Tag Archives: deployment

How Do You Keep Busy During Deployments?

Half-marathon-with-RickTwo years ago, I ran the Marine Corps 10K race for the first time. It was the longest run I had ever done in my life up to that point. I trained for that run because, like many who find themselves with a spouse deployed, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I needed a healthy distraction. So for months I would drag myself out of bed early on the weekends to do a “long” run while my husband was away.

I started running with the goal of lasting 20-30 minutes without stopping. It was the middle of a typical hot and humid Washington, D.C. summer, so this was no easy feat. Each week, I would increase my time by 5 minutes, or at least run for the same amount of time as the previous week. And every week, I would Skype, email, or tell my husband on the phone the update on my progress.

I didn’t have a formal training plan; I thought that if I gradually increase my running time, I would eventually cover 6.2 miles, which is the length of a 10K run.

Once I committed to do the race and paid the registration fee, there was still a nagging doubt that I could reach the finish line. I had run many 5K’s before, and regularly exercised. But the thought of running more than five miles seemed so out of reach for me.

Looking for more incentive, I signed up to help raise money for the George Washington University Cancer Institute. I was a graduate student at the school, and had many family members affected by cancer, so I was happy to join the team of runners to raise money for cancer programs and research.

On race day, I bundled up — it was an unusually cold October morning — and off I went, running with thousands of people happy and excited to be there. Thousands more spectators lined the road cheering us on, carrying signs like, “Don’t stop now, people are watching,” “Worst parade ever,” and “You’re running better than the government.”

Before I knew it, I was nearing the finish line, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t fainted! The Marine Corps 10K was exhilarating and exhausting, and had me hooked. I had no intention of stopping now that I had I found my stride, so to speak. When my husband returned from his deployment, I had to convince him to run with me. He wasn’t used to running without a physical fitness test looming.

Since that deployment-inspired Marine run, I have participated in the Army, Air Force, and Navy runs, as well as a few other races in Washington, D.C., and on October 26, 2013, I ran in the Marine Corps 10K again as part of the TAPS Run & Remember Team, which pays tribute to the sacrifices made by our military service members, and raises funds to create awareness and support programs for military families.

We might not have a deployment scheduled any time soon, but we continue to run. Our weekend workouts have become part of our routine now, an activity I look forward to all week long.

What activities do you like to do during your service member’s deployments? Share it in the comments section!

lalaine-estellaGuest Post by Lalaine Estella Ricardo, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Operation Purple Camps: 10 amazing years

MichelleObama-OPkids

Who knew when we started Operation Purple Camps in 2004 that we were kicking off a legacy! It has been an amazing 10 years.

Here’s a glimpse of how the program has grown:

2004

  • Operation Purple Camps kick off in 12 states
  • Jessica Lynch makes guest appearance at OPC Pennsylvania

2005

  • Senators Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole host Capitol Hill reception to kick-off the 2005 summer camp season
  • Operation Purple Camps make the front page of the Chicago Tribune
  • OPC was featured on NBC Nightly News and in the Wall Street Journal

2006

  • Operation Purple featured on CBS Early Morning and Fox and Friends
  • OPC camp highlighted in Time magazine

2007

  • Operation Purple Camps make the cover of USA Today
  • Operation Purple Camps featured on CBS Sunday Morning

2008

  • Operation Purple Leadership Camps pilot program opens for military teens
  • First Operation Purple Healing Adventures for families of wounded, ill and injured
  • We host an Operation Purple Camp to support the children of delegates attending the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Symposium
  • Sierra Club releases “Red, White, and Green,” a short film about Operation Purple Camp
  • CNN features Operation Purple Camp on its website homepage
  • 1,500 Operation Purple applicants participate in an Association funded research study looking into the effects of deployment on military families
  • Camp attendance tops 10,000 kids in one summer

2009

  • Mullen-at-OPCOperation Purple Camp featured on NBC Nightly News segment, “Making A Difference”
  • Operation Purple Family Retreats program hosts first families
  • Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife, Deborah, visit Operation Purple Camp California

2010

  • Operation Purple Family Retreats featured on NBC Nightly News segment, “Making A Difference”

2011

  • Operation Purple Campers participate with First Lady Michelle Obama in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his wife Becky visit families at Operation Purple Healing Adventures Washington

2012

  • First year without national sponsors; Local camps help fund the program so that it remains free for military families

2013

  • Operation Purple Camp reaches 10 year milestone! In 10 summers, 48,000 military kids have participated in the program

All of this would have been impossible without the generous donations and support from so many individuals and organizations committed to taking care of military families. Thank you!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.When the first Soldiers and Marines boarded the planes for Afghanistan in October 2001, no one was standing at the door asking them how they were doing. No one asked their families, either. Research on the well-being of service members and families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was slow to appear. And, many military families had already experienced a deployment or two before researchers were able to begin their studies of family separations, mental health, the effects of service member’s injuries on family relationships, child well-being, and multiple deployments and returns.

