Therapy Dogs and Military Kids Make the World a Better Place!

“Be nice to everyone, even if they are different. If they are different, they may have special qualities that you may really like.” -Awesome MilKid, Operation Purple Camp 2015

Have you thought about this recently? Sometimes, the people who are different from you may actually be some of the most important people you meet or interact with in your life.

At our Operation Purple® Camp in North East, Maryland, that’s one of the messages shared by a young and kind military kid, as she stood up in front of the group and told us what she had learned so far at camp. This was on Military Day, where the kids had a special treat of active duty service members to talk to, military trucks to check out, and a field day just for them.

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Another special treat was the appearance of therapy dogs. I met four very special dogs who, with their owners, spend their time helping to make others feel a whole lot better.

The Team Leader for the HOPE, Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, who attended the North Bay Adventure Camp Military Day said one of the biggest benefits of bringing therapy dogs to a camp where kids have faced stress that many of us have never felt or understand, is it creates a ‘bridge’ for them. He said it helps them be able to talk out their feelings, just because of the excitement or distraction of playing with a loving therapy dog.

Military kids sometimes feel different from their peers–like no one understands. But being in a setting where they’re surrounded by other military kids, and exposed to the amazing feeling of being around a therapy dog – it’s just a match made in heaven!

Below are the four amazing dogs I met. These therapy dogs want to make a difference. If you, or someone you know, is in need, please reach out to HOPE, Pet Partners, or the American Humane Association.

PUCK
Puck is a 4-year-old English Springer Spaniel, who has been a therapy dog for two years. This is Puck’s first year being with the HOPE team, and his first time at an Operation Purple Camp. When Puck isn’t hanging out with awesome military kids, you can find him making his weekly rounds at the Caroll Hospital Center, or on-call at the State Attorney’s Office for kids who are being asked to testify in court and need someone to help them feel more calm.

puck

PEPPE
Peppe is a 9 ½-year-old Italian Grey Hound, who’s been a therapy dog for eight years, and has been with Pet Partners for two and a half years. This is Peppe’s third Operation Purple Camp! When Peppe isn’t making military kids smile, he is working as service animal for those who need to monitor their blood sugar levels. Pictured here, Peppe is hanging out with the kids while one military kid reads to him.

peppe

THE BEAR + EMMA (left to right)
The Bear and Emma have been therapy dogs for three years, and have been with HOPE for two years. This is their third year at Operation Purple Camp and love that some of the kids remember them when they return! The Bear and Emma are very busy dogs spending time at the NIH Medical Center, Yellow Ribbon events, with TAPS, and have even shared their love and care after tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting and Hurricane Sandy.

the bear and emma

You never know who you’ll meet in life, but I know these military kids met some new furry friends, who, despite being completely different from them, had some awesome qualities that made their lives a better place.

Do you have a pet that’s helped you through difficult times? Tell us about them!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

 

Will Our MilKids Find Their Place in This World?

As a military spouse I can tell you first-hand that military life is unpredictable. You are always wondering when the next shoe will drop. Will we move this year? Where? Are we going to be closer to all the family or farther away? Is the next deployment right around the corner?

When you have kids those questions become even more daunting. Because my husband and I signed up for this life, and although we were young when we started this journey, we were adults who had coping skills and the ability to adapt. This is not the case for our military kids. These little people are living this life because of who their parents are, not because of a choice they made themselves. And they have to learn on the fly – at a very young age – many of the things that it takes the rest of us a lifetime to learn. They have to learn to make friends quickly, but be strong enough to tell those friends goodbye when the time comes. They have to be able to pick up their entire life and move somewhere new and see how they fit into the new place, and make it their own. I worry about my kids every day and how their life as part of a military family will impact the person they become. Mostly, I worry that they will feel alone or out of place.

