Category Archives: Guest Posts

Staying Connected After Transition: Goodbye Military Community?

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It was just over a year ago when my husband officially retired and we moved to a non-military area. Losing our military community felt like I had lost a piece of me. My husband and I both felt adrift. But I knew I had to regain that connection…somehow.

Even though I wasn’t in a military area anymore, I continued my volunteer work with the National Military Family Association (NMFA). I may no longer know from personal experience what’s going on at this base, or that base, but I’m still a member of numerous military spouse Facebook groups, and have many friends who are still active duty. I keep an eye and ear out for questions I can help answer, and stay on top of issues that NMFA might need to know about. And I’ve been able to support military families through numerous remote volunteer projects, too! It’s been a gift to be able to continue serving my beloved military community in this manner, and be connected virtually.

Knowing there were probably others like us in our new non-military community, even Reserve and National Guard families, I started a local Facebook group for spouses of Marines. I posted about it in our local area Facebook groups (moms’ networks, neighborhood groups, etc.) and was excited when spouses would speak up from the crowd and say, “Yes!  My husband is a Marine veteran,” or “This is great! We’re in the area on recruiting duty and would love to connect with other Marine families!”

The group now has 56 members and we’re planning our first get-together! I’m thrilled about the prospect of going out to dinner with some fellow military spouses and enjoying that ‘sisterhood’ again!

Interested in keeping or regaining that connection to the military community?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Be open to sharing your story. You never know if that other mom or dad sitting two rows down in the bleachers at your child’s game is currently serving, a veteran, or military spouse. Share your story; you just might hear, “Me too!”
  • Volunteer for, or get involved with a military-related organization, like the National Military Family Association, your local VFW or VA, or even some of the unique organizations out there, like a local chapter of Team Red, White & Blue.
  • Start a Facebook group for other local military families. Spread the word about it through your neighborhood, school, place of worship, and other networks. Seek out other transitioned families, as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, and the “onesies and twosies” out there, like those on recruiting duty, or the ROTC staff at local colleges.
  • Teach your kids’ school about military life. Schools in non-military areas need to be enlightened on the life of a military kid, and how to best support them. I’ve heard from several families whose kids say their teachers and fellow students think it’s weird they’ve lived in so many places, including overseas, and as a result, their kids feel like outsiders. Take things into your hands and meet with the administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other important people involved with your child. Share what your child has been through, and how they can best relate with him or her. Provide them resources so they can educate themselves on military families. If there are several current or former military kids at the school, consider suggesting the formation of a club for them.
  • Encourage your local governments, Chambers of Commerce, and visitors’ bureaus to include information on their websites, and in welcome packets, for inbound transitioning families. This can be a list of resources, like the contact information for local veterans’ groups, the closest military ID center, the VA, and other pieces of information valuable to military families.
  • If you become active in a place of worship, suggest they ask new members if they are a military family, and link them with other military families in the congregation. A former church of ours actively sought to identify military families and assigned a deacon who had been a military spouse to those families so they would always have a point of contact and support.

One of the greatest things about being a military family is the closeness of the military community; it’s truly a remarkable thing. I viewed it as a second family. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things about transitioning out of the military is losing that closeness and having the feeling of almost being catapulted out of that community into civilian life. If you’re a civilian family and know someone transitioning out of the military, take some time out of your day to help them through by welcoming them into your community!

Are you a transitioned family? How have you stayed connected to your military community?

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC spouse, mom

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com

5 Things the Operation Purple Program Gave My Military Family

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When my family was chosen to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat®, I was excited—but also nervous. It was a great opportunity! I’d get to spend a week with my family unplugged from the world. We’d have an adventure in the Grand Tetons. My kids would get to hang out with other military kids with some of the same experiences. So why was I nervous?  As the spouse of a Vermont Air National Guard member, my husband’s base is about 2.5 hours away, so I don’t really spend a lot of time with other spouses in the same situation. How would I fit in with other military families at Operation Purple?

It turns out… I’d fit in just fine. It has been almost been a year since our trip to Teton Science School, and it’s still the vacation that we talk about to anyone and everyone who will listen to us. The experience was unforgettable and had a lasting impact on our family. Here are five things Operation Purple gave my military family:

  1. An Outdoor Adventure. Goodbye iPhones, tablets and TVs. During this family retreat, it was great to just BE with my family. We hiked, canoed, rafted, and dined family-style with others. I really wanted my kids to meet other kids who had gone through a deployment. I hoped it would give them a sense of belonging.
  2. 5-things-opc-gave-my-milfam-2Friends Who Understand Us. My kids hit it off immediately with another family and made friends within 5 minutes. They sang songs in the van with their new friends, and we had a nice adult break away meeting, where we could introduce ourselves and talk openly. The whole environment was fun and relaxed, with ice-breakers like “the one with the longest hair has to serve dinner,” or “whoever has blue eyes is on cleanup duty.
  3. The Opportunity to Give Back. Each Operation Purple Family Retreat includes a stewardship project, and ours involved pulling invasive weeds. It was really important for us to give back to the beautiful area that had given us such a beautiful week, and there’s just something about working with your hands that makes you feel both relaxed and exhausted.
  4. Time to Plan for the Future. How long will we live this military life? Are our kids happy with the choices we’ve made? What are our plans for the future? These are the type of questions that aren’t always easy to talk about when you’re rushing from school to one activity and then another. Our week together gave us time to discuss our future in the military with our children.
  5. A Renewed Sense of Pride. Being around other families like ours was like looking into a mirror for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, I felt extremely proud that we had made it through another deployment as a family. And you know what else? WOW! My kids are amazing! A documentary crew working on a PBS special airing this Memorial Day took an interest in my family, and I am thrilled and proud to share our military story with America.

We feel extremely blessed to have attended an Operation Purple Family Retreat and wish all military families could have that same experience. Military life isn’t easy—thank you Operation Purple for lifting some of the load.

Are you looking for a way to reconnect your military family? Check out our website and apply for an Operation Purple Family Retreat!

Posted by Sarah Noble, military spouse

6 Things I Learned Being a Geo-Bachelor Military Family

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I live 1,200 miles away from my husband, Kevin.

Some may call us a geo-bachelor family, but I like to think of us as ‘closer than a deployment, farther away than a couch snuggle.’ Our adventure in this lifestyle began in July 2014, when orders landed him in beautiful sunny California. Career timing was just not right for me to move along with him, and our daughter was starting middle school, so our family decided it was best for Kevin to go alone.

The decision for families to separate by distance, not by love, is one I’ve found many families make, often when the military members gets up in rank, or years. It’s harder for the kids to keep moving schools, or for the spouse to take another hit to their career when the husband only has a few years left. With so many of us encountering this situation, there is so much we don’t realize until we are entrenched.

Here are a few realities I’ve learned in the 10 long months we’ve been apart:

My husband is not a bachelor.
Sure, he’s living in a house with a roommate, but this is not a frat house. Girls are not hanging all over him, there are no keggers, and pizza is not a food group. Ok, pizza might be a food group. Otherwise, he leads a pretty boring life. When I call, chances are he’s playing board games with said roommate, napping, or watching TV. He still is married and devoted to me.

I can’t always be there, and neither can he.
I recently got a text message from my husband. “Honey, I love you. It’s been great knowing you, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you.” My heart sank. Sent just before he went into surgery, this would be the last message I’d receive if he never woke up. I was in the middle of a phone call with a client, and tears began to stream down my face. I couldn’t be there for him at a time when I really should have been.

He can’t be there for us, either. Kevin gets phone calls when we are on our way to the ER with a possible broken foot (again), and I’m sure he wishes he could be sitting with us, waiting for the x-rays, instead of stuck in his room 1,200 miles away. Other, less severe moments happen without him, too; he’s missed first school dances, first crushes, and first crushed hearts.

Communication is hard. Like really, really hard.
Communication is hard when you don’t have body language to back up what you’re saying. Arguments break out over internet connection problems. Relying on cell phones and Skype to have an emotional relationship is also trying, but we’re working through it. Slamming an “off” button on a cell phone is a lot less satisfying than a door, though it’s a lot more childish. We’re working through all of this and realizing that it’s just hard for both of us when we can’t reach out and hold each other’s hand.

When he visits, it’s not the same.
Kevin has his house, and I have mine. Except my house used to be where he lived, too. This makes visits seem a little awkward. Something might be out of place, or moved, or new, and all this ‘change’ makes things stressful on both of us. It isn’t how he left it, and that change reminds him of the distance between us. The reality is we each have a house that is our own to keep how we like it, and we shouldn’t judge the other person for living their lives without the other. But deep down inside, my house is his “home.” I have to learn to be sensitive to that fact.

I have it easier.
I stayed, surrounded by family and friends, in the comfort of our family home. My husband packed up 1 room, and moved 1200 miles away, knowing not a single soul. He’s met a few people, but I have it easier than he does. At the end of a long day, I have someone to come home to, who can listen to my day, give me a hug, and tell me it’s going to be okay. My husband has a roommate. Hugging would make things uncomfortable between the two of them, I think.

