Is War From the Homefront Sabotaging Military Marriages? ‘Good Kill’ Says Yes.

Good Kill trailer image
Last night, I attended the D.C. premiere of the new Ethan Hawke-January Jones movie, “Good Kill,” about Air Force pilot turned drone operator, Maj. Tom Egan. If you’re interested in drones, you’ll learn a lot from this movie—but what hit home for me was how this service member’s high-stress job impacted his relationship with his wife.

As a drone pilot, Maj. Egan often kills dozens of people, watches the aftermath on the computer screen, then drives home to his wife and kids. The film explores how the emotional stress and responsibility of being a drone pilot creates a wedge between his wife and him. Mostly, he shuts down. “It’s not about the security clearance, I just don’t want to rehash it.” But when he does confide in her he admits, “I feel like a coward every day.”

Their marriage heads south fast, due to his internal struggles, alcoholism, and anger management. In one scene, they talk about how things were so much better when he was actually flying planes over Afghanistan for months at a time. “It was scarier back then, but at least we made each other laugh.”

In the Q&A following the movie, I asked Ethan Hawke and Director Andrew Niccol why they chose to depict the relationship that way. Niccol said that’s what the drone pilots he interviewed experienced. As he explained, there’s no time to decompress; they can’t compartmentalize; their family doesn’t understand what they’re dealing with on a daily basis, or how – even though they’re technically “home”—they can’t be available in the same way other non-service members are.

There’s a scene in the movie when Maj. Eagan sends a last minute text saying he can’t pick up their kids from school.

“You promised,” his wife reminded him. “And I had an appointment today.”

“Was your appointment life or death?” he asked. “Because mine was.” He had been assigned—at the last minute—to keep a group of soldiers safe by watching them through a drone camera so they could get some sleep.

That part of the movie hit me like déjà vu. I was taken back to my first year of marriage. It was Valentine’s Day and we had plans. I’d made a candlelit dinner and a handmade book chronicling our first year together. There I was in Jacksonville, North Carolina waiting for my Marine to come home and celebrate. Hours later, sometime after 10pm he came home apologizing, but there was nothing he could say. I was hurt and enraged. He begged me to understand, saying a life-or-death situation kept him at work. One of his Marines had attempted suicide in the barracks and nearly succeeded, and he was dealing with the aftermath—the hospital, the NCIS agent, the rest of his Marines. Meanwhile, I was dealing with the fact that he didn’t call, text, or come home on Valentine’s Day.

The line between the battle front and the homefront is blurred, and military life is hard on families. Let’s remember to care for all of our military families, whether that service member is deployed or at home.

As “Good Kill” shows us, we don’t know what burdens they may be carrying.

Can you relate to this movie? How do you deal with the unexpected changes in military life? 

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

The Unsung Heroes: Military Families

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April 17th, 2015 was my five year anniversary, and of course, my husband was away serving our country, so my cat and I celebrated together. Friends and family alike congratulated us from near and far. The well-wishes got me thinking: what’s the meaning of ‘family?’

Webster’s Dictionary says family is “a group of people who are related to each other.”

I have one of the best “blood” families in the world. My parents are my biggest champions and supporters. From the day my husband and I got married, my parents have been there for us; giving us an amazing wedding, being my cheerleaders through a crazy 13-month Master’s program, while I worked AND commuted over 110 miles round trip each day. And they were there for me when I wanted told them I wanted to make my real estate dream come true. My parents are such wonderful sources of knowledge–I wouldn’t be here without them.

Sure, that’s the family that Webster’s talking about. But Webster ignored an essential component to the military world.

The unsung family: our military family.

Our military family LITERALLY picked me up off the floor. They gave us a couch to crash on when our last minute PCS orders across the country (and our house purchase) fell through. They are the ones who get us through the trying moments of military life–those moments where blood family couldn’t pick us up off the floor and help us, because being available and present virtually just wasn’t going to make a problem go away.

When we first moved to Texas I was lonely and overwhelmed. Even though I’d lived in Germany and China, and convinced my husband I could live anywhere, this duty station was my Achilles heel. I was miserable and defeated before we even got started.

Then an amazing wife “adopted” me. She provided dinner for me between my 6 hour break between work, and the classes I was taking to complete my Master’s degree, since home was 52 miles away at the time. She nourished and brought me through those early days by just being there for me. She offered her kitchen table to cry on when it was needed. Her family even watched me walk across the stage when I finally finished my Masters’s. One Thanksgiving, alone and unable to make it to see my family, she brought me into their holiday traditions; I went with them to the in-laws’ house and Christmas tree picking. I was a 6th family member–no questions asked. I was included and it meant something to me.

