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

Shanghai Breezes: The Ultimate Deployment Song

Letters-5Twenty five years ago, this country girl from Eastern Washington State met a surfer, ROTC student from Torrance, California. Despite the distance and challenges we faced while dating, we got married and have spent a lifetime together raising two great boys. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced every obstacle the Air Force has thrown at us. During those tough times, we found solace in the sage words of John Denver.

Back in the day, lyrics weren’t printed on cassette jackets. So if you wanted to be sappy, you had to painstakingly hand-write the lyrics by playing the song over and over to make sure you heard each word. That’s exactly what I did. While my husband, Jay, and I were in college in separate states, I painstakingly transcribed the lyrics to one of John Denver’s iconic songs, “Shanghai Breezes.”  I rewound and played my way through the process. Then I mailed those lyrics off to Jay in a letter. One we still have today.

Recently, as I was on my morning walk, “Shanghai Breezes” came on, and it made me think of all of the military families in the middle of the challenging deployment/re-deployment exchange. Like many of you, music marks the milestones in my life, like the number one song my senior year, the song we danced to at our wedding, the music my boys blared through their teen years in our homes around the globe.

“Shanghai Breezes” got me through deployments, TDY’s and separations.

Lyrics like, the moon and the stars are the same ones I see, became a reminder no distance apart will change the commitment we made to each other. It reminds me of the trust we place in each other, and the agreement we made to be there for one another through it all.

Letters-1As you face any deployment, I encourage you to find your strength. And find something that will remind you of it!  I challenge you to write letters, and have your families do the same. Today, along with the letter of lyrics I wrote to Jay so long ago, are letters from Jay’s parents, friends, and mentors wishing him well, as well as pictures and cards from our boys, all sending him their best wishes and recounting the joys in their lives.

Accompanying them are the cards and letters Jay sent back to our boys. They come with us every time we PCS, and are treasured reminders of our lives together. There’s just something about the act of putting pen (or crayon) to paper that emphasizes the words, the care, and the love of the writer.

My wish for all of you is peace through any deployment, and every separation to come. Find the best ways for your family to express yourselves and build strong lines of communication. Find your strength when the days are long, and try to focus on the positive things that inevitably happen during the chaos.

Finally, always remember the greatest act of strength is asking for help.

How did you build strong lines of communication in your family?

Posted by Karla Bickley, Air Force Spouse, Tinker Air Force Base

 

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

Roll Up Your Sleeves…

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Happy Labor Day from the National Military Family Association.

5 Tips for MilSpouses Moving a Career License or Certifcation

i-just-dont-getYou’ve just invested years of your life getting the education necessary to have a job you think will be fun, earn you some cash, and offer you some PCS portability. You pay a bunch of money to take a test, earn your license or certificate and get to work. Then you get orders to another state, and find out the rules there are different. Your license to work as a dental hygienist, real estate agent, nurse, cosmetologist, teacher, or lawyer (or any number of other career fields) is most likely only valid in the state where you received it. Different states may regulate career fields differently.

So how do you figure out where to start? Here are some tips to guide you:

1.  Go to the Military One Source: Spouse Education & Career Opportunity (SECO) spouse licensing and certification map. Click on the state you’re moving to. If it’s blue, that means they have passed some legislation helping military spouses—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the clear. Keep in mind that EVERY career field is different. Some laws are tailored to only help certain career fields, but those laws designed to help can sometimes vary from state to state. By clicking on the name of the blue states, you’ll find links to the legislation, and information about who, and how it helps.

2.  Do some research and find the licensing or certification board for your career field in the state you are moving to. Read the rules about what is required in that state. Compare it to the rules for licensing and certification for your field in the state where you currently work. You may be able to apply for a license without further coursework. You also may be eligible for a waiver or a reduced licensing fee.

3.  Before you move, prepare and be patient. If you had to test into your career field, it is unlikely that you can go to another state and start working without going through an application process. That takes time and paperwork. Do your best to keep all of your licensing and certification paperwork in order between moves. Keep good records of your work experience, which may also help bridge the gap between state requirements.

4.  Tap into the spouse network. There are networking groups out there specifically for military spouses that can help you with support, advice, connections and information. Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, InGear Career, MilSpouse eMentor Program, are some great networks to get you started.

5.  Still confused? Call and ask to talk to a SECO career counselor at the Military One Source hotline number 1-800-342-9647. SECO has experts who can help you decipher this maze and support you. On that same note, make sure you let Military OneSource know how their resources have worked for you or not worked for you so that they can improve the services they offer.

Moving your home from state to state with each new set of PCS orders can be hard enough. Finding a new job in a new city or state makes it even more difficult. It’s no wonder so many spouses say, “I just don’t get it!” when it comes to moving their career licenses and certifications. With your brains – which we know you have – and a little persistence, you’ll be set up to work in no time!

Do you have any tips for spouses who are trying to move their licenses and certifications to a new state? Share them with us!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Finding the Man She Married: Caregiver Receives Master Bedroom Makeover

For Tanya Abbas, being a military spouse is more than just dealing with deployments and packing up her home every three to four years to move to the next duty station.

Each day, she lays out medication for her husband, Dustin, who suffered a head injury while deployed in Iraq. She manages the household, takes care of her husband, and searches for glimpses of the man she married.

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While Dustin can’t express himself the way he once did, he notices all that she does. Without Tanya knowing, he entered her in our Mother’s Day contest to win a master bedroom makeover from design firm Laurel & Wolf.

“When he got the head injury, he stopped being my husband that I have known for my whole life,” Tanya explains. “And all of a sudden, now I’m having to lay out his meds, and doing things around the house for him, and more than just being a wife.”

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Military spouses are often more than just spouses. They’re support systems, volunteers, and in Tanya’s case, caregivers. Laurel & Wolf and the National Military Family Association partnered in this Master Bedroom Makeover because military families deserve to be recognized.

In 2010, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported 96% of caregivers were women, and 70% provide care to their spouse or partner. After more than a decade of war, service members return home with both visible and invisible wounds, and families become wounded, too.

Beaming with love, Tanya smiles and remembers the man she married, “It’s an indescribable feeling to… look at everything [and know]…that’s because my husband loves me.”

See Tanya and Dustin’s story, along with an awesome before and after of their master bedroom:

Laurel & Wolf :: Master Bedroom Makeover – Arizona from High Res Media on Vimeo.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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