“525,600 minutes – How Do You Measure a Year?”

nateIt’s hard for me to come terms with the fact that my year of service as an AmeriCorps member with the National Military Family Association has come to a close. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. I’ve grown and I’ve learned. I’ve gained even more respect for the men and women in the seven Uniformed Services (I learned there are seven, and not just five) and those who love them back home.

By far, my favorite part of working here has been interacting directly with our military families. I had the privilege to attend many prestigious events over the last year that I would not have otherwise. I have witnessed families reconnect and overcome injuries at the Operation Purple Healing Adventures. I helped guide military families to the resources and services available to them at numerous exhibitions and fairs.

I wept as gay and lesbian service members and their spouses and families were recognized at the American Military Partners Association Inaugural Gala. As a gay man, I was particularly inspired to see the LGBT military community finally able to come together in the open, and throw an event just for themselves. I know a few years ago, before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, such an event would have been impossible without the fear of discharge. I was proud our Association was a Silver Sponsor of the gala, showing support for ALL military families and celebrating diversity.

Beyond my direct service, I’ve learned the National Military Family Association is just that— one big family. We’ve had potlucks galore, a party every possible chance, and a few office competitions to keep things interesting. I can’t say there’s a single person in our office who I won’t miss when I leave, especially the ladies (and Zac!) that make up the rest of the Government Relations Department.

  • Katie, despite the physical distance between us, you’ve been integral in teaching me how the Association works, and I’ll always appreciate the help you’ve given me throughout the year.
  • Eileen, you always put a smile on my grumpy morning face with your cheerful kindness, and you always made me feel so welcome here.
  • Karen, for the rest of my life, thanks to you, I’ll think about the research that goes into every product, especially car trunks, and remember all the zany stories you have to share about your family.
  • Brooke, you’ve been a great mentor and advisor, giving me realness when I needed it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  • Zac, I’ve enjoyed having our high-level intellectual chats, and thanks for bringing some much-needed extra testosterone into the department!
  • Natalie, there’s a million things I could say about the friendship I’ve developed with you, but I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just say I’ll miss you.
  • Finally, Kathy, thanks for taking a chance on a small-town Midwestern boy who had dreams of working in the nation’s capital. I’ve learned so much from you over the last year that I will carry on during the rest of my professional lifetime, as well as my personal one. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a more caring and understanding supervisor. Thank you for making me a part of your family.

To my entire family here at the National Military Family Association, I’d like to say thanks for all the love you’ve given me, and “See ya later!” because goodbye is far too permanent.

natePosted by Nate Parsons, Americorps Member

Point. Click. PCS: House Hunting Just Got Easier!

House-for-saleRachel Marston is a military spouse and is the Public Relations and Communications Manager for the Red Door Group based out of the Washington, D.C. area. Eager to share a great resource, Rachel has laid out some of the awesome features of The Automated Housing Referral Network, a tool for military families to use when house hunting!

Orders are coming down quickly and military families are preparing for their upcoming Permanent Change of Station (PCS). With so many details to look after, it can be difficult to know where to start.

What are the good neighborhoods?

What is there to do?

Where are the schools?

Finding the perfect home is more than just answering those questions, it’s also finding a home that fits within your budget. There are many great resources out there, but The Automated Housing Referral Network (AHRN.com) is one resource that has proven to be a great asset for military families in all aspects of the PCS process.

As a housing referral website for the military community around the world, AHRN.com provides a list of relevant homes at a designated location. It also breaks down your BAH to assess the expected costs for rent and utilities, which can be really helpful when working through your budget.

AHRN

The amount of BAH given to a family is the driving force for any housing decision. Your BAH rate is probably the first thing you look at when receiving orders. AHRN.com creates a special search with homes that fit within 25% (higher or lower) of your BAH budget taking into consideration the cost for rent and utilities. It compiles a list of homes and identifies how far they are from your installation, which can be really helpful to see all in one place before making the move.

Another great resource is the ability for military families to personalize their housing profile, enabling AHRN.com to match preferences and the listing that best fit your needs. The profile works by asking what type of home is best for you. Whether that’san off-base house, community rental, for sale by owner, etc., and the, number of bedrooms, budget range and much more!

The ability to search for housing online by using AHRN.com’s BAH tools helps families execute the ideal budget plan for their next station. By determining costs ahead of time, you can prepare for out-of-pocket expenses. From sharing tips for a smooth transition on our blog to the live support chat rooms, AHRN.com is committing to assisting families in all aspects of the PCS process.

Register now and start house hunting and you can also take part in AHRN.com’s 10 Year Anniversary Giveaway Celebration, which is going on now through June 27!

 

What to do for Father’s Day When Your Father Isn’t Here

annie-and-dadLast year, I had the honor of writing a blog post for Father’s day. As Father’s day approaches once again, I read over the fond memories I shared about my dad and his military strength. At the time, I didn’t share his recent diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer, and I didn’t know it would be his last Father’s Day.

In the spring of 2013, I traveled back to Oregon to help my mom recuperate after knee replacement surgery. While I was there, we found out what my dad believed to be a pulled muscle was actually a deadly form of cancer. Life for all of us began moving at a very fast pace.

My dad served in the Army during the Korean War, and enjoyed going through the many boxes and albums of old photos from his younger years. He reminisced about his days in Korea with his Army buddies. Most have passed away, but a few are still hanging around. It was fun to hear his stories and to see his eyes light up with delight when a long forgotten name was suddenly remembered. A couple years ago, he started jotting names down on the backs of those pictures and began tracking down those who still survived. Some he found, but his search wasn’t complete.

We lost my dad on November 26, 2013, almost six months to the day he was diagnosed. He was a strong, courageous man who fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished strong!

This will be our first Father’s Day without him.

I’ve been trying to think (and on some days not think because it’s just too hard) of how I would pay tribute to him this Father’s Day. I enjoy making donations to military charities in his honor because he was very proud of his military service. This year, my gift will be “in memory” of him, something I know my mom will appreciate.

But I also want to do something special to remember my dad. So I came up with a brilliant idea. I made a “Flat Stanley,” or “Flat Frank” in my case. I plan to take him with me and visit some of the places my dad never had a chance to see. One of those places is New York City, where I’ll be during Father’s Day. After that, “Flat Frank” and I will hit the road to see some other sights!

Being in a military family often means spending holidays, like Father’s Day, apart. But there are plenty of ways to honor the special men in your life:

  • Take your dad to a minor league baseball game. Tickets are inexpensive, and games are filled with fun family activities!
  • Share an experience, like hiking in a local park. Spend some quality one on one time with Dad and ask him what his life was like growing up.
  • Make him breakfast and serve it to him with a smile and thanks for all his hard work.
  • Simply write him a letter and tell him how much you appreciate all he does for your family.

herobraceletOne very special way I honor my dad is something I actually wear most days. I bought a Hero Bracelet in honor of my dad. I adore it and it gives me strength and comfort on those days I need it most. Hero Bracelets also donate a portion of their proceeds to various military charities, so it’s a win/win!

This Father’s Day, pay tribute to the special men in your life by making a donation in their honor. And spend a little extra time and find out more about them – you might be surprised what you learn!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Our memories live in my heart forever. I love you!

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

 

One Test, Two Test…Here Comes a New Test!

Books---EducationState standardized testing. Those words can make anyone get a little damp under the arm pits. We all took them as kids. But today, they are a BIG deal! When you’re a military kid, who moves from state to state, they are a REALLY BIG deal.

In Florida, our daughter’s first grade class made good luck cards for the fifth graders taking the FCAT (Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test). Another class made signs to post on the walls. There was even a pep rally! My fourth grader was told if they didn’t pass the writing portion they couldn’t go on to the fifth grade. Really? Children can get held back by one exam?

Can that really be true?

In Washington, the teachers didn’t make a sporting event of taking the MSP (Measurements of Student Progress) exam in the early spring, but the test results weren’t available until the next fall. That’s a l-o-n-g wait. And the scores only get released to school districts… not directly to parents. Six months later we found out they all passed. We weren’t even living in the state anymore!

We’re in Virginia this year for the SOL (Standard of Learning) tests. Here, they’ve talked about the SOLs since the first week of school! The pressure to succeed here is massive because Northern Virginia prides itself on its national reputation for superior public schools.

Our eighth grader is most worried about the science exam because his seventh grade science course in Washington was not the same as the science curriculum in Virginia.

As a military kid, he can use Tutor.com for free! We also recently learned about SOAR (Student Online Achievement Resources), a free assessment service that helps kids and parents see whether they are meeting state standards and where they need extra help. But what 14 year old wants to study extra in May… for another exam… in another state… with another standard?

Not mine. And I don’t blame him.

Military families all know the answer to this word problem: another new state + state testing = anxiety!

Our house is a bowl of SOL stress soup right now.

In the near future, one of my three kids has a test, is going to bed early for a test, is celebrating a test being over, or is complaining about the upcoming test. I can’t make their test anxiety go away.

But I gave them this advice, “You’ve gained more life skills and knowledge from 8 moves, 5 states, and Japan than you will ever learn in a classroom. You’ve been tested time and again when your dad has gone on long trips, trainings, and deployments. You’ve passed with flying colors each time. You’ve got this!”

And they do.

How do you help your military kids get ready for school exams?

meredithPosted by Meredith Moore, Volunteer Services Coordinator, National Capital Region

It’s Hurricane Season – Are You Ready, Military Families?

hurricane-evacuationI may not be a meteorologist or an insurance adjuster, but I can tell you this: hurricane season is serious business.

How do I know?

I’ve been evacuated for two major hurricanes.

When Hurricane Ivan hit, I was alone. My husband was deployed. After the storm, I came back to a lot of downed trees (and I am a treehugger, so I cried) and a wrecked roof.

For Hurricane Dennis, I was 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I didn’t come back more pregnant. Instead, I came back with a healing incision and a sweet baby boy. Luckily, the house was in pretty good shape, but it wasn’t exactly the birthing experience I had in mind.

Luckily, our area was outside of (but close to) the “cone of destruction” when Hurricane Katrina rolled around. Our block had a “hurricane party”…because schools were closed, just in case. And you had to eat everything in your freezer, just in case!

When you live in hurricane alley for a decade because the military tells you to, well, you just make it a way of life.

If you’re stationed in, or around, hurricane alley, you need TWO kinds of kits ready to go:

  1. The all-purpose disaster kit- This should include things you’d need to survive in your house, or a shelter, with no power and potentially no water: batteries, flashlights, radio, food, water, anti-bacterial wipes, first aid kit, medications, and other survival needs including diapers or formula for babies, and cash (because ATMs don’t work when there is no power).
  2. The travel disaster kit- This should include things you’d want to save if there was no house to come back to and some things to get you to safety: family photos, important documents including IDs, military documents, deeds, insurance papers, etc., irreplaceable and valuable items (keep space in mind…most things can be replaced), food, maps, phones, important numbers, money and a plan.

I never had to use the all-purpose disaster kit, because our installation commander evacuated the base before we could need it, and generally waited for power to be restored before calling people back.

Evacuation orders (with some geographical and cost restrictions) covered all family members, whether the service member was present or not. Upon return, a travel voucher would be filed for reimbursement. Keep in mind, for weaker storms, the service member may be required to evacuate sensitive equipment, but that is not the same as a full blown evacuation that includes personnel and families.

One more thing: remember how you take pictures and document all of your belongings before you let the movers come and pack you up for a PCS move, just in case? Do that before a hurricane, too. It helps with the insurance claim in the event of loss.

For more information on disaster preparedness visit Ready.gov.

What other tips would you share with military families who live in a disaster-prone area?

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Living with PTSD and TBI: A Spouse’s Perspective

woman-sitting-on-bench-aloneMy husband has been an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for nearly 15 years.

Between 2003 and 2009, he completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He didn’t know it at the time, but my husband sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of an enemy ambush. He suffered from splitting headaches, ringing in the ears, and light sensitivity. For years, he quietly battled his symptoms on his own.

By the summer of 2010, he had reached his tipping point. He became critically ill, and denying treatment was no longer an option. At the time, I was pursuing my career goal of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. I ultimately made the choice to put it on hold in order to focus on my husband and his recovery. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Through the encouragement of several senior leaders, my husband began to explore different treatment options. He enrolled in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where he was officially diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TBI’s and PTSD are often thought of as the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stigma associated with these injuries is a major barrier for service members in need of mental health care.

Unfortunately, this stigma has prevented many injured service members, including my own service member, from getting help sooner.

During the recovery process, my husband and I were overwhelmed and concerned with how our situation would impact his career, and our marriage. Fortunately, we got through it with a tremendous amount of support from his leadership; everyone from commanding officers to general officers.

Those leaders ensured my husband would remain on full duty while receiving extensive medical care. With a combination of medical and psychological treatments, his condition began to improve. He’s developed a firm grasp and acceptance of his condition, and has been armed with the knowledge that it is treatable.

Making a difference in the lives of military families is crucial to me. As a result, my career goal is to obtain a license in clinical psychology and use my professional and personal experiences to assist wounded warriors and their families. Achieving this objective would not be possible without the generous support of the National Military Family Association. They provide military spouses with valuable scholarships to help them fulfill their educational and career aspirations.

Today, my husband is serving on full duty and desires to deploy again. I am very proud of his dedication to our country and family, and am deeply grateful for the support I received.

When it comes to asking for help, taking the first step is often the hardest. But it’s the bravest of all. My husband and I strongly encourage anyone in need of assistance to get the support you deserve.

sandy-cullinsPosted by Sandy Cullins, USMC Spouse and Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient who received scholarship funds from United Health Foundation to pursue her career in mental health

Your Military Move Just Got Easier With the MyMilitaryLife App!

moving-vanAs a military spouse, you knew this day was coming. We all have our own rituals when those orders arrive. No matter how many times you PCS, it still looks like a chaotic process.

Where to start? Overseas move, kids, pets, jobs, schools, housing, shipping your stuff, making a budget for the move, and TRICARE? It can be overwhelming, but our experts have done their homework and put the resources you need in the palm of your hand.

The Moving Life Path in the MyMilitayLife app has answers to questions you never thought to ask. From the moment you receive orders to the time after arriving at your new destination, the app can walk you through the entire process.

Gone are the hours spent scrolling through hundreds of Google links. MyMilitaryLife app gives you the answers you know you can trust. Plus, share advice and get advice from others along the way!

Beyond answering your questions, MyMilitaryLife app helps you make the right decisions regarding the type of move that is best for your family. It also helps you consider the differences between living on or off your installation. You will find valuable information regarding moving your vehicles, registering to vote, and finding employment opportunities. If you are moving overseas, MyMilitaryLife gears you in the right direction, as well.

When your orders arrive, get excited about your new location and have your smart phone handy. Last, but not least, remember to share this wonderful resource with your military friends and family!

Download MyMilitaryLife App today and let us know what you think!

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Mobile Initiatives Content Specialist