Staying Connected After Transition: Goodbye Military Community?

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It was just over a year ago when my husband officially retired and we moved to a non-military area. Losing our military community felt like I had lost a piece of me. My husband and I both felt adrift. But I knew I had to regain that connection…somehow.

Even though I wasn’t in a military area anymore, I continued my volunteer work with the National Military Family Association (NMFA). I may no longer know from personal experience what’s going on at this base, or that base, but I’m still a member of numerous military spouse Facebook groups, and have many friends who are still active duty. I keep an eye and ear out for questions I can help answer, and stay on top of issues that NMFA might need to know about. And I’ve been able to support military families through numerous remote volunteer projects, too! It’s been a gift to be able to continue serving my beloved military community in this manner, and be connected virtually.

Knowing there were probably others like us in our new non-military community, even Reserve and National Guard families, I started a local Facebook group for spouses of Marines. I posted about it in our local area Facebook groups (moms’ networks, neighborhood groups, etc.) and was excited when spouses would speak up from the crowd and say, “Yes!  My husband is a Marine veteran,” or “This is great! We’re in the area on recruiting duty and would love to connect with other Marine families!”

The group now has 56 members and we’re planning our first get-together! I’m thrilled about the prospect of going out to dinner with some fellow military spouses and enjoying that ‘sisterhood’ again!

Interested in keeping or regaining that connection to the military community?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Be open to sharing your story. You never know if that other mom or dad sitting two rows down in the bleachers at your child’s game is currently serving, a veteran, or military spouse. Share your story; you just might hear, “Me too!”
  • Volunteer for, or get involved with a military-related organization, like the National Military Family Association, your local VFW or VA, or even some of the unique organizations out there, like a local chapter of Team Red, White & Blue.
  • Start a Facebook group for other local military families. Spread the word about it through your neighborhood, school, place of worship, and other networks. Seek out other transitioned families, as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, and the “onesies and twosies” out there, like those on recruiting duty, or the ROTC staff at local colleges.
  • Teach your kids’ school about military life. Schools in non-military areas need to be enlightened on the life of a military kid, and how to best support them. I’ve heard from several families whose kids say their teachers and fellow students think it’s weird they’ve lived in so many places, including overseas, and as a result, their kids feel like outsiders. Take things into your hands and meet with the administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other important people involved with your child. Share what your child has been through, and how they can best relate with him or her. Provide them resources so they can educate themselves on military families. If there are several current or former military kids at the school, consider suggesting the formation of a club for them.
  • Encourage your local governments, Chambers of Commerce, and visitors’ bureaus to include information on their websites, and in welcome packets, for inbound transitioning families. This can be a list of resources, like the contact information for local veterans’ groups, the closest military ID center, the VA, and other pieces of information valuable to military families.
  • If you become active in a place of worship, suggest they ask new members if they are a military family, and link them with other military families in the congregation. A former church of ours actively sought to identify military families and assigned a deacon who had been a military spouse to those families so they would always have a point of contact and support.

One of the greatest things about being a military family is the closeness of the military community; it’s truly a remarkable thing. I viewed it as a second family. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things about transitioning out of the military is losing that closeness and having the feeling of almost being catapulted out of that community into civilian life. If you’re a civilian family and know someone transitioning out of the military, take some time out of your day to help them through by welcoming them into your community!

Are you a transitioned family? How have you stayed connected to your military community?

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC spouse, mom

Operation Purple® Healing Adventures: Surviving Doesn’t Happen Alone

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In the middle of the Pocono Mountains, families are learning to survive–and not just in the wilderness. Wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families gathered over the weekend at Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, for an Operation Purple Healing Adventure. Families spent three and a half days hiking, canoeing, conquering a ropes course, and finding their ‘new normal’ after their service member’s injury.

Though most wounds were invisible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), other injuries gradually started to become more apparent as the activities took place. One Navy veteran, who was medically discharged because of a lumbar injury, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take his children on a 3.5 mile hike to see a natural waterfall. The next morning, with a slower pace and slight limp, he joined his family for breakfast.

