Category Archives: Guest Posts

A New Chapter and A New Career: Life After the Military

FINRA-fellowship-1As a military spouse and parent, I know the frustration of thinking about my own goals and wondering “When will my time come?” For me, the small steps I took during those active duty years, combined with opportunities like the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation, have guaranteed an amazing new chapter in military retirement!

Life changes quickly as a military family; our lives are packed into boxes every few years as we change time zones and weather zones. Like death and taxes, change is about the only constant.

Constant change frustrated me! I wanted to buy a house and put down roots, find a great job and become an asset to the company, go back to school, and plan my life in detail 3, 5, or 10 years down the road.

Money management was frustrating, too. Housing and cost-of-living-allowances were always changing, military housing was available here and there, and I was always losing my accounting job, and ultimately losing the extra income. Going back to earn a master’s degree was a well-coordinated effort of location and my spouse’s duty assignments.

Many times, it was hard to see beyond the day-to-day challenges of supportive spouse and parent.

Retirement brought promises of stability. We finally bought that great house knowing we don’t have to move again. The nest was empty as children headed off to college. Now was my chapter!

I reflected on my future after being a full-time mom, all-around volunteer, and part-time accountant. I wanted to help people with their financial lives and be part of the solution to our national financial crisis. Plus, I could give back by supporting military families in making the most of their finances and the positive benefits of the military life.

The FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship helped me tremendously in my career shift to personal finance. The experience and connections from my practicum hours (the experience requirement) increased my skills and confidence when working with the military and civilian community. Still today, after earning the Accredited Financial Counselor designation in 2012, incredible opportunities arrive continuously for teaching, writing, networking, and counseling.

I have no doubt that everything associated with my Fellowship contributed to my acceptance to Kansas State University’s competitive PhD program in Personal Financial Planning, in 2013. As part of that program, I have also started the education classes towards the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation. My time has come, and the possibilities after my 2017 graduation are exciting!

Thank you FINRA, National Military Family Association, and the AFCPE for recognizing and honoring my role as a military spouse and financial counselor volunteer –and providing this Fellowship for military spouses.

The 2014 FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship applications period opens March 3-April 18. Visit http://www.militaryspouseafcpe.org/
for more information.

2011-09-04-Cherie-Christian-PFGuest Post by Cherie Stueve, 2011 FINRA Military Spouse Fellow, MBA CPA (Inactive) AFC®, and Proud Coast Guard Spouse

Semper Gumby: Make your dreams fit your life!

archaelogist-milspouse

As a Marine Corps spouse, I always try to embody the motto “Semper Gumby,” by always being flexible, but sometimes that’s really difficult. In fact, I just got word that instead of heading to a Marine Corps base in California, we’re heading to Virginia Beach, Virginia, instead. All these moves (six in the last three years!) and last-minute changes to our plans have made me question if I’ll ever fulfill my dream of working as an archaeologist. It’s been nearly impossible to hold down a job at all, much less attain my biggest career goals. But just as military spouses are flexible, we’re also resilient.

Archaeology has fascinated me since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved history, and solving the mysteries and questions that history presents. As an undergraduate student, my interests got a little more specific, and I decided to pursue underwater archaeology and archaeology of early America.

Roadblocks
When my path to becoming a working archaeologist faced some road blocks, it was time to regroup. I started volunteering in local museums, and working as a gift shop cashier. The next step was to figure out a way to make my work more meaningful and in line with my interests. I also needed to make my career portable. I enrolled in an online program to earn a certificate in Geographic Information Science (GIS), a computer program used to develop maps—basically the Microsoft Office of the archaeology world. Having a GIS certificate means I can still be involved in archaeology and history, but can work remotely or on a consultation basis. I didn’t stop there, though, because I knew I wanted a master’s degree.

A Fork in the Road
One of the biggest challenges military spouses face when pursuing higher education is how to go about getting it. The online GIS classes meant I could stay with my spouse, and wouldn’t have to quit school if we were forced to move unexpectedly. But while online classes forced me to stay very self-motivated, I didn’t get the same support from other students as I would have in a classroom setting.

