Category Archives: Military Families

On the Hill: Calling on Congress to end sequestration

Morning-Brief1Last week, on September 12, the National Military Family Association was joined by more than fifty staff, Board members, Volunteers and dedicated partners in our fight to #EndSequestration.

The #EndSequestration Team met at our headquarters in Alexandria, VA where they received matching t-shirts, a bag containing our freshly printed books, and receive a brief on the day’s events. Donning bright blue t-shirts with the words “#EndSequestration” on the back, the team boarded a bus and headed to Capitol Hill.

Following in the footsteps of our founding mothers, we divided into teams and headed to meet with all 535 Members of Congress to hand deliver our #EndSequestration book. We met with several Members of Congress, military and defense legislative assistants, and other staffers along the way.

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The message was clear – the short-term impact of sequestration hurts military families, yet the long term consequences will be catastrophic.

Our #EndSequestration team reflected on their experiences of the day and shared the following:

Chairman of the Board Mary Scott, an Army spouse and mother of six children, who have all served in the military, stated , “I am very proud of [our] efforts in organizing this event. If we are who we say we are – strong advocates for military families – we must be willing to present their needs and challenges directly to those who can make a difference. This effort, on behalf of those we serve, delivered a powerful message in a personal way. I was very proud to introduce myself as a military family member and a representative of the National Military Family Association.”

Association volunteer Alicia McAfee said her first-hand experience advocating for military families left her optimistic that the unraveling yellow ribbon of support can be restored to its full potential.

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“Every office we visited was very welcoming. I definitely believe our voices were heard. I’m optimistic that the unraveling yellow ribbon of support can be restored to its full potential. It was encouraging to have other people on the Hill comment on our t-shirts and thank us for our efforts to end sequestration,” McAfee said after arriving back at our headquarters on Thursday.

After three dedicated hours of storming the Hill, we headed back to the bus to return to our headquarters. Some felt empowered; others hoped they did enough to get our message across. But all were appreciative to have this direct experience with the legislative process. This is the very foundation on which our government operates – by the people, for the people. And change doesn’t happen unless the people make their voices heard.

Delivering the albums to Congress is the beginning of the battle. We know we raised awareness about the concerns military families have about the long-term impact of sequestration. We will continue to demand that Congress keep their promises to our service members and their families by working to #EndSequestration.

Together we’re stronger.

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Twelve Years Later: Remembering September 11, 2001

september-11-soldier-at-memorialThink about the love inside the strength of heart.
Think about the heroes saving life in the dark.
Climbing higher through the fire, time was running out,
Never knowing you weren’t going to be coming down alive.

Twelve years ago, I was in 10th grade French class. Before I knew it, televisions throughout the school filled with images of a plane crash. A burning building. Fear.

It didn’t register to me. Why would it? My innocence could never fathom such a reality.

Then another plane crash.

Silence fell over my school. Teachers tried as best they could to make sense of the senseless, but no one really understood what the clouded, smoke-filled pictures on the television meant.

Third period History class. An ironic place to be on that day and at that time. The towers fell. The Pentagon.  Flight 93.

We all remember where we were. How we found out. We remember the silence as we watched it all unfold. Each of us are bonded forever by a historic tragedy.

I am grateful for every person who left their fingerprint on the 9/11 story. I am humbled by the firefighters, police officers, first responders, paramedics, volunteers, and those who didn’t have to help, but did.

Today, I am married to a man who was born on September 11th, and who selflessly serves this great Nation. As a military spouse, some days are filled with emotion and unanswered questions. Why are we fighting this long war? Why did my husband have to spend his birthday in Iraq?

But on other days, the picture is clear. Twelve years later, the picture is still crystal clear.

Thank you to the men and women serving and protecting my freedom. For fighting overseas, under seas, in the air, and on the land. Your sacrifices, as well as your family’s, have not gone in vain.

2,977 lost on that day. We will never forget.

9/11/01.

Think about the chance I never had to say, “Thank you for giving up your life that day.”
–“Believe” by Yellowcard

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Our Military Family Adoption Story

lori-brown-guest-post2Adoption within a military family is often confusing, and can leave you feeling alone on an island. How do I start? How much will it cost? Is this right for my family?

For 19 years, my husband has been active duty with the Marine Corps. We have 2 typical kids, ages 18 and 16, and we also have an exceptional family member, Hunter, who is 13 years old with special medical needs.

In September 2011, we met Hunter’s school nurse, who was in the process of adopting a special needs little girl. She introduced us to the world of foster and adoption. After quite a bit of talking to each other, and to our kids, my husband and I realized we had room in our heart, and in our home, for another child. This was the beginning of our adoption journey.

