Category Archives: Military spouses

Making the Military a Career: How an Elephant Sat on My Dreams

flag-on-a-white-picket-fenceThere’s been an elephant in the room between my husband and me for a while. That one huge topic we’ve been dancing around. We think we know what the other is thinking, and feel okay when the topic drifts away, untouched. Because it’s a big, fat, life-changing elephant:

Are we really going to make the military a career; we’re really going to do 20 years of this?

I’ll be honest: I dreamt of a life where my kids would grow up having the same friends since second grade, like I did. I hoped to see my husband work a job with normal hours and be able to come home at 5pm and coach little league. I thought I’d get to have tons of quality time with my best girlfriends from college, since they’d live right around the corner. I relished in the idea of being able to take a vacation with little to no advanced planning.

When I first met my husband, his goal was to do a short enlistment, then transition back to the civilian work force, allowing all of my little white-picket-fence dreams to come true. Now, we’re 8 years in, and my husband has some of the most elite and prestigious tours in the military on his resume. We have had amazing opportunities because of his service – some I never imagined possible…like meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and using the big, important phone on his desk. Okay, so only half of that is true, but still: IT’S THE PRESIDENT.

Recently, we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room and had the talk: are we staying in, or getting out? His eyes widened with excitement as he went through all the possibilities awaiting him in his next decade of service. Mine sank to my feet as reality set in that my perfectly planned life with the white picket fence probably won’t happen.

So, what does that mean for me and my perfectly planned life and white picket fence? Honestly, I have no idea, and that scares me a little bit. But in the last 8 years, I’ve learned that life doesn’t come in a perfectly packaged box. It might come in 3 year billets and surprise IA deployments. It can require a therapist and some serious amounts of wine. And wine is totally okay.

Military life doesn’t exactly give you the opportunity to dream up a life you’d love to have. But I guess that’s the beauty of this one of a kind journey. It gives you other things you never thought to dream up.

Have you and your spouse made the decision to make the military a career? What advice would you give?

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Starting a Career on the Move: Jennifer’s FINRA Fellowship Journey

financial-documents-and-calculatorLife in the military can be both challenging and exciting. When my children started school, I began wondering what I would do next. A friend of mine recommended applying for the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship to become an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC). For me, the timing was perfect, since we would be at our current duty station for another year.

After being selected to become an Accredited Financial Counselor Fellow, our family received the news that we would be moving to a different state around the time classes would start. I began to think I wouldn’t be able to complete this program because of the chaos around me – like packing up and moving the week before my classes started!

Set up in a hotel room, I logged on for my very first webinar! I was very nervous…I didn’t even know what a webinar was! Logging on was easy, and the presenter was very knowledgeable. Prior to, I received the slideshow via email, so I was able to take notes. Even in the midst of a PCS move, and using hotel wi-fi, the flexible AFC program allowed me to learn right where I was!

As I unpacked at my new home, my husband arranged for the Internet to be set up the day of my second webinar. When it came time to start, I sat in the middle of a room full of boxes – nothing was going to stop me! The rest of the classes went smoothly with no major problems. Then it came time to take my exam.

WAIT. How do I do that?? Another thing I had no experience with…finding a test proctor. The education center on our base gave me information to contact the local community college to find a proctor, and after a call and a few emails, I was set up to take my first of two exams. While I was studying for the first exam, I was also attending webinars for the second class. This flexibility allows you to work at your own pace. I passed my exam and moved on to focus on the second class.

However, I also had 1000 hours to complete for my practicum. Thanks to helpful hints from past fellows, I started volunteering on base. It was slow at first, but by the time I finished the second class, I had started shadowing a counselor. I gained more confidence and started teaching classes. Instead of focusing on my second exam, I focused more on my family, as well as on those practicum hours. After the summer was over, I finally scheduled my second exam. I passed this exam within 10 months of the first webinar.

This fellowship is wonderful for military spouses because it is so flexible. I didn’t have to worry about attending classes in a set location, and I was able to schedule exams at my pace, and within my schedule. The ideas for practicum hours were invaluable, and this fellowship is tremendously encouraging. I am so thankful I was selected to be a part of this fellowship, and I can’t wait to continue helping fellow military families here, and at our next station! Yes, we are moving again, but with this program I know I can get my certification without a problem!