MilitaryKids Find Their Place

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of our Operation Purple Camps in NorthBay, Maryland. I was fortunate enough to witness something at camp that made me worry just a little bit less.  I arrived at NorthBay on the third day of camp. I was just in time to join a group of campers who were heading out on a hike. They were all about 10-13 years old with the exception of one 8 year old boy. As I walked behind the group I noticed that one of the boys seemed to be hanging back and wandering off a bit. I was constantly having to encourage him to stay up with the group. He didn’t speak much and didn’t seem to want to participate in the scavenger hunt or even really the hike itself. As soon as I had a chance, I asked the counselor about him. She told me his name was Treyvon and the 8 year old with the group was his little brother, who was with the older kids to make Treyvon more comfortable. Throughout the rest of the hike I was mostly with Treyvon. I spoke with him a little bit about what he liked about camp and what kind of stuff they had been doing. He was a very reserved kid, and often didn’t want to speak, but it was clear that the group activities made him uncomfortable. He didn’t like hiking and whenever we stopped with the group he would start to wander off. This continued throughout the morning with the other activities. Treyvon did not really want to participate. I left the group shortly before lunch time, but Treyvon was weighing heavily on my mind, I was really hoping he was finding his place in his camp activities.

The afternoon at camp was designated “Military Day.” Some soldiers from Aberdeen Proving Ground had come to the camp and brought vehicles for the kids to climb in, body armor to try on, and a rock wall to climb.

I was concluding my time at camp by taking some pictures of the kids enjoying Military Day. I tried to capture as many kids as I could and the fun they were having. As I was looking through some of the photos I had just taken of the rock wall I saw a boy who just leapt off the top – after climbing all the way up – and was laughing with complete joy. As I looked closer I realized that this boy was Treyvon. He had found his happy place at camp – at the top of the rock wall. In that moment I realized that my own military kids are going to be ok, there may be times when they hold back. Times when they feel like wandering off or not participating, but they will find their place. And it may just be at the top of the rock wall at an Operation Purple Camp.

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Executive Administrative Assistant

Change the Lives of Military Families by Volunteering with NMFA

When I moved to the Washington, DC area, I met up with an old friend of mine from Guam, whose husband was also stationed at the Pentagon. It had been years since I had seen her, but we re-connected quickly as she shared tips, tricks and advice on living in Alexandria.

After I had settled in, she suggested I join her in volunteering with an organization nearby that helped military families. She was a regular volunteer who worked in the office when her kids were in school. So I applied to volunteer at NMFA, went in for an interview, and was taken on as a volunteer.

Facebook Volunteer Banner 2015

While I waited for the school year to start (I don’t have kids, but was about to start grad school), I came in and answered the front desk phone at the Association when some employees were out on vacation. I scanned archived copies of the Association’s newsletters so they would be digitized. I packed boxes of supplies being sent out to Operation Purple Camp. I stuffed envelopes. I organized digital photos taken at the camps. I wrote for the newsletter. I staffed the information table at various events around town. I did whatever I could to help out.

But there is one task I volunteered for that stands out as having a really profound effect on me. Last year, I helped read, sort and rate entries for a spouse scholarship. It was the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s Military Spouse Fellowship, which provides recipients with the education and training needed to earn the Accredited Financial Counselor designation. There was a large applicant field, and I was one of several judges who read a total of nearly 7,000 entries. For my part, I read maybe 200 – 300 applications, which included long and short essay questions.

volunteer-with-nmfaIn reading those essays, I learned so much about a wide range of spouses in the military community — their struggles and triumphs, as well as the hardships and benefits of being part of this nation’s military. Those personal essays gave me a glimpse of what is going on in the hearts and minds of our military spouses.

I learned that no matter how diverse the military spouse population is, there are some threads that bind. Everyone was proud to be doing his or her part in service to our country; patriotism ran high! Also, every one of those applicants was looking to better themselves to help their families, and saw education as the key.

I was grateful for the opportunity to tap the pulse of our nation’s military spouses. It has strengthened my resolve to work with military families in whatever capacity I can. I encourage you to think about volunteering with NMFA, or volunteering within your military community. Whether you’re answering phones, stuffing envelopes, or advocating for other military families, your time makes a difference!

Do you have questions about volunteering with NMFA? Leave us a comment, or email VSRAdmin@MilitaryFamily.org!

Posted by Lalaine Estella, National Military Family Association Volunteer

What is STEM and Why Should Military Spouses Know About It?

