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

10 Things To Do With Your MilKid Before Their 10th Birthday

What’s more awesome than living for an entire decade? Most military kids might say, “Getting my own ID card!” And they’re right. Nothing is more awesome than getting to buy your own Skittles from the commissary, and flashing that new piece of plastic around like you’re king. So why not make your child’s first 10 years of life even more out-of-this-world by trying this ultimate MilKid bucket list? Here are 10 things to do with your MilKid before their 10th birthday:

1. White House Easter Egg Roll, Washington, D.C.

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Join more than 30,000 guests on the White House South Lawn for this annual event, which includes live music, storytelling, and food. Wear your Sunday best and do some egg rolling!

2. Blue Angels flight demonstration, Pensacola, FL

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Executing maneuvers with just 18” of separation and reaching speeds of nearly 700 mph, and just under Mach 1, the Blue Angels flight demonstration is a thrilling peek at some of the Nation’s best Sailors and Marines in action. Bring your earplugs!

3. San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA

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From koala feedings, to zoo tours, and even family sleepovers (for real!), the San Diego Zoo offers an up close and personal experience that will leave your MilKid dreaming of lions, tigers, and bears…oh my!

4. Attend an Operation Purple Camp, Nationwide

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Because what awesome MilKid would want to miss out on the camp adventure of a lifetime?! Our Operation Purple Camps offer a special place for MilKids to connect with others in their same situation. And the S’MORES….come on!

5. Tiger Cruise Aboard a Carrier Ship, Where Available

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This is an awesome opportunity for immediate family and friends to see day-to-day operations up close, while a ship is at sea. You’ll get to eat at the chow hall, sleep in racks, and participate in tours around an amazing “floating city.” Check with your service member’s command to see if they are participating.

6. United States Silent Drill Platoon, Washington, DC

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Taking place in the back yard of the Commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Barracks 8th and I, you’ll see a performance like no other. These highly trained, carefully selected Marines execute precision drill movements and rifle handling in unbelievable synchronicity…oh yeah, and in complete silence!

7. Shimoda Salmon Festival, near Misawa, Japan

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If you love a good fun-filled festival, the Shimoda Salmon Festival is for you. But there’s a catch…literally. Try your luck hand-catching salmon swimming around in shallow pools! An Airman who’d experienced the festival before described the salmon catching as “very much like trying to catch a greased pig, but fun!”

8. Meteor Crater, Winslow, AZ

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Does your MilKid love dinosaurs, space, or awesome sci-fi movies? Seeing the Meteor Crater in all its glory is a must-do! Created more than 50,000 years ago when an asteroid traveling 26,000 mph collided with Earth, the Meteor Crater is the world’s best preserved impact site, spanning nearing 2.5 mi in circumference!

9. Whale Watching Boat Tours, near New England, or the Pacific Northwest

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Take advantage of the beautiful ocean scenery and see our endangered friends in their natural habitat. New England and the Pacific Northwest boast some of the best coves and viewing areas in the country, and a whale watching tour is sure to bring out the marine biologist in your MilKid!

10. Get a Military Identification (ID) Card!

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By age 10, it’s mandatory for your MilKid to have his or her own military ID card. While having your own ID card is a rite of passage for any MilKid, not having one by his or her 10th birthday can present issues when trying to be seen in Military Treatment Facilities. Make sure you schedule a time to get your child’s ID card when your service member is home!

Have you checked anything off on this MilKid bucket list? What else would you add for other kids to try? Let us know and share your pictures with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Interstate Compact for the Win! #WayBackWednesday

On August 18, New York became the 50th state to jump on board and adopt the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children! So what does this mean?

This important legislation, now accepted across the United States, levels the playing field for military kids who transition to new states and new schools because of military orders. The Interstate Compact ensures they receive uniform treatment over a variety of different scenarios common when changing schools, like enrollment, placement, attendance, eligibility and graduation.

But that’s not all. Even though all 50 states have taken the steps to support military children, we’re finding out some school administrators and teachers still don’t know the provisions of the Interstate Compact, even in states where it has been law for years.

You can help. Visit our website to find resources, information, and even some printable documents you can take to your local school to share.

We are thankful for all the administrators, teachers, and educators who teach our awesome military kids, both stateside, and overseas! In this #WayBackWednesday photo from 1990, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meet with Teachers of the Year from Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS).

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5 Tips to a Healthier Military Family Lifestyle!

fitmilfamsIt’s no secret that summer months lure families outside, and draw attention to health and fitness. This year, the Coca-Cola Foundation focused on health and wellness within military families, and provided our Association with a donation of $50,000 to award to military spouses seeking their degree or certification in a health and fitness-related field.

We asked our military spouse scholarship recipients to share a few helpful tips for families, like theirs, to get on the right track towards a healthier and active lifestyle. Here’s what they said:

  1. Get Physical! Get outside and play– make daily activity a ‘norm’ in your family’s life! Create fun activities so exercise isn’t a chore.
  2. Make Health Food Fun! Have kids help in the kitchen and give them options so they learn to make healthy decisions. Try making fruit and veggie smoothies! Cook meals as a family and enjoy the change in lifestyle together!
  3. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. Have fruits or veggies on hand and chopped up for an on-the-go snack. Pack lunches to avoid the unhealthy options from school. Take time on the weekend to meal plan and make a grocery list.
  4. Get your Zzz’s! Create regular practices to wind down at the end of the day. Make sleep something your family values. Stick to a routine when possible.
  5. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drink more water! Use a fun water bottle to encourage water consumption all day long. Add your favorite fruits or vegetables to infuse water with flavor. Yum!

Is your family staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle this summer? We want to see! Share a picture using hashtag #FitMilFams of your family getting fit and healthy with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and be entered to win a Coca-Cola Visa card worth $200, $100 or $50! Photo submissions will be accepted August 18-August 24, 2014.

Get out there and get fit!

Contributors:
Melinda Boyd, Air Force Spouse – Registered Dietitian working towards a doctorate in clinical nutrition
Laura Hand, Navy Spouse – Working towards becoming a registered yoga teacher
April Walker, Marine Corp spouse – Pursuing a certification in group fitness Instruction

Give Us Your Tips to Survive and Thrive at Your Duty Station!

Calling all military family members! spouses-sit-outsideWe’re looking for guest bloggers to share their tips, tricks, stories, and encouragement with other readers, and we’d love to feature you!

We’re working on a series dedicated to sharing awesome tips for Surviving and Thriving at different duty stations around the world. Have you been stationed in Okinawa, Japan for so long, you’re pretty sure you’re fluent in the language? What in the world is there to do near good ‘ol Camp Lejeune, North Carolina? Are the spouse clubs in San Diego as rad as they sound? Tell us!

We want to hear from you…yes, you…in Weisbaden, Germany, and you in Whidbey Island, Washington!

Tell us how you survive and thrive in your town! Join a great couponing class? Or a running club? Have you gone camping at a breathtaking location? And why not let the kids join in? What are their favorite things to do and see around your town?

If you have some advice or tips to share, send your original work to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org. Make sure you include your name, a clear headshot of yourself, along with your current duty station and the town it’s in. And, of course, share 4-5 tips (or more!) with other military families so they can survive and thrive if they ever find themselves in the same place.

If you’re interested in contributing, but are not quite sure you’re the best writer, leave a comment and we’d be happy to get in touch with you to help find your inner writing voice!

Military life is crazy…but with a little help from those who have gone before us, we’ll be able to survive and thrive!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

Want to Take an Adventure with Your Military Family? Check This Out!

healing-adventures-dogsSummer may be winding down, but there are still some awesome opportunities for your military family to take one last trip, and attend one of our Operation Purple Family Retreats or Healing Adventures!

Bring your military family to an Operation Purple Family Retreat and find ways to reconnect after deployment. Or if a war injury has caused a shift in your family dynamic, attending an Operation Purple Healing Adventure will assist families in coping with, and overcoming, injuries and the stresses they cause.

We are still accepting applications for both Operation Purple Family Retreats, and Healing Adventures, but time is running out to take advantage of this FREE experience.

Still want to know more? Check out this military families first-hand account of their experience at a recent Operation Purple Family Retreat, tucked in the beautiful landscape of the Grand Tetons, in Wyoming.

So what are you waiting for? Your families next adventure is awaiting you!

Apply today to attend a Family Retreat or Healing Adventure!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Adjusting to an Unexpected Role: Caregiver

IMG_23000037656571-1Today, many military spouses are taking on a new role besides wife and mom. That new unexpected role is called caregiver. Never in a million years did I think I would become a caregiver at 34. Who knew? Hundreds of military spouses, like me, have taken on the caregiver role more frequently than people can ever imagine due to combat injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I don’t think many of us prepared for, or even anticipated, the added job title. Millions of unanswered questions and concerns are now a part of our life. But it doesn’t have to be a confusing and frustrating life. With the right resources, referrals, and people to help, what may seem like an unknown territory becomes manageable by getting information through social networks, and from wonderful organizations such as the National Military Family Association.

At first, I had to dig through a lot of information and learn not to be afraid of asking questions, even if it led me back to square one. Here is some of what I learned:

  • Be sure to attend all or most appointments with your spouse. It is important because you are becoming the advocate, the voice for your service member.
  • If you have a job and can’t get time-off, have someone there that your spouse agrees on. Someone who will relate everything back to you and the doctor if need be.
  • Make sure you have power of attorney for your spouse’s medical records. Medical information will not be released to you if you do not have one due to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or the parent of the service member.
  • Always ask questions if unclear: no question is a stupid question. If you are not getting answers or feel like your service member’s quality care if not up to standard, ask for someone else. It is always your right to obtain the best medical treatment for your loved one.
  • Take time out for yourself, even if it’s a hot bath and reading a magazine. You are no good as a caregiver physically or mentally if you are not well.

Being a caregiver is a continuous responsibility and I believe women, in particular, tend to think they can handle everything themselves. Most may not be as comfortable asking for help, especially when caring for an “invincible” service member. Not asking for help is a mistake—it’s important to get help when you need it and have your own support system in place.

As a caregiver, you can never really ‘get away’—you’re always there. But if you can find time for something else and get away from your daily routine, even for a short while, it can be great for your mind and health.

The best advice I would give to new caregivers is to be patient and be in it for the long haul. No one can tell you how long it will last, or if your spouse will get better. Don’t hesitate to get as much information as possible and know that people are there to support you, to lend a helping hand. You and your loved one are in it together, so just take it one day at a time.

And remember, love takes many forms and whenever you help each other, that form of love binds you closer than you can ever imagine.

Melissa-NovoaPosted by Melissa Novoa, Volunteer, Camp Pendleton, CA