Thinking of a career change? Maybe the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship is your next step! Find out more and apply by April 18, 2014!

Jennifer-WakePosted by Jennifer Wake, Military Spouse & 2012 FINRA Fellow, Fort Leavenworth, KS

Insta-what? Insta-who? 10 Must-Follow MilSpouses on Instagram!

Living a military life can be stressful and beautiful, all at the same time. What better way to document such an adventure than through pictures? Military spouses are out in full force on the Insta-sphere, sharing everything from their homecomings to their workplace selfies…and we think they’re awesome!

Here are ten of our favorite #MilSpouse Instagrammers. Check ‘em out and get your double tapping finger ready!

TheYoungRetiree
TheYoungRetiree
  Elizabeth is a Navy wife, blogger, crafter and the queen of the thumbs-up selfie. We give her Instagram feed two thumbs up for making us laugh and want to be her best friend.

Jordanlees
JordanLees
  Jordan is a Marine wife who oozes Southern charm. She’s full of life with an energy that shows through her photos. Check out her photos of food and fun times!

McKenzieHarding
MckenzieHarding  McKenzie’s photos of her new baby girl are awwwww-inducing. She and her Marine husband are currently living in Japan, which transforms her feed into a beautiful travel scrapbook.

DaniGrace
Danigrace_  Dani’s got lots of love for her Marine and their pet Westie, Lady. She’s also chock full of fashion and hair inspiration (suddenly we want to buy some emerald green pumps!).

Wifessionals
Wifessionals  Kaitlyn is one of those Instagrammers who has a point of view, as they say in the photography world. Her pics are clean, simple and inspiring. She became an Army wife a few years ago and is now a new mom who shares openly and honestly.

JenHatzung
Jenhatzung  Jen has brought West Coast flair to the East Coast, thanks to her Navy husband. Get to know the diva with the dark rimmed glasses as she shares her fashion and fitness inspiration.

HooahAndHiccups
hooahandhiccups  Samantha is a proud Army wife and mom who started blogging while her husband was on a 10 month deployment to Afghanistan. Her Instagram feed is like her blog in picture form—plenty of family, fashion and fun.

KimberlyKalani
Kimberlykalani1122  Kimberly’s an Air Force spouse to a female Airman. She shares lots of photos of their love, their fur baby, and their life as an LGBT military couple. Plus she has some pretty sweet tattoos.

MrsBe72
MrsBe72  Mrs. B is an Air Force wife, mom to a sassy toddler and adorable newborn. She also has an infectious smile and is one of the most fashionable pregnant women we’ve ever seen.

ThenSheLostIt
ThenSheLostIt  Shannon is a blonde beauty who’s married to a Blue Angel and living in her home state of Florida, y’all! She keeps it real…and sarcastic. Check out her feed for a smile, a laugh, and some hair envy.

National Military Family Association has an Instagram account, MilitaryFam. Add us – we’re a bunch of military spouses, too!

And tell us in the comments below… who are your favorite #MilSpouses on Instagram?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Want to Go Back to School? We Have an App for That!

road-to-educationAs if military life isn’t complicated enough, I, like many other military spouses, decided to make my education a priority. After making this decision, I was overwhelmed by the amount of schools I could attend. With frequent moves and deployments, distance learning is a military spouse’s best friend. But, would it be right for me? I found the process of narrowing down schools and deciding on a program completely overwhelming. It weighed on my mind day in and day out. Waiting at a doctor’s office, at the grocery story, or painting my nails, I would be racking my brain about school, and what my next steps should be. In those moments, I wish I had something right at my finger tips to help me do the research.

Enter, the National Military Family Association’s app, MyMilitaryLife.

MyMilitaryLife is a resource any military spouse can turn to! I followed the “Spouse Education” Life Path and found information I needed to pick a good school. The app walks you through the process, from start to finish, with a checklist of items to complete along the way. Whether you want to pursue a certification, or even your Ph.D., the MyMilitaryLife has information for you.

The “Spouse Education” Life Path has the answers to your questions…even the ones you didn’t think to ask, like:

  • Where do I start?
  • What program is right for me?
  • Is distance learning for me?
  • Where can I find money to pay for school?
  • Will my credits transfer?

