a military base. I love the deep sense of community. I love the designated trick or treat hours in military housing. I love the fire pits and pot lucks and general good will in the community.
I felt safe and secure taking our young son to trick or treat on a military base.

But, this year will be different.

This is the first year we are a Veteran family. My husband is no longer active duty and he is not retired. He was medically separated after going through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), along with a medical board. The entire process took about 12 months. IDES was complicated to navigate on its own, but add in my husband’s various medical appointments to the mix, and I’d say our transition out of the military was complex. We encountered many highs and lows during the entire process; it would have been awesome to have more resources or peer support to help me, as a spouse, help my husband and our family navigate through our transition.

With 1.5 million service members leaving the military in the next 5 years, transition from military to civilian life is, or will become, a reality for many military families.

halloween-katie-2And transition is hard–both emotionally and physically draining.
In fact, our Association hosted a Transition Roundtable event to talk about the needs of families during the transition process. We fielded a survey asking military families who have transitioned, or who anticipate transition, to share their top concerns.

Three out of four are stressed, or very stressed, about transition. They identified their top concerns as: being financial prepared, finding employment for the service member, accessing post-military health care, finding behavioral and emotional support, and understanding Veteran Affairs’ benefits and the claims process.

Our roundtable was the beginning of a conversation about transition. We’ll cover your top concerns, identify gaps, and develop resources to help YOU and YOUR FAMILY successfully transition from military to civilian life.

This year you won’t find our Jake, Izzy, or Cubby on your military base, but instead you’ll find a family of Super Heroes creating new memories in our hometown bravely navigating our transition from military to civilian life.

Has your family transitioned out of the military? Is transition around the corner? What are your top concerns?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Behind the Scenes at Military OneSource

call-center-manI pulled into the parking garage of a nondescript Northern Virginia office building, feeling a bit frazzled and hoping I’d found the right place. I’d braved D.C. traffic on a blustery October morning to attend a tour of the call center operated by Military OneSource. To be honest, I only reluctantly agreed to attend the tour. As a (ahem) well-seasoned military spouse, I like to think I am familiar with resources available to support military families. I’ve checked out the Military OneSource website many times and recommended it to other military families. What could I possibly learn on a call center tour that I didn’t already know?

As it turns out, a lot.

Military OneSource was launched in 2009 as a one-stop shop for military families looking for information and support. The heart of the program is its three call centers, which operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Service members (active duty, National Guard and Reserve) and their families can call any time and speak to a specially trained “triage consultant,” who is there to answer any question or help solve any problem military life can throw at you. Feeling stressed because tax time is looming and you have pay stubs from three different states? Military OneSource can connect you with a tax preparer to walk you through the paperwork. Trying to make healthy choices and get back in shape? Military OneSource has health and wellness coaches who can work with you—online or over the phone—on fitness, nutrition, and stress management.

For service members and families struggling to cope with the pressures of military life, Military OneSource can offer referrals for up to 12 sessions (per person, per issue) of non-medical counseling – in person, online, or over the phone.

Although all calls are confidential, I was able to listen to a previously recorded call with the identifying information removed. A young military spouse had called OneSource because she was experiencing stress and anxiety following a traffic accident. Within minutes, the counselor had found a local behavioral health provider who could meet with the caller that very day. The counselor also made sure to ask about other issues the spouse might be dealing with. Did she have access to a car? Had she been in touch with her service member? The call ended with a promise from the counselor to follow up within 90 days – and with a military spouse knowing that someone cared about her situation and was there to help.

As I wandered through the call center, more surprises awaited me. Did you know that Military OneSource offers document translation services? I didn’t, but they do. If a military family needs a legal document like a lease, birth certificate or marriage license translated into English, Military OneSource can take care of it.

I learned that Military OneSource offers specialty consultations to help families who are considering adoption, caring for an elderly family member, or need information about services for children with special needs. Military spouses looking for advice on going back to school or pursuing new careers can call Military OneSource to talk to a career counselor. Military OneSource also hosts regular webinars on topics covering virtually every aspect of military life, from TRICARE to money management to the ins and outs of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). Like all of Military OneSource’s services, these webinars and consultations are available to families free of charge.

I left the tour feeling a little less smug than when I came in – but a lot more reassured about the support that’s available to military families. Military life can be challenging. None of us can or should be expected to get through it alone. Military OneSource and its dedicated team of counselors can help navigate some of the bumps we all run into along the way. Check out their website or give them a call at 1-800-342-9647 and find out what Military OneSource can do for you.

Did you know about the assistance available through Military OneSource? Have you called them or visited their website? Share your experiences below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Survive and Thrive: Fort Huachuca!