I’m probably far from what one might imagine a military spouse to be. Despite being born a U.S. citizen, I was raised in Canada and ended up serving in the Canadian Army years after my parents divorced and re-settled on either side of the border. Having often served alongside U.S. military forces, when I eventually made my permanent home in the U.S. and was able to transition leadership experience and education to a promising career with the Department of Defense as a contractor.

stem-for-military-spouses

I thought I was rather well-equipped to handle the ups and downs of military life until I married a fire fighter in 2013, who also happened to be a member of the Army National Guard, and whose unit was a one-way 5-hour drive from our home in another state.

Within weeks of our wedding, we received news that my husband would be deploying, and in just two months, he was off to occupational and work-up training in two other states. This subsequently meant he was away most of the period leading up to the actual deployment. Despite an amazing husband and my two decades of working in a military environment, I would be the one to have to adapt to her partner’s erratic schedule, instead of the other way around. Having left the Washington, D.C. area to settle in my husband’s hometown, where no one knew my name, I knew there would be some challenges.

Nothing helped me navigate those challenges more than my other loves: science and entrepreneurship. I began writing and publishing articles online about the relationship between science, technology, and society while developing the concept for my business, when I received news that I was accepted into the Biomedical Engineering PhD program at a research university near our home.

stem-field-military-spousesHaving already graduated from programs in the social and military sciences, I was fortunate to have been able to complete a flexible Master of Science degree in Biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University while still working full-time and traveling back-and-forth to see my then-fiancé. Even as a budding scientist, I discovered I could serve as a bridge between scientists, engineers, policy makers, and operators.

While a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) may not be for everyone, it offers many benefits that serve to meet the unique demands of any military household.

First, from a pragmatic perspective, a STEM foundation offers highly portable job and career opportunities. The foundational knowledge and experience one acquires in any of these areas can be applied across many different economic sectors, from health care to industrial design and mechanics to teaching, regardless of where you live. Practically speaking, it teaches you how to approach problem-solving, and can even enable you to perform basic household repairs – for instance, minor electrical or mechanical problems – rather than take on the expense of hiring a professional.

Most importantly, STEM offers military spouses the potential for independence and personal satisfaction. The skills one acquires in STEM are always in demand, putting the military spouse in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers. These key services and skills allow military spouses to develop flexible careers with schedules that suit his or her needs.

For me, since making the decision to undertake full-time STEM research (like my colleague, whose husband is in the Navy), I get up every day excited to get to the lab. Knowing I have the chance to directly tackle a global biomedical challenge from start to finish, and to work with such an intelligent and diverse group of people, is hugely rewarding. Now that my husband is an Army Flight Medic, along with the EMT knowledge and experience he has as a Rescue Technician, we have even more to keep us connected during the times we are apart, and that’s the icing on the cake.

Have you ever considered a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Share your story with us!

Posted by Hollie Ryan, M.S., M.A., military spouse and NMFA scholarship recipient

I am More Than a Spouse…So are YOU!

I have a confession to make. The #MoreThanASpouse campaign is about me. Well, not just me. It’s about me, and my co-worker, and my best friend, and my next-door neighbor. It’s about all of us.

square-more-than-a-spouse-blog

I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years. I am so proud of my husband and am honored to support him in his career. I am happy to follow him from one duty station to the next, because there isn’t any place I would rather be than with him. I am happy to support him as he studies for promotions, and volunteers his time, and leaves for TDYs and deployments. I am so proud of him.

His career is not mine though. It’s wonderful, and it’s something to be proud of, but it’s not me.

When we move to a new area, the most common first question I’m asked is, “What does your husband do?”

It’s rarely, “What do you do?”

Or even, “Tell me about yourself.”

It’s never really bothered me; it’s the nature of the beast. Military life means you move when they tell you, where they tell you. It means the mission comes first, and sometimes, that means there’s no one for you to rely on but yourself. It means leaving jobs, and being on call 100% of the time. It means doing what you must do rather than what you want to do.

The service member serves. The service member sacrifices. The service member follows orders. Sometimes it feels like the family only follows. But families serve, too; by keeping things quiet and stable at home, allowing the service member to do their job and focus on their mission. So many of us set aside our hopes and dreams to focus on the work at hand.

As we get older, and as the kids grow, I am realizing there is much more to me than just my role as a spouse.

