Category Archives: Guest Posts

It’s OVER: How MilSpouses Can Provide Financial Stability at the End of a Military Career

family-with-wounded-dadYou are a military spouse. Your soldier, sailor, or airman serves the nation anytime, anywhere, and you stand behind them with pride. When the call comes, you watch the uniformed rows march into the aircraft or ship, heading away for however long the nation requires. And you smile and show support, even though you are worried, and already desperately missing your service member.

With one in five service members now disabled because of combat, injury is always at the forefront on one’s mind. Unfortunately, the chances of injury seem higher than any of us are comfortable with. But there are ways to prepare your family financially, should the unthinkable happen. Even transition and downsizing present a quick ending to what your service member thought would be a long, prosperous career.

As a former Army NCO, who had his career halted by an unexpected medical issue, I think income is the key focus to make sure your family is prepared. If your service member returns with an injury requiring them to stay on active duty for rehab, the impact on your income won’t be significant. However, if the injury results in a medical discharge, the impact can be severe. A sudden discharge can leave service members drawing a disability check that is a fraction of what they had been receiving. Many also may struggle to find new jobs to maintain their income, while they adjust to their ‘new normal’ of life after injury.

Service members transitioning may have to wait months to receive a Veterans Administration rating, or to even receive their first retirement check. Planning ahead for these moments can guarantee your family’s financial success.

This is where military spouses can step in. Educational opportunities exist, not only for military service members, but for military spouses, too! There are many programs, like MyCAA, for example, which provide access to educational funding for military spouses. Did you know the National Military Family Association provides scholarships for spouses, along with many partnerships with colleges, and even programs that offer reduced tuition rates?

The possibility of a PCS brings up concerns for traditional classroom programs. Can you transfer credits? What if you PCS in the middle of a semester? Will your specific degree even be offered in your new location? NMFA’s scholarships can give you the opportunity to engage in a certificate, or degree program, online. With online degrees, PCS moves are no longer a concern. Wherever you go, the school goes with you.

Taking advantage of these opportunities now, rather than later, can put you in a position to be an additional income, should injury, transition, or sudden discharge ever sideline your spouse. Having the option of using a degree or certificate to obtain work while your service member is recovering, or job hunting, can relieve the stress of suddenly having to live off of a significantly reduced income. It lets your spouse focus on recovery, a new career, or adjusting to a post-uniform life, and helps ease the stress your spouse may face feeling like they are letting the family down.

You are a military spouse. You are part of a team. While your service member is away, you maintain the home front. Just as your spouse is expected to engage in military readiness, you have a role in maintaining family readiness. Take advantage of what is available for you. Plan ahead, get educated, and be prepared to take over if transition, injury, or some other unforeseen event knocks on your door.

What do you think are some other things families can do to financially prepare for emergencies?

Posted by James Hinton, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Veteran

The Honeymoon. Then the Breakup.

Yellow_FootprintsI am one of those people who always has a smile on my face. I like to make others laugh even if it means pulling off some dorky and embarrassing 1980’s cabbage patch dance move or blurting out a silly slapstick joke. I hate to see anyone sad or hurt, but unfortunately today I have to say that the sad person is me. My heart has been broken.

It all started when the man in the uniform, and all that it stood for, won my heart. Our love blossomed and eventually we made the commitment. Our limited budget afforded us an intimate destination ceremony at the local court which was presided over by a wonderful and monotone must-have-hated-their-job justice of the peace. The ceremony was followed by an amazing dreamlike honeymoon at a quaint little spot called Carl’s Jr (I splurged on the budget and got fries and a diet coke…I know, I shouldn’t have but it was my wedding night!). I felt a little overdressed in my fancy wedding gown which resembled a t-shirt and jeans.

Two weeks later, the military sent my groom on a 6 month ‘break’ to Okinawa Japan. Those breaks seemed to regenerate themselves over and over again, for a grand total of 7 deployments and a few months of training exercises out of our blissful marriage, totaling more than 4 years apart. Through the course of 17 years, we would always re-kindle our love. Spending our moments at the Marine Corps Ball was a highlight for us. We spent a lot of time bonding with other military families at the unit’s mandatory family days and made great memories between moves. And then it happened; after years of loving him he dumped me. The Marine Corps dumped me.

But the one who broke my heart wasn’t my husband. It was the Marine Corps. My husband retired a few months ago after dutifully serving this country for twenty years. He did so without question, sacrificed so much of his time, and as a result I (along with our children) have sacrificed just as much as he has. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our good times, but my heart has been broken by the one thing that I was always supportive of and behind: the military.

Not only have we just figured out that my husband’s pension payment has not come through this month, but we are still awaiting a decision from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) regarding his final rating. This really couldn’t have come at a worse time; bills need to be paid, mouths need to be fed, and we are in the process of purchasing the home we currently live in, and only have a short amount of time left to prove to the lender, and the owners, that we qualify for the loan. If we could just get the VA rating finalized, we’d be over this hurdle.

We left all of our loved ones and moved across country to be able to afford to “live”. My husband is currently a full time student utilizing his GI Bill, and works two part-time jobs. I take care of the children, and work a part-time job while looking for full-time employment. Many of our friends have also been dumped by the Marine Corps. But not many share their story. Some go months before a pension payment is made, and years before a VA rating is approved.

I want to inspire you to act now. Please do yourself a favor and start saving for a rainy day NOW. Go back to college, or start college, and get those degrees NOW. Plan for the future NOW, whether it’s your first year of marriage to the Marine Corps, or your last.

Eventually, the love will be rekindled between the Marine Corps and me, but for now, I’m eating spoonfuls of salty, tear-filled ice cream while watching my favorite chick-flick. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after a break up?

Has the military broken up with you and your family? How did you deal with it?

Posted by Amy Smith, Marine Corps Spouse

Survive and Thrive: Our OCONUS Adventure to Okinawa!

The-Young-Retiree-in-OkiI’ll never forget how I felt when my husband mentioned we might be moving to Okinawa, Japan for three years. “Verbal orders,” he told me. This meant the move was not set in stone, but he should know for sure any day, and we should start preparing! I felt sick to my stomach and tears burned the back of my eyes. But I couldn’t let him see me upset over something that was going to be beneficial for his career.

Then the orders fell through and I released the biggest sigh of relief!

We began talking about all of the reasons why it was awesome that we didn’t have to go. Not long after, he told me again, “Verbal orders…to a different command in Okinawa.” Talk about an ironic twist of fate. I was stressed. I was heartbroken. I was scared!

Once again, I kept the emotions hidden from him, but openly sobbed on the phone with my grandma the next day. When I married him, I made a commitment to myself, and to him, that wherever the Navy sent him, I would not only follow, but I would bloom where we were planted.

I opened up to him about my fears; there’s no sense in keeping it all in. And if you are, I would encourage you to talk to your spouse – if they’re anything like mine, they’ll know exactly how you feel, but could be putting on a strong front for you. This is a great time to encourage each other through the move!

We hit Pinterest together and I created two boards: “Travel: Okinawa” and “Travel: Asia” to get us inspired about the move. We started researching all of the amazing things we would get the chance to experience once we arrived. We started looking at the MWR and MCCS websites, and dreaming of the trips we would save our money to go on.

The-Young-Retiree-in-Oki2The minute I landed in Tokyo, I was smitten with the country and knew Okinawa was going to be an amazing adventure! When we got settled, we created a bucket list: “101 Okinawa Things in 1,001 Days.” With silly things like eat at 50 new restaurants, and stay at 6 (as yet undiscovered) resorts on the island! We’re also doing free things like collecting a jar of sea glass, and visiting various castle ruins. We even included some lofty ideas like visit Kathmandu or Bali, hike Mt. Fuji, and walk on the Great Wall of China!

We’ve crossed seven things off our list and are working on five others! I never, in a million years, thought I would be vacationing overseas, let alone living there! I carry my bucket list in my purse, and on the weekends we look at it to see what we can cross off. Whether we book a tour through ITT to go to the world’s biggest tug of war, see battle sites around the island, or if we hop in the car and pull over when we see beautiful beaches… we get out there and enjoy our new home!

If you’re looking at overseas orders (or even orders on the other side of the country), and find it a little overwhelming and paralyzing: take a deep breath, cry it out, then hop on the internet and research all of the fun, once-in-a-lifetime things you’ll be able to do. You’ll get so much more out of your time at your new home if you live positively, make an adventure list, and get busy crossing things off!