I’m proud that the National Military Family Association was the first to launch a large-scale study of military children and deployment as we commissioned RAND to follow 1,500 children and their at-home caregivers for a year. RAND reported in our Views from the Homefront study, released in 2011, that most military children and their families were handling deployment stresses well. But, researchers found military children had more anxiety symptoms than civilian kids. Military families were more at risk the longer the service member was deployed. Children had a harder time if their at-home parent was having problems dealing with deployment or if there was poor family communication in the home.

Other research is now being released and more is underway that is adding to our understanding of how the past decade of multiple deployments is affecting families. It’s both heartening and disappointing that this research is validating some of the conclusions of our study.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to understand and how our Association can use the latest research on military families presented at two recent conferences: a symposium on National Guard and Reserve families held in April at the University of Michigan and the International Research Symposium for Military Families held last week by Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute.

What are researchers reporting they’ve learned about military families? They find that most service members and families remain resilient, but:

  • More months of deployment are associated with more family challenges, more mental health services and medication use by military spouses and children, and more academic issues for children.
  • Spousal support has a strong impact on the ability of ill/injured service members to work towards getting better, but spouses need accurate information about illness, warning signs, and strategies for communicating concerns to health care providers.
  • Female service members and veterans identify several barriers to accessing support services, including gaps in information about the issues they face and a perceived lack of understanding of gender differences, especially concerning parenting.
  • Among deployed service members, family stress appears to be primarily related to service members’ actual or perceived inability to be a source of support for family members at home.

Getting more information about what’s happening to military families affected by war is important for many reasons. It can help guide the creation of better programs, policies, and laws. It can pose questions about what else we need to know about military families to support them. In this era of tight budgets, knowing what service members and families need must be the first step in creating new programs and deciding which existing programs need to be cut.

A key part of the discussion at these recent research conferences focused on what else we need to know. We need to know more about the experiences and needs of female service members and veterans—and their children. We need to know more about the long term effects of the past decade of war on military children, not just while their parent is on active duty, but after the service member becomes a veteran. How are military families making the transition to veteran status? What help did they receive from the Department of Defense? What do they need after leaving the military and settling into their new civilian community? What kind of support are families seeking in their communities and is it helping? What are the long term effects of a service member’s serious injury on the family, including the parents and siblings of single service members? What new issues will emerge for families as they face new military missions?

What questions do you wish researchers would ask about the military family experience? What do your think our Nation needs to know about service members, veterans, and their families in order to support them in the future? Tell us!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.By Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

I’m a Military Spouse…Let Me Introduce Myself

Flat Daddy DVDRecent articles about lavish benefits and ketchup choices have sparked many conversations in our community about the lack of understanding of the military lifestyle. Many feel that our civilian friends just don’t understand what it’s like. There are feelings of frustration and anger pitted against the sacrifices made during these past 12 years of war. As a military spouse, I can identify with the emotions these conversations evoke.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it is like to be the wife of a firefighter or police officer. I don’t know what it is like to have a long haul truck driver, a pilot, a teacher, or a chef in my family. My point is no one knows what it is really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.

There are several resources to help. One in particular is the movie, Flat Daddy, now available on DVD. Flat Daddy follows four families who used “Flat Daddies,” life-sized cardboard cutouts of their loved ones to ease the pain of separations. Filmed over the course of a year, the film explored the impact of war on those left behind. The filmmakers’ primary goal was to raise awareness about the challenges military families face and the long-term effects war can have on families.

Other great tools include the How to Help Military and Veteran Families print series that offers valuable information to families, friends, neighbors, and teachers to assist and support members of the military, their families, and veterans. Also, check out our Community Toolkit with action items and useful resources for anyone who wants to stand behind military families. For a lighthearted take, read Sarah Smiley’s Dinner with the Smileys, the story of an adventurous mission Sarah embarked on with her sons to fill the empty chair at the dinner table during her husband’s deployment. Each week the Smileys invited a guest for dinner and learned important lessons about families and the community.

What I’ve learned in the last several years is that I need my family and friends. They understand what my life is like, but that is only because they’ve had the chance to learn. We have to be brave enough to share and educate.

