I’m Scared for What’s Next: A Military Spouse’s Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

There are some things in life that, no matter how hard you try, just don’t make sense. No amount of contemplation, insight, or prayer can bring sense to the evil of this world. September 11, 2001 shaped the way I grew up, and the way I view things around me. It took away my ability to see good and heroic things happening, and replaced it with fear and uncertainty.


As a military spouse, fear can become a daily emotion. When tragedy strikes, our worlds seem to close in on us as we run the gamut of possible outcomes for our loved one; will they deploy, and where? When will training start? What holidays will he miss? How dangerous will it be?

President Obama recently said that he would keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017. This decision, sadly, didn’t seem to take any of us by surprise despite earlier pledges to withdraw them. My gut is twisted thinking of the other military families who won’t have their loved ones home for the holidays. My heart aches for the families who received news that their service members are being sent to relieve those left in Afghanistan or to protect our nation in other remote parts of the globe.

It’s been 14 years of war, and the state of the world isn’t getting any better. I’m not ready for an endless war, where places we thought were safe can become the frontlines of new types of battle. Places like Paris–beautiful, beloved Paris–a place where dozens of my friends have visited, even lived. Why would any evil target Paris?

As I was processing the death tolls, the injuries, and the eventual claim of who was responsible, I was overcome with emotion. I’m scared for what’s next.

There are military families in France and other countries in Europe; I’m scared for them. Stateside military families are wondering, no doubt, if their service member might deploy as a result of these attacks. I’m scared for them, too. I’m scared for the service members who are still enlisting in our all-volunteer military—they’ll be the next wave of support to join our nation’s longest war.

I don’t know what to expect except fear and uncertainty.


Paris could have been anywhere—a military base, New York City, a theme park, an NFL football game. And I could have been there. My family could have fallen victim. And that scares me. Evil is out there, lurking, planning, targeting. And we’re only doing the best we can to protect ourselves.

Paris’ Night of Horror was unbelievably senseless and evil, and there’s no way to process why other humans would commit such an act of terror. As a military spouse, my heart hurts for the families of the victims. And I’m scared for what’s next for my own family.

There aren’t many historic events in my lifetime that give me hope that good still exists. But seeing the sacrifice our men and women in uniform, and their families, make to protect our nation gives me that hope. Tragedy isn’t avoidable, but I know that someone’s loved one—including my own—vowed to protect us from it as best they could.

I’m scared for what’s next because I know our service members are at stake. I know some military families will have to bear the burden of another deployment, another holiday alone, even another tragedy. And some of those families are my friends.

I’m asking you to rally behind the military families you know. Just as we all are finding ways to stand by the people of Paris, don’t forget to stand by our service members in harm’s way. Support the cause and display your pride in all ways. The war isn’t over. Military families need to know their country has their back.

Seeing our country stand behind the military and their families is the good that drives out the fear and uncertainty bred by tragedy.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Volunteering Isn’t About the Recognition, It’s About This…

I’m sure there are some people who feel like volunteering is a waste of time; you don’t get paid and, for the most part, you don’t get any awards or recognition. So why would I volunteer when I am busy with so many other things?

Volunteer banner NMFA

Two things became incredibly important to me when I was young: giving back to others, and our military. My family had always been very involved in our local church and because of that, I learned the importance of serving the community. The military portion came because most of my family was either currently serving, or had served in the military when I was young. This was incredibly influential for me. It made such an impact in my young life to hear the stories of what my great grandfather did in World War II, and how, even after all those years, he couldn’t stand mice because of some horrors he’d faced in combat. I talked with my grandfather, who served in the Air Force, and heard all the things he’d done, and how those things led him to a career at NASA after he retired. My Dad served as a Blackhawk pilot, and I remember the things he’d do that made me realize some people really were heroes; some people had honor and lived differently, and had a different code than other people. I would watch him with awe, even when I was too young to understand–like when he would stop the car as they lowered the flag on post and he’d get out and stand and salute the flag. But I knew these things meant something, and that my dad was special, even when he left rather quickly on a deployment to Somalia, immediately after the battle of Mogadishu happened.

All these things made such an impact on my life, but what made the biggest impact was probably when my brother decided to enlist in the Army, the day after September 11, 2001. Later on, when he was in Iraq and I was in college, I decided I needed to do something to give back. I knew I wasn’t able to serve in the military myself, but I knew what family members go through–I wanted to do something to give back to service members and their families. That desire started my path and my passion for volunteering, and I started my first volunteer group for the military. It changed my life so much I decided I wanted to make it a career, and planned to go full time into working with a military non-profit.

But life doesn’t ever work out the way you think it will. I met my husband in college, and after we graduated, he enlisted in the Army, and I became a full-time wife and mom. It was when we were stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas that a friend told me about the National Military Family Association (NMFA) and all they did to represent our service members and their families. I knew, immediately, I wanted to get involved and do everything I could to volunteer again.


Once upon a time, I had dreamed of going into the non-profit field to work full time for a military support organization, and maybe one day I could support my military husband by taking care of our small kids by staying home. Volunteering with NMFA means I get to live my passion. I enjoy be able to give a tiny bit back to those who do so much for us. Volunteering means I get to keep making a difference.

There isn’t anyone who needs more support, or who has done more to deserve it, than our service members and their families. So I will continue volunteering as long as I possibly can. The rewards may not come in a paycheck or in a certificate you can hang on your wall, but knowing you are making a difference in the lives of those who are putting everything on the line for us is reward enough. That’s better than any paycheck or certificate I’ve ever received.

Do you have any connection to the military and have a desire to give back to them? Consider joining our Volunteer Corps!

Posted by Mandi Verlander, National Military Family Association Volunteer and military spouse

Veterans Day: We Support You. We Appreciate You.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed civilians can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead


This Veterans Day, the National Military Family Association encourages you to show your appreciation for the men and women who dared to commit their lives to protect our nation. We owe them our respect and gratitude, not only for serving in our all-volunteer military, but for the impact they play within their communities, their jobs, and among their fellow veterans.

And behind every current or former service member, stands a family supporting, encouraging, and sacrificing. We cannot forget the mission these families accomplished during their loved ones’ active duty or reserve service. Though they may not have laced up boots or buttoned up a uniform, their part should not go unrecognized.

Veterans: with endless gratitude we thank you for your service to our country and your commitment to the mission. We are proud of what you’ve accomplished, and we stand behind you and your family.

Together we’re stronger.

Thanks to Meineke and Maaco, we’re giving away a $100 prepaid Visa gift card to a lucky Branching Out reader! These two brands have partnered to honor veterans through their Cars and Stripes campaign, where they’ve fully restored a truck to gift to a deserving veteran in need of transportation. Cars and Stripes is a four-week video series that will launch on the brands’ Facebook pages starting today.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is follow Branching Out blog! To follow, simply enter your email address in the right column! Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be contacted via email on 11/12/15.

3 Tips for Military Spouse Writers Who Want to Publish a Book

I’d like to tell you my path to publication was easy, but that would be a lie. It took five states, five assignments, one retirement, another move, and 17 (that’s not a typo–17!) years to publish my first novel. But when it happened — it happened fast.

I started writing a novel after seeing an ad for a short story contest in the Dayton, Ohio newspaper when we were station at Wright-Patterson in 1997. I tried writing a short story, but subplots and interesting characters kept bubbling up onto the page, and I realized the story was so much more.


So here’s my best advice about publishing:

Study the craft of writing.
I went to my first writers conference while we were stationed at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As part of the conference, I read the first five pages to the group. As I read I thought, “This is the worst drivel ever written and it’s all backstory.” Fortunately, it was a very kind group–they pointed out what was good, and I got back to work. Since then I’ve attended writers retreats and conferences, taken classes at a community college, listened to every author speak that I could find, joined a critique group, and read lots of books about writing.

Tagged for Death mech.indd

Get out there.
When we moved to Northern Virginia, I saw an ad for a mystery convention called Malice Domestic. While it’s considered a mystery fan conference, there were plenty of writers, agents, and editors roaming around. One year I met a well-known agent as I was checking in. She told me to mail her my manuscript and while she, ultimately, turned it down, it was an opportunity. In 2005, we found out we were going to be stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. That year at Malice, I happened to sit at a table with a woman, Julie Hennrikus, from Boston. She told me I should join the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attend a conference called Crime Bake. That chance meeting eventually led to my being published–more on that in a bit. There are organizations for Sci-Fi writers, children’s writers, almost any type of writing you are interested in.


Get used to rejection.
In the early days of my writing journey, I snail-mailed my manuscript and got rejections back the same way–lots of them! I have a file folder with around 65 rejection letters. Some are just a copied form letter, some at least have a signature on them, then are some with a personal note. The ones with a personal note gave me a little hint as to why they said “no” and kept me going.

So back to meeting Julie. I did join the Sisters in Crime chapter and attended Crime Bake. I met more and more published and hoping-to-be-published writers. Three years ago at Crime Bake, another friend, Barbara Ross, introduced me to her agent, John Talbot. I pitched my series to him but he wasn’t interested (by that time I’d written three books). A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.


A week later, I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal with Kensington Publishing (and they’ve just asked for two more). The Sarah Winston Garage Sale series is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts, and on a fictional air force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. The first in the series, Tagged for Death, came out last December and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel at Malice Domestic. All of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came along.

So hone your skills, meet people in the writing world, and don’t give up! If you have questions you can contact me through my website, SherryHarrisAuthor.com.

Are you a military spouse writer? Let’s connect!

sherry-harrisPosted by Sherry Harris, military spouse. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series

Department of Defense is Paying for “Acts of Patriotism?”

We’ve all been to a sporting event of some kind, and felt that pang of pride in our gut when the National Anthem plays, and our service members take part in some kind of patriotic display. Some displays are beautiful—like a flag that covers an entire football field—and others are just plain awesome—like a service member rappelling down rope in the middle of a hockey arena to drop the puck.

I was a little confused when I read this week that the Pentagon has been paying sports teams for the opportunity to showcase service members in their pre-show routines.


What? The same Pentagon that doesn’t have the funds to properly equip service members in the field, or to train them prior to deployment because there’s no money in the Defense budget? Where did the money come from? And should we be mad?

I’m on the fence.

But Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., isn’t. He’s made sure Congress knows about these acts of ‘paid patriotism.’ Earlier this spring, contracts between the Department of Defense (DoD) and certain professional sports teams came to light (72 to be exact), totaling $6 million in taxpayer dollars.

So where IS this money coming from?

A few of the sports teams claim they’ve never accepted money from the DoD, while others aren’t sure. The National Football League (NFL), sent a letter to Congress advising they are launching their own external audits to see if money was exchanged; if it was, the NFL says it will be refunded.

Well that’s all nice and polite, but I’m still wondering where the money is coming from?

The National Military Family Association has been fighting tooth and nail since before Sequestration took effect in 2014, for Congress to stop balancing the budget on the backs of military families.

Commissaries had to close down, military treatment facilities (MTFs) weren’t fully staffed, and military spouses were sending their service members overseas without proper equipment or training, all because there wasn’t enough money in the budget.

But somewhere, in that budget they couldn’t balance, was money to pay professional sports teams for patriotic displays before games?


Here’s where I’m on the fence: The future of our military force is in dire straits, and any form of recruiting is a necessary evil.

Service members and their families are packing up their toys and leaving; the benefits don’t seem so great to some, and the sacrifice doesn’t seems worth it to others. More military families are getting out and transitioning back to civilian life.

The military already has multimillion dollar ‘displays’ intact for recruiting future service members—demonstration teams like the US Navy Blue Angels, and the US Air Force Thunderbirds have been wowing crowds and inspiring America’s youth to give back to their country through military service for 69 years, and 62 years, respectively.

But are these recruiting tools working? Are other forms of ‘paid patriotism’ really needed?

Senator Flake doesn’t think so. He told ABC News, “These [sports] teams do a lot of good work. The problem is when activities like this are paid for by the tax payer, it cheapens everything else they do and that’s why it ought to go away.”

What will happen if the DoD really is paying for these ‘advertisements?’ And who should be held accountable?

I want to know what in the world is going on… or I’m jumping over the fence and rushing the field.

Do you think about the Department of Defense paying for these ‘acts of patriotism?’ Share your thoughts in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Setting Our Kids Up For Success: Are We Pushing Too Hard?

On our way to my daughter’s hockey practice, my 12 year old son boldly states that he is going to take a year of ‘self-exploration’ after high school, instead of heading straight to college.

My heart starts pounding and my vision becomes blurry. I think to myself, is this what it’s like before you pass out? Pull yourself together, woman…you are driving!


I took a deep breath and made sure I heard him correctly, “What did you say?”

He slowly repeats his statement with a distinct pause in between his words to ensure I was fully aware of his annoyance. Now my blood is boiling, “Um, no…YOU, my son, are NOT taking a year off after high school. YOU are getting a scholarship, playing your favorite sport, and most definitely going to college IMMEDIATELY following high school.”

My head is spinning. Did that really just happen? Is my 7th grader stressing about college and what he is going to do in his adult years, or am I the one stressing? Do I place too much pressure on him? Are my expectations too high? Of course, the answer to these questions is not simple. At times, I do feel like my expectations are too high. He’s only 12. We rush from this to that, and that to this, and before I know it he’s going to be driving and getting his first job with real responsibilities!

All I want is to raise well-rounded, happy human beings that will make a positive contribution to society.

I’m not alone in my concern for my kids. We all want them to grow up happy, healthy, and successful. I know I can’t always protect him, and I can’t make decisions for him, but I want to do everything in my power to set him up for success.

How do you know if you are helping them, or pushing too hard?


First, when it comes to sports and extracurricular activities, ask yourself: is  this for you, or your child?

Did they ask to participate or did you have to convince them? Do they complain about it constantly, and is it affecting their overall mood? Reevaluate your schedules and stress levels every once in a while. Let them be a kid and allow for “free” time.

Second, give them a chance to share their thoughts.

Are the lines of communication open? Are you approachable? Do you make time for one on one conversations? Are you asking questions other than “How was school today? When is your science fair project due again?” Do you listen when they ask questions? Make your home a safe place to express their emotions. Find ways to reach them. They are more likely to open up and engage in conversation when there is less pressure and they can relax.

Third, support them no matter what.

Be their biggest fan! You are their number one cheerleader. Let them know you love them unconditionally. Offer positive encouragement. They are receiving plenty of instruction and criticism from their teachers and coaches.

I don’t always succeed at being a laid back mom, but I strive to be understanding and supportive by taking the time to listen, providing positive encouragement, and most of all, being available when he does need me.

As for that year off? Maybe he can convince me when the time comes.

What are some important ways you support your kids? Share them with us!

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant


Military Spouse Finds Fulfillment Through Volunteering With NMFA!

We’d just moved cross-country…again, and I was looking to keep myself busy. There was a posting on a social media site that a local organization was going to be hosting a resource fair, so I thought I’d check it out. Since we had gotten to our new duty station, I hadn’t really found where all the community services were, and I knew this would be a great start to finding what was out there.

As I was moving through the tables on the day of the fair, I saw the National Military Family Association table. I applied for their scholarship once, but vaguely remembered about it, since it had been so long ago. One of the regional coordinators greeted me and spoke about the Association with so much passion. And they needed volunteers.

I could take some time and do this, why not?

Volunteer banner NMFA

I hadn’t found a job yet, and the prospects were meager. So I took the brochures, looked through them, and saw all the great things NMFA does for military families. They had me at Operation Purple Camps! I hadn’t known much, back then, about the Association, other than scholarships, but once I found out about all the great things they do, I jumped on the opportunity to help.

Since joining the NMFA Volunteer Corps, I have hosted NMFA tables a few resource fairs–spreading the word about the Association is a great thing! I am also on social media, sharing posts from NMFA. When we lived in the Washington D.C. area, I was so fortunate to be able to take part in Association-sponsored events and related opportunities, events hosted at NMFA headquarters, and I even attended White House events, too! Those are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunities!

What I enjoy about volunteering is telling people all about what the Association does for military families. They are surprised at the amount of advocating we do on Capitol Hill. I also enjoy hearing they have sent their children to an Operation Purple Camp, or that they went to one of the retreats and thoroughly enjoyed it. Recently, one of our NMFA scholarship recipients came up to the table I was hosting, and told me she was a scholarship winner; to me, those are the things that make me happy and proud to be a Volunteer. It’s awesome to hear all of the great, first-hand stories of all the ways NMFA helps military families!

Now that we’ve crossed the country (again!), we are at a duty station where not many have heard about the Association. This is the perfect opportunity to share such an awesome resources with the military families in my new area. Volunteering has been a great experience from the beginning, and I will continue to do so every chance I get!

Do you volunteer in your community? Tell us what you love about it!

sylvia-salas-brownPosted by Sylvia Salas-Brown, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Army Spouse, Fort Hood, TX