Category Archives: Events

Lessons Learned Washing the Vietnam Memorial Wall

The first time I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was in 1983 while on a family vacation to DC. There was something powerful about that memorial, even to a 6-year-old. I stared, moved by the people tracing the names of their loved ones on pieces of paper to take home with them. So when our Association had the opportunity to wash the wall, I was honored and proud to participate with my family.

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Here’s what I learned from the experience:

There’s a reason you wash the wall early in the morning. A 5:30 wakeup isn’t always appealing, but even without coffee, I felt energized watching the sun rise behind the Washington Monument while we washed the wall. Plus, it’s the only time of day the wall isn’t flooded with tourists.

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Kids are actually helpful. Washing the fingerprints and smears off the granite isn’t physically difficult, but it can be emotionally draining. In fact, the memorial was created to help the 3 million who served with the healing process. Seeing the kids, elbow deep in suds, scrubbing the bottom part of the wall brought levity and life to the experience.

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The wall was controversial, like the war. Everything about Vietnam was marred in controversy, even a memorial to those who served. The design was the result of a nationwide contest, and the entries were judged anonymously. 21-year-old Maya Lin, a student at Yale, came up with the winning design. Some said that only listing tens of thousands of names may as well be a tribute to anti-war activist Jane Fonda. Some even called it ‘a nihilistic slab of stone.’ The statue of three American soldiers was later added as a compromise.

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What some see as a chore, others see as an honor. My dad, originally from Kosovo, was perhaps the most energetic wall washer in our group. He stood alone with the hose, even when others had moved on, paying extra care to each name. He shared that, in communist countries, people are forced to clean war memorials, which are built to honor communist leaders and their ideology—not the people who fought; it’s not something you volunteer for. He went on to explain to the group why this particular experience meant so much to him. “America is seen as a beacon of hope for people around the world,” he said. “Each time America sent troops to parts of the former Yugoslavia, they saved thousands of lives. I can’t think of anything more important than honoring those soldiers.”

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One of the most beautiful parts of the wall washing was seeing the reflections of my fellow volunteers in the wall as they worked to clean it. As the park ranger so eloquently put it, “we are all a part of that wall.”

Have you ever been particularly moved by a service project? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Photos: By JMill Photography, 2014

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Semper Paratus and Happy Birthday Coast Guard!

Founded on August 4, 1790, and celebrating it’s 224th birthday this year, our Association would like to recognize the United States Coast Guard for it’s continued service and sacrifice to our Nation. Happy Birthday, Coast Guard!

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What to do for Father’s Day When Your Father Isn’t Here

annie-and-dadLast year, I had the honor of writing a blog post for Father’s day. As Father’s day approaches once again, I read over the fond memories I shared about my dad and his military strength. At the time, I didn’t share his recent diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer, and I didn’t know it would be his last Father’s Day.

In the spring of 2013, I traveled back to Oregon to help my mom recuperate after knee replacement surgery. While I was there, we found out what my dad believed to be a pulled muscle was actually a deadly form of cancer. Life for all of us began moving at a very fast pace.

My dad served in the Army during the Korean War, and enjoyed going through the many boxes and albums of old photos from his younger years. He reminisced about his days in Korea with his Army buddies. Most have passed away, but a few are still hanging around. It was fun to hear his stories and to see his eyes light up with delight when a long forgotten name was suddenly remembered. A couple years ago, he started jotting names down on the backs of those pictures and began tracking down those who still survived. Some he found, but his search wasn’t complete.

We lost my dad on November 26, 2013, almost six months to the day he was diagnosed. He was a strong, courageous man who fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished strong!

This will be our first Father’s Day without him.

I’ve been trying to think (and on some days not think because it’s just too hard) of how I would pay tribute to him this Father’s Day. I enjoy making donations to military charities in his honor because he was very proud of his military service. This year, my gift will be “in memory” of him, something I know my mom will appreciate.

But I also want to do something special to remember my dad. So I came up with a brilliant idea. I made a “Flat Stanley,” or “Flat Frank” in my case. I plan to take him with me and visit some of the places my dad never had a chance to see. One of those places is New York City, where I’ll be during Father’s Day. After that, “Flat Frank” and I will hit the road to see some other sights!

