Category Archives: Resources + Information

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

Survive and Thrive in Ansbach, Germany!

Our Army life is relatively simple: it’s just my husband—a pilot, and me—an artist. Our first duty station since his graduation from flight school at Ft. Rucker, Alabama landed us smack dab in the middle of Europe. Moving here to Ansbach, Germany was a huge challenge, but I think it would be for anyone at any stage in their life! We’ve been here for two and a half years, and in five short months, we’ll be on our way to the next PCS stop.

Reflecting on my time here, I don’t think I could have spent it any better. It was important for me to be active in the Army community, but I wanted to dive into the local culture, too. Traveling and experiencing Europe was a must-do, but my primary goal was learning and devoting time to my artistic endeavors, something that would be dramatically different had we been living in the States.

So, how did I survive and thrive in Ansbach, Germany? Here are some tips:

Embrace the local culture.
The first few weeks of living in a new country feel like you’re on the best vacation ever. After the honeymoon wears off, it’s easy to find yourself lamenting life as you once knew it. The language barrier grows to the size of a beast, it’s frustrating that you have to plug your favorite appliances into a transformer, you can’t understand your phone bill and customer service is basically non-existent. Plus, you are really far away from your family. It took me quite some time to fight the urge to stay home, rather than venturing out, but eventually, after many mistakes and embarrassing moments, I became accustomed to using the German grocery store and post office. I got a German mechanic, joined an Art club in town, and even got pretty decent at reading the local newspaper, and finding fun events to attend. Small victories led to larger victories. I plugged away at learning the language as best as I could. And even though I still don’t always understand what strangers say to me; it’s amazing to realize how much I do know considering I started with zero prior knowledge of the language.

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Embrace your branch’s community.
Even though there are thousands of people at one location, the Army community can feel pretty small. For numerous reasons, Soldiers and families have a tendency to isolate themselves, doing themselves a severe disservice, especially at an OCONUS duty station. Having friends, or at least acquaintances, can help you not feel so alone. I think the easiest way to get comfortable in a new community is to join something: FRG, Spouse’s Club, Red Cross, ACS, or classes at the gym. You’re bound to eventually meet many people that are friendly and have great advice. Like it or Hate it, some of my best travel tips have been picked up at Spouse’s Club luncheons. And when you’re having a bad day (like the time I broke a bag of rice at the grocery store, spilled it all over myself, and didn’t know how to ask for help cleaning it up) it’s great to be able to go to the gym, see your friends, and tell them all about it so you can laugh together.

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Don’t let the need to travel overwhelm you.
My husband and I have seen a lot of what Europe has to offer, but we haven’t seen it all. We designed a travel budget to avoid spending our life savings we worked hard to create. We also made a priority list and a general outline of how much travel we could accomplish. Activities like snowboarding and surfing are a priority for us, so many awesome cities didn’t make the cut. Instead of focusing on all the places you haven’t been, recount the good memories from where you have been.

Set new goals and stick to them. Achievements are empowering.
I think the hardest part of being a military spouse is continuing your personal growth. Moving frequently and landing in random destinations come with a set of difficulties, and many times, new duty stations prevent us from being the achievers we used to be. Living in Germany proves very difficult for spouses who would like a career. Luckily, as an artist, I can do my job anywhere. It’s harder for the lawyers, nurses, hairdressers, and public health specialists. But I’ve met them all, and they make it work. If you’re on a base that doesn’t allow spouses to work, take the opportunity to start a new hobby, train for a 5k, or enjoy time with your kids – just don’t get down on yourself. Your job doesn’t define your self-worth! Challenge yourself with a goal and stick with it, even on the crappy days. It isn’t easy, but once you accomplish the goal, you feel stronger… like a superhero! In the time I’ve been here, my husband’s spent quite a bit of time away working. Instead of feeling lonely, I got comfortable with being solo. I learned German, but I also embraced reading, tried many new recipes, improved my cooking, and attempted things that intimidated me like learning how to meditate or do a handstand. Your goals can be any size or significance. You don’t have to move mountains to empower yourself!

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In less than six months, I’ll find myself in a whole new world: Ft. Bliss, Texas. It’ll be a far cry from this land of forests, fields, and medieval charm. But I know there are many delightful secrets and surprises to be found in the next chapter of my life. I plan to use the positivity and confidence that I built here, to give me the strength to embrace my new life there.

Posted by Sarah Geraci, Army spouse and owner of Florida Scarf, USAG Ansbach, Germany

5 Tips to a Healthier Military Family Lifestyle!

fitmilfamsIt’s no secret that summer months lure families outside, and draw attention to health and fitness. This year, the Coca-Cola Foundation focused on health and wellness within military families, and provided our Association with a donation of $50,000 to award to military spouses seeking their degree or certification in a health and fitness-related field.

We asked our military spouse scholarship recipients to share a few helpful tips for families, like theirs, to get on the right track towards a healthier and active lifestyle. Here’s what they said:

  1. Get Physical! Get outside and play– make daily activity a ‘norm’ in your family’s life! Create fun activities so exercise isn’t a chore.
  2. Make Health Food Fun! Have kids help in the kitchen and give them options so they learn to make healthy decisions. Try making fruit and veggie smoothies! Cook meals as a family and enjoy the change in lifestyle together!
  3. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. Have fruits or veggies on hand and chopped up for an on-the-go snack. Pack lunches to avoid the unhealthy options from school. Take time on the weekend to meal plan and make a grocery list.
  4. Get your Zzz’s! Create regular practices to wind down at the end of the day. Make sleep something your family values. Stick to a routine when possible.
  5. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drink more water! Use a fun water bottle to encourage water consumption all day long. Add your favorite fruits or vegetables to infuse water with flavor. Yum!

Is your family staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle this summer? We want to see! Share a picture using hashtag #FitMilFams of your family getting fit and healthy with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and be entered to win a Coca-Cola Visa card worth $200, $100 or $50! Photo submissions will be accepted August 18-August 24, 2014.

Get out there and get fit!

Contributors:
Melinda Boyd, Air Force Spouse – Registered Dietitian working towards a doctorate in clinical nutrition
Laura Hand, Navy Spouse – Working towards becoming a registered yoga teacher
April Walker, Marine Corp spouse – Pursuing a certification in group fitness Instruction

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

 

Protecting Your Military Family Online: It’s YOUR Duty

militarycybersecurityHow many times have you heard the phrase, “Loose lips sink ships?”

What about “The enemy is listening?”

If you’re a military family, you’ve heard them before. And you’ve probably seen the posters around your installation reminding you to practice good Operational Security (OPSEC). As much as we sometimes tire of hearing the reminders, our military would fail to thrive without it.

In a time where deployments, reunions, births, and even deaths are blasted across social media channels, the lines drawn between being supportive, and being dangerous become blurred. Are you keeping your family safe?

We hosted a panel of experts to talk about this. General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director and Cyber Security Expert, and Kevin Mandia, top Cybercrime Sleuth offered tips for military families to protect themselves online.

Protecting our Nation is the duty of our service members. Protecting your military family online should be yours.

Could you be doing more to protect your family? What other tips could you give other military families?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

It’s Hurricane Season – Are You Ready, Military Families?

hurricane-evacuationI may not be a meteorologist or an insurance adjuster, but I can tell you this: hurricane season is serious business.

How do I know?

I’ve been evacuated for two major hurricanes.

When Hurricane Ivan hit, I was alone. My husband was deployed. After the storm, I came back to a lot of downed trees (and I am a treehugger, so I cried) and a wrecked roof.

For Hurricane Dennis, I was 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I didn’t come back more pregnant. Instead, I came back with a healing incision and a sweet baby boy. Luckily, the house was in pretty good shape, but it wasn’t exactly the birthing experience I had in mind.

Luckily, our area was outside of (but close to) the “cone of destruction” when Hurricane Katrina rolled around. Our block had a “hurricane party”…because schools were closed, just in case. And you had to eat everything in your freezer, just in case!

When you live in hurricane alley for a decade because the military tells you to, well, you just make it a way of life.

If you’re stationed in, or around, hurricane alley, you need TWO kinds of kits ready to go:

  1. The all-purpose disaster kit- This should include things you’d need to survive in your house, or a shelter, with no power and potentially no water: batteries, flashlights, radio, food, water, anti-bacterial wipes, first aid kit, medications, and other survival needs including diapers or formula for babies, and cash (because ATMs don’t work when there is no power).
  2. The travel disaster kit- This should include things you’d want to save if there was no house to come back to and some things to get you to safety: family photos, important documents including IDs, military documents, deeds, insurance papers, etc., irreplaceable and valuable items (keep space in mind…most things can be replaced), food, maps, phones, important numbers, money and a plan.

I never had to use the all-purpose disaster kit, because our installation commander evacuated the base before we could need it, and generally waited for power to be restored before calling people back.

Evacuation orders (with some geographical and cost restrictions) covered all family members, whether the service member was present or not. Upon return, a travel voucher would be filed for reimbursement. Keep in mind, for weaker storms, the service member may be required to evacuate sensitive equipment, but that is not the same as a full blown evacuation that includes personnel and families.

One more thing: remember how you take pictures and document all of your belongings before you let the movers come and pack you up for a PCS move, just in case? Do that before a hurricane, too. It helps with the insurance claim in the event of loss.

For more information on disaster preparedness visit Ready.gov.

What other tips would you share with military families who live in a disaster-prone area?

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

June is PTSD Awareness Month

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects not only the service members, but can wreak havoc on families, too. If you or someone you know is struggling, visit the National Center for PTSD’s website for resources, treatment options, and ways to bring awareness to PTSD this and every month.

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