Tag Archives: deployment

Why Do I Serve Military Families? They’re My Family, Too.

welcome-home-troops-girl-with-signGrowing up, you always hear stories about soldiers and their families. You see them on TV, in movies, or commercials, but it’s not until someone you love becomes a soldier that you really understand what it means.

That’s how it was for me until I was 15 years old, when one of my cousins, Michael, joined the Marine Corps. The United States had been at war for a couple of years and I remember, perfectly, the day of my cousin’s first deployment to Iraq. I was on vacation with my family and I remember thinking, here I am with my family on vacation while Michael was on his way to war. It didn’t seem fair. That’s when I finally understood what it meant to have a love one be a member of the military.

Two years later, one of my brothers, Chas, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. This was no surprise to us; since we were little, we always knew he was going to join. Two years after that, my other brother, Brian, joined the Army National Guard; which was a big surprise for my family.

My brothers had always been the most important men in my life, but when they joined the military, they somehow became even more important to me.

In 2011, both of my brothers were deployed to Egypt and my cousin, Michael, was on another deployment in the Middle East. I remember saying goodbye to them, watching all the other families say goodbye to their loved ones, just before those buses drove away. I felt so far away from them and was having a hard time dealing with it. There was a feeling I couldn’t explain to anyone, and that never went away. I also saw how difficult it was for my family during that year when both of them were gone. That summer, while they were still deployed, I decided to take an internship at The Reserve Officers Association to try and feel closer to them. It worked, not only did I feel closer to them, but I felt that I was doing something for them.

The military changes your family dynamic. When my brothers joined the Army National Guard, it felt like I gained a lot more ‘brothers,’ and not only that, but their families became my family, too. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do: give back to service members and their families–who have given up so much to protect this country. Over the past few months I have been asked the question, “Why did you decide you wanted to serve military families?”

The answer is an easy one for me: they aren’t just military families, they are my family.

Who do you know that serves in the military? Honor them with a small gift, today.

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Legislative Assistant

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

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

Hold Your Applause: A Military Spouse’s Take on ‘American Sniper’

American-Sniper-movie

As new parents, we take every opportunity we can to go see movies, and when American Sniper was released, we quickly bought our tickets ahead of time. On day of the show, we shoved snacks in my purse (shh!) and headed to the theater. I brought tissues, and cursed the fact that I didn’t wear waterproof mascara that day. I read the movie was intense and may be hard to watch at times, so at least I was prepared an emotional rollercoaster—and the movie delivered.

As a military spouse, it was hard to watch. But strangely enough, I didn’t end up using the tissues. When my husband was in Afghanistan in 2008, he called me from an MWR phone room, not on a satellite phone from a fire fight. I didn’t hear gun shots and people yelling on the other end of our phone calls. He wasn’t in danger in the same way Chris Kyle was, and I’m thankful for that.

Later, my husband told me about near-misses and close calls, but nothing compared to what Taya Kyle endured on the other end of that phone. ”How could Chris put Taya through a phone call like that?” I asked my husband, “Why call your wife when you’re being shot at?” He stoically responded “Most likely, he wasn’t thinking of it like that at all. It could have been the last time he talked to her.”

I also didn’t endure the hardship of being pregnant while my spouse was deployed, nor have I had to raise our 1-year-old with a father gone much of the time, or suffering from PTSD. My husband has been an awesome partner in her care. To the spouses forced to do much of it alone: you are my heroes.

American-Sniper-the-movieMy husband had a different take on the movie. He’s lost close friends in these wars. He’s attended far too many memorial services in his decade of Army service. One of his closest friends from ROTC was killed in her Humvee just weeks before she was slated to return home. And when I first met my husband in 2007, he was wearing the black KIA bracelet with her name on it …a name that would later become our daughter’s middle name.

As the movie ended, there were photos of Chris Kyle, his family, his brothers in arms, and his memorial service. My husband told me this was the hardest part of the movie for him to watch. The theater was completely silent as people filed out. We left the theater once the actual credits began to roll, still in complete silence, wrapping up our trash as quietly as possible.

That silence is what has stayed with me. I’ve seen movies where the audience applauded at the end, so I wondered how moviegoers would show respect for this story at the end of this film. Applause just didn’t feel right. A moment of silence out of respect for Chris Kyle was so much more impactful. And, if #AmericanSniper tweets are any representation, it seems that’s the way it’s been throughout much of the country.

Though the story was incredibly tragic, ultimately, it’s serving a purpose: educating our country about the dangers of PTSD. Though we were all silent as we exited the theater that day, we must not remain silent on this important issue. If you know someone you think may be suffering from PTSD, please support them in finding help. Say something and possibly save a life.

Have you seen American Sniper? How did the movie make you feel? Tell us what you thought of this amazing film in the comments below!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

Letters of War: Hope in a Cedar Chest

love-lettersYears ago, we inherited a cedar chest from one of our adopted Marines. I didn’t think much of it. Honestly, it was just another thing I had no use for, but it was an interesting piece of furniture, nonetheless.

Naturally, as a military spouse, I made it a point to give it a purpose, in order to justify dragging this thing around from move to move. I filled it with deployment memorabilia I would come across.

While doing so, I began to notice through the years of things, email began to dominate most of our communication. Something about the convenience of instantly being able to communicate the thoughts and feelings that overcome and overwhelm you when the love of your life is miles away, is a blessing and impossible to resist. However, out of habit l would still write letters on paper. Even when he would insist it was no longer a necessity, I would still write to him.