Have you ever moved out of the United States? How did you bloom where you were planted?

elizabeth-osbornPosted by Elizabeth Osborn, a Navy Spouse, living in Okinawa with her husband, enjoys a life of leisure during their time abroad by being active in several spouse groups both through the military and in the local community. She blogs about their adventures and her experiences at The Young Retiree.

Getting Your Military Family Organized: 10 Tips to Use Right Now!

organized-boxesWhether you’re undertaking a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to California or Korea, or you’re staying put for a few years, it can be tough to organize your home — and keep it organized. Here are 10 tips that’ll help you get your household shipshape in 2015.

1. Write it down.

Professional organizers say if you’re truly committed to getting organized, start by jotting down the areas in your home that need to be tackled. Focus on areas of your home, not rooms. For instance, you might concentrate first on a cluttered drawer in your kitchen. “If you have several messy rooms, you may need to break it up into small, manageable pieces,” says professional organizer, Janet Bernstein.

2. Schedule organizing sessions.

To keep up with organizing tasks, set aside time on your calendar to accomplish them. This adds an element of accountability. “If you only carve out two hours for organizing time each week, that adds up to eight hours a month, which adds up to 96 hours for the year,” Bernstein said. “Keep that in mind, and you’ll have the motivation to keep up your organizing throughout the year.”

3. Learn how to say goodbye.

If you don’t love it, need it or use it, then let it go. Repeat this to yourself frequently if you have a difficult time parting with possessions.

4. Swap your stuff.

Professional organizer Jamie Novak recommends that if you’ve got toys, clothes, kitchen gadgets or other items you no longer need, you should host a swap with other military families who might want your stuff, and vice versa.

5. Turn clutter into cash.

Companies like Amazon.com, Best Buy and Gazelle.com will let you trade in used items such as tablets, books and video games in exchange for cash or account credit. For more tips on turning clutter into cash, visit The Sparefoot Blog.

6. Use what you’ve already got.

Rather than tossing certain items in the recycling bin, you can turn them into organizing tools. For instance, Novak said, leftover egg cartons make great drawer organizers, and storing extension cords in old paper-towel rolls can keep them untangled.

7. Set up a lost-and-found area.

To reduce household clutter, designate a lost-and-found container or drawer. Whenever something is left out like a cord for an electronic device or a doll’s shoe, you can toss it in the lost-and-found and the person who lost it will know where to look.

8. Create a household binder.

Use a three-ring binder filled with tabbed dividers, page protectors, and pocket folders, along with a slot for a pen, to stash important paperwork, Novak suggested. This could include documents like your apartment rental contract, or your insurance policies.

9. Purchase a label maker.

Sticking labels on containers to indicate what’s inside them makes it easier to keep track of your stuff. That way, you’re not wasting time trying to figure out where your kids’ hand-me-downs are.

10. Buy versatile furniture.

“Because military families move so much, they need furniture that does double duty,” professional organizer Leslie Jacobs said. “How about a coffee table with storage so you can store video games and the like?”

What tips do you have for getting organized this year? Tell us in the comments!

Posted by John Egan, Editor in Chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps people find and book self-storage units. To find military discounts for self-storage, visit MilitaryStorage.com. For more information about military-related storage, moves and home organization, visit blog.militarystorage.com.

NMFA Scholarships Make It Easy… Even in the “Hard” Majors!

alexis-lorbeckiEducation is very important to me. I always said that after graduating high school, I wanted to go straight to college. As a military spouse desiring to pursue higher education, I was always worried I wouldn’t be able to find a college near my husband’s base. I was also concerned with being able to afford college (who isn’t?), and even being smart enough to stay in college. Even though my dreams of continuing my education were surrounded with worry, one thing was always certain: I was going to make it to medical school, and eventually become a doctor.

I am majoring in Biochemistry at Armstrong State University. I know what you’re thinking: “How hard and time consuming that must be!”

Yes, it’s very hard and you do need to study a lot in order to do well, but I don’t think people have a good understanding on what all of these “hard” majors, like Chemistry, Engineering, or Biology, really have to offer. If military spouses find out just a little information about these different degrees, and learn how they can get started and what they need to do, I think more of us will become interested in these fields. With a little time and effort, these “hard” majors are very attainable!

I was originally a Biology major, because I love learning about how the body works and all of the components that make it work. I wanted to learn as much as I could! But just last year, my school started to offer a Bachelor in Science Degree in Biochemistry. I love biology, but I really enjoy chemistry, too. Being in a lab, working on experiments is thrilling for me! I knew that changing my major to Biochemistry was the perfect way to combine all the things I love to learn about. I’m able to have both chemistry and biology aspects in my degree, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Being selected to receive a scholarship from the National Military Family Association (NMFA) has given me the chance to stay in school and follow my dreams of getting my Biochemistry degree. Without that undergraduate degree, my goal of getting into, and finishing, medical school would be a little harder to reach.

I found out about the National Military Family Association Military Spouse Scholarships through a military wives Facebook page—all of the wives have spouses in my husband’s company. One of the wives posted about how she found out about NMFA’s scholarships, and she highly recommended any of us who were in college to apply for them! The best part about NMFA’s spouse scholarships is that the application process is simple, and easy to find!

I’m so happy I decided to apply for these scholarships. It has made such a difference for me and my family. Even if you think you won’t get picked, take the time to apply for YOU. Pursuing your education may be the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself!

I’ll even suggest joining me in the Biochemistry field!

Posted by Alexis Lorbecki, NMFA Scholarship Recipient and Army Spouse, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA

Letters of War: Hope in a Cedar Chest

love-lettersYears ago, we inherited a cedar chest from one of our adopted Marines. I didn’t think much of it. Honestly, it was just another thing I had no use for, but it was an interesting piece of furniture, nonetheless.

Naturally, as a military spouse, I made it a point to give it a purpose, in order to justify dragging this thing around from move to move. I filled it with deployment memorabilia I would come across.

While doing so, I began to notice through the years of things, email began to dominate most of our communication. Something about the convenience of instantly being able to communicate the thoughts and feelings that overcome and overwhelm you when the love of your life is miles away, is a blessing and impossible to resist. However, out of habit l would still write letters on paper. Even when he would insist it was no longer a necessity, I would still write to him.

My husband is not the type that shows excitement easily, but the bounce in his voice when he would tell me he got a letter has always been addicting. I loved hearing his plans for the pictures, how he planned to keep some in his wallet, versus the pictures he planned to pin to his wall. It was a brief moment of reprieve from the distance. I loved soaking in every bit of this happiness as he was holding something from home; a serendipitous moment for me. For a second, it almost felt like he was much closer to home.

I am not sure how most families do it, but in our family, we describe time by its location before, during, or after deployments. Stretching time, slowing it down, and filling it with a lifetime of memories become the most important orders of the day. That “Welcome Home” moment is one where space, time, and distance collide, and produce a most surreal reality. It’s the moment where our deepest thoughts and feelings are conveyed within that long powerful grip of our initial embrace. At home, his laughter finally echoes and booms down the hall, as if he never left.

Fast forward several deployments later, and we now have three beautiful children. Duty stations have come and gone. The treasure chest has been moved more times, and to more houses, than most people live in through two lifetimes. But as I like to whisper to my children, “Adventure is what we do for a living, baby.”

It was not until our most recent move to the opposite coast that anyone really paid attention to the treasure chest. Truth be told, I was busy battling the humid, fly-filled Carolina heat, helping my husband carry furniture into our new home, when I noticed the girls huddled in a corner of the garage going through the many contents of the aging cedar treasure chest.

My heart could not have been more delighted. Our children, marveling at prom corsages, the dried flower I picked for my hair at his boot camp graduation–which my husband completely freaked about, because of course: it was government property! Photos collected of our first car together, our first dogs, teenage pictures of us in our first home in base housing.

However, the letters stole the show— 18 & 19 year-old Mommy and Daddy–back when we were just Tim and Aliyah. Teenagers madly in love, writing boot camp letters to Recruit Meehan, and making the most incredible plans that turned out to be an even more incredible life.