With MyMilitaryLife, these answers are at your fingertips, and can help smooth the road on your education journey. This Life Path even includes reviews from trusted sources: military spouses! Who better to give you advice than spouses who have been there, too? These reviews help make the app a valuable, trusted resource you’ll return to again and again!

Another bonus: the app features a great list of scholarships available to military spouses!

So, next time you are waiting around for an appointment, jump on your smart phone and download MyMilitaryLife. Maybe this time next year you will have a new certification in hand or be a headed for a new degree!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

HomeFront Rising: Military Spouses are Changing the Face of Politics!

working-womanA few weeks ago, something amazing happened. And it happened because of military spouses. Like many things that military spouses get frustrated by, a conversation happened and that conversation became an idea, and that idea became Homefront Rising – Political Action Training. A group of forward thinking, career-minded spouses decided to bring experts together to teach military spouses how to become leaders, advocates, and politicians.

In Gear Career and the Military Spouse JD Network hosted the day long workshop focused on teaching military spouses to pitch and message themselves, raise money for campaigns, get political leaders to listen and follow through, and how to overcome gender barriers in politics. All of this was done without leaning toward any political party. It was spectacular! And much of what we learned could apply to any career or leadership role, not just politics.

We heard from great speakers; Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-3rd/MA), Governor Nikki Haley (SC), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-2nd/HI), Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-1st/OK), Congressman Dave Reichert (R-8th/WA), Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-8th/IL), and a list of professionals who coach, fund, train, and connect political candidates at different steps in their careers.

My takeaways from this workshop were many, but I will share a few of my favorite nuggets:

  • For building a career (including a political one): You must build your network wherever you are. If you are still moving because of your service member’s career, then engage in a network that has a national presence so you can connect in each new location (think League of Women Voters, Toastmasters, etc.).
  • For getting what you want (funding, votes, legislation, a job): Find out what you want in common with the person you are making “the ask” to. Put a face to the issue by telling a story, and be part of the mutual solution.
  • For preserving your public face: Use kindness as a rule, and wait for two hours to do or say anything that doesn’t meet that standard. After that, do another gut check before going forward. If you make a big public mistake, own it, and fix it.

This workshop came at a great time because fewer and fewer members of Congress have been service members. As spouses, we care as much about the future of the military, veterans, families, and survivors as anyone who has served in uniform. I think Homefront Rising inspired military spouses to speak up and get involved in their communities and to change the political conversation!

Over 60 very motivated and dedicated military spouses attended the event, and I don’t expect this will be the end of it. You can read tweets from the event at #HomefrontRising, and find blog posts inspired by spouses who attended.

Keep your eyes and ears open for military spouses changing the conversation, because they are! Or will you will be inspired to try it out for yourself?

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.

military-saves-weekMilitary Saves Week starts February 24 and runs through March 1. In the weeks leading up to and including Military Saves Week, many installations host programs and events that focus on saving. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to attend one of these events. Why? I know many join the military because it provides a steady dependable paycheck, and if a service member stays in for more than 20 years, the retirement pension is guaranteed at a set and predictable rate. However, recent events (cuts to the COLA, a 1% pay raise for 2014, and proposed changes to the commissaries) show how uncertain those guarantees are. We are all one congressional vote away from any change to the benefits packages that were offered when our service member signed up.

It’s simple, really. Like the old saying goes, “The only guarantees in life are death and taxes.” I’ve said before that as military families, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is just as applicable in your financial life as it is anywhere else. So, if you get that retirement pension for military service, great! This does not negate your responsibility to save for your retirement. Make sure you are using the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), use the Savings Deposit Program (SDP) during deployments, and open up a Roth IRA (yes, I said “and,” it’s called diversification). There are a million ways to save your money to ease your long-term financial worries and burdens, and that means a more peaceful and enjoyable retirement. Don’t we all want that, especially after living a military life?

On that note, I will point out that not everyone who joins the service will stay in for 20 years or more. In fact, only 17% who serve end up making it to retirement. So, savings should start as early as possible and as often as possible. Another old saying tells you to pay yourself first. Find 10% of your income to pay (to yourself) in a retirement account. The earlier you start, the more money you will have at retirement because those first dollars grow the most.