My husband is not the type that shows excitement easily, but the bounce in his voice when he would tell me he got a letter has always been addicting. I loved hearing his plans for the pictures, how he planned to keep some in his wallet, versus the pictures he planned to pin to his wall. It was a brief moment of reprieve from the distance. I loved soaking in every bit of this happiness as he was holding something from home; a serendipitous moment for me. For a second, it almost felt like he was much closer to home.

I am not sure how most families do it, but in our family, we describe time by its location before, during, or after deployments. Stretching time, slowing it down, and filling it with a lifetime of memories become the most important orders of the day. That “Welcome Home” moment is one where space, time, and distance collide, and produce a most surreal reality. It’s the moment where our deepest thoughts and feelings are conveyed within that long powerful grip of our initial embrace. At home, his laughter finally echoes and booms down the hall, as if he never left.

Fast forward several deployments later, and we now have three beautiful children. Duty stations have come and gone. The treasure chest has been moved more times, and to more houses, than most people live in through two lifetimes. But as I like to whisper to my children, “Adventure is what we do for a living, baby.”

It was not until our most recent move to the opposite coast that anyone really paid attention to the treasure chest. Truth be told, I was busy battling the humid, fly-filled Carolina heat, helping my husband carry furniture into our new home, when I noticed the girls huddled in a corner of the garage going through the many contents of the aging cedar treasure chest.

My heart could not have been more delighted. Our children, marveling at prom corsages, the dried flower I picked for my hair at his boot camp graduation–which my husband completely freaked about, because of course: it was government property! Photos collected of our first car together, our first dogs, teenage pictures of us in our first home in base housing.

However, the letters stole the show— 18 & 19 year-old Mommy and Daddy–back when we were just Tim and Aliyah. Teenagers madly in love, writing boot camp letters to Recruit Meehan, and making the most incredible plans that turned out to be an even more incredible life.

I suppose I must have known this day would come, because I separated the risqué ‘love note stack’ from the more ‘PG’ love letters. It was endearing throughout. As we stopped and listened to our kids read some of the letters aloud, I felt every inch of the distance that these letters have traveled, only serving as fuel meant to relight our passion for one another till the end of time.

As our children continued to read our story, it became their story. The fiery flame of the young warrior (Tim) and the nurse (me) liquefied into a placid existence. The story solidified into the concrete joys of our first baby. A few deployments later, we were on our third baby. Ultrasound photos with the nickname ‘Peanut’ on the back, with holes were they were once pinned on his Iraq wall.
Sitting over the treasure chest with our not-so-little ‘Peanut’ in my lap, we spent the next few hours laughing, sometimes crying, remembering and reliving magical moments captured, and forever encased, in words we once lovingly shared.

I am sure I could probably pull up emails of that same time in our lives at any time. However, personally, the romance in this kind of beautiful life can only be told and truly appreciated sitting on a dusty garage floor with my family, sifting through our aging cedar treasure chest, and reading out loud our letters of war.

Posted by Aliyah Meehan, USMC Spouse, Director of Family Engagement, Sandboxx

Military Families: Living the History of September 11th

September 11, 2001—the day our Nation stood still. The day that seemed as if it would never pass. The day that started the longest war in our country’s history. While families of the 2,996 lost that day grieved for their loved ones, families of those serving grieved for what they knew loomed around the corner.

More than 6,800 service members have paid the ultimate price in the 4,749 days since September 11, 2001.

What our Nation remembers as a day in history, military families continue to live every day.

9-11-Graphic-1

Deployment Monster: 5 Ways to be a Superhero for Your Kids

boy-on-dads-shoulders-with-kiteMilitary life is difficult. But if you can add parenting into the mix, you’re my hero. Not all military spouses were born to be mothers or fathers. Me? I’m somewhere in between. Even those of us who don’t have kids know it takes a special set of superhero skills to raise a resilient military kid. Any military spouse can learn some tricks of the trade!

Harder still, is the nasty deployment monster – seeming to lurk around every set of orders, ready to attack. Maybe you know when the deployments are coming? Sometimes it’s those little trips, trainings, and exercises leading up to the ‘big D’ that really stink.

So how do you superhero parents do it? I asked Meredith Moore, our Association’s Volunteer Services Coordinator for the National Capitol Region, what advice she could offer to help ease the stress and transition during a deployment. Meredith, a seasoned Navy spouse and mother of three, has five great tips parents need to know:

  1. Different ages respond differently to the separation. The young child who doesn’t understand time increments and travel distances needs concrete reassurance the deployed parent thinks about them and still exists somewhere else. School-age children, who listen to the news and adults talking, tend to fear for their parent’s safety (not just in war zone deployments). Preteens and teens will often take on the role of ‘spouse’ to the parent at home, and sometimes resent the deployed parent because the child has become the stand-in.
  2. Keep kids on the same schedule they were on before the deployment started. But be willing to break the routine in an instant if the child is having a hard day. If you always eat dinner at the table at 6:00, don’t stop just because the deployed parent isn’t there. Kids need to accept that deployment is a normal part of military life.
  3. Make sure you put your best attitude forward in front of the kids. Be honest with them when you are struggling but don’t put your burdens on them. Set the example of being resilient. They will follow your lead.
  4. Try not to use phrases like, “you’re the man of the house when your father is gone.” Can you imagine the amount of pressure that puts on a child? You and your spouse chose this lifestyle, the child did not.
  5. Join your command’s family group. Contact your Ombudsman, Family Readiness Group, or Key Spouse. Put the stigma away if you have heard bad things about it. They provide family programming and other great events during deployments. Chances are, you’ll meet someone you have something in common with, and the kids will benefit, too!

Though most parents don’t consider themselves a superhero, many feel even stronger as each deployment comes to an end. Now, can we figure out how to get time to speed up during the the ‘big D?’

What superhero skills did you use to get through a deployment with kids?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager