Category Archives: Deployment

Calling All Bloggers! Share Your Story on Branching Out!

share-your-story-with-nmfa-blog

It’s no secret—military families have collected their fair share of stories, experiences, and traditions throughout their military journeys. We know you’ve got plenty of tips, tricks, pictures, and laughable moments up your sleeve. That’s why we want you to be a guest blogger!

Our blog covers all areas of military life, including PCS moves, raising military kids, spouse employment, military marriage, and the tough stuff—like transition, being a caregiver, and even divorce.

Think you’ve got awesome blogging skills and want to share your journey with other military families? We’d love to hear from you!

What works:
Inspirational stories – we want readers to jump out of their seats because they were moved by your journey. Sharing personal stories, hardships, or humor can be just what someone needs to relate to you. Don’t be afraid to amaze and inspire!
Original content – We will not publish content that has already been published elsewhere on the web. We aim for authentic and unique content!
Well-written content –Your writing should reflect your individual voice! So if you feel excited, let us know! Had a hard time with a recent PCS? Express that in your writing. Great blog posts will grab the reader and keep their attention through awesome details!
Topics about military families or military life – We are 100% military family focused, so make sure your submission is, too! Are you a company looking to share a resource? Great! Use your original content to tie back to the military community, and keep in mind: our subject matter experts will review any resource prior to posting.
Sending your own photos – Pictures are the best! And we want to share yours! Make sure images are appropriate, clear, and don’t violate OPSEC or PERSEC.

What doesn’t work:
Incomplete, unedited articles – Always be sure to proof read your work before submitting it. If you’re unsure if something is well-written, have a friend or family member read over it and give their thoughts!
Inappropriate content – No profanity, graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments will be accepted. Make sure you aren’t oversharing, or violating OPSEC or PERSEC! If you’re submitting photos, please be sure they are tasteful.
Advertisements – We don’t promote any business or organization we are not in direct partnership with, and we do not offer advertisements on our blog; however, we do have advertising opportunities through our mobile app, MyMilitaryLife. Please email App [at] MyMilitaryLife [dot] org. Please keep external links to a maximum 3 links.

How to Submit:
Email your completed article to Blog [at] MilitaryFamily [dot] org. Because Branching Out is 100% military family focused, we will review each submission to ensure it aligns with our content strategy. If it does, you’ll receive an email from us to let you know your article will be published. Please allow us some time to respond – our little fingers type as fast as possible!

Blog submissions must include:
First and last name
Contact email
Service affiliation and location
250-700 words per post
Headshot or clear photo of yourself

The Fine Print:
Sharing is caring – We want your original content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the link on your own website after we’ve published your submission! Share like crazy!
Editing and adapting – We reserve the right to edit and adapt your guest blog content as we see fit.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Why Do I Serve Military Families? They’re My Family, Too.

welcome-home-troops-girl-with-signGrowing up, you always hear stories about soldiers and their families. You see them on TV, in movies, or commercials, but it’s not until someone you love becomes a soldier that you really understand what it means.

That’s how it was for me until I was 15 years old, when one of my cousins, Michael, joined the Marine Corps. The United States had been at war for a couple of years and I remember, perfectly, the day of my cousin’s first deployment to Iraq. I was on vacation with my family and I remember thinking, here I am with my family on vacation while Michael was on his way to war. It didn’t seem fair. That’s when I finally understood what it meant to have a love one be a member of the military.

Two years later, one of my brothers, Chas, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. This was no surprise to us; since we were little, we always knew he was going to join. Two years after that, my other brother, Brian, joined the Army National Guard; which was a big surprise for my family.

My brothers had always been the most important men in my life, but when they joined the military, they somehow became even more important to me.

In 2011, both of my brothers were deployed to Egypt and my cousin, Michael, was on another deployment in the Middle East. I remember saying goodbye to them, watching all the other families say goodbye to their loved ones, just before those buses drove away. I felt so far away from them and was having a hard time dealing with it. There was a feeling I couldn’t explain to anyone, and that never went away. I also saw how difficult it was for my family during that year when both of them were gone. That summer, while they were still deployed, I decided to take an internship at The Reserve Officers Association to try and feel closer to them. It worked, not only did I feel closer to them, but I felt that I was doing something for them.

The military changes your family dynamic. When my brothers joined the Army National Guard, it felt like I gained a lot more ‘brothers,’ and not only that, but their families became my family, too. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do: give back to service members and their families–who have given up so much to protect this country. Over the past few months I have been asked the question, “Why did you decide you wanted to serve military families?”

The answer is an easy one for me: they aren’t just military families, they are my family.

Who do you know that serves in the military? Honor them with a small gift, today.

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Legislative Assistant

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

Good Kill trailer image
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

Military Care Packages: How Do I Fill Out the Customs Form?

military-care-packagesIf you’re going through a deployment, or other military separation, you know that one way to keep your loved one beaming with anticipation is to send them a care package. Some go-to care package items might include a couple of DVDs, video games, maybe a bag of popcorn, some pictures of the family, and some toiletries. (All the comforts of home, right?)

But then you get to the post office, wait in line, and find out you don’t have all the paperwork. Paperwork? To mail a package?

It’s true. And that little customs form from the US Postal Service (USPS) can be confusing. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some tips on sending care packages, and how to fill out that confusing little form:

Make sure you have the correct address. A no-brainer, right? One little mistake and it could take weeks, if not months, to get to your special recipient. Or worse: it gets returned to sender (hope you like popcorn!). Making sure the address is important, especially if it’s going overseas; remember, it might be going around the globe and will need to make it through customs.

To send a package via USPS, you’ll need a customs form to send a package overseas. I found PS Form 2976 online, but you can also create an account online with USPS and fill out the form, print your own label, and schedule a pickup. You can go to their website for more information. It’s fairly simple once you create an account and begin the process.

The customs form is easy to complete, but there are different forms depending on the value of what is being sent. It does take some time to get them filled out, but you can keep a stash of the forms at home so you can complete them prior to heading to the post office. Some post offices keeps the customs forms behind the counter, but it shouldn’t be a problem asking them for more than one.

There are step by step instructions on the PS Form 2976, but I’ll break it down for you:

In the FROM section of PS Form 2976, fill out all of your information. Make sure, again, that you provide all the necessary and correct information. One wrong number and you could literally be sending this package to Timbuktu!

In Block 1, you’ll have to get a little detailed, so make sure you take a picture of what you are sending so that you can enter all that in here. Sometimes I write down everything before I pack it up, for easy remembering!

Blocks 2-4 ask for quantity, net weight, and value of each item you are sending. Keep your receipts and find this information from the package of each item before you close the box.

Make sure you check in Block 5 to indicate that none of the items you’re sending are prohibited. Things like DVDs, movies, popcorn, pictures, and some toiletries are safe. When in doubt, ask.

If there are any restrictions, you’ll list them in Block 6 of the form, otherwise, leave it blank and continue.

In Block 7, you’ll enter the total weight of the package.

Block 8 is the total value of the package, and Block 9 serves as directions in case the package cannot be delivered. Make sure to put your address in Block 9 so it gets returned to you if, for some reason, it doesn’t make it to its destination.

In Block 10, refers to exemption information. If you are mailing to an APO/FPO/DPO, this may not apply.

If you are sending something that has quarantine restrictions, like plants or food products, you need to check Block 11.

You’ll sign and date Block 12.

Blocks 13 and 14 serve as the Sender’s Customs Reference, which may be a tax code, or importer code. More often than not, this won’t apply to you.

Block 15 is optional. You’ll fill out the Importer’s information, if you have it, which in this case, might be you.

In Blocks 16-18, you’ll fill out the license, certificate, and/or invoice number, if it applies to you.

Blocks 19 and 20 are for commercial senders only. You’d enter a Harmonized Tariff Schedule number, and Country of Origin of Goods.

All of these blocks must be completed, unless they do not apply to your shipment.

Take all of the forms and put them in the PS Form 2976-E, the Customs Declaration Envelope. Remember: all of the information must be visible. Finally, attach it to your package on the address side.

Make copies of the form before you sign and/or fill out the contents information, so that you don’t have to keep doing that every time and you can actually save some time.

Remember to get your package insured, depending on the value of the items. You can always file a claim if something happens to it, so make sure you have receipts and pictures stored somewhere safe. You might not consider this a necessity if you’re sending lower-cost items.

Another tip: Include your address or the address where the package is going INSIDE the package. Your box may travel far and wide, and though it’s rare, could accidentally break open, lose pieces, or even have the address rub off.

Plan on sending multiple packages? Have the USPS deliver boxes to your doorstep and avoid packing up your care package while in line to mail it!

You can always go to the post office to fill it out with an USPS employee to get any additional questions answered. You can also call the USPS customer service line at 800-275-8777.

There are also other ways of sending care packages; Operation Gratitude and Adopt-A-Platoon send packages to soldiers overseas, but with some restrictions. Check their websites for more information. The Department of Defense’s OurMilitary.mil, lists various other organizations which send out care packages to troops. Make sure to do your due diligence when sending care packages through third party organizations.

I know, I know: this was pretty daunting. But it’s totally worth your loved one’s expression when they open the package on the other side of the world.

If you have any great tips for sending a care package, or have found another method of sending packages that is much easier, please share them here!

Posted by Sylvia Salas-Brown, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Hold Your Applause: A Military Spouse’s Take on ‘American Sniper’

American-Sniper-movie

As new parents, we take every opportunity we can to go see movies, and when American Sniper was released, we quickly bought our tickets ahead of time. On day of the show, we shoved snacks in my purse (shh!) and headed to the theater. I brought tissues, and cursed the fact that I didn’t wear waterproof mascara that day. I read the movie was intense and may be hard to watch at times, so at least I was prepared an emotional rollercoaster—and the movie delivered.

As a military spouse, it was hard to watch. But strangely enough, I didn’t end up using the tissues. When my husband was in Afghanistan in 2008, he called me from an MWR phone room, not on a satellite phone from a fire fight. I didn’t hear gun shots and people yelling on the other end of our phone calls. He wasn’t in danger in the same way Chris Kyle was, and I’m thankful for that.

Later, my husband told me about near-misses and close calls, but nothing compared to what Taya Kyle endured on the other end of that phone. ”How could Chris put Taya through a phone call like that?” I asked my husband, “Why call your wife when you’re being shot at?” He stoically responded “Most likely, he wasn’t thinking of it like that at all. It could have been the last time he talked to her.”

I also didn’t endure the hardship of being pregnant while my spouse was deployed, nor have I had to raise our 1-year-old with a father gone much of the time, or suffering from PTSD. My husband has been an awesome partner in her care. To the spouses forced to do much of it alone: you are my heroes.

American-Sniper-the-movieMy husband had a different take on the movie. He’s lost close friends in these wars. He’s attended far too many memorial services in his decade of Army service. One of his closest friends from ROTC was killed in her Humvee just weeks before she was slated to return home. And when I first met my husband in 2007, he was wearing the black KIA bracelet with her name on it …a name that would later become our daughter’s middle name.

As the movie ended, there were photos of Chris Kyle, his family, his brothers in arms, and his memorial service. My husband told me this was the hardest part of the movie for him to watch. The theater was completely silent as people filed out. We left the theater once the actual credits began to roll, still in complete silence, wrapping up our trash as quietly as possible.

That silence is what has stayed with me. I’ve seen movies where the audience applauded at the end, so I wondered how moviegoers would show respect for this story at the end of this film. Applause just didn’t feel right. A moment of silence out of respect for Chris Kyle was so much more impactful. And, if #AmericanSniper tweets are any representation, it seems that’s the way it’s been throughout much of the country.

Though the story was incredibly tragic, ultimately, it’s serving a purpose: educating our country about the dangers of PTSD. Though we were all silent as we exited the theater that day, we must not remain silent on this important issue. If you know someone you think may be suffering from PTSD, please support them in finding help. Say something and possibly save a life.

Have you seen American Sniper? How did the movie make you feel? Tell us what you thought of this amazing film in the comments below!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

Shanghai Breezes: The Ultimate Deployment Song

Letters-5Twenty five years ago, this country girl from Eastern Washington State met a surfer, ROTC student from Torrance, California. Despite the distance and challenges we faced while dating, we got married and have spent a lifetime together raising two great boys. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced every obstacle the Air Force has thrown at us. During those tough times, we found solace in the sage words of John Denver.

Back in the day, lyrics weren’t printed on cassette jackets. So if you wanted to be sappy, you had to painstakingly hand-write the lyrics by playing the song over and over to make sure you heard each word. That’s exactly what I did. While my husband, Jay, and I were in college in separate states, I painstakingly transcribed the lyrics to one of John Denver’s iconic songs, “Shanghai Breezes.”  I rewound and played my way through the process. Then I mailed those lyrics off to Jay in a letter. One we still have today.

Recently, as I was on my morning walk, “Shanghai Breezes” came on, and it made me think of all of the military families in the middle of the challenging deployment/re-deployment exchange. Like many of you, music marks the milestones in my life, like the number one song my senior year, the song we danced to at our wedding, the music my boys blared through their teen years in our homes around the globe.

“Shanghai Breezes” got me through deployments, TDY’s and separations.

Lyrics like, the moon and the stars are the same ones I see, became a reminder no distance apart will change the commitment we made to each other. It reminds me of the trust we place in each other, and the agreement we made to be there for one another through it all.

Letters-1As you face any deployment, I encourage you to find your strength. And find something that will remind you of it!  I challenge you to write letters, and have your families do the same. Today, along with the letter of lyrics I wrote to Jay so long ago, are letters from Jay’s parents, friends, and mentors wishing him well, as well as pictures and cards from our boys, all sending him their best wishes and recounting the joys in their lives.

Accompanying them are the cards and letters Jay sent back to our boys. They come with us every time we PCS, and are treasured reminders of our lives together. There’s just something about the act of putting pen (or crayon) to paper that emphasizes the words, the care, and the love of the writer.

My wish for all of you is peace through any deployment, and every separation to come. Find the best ways for your family to express yourselves and build strong lines of communication. Find your strength when the days are long, and try to focus on the positive things that inevitably happen during the chaos.

Finally, always remember the greatest act of strength is asking for help.

How did you build strong lines of communication in your family?

Posted by Karla Bickley, Air Force Spouse, Tinker Air Force Base

 

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