Tag Archives: guest post

OP Bear’s Visit to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove

Tim-Neilson---camp-sandy-cove-(5)My journey to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove with Association employees Karen Cook and Simmone Quesnell started out early on a dreary, rainy day. I was a bit worried about going to a new camp and meeting everyone.

As we arrived at Camp Sandy Cove, located snugly in the hills of West Virginia, the sun started to peak out and the fog cleared away. What a relief! A wet, foggy day might not stop a military kid at camp, but it would have left me feeling like one sad, soggy teddy bear.

We were greeted by camp Director Tim Nielson and camp Programs Director Tim Glass, who made my stay a fun one, for sure! They introduced us to all the “Chiefs,” (who I think are really camp counselors), along with all the campers and the rest of the staff.

Before the campers and Chiefs went off for their activities, we got to speak to the campers, and, boy, I loved that! We were able to tell them how excited we were to be at camp with them and how important military kids are to us!
I posed for pictures with the campers, and some told me about themselves. One girl said she was nervous about coming to camp, but once she arrived and settled in, she made a bunch of new friends! Hooray!

Other campers wrote special notes in my journal! Let me share a couple of them:

“Camp is amazing! I am so glad I was given the opportunity to attend. Thank you so much!” -Emma

“Coming to camp gives you the opportunity to let loose and make new friends who may be in the same position as you. The camp is for everyone!” -Jordan

simmone-and-op

Later that day, I helped groom a horse named Butter Cup! Then, one of the young boys let me use his mountain board – a skateboard with all-terrain wheels – and I went lightning fast down a hill! Of course, I was told how to do it safely by the “Chief” in charge.

I even got to fly on the trapeze with Simmone!

What a great day! Not only did I get to meet campers and get lots of hugs, but I also heard some pretty amazing stories of how military kids serve too!

After a great Operation Purple Camp visit, we arrived home to the Association headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. A few days later, at the Compass Rose Charities auction, I went off to my new and loving home for a $6,500 donation! The proceeds will pay for lots of kids to go to Operation Purple Camps in the future! Hip! Hip! Hooray!

op-bearPosted by OP Bear, with help from Karen Cook, Volunteer Services Coordinator, North Region

Following My Fitness Dream!

Run-Amuck-2013-015For years, I have been following a need: the need to provide stability for our family while supporting my husband’s career in the Navy.

At one time, the Navy was my career as well. I knew being a Naval Officer was not where I was meant to be, but it appears to be exactly what my husband was destined for. I was happy he found his calling. I didn’t mind staying at home and handling the everyday stress and roller coaster ride of being a military family…for a while.

After my second daughter was born, I struggled with postpartum depression. I figured it would pass, but a year later, I was still not “myself.” I did a lot of soul searching and realized I wasn’t doing anything for myself. How could I be myself when I wasn’t living the life I wanted?

Part of the reason I joined the military was to further my education. I had earned the GI Bill, but had yet to use it four years after separating from the Navy. In college, I played sports and lifted weights, but I hadn’t done either since leaving the Navy.

I knew it was time to reclaim the things I loved. I joined a local gym, and began playing in a volleyball league. It took months to really motivate myself to get to the gym just three days a week. I started to feel stronger and happier. I knew, from past experience, the euphoria one feels after completing a difficult challenge.

I decided to challenge myself. I signed up for my first 5K race. Despite my physical training in the Navy, I never considered myself a runner. I hated running! That’s exactly why I had to do it. If I could just finish, I would get a small taste of that sense of accomplishment. While I didn’t break any records, I had a blast. I was hooked.

I began to look at working out and running as my anti-depressant. It is amazing the clarity that comes during a run, or after a tough workout. Nothing else matters anymore. You can do anything. I wanted to share this feeling with everyone.

Using the GI Bill I had earned, I became a certified personal trainer. For the past five years, I have been learning as much as possible about health and fitness. A Master’s degree was simply the next challenge.

I am currently completing my graduate education in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and continuing to improve my own health and fitness. As challenging as it is to balance my kids, my school work, and my husband’s ridiculous schedule, I couldn’t be happier.

Depression is no match for the enlightening powers of exercise, and the euphoria of accomplishment. My greatest hope is to pay it forward. I want to teach my fellow military spouses and children that exercise and good health is one of the best ways to handle this crazy adventure of military life.

Now instead of a need, I am following a dream.

MelissaGuest Post by Melissa Wilkerson, Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

PTSD can be quiet

ptsd-soldierPrior 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.

Guest Post by Annie Mously, military spouse blogger

**October 10 is National Depression Screening Day. Take this opportunity to learn about your risk for depression, anxiety or PTSD by completing a simple self-assessment online at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org.

Remembering Justin on my First Gold Star Mother’s Day

Justin_and_Phyllis-GOLD-STARI’m a new Gold Star Mom. I’m just beginning this new journey of what that means to be a mother who has lost her child.

My son Justin was a calm baby in the womb, usually perfectly happy to just sleep calmly close to my heart. That all changed when he was born six and a half weeks premature, and spent his first weeks in the NICU. That’s when we knew he was a fighter.

Growing up, Justin would always zero in on one particular thing in life, and be so passionate about that one thing. First, it was dinosaurs. Then wolves, pirates, and sunken ships. After that, it was a love of knights, castles, and finally, the military and its history.

My own family could trace its military history back to Europe and the Revolutionary War. My father-in-law was a West Point graduate and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Having two grandfathers who both served in the military was something Justin admired very much.

It came as no surprise when Justin told us he wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember how he told us, but it just seemed to be the natural order of his life. It was in his genes, and we supported him.

Justin wanted to attend West Point and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brooks. After doing everything necessary, he was not accepted. Justin was very disappointed, but took it as a challenge to fight for what he wanted. He took an ROTC Scholarship to his dad’s alma mater, Florida State University.

At the end of his freshman year at FSU, Justin chose to give up his ROTC scholarship, and join the Florida National Guard. Much to our dismay, he followed his heart and finished Basic Training in the summer of 2008. A few months later, his National Guard Unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. As a full time student, Justin did not have to go. However, we were surprised to learn that he made the decision to deploy with his unit anyway.

We asked Justin, “Why?”

GOLD-STAR-Blog-2

He told us he felt the need to serve, and thought the experience would give him a better idea of what it would be like to lead his fellow soldiers in the future. Just like that, he was off to fight.

When he returned, he received the Bronze Star for his service, which is unusual for a Specialist to receive. He shrugged it off and said he was “just doing his job.”

Justin was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2012.

It was a proud moment for us all. He completed Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne and Assault, and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 1-506th, 4th BCT at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was a dream come true for Justin, as he had always admired the Airborne Unit. He deployed ahead of his unit on April 2, 2013, as part of TORCH, a group sent to light the way in preparation for everyone else to follow. Just like that, he was off to another fight.

[Read more of Phyllis' journey here]

Staffing Agencies: Do they work for military spouses?

Hire-meYou probably know first-hand the employment challenges facing military spouses. Considering the mobility of your family and the short-term job tenures resulting from unavoidable PCS assignments, it can be frustrating to submit your application knowing that the work history on your resume doesn’t fully reflect your real capabilities to a potential employer.

Staffing firms can offer a different experience. While some people think of staffing companies as only offering “temp work,” contingent positions can lead to permanent careers with great companies nationwide.

These statistics from the American Staffing Association give a clearer picture of the value of working with staffing firms:

  • 88% of staffing employees say that temporary or contract work made them more employable
  • 77% say it’s a good way to obtain a permanent job
  • 79% work full time, virtually the same as the rest of the work force
  • 65% say they developed new or improved work skills through their assignments
  • 40% say they choose temporary work as a way to obtain employment experience or job training

Here are a few of the key advantages of working with a staffing firm:

Specialized staffing recruiters understand your experience: Let’s face it, the average recruiter doesn’t have a clear understanding of how life can be different for military families. Many staffing firms have dedicated military specialists (for example, Volt has the Volt Military Heroes Program) who “get it,” recognizing how military spouses are on a different path than other civilian employees. These recruiters understand the challenges of adjusting from military life, and can help match you with a position that suits your skills and circumstances.

Recruiters are simultaneously trying to fill multiple jobs: When you apply with a private employer, they are trying to fill one job, and if you aren’t a good match, the door closes. A staffing firm may have dozens, even hundreds of open positions at one time, and while you might not be the right fit for one, you could be great for another. For that reason, many recruiters for staffing companies will want to talk with you, to get to know you a little more. Not every recruiter, and not every staffing firm, but generally, there is more advantage for recruiters to dig a little deeper on your experience and skills.

Contingent positions offer more flexibility: Short-term positions can be a good fit for mobile military families, providing financial security as you settle into a new location. Contingent work also enables you to gain experience and learn skills that you can take to your next position, and with a national staffing firm, strong performance on an assignment in one location makes you easier to deploy for assignments in a new region. Short-term assignments also provide flexibility without having to burn bridges when a new PCS assignment requires you to leave a permanent position.