One more big point I want to make is for you spouses, yeah, you, the one who is keeping the checkbook balanced, holding down the homefront, or running around like a chicken without a head, savings is also for you! There is no reason why all of the retirement and savings needs to be in the service member’s name or in connection with their employer; get some savings in your name, too. I am not implying that your marriage is on the rocks. I am reminding you that life happens, and facilitating your ability to take command of the ship if you need to, is part of having a secure family. You deserve to have assets, savings, and a nice credit score, too. These are all important factors for long-term financial success, regardless of whether you are inseparable for life.

Military Saves has a great motto this year, “Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.” Their website has tools and resources for you to learn how to save smart and make the most of your financial power. Take some time this month to learn more about how you can build your family’s wealth!

Have you considered savings as a spouse? Share your thoughts!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Roadmap to Understanding the Childless Military Spouse

couple-jumpingLet me be honest here for a minute. I’m 28. I’ve been married for four years. I am a military spouse. I don’t have kids, nor are they in my immediate future.

Boom.

I’m sure some of you will read that and, no doubt, think I’m weird. But spouses like me are not rare; in fact, there are a ton of us. We’re just hiding from the command parties that feature bubble wrap laid on the floor for your kids to trample on.

Ok, we’re not really hiding. But in my experience, some spouses with children often forget how to communicate with those of us who are not parents. We all came from the same bus stop, remember? Just not all of us took the ride into parenthood.

Speaking of my experiences, here are some of the craziest things that spouses with kids have said to me.

Consider this a roadmap of what not to say to the childless military spouse:

“Don’t you feel useless with all that free time and nothing to focus your energy on?”

“You don’t want to be the OLD mom – better not wait much longer!”

“Are you having infertility issues?”

“You could just adopt!”

“Aren’t you READY for kids?!”

“But you’re almost thirty.”

“Having kids gets us so much more money on our tax return!”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

As military spouses, we’re all trying to find common ground, share experiences, and support each other. And while none of the spouses who said these things to me meant any ill regard, they still made me feel excluded.

Those of us in the military community who don’t have kids by the “normal” age (read: young parents) still want to be included in your play dates, kids events, and yes, we’ll even help set up the bubble wrap on the floor at the next command Christmas party. Maybe we are struggling with experiencing pregnancy, or worse, maybe we’ve lost a pregnancy, but we just aren’t sharing. Or (gasp!) maybe we are childfree by choice.

Having children is a big decision for any one, and those of us who haven’t crossed that bridge, still have other things in common with you. We’re loving wives, focused employees, loyal friends, and can be a genuine support system for you on this military journey!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolutions Become Your Next Epic Fail

new-years-epic-failFun fact: 88% of New Year’s Resolutions fail.

Why do people even bother?! I never purposely set myself up for failure– which is why, for the past few years, my resolutions have included:

Eat more ice cream.
Drink more champagne.
Get more pedicures.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m in that successful 12%. I’m 3 for 3 and looking forward to a successful 2014 (filled with more massages)!

But what if you have legit resolutions? What if you want to drop 20 pounds, stop smoking, or put a certain amount of money into your kids’ college savings account? Should you give up before you start?

Absolutely not!

You can succeed at your New Year’s resolutions if you do these things:

Focus
Don’t resolve to get more massages and more pedicures and eat more ice cream and stop biting your toenails (ew!). Pick one. Stanford Professor Baba Shiv has done extensive research on resolutions and found that making more than one is too much for the brain to handle!

And don’t be vague. Instead of saying “get more massages,” I’d say “get six massages in 2014.” Don’t resolve to “get in shape,” instead say “lose 20 pounds.”

Take Baby Steps
Instead of making a yearly goal, break it up into chunks. When you make long-term goal, it’s too easy to put off ‘til later. Plus, having early success will help you stay motivated. For example, if you’re trying to lose 20 pounds, set a goal of losing 5 pounds by the end of March.

Blab to Your Friends
Nothing kicks you in the behind like a good public shaming. Ok, I’m being dramatic. Announce your New Year’s resolution to your friends and family (on Facebook and in person); even if they don’t say a word, knowing that they’re aware of what you’re trying to accomplish will make you feel worse for giving up.