Service members know how to survive, and at Healing Adventures, their families are learning, too.

“Don’t let it touch the ground,” one Army veteran whispered to his daughters, as they lowered the American flag during camp’s nightly flag ceremony.

“Now fold diagonally 13 times into a triangle,” he instructed.

“Dad, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!” one daughter said.

He grinned, “I’ve done it a few times before.”

Healing Adventures isn’t only about the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, parents take part in a group session with educators from Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), where they speak openly about their struggles with injuries and life after military service. They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of their ‘new normal.’

An Army National Guard veteran shared, “When I came back from a deployment six years ago, things changed…and I just wondered when everything would stop changing. Being deployed, we knew each day would be different and we were prepared. Being home, you just want things the same. But each day is different…and it’s hard.”

On the second day of camp, families worked together to navigate hiking trails and a ropes course. They learned to communicate effectively, encourage consistently, and eventually, survived as a unit.

Overcoming obstacles are common for military families; constant moving, multiple deployments, mental illness, and visible and invisible injuries are hurdles that take skill and precision in conquering, but with the proper tools, navigation, and resources, like Healing Adventures, families find the confidence to tackle life together.

“This is the first year I’ve started to get involved with some veterans groups to retrain and reintegrate myself, and find my brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back into ‘the normal world,’” said one Army Reserves dad.

As the weekend came to a close, and families roasted s’mores together recounting the day’s adventures, one thing was clear: surviving doesn’t happen alone.

Are you a veteran military family? What survival skills have you learned to cope with life after the military?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com

Never Fear a PCS Again: 4 Steps to a Great Teleworking Career!

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Telecommuting: working at home by using a computer terminal electronically linked to one’s place of employment.

I think many military spouses fantasize about the glowing beacon of landing the perfect telecommuting job. A job that moves with you from one duty station to the next. A job where your bunny slippers are part of your professional wardrobe and your job-related moving stress consists of ensuring your new location has high-speed internet access.

So how do you find this perfect-for-mobile-life telecommuting job?

You don’t.

Step 1: Start by looking for a job you love, where you can use your skills, education, and training to be successful. I think some struggle because they’re only looking for a telecommuting or a remote job. The place you love might be in an actual brick and mortar building. Don’t count those places out.

Step 2: Excel at your job. Become the go-to-person for your special skills. Be the asset your boss can count on to get the job done. Become your own shiny star in your work universe.

Why put forth this much effort if you’re moving in a few years?

Because you’ve created a successful track record of working hard and proving that you have what it takes to get the job done!

Step 3: Pitch a telecommuting plan to your boss. Review your job duties and descriptions. What portions of your job can be done offsite? What duties must be performed in an office? Next, explore your company’s telecommuting policies. Do they have a telecommuting policy? If not, look for samples in like-industries and provide examples to your employer. Talk to colleagues who telecommute and ask if they work under a formal telecommuting policy. Then, make a pitch to your boss. Show how your job duties can be conducted offsite successfully, and request the opportunity to stay with the company in a telecommuting role. Another tip: take every chance you have to explain why the company benefits from keeping you on staff, even remotely. You’re a shining star, remember? To make things even better before you pitch your telecommuting plan, try working offsite a few days a week before your move.

Step 4: Set yourself up for success once your employer agrees to your new telecommuting arrangement. Have a dedicated work area just for work. Ensure you have a space that clearly separates your work life from your home life. Be familiar with your human resource policies on teleworking, and adapt best practices in your own personal work. Set clear expectations, like the frequency and methods of communication to best connect with your office headquarters.

Teleworking can be a glowing beacon for a lot of military spouses. Take your time and try these steps to create your perfect telecommuting job!

Are you a military spouse who telecommutes? How did you start with your employer? What advice would you add to our list? 

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager (and teleworker!)

Is Cyberbullying a Sign Our Military Community is Imploding?

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Why are service members making it a point to create hateful, misogynistic jargon online about military spouses? And what makes military spouses turn on each other creating the same?

By now you’ve probably seen the op-eds in Task & Purpose, and the Washington Post, declaring a ban on ‘entitled’ veterans, active duty service members, and their families. I’m sure you’ve read the counterparts to these articles in the Huffington Post, and on Military.com.

Anti-bullying campaigns have been around for quite some time, and an overwhelming number of them just don’t work. They aim to ‘fix’ the bully, and ‘teach’ the victim with an overarching theme reminding us we’re just doing it wrong–we’re just existing wrong. (Read: when we don’t stand up for ourselves, we become victims. When we stand up for ourselves, bullies emerge to fight back.)

Bullying stops when an environment is positive, supportive, and enriching, and when character and value are promoted.

I think that’s where the mess happened; our environment shifted, and we had to fight back.

Since September 11, 2001, 2.5 million military families have seen a loved one deploy, 600,000 service members have been wounded, and nearly 7,000 lives in our all-volunteer force have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Add in Sequestration, force reduction, and politics, and you’ve all but knocked out our military and their families cold.

Those who once supported our nation, and this military, have quieted. Flags that used to be as bright as the sun that shone upon them, are now torn, faded, and walked upon in protest.

The bigger picture is this: military families don’t feel entitled.

We feel unappreciated, ignored, stuck between a rock and a hard place, not supported, and now, hated. With nowhere to turn, our community has imploded, finding acceptance and support by picking apart each other, and the network that has long supported our service members: military spouses.

The internet is full of viral videos of veterans and active duty service members calling out others who illegally impersonate a military member in uniform, and controversial Facebook groups which exist to target unsuspecting military spouses by making fun of them.

The viral videos and hateful social media groups have given others a pass to rip into anyone who ‘impersonates’ anything. Ask the Washington Post and Task & Force op-ed authors what they think of military spouses, like me, they’d say we’re ‘impersonating’ service members in our own way: by declaring our own sacrifices, demanding support from our government, and by wearing our husbands’ rank for power.

In such a climate of hatred, it’s hard to see the ones who are trying to clean up the mess. We ignore the spouses who are receiving death threats for asking people to stop the tormenting. We mock the spouses who are trying to disbar the ‘Dependapotamus’ stereotype by pursuing higher education, getting their own insurance (gasp!) through full time employment, and who are being recognized by the White House as Champions for Change.

Yet, nothing seems to be good enough to make the cyber-bullying stop.

What we need are positive, supportive, enriching communities who are steadfast with their loyalty, and encouraging even in times of stillness. Our military and their families need to be reassured that we are accepted, wanted, and appreciated.

That’s not ‘entitled,’ or high-maintenance. It’s human nature. Calling us entitled is adding fuel to the fire. We ferociously defend ourselves, only to be met by more hate, name-calling, and follow up articles putting us in our place.

Instead of making a military spouse feel ostracized for not knowing the TRICARE handbook, respond positively, and share a resource. Rather than laughing when a young spouse admits they’re having trouble making friends, be their mentor. And for those service members who call us ‘Dependas,’ ask yourself where that hate is coming from and remember that we are here to support you.

It’s up to us to clean up the mess, military community. If we don’t provide ourselves with the environment we want to live in, how will anyone else?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Survive and Thrive: Fort Bragg, NC!

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Fort Bragg, North Carolina is famous for many thing; it is home of the Airborne and US Army Special Operations Command, and the 440th Airlift Wing. Because of this, many people proudly refer to Fort Bragg as the center of the universe. Among all of this wonderful ‘hooah spirit’ and the high operational tempo, you’ll find a community outside the gates who loves military families, and the service members assigned to Fort Bragg. The counties and cities around Fort Bragg are very military friendly and have lots of great activities and events. Here are a few ideas your family might enjoy if you visit or are assigned to Fort Bragg.

Fayetteville
Fayetteville has a variety of shopping opportunities including popular big box stores, local farmer’s markets, and unique shops in the historic downtown area. If you are visiting Hay Street, consider having lunch or dinner at Sherefe Mediterranean Café or Pierro’s Italian Bistro. Sherefe has delicious hummus and falafel, and Pierro’s has a delicious variety of Italian food and desserts! Fayetteville is also home to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, which is a great place to take visitors. If you enjoy the outdoors, be sure to take a walk at Carver’s Creek State Park, North Carolina’s newest state park. It has walking trails, a dock for fishing overlooking a cypress forest, and picnic table. Carver’s Creek also houses one of the summer homes that used to belong to the Rockefeller family. If you have a pet, your pup will enjoy the shady walking trails too!

Cameron/Sanford
Visit the Zoo! The Aloha Zoo is a local privately owned zoo where animals are cared for when they have been abandoned, abused, or they can no longer be cared for by their owners. The zoo is very kid-friendly, but large enough for the whole family to enjoy. If you enjoy farm fresh produce, be sure to check out Gross Farms in Sanford. The family owned farm has fresh produce from April to October, and hosts a fun corn maze and pumpkin patch each October.

Southern Pines/Pinehurst
If golf is your hobby of choice, these communities are locations you must visit due to their variety of public courses, including Pinehurst–home of the US Open. The villages of Pinehurst and Southern Pines have charming history, architecture, shopping, and dining opportunities. Be sure to visit the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst at Christmastime, during the Sandhills Children’s Center Festival of Trees. The festival happens during a weekend in November, and is a great opportunity to see the Carolina Hotel beautifully decorated for the holidays. It’s also the perfect chance to see these uniquely decorated, donated trees be auctioned to the public in support the Sandhills Children’s Center. It is a fun, festive event!

While in the Fort Bragg area, don’t forget the Fort Bragg area is only about three hours from the mountains of Asheville, NC, two hours from the NC Coast (the beach!), two hours from Charlotte, NC and an hour and a half to Raleigh, NC. Fort Bragg can feel and sound like, a sandy pine tree covered training area, but in reality, it’s filled with excitement right in its center, and it isn’t far from lots of great cities!

Have you been stationed at Fort Bragg? What gems would you share?

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer Services Coordinator, South Region

Finding Military Family Support Around the World!

baumholder-germanyI have an amazing job and I travel frequently. During my stateside travels, I get to see the incredible community support provided to military families and veterans. These communities fill gaps where others can’t and it makes me feel good to know my neighbors care. But when traveling overseas, what does ‘community support’ look like? Do other countries care about American military families?

I wasn’t sure that support for American military families living overseas would be as generous.

I was wrong.

A few weeks ago, I traveled through Germany and Italy for two weeks while attending the annual Americans Working Around the Globe conference, and I hoped to get a chance to really see communities overseas embrace our nation’s military families. You see, community support and involvement overseas is scrutinized through the use of different policies on installation access, as well as Status of Forces Agreements. The threat protection level is higher and there is security awareness outside the gates. Host nations have their own policies, too. The take away? It’s not easy to be a business or host nation organization and support military families.

But they find a way.

The best community support I saw was in Baumholder, Germany. It’s a small installation compared to those around it, but that’s what makes it special. The community struggled for several years through a huge downsizing on the military base, and some businesses didn’t make it. But those business who made it through, care about our American military families.

And they show it.

Businesses still post support signs to show they care about American military families. The people of Baumholder truly care about military families and want to make them feel welcome. They may not walk in our shoes, but they understand. I saw a huge outreach to get American families involved in events and celebrations because they want to give us a ‘home away from home,’ and make sure we know we’re welcomed and respected.

Support from communities overseas might be harder to find, but it’s there.  And I think it makes a world of difference!

Are you a military family living overseas? Have you noticed how your community reaches out to support you? Tell us about your experiences!

christinaPosted by Christina L. Jumper, Volunteer Services Director