Access to jobs not posted elsewhere: Most companies aren’t in the recruiting business, and many find it more efficient to outsource their recruiting to a staffing firm. That means the company’s open positions are listed only with their staffing partner. Having your resume on file with the staffing firm gives you the chance to be considered for a position that never made it to the job boards because the recruiter already knew a qualified candidate.

When it comes to finding work, it’s important to take advantage of every possibility – and few employers offer as much access, assistance, and opportunity as staffing firms. While they can’t promise to find you work, they can definitely help put the odds more in your favor.

Guest Post by Volt Military Heroes Program

An Army Wife’s Pursuit of Education OCONUS

Amanda-oakley2In November 2009, my husband and I set off for the adventure of a lifetime after he received orders to PCS to Baumholder, Germany! I was 23-years-old, a recent college graduate, and a newlywed. I was both excited and terrified. I had never lived outside of my home state of North Carolina, and other than moving to Raleigh, NC to complete my undergraduate studies at N.C. State University, I had never lived away from home. Baumholder was also my husband’s first permanent duty station.

It was easy for me to get lost in the excitement of moving to Germany and having the opportunity to travel Europe, however, when all of the excitement wore off, I realized that moving to Germany would mean limited career and educational opportunities for me. Unfortunately, it is common for military spouses to put their educational and career goals on the back burner while they support their spouse’s military career. I refused to let this be the case for me.

Upon arrival to Germany, I learned quickly that if I wanted to accomplish anything I had to be proactive and try to figure out my questions on my own. OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) duty stations are a different world from stateside duty stations, especially if you have little knowledge about how the Army operates. Prior to moving to Germany, I knew I wanted to attend graduate school. When I found out that I would be moving overseas, I figured I would have to put going to graduate school on hold or live apart from my husband while completing a graduate program stateside.

Thanks to a fellow Army spouse, I learned about the education center on base. The representatives at the education center were so helpful and friendly, and just what I needed after ending up at so many dead ends with my school search. After receiving a wealth of information about educational opportunities for spouses in Germany and giving it a lot of thought, I applied to a program that would allow me to complete my Master’s while living in Europe. I was filled with excitement when I received an acceptance letter to the program, and beginning in January 2010, I was on my way to a Master’s degree!

While I was completing my graduate degree, I also held three part-time jobs. I worked as a childcare provider for two different military families in the area and as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) tutor for one military family that had a child with Autism. I felt it was important to provide some financial support to our family and do something that helped further my career. So much of my life revolved around my husband’s career, I needed something to call my own and to help me find my own identity without getting lost in his.

amanda-oakley

I reached my last year of graduate school in 2011, which brought new and exciting challenges for me. I was extremely sad and worried, but I did what any military spouse would do: I wiped off the tears and toughened up! In February, my husband left for his first deployment to Afghanistan. I decided to move back to NC during the deployment, to surround myself with family and work while continuing my education. I think staying busy with work and school was the best distraction I could have had. Before I knew it, the deployment was over and I was on my way back to Germany to welcome my husband home.

The next month, I began my internship at Baumholder Middle-High School. I was in the home stretch! I worked hard as a school counseling intern and in my final graduate school class. I enjoyed assisting the military students and it felt good to be back “home” with the military community. I learned a lot during my internship and received many opportunities to practice my counseling skills.

In May 2012, I received my graduate degree and walked across the stage during graduation in Heidelberg, Germany along with fellow military spouses, military personnel, and civilians. I had completed a Master’s degree, all while getting accustomed to the military lifestyle, living in Germany, and surviving my husband’s first deployment. What an awesome feeling!

Currently, I am working on a post-graduate certificate in behavior analysis. I have decided to become a certified behavior therapist and pursue a career as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Someone once told me that military spouses will never be able to have a career due to the frequent moves and limited opportunities at many military bases. By being proactive and making strides to continue my education and begin my career, I have been able overcome the obstacles and be a strong military spouse at the same time!

amanda-oakley-headshotBy Amanda Oakley, Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient

Moving in the Military From a Kid’s Point of View

Moving in the military from a kid's point of viewDo you enjoy moving? Some people might say no, but I love it!! Since I am a military child, I get the opportunity to live many different places, some of which people save all of their lives to get to.

I personally think that the best part of moving is getting to experience new cultures. I myself have lived in eight different places, in six different countries, and on three continents. Yes, it can be challenging to get adjusted, but I get used to it pretty easily. For example, in Africa, I had to get used to people eating with their hands, while sharing the same bowl. I know what you’re thinking, GROSS!!!! That’s what I thought too, but after some time I enjoyed doing it also. Here in Italy it was a bit easier to adjust because it is not a third world country. Trying to learn another language is still difficult though. Thankfully, the Italian people are helpful.

Being a military child gives me lots of opportunities. For example, last week I got to go on a field trip to Padova. We had the chance to go to Galileo’s Planetarium, the anatomical theater, and St. Anthony’s church. These are all places that people save up to go to, and by the time they have enough, they are walking with a cane. I am twelve, and I just got to go for the day. How cool is that?!?!?!?! In Mali, I got to go to Djenne, a big town in the north. There, we got to see the biggest mosque in Mali. For other people to get there, we’re talking fortunes!!! My family and I got to go there in our car for winter break.

Every time that I am about to leave a place to move to another I ask myself these questions. Will I make new friends, will I like my teacher, and will they have sports? When I get to the destination, I realize that I should not have been worried at all.

Last, but not least, whenever I move to a new place I get to try new foods. In France, it was the delicious escargot. In Mali it was definitely the moist sheep stuffed with couscous. Here in Italy it is a tie between the gelato and the pizza. You can find gelato in almost every town here. Here, the pizza is cooked in a stone oven. Yum!!!

Even now, I am getting ready to move to Senegal next year. I am very excited to go, and I can’t wait to find out what it is like. Africa, here I come!!!

Guest Post by Elizabeth Pepper, age 12, military child

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testament

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testamentI was born into the military. My dad is a West Point graduate, and for most of my childhood I was the only one in my class who had immediate family serving in the military. Many of my peers did not know or understand what I was going through. It’s one of those things in life that unless you are living it, you can’t 100% understand it. I often felt alone and kept my feelings inside thinking nobody could relate.

But life changed as I knew it when my dad was deployed during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. That year I had turned the big 13, a significant time in every teenager’s life, and received a life changing opportunity – I attended the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple® camp. The professional camp staff with the Tsuga Community Commission that week helped me address the negative feelings I had bottled up inside about my father’s service. It allowed me to be part of a community that I didn’t know existed and feel proud of my family instead of feeling embarrassed and alone. I was able to escape the hardships and struggles, focusing on being just a kid that week.

My father deployed again to Afghanistan a few years later when I was a sophomore in high school and I was able to attend Operation Purple camp again, this time bringing my younger sister for the first time. Watching her flourish that week is something I’ll never forget. She gained confidence and a feeling of belonging that she had been lacking. Something I believe many military kids struggle with in silence.

It was the Tsuga staff that brought the Operation Purple program to Oregon who opened my eyes to see that even through there aren’t any active military installations in Oregon, a support system was actually out there for military children. It helped draw out my inner leader and inspired me to become a camp counselor at Operation Purple camp and join the Tsuga staff that helped me out so much.

After two summers of working with military children, I was able to identify that my passion lies in serving others and being part of something bigger than myself. Operation Purple camp holds a special place in my heart because of what it did, not only for me, but my family and many others like it. Without these nonprofit programs, our military’s youth would be without a resource that provides support and community for our dependents that need it the most.

We cannot forget that our Kids Serve Too.

Posted by Lauren Miner, Former Operation Purple Camp Attendee and Counselor 

The Best Thing About Being a Military Kid!

The best thing about being a military kidWhat’s the best thing about being a military kid? Some might say seeing new places, some might say making new friends, and some might even say learning new languages and cultures, but for me, the best thing about being a military kid is the person I have become along the way.

In September 2012, I joined a boys’ soccer team here in Italy, where we live now. At that time, I was the only girl and only American on the team. You might be thinking that this has nothing to do with being a military kid, but it does. In ten years, I have moved six times, attended five schools, been without my dad for months at a time and joined countless sports teams.

When I was younger, I was very shy and dreaded moving because it meant that everything was going to change. Each time, I gained a little more self-confidence. I joined sports teams and attended camps and activities to help me make friends at each new place. I actually started to look forward to moving without being scared.

I now try to take advantage of every opportunity that our new home offers. I have even run in a few 5K races here in Italy. Being a military kid has made me stronger and more outgoing. I look for challenges and I try to always be the best I can be.

I have played soccer for seven years and I am really appreciative to be playing on the boys’ team. Even though I get a little nervous sometimes, I would’ve never had the courage to go play on a team where I can’t speak or understand the language. I really love soccer and don’t know what I would do without it. Being a military kid has given me more courage, so that I could be brave enough to play.

My Army life has taught me to adapt to new situations, to be kind and understanding, to be brave, and to never give up when things get hard. I believe that all of the things I have been through as a military kid have made me strong and brave. I am proud to be a military kid and I look forward to the next opportunity the Army has for me and my family.

Guest Post by Delaney Edger, age 10, military child