We are closer than we have ever been.
Despite the distance and separation, we are closer and more in love than we ever have been. Call it necessity, call it survival, or call it love; being a geo-bachelor family is trying. So are deployments, and TDYs, and frankly everyday life. We knew making this big decision could, quite possibly, push us apart, but it was not a death sentence on our marriage. Instead, we have grown closer. We now set aside time in our busy lives for each other. We are even more dedicated to each other than we ever have been in our past 12 years of marriage.

It was a difficult decision to divide our family, and choose to stay put, for the sake of our daughter’s education, and my career. Many people questioned our decision saying things like, “Why wouldn’t a wife want to be with her husband?” but we looked at the long-term path in our marriage and knew we had some serious relationship Super Glue that was going to hold us together. And we have held together, better than expected (not perfect, but better).

In case you were wondering, Kevin came out of surgery just fine and told me that message was supposed to be a joke. We’re still working on our communication through text message skills. Ugh.

Have you ever been a geo-bachelor family? What tips do you have?

kim-robertsonPosted by Kimberly Robertson, military spouse and blogger at 1200 Miles Away

The Unsung Heroes: Military Families

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April 17th, 2015 was my five year anniversary, and of course, my husband was away serving our country, so my cat and I celebrated together. Friends and family alike congratulated us from near and far. The well-wishes got me thinking: what’s the meaning of ‘family?’

Webster’s Dictionary says family is “a group of people who are related to each other.”

I have one of the best “blood” families in the world. My parents are my biggest champions and supporters. From the day my husband and I got married, my parents have been there for us; giving us an amazing wedding, being my cheerleaders through a crazy 13-month Master’s program, while I worked AND commuted over 110 miles round trip each day. And they were there for me when I wanted told them I wanted to make my real estate dream come true. My parents are such wonderful sources of knowledge–I wouldn’t be here without them.

Sure, that’s the family that Webster’s talking about. But Webster ignored an essential component to the military world.

The unsung family: our military family.

Our military family LITERALLY picked me up off the floor. They gave us a couch to crash on when our last minute PCS orders across the country (and our house purchase) fell through. They are the ones who get us through the trying moments of military life–those moments where blood family couldn’t pick us up off the floor and help us, because being available and present virtually just wasn’t going to make a problem go away.

When we first moved to Texas I was lonely and overwhelmed. Even though I’d lived in Germany and China, and convinced my husband I could live anywhere, this duty station was my Achilles heel. I was miserable and defeated before we even got started.

Then an amazing wife “adopted” me. She provided dinner for me between my 6 hour break between work, and the classes I was taking to complete my Master’s degree, since home was 52 miles away at the time. She nourished and brought me through those early days by just being there for me. She offered her kitchen table to cry on when it was needed. Her family even watched me walk across the stage when I finally finished my Masters’s. One Thanksgiving, alone and unable to make it to see my family, she brought me into their holiday traditions; I went with them to the in-laws’ house and Christmas tree picking. I was a 6th family member–no questions asked. I was included and it meant something to me.

When our fourth PCS move came, we had a last minute, traumatizing move to California. I was happy in the town we were in at the time (Virginia Beach) and I didn’t want to leave. It was during this PCS where we arrived to a base with no accommodations, so we stayed in a hotel until we closed on our house…which, unfortunately, fell through. Between spending a small fortune out of pocket for a hotel room, buying an unexpected house, and me not working, my blood pressure, and mental well-being was off the charts.

Until a member of our Officer’s Spouses Club saw me at the first meeting I attended in our new town.

“Would you like to stay with us?” she asked.

I remember thinking, this is never going to happen because it’s too good to be true. It DID happen and she was my angel. She not only came through, but she put up with me through my roughest moments and helped us get back on our feet! She said the things I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear them. She was a friend when my husband couldn’t be there.

But even more memorable was the first deployment my husband and I went through; we lost someone in our squadron. In that moment, the meaning of true sacrifice came to fruition, and it was rough on us all. A dear friend was there for me through every rough moment. She checked in on my cat when I needed to leave (this was a big deal because she is allergic) and she made sure I was cared for.

These unsung heroes even saw my dream, filled my weak spots, and stood by me when I launched my blog, ReluctantLandlord.net.

These are just snippets of millions of stories woven throughout the military community—one with an amazing group of people I am blessed, and honored, to call family. We are there to celebrate and praise, and we are there to lift up and hold. We have car seats in cars/garages even when our kids are too old or too big, because we’re ready for a moment’s notice when another needs them. We become emergency contacts after only days of knowing each other, and no matter what, we are ready to step up.

These are the members of the unsung family. The family that steps in when the blood family just can’t be there. I am grateful and honored to be on this journey with you over the past 5 years. I can’t wait to see where the next year leads me. I only hope I can offer an ounce of the great leadership, friendship, and love I have seen and been honored to receive.

Posted by Elizabeth Colegrove, Navy spouse and blogger at ReluctantLandlord.net

This One’s For You, Military Spouse!

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May 8th is Military Spouse Appreciation Day—a day to recognize and thank the person who ties up all the loose ends in our lives that we don’t always have time to deal with ourselves. In my nine years of active duty service in the Navy, my wife has been with me for eight of them. I couldn’t have accomplished as much as I have without her. Our spouses deserve to have the spotlight on them, not just on Military Spouse Appreciation Day…but every day we put on our uniforms and lace our boots.

Being a military spouse is sometimes harder than most people think. Let me tell you just a few reasons why my wife is awesome:

She keeps me motivated. She’s always encouraging when I miss rank advancement by only a couple of points. And when I don’t score as high as I want in my college classes, she’s there to push me harder in the next class.

Her skills in the kitchen. I’ll just say this: award-winning chicken salad. Literally.

She’s involved in my Command. I love that she cares about other military families, and serves voluntarily as our Ombudsman. (And it’s nice to see her during the work day, when she is doing things for our command Sailors, Marines, and their families)

Her unending support. Whether I’m shining my boots, ironing a uniform, or studying for an upcoming exam or an awards Board, she’s always there to help…even if we just talk to pass the time.

If you’re a service member, take my advice: on your break today, call your spouse, say “Thanks for doing what you do!”

And to my wife: don’t worry about dinner tonight…Chick-Fil-A, Franzia, and I have it covered.

Have an awesome spouse? What do you appreciate most about them? Send them an eCard to show your love!

matt-s-headshotPosted by Matt S., Logistics Specialist, United States Navy

6 Tips for Military Family Mental Well-Being

happy-child-and-dadIt’s no secret that military families face a unique set of stressors. Deployments and frequent moves, sometimes across continents and oceans, add layers of complexity to everyday life. At times even the most level-headed and experienced families feel challenged by the strain. (Speaking from experience, here.)

In the throes of transition we find comfort in the fact that many have successfully braved this path before us. If they’ve all done this, so can we! But to thrive we need to pull out some tools to maintain our family’s mental well-being. You know, before we’re covered in iced coffee just outside the BX bathroom, sobbing with the children while one takes off his pants as a kind stranger holds the door open for us.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and for some, it only takes a few simple tips to sustain your mental health. Here are some tools for easing the stress of military life:

Laughter
Staring down an endless to-do list hardly feels like a time to laugh until you cry, but the act of laughter is scientifically proven to boost your mood and bring you closer to your partner. Allow time for fun and silliness to ease the tension through times of transition.

Connection
It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of preparing for a PCS or running a household during a deployment. Take time to connect with your family and friends to remain grounded. Express your gratitude for them. It’s one of the essential ingredients for happiness.

Nourishment
You’ve heard it: we are what we eat. A diet high in sugar and saturated fats will make anyone feel sluggish and moody. Healthful, nutritionally-packed foods will provide lasting energy and plenty of long-term health benefits.

Exercise
You also know that exercise is a key component to mental and physical wellness. If the thought of sweating makes you cringe, disguise it as fun for the whole family. Bike around the neighborhood, hike, play ball games, have a dance party…these are just a few ways to rack up minutes of exercise and connect with each other.

Breaks
An ability to identify your own needs is crucial to wellness, and sometimes what you most need is just a break. Give yourself permission to ask your spouse or a friend to watch the kids for a few hours while you take some time to re-center. Allow them to do the same. Even machines wear down over time.

Support
Sadly, Mary Poppins isn’t real. Understand that you are not alone in this journey, as lonely as you may feel sitting on the floor of an empty house in a foreign country feeding your baby in the middle of the night while your husband is deployed. You aren’t the only person to walk this path. Reach out. None of us is expected to handle all of this alone.

This month, take some tip to slow down and check in with yourself and your family. Do you need a good belly-laugh-dance party? Crank up the jams and get to it! If you’re concerned for someone in your life, take advantage of the many resources available before it’s too late.

lbphotoPosted by Lynn Beha, military spouse, mom, and blogger, who writes about the adventures (and such) of life overseas on her blog, Wanderlynn