Category Archives: Military kids

An Advocate is Born: Affecting change for military families

Susan-Reynolds-and-son

We have all heard the phrase from William Shakespeare, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

A few years ago I was content with my starring role in the production of “Susan’s Military Life”. An active volunteer, educator, mentor, and friend were my starring roles. That changed when my infant son was denied healthcare coverage for a cranial reshaping helmet. I was offered a different role – the role of a lifetime – and I couldn’t pass it up.

The National Military Family Association and I were introduced in October 2011 when I was asked to be a volunteer. From there I discovered a world of advocacy that I never knew existed. The Association was working on issues ranging from education to healthcare. I fell in love and knew I was ‘home’.

In July 2012, I was invited to a conference in Washington, D.C. to tell my son’s story. In two days I had eight meetings on Capitol Hill and my performance had to be flawless. Fortunately, I had great support from the Association’s Government Relations department, as well as Kara Oakley from the Children’s Hospital Association.

The National Military Association encouraged me to use my voice to advocate for my son and all military children. I learned not to be afraid to share my story because I had a gift for speaking. You see, according to the Association, my story and my voice is powerful and should not be forgotten.

A year has passed since those meetings, and so many doors have opened because I’m a volunteer with National Military Family Association. The Association has helped me define my story and because of their support, I’m a stronger, more confident volunteer and advocate for military families.

As the saying goes, “a star is born every second.” In my case, an advocate was born and is supported by the National Military Family Association.

Susan ReynoldsBy Susan Reynolds, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Father’s Day at the White House: A military family’s experience

MWI was ecstatic when we were offered tickets to the White House Father’s Day event on June 14th. We’ve been in the DC area for a little over a year and I knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity.

When we arrived, we waited at one of the entry gates with about 30 other people. After going through a ton of security, we were eventually met by a White House employee who also volunteers for the National Military Family Association. She gave us an amazing mini-tour of the west wing of the White House and walked us to where we would be having lunch shortly thereafter. Along the walk we were able to admire many of the pictures taken of our nation’s leaders throughout history, including Presidents, First Ladies, and celebrities. One picture which was especially memorable to me, personally, was a picture of Princess Diana and John Travolta dancing. It was certainly not something that I would expect to see occur at the White House, but it was impressive.

Much to the delight of my youngest son, Brady, a military band played nearby as we stood in the buffet line. Lunch turned out to be a simple, yet delightful meal: hamburgers, French fries, fruit, and salad.  There was a bit of a lull after we finished eating and Brady was becoming restless. I gave him my iPhone to keep him entertained while we waited for President Obama to arrive.  Shortly after, the President walked into the room and started speaking. I tried to grab my phone from my son to get a picture and when I grabbed it he started yelling, “NO, NO, NO!!”

President Obama replied back, “YES!”

Now, our family jokes that Brady is the youngest Presidential heckler! The President gave a short speech stating that being a father is the best job he has and when he looks back on life, he will remember the times with his kids and Michelle.

AndersonFamilyAfterwards, the President took the time to come around to each table – about 8 tables in total – to take a picture and chat for a few minutes. It was a surreal experience to shake hands and speak with the President! He looked and sounded exactly as I expected, probably because of all the speeches and appearances I had seen during this last election season. He asked my husband about his military service, where he currently worked, and also asked about how we met. When my husband told him that we met in Oklahoma, he asked me if I had any family affected by the recent tornadoes. He also made small talk with our boys and shook their hands. Normally, you are lucky to get a high five out of my two year old, but even Brady knew he needed to shake the President’s hand. He thanked my husband for his military service three different times. Being thanked by the Commander-in-Chief was so memorable and amazing. It is something I will never forget.

After President Obama left the room, it was his dog, Bo’s, turn to make an appearance. Bo ran around and sat by the tables so all the kids could pet him and take pictures.

In between the events, we went to Jefferson Park, which is conveniently located across the street from the White House. My two sons chased birds, ducks, and squirrels, and eventually met a friend – a child from Canada – to dig in the dirt with. After playing in the park, both boys were tired and wanted me to carry them for the rest of the long walk around the White House (which is no easy feat). When my oldest son pointed at a Pedicab and asked what it was, I decided this happened for a reason and we hopped right in. The Pedicab, a bicycle powered rickshaw, dropped us at the gate for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building for an early preview of Monster’s University. My kids haven’t been to a theatre before, so it was especially cool for them to experience their first movie in the White House.

We often hear that as a military family, we will see and experience amazing things during our travels around the world. I believe this recent experience in Washington D.C. will be hard to top going forward in my military life.

What experiences have you had that made you feel appreciated as a military family?

Amanda headshotBy Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife App

I’m a Military Spouse…Let Me Introduce Myself

Flat Daddy DVDRecent articles about lavish benefits and ketchup choices have sparked many conversations in our community about the lack of understanding of the military lifestyle. Many feel that our civilian friends just don’t understand what it’s like. There are feelings of frustration and anger pitted against the sacrifices made during these past 12 years of war. As a military spouse, I can identify with the emotions these conversations evoke.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it is like to be the wife of a firefighter or police officer. I don’t know what it is like to have a long haul truck driver, a pilot, a teacher, or a chef in my family. My point is no one knows what it is really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.

There are several resources to help. One in particular is the movie, Flat Daddy, now available on DVD. Flat Daddy follows four families who used “Flat Daddies,” life-sized cardboard cutouts of their loved ones to ease the pain of separations. Filmed over the course of a year, the film explored the impact of war on those left behind. The filmmakers’ primary goal was to raise awareness about the challenges military families face and the long-term effects war can have on families.

Other great tools include the How to Help Military and Veteran Families print series that offers valuable information to families, friends, neighbors, and teachers to assist and support members of the military, their families, and veterans. Also, check out our Community Toolkit with action items and useful resources for anyone who wants to stand behind military families. For a lighthearted take, read Sarah Smiley’s Dinner with the Smileys, the story of an adventurous mission Sarah embarked on with her sons to fill the empty chair at the dinner table during her husband’s deployment. Each week the Smileys invited a guest for dinner and learned important lessons about families and the community.

What I’ve learned in the last several years is that I need my family and friends. They understand what my life is like, but that is only because they’ve had the chance to learn. We have to be brave enough to share and educate.

Let me introduce myselfBy Michelle Joyner, Communications Director

Families Outdoors: Reducing stress on kids and your wallet!

Families outdoors: reducing stress on kids and your wallet!I recently stumbled upon a New York Times blog post that discussed how a simple walk in the park could reduce brain fatigue. You know, that feeling of being disjointed or mentally drained. The post got me thinking; if a walk in the park could provide a simple brain refresher; just imagine what a week of camp or a weekend retreat could do!

At Operation Purple® camps and retreats we embrace the healing powers of the outdoors and thrust kids and families into beautiful environments to do just that – reboot. Life is already busy and chaotic so overlapping it with a military lifestyle just seems to be more than any one person should be able to handle. Giving these families a week or weekend away and “unplugged” makes perfect sense.

Our intent is to energize families to try new activities and create memories with the hope that they recreate these stress-reducing moments once they go home. I often reflect on activities my family did for fun that were actually my mom’s way of turning our heads. As a financially stretched military family, expensive vacations or entertainment activities were out of our reach. So our industrious mother chose instead to use night hikes through the neighborhood instead of using what little gas was in the car to pick up little brother from the sitter. Mom-instructed, kid-friendly gardening, was an excuse to get dirty while reducing our grocery budget. Creating our own flour dough in the backyard meant mom never had to consider whether she could afford our request to “have purple, blue, AND pink” play dough.

My mom had no clue her homemade distractions were “reducing brain fatigue”—she just knew doing things outdoors cost her less financially and emotionally. Performing simple outdoor activities provided hours of harmony in our home. So, here are a few of my favorite memories that stemmed simply from a military mom giving her kids some fun in the sun on a tight budget:

  • Have a picnic. We often packed our favorite books, a few blankets, and a simple meal before venturing to a local park or outdoor space. As a kid it was an adventure to eat on the grass after collecting my share of grass stains. For mom, it was a cost effective alternative to my never-ending McDonald’s plea. To this day I love to rejuvenate by sitting on an expanse of grass with a PB&J in hand.
  • Fly a kite. I know this sounds very Mary Poppins, but putting a kite in my hands as a child created an obsession that couldn’t be stopped. I tried it once and was hooked. I quickly gave up my precious Nintendo and found myself running up and down the neighborhood just to see the streamers fly. I’m cringing at how that dates me, but the scenario of being tied to the TV by an electronic game system still rings true for most kids today. My mom’s ploy to avoid purchasing yet another video game created an adult city dweller that now religiously rings in spring by participating in the annual kite-flying extravaganza on the National Mall.
  • Set up a scavenger hunt. Nothing turned sibling rivalry around quite like a friendly competition. Organizing a scavenger hunt that resulted in a team sweet treat to enjoy while basking in the sunshine was a win-win for mom. She got hours of quiet while we feverishly hunted to find every clue outside. The inevitable family nap that happened post-scavenger hunt was a bonus. I honed my trivia skills on a monthly basis while out in the sun.

Spring is here, with summer close on its heels—don’t wait to get kids outside! How will you reduce stress on your kiddos’ brains, and your wallet? What fun new memories will you create that your kids can use when they are adults?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director

Big Brothers Big Sisters: An Extended Family for Military Children

An Extended Family for Military ChildrenIt’s a busy school day. Children of different ages are running around the house, loudly voicing their wants. The mother tries to ensure everything is on schedule and the kids are taken care of. This might sound like another day in the life of super moms everywhere, but for military children, having a parent deployed can be a hectic time.

“It’s hard to be a working mother, or even a stay-at-home mother, with four children plus dad gone,” says Danielle Woodring, a military spouse stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Danielle has chosen to enroll her two younger daughters, Ilyana and Kiera, in the federally funded Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring Program. The program is free of charge and specially designed for military families. The goal is to give military children another trusted adult who can provide guidance. “It gives them time away from all the chaos at home,” Danielle explains.

Ilyana and Kiera, called “Littles” under the program, are paired with two “Bigs,” or volunteer mentors. These Littles are among the 800 military kids who benefit from the program nationwide. The Bigs are carefully screened, trained, and matched with their Littles according to their interests. The Bigs dedicate a few hours a month to their Littles, engaging in various low-cost fun activities and programs. To qualify for the military mentoring program, children need to have one parent in an active duty status. All children of the fallen (in the line of duty) are eligible. To become a Big, volunteers must have a desire to help children and successfully pass the screening process.

“The power of Big Brothers Big Sisters is the premier one-to-one mentoring organization,” says Rodney Davis, National Director of Military Mentoring for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Both the Bigs and Littles are carefully interviewed in order to find common likes and dislikes, guaranteeing a better match. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring program supports children in military families and engages active duty, reserve or retired/separated military personnel, as well as civilians as volunteer mentors. There are approximately 2,600 active duty service members volunteering as Bigs nationwide. With a minimum commitment of one year, some of the service members also maintain the relationship while deployed.

For Kiera’s Big Sister, Kaylene Hasto, the mentoring program has been a new and exiting volunteer opportunity. She looks forward to spending time with her Little and appreciates her outgoing personality. Kaylene encourages future volunteers to make sure they have the time for their Little. “They depend on you and they are really excited to see you, make sure you are committed to them,” Kaylene says.

Military kids enrolled in the program have a chance to take part in diverse activities and look up to their Bigs. Little Ilyana describes her Big Sister as “fun, caring, hard-working, and good with kids.” She is excited her Big Sister is in the military, likes Hello Kitty, and takes her to the library. Little Ilyana is very enthusiastic about the time spent with her Big Sister. “We actually get to build our relationship and have fun,” she says. Kiera’s Big Sister takes her to Big Brother Big Sister picnics and the gym. Little Kiera describes her Big Sister as a great planner who likes to help people. “She helps me if I have a problem and she’s someone to talk to,” Kiera says.

Danielle believes the program has really made a difference in the life of her family. She is relieved that she has a helping hand she can trust. She feels that taking part in the program helps ease the pain of having their father deployed for another year. In the future, she hopes this experience will encourage her daughters to become Big Sisters as well.

For more information on volunteering or enrolling your child, visit Big Brothers Big Sisters of America at www.bbbs.org or learn about the Military Mentoring Program.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association


Photo courtesy of the Woodring family

Military Life is Not a Trial to be Endured, but an Adventure to be Lived!

laura marin“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big bold commitments.” I’m 11 and this is my family way of life, this is our military life.

My Dad has military orders to go to Minnesota. “Cheese and sprinkles” is a Minnesota saying. That was the first thing that came to my mind when my parents told me about our new assignment; well, my family serves too. The only thing I could relate to Minnesota was the movie “Rio.” Winters are cold, very cold. Our previous assignment places have all been warm. From the hot Texas summers to the Caribbean breezes of Puerto Rico.

I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I feel incredibly lucky that I get to experience the world in a way that so many people only dream about. I have air in my lungs, a mighty God that loves me, the most wonderful family, two legs, and a bed to sleep in. I want to view my life as an adventure and my childhood as an asset.

Never having a hometown inspires me to be a citizen of the world. Being separated from my Dad makes me realize that time together as a family is to be valued. Being a military child makes me aware of choices and options available for me in the future.

I have been a military child all my life. We have been through so much. My military life has taught me how strong we could be as a family and how much love we have to give. It has taught us that laughing is less painful than crying, that a smile is worth more than gold. That this military life is not a trial to be endured, but an adventure to be lived. We are not an ordinary family with ordinary worries — we are something extraordinary.

I’m ready to make new friends and to fit in the land of the ten thousand lakes, maybe go for a dog sled ride one day, and of course I will need to hug my family a little tighter during winters now on. We will stand tall and face it all together.

Guest Post by Laura C. Marin, age 11, military child


Editor’s note: At the time of this posting, Laura’s family’s orders were changed from Minnesota to New York. Laura’s mom says: “Flexibility, what a great strength. Enough said!”

Photo courtesy of the Marin family

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Moving in the Military From a Kid’s Point of View

Moving in the military from a kid's point of viewDo you enjoy moving? Some people might say no, but I love it!! Since I am a military child, I get the opportunity to live many different places, some of which people save all of their lives to get to.

I personally think that the best part of moving is getting to experience new cultures. I myself have lived in eight different places, in six different countries, and on three continents. Yes, it can be challenging to get adjusted, but I get used to it pretty easily. For example, in Africa, I had to get used to people eating with their hands, while sharing the same bowl. I know what you’re thinking, GROSS!!!! That’s what I thought too, but after some time I enjoyed doing it also. Here in Italy it was a bit easier to adjust because it is not a third world country. Trying to learn another language is still difficult though. Thankfully, the Italian people are helpful.

Being a military child gives me lots of opportunities. For example, last week I got to go on a field trip to Padova. We had the chance to go to Galileo’s Planetarium, the anatomical theater, and St. Anthony’s church. These are all places that people save up to go to, and by the time they have enough, they are walking with a cane. I am twelve, and I just got to go for the day. How cool is that?!?!?!?! In Mali, I got to go to Djenne, a big town in the north. There, we got to see the biggest mosque in Mali. For other people to get there, we’re talking fortunes!!! My family and I got to go there in our car for winter break.

Every time that I am about to leave a place to move to another I ask myself these questions. Will I make new friends, will I like my teacher, and will they have sports? When I get to the destination, I realize that I should not have been worried at all.

Last, but not least, whenever I move to a new place I get to try new foods. In France, it was the delicious escargot. In Mali it was definitely the moist sheep stuffed with couscous. Here in Italy it is a tie between the gelato and the pizza. You can find gelato in almost every town here. Here, the pizza is cooked in a stone oven. Yum!!!

Even now, I am getting ready to move to Senegal next year. I am very excited to go, and I can’t wait to find out what it is like. Africa, here I come!!!

Guest Post by Elizabeth Pepper, age 12, military child

Don’t break the bank: Financial resources for college-bound military kids

Don't break the bank: financial resources for college-bound military kidsSpring is the time of year high school seniors anticipate college acceptance letters and parents discuss how to pay the hefty tuition bill. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2010 – 2011 academic year the annual price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated as follows:

    • $13,000 at public colleges
  • $36,300 at private not-for-profit colleges
  • $23,5000 at private for-profit colleges

Yikes! That is quite a bit of money for one year of post-secondary education. Thankfully, military kids are eligible for unique funding opportunities:

In-State Tuition: Dependent children of service members on active duty for a period of more than 30 days are eligible to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state where the service member is permanently stationed. This does not mean a military kid is eligible to receive in-state tuition rates in all 50 states, but rather the state where the family is stationed. Once the child is enrolled and paying in-state tuition rates, the child remains eligible for the in-state rate even if the service member receives orders and relocates out of state.

Post-9/11 Transferability: Active duty service members with 10 years of service may be eligible to transfer their Post-9/11 GI bill to a child.

Scholarships for Military Kids: Several organizations have scholarship opportunities for military kids. Below is a selection of opportunities. College-bound military kids are encouraged to review specific eligibility requirements and deadlines, especially as some deadlines are quickly approaching:

College-bound military kids are also eligible for the same federal financial aid opportunities as other students including:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is the required application from the Department of Education to determine eligibility for any form of federal financial aid.

Federal Grants:

  • Federal Pell Grant: A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Typically, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program: The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants to help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of postsecondary education. Priority is given to those who are also Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Federal Loans:

  • Direct Stafford Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized): Direct Stafford Loans are low-interest loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: Parents of dependent students may apply for a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay their child’s education expenses as long as certain eligibility requirements are met. Graduate and professional students may apply for PLUS Loans for their own expenses.
  • Federal Perkins Loans: A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for both undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. This is a school-based loan program.

Federal Work-Study (FWS): The FWS allows students to earn money by working at a subsidized job, usually on the college campus.

Be sure to explore these resources to reduce your out-of-pocket costs. What other resources would you share with college-bound military kids?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testament

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testamentI was born into the military. My dad is a West Point graduate, and for most of my childhood I was the only one in my class who had immediate family serving in the military. Many of my peers did not know or understand what I was going through. It’s one of those things in life that unless you are living it, you can’t 100% understand it. I often felt alone and kept my feelings inside thinking nobody could relate.

But life changed as I knew it when my dad was deployed during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. That year I had turned the big 13, a significant time in every teenager’s life, and received a life changing opportunity – I attended the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple® camp. The professional camp staff with the Tsuga Community Commission that week helped me address the negative feelings I had bottled up inside about my father’s service. It allowed me to be part of a community that I didn’t know existed and feel proud of my family instead of feeling embarrassed and alone. I was able to escape the hardships and struggles, focusing on being just a kid that week.

My father deployed again to Afghanistan a few years later when I was a sophomore in high school and I was able to attend Operation Purple camp again, this time bringing my younger sister for the first time. Watching her flourish that week is something I’ll never forget. She gained confidence and a feeling of belonging that she had been lacking. Something I believe many military kids struggle with in silence.

It was the Tsuga staff that brought the Operation Purple program to Oregon who opened my eyes to see that even through there aren’t any active military installations in Oregon, a support system was actually out there for military children. It helped draw out my inner leader and inspired me to become a camp counselor at Operation Purple camp and join the Tsuga staff that helped me out so much.

After two summers of working with military children, I was able to identify that my passion lies in serving others and being part of something bigger than myself. Operation Purple camp holds a special place in my heart because of what it did, not only for me, but my family and many others like it. Without these nonprofit programs, our military’s youth would be without a resource that provides support and community for our dependents that need it the most.

We cannot forget that our Kids Serve Too.

Posted by Lauren Miner, Former Operation Purple Camp Attendee and Counselor