Most military families aren’t aware that no matter where they are stationed, adoption through foster care is possible – even if you are stationed OCONUS. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal, unlike foreign adoptions which can cost more than $20,000.

Military families are strong, adaptable, and resourceful, making them perfect candidates to be foster/adoption parents. There are many county, state and foster agencies that love to work with military families, so check around your area to find an agency that works best for your family. Don’t be discouraged if some don’t work out initially.

After a few ‘false starts,’ we found a great Foster Family Agency that appreciated our experience as special needs parents. They also understood that as a military family, we have a special ‘skill set’ that some might not have. My husband and I attended multiple classes specific to foster, adoption, special medical health needs, and CPR/first aide in order to become licensed as a foster home. At the end of that, we were able to become a licensed foster family. In our hearts, we knew that we wanted to foster and adopt special needs children.

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We were blessed to be matched with our daughter, Destiny, who is now three years old, shortly after becoming licensed. In her young life, Destiny has faced multiple of medical procedures with no one by her side. She was born with several birth defects, including a heart with no left ventricle.

Destiny had been in the foster care system for 17 months with six failed potential adoption matches. On paper, Destiny’s medical history is scary. When we first learned about Destiny, we asked to meet with her doctors to get some of our questions answered. After only 2 hours, my husband and I knew we could meet Destiny’s medical needs, so we moved forward with having her placed in our home.

Since Destiny came to live with us on February 1, 2012, she has made great advances developmentally, emotionally, and medically. She had many sensory issues to work through due to her lack of exposure to everyday things in the real world. Prior to Destiny being placed in our home, she had never touched carpet, tile, grass or sand – things we see and touch nearly every day.

She had two open heart surgeries before coming home to us. In July 2013, Destiny had her third surgery with us by her side the entire time, and she pulled through it with flying colors! She has a lot of fear related to abandonment, but I think she has come to realize the promise we made to her was true: we would always be by her side, and she would never have to go through any medical procedures alone. Destiny is still delayed developmentally, but has made huge strides and is now only six months behind her typical peers.

Destiny is loved and adored by our three older kids. We are very thankful we learned about adoption and fostering. Our family will most likely adopt again, but for now we are doing foster and foster respite care.

I want to encourage other military families to look into becoming foster parents or foster/adopt parents. The children within the foster care system range from newborns to age 18. There are all races, some with special needs, but a lot more with no special needs.

Even though our homes may change every few years in a military family, yours could be the ‘forever home’ that a foster child is waiting for.

lori-brown-guest-postGuest Post by Lori Brown, Marine Corps Spouse

Got Baggage?

baggageOn any given day, I carry anywhere from 4-5 bags to work.

On my right shoulder, there’s my purse, which contains everything I hold dear—my phone, my money, a diaper, a small package of wipes, and my keys (if it’s a good day).

On my left shoulder, there’s my computer bag, which weighs an estimated 15 pounds. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Next to my computer bag strap, rests my workout bag. Yes, I bring my gym clothes to work. If I don’t strategically plan my exercise time to land between the time I leave work and the time I go home, I will never get to it.

Then there’s my lunch bag. This is not just any ordinary lunch bag; it has three compartments and an ice pack for my many small meals.

Sometimes, I go home with more bags than I came with. Bags full of clothes or toys for my kids from my generous co-workers. Or, bags with information and promotional items from conferences.

There are many moments where I feel like I’ll be buried alive by all of my “bags.” You know—the purse, which is really everyday life. The computer bag— the reality that work and family constantly overlap. The gym bag, making “me” time despite the insanity. My lunch bag, which I’d like to say contains only healthy and smart choices, but really is the fuel that keeps me going.

Not long ago, I had an additional bag—my school bag. I was one of those working adults, with a small child, who decided to go back to school to continue my higher education. This was not an easy or inexpensive decision, but it was the right decision for me and my family.

I am not a military spouse, but like many of them, I attended several colleges and universities before finally getting the chance to finish my degree. It took me a total of 3 schools and 9 years to have my diploma handed to me.  My school bag was the symbol of my future.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot of baggage, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know there are people out there who would give anything to carry some of the bags I do. Our bags symbolize who we are and the many life paths we travel.

We need to remember that these same “bags” have been carried by many before us who have put resources in place for our benefit.  If you’re a military spouse and you’re looking for information to make your load a bit lighter, look no further.

Visit our Spouse Employment section for job tips and our Spouse Education site for steps to help you attain your education goals.


