Tag Archives: guest post

5 Things the Operation Purple Program Gave My Military Family

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When my family was chosen to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat®, I was excited—but also nervous. It was a great opportunity! I’d get to spend a week with my family unplugged from the world. We’d have an adventure in the Grand Tetons. My kids would get to hang out with other military kids with some of the same experiences. So why was I nervous?  As the spouse of a Vermont Air National Guard member, my husband’s base is about 2.5 hours away, so I don’t really spend a lot of time with other spouses in the same situation. How would I fit in with other military families at Operation Purple?

It turns out… I’d fit in just fine. It has been almost been a year since our trip to Teton Science School, and it’s still the vacation that we talk about to anyone and everyone who will listen to us. The experience was unforgettable and had a lasting impact on our family. Here are five things Operation Purple gave my military family:

  1. An Outdoor Adventure. Goodbye iPhones, tablets and TVs. During this family retreat, it was great to just BE with my family. We hiked, canoed, rafted, and dined family-style with others. I really wanted my kids to meet other kids who had gone through a deployment. I hoped it would give them a sense of belonging.
  2. 5-things-opc-gave-my-milfam-2Friends Who Understand Us. My kids hit it off immediately with another family and made friends within 5 minutes. They sang songs in the van with their new friends, and we had a nice adult break away meeting, where we could introduce ourselves and talk openly. The whole environment was fun and relaxed, with ice-breakers like “the one with the longest hair has to serve dinner,” or “whoever has blue eyes is on cleanup duty.
  3. The Opportunity to Give Back. Each Operation Purple Family Retreat includes a stewardship project, and ours involved pulling invasive weeds. It was really important for us to give back to the beautiful area that had given us such a beautiful week, and there’s just something about working with your hands that makes you feel both relaxed and exhausted.
  4. Time to Plan for the Future. How long will we live this military life? Are our kids happy with the choices we’ve made? What are our plans for the future? These are the type of questions that aren’t always easy to talk about when you’re rushing from school to one activity and then another. Our week together gave us time to discuss our future in the military with our children.
  5. A Renewed Sense of Pride. Being around other families like ours was like looking into a mirror for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, I felt extremely proud that we had made it through another deployment as a family. And you know what else? WOW! My kids are amazing! A documentary crew working on a PBS special airing this Memorial Day took an interest in my family, and I am thrilled and proud to share our military story with America.

We feel extremely blessed to have attended an Operation Purple Family Retreat and wish all military families could have that same experience. Military life isn’t easy—thank you Operation Purple for lifting some of the load.

Are you looking for a way to reconnect your military family? Check out our website and apply for an Operation Purple Family Retreat!

Posted by Sarah Noble, military spouse

6 Things I Learned Being a Geo-Bachelor Military Family

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I live 1,200 miles away from my husband, Kevin.

Some may call us a geo-bachelor family, but I like to think of us as ‘closer than a deployment, farther away than a couch snuggle.’ Our adventure in this lifestyle began in July 2014, when orders landed him in beautiful sunny California. Career timing was just not right for me to move along with him, and our daughter was starting middle school, so our family decided it was best for Kevin to go alone.

The decision for families to separate by distance, not by love, is one I’ve found many families make, often when the military members gets up in rank, or years. It’s harder for the kids to keep moving schools, or for the spouse to take another hit to their career when the husband only has a few years left. With so many of us encountering this situation, there is so much we don’t realize until we are entrenched.

Here are a few realities I’ve learned in the 10 long months we’ve been apart:

My husband is not a bachelor.
Sure, he’s living in a house with a roommate, but this is not a frat house. Girls are not hanging all over him, there are no keggers, and pizza is not a food group. Ok, pizza might be a food group. Otherwise, he leads a pretty boring life. When I call, chances are he’s playing board games with said roommate, napping, or watching TV. He still is married and devoted to me.

I can’t always be there, and neither can he.
I recently got a text message from my husband. “Honey, I love you. It’s been great knowing you, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you.” My heart sank. Sent just before he went into surgery, this would be the last message I’d receive if he never woke up. I was in the middle of a phone call with a client, and tears began to stream down my face. I couldn’t be there for him at a time when I really should have been.

He can’t be there for us, either. Kevin gets phone calls when we are on our way to the ER with a possible broken foot (again), and I’m sure he wishes he could be sitting with us, waiting for the x-rays, instead of stuck in his room 1,200 miles away. Other, less severe moments happen without him, too; he’s missed first school dances, first crushes, and first crushed hearts.

Communication is hard. Like really, really hard.
Communication is hard when you don’t have body language to back up what you’re saying. Arguments break out over internet connection problems. Relying on cell phones and Skype to have an emotional relationship is also trying, but we’re working through it. Slamming an “off” button on a cell phone is a lot less satisfying than a door, though it’s a lot more childish. We’re working through all of this and realizing that it’s just hard for both of us when we can’t reach out and hold each other’s hand.

When he visits, it’s not the same.
Kevin has his house, and I have mine. Except my house used to be where he lived, too. This makes visits seem a little awkward. Something might be out of place, or moved, or new, and all this ‘change’ makes things stressful on both of us. It isn’t how he left it, and that change reminds him of the distance between us. The reality is we each have a house that is our own to keep how we like it, and we shouldn’t judge the other person for living their lives without the other. But deep down inside, my house is his “home.” I have to learn to be sensitive to that fact.

