Category Archives: Military spouses

Can Military Connected Women Have It All?

As a working mom, it was an honor and a privilege to moderate a conversation between 4 amazing women at this year’s Leadership Lunch.

The topic: does a work-life balance exist for women in the military community? But really, the conversation applied to women—and even men with families.

Lieutenant General Flora Darpino, the first female Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army is married to a retired Army colonel. They raised two daughters together. For LTG Darpino, it’s not about work-life balance. It’s about life.

“For me, work and life don’t have to be two separate things. I don’t look at it as two different buckets on a tight rope that I am trying to balance. I just have to figure out what is going to be in the bucket that I am going to carry.”

Leadership--Luncheon-2

Lakesha Cole, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year®, is an entrepreneur. She’s founder and CEO of “She Swank Too,” a boutique for women and girls.  She stays balanced by bringing her kids to work with her, going along with the theme that life and work aren’t necessarily separate.

“My daughter lets me know that I am spending too much time at the computer. My daughter went so far as hiding my computer charger. Set those boundaries and stick to them.”

Leadership-Luncheon-4

Reda Hicks, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year®, has been a “remote” spouse for the past 6 years. She’s a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas where she lives with her son while her husband is stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas.

“Women are their own worst critics. Is something that I am going to do when he is 3-years-old going to mess him up for the rest of his life? A lot of us are Type A, and we need to sometimes let some of that control go. I don’t have a formula for how it’s all supposed to work, but you just have to take it day-to-day.”

Leadership--Luncheon-6

Claudia Meyers, wrote, directed and produced Fort Bliss, a movie about an Army medic who comes back from deployment and struggles to resume her role of “mom” to her young son.

“It was the ultimate working mom scenario. Just like civilian mothers, it’s finding that balance between career and family. It’s one of the elements that goes into decision making – she is trying to make the best decision she can in an imperfect situation. When can you really be present and what compromises do you have to make.”

So, does a work-life balance exist for women in the military community? I learned that the answer depends on what balance means to each individual.

Now excuse me while I go reevaluate what’s in my bucket.

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

These MilSpouse Bloggers Got It Going On!

With more of our family members joining social media, it’s getting easier for military families, like mine, to keep loved ones updated with our lives—especially if OCONUS orders send us overseas. Many military spouses turn to the interweb to document their own military journeys, and many have found their way to blogging.

Blogging has quickly become a great way for military spouses to find others in the same boots, and some online friendships turn into real life friendships. If you’re a military spouse looking for a new way to keep the family updated with stories and photos – try blogging.

And while you’re at it, you have to check out some of our favorite military spouse bloggers:

My Camo Kids: An Army Wife Life
Wife of an Army Infantryman, registered nurse Lora’s blog shares the wild and crazy that comes with having 5 kids, from ages 15 to age 4! She chronicled her husband’s three deployments, and writes about her journey towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Lora knows how to keep the plates spinning!

My-Camo-Kids-Blog

Embrace the Adventure
Jordan, a deep-rooted southerner who married her college sweetheart, a United States Marine, uses her lifestyle blog, Embrace the Adventure, to do just that: embrace, navigate, and appreciate the unique and fulfilling lifestyle that the military has to offer. With a captivating smile and spectacular photos of her family’s life in the Golden State, Jordan’s blog instantly makes you feel like you found a new friend.

Embrace-the-change

Ramblings of a Marine Wife
If you want humor, Kara’s blog is the first stop. This working mom of two and Marine wife holds an MBA, and a witty take on life. From What She Wore Wednesday posts of her sassy (and dressed-better-than-us) daughter, to sharing all the best details from their family’ tour in Okinawa, Ramblings of a Marine Wife is one to add to your daily reads.

Ramblings-of-a-Marine-Wife

SpouseBUZZ
If you have ever googled anything military related, you’ve probably landed on SpouseBUZZ before. That’s because the Military.com owned site doesn’t leave any topic unturned. From “What not to wear to a military ball” to asking blunt questions, like “Why the low expectations for military spouses?” SpouseBUZZ lets your voice be heard. And we’ll be the first to tell you: all the juicy conversations happen in the comment sections.

SpouseBUZZ

Jo, My Gosh!
Started as an outlet to share the creative care packages she was sending to her then-fiancé during his deployment, Jo, a Navy wife, continues to share her creativeness with care packages. But now, she also gives a true taste of what military life has been like for her, with stories, tips, and a list or two from the now-seasoned military spouse.

Jo-My-Gosh

M.O.M (My Own Moment)…Please!
Jennifer is a Navy spouse, mom of two children, and one crazy English Bulldog. She’s the founder of MilitaryOneClick.com, and blogs about real life: the good, the bad and the ugly (including the time she had to scrub baby poop off her husband’s forehead while in public). So, naturally, sometimes she just wants to scream, “Can I have My…Own… Moment…please!?”

Mom-Please

Who are some of your favorite MilSpouse bloggers? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Silently Serving: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and each day, military families face this silent war in their own homes. Over the last five years, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, together, averaged just less than 8,000 domestic violence complaints per year. 

And the domestic violence battle rages on, thanks to the rough road spouses face when they report domestic abuse. We urge the Department of Defense to create a better environment for reporting abuse, so spouses can ask for help and know they’ll get it.

Military families shouldn’t serve silently.

For information on Military Protective Orders, or other resources to help, visit: www.MilitaryOneSource.mil, or www.MilitaryFamily.org.

Read more about DoD’s efforts to prevent and treat domestic violence,

Survive and Thrive: Embassy Duty!

After almost 24 years of moving around with my husband, I didn’t think any new assignment would faze me. Then the Air Force sent us to Quito, Ecuador, an assignment without a military base. And we’re not alone—many military families live in cities around the world without the kind of support we’re used to seeing. No commissary, no base exchange, no military hospital, or community center.

Assignments like these are most common in the Army, where junior officers start off as Foreign Area Officers (FAO) and eventually end up as attachés at many US Embassies around the world. But more senior officers in other services are offered opportunities as well. And where would any good Defense Attaché Office be without support staff? Jobs for both junior and senior enlisted exist in all services in just about every location.

survive-and-thrive-embassy

If you’ve only been to large bases where there are strict rules about socializing between officers and enlisted, an Embassy assignment might come as a bit of a shock. The military is only a small portion of the Embassy whole, and part of our job is to blend with the State Department culture.

Survival tip #1. Be prepared to leave your military etiquette at the door (but don’t throw it away completely).

State Department employees and their families don’t have strict delineations between staff, so everyone socializes with everyone else. In fact, on many Friday nights, the Marine House is the go-to spot to meet everyone. And because many spouses end up employed at the Embassy, the combinations of who works in which office, and who works for whom can be rather overwhelming. But it’s also how everyone knows how to support everyone else. It may seem a little incestuous at first, but if you aren’t in the loop, support can seem lacking.

Survival tip #2: Find a way to belong to the Embassy community, whether it’s as a valued employee, volunteer, or an often seen participant in community functions.

With these two tips, you’re going to survive. But we want more than that. We want you to thrive! That sometimes means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Living overseas most often means dealing with a new language. It always means dealing with a new culture. It is possible to make a life that revolves simply around the Embassy community. In fact, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the trips offered by the Community Liaison Office (CLO), and joining the group language classes offered by the Embassy community, especially when you first arrive.

survive-and-thrive-embassy-2

But to thrive, you’re going to need a comfort level with the local language so you can leave that safe place and enter the world around you. You’ll want to purchase food at the local markets, speak to your neighbors in their native tongue, and have the mechanic fix your car. Waving hands and smiling can only get you so far, and after a year in country, it will be downright depressing not to be able to ask for a ripe avocado instead of the unripe ones offered.

My tips for immersing in the local culture include getting to know other foreign spouses. If the United States has an Embassy at your location, so do many other nations. Here in South America, the majority comes from Latin American countries, and the common language is Spanish. That doesn’t mean I won’t find English speakers. But in order to thrive, I’ve forced myself to speak Spanish beyond my comfort level. I make mistakes and laugh at myself when others point them out. And by doing so, I’ve learned that Spanish-speakers make mistakes, too. A common word in most of Latin America is a swear word in Argentina. It’s funny to watch the face of an Argentine when someone from Venezuela is saying the equivalent of the “F word” in the middle of a pretty mundane conversation. Moments like that happen all the time, but unless you understand what is going on, you miss out. And when you miss out, you feel like you don’t belong.

survive-and-thrive-embassy-1

My final tip for thriving is to make friends with the locals. Many already work at the US Embassy, so they’re easy to find, and are often very willing to share their favorite restaurant recommendations, or the best place to spend a weekend away. Your spouse will know more than a few local military because of his or her job. Getting to know those folks can be very rewarding. We found an acting coach for my son through a retired Ecuadorian officer’s wife, who also happens to be an actress. That simple introduction has made my son’s Ecuadorian experience much richer.

My example of thriving comes from friending the wife of a local military officer on Facebook. She noticed my love of photography and my love-affair with her country. This opened a new door for me – she and her husband have introduced me to people and places I would never find in a guide book. They’ve opened their hearts and minds and in return, I offer them friendship. At the end of the day, and at the end of any military tour, it’s the friendships that help us thrive.

angie-drakePosted by Angie Drake, Air Force spouse, and blogger at Not Your Average American, Quito, Ecuador

Shanghai Breezes: The Ultimate Deployment Song

Letters-5Twenty five years ago, this country girl from Eastern Washington State met a surfer, ROTC student from Torrance, California. Despite the distance and challenges we faced while dating, we got married and have spent a lifetime together raising two great boys. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced every obstacle the Air Force has thrown at us. During those tough times, we found solace in the sage words of John Denver.

Back in the day, lyrics weren’t printed on cassette jackets. So if you wanted to be sappy, you had to painstakingly hand-write the lyrics by playing the song over and over to make sure you heard each word. That’s exactly what I did. While my husband, Jay, and I were in college in separate states, I painstakingly transcribed the lyrics to one of John Denver’s iconic songs, “Shanghai Breezes.”  I rewound and played my way through the process. Then I mailed those lyrics off to Jay in a letter. One we still have today.

Recently, as I was on my morning walk, “Shanghai Breezes” came on, and it made me think of all of the military families in the middle of the challenging deployment/re-deployment exchange. Like many of you, music marks the milestones in my life, like the number one song my senior year, the song we danced to at our wedding, the music my boys blared through their teen years in our homes around the globe.

“Shanghai Breezes” got me through deployments, TDY’s and separations.

Lyrics like, the moon and the stars are the same ones I see, became a reminder no distance apart will change the commitment we made to each other. It reminds me of the trust we place in each other, and the agreement we made to be there for one another through it all.

Letters-1As you face any deployment, I encourage you to find your strength. And find something that will remind you of it!  I challenge you to write letters, and have your families do the same. Today, along with the letter of lyrics I wrote to Jay so long ago, are letters from Jay’s parents, friends, and mentors wishing him well, as well as pictures and cards from our boys, all sending him their best wishes and recounting the joys in their lives.

Accompanying them are the cards and letters Jay sent back to our boys. They come with us every time we PCS, and are treasured reminders of our lives together. There’s just something about the act of putting pen (or crayon) to paper that emphasizes the words, the care, and the love of the writer.

My wish for all of you is peace through any deployment, and every separation to come. Find the best ways for your family to express yourselves and build strong lines of communication. Find your strength when the days are long, and try to focus on the positive things that inevitably happen during the chaos.

Finally, always remember the greatest act of strength is asking for help.

How did you build strong lines of communication in your family?

Posted by Karla Bickley, Air Force Spouse, Tinker Air Force Base

 

8 Lessons Learned Being a Working MilSpouse

susan-eversFor military spouses, working at the same company for more than 3 years can be considered a win. Getting to telework when you PCS makes you feel like you hit the jackpot. And sometimes, there’s the rare unicorn.

This month, Susan Evers, a military spouse and our Volunteer Coordinator for the West Region, celebrated her retirement from our Association after 17 years of service. Starting as a Volunteer Representative in 1997, she’s worked in nearly every department, making an impact on each person she came in contact with.

Along the way, Susan picked up a few ‘lessons’ learned during her time with our Association that we think perfectly sum up military life and making the most of any situation. Are there any you can relate to?

1. Never underestimate the power of saying thank you.
One of the things I think we really do well is thank people for all they’ve done. When you read our testimony, you will see this trait displayed very well. I don’t know if it comes from so many of us being moms (Thank you for making me this nice picture, now how about cleaning up your room?), but it seems to work.

2. Learn the secret code.
Secret words like “access standards” and the “DODI” can solve problems and make people think you know more than you do. And if you don’t know about something, there’s always someone who will teach you.

3. Love the color purple.
I never used to like the color purple; but, I’ve learned to love it. I think it was all those cute kids at camp!

4. Be a Mighty Mouse or a Little Engine That Could!
Small groups can bring about big changes. A few women around a kitchen table brought about a program (SBP) that has benefitted thousands of spouses. Just because you’re small or few in number, you can still achieve great things.

5. Master new skills.
When I started as an Association Volunteer in 1997, we were still mailing in paper reports with newspaper clippings attached. Since then I’ve learned how to use a computer, record a webinar, be a friend on Facebook, chat, and text. I still don’t have a smart phone, so there’s more to learn!

6. Don’t mess with Mama Moose!
One of the great joys of being a coordinator is reading the reports our Volunteers send in. Some of them really put their personality and local flavor into them. A Volunteer of ours in Alaska was famous for including the wildlife in her monthly reports. I learned about beluga whales, bears, and shrews among others. One report stated, “The bear are out of hibernation and have been spotted around the base and in living quarters areas. It is also calving time for the moose. DON’T MESS WITH THE CRITTERS! They’re bigger than you are and the reputation of a mama bear has nothing on a mama moose.” Our Association is a lot like those mama bears and moose. Don’t mess with our military families! You will be sorry you did!

7. Try to be a remote employee, if possible.
While you miss all the parties, homemade treats, and left over lunch from meetings here and there, you also don’t have to worry about using your indoor voice or whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. You can work all day with rollers in your hair (as I do), and talk as loud as you want. However, it’s always your turn to clean the kitchen.

8. Remember who we serve!
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in meetings with powerful people, press releases, and pleas for money and forget about families who are facing deployments, moving, and trying to access quality healthcare. Keep in touch with regular military families and try not to develop the “beltway mentality.” Visit an installation or military unit and talk with families and those who support them.

Thank you, to our own unicorn, Susan, for serving with us for 17 years. No doubt, you’ve made an impact and leave big shoes (and rollers!) to fill. As you know, in military life, we don’t say goodbye…we say “see you soon!”

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Finding the Man She Married: Caregiver Receives Master Bedroom Makeover

For Tanya Abbas, being a military spouse is more than just dealing with deployments and packing up her home every three to four years to move to the next duty station.

Each day, she lays out medication for her husband, Dustin, who suffered a head injury while deployed in Iraq. She manages the household, takes care of her husband, and searches for glimpses of the man she married.

photo-close-up

While Dustin can’t express himself the way he once did, he notices all that she does. Without Tanya knowing, he entered her in our Mother’s Day contest to win a master bedroom makeover from design firm Laurel & Wolf.

“When he got the head injury, he stopped being my husband that I have known for my whole life,” Tanya explains. “And all of a sudden, now I’m having to lay out his meds, and doing things around the house for him, and more than just being a wife.”

Laurel-and-Wolf-Winner1

Military spouses are often more than just spouses. They’re support systems, volunteers, and in Tanya’s case, caregivers. Laurel & Wolf and the National Military Family Association partnered in this Master Bedroom Makeover because military families deserve to be recognized.

In 2010, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported 96% of caregivers were women, and 70% provide care to their spouse or partner. After more than a decade of war, service members return home with both visible and invisible wounds, and families become wounded, too.

Beaming with love, Tanya smiles and remembers the man she married, “It’s an indescribable feeling to… look at everything [and know]…that’s because my husband loves me.”

See Tanya and Dustin’s story, along with an awesome before and after of their master bedroom:

Laurel & Wolf :: Master Bedroom Makeover – Arizona from High Res Media on Vimeo.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager