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Memorial Day 2014: Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial-Day-2014

We’re On A Mission! Help Us Win $20,000 for Military Families!

vets-charity-challenge-2We’re super excited to let you know from today through July 3, our Association will be participating in the Veterans Charity Challenge 2! Craigconnects will be donating over $50,000 to organizations that honor America’s heroes… and military families are our heroes! The charity that raises the most money throughout the Crowdrise Challenge will receive an additional $20,000 donation, on top of the donations they raise on their own! Second place will receive $10,000 and third place will receive $5,000.

We’ve set a goal to win $20,000, but we’ll need your help!

Every single donation makes a difference, no matter how big or small – yours matters! To help now, please DONATE and give whatever you can; $10, $20, or $10,000. (Yes! TEN THOUSAND big ones! Last year, we had one amazing donor who ponied up $10k just for our military families!)

We’re not just asking you to give – we’re asking you to join in our efforts by helping us fundraise. All you have to do is click on ‘Fundraise for This Campaign.’ In just a few seconds, you can create your own fundraising page! And we just know you’re going to share it with your family and friends so that you can raise tons of money for military families, too!

Military families need our support…we’re in and we’re counting on you! So, get out there and get busy!

P.S. – Don’t forget to have fun! Just a few weeks ago, a man challenged his friends and family to raise money for military kids. The twist was…colorful! If they raised $2,000, he would dye his hair purple and shave it into a mohawk! And guess what? It worked! They raised over $4,000!

carolinePosted by Caroline Rasmus, Development and Membership Manager

Transitioning Out of the Military: Are You Ever READY?

saluting-spouse-at-retirementThe prospect of leaving military life can produce a wide spectrum of feelings.

Some are ready to have a break from the op tempo. They are ready to leave deployments, TAD/TDY trips, long field exercises, and frequent moves in the rear view mirror. They are eager for their lives to be their own again. Perhaps they are excited about moving back to their hometown.

Others are not ready to enter the civilian world again.

They miss the adventure of moving to new places, having a secure paycheck, and the camaraderie of the military community. The thought of having to figure out what they want to do in their “second life” can be daunting.

Then there are those who feel all of the above.

They may flip-flop between being ready to leave one day to experiencing anxiety about it the next. To throw another twist into the situation, the servicemember may feel one way about it while the spouse feels another.

In short, transitioning out of the military is a big life change and one that can be full of a variety of emotions for all members of the family.

My husband was ready to retire.

He had his eyes set on the horizon and was ready to leave his military career behind. He was finishing up his MBA degree in preparation for employment in the civilian world and was eagerly networking for a job.

Me? I was not ready to go. I loved our military life.

Serving military families is my passion. The majority of my employment and volunteer activities have revolved around the military, to include working and volunteering for the National Military Family Association. My husband’s new job moved us away from a large military community to an area where most people cannot even relate to us.

To be honest, I have been “home sick” for our military community and feeling very displaced. And my husband, who was originally ready to leave, misses being in the Marines.

Emotionally, our transition out of the military has been harder than we expected. It may sound odd, but we are almost having a bit of an identity crisis.

Financially, we thought we were prepared.

We had figured out how much my husband needed to earn to replace his base pay and BAH while allowing me to remain a full-time mom to our children. When he was offered a job, my husband spent hours reworking our family budget with his new income, the rent and utilities for the house in our new location, gasoline for the mileage he’d have for his new commute, our expected taxes and so forth.

After we moved, two things caught us off guard:

  • The first was something we should have predicted but didn’t… our grocery expenses increased because we no longer had access to a commissary.
  • The second was something we had taken for granted until we moved to a non-military area… the savings we had received from military discounts came to an end. For example, while living in a military community, we had been getting discounts from civilian businesses out in town for our son’s toddler gym classes and our children’s haircuts. The same companies that provided those services are located in our new non-military area, but they are owned by different franchisees who do not offer military discounts. It did not even occur to us that we would lose those savings after we moved.

Is your military family transitioning to civilian life in the next 2 years or have you transitioned in the past 24 months? What did you wish you would have known? The National Military Family Association has launched a Transition Survey and wants to hear from YOU!

We know service members have transition support, but spouses do not. We are creating a military Spouse Companion to the Transition GPS program. Help us help military spouses like YOU! Hurry the survey closes on June 4. Oh, and by the way – for taking the survey you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of three gifts cards! Don’t delay – take the Transition Survey today!

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC Spouse, Mom

We’ll Sweep You Off Your Feet…and on to a Southwest Air Flight!

Military-Spouse-Appreciation-homepageMilitary Spouse Appreciation shouldn’t be a one day thing. That’s why we’re celebrating all month long! We’ve teamed up with Southwest Airlines to give seven lucky military spouses a pair of roundtrip tickets. That’s right, one military spouse from each of the seven uniformed services will win!

We know you have places to go and people to see. Maybe you were hoping to go home this summer to visit family or dreaming about a post-deployment getaway. Free plane tickets could make your dream a reality.

It’s easy to enter for a chance to win. Just download the MyMilitaryLife App and register using the promo code: SpouseLove. Already have the app on your phone? Great! Select promo code from the menu in the top left corner of your screen and enter SpouseLove.

The contest ends at midnight EDT May 31, 2014.Visit our website for contest rules and details.

michellePosted by Michelle Joyner, Mobile Initiatives Director

Military Spouses are Changing the Face of the Mental Health Profession!

soldier-hugging-childIt’s common knowledge that there’s a mental health crisis brewing in the United States. May is Mental Health Awareness month, but at the National Military Family Association, the mental health of our military families weighs on our minds all year.

From spouses who spend their days caring for an injured or wounded service member, to children who struggle with a parent’s deployment, it’s more and more apparent that the military lifestyle affects the mental health of not only the service member, but those who support them, too.

But are there enough mental health professionals out there to help military families? While the number of mental health professionals who have experience with military families grow, there’s one group of people who know they’ve got what it takes to change the face of mental health in the military community….

More and more military spouses are continuing their own educations and joining the mental health profession.

“With my degree, I hope to work with service members and their families who struggle with the after effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” says military spouse Stephanie Dannan.

But did you know our Association offers scholarship funding for spouses seeking clinical supervision hours to become mental health counselors?

Thanks to a $100,000 gift from United Health Foundation, we’re awarding spouses money to cover such hours, and move them closer to becoming licensed! United Health Foundation is the charitable arm of UnitedHealth Group, the most diversified health care company in the United States, and a leader worldwide in helping people live healthier lives and helping to make the health system work better for everyone.

Military spouses entering the mental health profession bring knowledge of the military community, and an ability to relate to other spouses and service members that their civilian counterparts might lack. These spouses have a generous spirit and want to help the communities they call home.

Stephanie was able to make her dream a reality by applying for, and receiving one of our military spouse scholarships, “I have an opportunity to give back to those who have fought for my freedom, and with this scholarship, I am one step closer to helping them.”

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Military Spouse Scholarship Program Manager

Appreciating the Military, One Homecoming at a Time

sailors-on-carrier-shipHuddling on the pier on a frigid April morning, I shivered and wished I had thought to wear a winter coat instead of a light spring jacket. Who would have expected it to be 40 degrees in Norfolk, Virginia in April? Beside me, my teenage daughter yawned exaggeratedly, reminding me that it was not her choice to be awake and at the base by 7:00 AM. Neither one of us was quite as excited about this homecoming as we should have been. My husband had flown out to meet the ship toward the end of its long deployment, so we hadn’t experienced the many months of separation that other families had. Still new to the command, we hadn’t yet met many of the other families and stood off to the side, feeling awkward and out of place.

Before too long, however, we were caught up in the excitement of the families gathered on the pier. Proud parents held cameras high, ready to catch a photo of their young Sailor’s first homecoming. Young moms cradled newborns and kept careful watch on wound up toddlers. Everywhere there were banners and flags welcoming Sailors back home. Soon even my usually “too cool for school” teenager was waving a flag and jumping up and down, craning her head to catch the first glimpse of the ship.

A few minutes before 8:00, a roar went up from the crowd as the ship appeared in the harbor. Despite the wind and cold, Sailors in their summer whites stood proudly at attention along the ship’s rails. Families waved their banners wildly, hoping to catch their Sailor’s eye. I knew from experience that the crew couldn’t wait to rush off the ship and find their waiting families, but unfortunately guiding a massive warship into a slip isn’t quite as easy as parking a car. Minutes dragged on as the ship maneuvered carefully into place and secured to the pier.

Finally, the ship secure and the gangplank in place, Sailors began streaming off the ship. First, the lucky winner of the “First Kiss” raffle sprinted off the ship and into the arms of his thrilled wife. Then the new dads emerged to meet the babies born during the long months the ship was away. Finally, the rest of the crew began to disembark. All around us, families were reuniting, sharing their first hugs in months. Tearful moms held on to their Sailors as proud dads beamed and shot photos. Other Sailors knelt before shy preschoolers who barely remembered the parent who’d been gone for so long. Young moms gladly handed off heavy toddlers to dads who couldn’t believe how much they’d grown.

My daughter and I stood in the middle of the crowd, taking it all in. The excitement and emotion of families reuniting after such a long time was overwhelming. Right then, I realized how privileged we were to share in this moment. We might not know everyone there, but we were still part of the same family – the military family. I glanced at my daughter to see if she was feeling the same way, but she was looking past me, toward the ship. She grabbed my arm and without a trace of teenage boredom in her voice, squealed, “Look, Mom! There’s Dad!”

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Tough Mother: A Million Times Harder Than a Tough Mudder

In honor of Mother’s Day we would like to share the story of one former active duty military mom. Motherhood is tough. Combining motherhood and active duty Service is even tougher. We honor and appreciate all military moms and military spouses. Thank you for serving our Nation and being steadfast role models for our military kids.

GabyBeing a mom in the Marine Corps is definitely a roller coaster. There are some marvelous highs and abysmal lows. There are commanders who understand the need to respond to your child’s needs, and others who make your life hellacious for it.

While I was pregnant, I was working 12-hour days and pursuing my Masters degree. Oh, and my husband was deployed. My senior leader constantly gave me “helpful” comments like, “You know you’re wasting the Marine Corps’ time by being pregnant, right?” or (when I couldn’t PT) “Go home and read the What to Expect books because you’re certainly having trouble doing what you need to do here.” The constant jabs were mortifying and annoying, especially coming from someone who’d just welcomed his third child into his family.

Once our eldest was born, I reveled in the time I had with her during maternity leave. Like all children, she changed my world. It broke my heart the first time I had to leave her at childcare to return to work. I sobbed the whole way to the front gate. It was even sadder than having bid my husband good-bye six months earlier for his second deployment to Iraq. All too quickly, though, we both settled into a routine (that’s the milspouse in me).

While getting back into shape after having our daughter, I discovered something horrible: my ACL was badly torn and needed surgery. An out of shape Marine is the brunt of a lot of ridicule. It’s even worse when you’re an out of shape female Marine.

“Didn’t you know you’d blow into a whale because of pregnancy?”

“Why don’t you just stop eating?”

I heard these comments regularly.

It was a ton of pressure and unnecessary negativity.

Thankfully, I was assigned to a new section. My new senior leader was amazingly supportive, even when my little one went through a series of ear infections that had us at our pediatrician’s office every two weeks. He even suggested keeping a few (foldable) baby items under my desk so I could just bring her to work when her childcare center’s illness rules prevented her from attending class.

His positive influence and can-do attitude helped me overcome my struggle with getting back into shape after my knee surgery. I noticed once the negative emotional input from work was deleted, being a mom got a whole lot easier! I could enjoy getting to know my baby so much more.

I am thankful for both the positive and negative (yes, really!) influences from my Marine leaders during that time. Both shaped me into a better Marine, and parent, by providing me with an excellent example of what leadership should and shouldn’t look like.

I do my best to give my kids constructive input, even when what they’ve done is making me rage with anger or despair. We walk “through the valley” of their decision making together, pinpointing where they went wrong and how they need to fix it. They get disciplined accordingly, and I always make sure to follow it up with words of affirmation (and usually lots of snuggle time).

When I fail, as I assuredly do on a regular basis, I own up to it. I know I would like many people much better if they could just say, “I messed up, and I am really sorry about it.” I get down to my kids’ eye level, look at them in the eye, and tell them how I messed up and then apologize for it. They readily forgive me, tackle me with hugs and kisses, and I feel so much better having the ugliness off my chest and gone.

And that’s how my kids are being shaped by those two Marines.

Even though I loved being a Marine, I really had to give it up. Both my husband and I were working long hours (11+), and it was very difficult having to decide which one of us had “sick baby duty” so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our commands. When the doctor was doing my ACL repair and found many more problems with my knee, that made the decision easy. I would finish my contract and bid the Marine Corps adieu.

Several years later, it’s still one of the hardest decisions we’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the best ones. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. It’s still tough work, just a different kind of tough. But our kids are wonderful and bless me every day. Our marriage is great. I am definitely thankful for the leaders I had, both good and bad, because they taught me so much and are still helping me be better every day.

And you know what they say, “Once a Marine (and mom), always a Marine (and mom)!”

Posted by Gaby, former Marine Captain, military spouse, mom