Monthly Archives: May 2013

Help Therapy Animals Heal Military Families Today!

therapy-dogs-webAnyone who has ever loved an animal knows how powerful and healing its presence can be.

Specially-trained therapy animals are a tremendous help to military families recovering from war and separation at our Operation Purple® camps and retreats. These families have sacrificed so much, and they struggle with uncertainty and other stress.

Therapy animals—including cuddly cats, loving dogs, gentle horses, and others—help military families break down barriers they can’t themselves. These nurturing animals provide a sense of calm for adults and kids often surrounded by stress. And they lend a feeling of “home.” They allow service members to reconnect, talk more openly about their fears and needs, and solidify fragile bonds with their spouses and children at our camps and retreats.

Please help more military families heal from the physical and emotional wounds of war through the comforting presence of therapy animals today. Donate now!

Has an animal or pet ever helped comfort you through a difficult time?

App for Military Families Puts Resources in the Palm of Your Hand

MyMilitaryLife graphicWith more than 10,000 official military and community support websites providing information for military families, it is often difficult to navigate which sites are supplying credible information. To help alleviate this frustration, the National Military Family Association launched the first mobile app of its kind, MyMilitaryLife. The app provides a customized experience that guides users through different life paths by anticipating  their needs and determining appropriate resources for them at a particular stage in military life.

There are 10 “Life Paths” that help families navigate the many adventures of military life and address key events a military family might experience during their career. For the first time families have access to trusted information right at their fingertips, specifically identified for their current life challenges and goals.

While every family goes through challenges, the military lifestyle changes quickly and often with unexpected hurdles to overcome quickly, making MyMilitaryLife a critical resource to have for every scenario.  Below is an extended look at key features and Life Paths:

Features

  • Customized to-do lists
  • Tailored resources based on Service branch, location, and needs
  • Due date reminders
  • Push notifications
  • Emergency phone numbers for military families

Life Paths

  • Having a Baby
  • Reintegration
  • Transitioning out of the military
  • Spouse Education
  • Spouse Employment
  • The Basics
  • Survivors
  • Deployment
  • Moving
  • Raising Kids

“Military families shouldn’t have to struggle with finding information they need,” said Executive Director, Joyce Raezer. “MyMilitaryLife serves as a trusted one stop shop providing families with credible information, tailored to their specific situation. We’ve verified the resources and have put it into a format that eliminates the stressful search. Understanding our families are often on the go, it is also important to ensure there is access anytime, anywhere.”

MyMilitaryLife is available through iTunes and Google Play, as well as our web portal. Take a look at our video for a quick demo of the app in action. This initiative is made possible thanks to the generosity of BAE Systems, Goldman Sachs Gives, and TriWest Healthcare Alliance, and additional support from Health Net Federal Services, Hummingbird Foundation, Magellan Health Services, and USAA. If you are interested in contributing to our mobile efforts, please donate here.

To learn more about the National Military Family Association, please visit www.militaryfamily.org.

Know a Military Spouse? Here are 6 suggestions on how to show your appreciation!

Know a military spouse? We've got suggestions on how to show your appreciation!Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day! Whether you are a military spouse or not, often times people are not sure how to thank spouses for their dedication and sacrifice. It’s easy to acknowledge and thank a service member, but how do you thank those who hold down the fort, raise our Nation’s children, and keep our service members in the fight each and every day? They don’t wear a uniform, but they serve too.

Well, we’ve got you covered with some help from our dear friends! Chris Pape, founder of Macho Spouse, provides his tips on appreciating our male military spouses and Alice Swan, blogger at DCMilitaryFamilyLife.com, offers her advice on how to pamper our female military spouses.

Got A Male Spouse You Want to Thank?

Chris Pape shows us that the best way to show appreciation for a male military spouse is to keep it simple, genuine, and acknowledge that they are out there!

Neighbors: Do you live near a military family where the serving member is female? If so, congratulations! You’ve found the rare breed of male military spouse. The best way to “appreciate” this man is by not embarrassing him with lavish gifts, but maybe just a simple hand-shake and “thank you.” If you’re inclined to do more, we appreciate beer, nuts, chips, bacon, and beer. But again, a simple thank you and appreciation for all we’ve sacrificed for our wife’s career is more than enough.

Family: We would appreciate just one day free from jokes about how our wives “wear the pants/boots” in our family. Maybe stop by the house and watch your grandchildren for a few hours, or a phone call to simply ask how we’re doing. A genuine conversation about how we survive this crazy military lifestyle can go a long way.

Community: A “Male Military Spouse” appreciation day that includes fishing, golf, brewery tour, visit to Home Depot, and a baseball game would be great! There are a million simple ways to appreciate any military spouse, and we are grateful for all of them. However, the men just ask that you’re conscious of both genders that serve as military spouses.

Got A Female Spouse You Want to Appreciate?

Alice Swan helps us realize that small things can make a huge impact with the ladies!

Neighbors: Do you live near a military family? You could drop off a plate of cookies, a restaurant gift certificate, or a casserole on Military Spouse Appreciation Day to recognize the sacrifices that spouses makes on behalf of our Nation.

Family members: Is your daughter, son, sister, brother, niece, nephew, etc. married to a service member? A card of thanks and encouragement would be a wonderful gesture. So few of us get meaningful mail anymore, so what a great surprise it would be to find a note of support in the mailbox.

Community: Churches could offer a Spouse Appreciation “Night Out,” providing free child care, or a Spouse Appreciation Breakfast or Tea. Local businesses could offer special discounts to military spouses. Wouldn’t a spa day be a great offering by a local salon?

In addition to these awesome ideas, the National Military Family Association created free Military Spouse Day eCards that you can customize for the military spouse in your life. Send an eCard to show your appreciation today!

How do you show appreciation to military spouses? As a military spouse, what has someone done in the past that meant a lot to you?

Military Spouse Motto: “I’ll see you when I see you!”

Military spouse motto: I'll see you when I see you!There are many things to get used to when you are introduced to the military. There is the “hurry up and wait,” the “probably won’t call you for a week,” the “it’s out of my control,” and my favorite—“you will see me when you see me.” Let it be known that my husband and I appreciate food on our table. Matt is honored to be a part of the Coast Guard and I am right there with him. However, I would be lying if I said everything ran smoothly all the time. In fact, just writing that statement made my nose grow.

Us support spouses learn from the beginning that we need to remain calm and flexible when making schedules for the family, fun, and travel. I had a very hard time learning this concept. Matt would tell me that he would be home one day and by the next day, he would find out he wouldn’t be coming back for another two days. Or the ship was due to pull in at 10 am and then didn’t show up until 6 pm. Or we’re set to go on week-long vacation and he is kept back two days for inspections so our little trip is delayed. I have been told before that he will be home a week early just to see him a week after his arrival date. So, I decided to stop asking.

Matt thinks it is a control thing with me. But, I am willing to bet that other spouses would like a definite answer on when their husbands or wives are coming home. It is about planning and the excitement of seeing one another again. We get our hopes up at the prospect of meeting them at the dock and our first embrace since they left the house. From the moment our spouses leave, we are counting the seconds until they are home. It would just be nice to know when they are actually coming home.

So, after many disappointments, I learned that I will see my spouse when I see him. My advice is to stop looking at the clock. Try to keep busy. If you are anxious and bored, that is your issue, not your spouse’s. Too many times I see people get angry with their spouse about scheduling and arrivals. It isn’t worth it to be mad at someone who has no control over the situation either. We confuse excitement with anger and then the arrival is ruined. Learn to accept the choice we made to marry into the military and know that this is how it is. It’s our way of life and we’re stronger because of it.

Posted by Rebecca Brinkley, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association. A version of this post originally appeared on Rebecca’s blog I Know It’s Tough.

Moving OCONUS: What do I pack in unaccompanied baggage?

Moving OCONUS and unaccompanied baggageIf you’ve received orders OCONUS, you will generally receive a small weight allowance of items that will be sent via expedited methods to your new duty station. These are items to help you set up house until the rest of your household goods arrive via slow boat. 

For me, it was a lot of pressure to pack exactly the right things and stay within our weight allowance. My family needed extra clothes for the changing seasons and the baby that outgrew her wardrobes every couple of months. The kids needed toys and familiar items to make the empty new house feel like home. I needed household items so we weren’t eating out every day or running to the PX all the time to buy things we couldn’t live without. 

Here’s my list of items I packed in our unaccompanied baggage from our most recent OCONUS PCS. Use this list as a guide to come up with one specific to your family’s needs.

For Each Adult

  • Extra clothes/clothes for the next season
  • Winter jackets/hat/gloves/scarves/boots
  • Extra shoes
  • Bicycle/helmet (check size limitations with Transportation)
  • Books
  • DVDs
  • Hobby/entertainment items

For Each Child

  • Extra clothes/clothes for next season/clothes in next size
  • Winter jacket/hat/gloves/scarves
  • Extra shoes
  • Favorite toys
  • Favorite blanket
  • Favorite picture/room decoration/stick-on wall decals
  • Outdoor play items: soccer ball, baseball equipment, etc.
  • Bicycle/helmet (check size limitations with Transportation)
  • Favorite Books
  • Favorite DVDs

Military Gear

  • Uniforms
  • Boots
  • PTs
  • Running shoes
  • Dress uniform
  • Dress shoes
  • Ruck/duffel
  • Specialized gear/field gear

Baby Gear

  • Pack ‘n Play or portacrib
  • Sheets/waterproof pad for Pack ‘n Play
  • Extra blankets
  • Portable booster seat
  • Sippy cups, snack cup
  • Stroller or baby carrier
  • Portable baby seat, bouncer, swing, etc.

 Household Items

  • Laundry basket
  • Hangers
  • Mini ironing board
  • Mop/bucket
  • Broom/dust pan
  • Folding camp chairs
  • Bath rugs
  • Small area rug (foldable)

Linens

  • Twin sheet set, blanket, pillow for each child
  • Queen sheet set, blanket, pillow
  • Towel set for each person
  • Shower curtain, curtain rings
  • Dish towels, sponge

Kitchen Items

  • Plates, bowls, cups, coffee mugs, silverware for each person
  • Chef’s knife, paring knife, spatula, serving spoon
  • Can opener, wine/bottle opener
  • Mixing bowl, colander
  • Skillet, sauce pan
  • Casserole dish, cookie sheet
  • Kitchen spices

Toolkit

  • Hammer
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Screw drivers
  • Hex wrenches
  • Pliers
  • Utility knife
  • Markers
  • Baby-proofing items
  • Drill

Other
These items are not necessities for me but if you have space, they might be useful! You may also be able to find some of these easily in thrift stores at your new destination. (Especially electronics in the local voltage!)

  • Small television (about 19” due to space limitations)
  • DVD player
  • Fans
  • Coffee pot
  • Toddler or twin air mattress for each child
  • Queen air mattress

That’s my list! Any OCONUS PCSing pros have other tips on what to pack in unaccompanied baggage to ease your family’s transition?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Families Outdoors: Reducing stress on kids and your wallet!

Families outdoors: reducing stress on kids and your wallet!I recently stumbled upon a New York Times blog post that discussed how a simple walk in the park could reduce brain fatigue. You know, that feeling of being disjointed or mentally drained. The post got me thinking; if a walk in the park could provide a simple brain refresher; just imagine what a week of camp or a weekend retreat could do!

At Operation Purple® camps and retreats we embrace the healing powers of the outdoors and thrust kids and families into beautiful environments to do just that – reboot. Life is already busy and chaotic so overlapping it with a military lifestyle just seems to be more than any one person should be able to handle. Giving these families a week or weekend away and “unplugged” makes perfect sense.

Our intent is to energize families to try new activities and create memories with the hope that they recreate these stress-reducing moments once they go home. I often reflect on activities my family did for fun that were actually my mom’s way of turning our heads. As a financially stretched military family, expensive vacations or entertainment activities were out of our reach. So our industrious mother chose instead to use night hikes through the neighborhood instead of using what little gas was in the car to pick up little brother from the sitter. Mom-instructed, kid-friendly gardening, was an excuse to get dirty while reducing our grocery budget. Creating our own flour dough in the backyard meant mom never had to consider whether she could afford our request to “have purple, blue, AND pink” play dough.

My mom had no clue her homemade distractions were “reducing brain fatigue”—she just knew doing things outdoors cost her less financially and emotionally. Performing simple outdoor activities provided hours of harmony in our home. So, here are a few of my favorite memories that stemmed simply from a military mom giving her kids some fun in the sun on a tight budget:

  • Have a picnic. We often packed our favorite books, a few blankets, and a simple meal before venturing to a local park or outdoor space. As a kid it was an adventure to eat on the grass after collecting my share of grass stains. For mom, it was a cost effective alternative to my never-ending McDonald’s plea. To this day I love to rejuvenate by sitting on an expanse of grass with a PB&J in hand.
  • Fly a kite. I know this sounds very Mary Poppins, but putting a kite in my hands as a child created an obsession that couldn’t be stopped. I tried it once and was hooked. I quickly gave up my precious Nintendo and found myself running up and down the neighborhood just to see the streamers fly. I’m cringing at how that dates me, but the scenario of being tied to the TV by an electronic game system still rings true for most kids today. My mom’s ploy to avoid purchasing yet another video game created an adult city dweller that now religiously rings in spring by participating in the annual kite-flying extravaganza on the National Mall.
  • Set up a scavenger hunt. Nothing turned sibling rivalry around quite like a friendly competition. Organizing a scavenger hunt that resulted in a team sweet treat to enjoy while basking in the sunshine was a win-win for mom. She got hours of quiet while we feverishly hunted to find every clue outside. The inevitable family nap that happened post-scavenger hunt was a bonus. I honed my trivia skills on a monthly basis while out in the sun.

Spring is here, with summer close on its heels—don’t wait to get kids outside! How will you reduce stress on your kiddos’ brains, and your wallet? What fun new memories will you create that your kids can use when they are adults?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director

Big Brothers Big Sisters: An Extended Family for Military Children

An Extended Family for Military ChildrenIt’s a busy school day. Children of different ages are running around the house, loudly voicing their wants. The mother tries to ensure everything is on schedule and the kids are taken care of. This might sound like another day in the life of super moms everywhere, but for military children, having a parent deployed can be a hectic time.

“It’s hard to be a working mother, or even a stay-at-home mother, with four children plus dad gone,” says Danielle Woodring, a military spouse stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Danielle has chosen to enroll her two younger daughters, Ilyana and Kiera, in the federally funded Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring Program. The program is free of charge and specially designed for military families. The goal is to give military children another trusted adult who can provide guidance. “It gives them time away from all the chaos at home,” Danielle explains.

Ilyana and Kiera, called “Littles” under the program, are paired with two “Bigs,” or volunteer mentors. These Littles are among the 800 military kids who benefit from the program nationwide. The Bigs are carefully screened, trained, and matched with their Littles according to their interests. The Bigs dedicate a few hours a month to their Littles, engaging in various low-cost fun activities and programs. To qualify for the military mentoring program, children need to have one parent in an active duty status. All children of the fallen (in the line of duty) are eligible. To become a Big, volunteers must have a desire to help children and successfully pass the screening process.

“The power of Big Brothers Big Sisters is the premier one-to-one mentoring organization,” says Rodney Davis, National Director of Military Mentoring for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Both the Bigs and Littles are carefully interviewed in order to find common likes and dislikes, guaranteeing a better match. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring program supports children in military families and engages active duty, reserve or retired/separated military personnel, as well as civilians as volunteer mentors. There are approximately 2,600 active duty service members volunteering as Bigs nationwide. With a minimum commitment of one year, some of the service members also maintain the relationship while deployed.

For Kiera’s Big Sister, Kaylene Hasto, the mentoring program has been a new and exiting volunteer opportunity. She looks forward to spending time with her Little and appreciates her outgoing personality. Kaylene encourages future volunteers to make sure they have the time for their Little. “They depend on you and they are really excited to see you, make sure you are committed to them,” Kaylene says.

Military kids enrolled in the program have a chance to take part in diverse activities and look up to their Bigs. Little Ilyana describes her Big Sister as “fun, caring, hard-working, and good with kids.” She is excited her Big Sister is in the military, likes Hello Kitty, and takes her to the library. Little Ilyana is very enthusiastic about the time spent with her Big Sister. “We actually get to build our relationship and have fun,” she says. Kiera’s Big Sister takes her to Big Brother Big Sister picnics and the gym. Little Kiera describes her Big Sister as a great planner who likes to help people. “She helps me if I have a problem and she’s someone to talk to,” Kiera says.

Danielle believes the program has really made a difference in the life of her family. She is relieved that she has a helping hand she can trust. She feels that taking part in the program helps ease the pain of having their father deployed for another year. In the future, she hopes this experience will encourage her daughters to become Big Sisters as well.

For more information on volunteering or enrolling your child, visit Big Brothers Big Sisters of America at www.bbbs.org or learn about the Military Mentoring Program.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association


Photo courtesy of the Woodring family