Protecting Your Military Family Online: It’s YOUR Duty

militarycybersecurityHow many times have you heard the phrase, “Loose lips sink ships?”

What about “The enemy is listening?”

If you’re a military family, you’ve heard them before. And you’ve probably seen the posters around your installation reminding you to practice good Operational Security (OPSEC). As much as we sometimes tire of hearing the reminders, our military would fail to thrive without it.

In a time where deployments, reunions, births, and even deaths are blasted across social media channels, the lines drawn between being supportive, and being dangerous become blurred. Are you keeping your family safe?

We hosted a panel of experts to talk about this. General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director and Cyber Security Expert, and Kevin Mandia, top Cybercrime Sleuth offered tips for military families to protect themselves online.

Protecting our Nation is the duty of our service members. Protecting your military family online should be yours.

Could you be doing more to protect your family? What other tips could you give other military families?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Storming the Hill Since 1969! #WayBackWednesday

It’s the 1990s, and our Association is making waves on Capitol Hill. During this decade, we released an innovative health care plan for military families, which included recommendations that were later incorporated into TRICARE.

Twenty years later, we are still on the forefront of TRICARE issues, including those controversial topics that your military family needs answers to. Not finding the answers you need? Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help!

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Deployment Monster: 5 Ways to be a Superhero for Your Kids

boy-on-dads-shoulders-with-kiteMilitary life is difficult. But if you can add parenting into the mix, you’re my hero. Not all military spouses were born to be mothers or fathers. Me? I’m somewhere in between. Even those of us who don’t have kids know it takes a special set of superhero skills to raise a resilient military kid. Any military spouse can learn some tricks of the trade!

Harder still, is the nasty deployment monster – seeming to lurk around every set of orders, ready to attack. Maybe you know when the deployments are coming? Sometimes it’s those little trips, trainings, and exercises leading up to the ‘big D’ that really stink.

So how do you superhero parents do it? I asked Meredith Moore, our Association’s Volunteer Services Coordinator for the National Capitol Region, what advice she could offer to help ease the stress and transition during a deployment. Meredith, a seasoned Navy spouse and mother of three, has five great tips parents need to know:

  1. Different ages respond differently to the separation. The young child who doesn’t understand time increments and travel distances needs concrete reassurance the deployed parent thinks about them and still exists somewhere else. School-age children, who listen to the news and adults talking, tend to fear for their parent’s safety (not just in war zone deployments). Preteens and teens will often take on the role of ‘spouse’ to the parent at home, and sometimes resent the deployed parent because the child has become the stand-in.
  2. Keep kids on the same schedule they were on before the deployment started. But be willing to break the routine in an instant if the child is having a hard day. If you always eat dinner at the table at 6:00, don’t stop just because the deployed parent isn’t there. Kids need to accept that deployment is a normal part of military life.
  3. Make sure you put your best attitude forward in front of the kids. Be honest with them when you are struggling but don’t put your burdens on them. Set the example of being resilient. They will follow your lead.
  4. Try not to use phrases like, “you’re the man of the house when your father is gone.” Can you imagine the amount of pressure that puts on a child? You and your spouse chose this lifestyle, the child did not.
  5. Join your command’s family group. Contact your Ombudsman, Family Readiness Group, or Key Spouse. Put the stigma away if you have heard bad things about it. They provide family programming and other great events during deployments. Chances are, you’ll meet someone you have something in common with, and the kids will benefit, too!

Though most parents don’t consider themselves a superhero, many feel even stronger as each deployment comes to an end. Now, can we figure out how to get time to speed up during the the ‘big D?’

What superhero skills did you use to get through a deployment with kids?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Don’t Give Up Your Gym Membership Just Yet!

spin-classIt was a typical stressful morning getting the kids out the door in time for school. In the back of my mind, I was already feeling anxious about our upcoming cross-country PCS and a new challenge of completing my last two graduate school classes in the middle of the road trip. I dropped my older kids off at school, and took my 2 year old with me to the gym. As I opened the door to the gym, I almost walked right into a giant dry erase board where someone had written, “You are only one workout away from a good mood.”

I knew in an hour, I would be just fine.

For years, I have been relying on exercise to combat stress and negative emotions. It’s kept me balanced and helped me work through the most challenging problems. Even if I walk into a workout full of negativity and stress, I will always come out feeling calm and clear-headed.

Part of me believed this calming effect that exercise brought was because it felt like I was regaining a sense of control that I felt I had lost as a military spouse. I also believed I was “toughening up” through physical stressors in order to handle the emotional stressors.

I read some research done on the effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and sensitivity to stress. Most of the current research in the field of mental health supports physical activity to boost one’s mood, fight depression and build tolerance to stress.

Unfortunately, as a personal trainer, I’ve heard many people say beginning an exercise program is a stressor. It’s tough to start something new, but if someone dives into an exercise program that is too intense, he or she will most likely experience an increase in stress. This can be why so many people walk away from gym memberships.

There are two easy ways to start your journey towards healthy, effective stress management through exercise:

  1. Change your perception of exercise. It doesn’t have to be an hour long, drag-yourself-off-the-floor workout. There are incredible calming, meditative workouts like Tai Chi or yoga. I believe if we all started at a comfortable level, we can quickly adapt and feel positive about increasing the difficulty.
  2. Set a few small fitness goals. As we accomplish each goal, we develop a sense of empowerment and confidence. It’s this empowerment that lets us handle new challenges thrown our way, whether it’s a fitness challenge or surprise orders. It is also the repeated exposure to the good, controllable stress of exercise that increases our resistance to the negative, uncontrolled stress of a military lifestyle.

Military spouses provide emotional stability in a family. We have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, so we can take care of our families in the best way possible. Every day I walk into that gym, or lace up my running shoes, with the goal of looking for a healthy way to combat the stress in my life. And every day I walk out in a good mood, ready to take on whatever life (and the military!) wants to throw my way.

What activities or forms of exercise help you deal with stress? Share it with us!

MelissaPosted by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

Join Our Association Today! #WayBackWednesday

We’ve come a long way since our early information tables, like this one in 1983, when we were still known as the National Military Wives Association! Whether we had handmade signs, or awesome goodies like our Volunteers today, our mission has never wavered: advocating for programs and benefits that strengthen and protect our Nation’s uniformed services families.

Have you considered becoming a member of our Association? With an annual fee less than what you’d spend on Starbucks in a week, you’ll not only directly help support military families with your donation, but you’ll also be eligible to join PenFed Credit Union, and receive updates on our advocacy efforts.

As our festive information table says, Help Make a Difference: JOIN TODAY!

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Orders? Check. Map? Check. Engagement Ring? WHAT!

moving-boxesWhile a permanent change of station (PCS) might not be the most glamorous aspect of military life, it does offer a unique opportunity to explore new parts of the world. Before we were married, my husband and I took advantage of a cross country PCS as a chance for an epic road trip.

We met just as he was re-deploying from a year tour in Afghanistan back to Fort Drum, so we spent the year traveling back and forth between where I was living in New York City and upstate New York, where he was stationed… all the while falling in love.

I knew it was only a matter of time until the Army would throw a curveball our way.

When orders came down for him to go to Korea, my heart sank. Because he was changing to a different military occupation specialty (MOS), he would need to first PCS from Fort Drum to Fort Huachuca for schooling before going to Korea.

We saw this pending PCS as an amazing opportunity to road trip across the country.

The quickest route from New York to Arizona was 2,381 miles with an authorized 7 days to travel (350 miles a day). We based our route on two important stops to visit family and picked interesting places in between. To keep on schedule, we used Google Maps to drop ‘pins’ at the 350-mile markers, making sure to drop pins at places we wanted to see. We also booked our hotel stays ahead of time. That saved us from having to depend on the area to find lodging, and gave us the opportunity to bank on hotel rewards points.

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On the way to Gulfport, Mississippi, we saw the sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. After three days in Gulfport visiting family, we were on the road again. Our next stop was Austin, Texas, my home city. It was a quick trip because we had big plans to drive to the Grand Canyon from there, but during our stop at Albuquerque, we ate some bad New Mexican food and spent an extra day recovering at our hotel room. We adapted quickly, and rerouted our path to go straight to Sierra Vista, Arizona. Without a willingness to adjust based on travel luck and circumstances, any PCS road trip would be incredibly stressful!

Seeing the scenery and landscape change from each region of the country was by far the best experience of our trip. I loved seeing the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and then driving through the swampy Gulf Coast. The dessert area of West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona were amazing to see, too.

At the very end of our road trip, in our hotel room in Sierra Vista, my boyfriend proposed to me!

Little did I know, during our visit to see family, he asked for their approval. My entire family knew his proposal was nearing, and were in on the secret! He planned to propose during our day at the Grand Canyon, but in typical Army fashion, he improvised!

We were married in a courthouse during his leave to Korea, and had a church wedding when he arrived back. Although life in the military can be unpredictable, it opens up new opportunities around every corner. It’s up to us to seize the moment!

Do you have a fun PCS story? Send it to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org to have it featured here on Branching Out!

rachel-marstenPosted by Rachel Tringali Marston, Army Spouse

Taking Risks: “You can’t learn how to fly, unless you fly.”

shadow-of-womanDr. Regina Dugan was the first female Director at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and is now Vice President of Engineering and leader of the Advanced Technology and Projects  group at Google.

In 2012, during a TED talk, Dr. Dugan asked, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

She said, “If you really ask yourself this question, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable. Because when you ask it, you begin to understand how the fear of failure constrains you, how it keeps us from attempting great things…The path to truly new, never-been-done-before things always has failure along the way…We cannot both fear failure and make amazing new things.”

This has been a guiding principle for me since I heard her talk.

What would I do if I knew I would not fail?

Here’s an example: what would I do to support military families if I knew I would not fail? I’m happy to report that the answer is – exactly what I’m doing now. I’m leading our Association in the development of a new communication tool using a mobile app, called MyMilitaryLife.

To be honest, the don’t-be-afraid-to-fail mentality is part of the National Military Family Association personality. As an Association, we’ve done truly new, never-been-done-things.

Our Association is a built on a foundation started by women in the ‘60’s. In the 80’s, we convinced Congress to pass a bill to benefit military families living in an area no one had constituents – overseas. More recently, our advocacy organization started a summer camp program, fondly known as Operation Purple Camps. We changed the way we think about military spouse education through our innovative scholarship program.

Looking back, we would have never been able to send nearly 50,000 military kids to camp if we were constrained by fear. We would have never been able to risk investing $2.5 million in military spouses to advance their education if we were afraid to try new things. And we would have never been able to harness the power of technology to make our military families’ lives easier if we didn’t attempt the next great thing.

Is it scary? You betcha.

Is it risky? Yep.

Did we have failures along the way? Sure. It is part of the learning process. Regina Dugan explained, “you can’t learn how to fly, unless you fly.”

But is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.

What would you do if you knew you would not fail?

michellePosted by Michelle Joyner, Mobile Initiatives Director