Reaching Your Destination
When I looked for graduate programs, I decided to make the difficult decision to go away to school at the University of Rhode Island. The upside is that I can focus solely on work and research and I get to interact with other professionals in my field. The downside is that I am away from my husband.

How do we cope? By looking at this as an educational “deployment,” and like all deployments, it will end.

What have I learned? Think about what’s going to make you happy. Scholarships, like the one I received from the National Military Family Association are a huge help!

Keep an open mind. It is possible to make your dreams fit your life!

Have you ever had a “Semper Gumby” moment? How did you handle it?

Guest Post by Jessica Glickman, 2012 Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient

Making a difference in the lives of military families

maryann-makekau-2

I took note of the uniformed soldiers passing by me in this morning’s airport shuffle. “Thank you,” I said with a nod and a smile. Given that an estimated million children have had one or both parents deploy to war, I thought: Are these troops returning from a combat zone or heading to one of the worldwide locations our Armed Forces occupy? Perhaps others are taking well-deserved leave time.

Communities have magnified understanding and support during our Nation’s 12 years at war. As one Vietnam War veteran reported in The Sojourn, “I think the public opinion has shifted 180 degrees … they do everything they can now to support, honor, encourage, care for the veterans.”

With more than 1 million service members transitioning to civilian life over the next five years, campaigns like Got Your 6 are working to bridge the civilian-military gap to ensure “veterans and military families are perceived as leader and civic assets.”

It’s been nearly thirty years since I’ve worn the uniform. My father was initially apprehensive, having served in the National Guard during a time in history when women didn’t readily join the ranks. This Veterans Day afforded the opportunity for my father and me to share military stories, face-to-face, for the first time since my enlistment. My position in military life shifted over the years, and so did Dad’s attitude. As I made the transition from active duty to career military spouse raising two “brats,” my parents praised the Air Force umbrella over my family.

Alongside Veterans Day, November marks National Military Family Appreciation Month as another opportunity to recognize our Nation’s troops and their families. Among those working to make a difference is Cody Jackson, known as “One Boy USO.” He’s been greeting and thanking our troops at airports for five years. He has sent over 4,500 pounds of care packages and he’s just 10 years old.

While moving is an inherent part of military life, it isn’t necessarily easy. The vast majority of military kids will have moved six to nine times prior to graduating high school. One of my children rolled with the changes, the other detested it and even climbed a tree refusing to be re-rooted during one of their six moves. Ironically, our “tree-hugger” child has now moved even more in her adult life, and loves it!

Military spouses must also find ways to navigate the interruptions in family life and careers. In recognizing the frequent moves, remote locations, and child care responsibilities, Hiring Our Heroes’ nationwide initiative strives to provide spouses with a path to find transferable, rewarding careers.

November is also Warrior Care Month. Advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, have led to unprecedented numbers of service members surviving severe wounds or injuries. Recovering warriors, and caregivers alike, are among those needing our nation’s recognition and support – they have, no doubt, made a sacrifice for our own lives. Let us strive to make a difference in theirs, too.

How have military service members and their families made a difference in your life?

maryann-makekauGuest Post by Maryann Makekau, USAF veteran, author, and founder of Hope Matters

Help Veterans and Their Families “Make the Connection”

make-the-connectionWhen Reagan returned home from service in the Marine Corps, his fiancée, Tiffany, noticed he was on edge and frequently irritable. Although it took some time for Reagan to connect with the care he needed for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, Tiffany was able to help him understand that going to counseling was an important thing to do—not just for himself, but for his family, as well.

As a loved one of a veteran or service member, you provide support to those who have served, or are serving our country. You’ve been there for them during good times and hard times, and you might be the first to notice if they are having a tough time. Whatever challenges you and the veteran or service member in your life may be dealing with, and no matter how long they’ve been going on, you are not alone. Support is available. Every day, veterans and their families connect with resources and services to manage the issues they face, and find ways to improve their lives.

Make the Connection, a campaign by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), encourages military families to seek support and be encouraged by powerful stories, like Tiffany and Reagan’s, that showcase strength, connection, and overcoming challenges. At MakeTheConnection.net, veterans and service members from every military branch, service era, and background speak about their experiences during and after service, including how they faced adversity, reached out for support, and moved forward in their lives. Hundreds of short videos of veterans and their families are featured on this highly accessible online resource. The website also includes reliable information about mental health and resilience, signs and symptoms of problems, common life events and experiences, and a locator for VA and community-based resources.

Military families and others can support veterans and service members by exploring MakeTheConnection.net to download materials to print and distribute. You can also visit the YouTube channel, “like” the Facebook page, and share content with your friends to build support for veterans and their families. Support from the VA and other organizations helped Tiffany and Reagan, and it can help a veteran you know, too.

How Do You Keep Busy During Deployments?

Half-marathon-with-RickTwo years ago, I ran the Marine Corps 10K race for the first time. It was the longest run I had ever done in my life up to that point. I trained for that run because, like many who find themselves with a spouse deployed, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I needed a healthy distraction. So for months I would drag myself out of bed early on the weekends to do a “long” run while my husband was away.

I started running with the goal of lasting 20-30 minutes without stopping. It was the middle of a typical hot and humid Washington, D.C. summer, so this was no easy feat. Each week, I would increase my time by 5 minutes, or at least run for the same amount of time as the previous week. And every week, I would Skype, email, or tell my husband on the phone the update on my progress.

I didn’t have a formal training plan; I thought that if I gradually increase my running time, I would eventually cover 6.2 miles, which is the length of a 10K run.

Once I committed to do the race and paid the registration fee, there was still a nagging doubt that I could reach the finish line. I had run many 5K’s before, and regularly exercised. But the thought of running more than five miles seemed so out of reach for me.

Looking for more incentive, I signed up to help raise money for the George Washington University Cancer Institute. I was a graduate student at the school, and had many family members affected by cancer, so I was happy to join the team of runners to raise money for cancer programs and research.

On race day, I bundled up — it was an unusually cold October morning — and off I went, running with thousands of people happy and excited to be there. Thousands more spectators lined the road cheering us on, carrying signs like, “Don’t stop now, people are watching,” “Worst parade ever,” and “You’re running better than the government.”

Before I knew it, I was nearing the finish line, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t fainted! The Marine Corps 10K was exhilarating and exhausting, and had me hooked. I had no intention of stopping now that I had I found my stride, so to speak. When my husband returned from his deployment, I had to convince him to run with me. He wasn’t used to running without a physical fitness test looming.

Since that deployment-inspired Marine run, I have participated in the Army, Air Force, and Navy runs, as well as a few other races in Washington, D.C., and on October 26, 2013, I ran in the Marine Corps 10K again as part of the TAPS Run & Remember Team, which pays tribute to the sacrifices made by our military service members, and raises funds to create awareness and support programs for military families.

We might not have a deployment scheduled any time soon, but we continue to run. Our weekend workouts have become part of our routine now, an activity I look forward to all week long.

What activities do you like to do during your service member’s deployments? Share it in the comments section!

lalaine-estellaGuest Post by Lalaine Estella Ricardo, National Military Family Association Volunteer

OP Bear’s Visit to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove

Tim-Neilson---camp-sandy-cove-(5)My journey to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove with Association employees Karen Cook and Simmone Quesnell started out early on a dreary, rainy day. I was a bit worried about going to a new camp and meeting everyone.

As we arrived at Camp Sandy Cove, located snugly in the hills of West Virginia, the sun started to peak out and the fog cleared away. What a relief! A wet, foggy day might not stop a military kid at camp, but it would have left me feeling like one sad, soggy teddy bear.

We were greeted by camp Director Tim Nielson and camp Programs Director Tim Glass, who made my stay a fun one, for sure! They introduced us to all the “Chiefs,” (who I think are really camp counselors), along with all the campers and the rest of the staff.

Before the campers and Chiefs went off for their activities, we got to speak to the campers, and, boy, I loved that! We were able to tell them how excited we were to be at camp with them and how important military kids are to us!
I posed for pictures with the campers, and some told me about themselves. One girl said she was nervous about coming to camp, but once she arrived and settled in, she made a bunch of new friends! Hooray!

Other campers wrote special notes in my journal! Let me share a couple of them:

“Camp is amazing! I am so glad I was given the opportunity to attend. Thank you so much!” -Emma

“Coming to camp gives you the opportunity to let loose and make new friends who may be in the same position as you. The camp is for everyone!” -Jordan

simmone-and-op

Later that day, I helped groom a horse named Butter Cup! Then, one of the young boys let me use his mountain board – a skateboard with all-terrain wheels – and I went lightning fast down a hill! Of course, I was told how to do it safely by the “Chief” in charge.

I even got to fly on the trapeze with Simmone!

What a great day! Not only did I get to meet campers and get lots of hugs, but I also heard some pretty amazing stories of how military kids serve too!

After a great Operation Purple Camp visit, we arrived home to the Association headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. A few days later, at the Compass Rose Charities auction, I went off to my new and loving home for a $6,500 donation! The proceeds will pay for lots of kids to go to Operation Purple Camps in the future! Hip! Hip! Hooray!

op-bearPosted by OP Bear, with help from Karen Cook, Volunteer Services Coordinator, North Region

Following My Fitness Dream!

Run-Amuck-2013-015For years, I have been following a need: the need to provide stability for our family while supporting my husband’s career in the Navy.

At one time, the Navy was my career as well. I knew being a Naval Officer was not where I was meant to be, but it appears to be exactly what my husband was destined for. I was happy he found his calling. I didn’t mind staying at home and handling the everyday stress and roller coaster ride of being a military family…for a while.

After my second daughter was born, I struggled with postpartum depression. I figured it would pass, but a year later, I was still not “myself.” I did a lot of soul searching and realized I wasn’t doing anything for myself. How could I be myself when I wasn’t living the life I wanted?

Part of the reason I joined the military was to further my education. I had earned the GI Bill, but had yet to use it four years after separating from the Navy. In college, I played sports and lifted weights, but I hadn’t done either since leaving the Navy.

I knew it was time to reclaim the things I loved. I joined a local gym, and began playing in a volleyball league. It took months to really motivate myself to get to the gym just three days a week. I started to feel stronger and happier. I knew, from past experience, the euphoria one feels after completing a difficult challenge.

I decided to challenge myself. I signed up for my first 5K race. Despite my physical training in the Navy, I never considered myself a runner. I hated running! That’s exactly why I had to do it. If I could just finish, I would get a small taste of that sense of accomplishment. While I didn’t break any records, I had a blast. I was hooked.

I began to look at working out and running as my anti-depressant. It is amazing the clarity that comes during a run, or after a tough workout. Nothing else matters anymore. You can do anything. I wanted to share this feeling with everyone.

Using the GI Bill I had earned, I became a certified personal trainer. For the past five years, I have been learning as much as possible about health and fitness. A Master’s degree was simply the next challenge.

I am currently completing my graduate education in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and continuing to improve my own health and fitness. As challenging as it is to balance my kids, my school work, and my husband’s ridiculous schedule, I couldn’t be happier.

Depression is no match for the enlightening powers of exercise, and the euphoria of accomplishment. My greatest hope is to pay it forward. I want to teach my fellow military spouses and children that exercise and good health is one of the best ways to handle this crazy adventure of military life.

Now instead of a need, I am following a dream.

MelissaGuest Post by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

PTSD can be quiet

ptsd-soldierPrior to my husband’s last deployment, I had no direct contact with anyone who came home with PTSD. At least no one who was open about it, or even acted how I thought someone with PTSD would act.

That’s one of the troubles with PTSD. It’s not how someone acts in public or controlled situations; it’s how they act when no one else is around.

I had known from telephone and email conversations that something wasn’t right with my own husband. He would call and make wild, angry statements because I forgot to close the garage door. When he actually returned home from deployment, the problems became worse. He began not sleeping at all, and then slept for days. The anger, outbursts, and sullen behavior all reached epic levels. It nearly toppled our marriage over into a hole that it could never crawl out of.

You see, my husband denied he had PTSD, as many do. Because I was largely uneducated, with the exception of knowing PTSD wasn’t what the media portrayed, I didn’t really know what to do. I couldn’t fully see the tell-tale signs in my husband until it was almost too late.

He doesn’t have flashbacks in the “traditional” sense. Instead, his PTSD is quiet, it’s withdrawn, and it’s mean.

I wish I had known all of the ways PTSD can manifest itself. I wish I had known PTSD isn’t always yelling, fighting, and violent. I wish I had known that many of the things we often associate with PTSD are just a very small sampling of what can really be happening in your home.

My husband is withdrawn. He can go months without really speaking to me about anything. This started immediately after he returned, but being his wife, I became a great excuse maker. We never want to think PTSD has touched our life and our spouse. So I made excuse after excuse.

“He’s withdrawn because he’s adjusting.”
“He’s not sleeping because of the time difference.”
“He’s sleeping all the time because of the stress.”

But what it all added up to was a giant elephant in the room, one that he refused to talk about. An elephant that I was scared to bring up.

Sometimes, his posture changes, and I can tell that he is not in the moment with me anymore, but somewhere else entirely. Those times can be followed by silence, or an escalation of anger, but I know it’s not me he is angry at.

When he does have angry outbursts, it’s often at times when I least expect it. He once became angry with me when I asked him to bring me ketchup from the kitchen.

We are shown, and told, that PTSD is loud; that it is crazy, emotional, and intense. There can be violence, drinking, and wild behavior, but that isn’t always the case, and I truly wish I had known that. Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to the brink of divorce.

I would tell any spouse, any family member or friend: Watch.

Simply watch your loved one. Has their sleep pattern changed? Are they sullen or withdrawn? Have they refused to see friends since their return? Are they having memory issues? All of those things, simple as they sound, can be warning signs.

PTSD can be the silent secret that you aren’t even sure is really there. It can be a quiet ordeal your spouse may be living with every day, but not saying anything about. It can be new behaviors you’ve never seen before, or old behaviors that you haven’t seen in a while.

If you suspect anything might be wrong, talk to them. Don’t ask what they did or saw, just talk to them about your concerns. Don’t let it become the elephant in the room and the secret you keep because they don’t want to talk about it. Angry or not, it’s so important that you urge them to seek help. I was lucky that I managed to get my husband into treatment, but others are not as lucky.

Because PTSD can be quiet.

Guest Post by Annie Mously, military spouse blogger

**October 10 is National Depression Screening Day. Take this opportunity to learn about your risk for depression, anxiety or PTSD by completing a simple self-assessment online at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org.

Sinking to Soaring: 7 steps to position yourself for success

successHitting the books has always come easy for me. In fact, I love school. I could easily become a perpetual student if given the chance. I already have an undergraduate and a graduate degree under my belt, and I’m currently pursuing a certification that will open many doors in my current profession.

And of course, there’s plenty of additional training in my future. I recognize the tremendous value of education. Education is the key that has unlocked many opportunities for me.

So why do I continue to struggle to reach my educational goals?

Over the years, I have found that my educational pursuits often take a back seat, because finding the time, energy, and money to spend on my schooling is a problem when life is so busy. Like many other military spouses, I struggle to carve out the time it takes to tackle my educational goals with so many other demands on my plate.

Between the endless chores necessary to keep our household afloat, and keeping all my other plates spinning, I sometimes feel as if I’m struggling to keep my head above the water and a smile on my face. With all that, how can I plug in something extra?! I think we all find ourselves in this spot at one time or another.

I would love to tell you how great it is to invest in yourself through training and education, but if we’re in a place where we’re already overwhelmed, that sort of advice is about as useful as an oar without a rowboat.

The key is to position ourselves in a more comfortable place where we can do more than just survive. We need to get ourselves to a place where we can make choices without something else forcing us to make a decision, a place where we can put in extra effort for the things that truly matter, which make a real impact on the quality of our life in the long run. We need to reach a point where we can engage in our life instead of trudging through it and feeling depleted and at a standstill at the end of each day.

Even though I have successfully completed a number of educational goals, I still occasionally find myself in sinking mode. Recognizing that life never seems to be completely in control, I have come to rely on a few steps to get myself back in a ready position when I feel like I am thrashing.

Try these steps the next time you find yourself struggling to stay afloat:

  1. Recognize. Awareness is vital to change. I first need to recognize that I am sinking.
  2. Decide. Action starts with the decision to act. I must decide that I want to stop sinking. If I never make the decision to change my situation, the likelihood that it will naturally work itself out is pretty slim. So, instead of just crossing my fingers, I will make a deliberate decision to change.
  3. Plan. The most difficult part is to figure out how to get out of it. Once I wrap my head around my current situation and identify my goals, then I can start connecting the dots. I will write down my game plan and list out the actions necessary to get from point A to point B.
  4. Rally. The journey is often exhausting and defeating without proper support. I will pick out sources of support so that I know where to go, or who to talk to, if I run into problems or want to give up on my plan.
  5. Act. Plans are worthless if not acted upon. I will make the sacrifices necessary and put in the hard work required to act on my plan. I will do what it takes to reach my goal.
  6. Rebound. Bumps, setbacks, and turns are inevitable, but the result depends on the response. I know that the road will be difficult, and when I get knocked down, I will get back up and continue towards my goals. If I need to reevaluate my plan, then I commit to making the changes necessary to ultimately reach my goal, even if it is redefined.
  7. Recognize. Just as awareness is important to start the process, recognition is important to complete the process. Once I find myself no longer sinking, I will stop and give myself a pat on the back. I will recognize my small successes along the way, and I will be sure to thank those who helped me in my journey.

These seven steps can help you change anything, from daily tasks to increase efficiency, to making a major career change to feel more fulfilled by the work you do.

However you choose to apply these steps is up to you, but make sure that they are taking you to a better place. The goal is to eventually seek out that oar and take larger, more impactful steps toward improving your life through education.

The goal is to soar.

maikman-headshotGuest Post by Michelle Aikman, 2012 recipient of the National Military Family Association Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship

Remembering Justin on my First Gold Star Mother’s Day

Justin_and_Phyllis-GOLD-STARI’m a new Gold Star Mom. I’m just beginning this new journey of what that means to be a mother who has lost her child.

My son Justin was a calm baby in the womb, usually perfectly happy to just sleep calmly close to my heart. That all changed when he was born six and a half weeks premature, and spent his first weeks in the NICU. That’s when we knew he was a fighter.

Growing up, Justin would always zero in on one particular thing in life, and be so passionate about that one thing. First, it was dinosaurs. Then wolves, pirates, and sunken ships. After that, it was a love of knights, castles, and finally, the military and its history.

My own family could trace its military history back to Europe and the Revolutionary War. My father-in-law was a West Point graduate and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Having two grandfathers who both served in the military was something Justin admired very much.

It came as no surprise when Justin told us he wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember how he told us, but it just seemed to be the natural order of his life. It was in his genes, and we supported him.

Justin wanted to attend West Point and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brooks. After doing everything necessary, he was not accepted. Justin was very disappointed, but took it as a challenge to fight for what he wanted. He took an ROTC Scholarship to his dad’s alma mater, Florida State University.

At the end of his freshman year at FSU, Justin chose to give up his ROTC scholarship, and join the Florida National Guard. Much to our dismay, he followed his heart and finished Basic Training in the summer of 2008. A few months later, his National Guard Unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. As a full time student, Justin did not have to go. However, we were surprised to learn that he made the decision to deploy with his unit anyway.

We asked Justin, “Why?”

GOLD-STAR-Blog-2

He told us he felt the need to serve, and thought the experience would give him a better idea of what it would be like to lead his fellow soldiers in the future. Just like that, he was off to fight.

When he returned, he received the Bronze Star for his service, which is unusual for a Specialist to receive. He shrugged it off and said he was “just doing his job.”

Justin was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2012.

It was a proud moment for us all. He completed Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne and Assault, and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 1-506th, 4th BCT at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was a dream come true for Justin, as he had always admired the Airborne Unit. He deployed ahead of his unit on April 2, 2013, as part of TORCH, a group sent to light the way in preparation for everyone else to follow. Just like that, he was off to another fight.

[Read more of Phyllis' journey here]