I am so much more than a spouse.

There are things I want to do with my life: I want to be a leader. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world for the better. Yes, I want to support my spouse, but I want to do more. I can be more. These desires are not mutually exclusive.

pinterest-more-than-a-spouseFor the More Than a Spouse project, we sought out military spouses and asked them to tell their story. In recent years, there has been a lot of ugliness directed at military spouses. We’ve been called names, we’ve been reduced to stereotypes. Employers reject us. Communities fail to see our worth. We’ve been told, “You do nothing. You are not special. You do not serve.” (Yes, that was an actual comment we received this week on our Facebook page)

This project was not intended to claim we serve in the same way our spouses do. We know that’s not true. Our lives are deeply impacted by our spouse’s military service, but that isn’t what this video is about.

This project is intended to encourage military spouses to take a closer look at themselves. Forget what the world says. Forget what the “haters” say. What matters most is what you think, and what you want to make of yourself. What matters most is who you are, and who you want to be.

Recently, I sat down with some of the military spouses I admire most. These spouses are leaders in their communities, and wonderful mothers and fathers. They are supportive. They are doing amazing things at work, at home, and in their communities. I asked them two simple questions:

“What is special about you? What are you proud of?”

I handed them a marker and a piece of paper. They laughed nervously, shifted their weight in their seats, and sighed. They stared back at me, shaking their heads, and it broke my heart.

“I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what makes me special”

But we do. We see you.

We see you at home. We see you comforting children who just want to talk to Daddy while he’s in the field. We see you when you have the flu, but you’re up anyways, caring for your sick children because there’s no one to call for backup. We see you delivering babies alone while your husband is serving 3000 miles away. We see you attending parent-teacher conferences alone while your wife is downrange.

We see you in the community, volunteering with the booster club, or the FRG, or in the thrift store on base. We see you attending college, writing papers long into the night. We see you bringing meals to other spouses, being there when someone needs support, and helping wash the uniform just one more time as your spouse packs their go-bag.

We see the pride on your face when your spouse is promoted, and the hurt in your eyes when they hug you goodbye. We see your strength and your heartache.
We see your potential. We know you have hopes and dreams. We know it will be hard.

But we know you can do it. You’ve shown us that again and again. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are capable. You are valuable. You are important.

What makes you special? What do you want to be?

Share your “I am” pictures with us on social media using the hashtag #MoreThanASpouse, or email us at social@militaryfamily.org.

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill as a Military Spouse

Let’s be honest: the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a huge educational benefit for a service member. With that, comes the option for a service member to transfer all or some of the benefit to a spouse or child(ren). My husband decided to share his Post-9/11 GI bill benefit with me, and I am forever grateful.

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How does it work?
An eligible service member (someone who has served the required number of years–generally 6–and agrees to serve for 4 more years) may apply to his or her service branch to transfer the benefit to a spouse. The request to “Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB)” must be completed while the service member is on active duty. A veteran or retiree cannot transfer an unused Post-9/11 GI benefit. Sorry, no exceptions to this rule. The TEB is a placeholder, if you will, and can be done in advance of the recipient attending school.

First, find your favorite college-football team, I mean school!

Next, select your school of choice with the education program of your choosing. You must work directly with the school admission’s office to apply and be accepted into the program. After you have been accepted, you’ll want to find the school’s Veteran Certifying Official or Veterans Certification Office. Program names may differ but essentially you’ll need to find the office or person who can answer your questions about how your school processes the Post-9/11 GI bill benefit.

Ready to use the benefit?
When you are ready to use the Post-9/11 GI bill to pay for school, you’ll need to send the completed TEB form to the VA. This can be done online via the eBenefits portal. This lets the VA know you have selected a school and are ready to use the benefit. You’ll probably need to register for classes and coordinate with the Veteran Certifying Official at your school, too. Generally, your school’s VA official will need to certify your enrollment with the VA before the start of each term.

