Category Archives: Volunteers

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

Lessons Learned Washing the Vietnam Memorial Wall

The first time I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was in 1983 while on a family vacation to DC. There was something powerful about that memorial, even to a 6-year-old. I stared, moved by the people tracing the names of their loved ones on pieces of paper to take home with them. So when our Association had the opportunity to wash the wall, I was honored and proud to participate with my family.

NMFA-Vietnam-Memorial-Wash-Project-banner-85

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

There’s a reason you wash the wall early in the morning. A 5:30 wakeup isn’t always appealing, but even without coffee, I felt energized watching the sun rise behind the Washington Monument while we washed the wall. Plus, it’s the only time of day the wall isn’t flooded with tourists.

NMFA-Vietnam-Memorial-Wash-Project-banner-99-(2)

Kids are actually helpful. Washing the fingerprints and smears off the granite isn’t physically difficult, but it can be emotionally draining. In fact, the memorial was created to help the 3 million who served with the healing process. Seeing the kids, elbow deep in suds, scrubbing the bottom part of the wall brought levity and life to the experience.

NMFA-Vietnam-Memorial-Wash-Project-banner-63

The wall was controversial, like the war. Everything about Vietnam was marred in controversy, even a memorial to those who served. The design was the result of a nationwide contest, and the entries were judged anonymously. 21-year-old Maya Lin, a student at Yale, came up with the winning design. Some said that only listing tens of thousands of names may as well be a tribute to anti-war activist Jane Fonda. Some even called it ‘a nihilistic slab of stone.’ The statue of three American soldiers was later added as a compromise.

NMFA-Vietnam-Memorial-Wash-Project-banner-93-(2)

What some see as a chore, others see as an honor. My dad, originally from Kosovo, was perhaps the most energetic wall washer in our group. He stood alone with the hose, even when others had moved on, paying extra care to each name. He shared that, in communist countries, people are forced to clean war memorials, which are built to honor communist leaders and their ideology—not the people who fought; it’s not something you volunteer for. He went on to explain to the group why this particular experience meant so much to him. “America is seen as a beacon of hope for people around the world,” he said. “Each time America sent troops to parts of the former Yugoslavia, they saved thousands of lives. I can’t think of anything more important than honoring those soldiers.”

NMFA-Vietnam-Memorial-Wash-Project-banner-36

One of the most beautiful parts of the wall washing was seeing the reflections of my fellow volunteers in the wall as they worked to clean it. As the park ranger so eloquently put it, “we are all a part of that wall.”

Have you ever been particularly moved by a service project? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Photos: By JMill Photography, 2014

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Adjusting to an Unexpected Role: Caregiver

IMG_23000037656571-1Today, many military spouses are taking on a new role besides wife and mom. That new unexpected role is called caregiver. Never in a million years did I think I would become a caregiver at 34. Who knew? Hundreds of military spouses, like me, have taken on the caregiver role more frequently than people can ever imagine due to combat injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I don’t think many of us prepared for, or even anticipated, the added job title. Millions of unanswered questions and concerns are now a part of our life. But it doesn’t have to be a confusing and frustrating life. With the right resources, referrals, and people to help, what may seem like an unknown territory becomes manageable by getting information through social networks, and from wonderful organizations such as the National Military Family Association.

At first, I had to dig through a lot of information and learn not to be afraid of asking questions, even if it led me back to square one. Here is some of what I learned:

  • Be sure to attend all or most appointments with your spouse. It is important because you are becoming the advocate, the voice for your service member.
  • If you have a job and can’t get time-off, have someone there that your spouse agrees on. Someone who will relate everything back to you and the doctor if need be.
  • Make sure you have power of attorney for your spouse’s medical records. Medical information will not be released to you if you do not have one due to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or the parent of the service member.
  • Always ask questions if unclear: no question is a stupid question. If you are not getting answers or feel like your service member’s quality care if not up to standard, ask for someone else. It is always your right to obtain the best medical treatment for your loved one.
  • Take time out for yourself, even if it’s a hot bath and reading a magazine. You are no good as a caregiver physically or mentally if you are not well.

Being a caregiver is a continuous responsibility and I believe women, in particular, tend to think they can handle everything themselves. Most may not be as comfortable asking for help, especially when caring for an “invincible” service member. Not asking for help is a mistake—it’s important to get help when you need it and have your own support system in place.

As a caregiver, you can never really ‘get away’—you’re always there. But if you can find time for something else and get away from your daily routine, even for a short while, it can be great for your mind and health.

The best advice I would give to new caregivers is to be patient and be in it for the long haul. No one can tell you how long it will last, or if your spouse will get better. Don’t hesitate to get as much information as possible and know that people are there to support you, to lend a helping hand. You and your loved one are in it together, so just take it one day at a time.

And remember, love takes many forms and whenever you help each other, that form of love binds you closer than you can ever imagine.

Melissa-NovoaPosted by Melissa Novoa, Volunteer, Camp Pendleton, CA

Bonded Through Volunteerism: Holly and Cynthia’s Story

cynthia-and-hollyHolly Franklin and Cynthia Giesecke started as strangers, both attending the National Military Family Association’s West Region Training Conference, held in San Diego, California. They both applied to become Volunteers with our Association as a way to better the lives of other military families. Little did they know that volunteering, and even just attending the conference, would change their lives so drastically.

Upon learning they’d be traveling to California for the conference, Holly and Cynthia had very different reactions.

Cynthia immediately answered with a “YES!”

Holly debated going at all – she had never visited California, or even traveled alone.

Once they arrived in San Diego, as fate would have it, they ended up being roommates.

It didn’t take long before the two discovered their awkward jokes and weird sense of humor was immediately embraced by the other. The first night, they stayed up talking for hours, telling stories about themselves, and their experiences as military spouses. Holly had grown up as a Marine brat, and was a new military spouse, while Cynthia lived in a Reservist’s house, and was a more seasoned military spouse.

When asked about Cynthia, Holly beamed with admiration for her new friend.

“Cynthia is an incredibly active person at her installation. I immediately admired her for how open she was to other people, and compassionate to everyone’s situation – however unique it may be. She gave me so much insight and advice to what works on certain installations. When I told her of my concerns and situations in my community, she told me about resources I could use to help. Being a new spouse, it was so wonderful to gain information and tips that would have taken me years to figure out if I hadn’t met her.”

Cynthia shared in Holly’s excitement.

“Holly has a lot of passion and is motivated and willing to serve her community. Although she would say that we inspired her, she inspired us. As a seasoned spouse, we are often overwhelmed and ‘burnt out.’ But speaking to new spouses reminds us of our reasons for serving and gives us a renewed spirit. We also cannot forget where we started, and help others maneuver through this military spouse adventure. We can learn a lot from each other. It’s amazing how quickly Holly and I ‘clicked.’ I often told her we were kindred spirits. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her, and the amazing things she’s going to accomplish in the communities she touches.”

Volunteering is a great way to help others, but something more unique about volunteering is the way it can bring individuals together who share a passion for the same cause. With like-minded people in one room, it’s no wonder two of our special Volunteers formed a connection, turned friendship, that will last a lifetime.

Have you ever made a connection through Volunteering that you didn’t expect? How did it turn out?

Posted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager, Holly Franklin and Cynthia Giesecke, National Military Family Association Volunteers