When our fourth PCS move came, we had a last minute, traumatizing move to California. I was happy in the town we were in at the time (Virginia Beach) and I didn’t want to leave. It was during this PCS where we arrived to a base with no accommodations, so we stayed in a hotel until we closed on our house…which, unfortunately, fell through. Between spending a small fortune out of pocket for a hotel room, buying an unexpected house, and me not working, my blood pressure, and mental well-being was off the charts.

Until a member of our Officer’s Spouses Club saw me at the first meeting I attended in our new town.

“Would you like to stay with us?” she asked.

I remember thinking, this is never going to happen because it’s too good to be true. It DID happen and she was my angel. She not only came through, but she put up with me through my roughest moments and helped us get back on our feet! She said the things I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear them. She was a friend when my husband couldn’t be there.

But even more memorable was the first deployment my husband and I went through; we lost someone in our squadron. In that moment, the meaning of true sacrifice came to fruition, and it was rough on us all. A dear friend was there for me through every rough moment. She checked in on my cat when I needed to leave (this was a big deal because she is allergic) and she made sure I was cared for.

These unsung heroes even saw my dream, filled my weak spots, and stood by me when I launched my blog, ReluctantLandlord.net.

These are just snippets of millions of stories woven throughout the military community—one with an amazing group of people I am blessed, and honored, to call family. We are there to celebrate and praise, and we are there to lift up and hold. We have car seats in cars/garages even when our kids are too old or too big, because we’re ready for a moment’s notice when another needs them. We become emergency contacts after only days of knowing each other, and no matter what, we are ready to step up.

These are the members of the unsung family. The family that steps in when the blood family just can’t be there. I am grateful and honored to be on this journey with you over the past 5 years. I can’t wait to see where the next year leads me. I only hope I can offer an ounce of the great leadership, friendship, and love I have seen and been honored to receive.

Posted by Elizabeth Colegrove, Navy spouse and blogger at ReluctantLandlord.net

This One’s For You, Military Spouse!

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May 8th is Military Spouse Appreciation Day—a day to recognize and thank the person who ties up all the loose ends in our lives that we don’t always have time to deal with ourselves. In my nine years of active duty service in the Navy, my wife has been with me for eight of them. I couldn’t have accomplished as much as I have without her. Our spouses deserve to have the spotlight on them, not just on Military Spouse Appreciation Day…but every day we put on our uniforms and lace our boots.

Being a military spouse is sometimes harder than most people think. Let me tell you just a few reasons why my wife is awesome:

She keeps me motivated. She’s always encouraging when I miss rank advancement by only a couple of points. And when I don’t score as high as I want in my college classes, she’s there to push me harder in the next class.

Her skills in the kitchen. I’ll just say this: award-winning chicken salad. Literally.

She’s involved in my Command. I love that she cares about other military families, and serves voluntarily as our Ombudsman. (And it’s nice to see her during the work day, when she is doing things for our command Sailors, Marines, and their families)

Her unending support. Whether I’m shining my boots, ironing a uniform, or studying for an upcoming exam or an awards Board, she’s always there to help…even if we just talk to pass the time.

If you’re a service member, take my advice: on your break today, call your spouse, say “Thanks for doing what you do!”

And to my wife: don’t worry about dinner tonight…Chick-Fil-A, Franzia, and I have it covered.

Have an awesome spouse? What do you appreciate most about them? Send them an eCard to show your love!

matt-s-headshotPosted by Matt S., Logistics Specialist, United States Navy

Military Care Packages: How Do I Fill Out the Customs Form?

military-care-packagesIf you’re going through a deployment, or other military separation, you know that one way to keep your loved one beaming with anticipation is to send them a care package. Some go-to care package items might include a couple of DVDs, video games, maybe a bag of popcorn, some pictures of the family, and some toiletries. (All the comforts of home, right?)

But then you get to the post office, wait in line, and find out you don’t have all the paperwork. Paperwork? To mail a package?

It’s true. And that little customs form from the US Postal Service (USPS) can be confusing. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some tips on sending care packages, and how to fill out that confusing little form:

Make sure you have the correct address. A no-brainer, right? One little mistake and it could take weeks, if not months, to get to your special recipient. Or worse: it gets returned to sender (hope you like popcorn!). Making sure the address is important, especially if it’s going overseas; remember, it might be going around the globe and will need to make it through customs.

To send a package via USPS, you’ll need a customs form to send a package overseas. I found PS Form 2976 online, but you can also create an account online with USPS and fill out the form, print your own label, and schedule a pickup. You can go to their website for more information. It’s fairly simple once you create an account and begin the process.

The customs form is easy to complete, but there are different forms depending on the value of what is being sent. It does take some time to get them filled out, but you can keep a stash of the forms at home so you can complete them prior to heading to the post office. Some post offices keeps the customs forms behind the counter, but it shouldn’t be a problem asking them for more than one.

There are step by step instructions on the PS Form 2976, but I’ll break it down for you:

In the FROM section of PS Form 2976, fill out all of your information. Make sure, again, that you provide all the necessary and correct information. One wrong number and you could literally be sending this package to Timbuktu!

In Block 1, you’ll have to get a little detailed, so make sure you take a picture of what you are sending so that you can enter all that in here. Sometimes I write down everything before I pack it up, for easy remembering!

Blocks 2-4 ask for quantity, net weight, and value of each item you are sending. Keep your receipts and find this information from the package of each item before you close the box.

Make sure you check in Block 5 to indicate that none of the items you’re sending are prohibited. Things like DVDs, movies, popcorn, pictures, and some toiletries are safe. When in doubt, ask.

If there are any restrictions, you’ll list them in Block 6 of the form, otherwise, leave it blank and continue.

In Block 7, you’ll enter the total weight of the package.

Block 8 is the total value of the package, and Block 9 serves as directions in case the package cannot be delivered. Make sure to put your address in Block 9 so it gets returned to you if, for some reason, it doesn’t make it to its destination.

In Block 10, refers to exemption information. If you are mailing to an APO/FPO/DPO, this may not apply.

If you are sending something that has quarantine restrictions, like plants or food products, you need to check Block 11.

You’ll sign and date Block 12.

Blocks 13 and 14 serve as the Sender’s Customs Reference, which may be a tax code, or importer code. More often than not, this won’t apply to you.

Block 15 is optional. You’ll fill out the Importer’s information, if you have it, which in this case, might be you.

In Blocks 16-18, you’ll fill out the license, certificate, and/or invoice number, if it applies to you.

Blocks 19 and 20 are for commercial senders only. You’d enter a Harmonized Tariff Schedule number, and Country of Origin of Goods.

All of these blocks must be completed, unless they do not apply to your shipment.

Take all of the forms and put them in the PS Form 2976-E, the Customs Declaration Envelope. Remember: all of the information must be visible. Finally, attach it to your package on the address side.

Make copies of the form before you sign and/or fill out the contents information, so that you don’t have to keep doing that every time and you can actually save some time.

Remember to get your package insured, depending on the value of the items. You can always file a claim if something happens to it, so make sure you have receipts and pictures stored somewhere safe. You might not consider this a necessity if you’re sending lower-cost items.

Another tip: Include your address or the address where the package is going INSIDE the package. Your box may travel far and wide, and though it’s rare, could accidentally break open, lose pieces, or even have the address rub off.

Plan on sending multiple packages? Have the USPS deliver boxes to your doorstep and avoid packing up your care package while in line to mail it!

You can always go to the post office to fill it out with an USPS employee to get any additional questions answered. You can also call the USPS customer service line at 800-275-8777.

There are also other ways of sending care packages; Operation Gratitude and Adopt-A-Platoon send packages to soldiers overseas, but with some restrictions. Check their websites for more information. The Department of Defense’s OurMilitary.mil, lists various other organizations which send out care packages to troops. Make sure to do your due diligence when sending care packages through third party organizations.

I know, I know: this was pretty daunting. But it’s totally worth your loved one’s expression when they open the package on the other side of the world.

If you have any great tips for sending a care package, or have found another method of sending packages that is much easier, please share them here!

Posted by Sylvia Salas-Brown, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

6 Tips for Military Family Mental Well-Being

happy-child-and-dadIt’s no secret that military families face a unique set of stressors. Deployments and frequent moves, sometimes across continents and oceans, add layers of complexity to everyday life. At times even the most level-headed and experienced families feel challenged by the strain. (Speaking from experience, here.)

In the throes of transition we find comfort in the fact that many have successfully braved this path before us. If they’ve all done this, so can we! But to thrive we need to pull out some tools to maintain our family’s mental well-being. You know, before we’re covered in iced coffee just outside the BX bathroom, sobbing with the children while one takes off his pants as a kind stranger holds the door open for us.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and for some, it only takes a few simple tips to sustain your mental health. Here are some tools for easing the stress of military life:

Laughter
Staring down an endless to-do list hardly feels like a time to laugh until you cry, but the act of laughter is scientifically proven to boost your mood and bring you closer to your partner. Allow time for fun and silliness to ease the tension through times of transition.