I suppose I must have known this day would come, because I separated the risqué ‘love note stack’ from the more ‘PG’ love letters. It was endearing throughout. As we stopped and listened to our kids read some of the letters aloud, I felt every inch of the distance that these letters have traveled, only serving as fuel meant to relight our passion for one another till the end of time.

As our children continued to read our story, it became their story. The fiery flame of the young warrior (Tim) and the nurse (me) liquefied into a placid existence. The story solidified into the concrete joys of our first baby. A few deployments later, we were on our third baby. Ultrasound photos with the nickname ‘Peanut’ on the back, with holes were they were once pinned on his Iraq wall.
Sitting over the treasure chest with our not-so-little ‘Peanut’ in my lap, we spent the next few hours laughing, sometimes crying, remembering and reliving magical moments captured, and forever encased, in words we once lovingly shared.

I am sure I could probably pull up emails of that same time in our lives at any time. However, personally, the romance in this kind of beautiful life can only be told and truly appreciated sitting on a dusty garage floor with my family, sifting through our aging cedar treasure chest, and reading out loud our letters of war.

Posted by Aliyah Meehan, USMC Spouse, Director of Family Engagement, Sandboxx

A Full Home and a Full Heart, Thanks to 3 Midshipmen

macy-comes-home-087It’s just before Thanksgiving and our house is abuzz with excitement. You can feel it; the anticipation of days off from school, delicious food, and decorating for the upcoming Christmas holiday. You know–it’s that cozy, warm, fullness in your heart feeling. The holidays. Friends, family, and magical moments with the people you love.

But every now and again, for us military families, you get hit with an intense moment of loneliness. I felt it the other day when I was walking through the parking lot on the way home from running some errands. The wind blew and made the air chilly for Southern California… and I felt it. The need for my family. For the traditions from home. And for those friends who’ve known me since I was young. I feel it at least once every year during the holiday season and this year is no different.

Our assignments with the Air Force have all been full with new experiences and adventures, and amazing people who I am so grateful to know. I have loved all of our assignments, but the one I hold on extra tight to is our time in Annapolis, Maryland when my husband (remember, he’s Air Force) was a professor of Engineering at The United States Naval Academy.

This assignment was special for many reasons, but what made it extra special was our experience as a Sponsor Family for several young Midshipmen from The Naval Academy. We signed up to be a sponsor family within days of arriving in Annapolis, and I was so eager for the experience. Little did I know, these three particular young men would end up meaning so much to all of us.

Weekend after weekend, we would drive to the Academy promptly at 12 noon, and our 3 Plebes (freshman) would pile into the minivan, crisp in their uniforms, sitting among the car seats. Duffle bags of laundry in hand, we would drive home, and for the next 12 hours (they had to be back no later than 12 midnight) our home was their home. They would sleep, eat (oh, they ate so much), play with the kids, help around the house, do their laundry, study, and watch A LOT of TV.

These boys became like my sons–my kids’ older brothers. They were at our house the day we brought our 3rd child, Macy, home from the hospital. I will never forget taking pictures of these boys holding 2 day old Macy. They were at our house just days after my own father unexpectedly passed away. We always did our best to be there for them; break ups with girlfriends, failed tests, and when one of them also unexpectedly lost his father. Three years of ups and downs.

I loved having them around the most during the holidays, when the semester was winding down for them, and the buzz of going home to family and friends occupied their thoughts. That feeling of loneliness, longing for family and old friends, wasn’t as strong. My home was full, and my heart, fuller.

Cooking and decorating was more enjoyable knowing it was going to be enjoyed by, not only by us, but our “Mids,” as well. Those three young men, although they had no idea, were giving our family an extra purpose, an extra drive to make our house feel warm and welcome. They made our time in Annapolis meaningful. Although we opened our home and time to them, they gave us so much more.

Being a sponsor family is an experience I will always look back on with a grateful heart. Sadly, we weren’t in Annapolis for their entire four years at the Academy because the Air Force moved us to Los Angeles at the end of their junior year. Text messages and emails show up often, with updates from life in the Navy and Marine Corps.

I hope they will always know how special they were to our family, how often they cross our hearts, and even though they are no longer students, we are always here for them. And nothing will change that.

Jenny-ZollarsPosted by Jenny Zollars, Air Force Spouse