Being in a military family often means spending holidays, like Father’s Day, apart. But there are plenty of ways to honor the special men in your life:

  • Take your dad to a minor league baseball game. Tickets are inexpensive, and games are filled with fun family activities!
  • Share an experience, like hiking in a local park. Spend some quality one on one time with Dad and ask him what his life was like growing up.
  • Make him breakfast and serve it to him with a smile and thanks for all his hard work.
  • Simply write him a letter and tell him how much you appreciate all he does for your family.

herobraceletOne very special way I honor my dad is something I actually wear most days. I bought a Hero Bracelet in honor of my dad. I adore it and it gives me strength and comfort on those days I need it most. Hero Bracelets also donate a portion of their proceeds to various military charities, so it’s a win/win!

This Father’s Day, pay tribute to the special men in your life by making a donation in their honor. And spend a little extra time and find out more about them – you might be surprised what you learn!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Our memories live in my heart forever. I love you!

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

 

The Bittersweet Truth About Being a Privileged Military Family

muppets-movieLiving in our Nation’s capital and working for a military organization gives me certain opportunities—privileges that other military families don’t have. We all know that as military families, we have little control over circumstance. So when we were recently invited to an advanced screening of “Muppets Most Wanted” with the First Lady, it was a bittersweet feeling. We were no more entitled to that moment than any other military families who weren’t there—but still it was an amazing opportunity.

The Sweet
My children were so excited to see the First Lady and be given the opportunity to do something so exclusive. When Mrs. Obama spoke about how important military kids are and how proud she is of them, my son got a little bit emotional. So did I. To have the First Lady of the United States call out the hardships military kids endure—the circumstances that they go through and don’t even realize are extraordinary—meant the world to my children. As military families, we may tell our kids every day how proud we are of them and how strong they are. But hearing it from someone else, someone who doesn’t even know them, and is the most famous mom in the United States, means it must be true, right?

The Bitter
I was so grateful to have my children experience that moment, but honestly, it made me feel incredibly guilty. Thousands, upon thousands, of military families are just like us. What made us so special? Why did we deserve to feel that moment of recognition? I wanted all of our peers and friends to be there, too. They, too, deserve to see the joy in their child’s eyes. I didn’t feel right being there without them. I felt like I was cheating someone else out of the experience. I wondered if this is what my husband feels like, coming home from war feeling guilty about enjoying life at home while his peers are still sacrificing.

The Plain Truth
The truth is, although there were only about a dozen families there, Mrs. Obama was speaking to all of our military kids—even the ones who weren’t in the room. Every military kid should be told they are strong; that what they do is important; that they are heroes. They need to know that.

Every single one of them.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Take Part in #GivingTuesday on December 3

giving-tuesdayDon’t want to get up early from your Thanksgiving dinner to stand in line for Black Friday sales? For those of you online shoppers who are ahead of the game, Black Friday specials have already come and gone. If Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday take a little too much out of you, then pencil in some time to relax on Tuesday, December 3rd.

#GivingTuesday™ was created as a National day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. Tuesday, December 3 celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations. It’s a wonderful day to reflect on what’s meaningful in our lives, honor those who are important in our lives, and give a little back to those who make a difference in the lives of others day after day.

Unsure of what nonprofits would do with your donation? Charity Navigator provides tips on selecting charities that will make good use of your money in this video about giving responsibly on #GivingTuesday.

No one dreams of peace on earth more than military families. This holiday season, as you gather with friends and loved ones and count your blessings, we hope you’ll remember the sacrifices these families make—especially during this time of war.

Since 1969, the National Military Family Association has offered uplifting programs designed to help heal, strengthen, and comfort military families. We encourage you to  give a gift tomorrow that will have an extraordinary impact on a military family by donating to our Association.

Will you be participating in Giving Tuesday?

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

Mourning a Lost President and Finding My Fellow Citizens

jfkEvery generation has a “Where were you when it happened?” event. For my parents, that event was the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For my children, it was September 11, 2001. For me and my fellow baby boomers, it was November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.

I grew up on a farm outside Hampstead, Maryland, which was then just a small, rural town. On that fateful day, I was a 10 year old fifth grader. It was a Friday, just as it is this year—the Friday before Thanksgiving. THE big event held every November in Hampstead was the Elementary School’s PTA Fall Festival—everyone in town came to see the school program, play games, and buy all the PTA ladies’ baked goods.

The theme of that year’s Fall Festival, American Heritage, seemed especially appropriate given that week’s 100 year anniversary commemoration of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, only 30 miles up the road. In honor of that historic event, the two fifth grade classes would recite the Gettysburg Address and sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic during the Fall Festival program.

An extra benefit for kids was that school closed early on Fall Festival day. So that afternoon, my brothers and I were at home, playing in the TV room while our mother ironed and watched her favorite soap opera, “As the World Turns.” All of the sudden, a news bulletin interrupted the show and Walter Cronkite announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later, a visibly-shaken “Uncle Walter” shared the sad news that our President had died.

As the TV news reporters tried to make sense of what was unfolding in Dallas, the Hampstead Elementary PTA President and Principal were trying to figure out what to do about the evening’s program. Because of its patriotic theme, the school decided to go on with the festival in honor of our fallen President. In our classroom that night, as we waited to go on stage, my classmates and I talked about all we had seen on TV that day. We also talked about Mrs. Kennedy, little Caroline, and John John. We talked about the one dad who was going to complain to the school board because the school went ahead with the program, but concluded, “He’s new in town and just doesn’t understand.”

We filed onto the risers in the auditorium and—all 70 of us—recited Lincoln’s inspired words. Then, as we sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic, I began to have an inkling of how much we were bound together in our Nation’s sorrow. I noticed the mother of a classmate crying as we sang, and then saw others were crying as well. Our Nation’s loss of another President 100 years before took on a more powerful meaning because of the day’s events.

When the program was over, instead of going with their kids from one game or food table to another, the grown-ups stood in clusters, shaking their heads, and talking about our loss. Many of these grown-ups had voted for Richard Nixon in the last election, but the grief they conveyed was profound.

On Monday, when schools were closed because of the President’s funeral, everyone—my family included—was glued to the TV set watching the events. We saw the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jackie and Caroline kissing the coffin as President Kennedy lay in state in the Capitol, John John’s salute as the coffin went by, the Kennedy family walking along Pennsylvania Avenue. Each of the four channels we got on our TV set showed the same events, binding us as part of a Nation in grief.

My elementary school classmates and I came to awareness of what government was, and did, by what we saw of the Kennedy administration. His inaugural words—“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”—were featured in our second grade Weekly Readers. We heard his TV speech about the Cuban Missile Crisis and experienced fear for our safety. We celebrated with him as our astronauts launched into space. We saw Jackie’s televised tour of the White House. We talked about joining the Peace Corps when we grew up, and we saved the Look and Life magazine pictures of the happy young Kennedy family.

When we took our sixth grade class trip to Washington, D.C., we wanted to see two things: Jackie’s inaugural gown in the Smithsonian, and President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington Cemetery. While there, we saw others who remembered where they were November 22, 1963, and who mourned the loss of something important.

Historians continue to debate the legacy of John F. Kennedy. To me, his legacy was one of optimism and the possibility for good that can come from all of us working together to benefit our Nation and its citizens. That’s what I’ll remember today as our Nation remembers him.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessell Raezer, Executive Director

[Watch Live] Cyber Safety and Your Military Family: What you need to know!

In an increasingly interconnected world, military families face unique challenges when using social media to connect to loved ones. Maintaining operational security and the safety of family members at home and abroad requires extra levels of care and planning.

This afternoon, the National Military Family Association will convene a conversation that explores these unique challenges and provides recommendations that will help family members stay safe online.

Cyber Crisis: Protecting the U.S. Companies and Your Family in a War Waged by Hackers takes place today at 3:00pm EDT. The second in our series on technology advancements and threats affecting the Nation, this event focuses on its impact on every American home—including those of military families.

Tune in to the live feed below, or watch from our website. We’ll be taking your questions during the conversation and General Hayden and Mr. Mandia will answer them!

Follow us on Twitter as we live-tweet the event using #cybersafe!