Category Archives: Make a difference

“Look for the Helpers:” Encouragement After Devastation and Uncertainty

I’ve felt a bit stressed out lately. Things have been crazy at work–I’ve come the grim realization that I’ve said “yes” to entirely too many things! Closer to home, we’re adjusting to my husband’s retirement and my parents’ move from the farm where they’ve lived for almost 60 years to a retirement community. My kids have loving partners and happy lives, but I don’t see them often enough.

Then there’s all that craziness in the world today: terrorist attacks overseas and threats here, uncertainty for military families because of those threats, military budget pressures that are prompting downsizing, continued deployments, and the fear of too many unknowns.


A speaker at a conference I recently attended said, “Stress is not always bad–it’s how we respond to stress [that matters].”

This is not the first time I’ve felt stressed; I felt stressed when we moved every couple of years while my husband was on active duty, when my kids had to switch schools, when I had to put my career hopes on hold, and when my husband deployed. And sometimes other events intruded and added to the ‘out of control’ feeling: Desert Storm, September 11, natural disasters, school shootings.

When my kids were young, our TV viewing included some Sesame Street, lots of Looney Tunes, with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney videos also in the mix. But every once in awhile, when things were particularly harried, we’d spend some quiet time in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The slow pace, courtesy, and obvious love calmed even the most frenzied four-year old and his mom.

During Desert Storm, and again after the September 11 attacks, Mister Rogers reassured frightened children that grownups would take care of them, despite the things they saw on TV that seemed scary. He provided guidance for their parents. We still seek out his words when we’re on overload because of scary things happening in the world, “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

In tough times, Mister Rogers would often say, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”


And so, that’s what I’m trying to do these days–look for the helpers. It’s comforting to know they are everywhere for my family, for me, and for our military families. One of my ‘helpers’ is a friend–a widow–who meets me for dinner before choir practice. She thinks I’m helping to ease her loneliness, but the chance to relax after a long work day with a good friend over a glass of wine and a good meal is such a break for me!

Helpers are everywhere and I’m fortunate to find them in the course of my work. Our helpers include our service members, and their families, who answer our Nation’s call every day. Our National Military Family Association Volunteers are helpers to us, and their communities, as they link military families with resources and help us speak up for those families.

I met other helpers, veterans and veteran-serving organizations, at a summit on Bainbridge Island, Washington at Islandwood. These helpers developed recommendations for Washington’s Governor on promoting the health of military families and job readiness for veterans through programs in the outdoors. Most recently, I met hundreds of helpers in Fayetteville, North Carolina; they are the teachers, counselors, community organizations, and medical providers who gather each year at the Forward March conference to learn more about supporting military families and veterans.

Helpers are everywhere, and connecting with them not only helps reduce our stress, but also the stress others feel. In this crazy, scary world, let’s celebrate the helpers and join with them to make our part of the world a little less stressful.

Are there ‘helpers’ in your life who help relieve your stress? Share it with us in the comments and give them a big THANKS!

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, National Military Family Association Executive Director

Behind the Front Door: Help Military Families This Holiday Season

With the holiday season around the corner, we know families are coming together, creating cozy, love-filled, homes to celebrate. Behind every front door are stories and traditions passed from year to year. For military families, the traditions and stories sometimes don’t include every member of the family.

Only 1% of the nation serves in the military. Since September 11, 2001, more than 3 million service members have deployed in response to the war on terrorism. That means 1.8 million family members were left behind to continue their holiday traditions without their loved one. More than 2 million children had a parent miss out on making special holiday memories.

This holiday season, you have the opportunity to help military families continue their traditions together.


Through generous donations, our Association is able to continue our mission to empower, strengthen, and heal our nation’s military families through programs designed to help them overcome obstacles together.

For $1,500, we are able to send a family of 3 to an Operation Purple Family Retreat® or Operation Purple Healing Adventure® camp, where they can connect and make new memories in a wilderness camp setting. And with a $30 donation, we can give a family member a full day of meals at camp.