What benefits will I receive as a spouse?
A spouse may start using a transferred benefit immediately, and may use the benefit while the service member is on active duty. Benefits include tuition, fees, a book stipend, and a monthly housing allowance. However, a spouse isn’t eligible for the monthly housing allowance if the service member is on active duty. A spouse using a transferred benefit is eligible for all tuition and fee payments for an in-state student. If you attend a private or foreign school, the annual tuition rate is capped. For the 2015 – 2016 school year, the maximum amount for a private or foreign school is $21, 084.89.

post-9-11-gi-bill-for-military-spousesWhat are some tips I should know?
Tuition and fee payments will be sent directly to your school. However, if there is an over-payment of tuition or fees, you’ll receive a notice from the VA asking you to repay the erroneous funds. Be prepared to talk to your school if you need to return money to the VA.

The book stipend and monthly housing allowance (if eligible) will be sent directly to you. If you are eligible for the housing allowance and attend school online, the rate is $783.00 a month. For in-person, full-time attendance, the housing allowance is an E-5 with dependent rate, based on the school’s zip code location.

If you are using the Post-9/11 GI bill as a spouse after your service member has left active duty, check to see if your school program participates in the Yellow Ribbon program. Schools can elect to participate in this program and provide additional funding for education. If you are attending a private school, the Yellow Ribbon program can help you cover the additional costs. Keep in mind this is a voluntary program and the school sets the number of available spots per program per school each academic year. For example, a school may elect to have an unlimited number of undergraduate Yellow Ribbon spots, but may limit graduate programs to a certain number of seats per program, such as 5 for law school or 3 for a masters program.

Are you a military spouse who used a transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit? What other tips would you share?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

The Trifecta: Find The Perfect Job for Your Military Life

When I have conversations with military spouse friends, it’s a good bet one of them is in search of a job at any given time during the year. They are trying to find a job in the field they studied in school, or trying to find anything in the little rural town they are now stationed at. Whatever the challenge is, we all know it can be a beast to make the same career work with a military lifestyle.

Trifecta

 

One thing that we all need to believe is that military spouses can, and should, tame these beasts!

During my work with NMFA, I have come across many spouses in all kinds of situations. With this firsthand knowledge, paired with a little research, I have figured out there’s a key to taming the beast…and it’s called the Trifecta.

When in the market for a job, or even when you are considering going back to school, the Trifecta should be at the forefront of your mind. Too often, military spouses pursue education or jobs that are lackluster, and definitely not Trifecta material. Whether these spouses chose convenience and cost, before considering stability and longevity, it’s important to know that the Trifecta will make those precious dollars spent on your education and career well worth it in the long run.

If you’re returning to school or applying for jobs, keep the Trifecta at the top of mind and you will be one step closer to a more lucrative and durable career to compliment your military life. Consider what could happen if you don’t take these questions seriously: What school should I go to? What degree? What certification? What job?

Remember: don’t settle. You can tame the education and career beast!

So, what’s the Trifecta, and why should it matter to me? A job will fall under the awesome Trifecta if it’s:

  1. In a high demand field: ‘High demand’ can be defined as urgent or pressing requirement. Jobs in high demand will have more opportunities and more availability for new positions. In nut shell – they will be hiring!
  2. Financially sound: Consider what the pay will be and what the pay potential can be. People who are getting paid to their satisfaction are more likely to be happy and more likely to stay in those positions. According to the Social Security Administration the national average wage index for 2013 (last reported) was $44,888.16.
  3. Portable: This is the elusive golden egg for military spouses who are moving around every few years. If the job or career is not portable, you may have to start from square one and get back in the job market all over again.

But what does a Trifecta job look like? Here are some careers that fit the bill:

trifecta-job-listing
After researching statistics with the Department of Labor, I have determined these jobs not only are in high demand, but they are financially sounds jobs, which could be portable. This certainly isn’t a complete list of all the Trifecta jobs out there, but these are options that should be highly considered.

Think your ready to go back to school, or find your new career, but not sure where to start? Join us tonight for a Facebook party, where NMFA will be giving away $5,000 in scholarships, and where you’ll have a chance to chat with panelist and other military spouses who’ve gone back to school, found Trifecta jobs, and who want you to know their secret to finding it! The fun starts at 9pm ET! Come join us in your PJ’s and network with other military spouses!

Believe in Yourself

Have you had any luck finding a job that fits the Trifecta? Tell us about it!

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Program Manager, Spouse Education + Professional Support