What about you? What bags do you carry every day?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director, Online Engagement

Friends All Over the World: Hawaiian style

hawaii-1Moving in the military can be difficult, especially when you have to leave good friends behind. One of the benefits about being a military family is the likelihood that wherever you decide to visit or move to, a friend is nearby.

Recently, a friend of mine got married in Hawaii, and I made the trip there to attend. Because my friend lives in Oklahoma and my family is stationed in Virginia, I rarely get an opportunity to see him. This wedding was going to be the perfect opportunity to see some old friends from my hometown as well as some other special friends who I had not seen in quite some time.

Hawaii is an amazing place to host a wedding or enjoy a vacation, but it’s also the home state of an Army Infantry Brigade and two of my fellow military spouses and close friends are currently stationed there.

Hannah is a friend I made near Ft. Campbell, KY. Our husbands were both deployed and we leaned on each other for support and companionship. Our friendship was important to both of us, especially during some of the tougher days we faced while waiting for our husbands to return from war.

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Fortunately, I was able to spend some time with Hannah while I was in Hawaii. We
laughed and caught up on each other’s lives over some fruity drinks by the hotel pool. Because of her familiarity with the area, she took me to a quiet, local beach for the day. It was great to see her and her sons again!

Another military friend, Ronya, had only moved to Hawaii a couple weeks before I arrived. Her family had not received military housing yet, and was staying at the Hale Koa. It’s a military resort on the ocean and is absolutely beautiful! After finishing some shopping around the area, I stopped by Hale Koa and was able to re-connect with her.

On my final day in Hawaii, Ronya, myself, and friend from my hometown, went hiking at Manoa Falls. I never would have imagined when we met years prior, Ronya and I would someday be hiking in Hawaii!

Military life is always changing, and making friends can be difficult for some, knowing that you’ll eventually be separated again. Just remember that it’s not really “goodbye” but instead it’s “see you later,” and if you are lucky, that “later” just might be in Hawaii!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

You Know You’re a Military Spouse When…

sunset-on-baseMilitary life is a funny thing. Nothing ever seems to stay the same, but somehow, we embrace change as our “normal.” Finding civilian friends who understand your “normal” is another funny, yet rare thing – much like a unicorn. We know they’re out there, and when we find one, it’s magical. While not all of our civilian friends understand military life, there’s always a military spouse out there who can relate to the exact place you’re at in your life.

In honor of your “normal,” here are a few of the funnier ways you know you’re a military spouse:

  • You have enjoyed a beautiful sunset on your installation, complete with barbed wire fences in the view.
  • The majority of your laundry consists of camouflage, green shirts, and brown socks. If you’re Navy or Coast Guard, it’s blue shirts and black socks.
  • You can pack and unpack a house within a couple days, but you still have a few boxes that haven’t been unpacked from your move 2 years ago.
  • Your kids have a drawer full of soccer jerseys from playing on so many different teams over your years of moving around.
  • You use a military I.D. all the time and get frustrated when places ask for a “real I.D.”
  • You still find colorful little moving tags on various pieces of furniture even though it’s been a year since your last PCS. Bonus points if you’ve found multiple tags from multiple PCS’s on the same piece of furniture.
  • You don’t panic when your doctor walks in wearing ACU’s or BDU’s.
  • You know that a month-long separation is short, no matter what anyone says.
  • You read all of the homecoming banners on base and smile over each one. Then wonder, “What will my banner say?”
  • You save voicemails from your spouse, so you can listen to them anytime you think of him or her.
  • You have two anniversaries: your Justice of the Peace anniversary and your wedding anniversary.
  • You answer your spouse’s text messages with “Roger.”
  • You know there is no such thing as “planning in advance,” and you know you can’t make solid plans on where you will spend Christmas until the middle of December.
  • You have three jobs on your resume for the last two years.
  • You know your spouse’s social security number better than your own and often confuse the two when filling out documents about yourself.
  • When you go out on the town, you constantly have to point out that your date of birth is on the back of your military I.D.
  • You celebrate holidays based on duty schedules.
  • You have 20 different sized curtains to fit all the different windows of houses you’ve lived in.
  • You refer to your spouse’s friends by their last name. And no one holds it against you if you don’t know their first name.
  • You have found at least 10 different sets of orange foam earplugs in the washer or dryer.
  • You always have to explain to employers why you have had so many jobs by age 26. Then you hope they take you seriously knowing you may be leaving soon.
  • You have a Florida driver’s license, with an Oklahoma license plate, and you live in Virginia.
  • You are a pro at prepping a dress uniform.
  • You tear up when you hear “God Bless the USA,” even though you’ve heard it 50 times before.
  • When your spouse is deployed, you are married to your phone, email, and/or Skype.
  • You know to stay FAR away from the commissary near the 1st and 15th of every month, and if you absolutely have to go on those days, it’s a planned mission with emergency exit options.