Base Expeditionary Targeting and Surveillance System - CombinedIt wasn’t rushed. It wasn’t unexpected. But it was big PCS move across the country to what Will Smith would call “The Wild, Wild West.” Okay, so it’s not exactly the wild West, it’s the Southwest…the very far South, Southwest.

Say hello to Sierra Vista, Arizona!

Home to Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista is located just a handful of miles north of the border of Mexico. It’s the perfect place to camp, explore, and enjoy the outdoors. The weather is insane; it’s wonderful, it’s warm (but not Phoenix warm), and the sunrises and sunsets are a sight to see. Sierra Vista has a great community feel to it, and the people are extremely friendly. The Spouse Club on post is active, inexpensive, and a great way to get involved. If you get out and about and make the most of your time here, you will be able to not only survive the Southwest, but you will thrive! Need help getting started in Sierra Vista? Add these to your to-do list:

Hike & Camp!
Fort Huachuca is situated among multiple mountain ranges—the nearby town, Sierra Vista, means “Mountain View.” Being a Colorado native, I’d say these don’t compare to the Rockies, but they are beautiful and have great vistas! Not to mention, they are quite the workout. The elevation in town is nearly a mile high! A few hikes to get you started are Carr Peak, Miller Peak, Montezuma’s Pass (includes a cave), and Garden Canyon. If camping is more your style, I would recommend Patagonia Lake or Parker Canyon Lake. They both have campsites, and as the names suggest…lakes. You can rent a pontoon boat at Patagonia and float on over to the edge of the lake where a set of rock formations lure cliff jumpers.

Explore the Post!
The post has two museums that are perfect for exploring! The Fort Huachuca Museum boasts the history of the installation, including its ties to the Buffalo Soldiers, who lived on the fort in the early 1900s. The second museum is the US Army Intelligence Museum. Fort Huachuca was actually declared a national historical landmark in 1976, and you can still see and visit old buildings. Also on post, a horse stable! The Buffalo Coral Riding Stable is open Thursday through Sunday and offers trail rides, private rides, lessons and horse leasing. Yeehaw!

Visit Bisbee!
Only a 25-minute drive from Sierra Vista, Bisbee is definitely worth your time and gas money! Bisbee was founded in the late 1800s around the Copper Queen Mine. Today, you can tour the Queen Mine, view the Lavender Pit, and check out the Bisbee Museum. Or if you’d rather, simply stroll the streets of this historic town and pop in and out of art galleries, antique shops and coffee shops. And don’t miss Peddler’s Alley if you’re an espresso fan! In the fall, Bisbee hosts the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb, a unique version of a 5k complete with a beer festival later that afternoon.

Adventures in Tucson!
Tucson is a quick hour and half drive north of Sierra Vista. Worth it? Yes! It is home to the Pima Air and Space Museum, where you can walk through an airplane graveyard. While you’re there, visit the Titan Missile Musuem, which is a neat experience for kids and adults. This is where the U.S. used to house a nuclear warhead during the Cold War era… and yes, you can even go down into the silo where it was once held! Tucson is also a great stop for shopping, and a great escape if “Small Town USA” is feeling a little too small. The JW Marriott Starr Pass has incredible military discounts, and the cherry on top—a lazy river! Order a prickly pear margarita and your weekend is made.

The Town too Tough to Die: Tombstone!
If Fort Huachuca doesn’t make you feel like you’re already in the Wild West, take a quick 20-minute drive to Tombstone, AZ. This is the historical town famous for the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Actors and actresses dress up as vigilantes from back-in-the-day, and reenact shootouts in the dusty streets of Tombstone on a daily basis. Not something I’d recommend doing frequently, but it’s a cheesy, fun place to take visitors!

You may not fill up every weekend on your calendar with to-do’s while you are in Sierra Vista, but if you put in the effort to get involved and get out and explore, I promise it’ll be worth your while!

Have you been stationed at Fort Huachuca? What would you add to the list?

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Program Specialist, Spouse + Professional Support

What to Expect When Your Move is Unexpected?

box-head-movingAs military spouses, we know to expect the unexpected. Yet, somehow the unexpected often catches me by surprise. Early one morning this past June, I was sipping my coffee and browsing the Internet for exotic European vacation deals. We were beginning the third and final year of our tour in Vicenza, Italy and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

My husband walked into the room holding his Blackberry saying, “We need to talk.” My stomach turned a bit. I knew something was up, but what would it be this time? “I’ve been offered a job in Georgia and I will need to report as soon as possible.” I can’t remember now if I ever answered, or if a flurry of questions about the kids, school, camps, scheduled trips, commitments and so much more simply filled my head.

There are many PCS resources available for military families, but I couldn’t find the one that told us how to successfully complete an overseas PCS within 3 weeks.

Week 1, we scheduled movers, scheduled our flights, spoke with the schools and frantically began researching the city that would be our new home. This move was really happening.

Week 2, purging and organizing was the name of the game. Every closet and room was accosted by every family member – talk about some special bonding time. Week 3 came quickly, the movers arrived and we moved into the hotel on post. Two years had gone by faster than I had realized. Goodbyes are hard, but I found that the unexpected goodbyes were even harder.

Days later, we headed to the airport in the early morning hours. After flight cancellations, delays, and a myriad of other travel issues, we touched down in Atlanta, GA. We had arranged to stay the night with some friends. One night quickly turned into 6 weeks. That’s right… my husband and I, our three children, and our 80-pound Bernese mountain dog moved in with our civilian friends for 6 weeks!

We bought and closed on a house in record time. We balanced work, illness, surgery, and the every-day adjustments due to moving back to the US after our European stay. We registered the kids for schools, sports, and activities in hopes of making some connections before the school year began. As many of you experienced this summer, our car shipment was delayed and our household goods came later than expected. Somehow, as military families often do, we got through it.

There were frustrations and tears mixed with adventures and memories that make me proud of how this lifestyle has molded our family. Each of our children has struggled in one way or another. I could actually write on and on about the pain of watching the kids struggle with what has been the most difficult move each has experienced.

The first quarter of school just ended and autumn has begun. Military kids are resilient and mine are adjusting and thriving and handling struggles as they come their way.

I still find it hard to believe that we completed an overseas PCS in 3 weeks, but we did. I have learned once again that military kids are strong, my husband is a patriot that is honored to fulfill his military duty, my friends are like family, and that home is where the Army sends us.

Kim-EdgerPosted by Kim Edger, Website Architect

Grateful for the Journey I’m On: Why I Stopped Complaining About Military Life

laying-in-the-grassWhen people ask me how I am, I try to respond with, “I can’t complain.” Because really, I can’t.

Complaining has become a mode of conversation; a way of commiserating with, and relating to each other, especially in the military lifestyle. We complain about the rain, the heat, the slow lady at the commissary, our duty station, or the line at the gate while the guards check IDs. Even drill weekend makes the list. I am guilty of complaining, too. Did I mention I walk 18 blocks to get to work every day?

We all have those “pity parties” sometimes, but lately I’ve been trying to catch myself and quit all my complaining. Before another complaint escapes my mouth, I try and remember my dear friend and ex- coworker, Trang.
I met Trang when we both started working for Conroe Independent School District in 2009. She is from Vietnam, and came to the United States when she was 5. Her story escaping from Vietnam is truly amazing. Have you ever read the book, Escape from Saigon? Well, Trang’s journey is something like that.

In 2011, we started working with the same group of students. Lucky for me, Trang is exceedingly bright and the very best Life Skills teacher I know. She has one of the most beautiful families I have ever met, and was a main reason why leaving Texas because of a PCS move was so hard. We worked together, ate together, camped together with our families, and ate beef jerky together.

Then came our military orders. In a blink of the eye, I was packed and ready to move to New York. I left her healthy, and with a full passion for life. She loves to hunt, camp, and fish. Her kids are involved in sports, and her husband is just amazing. A few months after my move, I received the devastating news—she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. No way! It hurt being far from someone who made my military life much easier. Right now, she is going thru chemotherapy. She is a fighter. It breaks my heart when she tells me she can’t be there with her children while they are practicing their sports. She has always been there for them.

Trang always has a smile on her face, despite circumstances, and reminds me to be mindful of what I say.

Whenever I am having a not-so-good day, I think of Trang. When my alarm goes off in the morning and I want to push snooze, I think of Trang and how she would happily trade places with me. She misses many camping trips with her family because her time off from chemotherapy is used to recover, only to prepare herself for the next round of treatment.

There is also a worker at the PX of our duty station that I can’t help but think of during “pity parties.” Each time I ask him how he’s doing, his response is always, “I’m alive!” We both joke about life in the military – he is a retired Veteran. Always with a bright smile on his face, he loves his job at the PX. I have learned so much from Ernest. And he is right, we are alive! And healthy! And with food on the table! And with a bed to sleep in!

We are living the life my friend Trang, and many others, are not living. So if you ask me how I’m doing in my military life today, I will respond, “I’m alive! I can’t complain.”

jennifer-cPosted by Jennifer Colon-Marin, Assistant Program Director for NIA Community Services, Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn New York

Got Some Free Time? Write for Us!

write-for-us-1

Our blog is quickly becoming a place for military spouses and family members to share their experiences, tips, tricks of the trade, and best of all: their influence. And now, we need you.

Contributing to our blog is a great way to broaden your network, and can even spice up your resume! So what do you say?

October is a great month to focus on family bonds, building strong relationships, and thriving as a military family. What do you think makes a strong family bond? We want to hear your story! How to do you thrive during long deployments, or geo-bachelor orders? Tell us!

Send us your blog posts and join our team of awesome contributors! We’re looking for blog posts between 200-400 words, easy to read, and all around awesome! And don’t forget about your photos – if you’ve got some pictures that go perfectly with your blog post, we want to see them!

Now, what are you waiting for? Get typing and send your blog post to us, here: Blog@MilitaryFamily.org!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Survive and Thrive: Twentynine Palms, CA!

Honey – we have orders . . . to Twentynine Palms, CA.

While the thought of being stationed in the California desert may feel like the middle of nowhere – there are several hidden gems in this desert oasis to keep you and your family busy.

Here are my top 9 tips for things to do around Twentynine Palms:

1. Joshua Tree National Park: One of the best national parks our country has to offer! Be sure to check out the Joshua Tree Ranger Programs that offers guided hikes, patio talks with rangers, and an evening program to introduce visitors to various aspects of the park. Pro tip: Check the weather report available on the parks website. Some days you’ll need to bring a jacket and other days, you’ll need sunscreen and plenty of water. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a camera. Bonus pro tip: Show your military ID and you’ll receive a National Parks and Federal Recreation Annual Lands Pass for FREE!

joshua-tree-national-forest

2. Earn your two year degree or take a class for fun at Copper Mountain College: In addition to two year Associates of Arts or Associates of Science degrees, CMC offers a variety of certificate, guest speakers, and community education classes. Pro tip: AS and AA degrees transfer from CMC to the California State University system and guarantee your admission with junior standing.

3. Music Festivals: So many music festivals! From the Joshua Tree Music Festival to the Spring Concert Series and Yucca Valley Summer Music Festival, if you’re in to music, you’ll find plenty of it here. Pro tip: Wear comfortable shoes, bring a folding chair, drinks, and snacks. Check out festival website’s for any specific details.

4. Theater 29: Check out the local theater productions! This fall/winter, Theater 29 will be featuring the comedies Shakespeare in Hollywood and Young Frankenstein. For curtain times, check out their website. And if you have the acting bug, check out their website for information on auditions. Pro tip: this is a casual community theater, no need to dress up and be all fancy, unless you want to.

5. Smiths Ranch Drive-In: One of the last remaining drive-in theaters in the US, the Smiths Ranch Drive-In is a ton of fun. It can be a great date night destination or fun for the whole family. And it’s $5.00 for two movies, you can’t beat that! They also offer all the normal movie food and snack options (soda, popcorn, candy). Pro tip: bring your own snacks or set up dinner at the drive in! Let the kids play and enjoy watching a movie under the stars.

6. Pioneer Days Celebration: October 16th-19th. Held annually the 3rd weekend in October this family-friendly event includes a parade, carnival rides, games, Lego design challenge. Pro tip: For the ultimate family bonding experience, consider entering some of the events, such as the Outhouse race.

pioneer-days-29-palms

7. HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours: Over 140 artists with 95 studio locations make this event a win for any art lover. Sponsored by the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, tour dates are October 25-26 and November 1-2 each year. Pro tip: Grab your friends, water, and road snacks because this tour takes you through the Morongo Basin on Highway 62.

8. Run for your life: So many great runs and walks to participate in! Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just want to participate in community fun runs and walks, there are plenty of opportunities to trail run, join a running group or support your community though a fun run. My favorites are the Tram Road Challenge 6K and the Think Pink Challenge at Felix Field hosted by the OSC of Twentynine Palms. Pro tip: New to the area? Take some time before you charge the trails and running courses. With the elevation changes, it usually takes the seasoned runner a few weeks to adjust. But you’ll be a ROCKSTAR runner at lower elevations.

9. Go down the hill: Otherwise known to locals as the “low desert” be sure to visit the Palm Springs area in the Coachella value for a host of seasonal events, dining, shopping and activities. From the annual Stagecoach country music festival to a trip to a local zoo there’s something for everyone here. Pro tip: Please sure to attend a local brief about desert survival tips. From extreme highs during the day to low temperatures at night – desert living is an adjustment.

Have you been stationed at Twentynine Palms? What are your must-not-miss events?

sue-lowePosted by Sue Lowe, NMFA Volunteer and Marine Corps Spouse