Give Yourself a Break
Know that every day isn’t going to be award-winning– you’ll have good days and bad days. Just because you ate a dozen donuts on Saturday doesn’t mean it’s over. Just eat a dozen leaves of kale to make up for it (not really). The point is this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
When you meet those smaller goals, stop and give yourself a high five or do a little happy dance. Treat yourself to something nice—something that doesn’t steer you away from your goal. For all you “get-in-shapers,” buy yourself some new running shorts or a new iTunes playlist. If “stop swearing” was your resolution, buy yourself a censored version of your favorite movie. You get the point.

Best of luck with your resolutions. I’m off to get my first of many massages… and maybe some champagne.

Happy New Year!

besaPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Geo-Bachelorhood: Six months later

geobachelorEarlier this year, my family and I had a difficult decision to make. My husband had received orders that would take him to an installation about three hours from our home in Virginia. In the past, a new set of orders simply meant a new home town, no questions asked. We packed up the kids, said goodbye to friends and neighbors, and set off on our new adventure.

This time, however, we paused. We worried about the effect of moving the kids now that they are in middle and high school. We wondered if we would be able to sell our house or find a renter. And I asked myself if my career would ever recover if I had to give up yet another job. So after a lot of discussion and a lot of soul-searching, we decided that – for now at least – the kids and I would stay behind and my husband would become a geo-bachelor.

Now, it’s six months later, and while we’ve had our good days and our bad days, on the whole we’re managing. While I would never say that we have everything figured out, we have learned a few lessons over the past few months that have made geo-bachelorhood more bearable.

When we decided the kids and I would not move to the new installation, I worried about how I would manage everything on my own. Surprisingly, though, that hasn’t been our biggest challenge. As an experienced military family, we are accustomed to long separations, the kids and I slid easily back into our old routines. Every weekend, however, those routines were upended when my husband came home. It took a while for all of us to adjust our expectations and learn to enjoy our time together.

The first lesson I had to learn was to give Dad some down time. After a week of holding down the fort single-handedly, it’s tempting to meet him at the door with a honey-do list in one hand and the carpool schedule in the other. In fact, my husband jokes that I seem to think he comes home just to walk the dog and take out the garbage. And it’s true that when he’s home the kids and I are more than happy to let him handle some of the household chores that we take on in his absence.

But, although it’s easy for me to forget while I’m juggling kids, work, and housework, my husband’s schedule is demanding too and he deserves a chance to relax a little bit on the weekend. Raking the leaves can wait (for a while, at least)!

Another challenge has been fitting in family time. Our kids are busy with friends and activities. Between soccer games, sleepovers, and babysitting gigs, we sometimes found that a weekend had passed and Dad had barely seen one or both of the kids. We’re pleased the kids have so many friends and so much to keep them busy – it’s part of the reason we chose to stay here, after all – but time with Dad is important too.

We try to find time for him to spend one-on-one with each of the kids, even if they’re just riding along with him on a quick trip to the store. It also helps that he makes an effort to stay connected to the kids even when he can’t be here. Regular phone calls and texts throughout the week let the kids know that Dad is still involved in their lives even though he can’t be here every day.

Like so many aspects of life in the military, geo-bachelorhood isn’t easy. We were faced with a difficult choice, and are trying to do what’s right for our family. Some days are easier than others, and there are certainly times when I second guess our decision. So far, we’re making it work. We’ll see where we are this time next year!

Are you navigating geo-bachelorhood? What are your tips?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Sending Holiday Cheer to Service Members: Part 2

This month, we are featuring your letters of love and encouragement to service members in your life. Do you know someone who could use some holiday cheer? Deployed, or at home, let us help you share your love and gratefulness to a service member! Kids can join in, too! Send your letter with a photo to blog@militaryfamily.org.

AJKChristmas

Dear Andrew,

We are so blessed that you will be home to celebrate Christmas with us this year! As we know all too well, so many families aren’t as fortunate. Your dedication to our family and our country inspires me every day. I am so proud of you and the career that you have chosen in the United States Army!

All my love, Lauren


sebastianDear Matt,

Throughout our military life together, the thing that always makes me most proud is to see you set goals for yourself, and work hard to achieve them. Your character and leadership is second to none, and I am lucky to have you. Thank you for taking me on this journey, I’ll get the hang of it one day! I love you, and I love the heart of service you have for your country. You are amazing!

Love, Shannon

 

How do you show the service members in your life that you appreciate them? Tell us below!