Can you relate to any of these? If so, let us know and submit your own in the comments section below!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Recent Good News Won’t Keep the Yellow Ribbon from Unraveling in 2014

yellow-ribbon-tree-blogOn August 6, military families got a little sequestration relief. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the DoD civilian employee furloughs would be capped at six days rather than the planned 11. These furloughs had closed commissaries an extra day, made it more difficult for families to get health care appointments, cut family center hours, and would have closed DoD schools for several days in September.

So, let’s celebrate a little because the 2013 DoD furloughs will end this week. But, make it only a small celebration please! Sequestration is a 10-year menace and none of the good news from last week will carry over into the new fiscal year that starts on October 1. DoD officials have shared a lot of numbers about the difficulties sequestration will cause in 2014.

According to DoD, this summer’s furloughs that caused so much disruption saved the Department $1 billion. In 2014, DoD will have to find savings of $52 billion.

How much pain and disruption for military families will come as DoD tries to find those savings?

Forget about furloughs–how many civilians will be laid off? How fast will a drawdown in the number of uniformed troops happen? How many airplanes will the Air Force be able to fly? What training will be cancelled? What family support facilities will close? What will the DoD and civilian schools educating military children have to cut? How long will we wait for health care appointments? Will schedules for Permanent Change of Station moves lengthen? What ships will be repaired? Already, the Navy has announced it will scrap, rather than repair, a nuclear submarine damaged by arson. Why? Navy officials blame a $4 billion shortfall in the shipbuilding account and other maintenance priorities deferred by sequestration.

Cuts totaling $52 billion in 2014 will hurt service members, families, and the communities where they live. Even though the 2013 furloughs will soon end, sequestration’s effects can still be seen in programs affected by hiring freezes, in reduced training for service members, and deferred maintenance of equipment and facilities. Those effects will get worse unless Congress acts to #EndSequestration.

The National Military Family Association and the other organizations that have joined with us in our campaign thank the families who have sent us pictures and stories about how sequestration is affecting their communities. Please continue to send pictures showing sequestration’s effects to social@militaryfamily.org. We’re creating a booklet of your photos and sequestration stories and will deliver it to every Member in early September.

Our Nation’s leaders must keep the yellow ribbon from unraveling. #EndSequestration.

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



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Operation Purple Camp: 2013 season wrap up

Our 2013 Operation Purple Camp season wraps up this week! The National Military Family Association has collaborated with outstanding camp partners to continue supporting military kids throughout our 10th year of camp. We’ve heard great stories and look forward to sharing some of the memories and friendships that were made this summer. This camp season once again demonstrated the personal and financial commitment of our partners who joined with us to provide a no-cost, fun-filled week of camp for more than 1,200 kids. If you would like to support our Operation Purple camps, please visit www.militaryfamily.org to donate.

“Being @ OPC is lots of fun and I wish I could do it every year of my life!”—Daphne, Operation Purple camper

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

Inside Operation Purple Camp: Inglis, FL

OPC-8-8-13-postMilitary children experience multiple moves, change schools and friends and deal with challenges during their parent’s deployments. It is hard for civilian children to understand them. Luckily, kids whose parents are deployed get a chance to relax and forget about their worries during the Operation Purple Camp in Inglis, Florida. Here, children from all branches of Service are united as one big cheerful family.

Operation Purple is no ordinary camp. At the Caruth Camp in Inglis, everyone looks forward to receiving the military children and engaging in fun activities especially designed for them. When entering the campground you are greeted by a large American flag, which is put up especially during Operation Purple week. One of the highlights of the campground, which the kids seem to enjoy, is a welcoming military robot at the dining hall entrance. Next to it, on the wall of honor, the kids bring photos of their parents and post them with pride. The room is decorated with photos from various activities, but one banner that says “Kids Serve Too,” stands out as a central theme for the camp.

“This as a whole [Operation Purple Camp], I feel it gives children an outlet, not just any kind of outlet, a safe outlet to breath, not to worry,” says Patricia Nelson, Caruth Camp Director. She explains the kids here are very busy throughout the day with various activities, ranging from archery to canoeing and everyday award celebrations. To the kids, she is also known as Miss Nelson. To her, the children are everything and she goes to great lengths to make sure they are happy. She sometimes goes and picks up the children out of the state, in order to make it easier on the families who live far from the camp. “I try to give back to some of the parents who continually give their support and services to us here,” she says.