But your donation doesn’t have to stop there. A $50 donation can provide a college or graduate-level textbook to a military spouse, furthering his or her education. With that education, he or she can build a stable and strong financial foundation for their family, and enjoy each holiday without the stress of wondering how they’ll afford gifts.

You have the chance to change the way a military family creates new traditions and memories for themselves. And we need your help. Our Association relies on the generosity of donors, like you, who want to make a difference, and who stand firmly behind the ones who serve in the silent ranks.

Military families need you. Please donate today.

Volunteering Isn’t About the Recognition, It’s About This…

I’m sure there are some people who feel like volunteering is a waste of time; you don’t get paid and, for the most part, you don’t get any awards or recognition. So why would I volunteer when I am busy with so many other things?

Volunteer banner NMFA

Two things became incredibly important to me when I was young: giving back to others, and our military. My family had always been very involved in our local church and because of that, I learned the importance of serving the community. The military portion came because most of my family was either currently serving, or had served in the military when I was young. This was incredibly influential for me. It made such an impact in my young life to hear the stories of what my great grandfather did in World War II, and how, even after all those years, he couldn’t stand mice because of some horrors he’d faced in combat. I talked with my grandfather, who served in the Air Force, and heard all the things he’d done, and how those things led him to a career at NASA after he retired. My Dad served as a Blackhawk pilot, and I remember the things he’d do that made me realize some people really were heroes; some people had honor and lived differently, and had a different code than other people. I would watch him with awe, even when I was too young to understand–like when he would stop the car as they lowered the flag on post and he’d get out and stand and salute the flag. But I knew these things meant something, and that my dad was special, even when he left rather quickly on a deployment to Somalia, immediately after the battle of Mogadishu happened.

All these things made such an impact on my life, but what made the biggest impact was probably when my brother decided to enlist in the Army, the day after September 11, 2001. Later on, when he was in Iraq and I was in college, I decided I needed to do something to give back. I knew I wasn’t able to serve in the military myself, but I knew what family members go through–I wanted to do something to give back to service members and their families. That desire started my path and my passion for volunteering, and I started my first volunteer group for the military. It changed my life so much I decided I wanted to make it a career, and planned to go full time into working with a military non-profit.

But life doesn’t ever work out the way you think it will. I met my husband in college, and after we graduated, he enlisted in the Army, and I became a full-time wife and mom. It was when we were stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas that a friend told me about the National Military Family Association (NMFA) and all they did to represent our service members and their families. I knew, immediately, I wanted to get involved and do everything I could to volunteer again.


Once upon a time, I had dreamed of going into the non-profit field to work full time for a military support organization, and maybe one day I could support my military husband by taking care of our small kids by staying home. Volunteering with NMFA means I get to live my passion. I enjoy be able to give a tiny bit back to those who do so much for us. Volunteering means I get to keep making a difference.

There isn’t anyone who needs more support, or who has done more to deserve it, than our service members and their families. So I will continue volunteering as long as I possibly can. The rewards may not come in a paycheck or in a certificate you can hang on your wall, but knowing you are making a difference in the lives of those who are putting everything on the line for us is reward enough. That’s better than any paycheck or certificate I’ve ever received.

Do you have any connection to the military and have a desire to give back to them? Consider joining our Volunteer Corps!

Posted by Mandi Verlander, National Military Family Association Volunteer and military spouse

Do You Support Military Families? Prince Harry Does!

Yesterday, I, and several other NMFA employees and volunteers had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Invictus Games event at Fort Belvior, where the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with His Royal Highness Prince Harry spoke about the importance of the games.

During the event, sixteen service members demonstrated their talents in a thrilling wheelchair basketball game. I had never seen a game like this before, and I spent the entire time just enthralled with the incredible grit, athletic ability and spirt of the players on the court. I couldn’t help but get excited about watching the games live when they come to the US in May of 2016.

The Invictus Games are a big deal, because they are about so much more than just playing sports and competing with other countries. These games are a driving force behind recovery and rehabilitation for wounded, injured and sick service members.


Prince Harry founded the Invictus games in the UK back in 2014, while serving in the military there. Reflecting on his two combat deployments in Afghanistan, he said “”There is very little that can truly prepare you for the reality of war. The experiences can be stark and long lasting.” This experience left him with a feeling of “responsibility to all veterans, who had made huge personal sacrifices for their countries, to lead healthy and dignified lives after service.”

The Invictus Games do just that. They bring recovering service members, and their families, together to focus on a goal, and work towards a better future together.


Here at NMFA, we also understand the importance of bringing families together to help them adjust to a new normal after a service connected illness or injury. At our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® camp, service members and their families connect with others on a similar healing journey. They share the feelings, struggles, and obstacles they have overcome with other families who just ‘get it.’ All while enjoying active, nature centered activities.

For the caretakers and children of these wounded service members, seeing their loved one participating in sport and physical activities can be as equally cathartic. A huge part of the military culture is grounded in physical activity and competition, and you can see the joy and admiration in the faces of the families as they watch their loved ones enjoying the activities they played before their injury.


Some of our service members show visible wounds–missing limbs and bodies marked by war–while others are battling invisible injuries. As many as 1 in 4 service members left Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries, PTSD, depression and anxiety. We are thrilled to see Invictus welcoming service members suffering from the invisible wounds of war, as well.

At Operation Purple, we often hear how difficult it can be for service members and their families to work through these invisible injuries. While the physical injuries take a toll on the body, the invisible wounded, like PTSD and anxiety, wreak havoc on the mind and soul. We’ve heard stories from families battling these ‘quiet’ injuries, that recovery isn’t always easy. But all families agreed: taking the first step and asking for help was the most important choice.

At the event, we were reminded only 1% of the country puts on a uniform and takes an oath to not leave a fallen comrade behind. We, as a country, take the same oath. We cannot leave them behind. We cannot leave their families behind.


Supporting programs, like Invictus and Operation Purple, is an easy way to give back to these families and let them know that they are not forgotten and we will not leave them behind.

Do you know any service members hoping to compete at the Invictis games next year? Will you be watching?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Margaret Vinson Hallgren: In Memory

I remember the first day I met Margaret Hallgren. I was green–only 24 years old–and excited about my new job as NMFA’s Newsletter Editor. We were gathering for the Editorial Committee Meeting to walk through the upcoming newsletter articles. In walked a beautiful, older woman with slight build and gray (mostly white) hair. She was kind and gracious as she introduced herself to me as the former NMFA President and an English grammar enthusiast.


The latter part turned out to be the understatement of the century. Margaret was not only a grammar enthusiast, she insisted on nothing less than perfection. Our Editorial Committee dedicated hours to go through 8 newsletter articles as each member went through, line by line, with their changes. I was the fortunate soul who took the feedback from the 10-member committee and merged the changes into a final version that made sense. Margaret was the final eye and she took this responsibility very seriously. This process would often take several weeks. Young and eager to accomplish as much as I could, that initial frustration ultimately taught me not about editing, but about image, dedication, passion, and a genuine love for military families.

In the words of a long-time employee, “Margaret lived and breathed advocacy—so she’d wait until each word was perfect for mobilizing, without alienating, others. Sheer perfection.”

Throughout the years I worked with Margaret, I learned the importance of high-quality work. Her expectation for nothing less than the best was born from her character of integrity and grace. Her slight build was deceiving, underneath her porcelain exterior was pure iron and grit. Her presence commanded authority and anyone else in the room paled in comparison, to include high ranking officials. She was a trailblazer; a woman clearly ahead of her time.


A Congressional Tribute presented by former Virginia Representative James Moran called Margaret “the vanguard of Congress and the Department of Defense’s efforts to sustain readiness and the all volunteer force.”

I can confidently say that all who knew and worked with Margaret were influenced by her quiet, yet formidable poise. With the fierceness of a lion and the grace of angel, Margret will remain in our hearts and minds as we forge on to support and protect today’s military families. We will always remember her and be forever changed by her presence.

Margaret Vinson Hallgren
June 20, 1928 – September 19, 2015

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, NMFA Communications Deputy Director

Four Things Gold Star Moms Want You to Know

Gold Star Mother's Day Graphic

Today, the fourth Sunday in September, is Gold Star Mother’s Day—a day to honor the moms who have lost a son or daughter in service to our country. Losing someone you gave birth to goes against the natural ways of the world—we expect to bury a parent one day, painful as that is, but we never expect to bury our own child.

Talking to Gold Star Mothers, there are certain feelings many of them share.

Here are four things they want you to know:

  1. We want to talk about it.We want to talk about our child, so don’t be afraid of “reminding us” of what happened. We’re just glad you remember, too. As Gold Star Mother Phyllis Sission told us about her son, 2nd Justin Sisson: “We talk about [Justin] all the time. The fear for us all, and that includes all Gold Star families, is that our loved ones will be forgotten. That is unbearable.”
  2. We still support our military.Yes, something horribly tragic happened to our babies. Yes, they were in the military when it happened. But we all knew this was a possibility. When our sons and daughters took the oath of duty, it was with the purest of hearts. They wanted to serve this country, even if it meant making the ultimate sacrifice.
  3. We are never “over it.”Some of us became Gold Star Mothers 30 years ago. Some of us are new to this pain. No matter how much time passes, though, we never forget. We do get better at getting through each day, but we are never able to move on.
  4. We enjoy celebrating with you.When our child’s friend earns a promotion or an award, please include us in the celebration. It helps to be around those who served alongside him or her. We are their mothers but you were her brothers and sisters in arms. Please remember that we are family.

This Gold Star Mother’s Day, let’s honor these mothers’ wishes along with their child’s memory.

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

World Suicide Prevention Day: Change the Direction of Mental Health

September marks the start of Suicide Prevention Month, with today being World Suicide Prevention Day—a time when to reflect on the lives taken too soon, and focus on saving lives. We know suicides within the military community are growing at an alarming rate, with more than 20 veterans taking their lives each day. Studies are only beginning to track military family suicides, but we know this number is unsettling, too.



Mental health and the military community has long been an issue swept under the rug…but why? Some service members say they don’t seek help for mental health illnesses for fear of getting in trouble with their unit, being teased by fellow service members, or being discharged altogether. Family members face their own obstacles when dealing with mental health care, ranging from their own embarrassment in seeking treatment, to the lack of mental health providers equipped to understand what military life is really like.

The National Military Family Association is committed to ensuring the nation’s military families have access to programs and initiatives that strengthen and support them, like proper mental health care. One way we’re doing that is by joining forces with The Campaign to Change Direction and pledging to share, with at least 200,000 military families, the Five Signs of Suffering.

“Those who serve our nation, and their families, face unique challenges and stressors that can place them at higher risk for the development of mental health concerns. The Campaign to Change Direction gives us the opportunity to ensure those in need receive the care and support they deserve,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, the backbone organization leading the Campaign.

So what is The Change Direction initiative? On the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Give an Hour and a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector came together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

“We are honored to partner with the National Military Family Association in this critical effort to educate all military families about the Five Signs of Suffering,” Van Dahlen adds.

This story will spark a movement to change the way we view mental health and help us to recognize signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others.

five signs of suffering

The most important piece of information we can learn from the Change Direction initiative are the Five Signs of Suffering:

  1. Personality Change. This can happen suddenly, or gradually, and can sometimes look as though they’re acting outside of their values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down.
  3. Withdrawal. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy.
  4. Poor Self-Care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

What happens if you see these signs in someone you know?

Change Direction offers this advice, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The face of mental health within the military community is all too often ignored—by policy makers, military leaders, and even the service member and their family. Through NMFA’s pledge with Change Direction, we will make sure that you and your military family continue to have the support you need, and we will continue to fight for the benefits and programs your family has sacrificed for.

Join NMFA and The Campaign to Change Direction on today’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and make a pledge to create a culture where mental health is valued and achievable.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager