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Shanghai Breezes: The Ultimate Deployment Song

Letters-5Twenty five years ago, this country girl from Eastern Washington State met a surfer, ROTC student from Torrance, California. Despite the distance and challenges we faced while dating, we got married and have spent a lifetime together raising two great boys. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced every obstacle the Air Force has thrown at us. During those tough times, we found solace in the sage words of John Denver.

Back in the day, lyrics weren’t printed on cassette jackets. So if you wanted to be sappy, you had to painstakingly hand-write the lyrics by playing the song over and over to make sure you heard each word. That’s exactly what I did. While my husband, Jay, and I were in college in separate states, I painstakingly transcribed the lyrics to one of John Denver’s iconic songs, “Shanghai Breezes.”  I rewound and played my way through the process. Then I mailed those lyrics off to Jay in a letter. One we still have today.

Recently, as I was on my morning walk, “Shanghai Breezes” came on, and it made me think of all of the military families in the middle of the challenging deployment/re-deployment exchange. Like many of you, music marks the milestones in my life, like the number one song my senior year, the song we danced to at our wedding, the music my boys blared through their teen years in our homes around the globe.

“Shanghai Breezes” got me through deployments, TDY’s and separations.

Lyrics like, the moon and the stars are the same ones I see, became a reminder no distance apart will change the commitment we made to each other. It reminds me of the trust we place in each other, and the agreement we made to be there for one another through it all.

Letters-1As you face any deployment, I encourage you to find your strength. And find something that will remind you of it!  I challenge you to write letters, and have your families do the same. Today, along with the letter of lyrics I wrote to Jay so long ago, are letters from Jay’s parents, friends, and mentors wishing him well, as well as pictures and cards from our boys, all sending him their best wishes and recounting the joys in their lives.

Accompanying them are the cards and letters Jay sent back to our boys. They come with us every time we PCS, and are treasured reminders of our lives together. There’s just something about the act of putting pen (or crayon) to paper that emphasizes the words, the care, and the love of the writer.

My wish for all of you is peace through any deployment, and every separation to come. Find the best ways for your family to express yourselves and build strong lines of communication. Find your strength when the days are long, and try to focus on the positive things that inevitably happen during the chaos.

Finally, always remember the greatest act of strength is asking for help.

How did you build strong lines of communication in your family?

Posted by Karla Bickley, Air Force Spouse, Tinker Air Force Base

 

Don’t Give Up Your Gym Membership Just Yet!

spin-classIt was a typical stressful morning getting the kids out the door in time for school. In the back of my mind, I was already feeling anxious about our upcoming cross-country PCS and a new challenge of completing my last two graduate school classes in the middle of the road trip. I dropped my older kids off at school, and took my 2 year old with me to the gym. As I opened the door to the gym, I almost walked right into a giant dry erase board where someone had written, “You are only one workout away from a good mood.”

I knew in an hour, I would be just fine.

For years, I have been relying on exercise to combat stress and negative emotions. It’s kept me balanced and helped me work through the most challenging problems. Even if I walk into a workout full of negativity and stress, I will always come out feeling calm and clear-headed.

Part of me believed this calming effect that exercise brought was because it felt like I was regaining a sense of control that I felt I had lost as a military spouse. I also believed I was “toughening up” through physical stressors in order to handle the emotional stressors.

I read some research done on the effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and sensitivity to stress. Most of the current research in the field of mental health supports physical activity to boost one’s mood, fight depression and build tolerance to stress.

Unfortunately, as a personal trainer, I’ve heard many people say beginning an exercise program is a stressor. It’s tough to start something new, but if someone dives into an exercise program that is too intense, he or she will most likely experience an increase in stress. This can be why so many people walk away from gym memberships.

There are two easy ways to start your journey towards healthy, effective stress management through exercise:

  1. Change your perception of exercise. It doesn’t have to be an hour long, drag-yourself-off-the-floor workout. There are incredible calming, meditative workouts like Tai Chi or yoga. I believe if we all started at a comfortable level, we can quickly adapt and feel positive about increasing the difficulty.
  2. Set a few small fitness goals. As we accomplish each goal, we develop a sense of empowerment and confidence. It’s this empowerment that lets us handle new challenges thrown our way, whether it’s a fitness challenge or surprise orders. It is also the repeated exposure to the good, controllable stress of exercise that increases our resistance to the negative, uncontrolled stress of a military lifestyle.

Military spouses provide emotional stability in a family. We have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, so we can take care of our families in the best way possible. Every day I walk into that gym, or lace up my running shoes, with the goal of looking for a healthy way to combat the stress in my life. And every day I walk out in a good mood, ready to take on whatever life (and the military!) wants to throw my way.

What activities or forms of exercise help you deal with stress? Share it with us!

MelissaPosted by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

Orders? Check. Map? Check. Engagement Ring? WHAT!

moving-boxesWhile a permanent change of station (PCS) might not be the most glamorous aspect of military life, it does offer a unique opportunity to explore new parts of the world. Before we were married, my husband and I took advantage of a cross country PCS as a chance for an epic road trip.

We met just as he was re-deploying from a year tour in Afghanistan back to Fort Drum, so we spent the year traveling back and forth between where I was living in New York City and upstate New York, where he was stationed… all the while falling in love.

I knew it was only a matter of time until the Army would throw a curveball our way.

When orders came down for him to go to Korea, my heart sank. Because he was changing to a different military occupation specialty (MOS), he would need to first PCS from Fort Drum to Fort Huachuca for schooling before going to Korea.

We saw this pending PCS as an amazing opportunity to road trip across the country.

The quickest route from New York to Arizona was 2,381 miles with an authorized 7 days to travel (350 miles a day). We based our route on two important stops to visit family and picked interesting places in between. To keep on schedule, we used Google Maps to drop ‘pins’ at the 350-mile markers, making sure to drop pins at places we wanted to see. We also booked our hotel stays ahead of time. That saved us from having to depend on the area to find lodging, and gave us the opportunity to bank on hotel rewards points.

google-map
On the way to Gulfport, Mississippi, we saw the sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. After three days in Gulfport visiting family, we were on the road again. Our next stop was Austin, Texas, my home city. It was a quick trip because we had big plans to drive to the Grand Canyon from there, but during our stop at Albuquerque, we ate some bad New Mexican food and spent an extra day recovering at our hotel room. We adapted quickly, and rerouted our path to go straight to Sierra Vista, Arizona. Without a willingness to adjust based on travel luck and circumstances, any PCS road trip would be incredibly stressful!

Seeing the scenery and landscape change from each region of the country was by far the best experience of our trip. I loved seeing the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and then driving through the swampy Gulf Coast. The dessert area of West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona were amazing to see, too.

At the very end of our road trip, in our hotel room in Sierra Vista, my boyfriend proposed to me!

Little did I know, during our visit to see family, he asked for their approval. My entire family knew his proposal was nearing, and were in on the secret! He planned to propose during our day at the Grand Canyon, but in typical Army fashion, he improvised!

We were married in a courthouse during his leave to Korea, and had a church wedding when he arrived back. Although life in the military can be unpredictable, it opens up new opportunities around every corner. It’s up to us to seize the moment!

Do you have a fun PCS story? Send it to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org to have it featured here on Branching Out!

rachel-marstenPosted by Rachel Tringali Marston, Army Spouse

#tbt: PTSD Can Be Quiet

ptsd-soldierJune 27th is PTSD Awareness Day. We are sharing Annie’s journey of readjusting to life with her husband’s PTSD diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of PTSD can vary, but one thing is clear: getting help is within reach and all it takes is the first step. Below is Annies story, written in October 2013:

Prior to my husband’s last deployment, I had no direct contact with anyone who came home with PTSD. At least no one who was open about it, or even acted how I thought someone with PTSD would act.

That’s one of the troubles with PTSD. It’s not how someone acts in public or controlled situations; it’s how they act when no one else is around.

I had known from telephone and email conversations that something wasn’t right with my own husband. He would call and make wild, angry statements because I forgot to close the garage door. When he actually returned home from deployment, the problems became worse. He began not sleeping at all, and then slept for days. The anger, outbursts, and sullen behavior all reached epic levels. It nearly toppled our marriage over into a hole that it could never crawl out of.

You see, my husband denied he had PTSD, as many do. Because I was largely uneducated, with the exception of knowing PTSD wasn’t what the media portrayed, I didn’t really know what to do. I couldn’t fully see the tell-tale signs in my husband until it was almost too late.

He doesn’t have flashbacks in the “traditional” sense. Instead, his PTSD is quiet, it’s withdrawn, and it’s mean.

I wish I had known all of the ways PTSD can manifest itself. I wish I had known PTSD isn’t always yelling, fighting, and violent. I wish I had known that many of the things we often associate with PTSD are just a very small sampling of what can really be happening in your home.

My husband is withdrawn. He can go months without really speaking to me about anything. This started immediately after he returned, but being his wife, I became a great excuse maker. We never want to think PTSD has touched our life and our spouse. So I made excuse after excuse.

“He’s withdrawn because he’s adjusting.”
“He’s not sleeping because of the time difference.”
“He’s sleeping all the time because of the stress.”

But what it all added up to was a giant elephant in the room, one that he refused to talk about. An elephant that I was scared to bring up.

Sometimes, his posture changes, and I can tell that he is not in the moment with me anymore, but somewhere else entirely. Those times can be followed by silence, or an escalation of anger, but I know it’s not me he is angry at.

When he does have angry outbursts, it’s often at times when I least expect it. He once became angry with me when I asked him to bring me ketchup from the kitchen.

We are shown, and told, that PTSD is loud; that it is crazy, emotional, and intense. There can be violence, drinking, and wild behavior, but that isn’t always the case, and I truly wish I had known that. Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to the brink of divorce.

I would tell any spouse, any family member or friend: Watch.

Simply watch your loved one. Has their sleep pattern changed? Are they sullen or withdrawn? Have they refused to see friends since their return? Are they having memory issues? All of those things, simple as they sound, can be warning signs.

PTSD can be the silent secret that you aren’t even sure is really there. It can be a quiet ordeal your spouse may be living with every day, but not saying anything about. It can be new behaviors you’ve never seen before, or old behaviors that you haven’t seen in a while.

If you suspect anything might be wrong, talk to them. Don’t ask what they did or saw, just talk to them about your concerns. Don’t let it become the elephant in the room and the secret you keep because they don’t want to talk about it. Angry or not, it’s so important that you urge them to seek help. I was lucky that I managed to get my husband into treatment, but others are not as lucky.

Because PTSD can be quiet.

Posted by Annie Mously, military spouse blogger at Our Before and After

Point. Click. PCS: House Hunting Just Got Easier!

House-for-saleRachel Marston is a military spouse and is the Public Relations and Communications Manager for the Red Door Group based out of the Washington, D.C. area. Eager to share a great resource, Rachel has laid out some of the awesome features of The Automated Housing Referral Network, a tool for military families to use when house hunting!

Orders are coming down quickly and military families are preparing for their upcoming Permanent Change of Station (PCS). With so many details to look after, it can be difficult to know where to start.

What are the good neighborhoods?

What is there to do?

Where are the schools?

Finding the perfect home is more than just answering those questions, it’s also finding a home that fits within your budget. There are many great resources out there, but The Automated Housing Referral Network (AHRN.com) is one resource that has proven to be a great asset for military families in all aspects of the PCS process.

As a housing referral website for the military community around the world, AHRN.com provides a list of relevant homes at a designated location. It also breaks down your BAH to assess the expected costs for rent and utilities, which can be really helpful when working through your budget.

AHRN

The amount of BAH given to a family is the driving force for any housing decision. Your BAH rate is probably the first thing you look at when receiving orders. AHRN.com creates a special search with homes that fit within 25% (higher or lower) of your BAH budget taking into consideration the cost for rent and utilities. It compiles a list of homes and identifies how far they are from your installation, which can be really helpful to see all in one place before making the move.

Another great resource is the ability for military families to personalize their housing profile, enabling AHRN.com to match preferences and the listing that best fit your needs. The profile works by asking what type of home is best for you. Whether that’san off-base house, community rental, for sale by owner, etc., and the, number of bedrooms, budget range and much more!

The ability to search for housing online by using AHRN.com’s BAH tools helps families execute the ideal budget plan for their next station. By determining costs ahead of time, you can prepare for out-of-pocket expenses. From sharing tips for a smooth transition on our blog to the live support chat rooms, AHRN.com is committing to assisting families in all aspects of the PCS process.

Register now and start house hunting and you can also take part in AHRN.com’s 10 Year Anniversary Giveaway Celebration, which is going on now through June 27!

 

Living with PTSD and TBI: A Spouse’s Perspective

woman-sitting-on-bench-aloneMy husband has been an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for nearly 15 years.

Between 2003 and 2009, he completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He didn’t know it at the time, but my husband sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of an enemy ambush. He suffered from splitting headaches, ringing in the ears, and light sensitivity. For years, he quietly battled his symptoms on his own.

By the summer of 2010, he had reached his tipping point. He became critically ill, and denying treatment was no longer an option. At the time, I was pursuing my career goal of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. I ultimately made the choice to put it on hold in order to focus on my husband and his recovery. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Through the encouragement of several senior leaders, my husband began to explore different treatment options. He enrolled in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where he was officially diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TBI’s and PTSD are often thought of as the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stigma associated with these injuries is a major barrier for service members in need of mental health care.

Unfortunately, this stigma has prevented many injured service members, including my own service member, from getting help sooner.

During the recovery process, my husband and I were overwhelmed and concerned with how our situation would impact his career, and our marriage. Fortunately, we got through it with a tremendous amount of support from his leadership; everyone from commanding officers to general officers.

Those leaders ensured my husband would remain on full duty while receiving extensive medical care. With a combination of medical and psychological treatments, his condition began to improve. He’s developed a firm grasp and acceptance of his condition, and has been armed with the knowledge that it is treatable.

Making a difference in the lives of military families is crucial to me. As a result, my career goal is to obtain a license in clinical psychology and use my professional and personal experiences to assist wounded warriors and their families. Achieving this objective would not be possible without the generous support of the National Military Family Association. They provide military spouses with valuable scholarships to help them fulfill their educational and career aspirations.

Today, my husband is serving on full duty and desires to deploy again. I am very proud of his dedication to our country and family, and am deeply grateful for the support I received.

When it comes to asking for help, taking the first step is often the hardest. But it’s the bravest of all. My husband and I strongly encourage anyone in need of assistance to get the support you deserve.

sandy-cullinsPosted by Sandy Cullins, USMC Spouse and Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient who received scholarship funds from United Health Foundation to pursue her career in mental health

Mental Health and the Military: Reducing the Stigma

mental-healthThis month is Mental Health Awareness month – a time when the national spotlight is on mental illness and its effects on individuals, families and on our society. It’s also a time to educate ourselves to help end the silence and to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Mental illness exacts a real toll on our community. However, what is different for our community, the military community, is the way in which mental illness is viewed.

Mental illness as a whole is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with a mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This often prevents them from seeking out the services they need.

Families are reluctant to seek treatment, as well. Will it affect their spouse’s career? Who will know? Some spouses are afraid to admit to any mental health issues for fear they will burden their already taxed service member with their own issues. As a result, their struggles become private.

When you look at the number of people affected, the numbers are staggering. Overall, mental illnesses are now more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. One in every five families, and over 60 million Americans, are affected at some point in their lifetime by mental illness.

Our military families have very real needs when it comes to mental health. This is a call to action. A call to our leaders and our advocates to push for increased and improved services for our families. Our community needs help. In order to help, some obstacles need to be removed. For example:

  • Eliminate the barriers in connecting families with mental health resources.
  • Incorporate best practices when treating military service members and families.
  • Provide a seamless transition of care from duty station to duty station.
  • Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
  • Start comprehensively tracking the suicide rate among military family members.
  • Increase/improve education and reduce mental health stigma.
  • Support the transition from deployment to reintegration AND the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
  • Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured (mentally or physically) and provide support for CAREGIVERS.

Mental Health Awareness month is a great opportunity to voice your concerns. Educate yourself on the mental health issues that impact your community and advocate for increased and improved services for all. Only by tackling this together can we reduce the stigma and begin to help the number of families affected by mental illness within our community, not just during Mental Health Awareness month, but every month.

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Research Psychologist, Military Suicide Research Consortium