Category Archives: Military spouses

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

Give Us Your Tips to Survive and Thrive at Your Duty Station!

Calling all military family members! spouses-sit-outsideWe’re looking for guest bloggers to share their tips, tricks, stories, and encouragement with other readers, and we’d love to feature you!

We’re working on a series dedicated to sharing awesome tips for Surviving and Thriving at different duty stations around the world. Have you been stationed in Okinawa, Japan for so long, you’re pretty sure you’re fluent in the language? What in the world is there to do near good ‘ol Camp Lejeune, North Carolina? Are the spouse clubs in San Diego as rad as they sound? Tell us!

We want to hear from you…yes, you…in Weisbaden, Germany, and you in Whidbey Island, Washington!

Tell us how you survive and thrive in your town! Join a great couponing class? Or a running club? Have you gone camping at a breathtaking location? And why not let the kids join in? What are their favorite things to do and see around your town?

If you have some advice or tips to share, send your original work to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org. Make sure you include your name, a clear headshot of yourself, along with your current duty station and the town it’s in. And, of course, share 4-5 tips (or more!) with other military families so they can survive and thrive if they ever find themselves in the same place.

If you’re interested in contributing, but are not quite sure you’re the best writer, leave a comment and we’d be happy to get in touch with you to help find your inner writing voice!

Military life is crazy…but with a little help from those who have gone before us, we’ll be able to survive and thrive!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

Living with PTSD and TBI: A Spouse’s Perspective

woman-sitting-on-bench-aloneMy husband has been an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for nearly 15 years.

Between 2003 and 2009, he completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He didn’t know it at the time, but my husband sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of an enemy ambush. He suffered from splitting headaches, ringing in the ears, and light sensitivity. For years, he quietly battled his symptoms on his own.

By the summer of 2010, he had reached his tipping point. He became critically ill, and denying treatment was no longer an option. At the time, I was pursuing my career goal of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. I ultimately made the choice to put it on hold in order to focus on my husband and his recovery. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Through the encouragement of several senior leaders, my husband began to explore different treatment options. He enrolled in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where he was officially diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TBI’s and PTSD are often thought of as the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stigma associated with these injuries is a major barrier for service members in need of mental health care.

Unfortunately, this stigma has prevented many injured service members, including my own service member, from getting help sooner.

During the recovery process, my husband and I were overwhelmed and concerned with how our situation would impact his career, and our marriage. Fortunately, we got through it with a tremendous amount of support from his leadership; everyone from commanding officers to general officers.

Those leaders ensured my husband would remain on full duty while receiving extensive medical care. With a combination of medical and psychological treatments, his condition began to improve. He’s developed a firm grasp and acceptance of his condition, and has been armed with the knowledge that it is treatable.

Making a difference in the lives of military families is crucial to me. As a result, my career goal is to obtain a license in clinical psychology and use my professional and personal experiences to assist wounded warriors and their families. Achieving this objective would not be possible without the generous support of the National Military Family Association. They provide military spouses with valuable scholarships to help them fulfill their educational and career aspirations.

Today, my husband is serving on full duty and desires to deploy again. I am very proud of his dedication to our country and family, and am deeply grateful for the support I received.

When it comes to asking for help, taking the first step is often the hardest. But it’s the bravest of all. My husband and I strongly encourage anyone in need of assistance to get the support you deserve.

sandy-cullinsPosted by Sandy Cullins, USMC Spouse and Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient who received scholarship funds from United Health Foundation to pursue her career in mental health