#OurVolunteersRock: Spotlight on Amy Chaffin

What does it take to receive the prestigious Novella Gibson Whitehead award from our Association? A lot of talking to military families!

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We are proud to announce Amy Chaffin as our 2014 Novella Gibson Whitehead Award recipient. This award is given to a Volunteer who best defines the position’s roles and responsibilities: identifying, studying, researching, and evaluating issues relevant to the quality of life for military families. Amy is a direct link between Fort Carson military families and our Association staff, bringing shared local concerns and stories of positive community impacts. She is highly deserving of this award.

So what did Amy do? Amy was appointed as a Volunteer in 2011. She advocates for military families to become familiar with the Interstate Compact for the Educational Opportunity for Military Children so parents can ensure their children’s schools are following the intent of the agreement. During her three years she has raised important issues, such as the Army’s change in background checks, requiring those who volunteer with children to agree to have their medical and behavioral health records reviewed. Not only did Amy raise the issue, but she provided well-thought out reasons why this is problematic, and continued to follow the issue and provide subsequent information. Amy introduced our Association to numerous military communities, and helped us with mentoring and welcoming new volunteers into her area. She interviews potential volunteers as the first touch point with our Association.

Whether Amy is talking with the Superintendent at school board meetings about children’s education, or introducing her hairdresser to our app, MyMilitaryLife, Amy is an outstanding representative of our Association. Congratulations, Amy!

Think you have what it takes to volunteer with us? We think so!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer Services Director

Keep Your Military Life “Pinteresting!”

October is here and so is the unofficial start of DIY season. Are you creating a Halloween costume for the kiddos? Maybe making a fall wreath for your front door? Do you need a recipe to take to command “mandatory fun” events? We’ve got you covered! We’ve got boards upon boards of awesome ideas on our Pinterest page – from DIY home projects to patriotic tasty treats you’ll drool over. Follow us and start pinning those perfect holiday ideas!

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Exiting Gracefully by Finding ‘The Life You Want!’

Winning a ticket to Oprah’s “Life you Want Weekend” from the National Military Family Association and Discovery became a momentous event for me. As an Army brat/Army wife, military life is the only life I know and the Army did a great job equipping me for it. But my husband recently retired after 28 years and is in school on his GI Bill. What I didn’t learn is how to exit gracefully. One day you’re the spouse of a Soldier and the next day you aren’t. What now?

The “Life You Want Weekend” was a time of exciting music, dancing, speakers, vendors, conversations, and of course OPRAH! Before she came out, the air was electric with anticipation. Oprah did not disappoint! She talked for two hours straight about how she got where she is today, how she overcame obstacles, and how she’s reinvented herself…and how we could too, saying, “Create the highest, grandest vision for your life. Then let every step move you in that direction.” As a fellow Mississippi gal, I thought if she could do it, I could too! I realized I could find the answer to “What now?”

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image: Harpo, Inc./George Burns

We all left saying, “WOW!”

Oprah was so stimulating; I stayed up late blowing up the Twitter feed with other pumped up attendees. Saturday session came early! Walking from the Metro, we were still in awe, swapping stories and business cards. Since I left Army life kicking and screaming, it was helpful to see there is sisterhood outside the Army and it is intriguing!

The session started with poet/philosopher Mark Nepo, who led us in a meditation of thankfulness for our life. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, took us on a quest – a hero’s journey -toward the life we want. Rob Bell taught us to see the miraculous in the everyday and embrace the life we have, even in struggles. And through humorous, but serious stories, Iyanla Vanzant told us unless we heal the wounds of the past they bleed into the future.

Trust me, I have pages of motivating notes from the presenters!

Between speakers, Oprah led us in practical workbook exercises to capture our vision. For me, the ‘Ah ha!’ moment was the life circle where we sliced up and assessed areas of importance in our lives. My Army Family Programs volunteer trainer work used to fill half my circle… and it had lots of smiley faces! Choosing my new areas of focus was difficult, but I was beginning to define my vision. What now? Well, I always wanted to volunteer with an adult literacy organization. I can focus on that next! Oprah says, “What you focus on expands.”

To further inspire us, we met Jas Boothe, founder of Final Salute, Inc. who received a check and standing O’vation from Oprah and Toyota for her work with homeless women veterans. The check was presented by the amazing Amy Purdy…double amputee, snowboarder, and Dancing with the Stars runner up!

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image: Harpo, Inc./George Burns

As I went into the weekend, I just wanted my Army life back. The “Life You Want Weekend” challenged me to appreciate my past Army life, since it made me who I am, embrace this retiree life I have here and now, and create a vision for the life I want.

To echo Oprah, “…my heart is filled with gratitude for yet another day to live on purpose.”

Oh, you’ll still see me around the Commissary…I’ll be the retiree blocking the aisle and talking about how I exited gracefully…thanks to Oprah, NMFA, and Discovery!

Posted by Mary Ward, Army (R) Spouse, Williamsburg, Virginia

Survive and Thrive in Pensacola, Florida!

Let me start by telling you that they don’t call it “The Emerald Coast” for nothing! Before moving here, Pensacola never really showed up on my radar. I hail from Jacksonville, Florida, and went to school in Tallahassee, only 150 miles away from home. I knew of Pensacola only by way of mandatory history classes growing up. Until my husband received orders to NAS Pensacola, I had no idea how awesome this little town really is.

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You see, the survive part has been easy for me. It’s the thriving that is a challenge. Our last two duty stations were learning curves. And they weren’t all fun. I didn’t make friends easily, my expectations were out of this world, and in the beginning, I struggled to find meaningful employment.

So when it came time to pack up and go, I planned to make the best of our time here.

If you are a Navy or Marine Corps family, there’s a good chance you may land in Pensacola at some point in your career. Home to A-Schools, flight schools, training squadrons, and even the world renowned Blue Angels, Pensacola is the perfect mix of everyone…and beautiful beaches to boot.

It’s true—we live where you vacation.

But when it comes to making the best of a PCS move and thriving in your new town, I think Pensacola has been a great place for me to spread my wings, meet new people, and even find a life outside of the military. Here are some tips should you find yourself on the Emerald Coast:

Consider community service.
Weeks after moving here, I knew I wanted to get involved in a community service organization. What better way to get to know a new city, make business connections, and find some great girlfriends who like wine as much as you? I joined the Junior League of Pensacola and haven’t looked back. Aside from giving back to a community that supports the military, I’m setting myself up for success when our next PCS comes. Most cities have community service organizations; the Junior League is no exception. Once I move, I’ll be able to transfer to a new League location and boom! Like-minded, service-oriented, and wine-loving friends await!

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Become a self-proclaimed Foodie!
Arriving in Pensacola, I quickly figured out this is a food-loving town. From food festivals to a $100 burger at a local Irish watering hole, Pensacola is the perfect place to make a foodie bucket list. And ALWAYS try the hole in the wall restaurant. Most times, they don’t disappoint! One of my favorite Pensacola-area treats is The Gulf, a beachside restaurant made entirely from old shipping containers and located just 20 minutes away in Orange Beach, Alabama. Al Fresco Airstream trailer ‘food trucks’ in downtown Pensacola are perfect for a quick, fun, and relaxing sunset dinner. And you have to try the East Hill Yard Wine and Taco Hospital. Yes. You read right…built in an old hospital from 1914, The Yard now hosts a relaxed atmosphere with lawn chairs and yard games. Rumor has it: the bathrooms are in the exact spot where the morgue used to be!

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Activities on base really aren’t that bad!
You won’t find many crafting parties, or Bunco nights here. But in one day, you can become qualified to drive a boat (then rent one the very same day), run a 5k, and climb 177 steps to the top of the working lighthouse on NAS Pensacola. Surrounding bases like NAS Whiting Field, Correy Station, and Saufley Field also have similar fun events! For me, I decided to get involved with my husband’s command by volunteering to be the new Ombudsman. I knew it would be a great way to meet other families in our command (which is very small), and also be able to find out all of the services our base has to offer. In my free time, I love taking advantage of the open gym nights on base. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for volleyball, which is my stress-reliever!

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We hear it every time we PCS, “Submerse yourself in your new community!” I hated hearing that because it always seemed so hard. But not in Pensacola; it’s a relatively small town, and there is so much to do and see! Take advantage of all the opportunities around you, and don’t be afraid to drive 30 minutes for good food…it’s always worth it!

And of course, on days when you don’t want to do anything, the white sand and emerald waters are only minutes away!

Have you ever been stationed in Pensacola, Florida? What were your must-do’s?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager, Pensacola, FL

The Quiet Holiday: Gold Star Mother’s Day

justin-sissonEach year, countless holidays pass with celebration and joy. We look forward to cook outs, costumes, and even gift-giving. Then there are the days, like Gold Star Mother’s Day, occurring on the fourth Sunday in September, which we remember solemnly as a sobering reminder of the ones left behind after the ultimate sacrifice is paid.

For Phyllis Sisson, today marks her second Gold Star Mother’s Day. A day, among many, spent remembering her son, 2nd Lt. Justin Sisson, who died from injuries sustained when an IED exploded during his foot patrol in Afghanistan on June 3, 2013.

To most, Gold Star Mother’s Day passes without notice. For those who have lost, it’s another heartbreaking day that passes without their child.

“As a Gold Star Mother, I know what has been lost. I know what might have been. I hope that sharing my story will let another grieving mother know she is not alone. Others have stood in her shoes. We want to be there to support and keep the memory of our children alive.”

In the time since Justin’s death, communities, families, friends, and even strangers, have joined together in Justin’s memory to remember and honor the precious life behind the uniform.

At Justin’s alma mater, Florida State University (FSU), Students for America’s Military, a registered student organization, created a 5k race in Justin’s honor, with proceeds from the race going to fund an ROTC scholarship set up in his name, to be awarded to an exemplary FSU ROTC cadet.

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“He is also being honored by his school district in Overland Park, Kansas, with a Battlefield Cross statue and memorial at his high school. This will be unveiled on Veterans’ Day, November 11, 2014,” Phyllis shared. “We are also working on a stretch of highway in Kansas to be named in his memory.”

Though Gold Star Mother’s Day is a somber one, for Phyllis, it’s a special day to talk about her son.

“We talk about [Justin] all the time. The fear for us all, and that includes all Gold Star families, is that our loved ones will be forgotten. That is unbearable.”

On such a bitter sweet day for our Nation’s Gold Star Mothers, we encourage you to reach out to those who have lost children to war. Even simply sharing gratitude and thanks can bring joy to a quiet day.

“Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear from someone, reaching out to tell us how Justin inspired and touched their life. That is a great legacy and testament to him.”

Even though Gold Star Mother’s Day is not filled with the type of celebration and joy associated with most holidays; the remembrance, honor, and the occasional funny anecdote shared among friends allows this day to become a celebration of life, honor, and memories that will live in the hearts of loving mothers forever.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

All Roads Lead to the Pentagon…I just didn’t know I’d be Driving!

map-of-washington-dcFor many military families, a PCS to Washington, DC is an inevitable stop in a service member’s career, and from some perspectives, viewed as a necessary evil. For me, raised in DC’s military suburbs, it would have been returning home. And as a career civil servant, it represented a virtual mecca of job opportunities compared to alternatives like Fort Rucker, AL or Fort Bliss, TX.

But when my active-duty husband, an E-8 in the US Army, received a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Spring of 2013, a PCS to anywhere, much less the Nation’s Capital, seemed unlikely. MS is considered a Service Connected disability, so the only trip the Army had planned for my husband was the long and winding (read: a year and four months counting) road of a medical board and an official status of “unfit for continued military service.”

I’m not going to lie, the diagnosis and its aftermath were hard. Imagine being told you have an incurable neurological condition, and are being removed from your position, becoming non-deployable persona non gratis in your unit. Then you hear, “Thank you very much, but after 22 years we no longer require your service,” all in just a few months time.

We had a rough year, but after being transferred to Fort Campbell’s Warrior in Transition Battalion (WTB), things started looking up. My husband started getting the medical treatment he needed and receiving the compassion he deserved. We started looking forward to the reality of transition from military life, with the primary wrinkle being that we weren’t sure if my husband would be able to work, or what type of work he might be able to do.

I am a planner by nature and by trade. Since childhood, in somewhat paranoid fashion, I’ve developed plans and backup plans for unforeseeable scenarios that, more often than not, never came to pass. But this time, my fastidious obsession with maintaining my own professional career, along with my husband’s, had panned out. I was ready and able to step up and support our family, even in the unexpected scenario where he might not be able to work.

About a year into the medical board, I started applying to positions, since everyone at the WTB insisted that the medical board would be completed, “any day now.” To my surprise, and in record time for a government hiring action, I was offered a position for the first job I ever seriously applied for. Great! But, now we were in the unfortunate position of me having to relocate to a position in DC, while my husband was still stuck in the quagmire of the VA disability ratings process. We didn’t want to be separated, but who knew if his ratings would come in tomorrow, or if I’d have another opportunity like this one. So I accepted the job, but delayed my start date; meanwhile, he started making pesky inquiries about his ratings status.

And then, by a benevolent force that I never knew existed within the DoD, the fine staff of Fort Campbell’s Warrior in Transition Battalion worked out a miraculous transfer for my husband to Fort Belvoir’s Warrior in Transition Battalion to “accompany me” to my new duty station. And they turned the paperwork around in about two weeks! For me, that is concrete proof the Army really does care about transitioning Soldiers and families.

So here we are in NOVA, living the dream; it’s just a dream lived in a different way than the one most military families experience. Yes, it’s a dream that involves living in a home half the size for double the price, but one with a life lived at the center of it all, in a place littered with symbols of the freedom my husband has fought for over the last two decades.

My new job isn’t actually in the Pentagon, but work requires visiting occasionally. I went last week and stood in the hallowed halls (and drank a tall iced caramel macchiato at the Starbucks), and thought about our military journey. My husband’s career didn’t end the way we thought it would, but our path still brought us here, to the center of the military world. That’s the thing about transition…you don’t know where it will lead you, but you will find your way, and there’s a whole world out there to discover.

Posted by Laura Eileen Baie Yates, National Military Association Volunteer, Fort Belvoir, VA

Fort Bliss Movie Hits Home for Military Families

“Reality is messy and people are raw, and that’s just who we are.” – Claudia Myers – Writer, Director and Producer of Fort Bliss

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I was given the amazing opportunity this week to join some of my co-workers at a special screening of the movie, Fort Bliss, this week at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

Michelle Monaghan plays a soldier returning from a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan, only to face new battles at home. Her 5-year-old son has all but forgotten her, and she has forgotten how to relate to him. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the story explored aspects of military life that we talk about at the National Military Family Association (NMFA) daily, but that are rarely portrayed in Hollywood:

  • Why would someone re-enlist after spending so much time away from their family?
  • How can someone be a good soldier and a good parent?
  • What is it really like coming back from deployment?
  • Are there different expectations for female service members than their male counterparts?
  • How to families cope with mental health challenges after deployment?

Not only was the movie incredible, the actors (including Emmanuelle Chriqui, Ron Livingston Gbenga Akinnagbe and Pablo Schreiber) developed a real passion for military families while making the movie. During the Q & A session following the screening, the actors had a lot to say about gender roles, abuse, PTSD, transitioning veterans, and more.

Not long ago I shared my thoughts as a civilian caring for military families in a blog post titled, “Military Family Support Shouldn’t Just Come From Military Families“. I love seeing others display the same passion for the families NMFA fights for every day.

“Fort Bliss is what it is. It’s a gigantic film made on a micro budget with a huge impact,” said Producer, John Sullivan.

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Where can you see this movie?

Fort Bliss won the Best Narrative Feature at the G.I. Film Festival this year and we were lucky enough to see it before it hits select theaters this weekend in New York, L.A. and El Paso.

What if I don’t live in New York, L.A. or El Paso?

You can still support this incredible movie. Help us spread the word by sharing this with your friends, buy tickets at the theaters in those cities even if you can’t attend, and call your local theater to ask if they will bring the movie to your hometown.

“Service men and women are heroes, they are strong, they are resilient, and they all face challenges of leaving pieces of them behind when they fight for our country.” – Gbenga Akinnagbe

Let’s support a movie that supports military families. Together we’re stronger.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager