Tag Archives: military families

Making the Military a Career: How an Elephant Sat on My Dreams

flag-on-a-white-picket-fenceThere’s been an elephant in the room between my husband and me for a while. That one huge topic we’ve been dancing around. We think we know what the other is thinking, and feel okay when the topic drifts away, untouched. Because it’s a big, fat, life-changing elephant:

Are we really going to make the military a career; we’re really going to do 20 years of this?

I’ll be honest: I dreamt of a life where my kids would grow up having the same friends since second grade, like I did. I hoped to see my husband work a job with normal hours and be able to come home at 5pm and coach little league. I thought I’d get to have tons of quality time with my best girlfriends from college, since they’d live right around the corner. I relished in the idea of being able to take a vacation with little to no advanced planning.

When I first met my husband, his goal was to do a short enlistment, then transition back to the civilian work force, allowing all of my little white-picket-fence dreams to come true. Now, we’re 8 years in, and my husband has some of the most elite and prestigious tours in the military on his resume. We have had amazing opportunities because of his service – some I never imagined possible…like meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and using the big, important phone on his desk. Okay, so only half of that is true, but still: IT’S THE PRESIDENT.

Recently, we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room and had the talk: are we staying in, or getting out? His eyes widened with excitement as he went through all the possibilities awaiting him in his next decade of service. Mine sank to my feet as reality set in that my perfectly planned life with the white picket fence probably won’t happen.

So, what does that mean for me and my perfectly planned life and white picket fence? Honestly, I have no idea, and that scares me a little bit. But in the last 8 years, I’ve learned that life doesn’t come in a perfectly packaged box. It might come in 3 year billets and surprise IA deployments. It can require a therapist and some serious amounts of wine. And wine is totally okay.

Military life doesn’t exactly give you the opportunity to dream up a life you’d love to have. But I guess that’s the beauty of this one of a kind journey. It gives you other things you never thought to dream up.

Have you and your spouse made the decision to make the military a career? What advice would you give?

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Special Operations Forces: A War Weary Community Needs Support

air-force-special-ops

When Secretary Hagel dropped his budget proposals in February, it did not recommend cuts to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As a spouse who spent over a decade living the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family life, I can say I am relieved that they will not suffer direct budget cuts, but this also carries with it a significant amount of worry. No cuts, means the same or more missions, right?

You see, while SOCOM funds SOF missions, the programs that support families and dependents are provided by the “big” Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. SOCOM’s service members will be equally hurt by low pay raises, decreased Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and changes to TRICARE. As “big Service” budgets get smaller, and the operational tempo for SOF families continues or increases, where will they get their support?

In 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, then Commander of SOCOM, initiated a study of SOF warriors and their families and was able to document a “fraying” of the force with strong data. Admiral William McRaven turned those concerns into Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). POTFF primarily helps the service member focus on physical, spiritual, mental, and social issues. Of course, this assists the family as a whole, but POTFF programs aimed at the families are limited because of legal restrictions on who SOCOM can spend money on and how.

I have loved the idea of POTFF since its inception. I was part of those who were studied in 2010. I KNOW this fraying. I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help future SOF spouses avoid the fraying that I felt for many years.

I am terrified that budget cuts to the programs provided by the Services will devastate everyone, but particularly SOF families because while the war draws down in Afghanistan, the SOF mission does not.

SOF families endure operational tempos and unpredictability in an unending cycle. Resiliency is NOT optional, and it comes at a cost. There were years when I had friends ask me if I was happy, and I could only answer, “I will be, when he’s home.” That routine lasted and lasted–it was the ‘SOF life.’

I can say that I am stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be, but I still cry for the new mom who, despite being a SOF spouse for three years, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The family programs offered at our installation were stellar, but the amount of people deployed at any given time and in constant rotation needed far more manpower than the military family programs could offer. Our Airman & Family Readiness Center was staffed for the regular Air Force mission, not SOCOM’s.

So, now with Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy budgets shrinking, while SOCOM’s remains unchanged, what happens to those spouses and families? Of the 1% who serve in the military, 67,000 are in SOF units – a remarkably small, but growing number. The vision for the future of SOF is one of expansion. The stress will not decrease for these families. They have not and will not get a break. Our SOF families NEED adequate support for their growing missions from the Services, Defense Department, and Congress.

We are war weary – don’t forget us and the unique mission our service members provide within the military community.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Donor Spotlight: Crafting for a Cause

fabric-traditionsIn honor of their 25th Anniversary, FabricTraditions has chosen to commemorate their special day with the launch of a fabric collection that’s particularly significant to the people who most contributed to their success. According to the company’s co-founder, Dom Seddio, “We developed the ‘Creating New Traditions’ 100% Made-In-America line to honor our American employees, vendors and customers, as well as our military.” A percentage of fabric sales will benefit the National Military Family Association.

Seddio adds, “We chose the Association because it’s the only national organization that represents officer and enlisted families, all military branches, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service. It’s earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for 10 years, a distinction that only 1% of U.S. charities merit. Our hope is that we can continue this program long term.”

The initial “Creating New Traditions” collection will consist of 26 new fabric prints. Subsequent collections will be introduced quarterly. Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, the nation’s leading fabric and craft retailer with more than 800 stores in 49 states, will retail the collection and feature the fabrics in their Jo-Ann Fashion Fusion magazine. The “Creating New Traditions” collection will be easily identified in-store by custom-printed, deep blue Made-in-America board-ends.

This generous donation from Fabric Traditions brought back some wonderful memories of military life for me. My family was stationed at Andrews Air Force base for nine years. We were lucky enough to live in base housing and were blessed with wonderful neighbors. Every Tuesday night, the ladies in the neighborhood held a craft night. Some nights, only three people showed up. Other nights, we had twenty people packing the room. We all had different projects to work on – cross stitch, quilting, doll making, dough art, sweatshirt painting, and knitting. It was a lovely way to relax away from the kids, and connect with other spouses.

Every once in a while we held a special craft night, and we would all learn a new craft together. We had so much fun! We made gingerbread houses at Christmas time, learned how to ‘blow out’ real eggs to make our own keepsake Easter eggs, tea stained fabric, and painted sweatshirts.

Did you know crafting improves your health and overall quality of life? It can soothe emotions and relieve stress. You gain a sense of accomplishment and the pleasure of creating things. Trying new crafts, and being creative, promotes brain flexibility and growth. Who knew?!

Crafting also offers an escape from your every day cares and worries. It’s a low-stress way to unwind from life’s pressures and concerns while engaging in a worthwhile activity that allows for a bit of a diversion. We never realized that those few hours gave us a break from the stresses of military life – we were just having fun!

We are so happy that FabricTraditions has chosen to recognize the efforts of our Association! Military life can often be overwhelming, uncertain, and stressful, but with companies like FabricTraditions, spouses and families can find fun, creative ways to bond and enjoy this unique adventure!

Do you and your neighbors get together and do anything crafty? Share them with other military spouses in the comments section below!

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

Putting the Pieces Back Together After Deployment

family-retreatsThe other day when I was at the commissary, I ran into someone who told me she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff she was dealing with after her spouse returned home. He had been deployed for the third time in five years, the children were not as welcoming as they had been the last time, and she was wondering how they all could recapture the family she remembered and wanted back again. She knew I worked at the National Military Family Association, and that I had been a military spouse. Was there something out there that could help?

The world of military life has changed since I was an active-duty spouse. These past years of wartime climate have affected families in ways that could not have been imagined when troops began their repetitive cycles of deployment. Most families have worked to come back together after each deployment but it gets harder and harder when the time apart exceeds the time together.

The National Military Family Association has been advocating for military families for forty-five years. And like the changes that have occurred since I was a military spouse, our Association has changed. One of those changes, born from our advocacy, listening and acting in response to families’ concerns, and the occasional chance encounters in the commissary, is our Operation Purple® Family Retreats.

Take a military family dealing with reintegration and reunion challenges following one or multiple deployments, add family-focused activities designed to celebrate the family and each other, and mix with special resiliency and team-building fun set in or near national parks, and you have the basic recipe for an Operation Purple Family Retreat. And this special opportunity comes with free lodging, activities and meals…thanks to the generosity of donors that want to honor military families. But there is more.

“Seeing my son smile more than he has in months…Husband retreating into self and allowing growth…Me allowing myself to admit areas I need to improve on…” Service member Dad

“Great experience that was much needed for our family. We were able to connect without the distractions of everyday life…” Military Spouse

Almost 400 military families have participated in an Operation Purple Family Retreat. We keep learning what it means to them. And so I suggested to my new friend from the commissary that she and her family apply so that they, too, could begin to focus on each other. Applying online is as easy as checking our website in February for the application, locations, and dates. We will have four in 2014 – across the country. February 14-18, 2014 at Teton Science Schools, Jackson, WY is already full but we return there June 30 – July 4th. Maybe this is just what your family needs…

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

My Spouse Has Deployment Orders. Now What?

deployment-bagsOnce you’ve been a spouse long enough, you will experience that moment where your service member comes home with a date. A date you would like to forget, or at least never get to…the date of the next deployment. I always felt that once we had a date, it was a big cloud hanging over our heads, everywhere we went, and over everything we planned.

From that point forward, life was colored with the tint of it, whether it was buying a car, landscaping the yard, or finding a new activity for the kids to participate in based on the season. We had to consider how everything would change once he left. Could I manage a change in schedule without him? Would the aging vehicle we had be adequate to evacuate the whole family without him if a major hurricane came?

Early in our marriage, relatives remarked we never seemed to enjoy what we had right now. It was difficult to enjoy the “now” when we couldn’t depend on being in the same place for more than a month or two at a time. We made it through ten deployments and countless stateside separations. It was a high operational tempo, and no matter how many times we said goodbye, it didn’t get easier, because we never knew when, or if, he would be back.

Over 11 years we saw crew members lose children, remaining spouses hospitalized with no authorized care for their children, and lost members of our community to suicide and disaster. Pessimistic as it may seem, we knew to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

We did develop some routines that created a sense of security and control, to the extent possible. Everyone is different, and with children involved the dynamics were always changing, so flexibility was critical. I learned to expect the natural inclination to push each other away as the date of departure approached, but always tried to focus on making the most of the last few weeks.

Additionally, there are some rules that I think everyone can mold to their circumstance or dynamic (with a few non-negotiables):

  1. Get your affairs in order (i.e. prepare for the worst). You MUST have a copy of your service member’s orders and a general and specific power of attorney, and an updated copy of wills. There aren’t any paper police who will arrest you if you don’t, but you will come to regret not having them if you ever need them. You SHOULD make sure that you understand how your roles and responsibilities will change during the deployment. You will have to fill in for your spouse in many ways. What day does the garbage come? Where are the tax documents if tax time comes? How does the sprinkler system work? This is not just an issue between spouses, but may involve children, as well. Include them, if it is age appropriate, in defining and learning how to fill in for each other with one less person in the house.
  2. Spend time doing what you do best as a family. Whatever things make your family happy together, do them. Watch movies together. Play board games together. Go hiking together. Cheer each other on at sports events together. Do you see a pattern? Together. It’s pretty simple.
  3. Adjust your expectations. This is required for everyone involved. Deployment is difficult for everyone and everyone has to be as flexible as possible (yes, show this to your service member because it applies to them, too). The first few deployments, I wanted emails and letters, but I got phone calls. I was terrified of something happening to my spouse and not having some tangible recollection of his last words to me. It wasn’t realistic for him to sit down and pen something. He needed to hear a voice, so I got over it and looked forward to hearing his voice. In later deployments, he wanted to call at 10:30 PM when I had to get myself ready for work and walk out the door with a fed and dressed two year-old by 6:00 AM. He didn’t get the loving positive wife, with anecdotes of toddler cuteness. Instead, he got the overly tired frustrated wife with anecdotes of failing potty-training. He had to learn to accept my fatigue as part of the new status quo and not take it personally. Marriage is work on both ends, whether you are together or apart.

Deployments are never easy or simple, but you can try and make your preparation predictable and routine, which can help ease stress and facilitate bonding. There is no one-size-fits-all way of communicating or preparing, and you have to find what works for your family dynamic. Life happens and the world keeps turning during deployments. Don’t focus on failures and successes; focus on maintaining your connection and remembering why you and your spouse chose to make a life together.

What does your family do to prepare for deployments? Are there any must do’s? Check out our app, MyMilitaryLife for our other tips!

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Roadmap to Understanding the Childless Military Spouse

couple-jumpingLet me be honest here for a minute. I’m 28. I’ve been married for four years. I am a military spouse. I don’t have kids, nor are they in my immediate future.

Boom.

I’m sure some of you will read that and, no doubt, think I’m weird. But spouses like me are not rare; in fact, there are a ton of us. We’re just hiding from the command parties that feature bubble wrap laid on the floor for your kids to trample on.

Ok, we’re not really hiding. But in my experience, some spouses with children often forget how to communicate with those of us who are not parents. We all came from the same bus stop, remember? Just not all of us took the ride into parenthood.

Speaking of my experiences, here are some of the craziest things that spouses with kids have said to me.

Consider this a roadmap of what not to say to the childless military spouse:

“Don’t you feel useless with all that free time and nothing to focus your energy on?”

“You don’t want to be the OLD mom – better not wait much longer!”

“Are you having infertility issues?”

“You could just adopt!”

“Aren’t you READY for kids?!”

“But you’re almost thirty.”

“Having kids gets us so much more money on our tax return!”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

As military spouses, we’re all trying to find common ground, share experiences, and support each other. And while none of the spouses who said these things to me meant any ill regard, they still made me feel excluded.

Those of us in the military community who don’t have kids by the “normal” age (read: young parents) still want to be included in your play dates, kids events, and yes, we’ll even help set up the bubble wrap on the floor at the next command Christmas party. Maybe we are struggling with experiencing pregnancy, or worse, maybe we’ve lost a pregnancy, but we just aren’t sharing. Or (gasp!) maybe we are childfree by choice.

Having children is a big decision for any one, and those of us who haven’t crossed that bridge, still have other things in common with you. We’re loving wives, focused employees, loyal friends, and can be a genuine support system for you on this military journey!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Geo-Bachelorhood: Six months later

geobachelorEarlier this year, my family and I had a difficult decision to make. My husband had received orders that would take him to an installation about three hours from our home in Virginia. In the past, a new set of orders simply meant a new home town, no questions asked. We packed up the kids, said goodbye to friends and neighbors, and set off on our new adventure.

This time, however, we paused. We worried about the effect of moving the kids now that they are in middle and high school. We wondered if we would be able to sell our house or find a renter. And I asked myself if my career would ever recover if I had to give up yet another job. So after a lot of discussion and a lot of soul-searching, we decided that – for now at least – the kids and I would stay behind and my husband would become a geo-bachelor.

Now, it’s six months later, and while we’ve had our good days and our bad days, on the whole we’re managing. While I would never say that we have everything figured out, we have learned a few lessons over the past few months that have made geo-bachelorhood more bearable.

When we decided the kids and I would not move to the new installation, I worried about how I would manage everything on my own. Surprisingly, though, that hasn’t been our biggest challenge. As an experienced military family, we are accustomed to long separations, the kids and I slid easily back into our old routines. Every weekend, however, those routines were upended when my husband came home. It took a while for all of us to adjust our expectations and learn to enjoy our time together.

The first lesson I had to learn was to give Dad some down time. After a week of holding down the fort single-handedly, it’s tempting to meet him at the door with a honey-do list in one hand and the carpool schedule in the other. In fact, my husband jokes that I seem to think he comes home just to walk the dog and take out the garbage. And it’s true that when he’s home the kids and I are more than happy to let him handle some of the household chores that we take on in his absence.

But, although it’s easy for me to forget while I’m juggling kids, work, and housework, my husband’s schedule is demanding too and he deserves a chance to relax a little bit on the weekend. Raking the leaves can wait (for a while, at least)!

Another challenge has been fitting in family time. Our kids are busy with friends and activities. Between soccer games, sleepovers, and babysitting gigs, we sometimes found that a weekend had passed and Dad had barely seen one or both of the kids. We’re pleased the kids have so many friends and so much to keep them busy – it’s part of the reason we chose to stay here, after all – but time with Dad is important too.

We try to find time for him to spend one-on-one with each of the kids, even if they’re just riding along with him on a quick trip to the store. It also helps that he makes an effort to stay connected to the kids even when he can’t be here. Regular phone calls and texts throughout the week let the kids know that Dad is still involved in their lives even though he can’t be here every day.

Like so many aspects of life in the military, geo-bachelorhood isn’t easy. We were faced with a difficult choice, and are trying to do what’s right for our family. Some days are easier than others, and there are certainly times when I second guess our decision. So far, we’re making it work. We’ll see where we are this time next year!

Are you navigating geo-bachelorhood? What are your tips?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Losing the Budget Battle Does Not Mean We’ve Lost the War

son-says-goodbye-to-dadSomething happened last week that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal that provides $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”

What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18.

What should military families do now?

  1. Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email.
  2. Stay Engaged: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
  3. Hold Them Accountable: Military families need to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right.
  4. Expand Your Outreach: Tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website has a comments section for military families and Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously.
  5. Keep Telling Your Story: Start each letter to your Member of Congress with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
  6. Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard.

The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

Honoring Military Caregivers

caregiver1Each November the military Services observe Warrior Care Month to honor the service and sacrifice of wounded, ill, and injured service members, and their families – the caregivers who support them. This year’s theme is Warrior Care – Building a Ready and Resilient Force. The National Military Family Association believes there is a wounded family behind every recovering warrior or veteran. In honor of Warrior Care Month, we are pleased to release Tips from Caregivers for Caregivers. The first compilation of its kind, a resource from seasoned military caregivers for new military caregivers, shares advice and insights to help guide new caregivers.

Tips from Caregivers for Caregivers was made possible through an inaugural Innovation Grant from Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation. With the support of this grant, we asked experienced caregivers what advice they would give to a new caregiver. One caregiver noted, “There are two types of support I need as a caregiver: me dealing with my spouse’s injury and me dealing with me dealing with my spouse’s injury.” This is sound advice and emerged as a theme for the tips that fell into two categories: Taking Care of your Recovering Warrior and Taking Care of Yourself.

In addition to Tips from Caregivers for Caregivers, our Association incorporated the information we received from caregivers into the Caregiver Life Path of our MyMilitaryLife mobile app and our website’s caregiver section. We appreciate the support of Caring for Military Family: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation in helping us gather the insights of experienced caregivers for the purpose of helping others. We are honored to release these resources to assist military caregivers as they care for their recovering warrior or veteran.

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Cyber Crisis: Protecting your family in a war waged by hackers

cyber-crisisRaise your hand if you’ve ever heard the term “OPSEC.”

What about “PII?” Or “PERSEC?”

It’s fairly common for military families to know an arsenal of acronyms that pertain to their service member, or military culture in general. While a lot of them are important, not understanding these three acronyms in particular can put you and your family in harm’s way.

OPSEC, or Operational Security, keeps our military information secure and out of the hands of those who could harm us – not just in person, but online, too. Sharing things like your loved one’s rank or job title, where they’re stationed, or when they’re returning home could get you in trouble. In some cases, even having a unit-specific sticker on your car could be a violation of OPSEC,

PII, or Personal Identifiable Information, is any information that can be pieced together to determine your identity. Things like your social security number and name are the obvious ones. But when someone knows your first name, email address, and the town you live in, it becomes easier to then determine your last name. With your full name, a person could search property records and find your address. And by simply driving by your home, they’d see the decal on your car, “Half of my heart is in Iraq.” They now know your service member is deployed and you are home alone, just from sharing too much PII.

PERSEC, or Personal Security, like OPSEC, reminds us to be aware of what we are sharing. Terrorists are just as tech savvy as you and I, and in most cases, have the means and abilities to find out things about us that we didn’t know they could.

With the internet being our main way to communicate with our service members when deployed, pay your bills, share photos, and do online banking, we have to be even more cautious of what we share online. If you aren’t careful, each of these seemingly harmless actions can lead to over-sharing, and can put your family in danger.

Are you doing everything you can to protect your family? Find out this Thursday at 3:00PM, when we bring you a live stream discussion with Former CIA and NSA Director, General Michael Hayden and one of America’s top private cyber sleuths, Kevin Mandia . They’ll share a real-world evaluation of threats and solutions, plus tips to keep your military family safe.

Do you have questions for General Hayden or Mr. Mandia? We’ll be asking them! Leave your question in the comment section below.

Tune in to find out how to protect your military family from danger online.

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager