Not Sure Where to Volunteer Your Time? Consider This.

animal-rescue-volunteerFor over a year, I have been in search of a place to volunteer my time. You’d think it would be easy, right? I just need to figure out what I’m passionate about, apply, and spend time volunteering. Well, as a director of a national volunteer program, I can tell you: it doesn’t work that way.

So, what’s the problem?

All volunteer programs are not created the same. Some programs invest a lot of time for orientation and training. Others require a particular skill, age range, or community relationship. Some programs offer short and long term opportunities with growth and leadership potential. Others require a commitment on your time and specific days you can serve. Before you jump into filling out the volunteer application, I challenge to think about a few things:

How much time do you really have to offer?
And be honest with yourself. If you want to get involved and you don’t have a lot of time, look at being involved with Days of Service, or Make a Difference Day, events. These events give you the opportunity to volunteer for a day, without straining your schedule.

What are you really passionate about?
If you get involved with a cause or a project that is important to you, you’ll be more likely to volunteer longer, right? Because it won’t seem like something you have to put in your schedule. It will be something you want to do.

Where do you already spend your time?
If your calendar is filled with activities and events, why not consider volunteering with those activities? If you spend a lot of time at your child’s school, volunteer there. If you spend time in the community library, serve there. You’re there anyways, right? Might as well take it as a chance to give back.

What do you have to offer?
Before you fill out that application, think about what you bring to the organization. Besides your gift of time, do you have a skill or professional training that might be of use? Make sure you mention this on your application. Another tip: it’s okay to separate your volunteer work from your professional work! I love serving military families, but I also want to make a difference in the lives of those outside the military. So, I’d love to volunteer with a community organization supporting the needs of children with Down Syndrome.

Do you want to volunteer with an organization with a national mission, or do you want to directly serve your community?
Understand what the mission of the organization is and how volunteers contribute. You may have to do some poking around on their website to find this, but you’ll appreciate knowing how volunteers help the mission and where the most impact is made.

For local volunteer opportunities, check out the United Way, or even ask friends, neighbors, or coworkers where they give their time!

As for me, I think I’ll keep looking and wait for the right opportunity in my community. But I’m lucky. I get to work with passionate volunteers on a daily basis!

What suggestions do you have for finding the right volunteer opportunity? Share them with me in the comments!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer Services Director

Military Spouses Threatened Via Social Media: Where Do We Go From Here?

social-media-apps-on-phoneMany evenings I sit in my car in the parking lot of my kids’ school taking one last minute to myself before the chaos of our evening routine. I take one last glance at my social media accounts and see how others in my life are spending their day. Recently, that meant reading post after post on the latest round of military family “targeting” by those claiming to be ISIS supporters. A friend of mine shared a blog post, written by our friend Amy Bushatz at SpouseBuzz. Amy is one of five spouses quoted in a CNN article about their social media accounts being compromised.

As military spouses, so many of us use our social media accounts to stay connected to our friends and family around the world. Sometimes life is lonely, and I use social media to remind myself that I’m part of a much larger community.

So, what do we do when our connection to our community might be the very thing that puts us at risk?

Shut down? Crawl in a hole? No, we do what our spouses are trained to do – mitigate the risk! How many times has my husband stayed late before a training exercise to work on another risk assessment report?

Here’s how I manage the online risks for my family:

  1. Lock up the privacy settings on my accounts. I don’t want to stop sharing pictures of my kids or husband, but my settings are locked up tight so people I don’t know can’t access my stuff. And I have to check those settings often, because Facebook is always making changes.
  2. Know which other applications have your social log-in information. A lot of websites and applications let you log in with your social media account (Pinterest, for example), but I always make sure to check the application’s privacy settings and only sharing the information I want to have available.
  3. Don’t accept friend requests or followers from people I don’t know. This may sound simple, but I make sure that the people on my friends and followers list are actually people I trust. And think about the channel. I don’t post things on Twitter that can be linked back to my family or the military because I don’t feel like I have enough control over who can see it (plus, I prefer to tweet about The Bachelor).
  4. Don’t reference specific locations in my general profile. This may be a good time to take where you work off your Facebook description and “proud Army wife” off your Twitter bio. I don’t make it easy for people to find me or know my connection to the military through a general search.
  5. Watch out for each other. We’ve all heard “See Something, Say Something,” right? If you see something strange on a friend’s social media, let them know. If you notice someone using “looser” privacy tactics, give them suggestions.

In times like these, our gut reaction might make us want to hide in our house, lock our doors, and tell our spouse it’s time to leave the military. But, we need to remember that people who target us really don’t know what they are dealing with. We are the strong, we are the resilient, and we have a community like no other. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from our military journey, it’s that we take care of each other.

So, tonight, I’ll seize that last minute of sanity in the parking lot. And when I tuck in the kids, I’ll know they’re safe. Because as Amy said in her post “Being afraid doesn’t mean the terrorists won — it’s the living in fear that gives them the victory. I’m not giving them the victory.”

What are your risk assessment tips? Share them with us in the comments!

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Executive Administrative Assistant

22 Lives Taken is Too Many: Clay Hunt SAV Act Signed by President Obama

clay-hunt-act-signing-paul-rieckhoffWhile Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), stood in front of 22 American Flags, he proudly recapped this historic day – one that he, and IAVA led the charge for. And I was left with goosebumps.

After hours on the phone, storming the Hill, and making sure our veterans are taken care of, IAVA and hundreds of others were there to watch President Barack Obama sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law. This Act will help aid in the prevention of veteran and active duty suicides among our service men and women.

“22 veterans commit suicide every day. If we can save just one life, this was all worth it,” Reickhoff reiterated at IAVA’s reception, following the bill’s signing.

My goosebumps came from the electric feeling of community that flowed through the room..

“This community that focuses on principles over politics is what made this happen,” Rieckhoff said. And we all felt it; this bill did not become law on its own. It took hundreds of people, working hours on end, to make sure the spotlight didn’t fade on our veterans. It also took Clay’s spirit.

“Clay Hunt was courageous. He was inspiring. He was awesome. This act will help continue his purpose,” Senator Bob McDonald shared.

Military service members, veterans, and their families need our support more than ever. President Obama encouraged those struggling, “If you are hurting, you are not forgotten, you are not alone. America is here for you. We need you.”

Congratulations to IAVA, and everyone involved in this extremely important and meaningful cause. You are helping to save the lives of our current and future veterans.

If you, or someone you know, are hurting, know that it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out, we’re here for you.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Lima Oscar Victor Echo: Valentine’s Letters from a MilSpouse

marine-valentines-dayRoses are red,
violets are blue.
I have a few love letters I’d like to read to you.

If you’ve been married to the military for any amount of time, you know there are things you come to love, and many other things you grow to….not love. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are a few love notes I’m sending this year:

Dear Commissary,
I love the way you make me use those tiny little carts that have no leg room so when I walk, my shins kick the wheel axel and I say bad words loudly in the parking lot. Shopping with you is always a good experience, except around the 1st and the 15th, when all your other lovers come around. You have such friendly employees. I really feel the love when they squint at me after I tell them I can take my own groceries to my car. Most of all, I’m just glad to have you in my life. You’re not perfect all the time, but I appreciate the things you offer me…like accepting all manufacturers’ coupons.

Dear television in the MTF,
I get so happy when you play kids’ shows while I wait for my appointment. You’ve consistently come through for moms everywhere who just need a few more minutes to occupy a mischievous child while waiting for their own appointment or prescription. And you’ve also helped the childless keep a few more minutes of our patience, since said children are occupied and not screaming. Your existence is crucial, and I’m glad you’re here.

Dear awesome female service member,
I’m not sure you’re told this often, but you are so rad. Though you’re often labeled before you can speak for yourself, just know that you have a ton of us supporting you. Riddled by a man-dominated workplace, you still kick butt and take names. And I know you don’t always feel welcomed or appreciated by your coworkers’ spouses, but believe me, just give us a chance, we really like you. Answering the call to serve is extremely honorable, and I’m so grateful for your sacrifice. Girls rule, boys drool.

Dear parking spot reserved for basically anyone but me,
I know its Valentine’s Day, and I should be loving, but really, I don’t like you. I enjoy a brisk walk just as much as the next person, but rarely do I feel endorphins from the ‘exercise’ when having to park half a mile away just to swing by the commissary to get milk. Instead, I feel like a double-crossed lover – filled with bitterness. You’re never filled with a car. Don’t you feel lonely? If others could park their cars there, we’d be so in love with you. But we can’t. So until then, I’m only going to roll my eyes whenever I see you in public.

Dear military time,
I still don’t get you. You’ve stuck around for a long time, and I know you’re waiting for me to love you back, but I just can’t count fast enough to figure out what time it is in military time. 21:00? No clue. Wait. 21 minus 12 equals 9. Right? So it’s 9:00pm? I’m not going to lie to you, my love: I had to count on my fingers to figure that out. I’m not sure it’ll ever ‘click’ for this self-proclaimed math idiot, but because you’re so important, I’m going to keep trying. Will you still be mine?

Dear military support organizations,
Living this life without you would be impossible. You answer questions no one else seems to know. You’re there for me when I can’t figure out what to do next. I love the way you are determined to keep my military family strong, intact, and thriving, despite the obstacles. Knowing there is someone in my corner gives me the warm and fuzzies, and that makes you the best Valentine ever.

Who would you send a ‘love note’ to? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Welcoming My Friend “Home” After PTSD

distressed-soldierOver the last few years, one of my close friends did a tour in the Middle East with the Army. We met through a buddy that we both knew, and our friendship just seemed to click. Although we weren’t attached at the hip, there were a lot of activities we did together.

But during his deployment, we lost touch for a while. And when he returned, something seemed to have changed. He was home, but he wasn’t.

Before he left, he was a stocky, average military-looking guy; someone I could always bring by my house. My father was in the Air Force, and my friend was based in the Army camp, and although they fought under the same flag, they were constantly squabbling about all types of military related subjects.

This type of banter was quite humorous and from time to time, you’d hear a quick remark about the Air Force, and vice versa. He was one of those people who made you laugh, and always pointed out something funny, regardless if it had to do with the situation or not. After his deployment, the most noticeable and alarming change I noticed was his physical stature.

He seemed skinnier, malnourished, almost, and methodical about the choice of words he used. It was if one of my closest friends, although home, seemed removed, as if he was miles away.

Activities we would share together were distant and brisk. Someone I cared about now reminded me of someone guarded, not willing to embrace moments that were unfolding in front of us.

I wondered if he could be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’d never experienced PTSD firsthand, and I’m not a doctor. I come from a military family, and none of my close relatives seemed to show signs of hopelessness or any type of detachment. When I decided to find out more about PTSD indicators and triggers, it started to become clear to me. I wondered if my friend knew something was off, after all, he had even asked me once if my father ever struggled with PTSD.

I could really see the extent of his emotional state when we sat down to play video games – something we always enjoyed doing together. He seemed to be detached from what we were doing; although it was fun enjoying a game together again, he just didn’t seem the same.

As the year passed, we tried to keep in touch as much as possible. Every once in a while, we’d spend time catching up, but there was one night where the flood gates opened. He shared his war stories with me, and some of the things he told me filled me with profound sorrow. Hearing him briefly reflect on what it was like to take a man’s life, a life that was someone’s brother, father, or husband, really resonated with me. I felt a deep sadness for my friend.

I wish I could have helped him more with the struggle he was going through. It wasn’t until recently, while looking at an article I found by a clinical practitioner at the University of New England, that I started to understand some of the things that he was going through. Although the subject matter was a little different, I could finally begin to understand what PTSD does to a person.

I wanted to reach out and help him as much as I could, and I attempted to reach out on multiple occasions. Though we never really talked about his recovery, I know it was his own volition and determination to get better that inevitably saw him through these troubling times. I am proud to have a friend who defended the country I love. Today, he has determination and the support of family and friends, and is, once again, the friend I knew.

The importance of noticing and recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD is immeasurable. PTSD can be a silent killer, and our service members deserve the chance to conquer the battles in their mind, just like the battles fought during their service to our country.

Today, I can proudly say my friend is finally home.

nick-richyPosted by Nicholas R., Military dependent of an Air Force Brigadier General

It’s OVER: How MilSpouses Can Provide Financial Stability at the End of a Military Career

family-with-wounded-dadYou are a military spouse. Your soldier, sailor, or airman serves the nation anytime, anywhere, and you stand behind them with pride. When the call comes, you watch the uniformed rows march into the aircraft or ship, heading away for however long the nation requires. And you smile and show support, even though you are worried, and already desperately missing your service member.

With one in five service members now disabled because of combat, injury is always at the forefront on one’s mind. Unfortunately, the chances of injury seem higher than any of us are comfortable with. But there are ways to prepare your family financially, should the unthinkable happen. Even transition and downsizing present a quick ending to what your service member thought would be a long, prosperous career.

As a former Army NCO, who had his career halted by an unexpected medical issue, I think income is the key focus to make sure your family is prepared. If your service member returns with an injury requiring them to stay on active duty for rehab, the impact on your income won’t be significant. However, if the injury results in a medical discharge, the impact can be severe. A sudden discharge can leave service members drawing a disability check that is a fraction of what they had been receiving. Many also may struggle to find new jobs to maintain their income, while they adjust to their ‘new normal’ of life after injury.

Service members transitioning may have to wait months to receive a Veterans Administration rating, or to even receive their first retirement check. Planning ahead for these moments can guarantee your family’s financial success.

This is where military spouses can step in. Educational opportunities exist, not only for military service members, but for military spouses, too! There are many programs, like MyCAA, for example, which provide access to educational funding for military spouses. Did you know the National Military Family Association provides scholarships for spouses, along with many partnerships with colleges, and even programs that offer reduced tuition rates?

The possibility of a PCS brings up concerns for traditional classroom programs. Can you transfer credits? What if you PCS in the middle of a semester? Will your specific degree even be offered in your new location? NMFA’s scholarships can give you the opportunity to engage in a certificate, or degree program, online. With online degrees, PCS moves are no longer a concern. Wherever you go, the school goes with you.

Taking advantage of these opportunities now, rather than later, can put you in a position to be an additional income, should injury, transition, or sudden discharge ever sideline your spouse. Having the option of using a degree or certificate to obtain work while your service member is recovering, or job hunting, can relieve the stress of suddenly having to live off of a significantly reduced income. It lets your spouse focus on recovery, a new career, or adjusting to a post-uniform life, and helps ease the stress your spouse may face feeling like they are letting the family down.

You are a military spouse. You are part of a team. While your service member is away, you maintain the home front. Just as your spouse is expected to engage in military readiness, you have a role in maintaining family readiness. Take advantage of what is available for you. Plan ahead, get educated, and be prepared to take over if transition, injury, or some other unforeseen event knocks on your door.

What do you think are some other things families can do to financially prepare for emergencies?

Posted by James Hinton, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Veteran

The Honeymoon. Then the Breakup.

Yellow_FootprintsI am one of those people who always has a smile on my face. I like to make others laugh even if it means pulling off some dorky and embarrassing 1980’s cabbage patch dance move or blurting out a silly slapstick joke. I hate to see anyone sad or hurt, but unfortunately today I have to say that the sad person is me. My heart has been broken.

It all started when the man in the uniform, and all that it stood for, won my heart. Our love blossomed and eventually we made the commitment. Our limited budget afforded us an intimate destination ceremony at the local court which was presided over by a wonderful and monotone must-have-hated-their-job justice of the peace. The ceremony was followed by an amazing dreamlike honeymoon at a quaint little spot called Carl’s Jr (I splurged on the budget and got fries and a diet coke…I know, I shouldn’t have but it was my wedding night!). I felt a little overdressed in my fancy wedding gown which resembled a t-shirt and jeans.

Two weeks later, the military sent my groom on a 6 month ‘break’ to Okinawa Japan. Those breaks seemed to regenerate themselves over and over again, for a grand total of 7 deployments and a few months of training exercises out of our blissful marriage, totaling more than 4 years apart. Through the course of 17 years, we would always re-kindle our love. Spending our moments at the Marine Corps Ball was a highlight for us. We spent a lot of time bonding with other military families at the unit’s mandatory family days and made great memories between moves. And then it happened; after years of loving him he dumped me. The Marine Corps dumped me.

But the one who broke my heart wasn’t my husband. It was the Marine Corps. My husband retired a few months ago after dutifully serving this country for twenty years. He did so without question, sacrificed so much of his time, and as a result I (along with our children) have sacrificed just as much as he has. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our good times, but my heart has been broken by the one thing that I was always supportive of and behind: the military.

Not only have we just figured out that my husband’s pension payment has not come through this month, but we are still awaiting a decision from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) regarding his final rating. This really couldn’t have come at a worse time; bills need to be paid, mouths need to be fed, and we are in the process of purchasing the home we currently live in, and only have a short amount of time left to prove to the lender, and the owners, that we qualify for the loan. If we could just get the VA rating finalized, we’d be over this hurdle.

We left all of our loved ones and moved across country to be able to afford to “live”. My husband is currently a full time student utilizing his GI Bill, and works two part-time jobs. I take care of the children, and work a part-time job while looking for full-time employment. Many of our friends have also been dumped by the Marine Corps. But not many share their story. Some go months before a pension payment is made, and years before a VA rating is approved.

I want to inspire you to act now. Please do yourself a favor and start saving for a rainy day NOW. Go back to college, or start college, and get those degrees NOW. Plan for the future NOW, whether it’s your first year of marriage to the Marine Corps, or your last.

Eventually, the love will be rekindled between the Marine Corps and me, but for now, I’m eating spoonfuls of salty, tear-filled ice cream while watching my favorite chick-flick. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after a break up?

Has the military broken up with you and your family? How did you deal with it?

Posted by Amy Smith, Marine Corps Spouse