Miss Nelson considers herself as a grandma to the children and she gives them her unconditional love. Every child who goes to camp is given a bear, also known as “Miss Nelson Love Bears,” she says smiling. “That bear is something they can hold on to and take home with them in remembrance of what we did here on camp,” she adds.

But a bear is not the only thing children take back with them from this experience. “The important part is that they get to bond with other branches,” says the Military Family Life Consultant who is specifically assigned to Operation Purple camps.

The Caruth Camp is ideally located in a very picturesque part of Florida. The nature trails and natural springs provide a unique sense of tranquility. The camp is spread across approximately 240 acres, which was all donated. The cabins where the children sleep are modern and equipped with air conditioning. Moreover, local staff always makes sure the place is impeccable, teaching the children how to protect the environment, explains Bill Rappleyea, Deputy Sheriff. He is one of the passionate sheriffs on campus who dedicates part of his duty hours and his time off to spending time with the children on camp. As he offers a tour of the entire campground, he says how he is very excited to have military kids from all over the country. Part of his mission is to show that law enforcement is a friend, using fun activities such as CSI crime solving. He believes it is wonderful for the military children to be around other children who understand what they are going through.

All these activities are made possible exclusively through donations to the Operation Purple program and the individual camps. Deputy Sheriff Rappleyea emphasizes how any donation is essential: toys, cloths, toothbrushes, etc. “They always find a use for it,” he says. A simple donation can change the lives of children all over the country. To donate to Operation Purple camp, please visit http://www.militaryfamily.org/donate. In order to support Caruth Camp and make a donation, please visit http://www.youthranches.org

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Tampa, Fl

TRICARE Standard: Is it right for you?

flag-stethoscopeAs a new spouse, or even a seasoned spouse, the difference between TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Prime can be somewhat confusing. I remember how overwhelming it felt when I was faced with the decision on whether I wanted “Prime” or “Standard”. After reading through the literature available, as well as on TRICARE’s website, I decided TRICARE Standard was the best for me. If you are considering TRICARE Standard for your family, here are some points to consider:

TRICARE Standard is an option which allows you to choose your own doctor. You are able to see any type of doctor, from a specialist to a primary care physician. To search for the type of doctor you need, go to TRICARE’s “Find a Doctor” feature. If you choose a network provider, you end up paying less of a cost share . The cost share depends on what care you get at that particular appointment, whether or not you use a network or non-network doctor, or whether you are an active duty family member, retiree, or retiree family member.

The “in network” doctors file the TRICARE claims for you so you do not have to deal with the paperwork of filing the claim yourself. Using a network doctor is called TRICARE Extra . Also, there is no pre-authorization required when you need lab work or testing done. Each fiscal year you have an annual deductible to meet, which varies based on your service member’s status. As an active duty spouse, I pay only 20% of any allowable charges after I have paid my deductible for the year. There is also a $1000 “catastrophic cap” for active duty families. This means your out of pocket expense will not exceed that cap.

TRICARE patients have the option to choose which pharmacy they would like to use. Using TRICARE retail pharmacies are especially convenient for patients using TRICARE Standard, but are the most expensive option. Major drug store chains such as RiteAid, CVS, Target, and Walmart are in-network pharmacies. By using an in-network pharmacy, you are responsible for a $5.00 copay for generic medications and a $17.00 copay for brand name medications. You can save money if you use the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery to have your prescriptions mailed right to your home.

A common misconception of TRICARE Standard is the idea that patients are not able to use the military pharmacy because they are not seeing a doctor at a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). As a TRICARE Standard user, you have the option to use the MTF pharmacies, which may be the best value if the MTF stock your drugs. Personally, I have never used a MTF Pharmacy because they were not as convenient for me because I did not live on the Army Post. However, if you want to save money, using the MTF pharmacy is a great option because both generic and formulary drugs have no copay!

TRICARE Standard has been the best choice for me because I enjoy choosing my provider instead of being assigned one. I also enjoy the flexibility of changing providers if I am not happy with my current doctor. Unlike TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Standard does not require a referral to see a specialist. Because of these choices, I don’t mind paying to see a doctor when I am ill and can’t survive another day without an appointment! I feel I am in control of my healthcare experience with TRICARE Standard. I encourage you to read about the other differences between Prime and Standard in order to make the best decision for your family. I hope that by shedding some light on the sometimes confusing and often-misunderstood TRICARE Standard, your decision may come a little easier.

Stephanie-OSullivanBy Stephanie O’Sullivan, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Fort Bragg, NC