Connection
It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of preparing for a PCS or running a household during a deployment. Take time to connect with your family and friends to remain grounded. Express your gratitude for them. It’s one of the essential ingredients for happiness.

Nourishment
You’ve heard it: we are what we eat. A diet high in sugar and saturated fats will make anyone feel sluggish and moody. Healthful, nutritionally-packed foods will provide lasting energy and plenty of long-term health benefits.

Exercise
You also know that exercise is a key component to mental and physical wellness. If the thought of sweating makes you cringe, disguise it as fun for the whole family. Bike around the neighborhood, hike, play ball games, have a dance party…these are just a few ways to rack up minutes of exercise and connect with each other.

Breaks
An ability to identify your own needs is crucial to wellness, and sometimes what you most need is just a break. Give yourself permission to ask your spouse or a friend to watch the kids for a few hours while you take some time to re-center. Allow them to do the same. Even machines wear down over time.

Support
Sadly, Mary Poppins isn’t real. Understand that you are not alone in this journey, as lonely as you may feel sitting on the floor of an empty house in a foreign country feeding your baby in the middle of the night while your husband is deployed. You aren’t the only person to walk this path. Reach out. None of us is expected to handle all of this alone.

This month, take some tip to slow down and check in with yourself and your family. Do you need a good belly-laugh-dance party? Crank up the jams and get to it! If you’re concerned for someone in your life, take advantage of the many resources available before it’s too late.

lbphotoPosted by Lynn Beha, military spouse, mom, and blogger, who writes about the adventures (and such) of life overseas on her blog, Wanderlynn

Do White Coats Make You Nervous?

doctors_black and white photo-550Do white coats make you nervous?! Because they sure make me anxious! I’ll be honest with you: just the prospect of going to the doctor’s office makes me sweat. And don’t even get me started on the dentist. No, I am not scared of shots. But I am scared that whatever help I need, I won’t get. And that is a very real fear!

As military dependents, we don’t have the luxury of picking medical providers. Under the best conditions, we can ask other military dependents who they recommend, and under the worst, we are flying blind. So, the question becomes: How do you get the care you deserve and need with a practitioner you don’t know? The answer is: advocate for yourself and partner with your healthcare provider!

Here are some things you can do to help get your medical needs met!

  • List your concerns and the needs you want met. Make sure they are prioritized. This sets the stage for your exam, for both you and the provider. Don’t make them hunt down the reason for your visit; if you are there for a run of the mill check-up mention it, if you are there for specific reasons tell them.
  • Negotiate with the provider what issues can be addressed today, and if you will need another visit to address the rest. This way the two of you will have realistic expectations about what can be completed today. You don’t want to leave your appointment and feel like nothing was accomplished. Nor do you want to rush through! Be aware that different appointments are allocated different amounts of time. A first time visit to a new primary care provider may be a 45 min slot at one practice. While an appointment for a specific problem may be a 15 min slot.
  • Prompt your healthcare provider! Ask them what they think about your symptoms, what else it could be, and what tests they will run. This will pull your healthcare provider out of his or her tunnel vision. You want to inspire them to think outside the box. Just in case!
  • If they prescribe medication: What is the medicine for? What are the side effects? When should you take it? Will it interact with any of the medications you are presently on? And will it interfere with your daily life at all? The last thing you want is to go home with a medication that you don’t fully understand!
    If you aren’t happy, say so. Fill out a patient satisfaction survey. Let someone know. Nothing is going to change unless you say something!

Now, if you are reading this and you are saying to yourself, “I can’t be that assertive with my provider,” then bring a friend. Bring someone, anyone, who will advocate for you or just be there for you emotionally so that you can feel supported.

Recently, I heard a talk by August Fortin, an MD who specializes in patient centered care, and he acknowledged that “being a patient is amazingly disempowering.” We all know that feeling, especially when seeing a healthcare provider you don’t know about an issue you might be really nervous or uncomfortable about. But you can take that power back. You should get the care you deserve!

What experiences have you had with a new provider? What tips and tricks do you have to make it an easy transition?

katie-mccuskerPosted by Katie McCusker, NMFA Volunteer, US Coast Guard spouse, and ACNP student

MilSpouse Professional License Transfers: Is There an Easy Button?

newspaperAccording to the Department of Defense, military spouses are an educated bunch, with over 84% of military spouses having some college education, 25% have earned a four- year degree, 10% have an advanced degree, and 5% have professional licenses.

That’s the problem with statistics; 5% doesn’t seem significant until it’s put into perspective. That little number represents tens of thousands of military spouses, primarily female. MyCAA has also acknowledged that one of the side-effects of education is the up-keep with licenses during PCS moves, which are quite frequent for military families.

I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from MyCAA, in addition to another scholarship from my university. Combined, those two financial awards paid a fourth of the tuition for a graduate degree at Hardin Simmons University, and allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or psychotherapist.

The road that leads to becoming an LPC starts upon graduation. Similar to many other fields, the candidate must pass a national exam and gain clinical hours. It’s a lengthy process which takes about 24 months. In October, 2014 I received my full LPC license in Texas. That month, we also received orders to PCS to Louisiana—just over the state line. However, I couldn’t have foreseen the heartache that moving 50 miles would entail.

I called the Louisiana LPC Board to find out when they would meet again, and when the deadline was to apply for licensure there. The process is painstakingly slow. Every piece of the submission packet must be sent by mail to the Board. A few pieces of my packet were lost in the mail, so I rushed to re-send the signed documents by certified mail. This brought the total cost of being licensed in Louisiana to $275, after I just paid for licensure in Texas.

Because military spouses moves 10 times more frequently than a spouse married to a civilian, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, helped put into action a restructured process for the 5% of military spouses in career fields requiring licenses. The three strategies include: endorsing existing licenses, issuing temporary licenses, or conducting expedited review processes for military spouses (each state chooses which strategy they’ll use). There are 47 participating states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a new law, HB 732 in May 2012, which helps speed up the transfer of professional licenses from other states when military families relocate due to PCS orders to Louisiana. To guarantee no delay after relocation, the bill allows for the granting of temporary licenses until a full license is obtained.

On paper this legislation looks good. In reality this is a different animal.

Jody Pace, a Registered Nurse from Texas, was scheduled to PCS with her husband to California. She spent four months and $200 for an RN license in her new state. “I tried calling several times and sent emails, but never heard anything back from the Board of Nursing. When I went to the office, face to face, they informed me that I hadn’t gotten my fingerprints in California, so it would take longer.” Jody applied for her license in November 2014 and received it four months later.

Alicia Hartman recalls paying $776 in the last two years for board fees in New York and Arizona. Her husband received PCS orders to Louisiana, and Alicia now faces more re-licensing fees when she arrives.

Unfortunately, some talented military spouses decide to leave the workforce because the new laws aren’t being implemented well. Caitlin Antonides was granted a temporary teaching certificate in Alabama. After one year, her certificate expired and she wasn’t able to continue despite being a veteran teacher elsewhere. She decided fighting the system wasn’t worth the burden for her and her family every time they move.

That’s just it. We shouldn’t have to make the decision to give up our own careers and aspirations because we are a military family.

It is becoming increasingly popular for military families to choose to live in separate locations, known as geo-bacheloring. Dr.Rachel Chesley, a pediatric oncologist, and her husband, made the tough decision to live apart since they married in 2009. To better support her career, he is leaving his Air Force pilot position later this year. These were the same choices my active duty husband and I faced after it was determined by the Board on November 21st, 2014, that my graduate degree lacked coursework in Human Growth and Development, and a Supervised Internship in Mental Health Counseling. This determination was based on the fact that the university where I was graduated from in 2012 is not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Hardin Simmons University has applied for this accreditation and anticipates receiving it at the end of 2015. They meet every other criteria including other accreditation and coursework in Human Growth and Development.

Human Development standards are established and mandated by the state of Texas in order for LPC’s to fulfill their role within their scope of practice. Questioning my coursework meant questioning the state of Texas. Since the Louisiana LPC Board did not interpret the law as it was intended when considering my licensure, I had the burden of proving to the Board that my education and experience was “substantially equivalent” to the background required by a Louisiana LPC. During my research, I realized I was essentially denied a license for doing less than what I am trained, qualified, and licensed to do only 50 miles from my house in Louisiana.

As David LaCerte, Louisiana Secretary of Veteran Affairs argues, I should have been granted licensure by endorsement. Winning my license to practice counseling in Louisiana was a personal win, but not necessarily one for military spouses.

The real take-away from this experience is that after surveying 22 international friends about their home countries I have learned the United States is unique in requiring re-licensing after moving across state lines. In Europe, citizens are free to move across the European Union. We need to keep the conversation going in order to bring awareness and improve quality of life conditions for military families. We are a resilient bunch but we tend to give up easily when told “no” by officials. Why? The answer tends to be that by the time the military spouse is given a definitive answer by their board there isn’t much time left before new PCS orders come through. Sometimes a deployment is on the horizon and we don’t think we have the strength or resources to play both parents and fight a powerful board. We may feel that there is no other choice but to accept a wrongful decision. The truth is that we shouldn’t have to because laws are already in existence.

Posted by Nancy Grade, Licensed Professional Counselor and Air Force Spouse