I have it easier.
I stayed, surrounded by family and friends, in the comfort of our family home. My husband packed up 1 room, and moved 1200 miles away, knowing not a single soul. He’s met a few people, but I have it easier than he does. At the end of a long day, I have someone to come home to, who can listen to my day, give me a hug, and tell me it’s going to be okay. My husband has a roommate. Hugging would make things uncomfortable between the two of them, I think.

We are closer than we have ever been.
Despite the distance and separation, we are closer and more in love than we ever have been. Call it necessity, call it survival, or call it love; being a geo-bachelor family is trying. So are deployments, and TDYs, and frankly everyday life. We knew making this big decision could, quite possibly, push us apart, but it was not a death sentence on our marriage. Instead, we have grown closer. We now set aside time in our busy lives for each other. We are even more dedicated to each other than we ever have been in our past 12 years of marriage.

It was a difficult decision to divide our family, and choose to stay put, for the sake of our daughter’s education, and my career. Many people questioned our decision saying things like, “Why wouldn’t a wife want to be with her husband?” but we looked at the long-term path in our marriage and knew we had some serious relationship Super Glue that was going to hold us together. And we have held together, better than expected (not perfect, but better).

In case you were wondering, Kevin came out of surgery just fine and told me that message was supposed to be a joke. We’re still working on our communication through text message skills. Ugh.

Have you ever been a geo-bachelor family? What tips do you have?

kim-robertsonPosted by Kimberly Robertson, military spouse and blogger at 1200 Miles Away

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

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

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

Win Movie Tickets to See Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom!

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When we think of military families, words like strength, determination and resiliency come to mind. Those words are even more powerful when we think about military kids. In Disney’s new movie, Monkey Kingdom, Kip the monkey learns to be strong, determined, and resilient, much like military kids–especially since his mom, Maya, often puts herself in danger when foraging for food in the wild.

Monkey Kingdom illustrates the tireless effort of a parent caring for her young one, and displays her resilience through adversity. Maya’s determination gives her the strength and resourcefulness she needs to fend for Kip and be a leader in her troop.

Military families often sacrifice and take on selfless roles in their own troop when a parent deploys, and sometimes, it’s the military kids who become the glue that holds their family together during the tough times–much like Kip does for Maya.

This Earth Day week, we hope you head to theaters to see Monkey Kingdom with your military family, and enjoy the time you can spend together. We can all learn from Maya and Kip and appreciate the strong bonds family provides – after all, we are nothing without each other, especially our young ones!

Want to win free tickets for your family to see Monkey Kingdom? Disneynature has you covered! Enter to win on NMFA’s Facebook page!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

 

Lessons for the Unintentional Military Landlord

Lessons-for-the-Unintentional-Military-Landlord-NMFA-AHRNMy husband and I bought our first home in 2009, while the housing market was no longer at its peak, but hadn’t hit bottom, yet. Knowing we’d be at our duty station for more than four years, we confidently bought a home, assuming we could save money and sell when it was time to PCS three hours north.

We received orders in 2013, prepped our house, and listed it for sale. We had a month of great traffic, several prospective buyers, and our well-laid plans seemed to be right on track.

Then, the government shut down.

We held out hope for a few weeks, but quickly ran out of options. Just like that, we became self-managing landlords. We know many other military families can identify with our not-so-unique story. If you’re thinking about renting out your property, perhaps you can learn from our experiences. Here are five tips:

Not every house makes a good rental
We had many concerns about using our home as a rental. Certain qualities make a properties less complicated to manage, like easy-to-maintain grounds, newer construction, community amenities. Our house is uniquely charming, beautiful, and comfortable, but it is also older and tucked in the woods. Fortunately, its unique appeal makes up for its quirks. And it’s close to several bases, upgrades, and military-friendly neighborhoods. It’s important to highlight those types of qualities when you’re advertising your property to find the right tenants.

Think strategically about placing tenants
When I decided to self-manage the property, I also decided to find my own tenants. There were many things to consider, such as a pet policy and length of the lease, when choosing renters. I carefully followed the laws of the state and used AHRN.com to pick the people I thought would be the best match based on financial background, calls to former landlords, and their desired length of lease. At the end, I lowered the asking rent $50 to accommodate the family who is the best fit and poses the lowest-risk.

Document property conditions thoroughly and keep an excellent inventory
Thoroughly documenting and inventorying your property’s conditions before, and between, placing tenants is extremely important. We took photos and video throughout the home, and put everything in writing in the tenants’ condition form. I then encouraged them to be equally thorough, and welcomed their excessive notes about every little ding and scratch after the walk-through. This step allowed the tenants to take a great deal of personal responsibility for the condition of home before and after their stay, and gives me the paperwork I need to take care of the home from afar.

If you’re self-managing, put your emotion aside… most of the time
In most circumstances, especially as a self-managing landlord, you have to be prepared to make every decision in the name of finances and business. However, I quickly learned it’s not so cut-and-dry. Our first set of renters stayed in the property for only three months before an extremely emergent personal issue led them to request a release from the lease. Had this strictly been a business decision, I could have held them to the terms of the contract until the last possible moment. Or, I could try to find new tenants and quickly release the current tenants from the lease. We absorbed some moderate costs for quick turnover, but I can also sleep at night without feeling guilty.

It’s not the end of the world
It’s also not without risk, but for my family, being unintentional landlords has been going relatively well. Keeping my emotions in check, finances in order, backup plans ready, and support system in place, we’re hopeful we can either move back into the home in a few years, or sell it without losing too much money when the time is right.

Want five MORE tips to help you navigate your Landlord title? Head over to AHRN’s blog and take some notes!

Posted by Kristin Beauchamp, Military Spouse and Digital Marketing Manager, Red Door Group