Let me introduce myselfBy Michelle Joyner, Communications Director

To Deploy or Not to Deploy: Your orders were changed…again

To deploy or not to deploy: your orders were changed…againThe military lifestyle poses many uncertainties for families. For example, deployment orders, Permanent Change of Station Orders (PCS), or a job assignment could change at a moment’s notice. And when this happens, it can be frustrating. Let’s be honest, I want to jump up and down and scream how can this happen, AGAIN?  My heart starts to race, I take a deep breath, and then I’m able to focus on the task ahead: dealing with the latest change.

Here’s how I deal with changes to orders:

  1. Acknowledge my feelings. Some changes are good. For example, a deployment may be cancelled or the new orders may move your family to a duty location you have always wanted to call “home.”
  2. Review plans made based on the original set of orders. You may have already made plans based on the original set of orders, such as completing school registration for your child(ren), placing a deposit on a house, or alerting your employer of an upcoming move.
  3. Start a new to-do list. A new set of orders brings a new to-do list. Talk to your family and decide what task each family member will take to help you tackle your new list.
  4. Research military protections. This item may not apply to your situation. However, it is worth some research time because you could be eligible for military protections if you need to change a cell phone contract, break a lease, or inform your employer of a change in military orders. It may be helpful to contact your local legal assistance office for specific questions.
  5. Keep a sense of humor. I know this is easier said than done. It is hard to be upbeat when many changes are coming your way, but humor does make is better.

I also try to visualize where I’ll be in a one year. Of course, orders could change again, but imagining that I made it through the latest change helps me realize the chaos is only temporary.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you handle order changes?

katieBy Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

The Dreaded “D” Word: Preparing for a deployment

How to prepare for a deploymentThe dreaded “D” word entered our house and it’s not debt. It’s a deployment. Deployments are part of military life. Much like our peers, we are a family who has only known a time at war. But what made this deployment different is the short-notice orders. (In other words we had 10 days to prepare for my husband to leave for training.) Cue the gasps and dramatic music, please. He was the lucky guy selected to join a unit that has been training for several months and he needed to leave ASAP.

So, if your family receives short-notice orders, here are some suggestions on the essential items you’ll need:

Essential Pre-deployment Must- Haves

Updated Power of Attorney: Your service member can have a general and/or special power of attorney prepared at the local legal assistance office. It is helpful to either call or visit the legal assistance office to set up an appointment and ask for a list of information you’ll need to bring. Sometimes the legal assistance office will have designated days set aside where they offer a class and meet with clients to execute a power of attorney. Let the office know if you have a short time frame. They may be able to accommodate your schedule or suggest nearby locations that can complete the paperwork.

It is important for both parties to understand how the power of attorney works and when it can be used and when it cannot be used. If you anticipate a big purchase during the service member’s deployment, talk to your bank. The bank may have their own special power of attorney that is needed for transactions and may not accept your general or special power of attorney.

Updated Will: Simply said a will is to protect your assets. Be sure you have a copy of an updated will before your service member leaves. Again, the legal assistance office can prepare a will for you. Many installations offer classes on designated days of the week or for a particular unit that is deploying. However, they are flexible and most will work with your schedule if you have a short time frame.

DD Form 93: Also known as the Record of Emergency Data, DD Form 93 is a form that only the service member can update. The Defense Department will use the contact information on this form to contact the designated Primary Next of Kin (PNOK) if there is an emergency, such as an illness or injury. It also outlines who is eligible for the death gratuity benefit.

Unit Contact Information: It is very important for you to have your service member’s unit contact information. Especially if your service member deploys as an Individual Augmentee (IA), someone who deploys without his or her primary unit, you will need to know how to contact the unit. Generally the unit will have a designated point person to relay family information. Ask for this contact before your service member begins training. If there is not a family person designated, have your service member ask the Command to provide information on how families will receive information during the deployment.

Those are my tips for getting ready for deployment. What is your advice for someone preparing for their service member’s deployment?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association and blogger at www.MilitaryFamilyCents.com, where this post originally appeared

Make Your Memorial Day Red, White, Blue, and HEALTHY!

Memorial Day is particularly special to me this year. My husband is due home around that time from his tour in Afghanistan. His absence gives me a deeper appreciation for those who died for our amazing country and their families that were left behind.

Getting together with family can be hard for military families who move frequently, but we are always good at making our own way and turning friends into family. Nothing brings “family” together like food! In honor of Memorial Day and my husband’s anticipated return home, I wanted to encourage you to make your celebration healthy with some festive meal ideas. Get ready to get your red, white, and blue on and get your grill fired up!

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Memorial Day Menu Ideas:

  • Grilled Lean Ground Beef Sliders on 100% whole wheat buns with caramelized red onions & star cheese
  • Fresh grilled corn
  • Watermelon Mango Salsa with organic blue tortilla chips
  • Star Spangled Pound Cake Bites with Blueberries
  • Watermelon or Apple Fries

Recipes

MemorialDaySalsaWatermelon Mango Salsa
2 cups seedless watermelon, chopped into bite size chunks
2 ripe (but not too ripe) mangoes, chopped into bite size chunks
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small jalapeno, finely diced
1 whole lime, squeezed
Salt to taste

Combine all of the above ingredients. Let marinate for 1 hour. Serve chilled with organic blue tortilla chips.

memorialdaydessertStar Spangled Pound Cake Bites with Blueberries
1 carton of fresh blueberries
1 16 oz. premade pound cake
Whipping cream
Small cookie cutter in shape of a star

Wash blueberries and set aside. Place whipping cream in mixer and mix until stiff peaks form. Add sugar to taste. Cut pound cake into ½ inch slices and use cookie cutter to cut 2 stars out of 1 slice. Place cakes on platter. With a piping bag, add cream and pipe onto cakes. Top with fresh blueberries. You can also use raspberries.

BetsyheadshotGuest Post by Betsy Ramirez, MEd, RDN, is a registered dietitian and proud Air Force wife, patiently awaiting her husband’s return home from Afghanistan. She is a food and communications consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. You can find her frequently blogging about food, health and nutrition on her website, www.supermarketnutrition.com and for Northeast Pennsylvania Family Magazine. Her main job is wife to a United States Air Force Officer and mom to 2 amazing kids and 1 dog. 

Help Therapy Animals Heal Military Families Today!

therapy-dogs-webAnyone who has ever loved an animal knows how powerful and healing its presence can be.

Specially-trained therapy animals are a tremendous help to military families recovering from war and separation at our Operation Purple® camps and retreats. These families have sacrificed so much, and they struggle with uncertainty and other stress.

Therapy animals—including cuddly cats, loving dogs, gentle horses, and others—help military families break down barriers they can’t themselves. These nurturing animals provide a sense of calm for adults and kids often surrounded by stress. And they lend a feeling of “home.” They allow service members to reconnect, talk more openly about their fears and needs, and solidify fragile bonds with their spouses and children at our camps and retreats.

Please help more military families heal from the physical and emotional wounds of war through the comforting presence of therapy animals today. Donate now!

Has an animal or pet ever helped comfort you through a difficult time?

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Looking back at 2012

National Military Family Association: A look back at 2012Where does a year go? It’s amazing to see the months fly by, filled with memorable occasions like weddings, road trips, big moves, and deployments. 2012 was a year of change, new ideas, and growth for the military community, and for us as well! Here’s how we spent our year.

Sometimes it seems like if something can go wrong, it will. Or when it rains, it pours. Whichever idiom you want to apply, 2012 brought a few unexpected lemons for us to make into lemonade. From the close call of a government shutdown in April, threats to commissary benefits, and the fiscal cliff negotiations in December, we were proud to be  the place military families turned to understand the impact of these actions and find out what could be done in response. It’s nice to know that no matter what comes our way, our community always makes it to the other side of the issue infinitely stronger.

With almost everyone and their grandma (literally) having a smart phone or social media account, these days it seems like we are more connected than ever. Military families are no different, and this year we created a few new ways to provide resources and support via the most-used platforms. Although we are all part of the same community, each military family faces its own challenges going through the many different stages and phases of life. Whether a family is preparing to move, expecting a baby, or anticipating a deployment, our new app, MyMilitaryLife, brings our subject matter expertise and important resources when and where it’s most needed. We’ve had nearly 4,000 downloads from the iTunes and GooglePlay stores, and with six more life paths being added in 2013, we look forward to growing our presence on this new mobile platform.

We are committed to providing spouses and families with the resources and programs needed to make military life a bit easier. We awarded $448,000 in scholarship funds to military spouses beginning or continuing their education through our Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program. Our Operation Purple® program had another great season, sending 1,581 military kids to camp across the country. With so many service members returning from deployment, creating a network of support during this period of change and adjustment was more important than ever. We held six Family Retreats and four Healing Adventures for families with a wounded or returning service member who needed to ease into the reintegration process after a deployment.

It went by fast, but 2012 was a productive and fulfilling year. We’re excited to see where 2013 takes us—stay tuned for a companion post on the Association’s goals for the year.

Your turn: what would you like to see us focus on this year?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor at the National Military Family Association