Tag Archives: military families

Lessons Learned Washing the Vietnam Memorial Wall

The first time I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was in 1983 while on a family vacation to DC. There was something powerful about that memorial, even to a 6-year-old. I stared, moved by the people tracing the names of their loved ones on pieces of paper to take home with them. So when our Association had the opportunity to wash the wall, I was honored and proud to participate with my family.

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Here’s what I learned from the experience:

There’s a reason you wash the wall early in the morning. A 5:30 wakeup isn’t always appealing, but even without coffee, I felt energized watching the sun rise behind the Washington Monument while we washed the wall. Plus, it’s the only time of day the wall isn’t flooded with tourists.

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Kids are actually helpful. Washing the fingerprints and smears off the granite isn’t physically difficult, but it can be emotionally draining. In fact, the memorial was created to help the 3 million who served with the healing process. Seeing the kids, elbow deep in suds, scrubbing the bottom part of the wall brought levity and life to the experience.

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The wall was controversial, like the war. Everything about Vietnam was marred in controversy, even a memorial to those who served. The design was the result of a nationwide contest, and the entries were judged anonymously. 21-year-old Maya Lin, a student at Yale, came up with the winning design. Some said that only listing tens of thousands of names may as well be a tribute to anti-war activist Jane Fonda. Some even called it ‘a nihilistic slab of stone.’ The statue of three American soldiers was later added as a compromise.

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What some see as a chore, others see as an honor. My dad, originally from Kosovo, was perhaps the most energetic wall washer in our group. He stood alone with the hose, even when others had moved on, paying extra care to each name. He shared that, in communist countries, people are forced to clean war memorials, which are built to honor communist leaders and their ideology—not the people who fought; it’s not something you volunteer for. He went on to explain to the group why this particular experience meant so much to him. “America is seen as a beacon of hope for people around the world,” he said. “Each time America sent troops to parts of the former Yugoslavia, they saved thousands of lives. I can’t think of anything more important than honoring those soldiers.”

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One of the most beautiful parts of the wall washing was seeing the reflections of my fellow volunteers in the wall as they worked to clean it. As the park ranger so eloquently put it, “we are all a part of that wall.”

Have you ever been particularly moved by a service project? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Photos: By JMill Photography, 2014

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

5 Tips to a Healthier Military Family Lifestyle!

fitmilfamsIt’s no secret that summer months lure families outside, and draw attention to health and fitness. This year, the Coca-Cola Foundation focused on health and wellness within military families, and provided our Association with a donation of $50,000 to award to military spouses seeking their degree or certification in a health and fitness-related field.

We asked our military spouse scholarship recipients to share a few helpful tips for families, like theirs, to get on the right track towards a healthier and active lifestyle. Here’s what they said:

  1. Get Physical! Get outside and play– make daily activity a ‘norm’ in your family’s life! Create fun activities so exercise isn’t a chore.
  2. Make Health Food Fun! Have kids help in the kitchen and give them options so they learn to make healthy decisions. Try making fruit and veggie smoothies! Cook meals as a family and enjoy the change in lifestyle together!
  3. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. Have fruits or veggies on hand and chopped up for an on-the-go snack. Pack lunches to avoid the unhealthy options from school. Take time on the weekend to meal plan and make a grocery list.
  4. Get your Zzz’s! Create regular practices to wind down at the end of the day. Make sleep something your family values. Stick to a routine when possible.
  5. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drink more water! Use a fun water bottle to encourage water consumption all day long. Add your favorite fruits or vegetables to infuse water with flavor. Yum!

Is your family staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle this summer? We want to see! Share a picture using hashtag #FitMilFams of your family getting fit and healthy with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and be entered to win a Coca-Cola Visa card worth $200, $100 or $50! Photo submissions will be accepted August 18-August 24, 2014.

Get out there and get fit!

Contributors:
Melinda Boyd, Air Force Spouse – Registered Dietitian working towards a doctorate in clinical nutrition
Laura Hand, Navy Spouse – Working towards becoming a registered yoga teacher
April Walker, Marine Corp spouse – Pursuing a certification in group fitness Instruction

Want to Take an Adventure with Your Military Family? Check This Out!

healing-adventures-dogsSummer may be winding down, but there are still some awesome opportunities for your military family to take one last trip, and attend one of our Operation Purple Family Retreats or Healing Adventures!

Bring your military family to an Operation Purple Family Retreat and find ways to reconnect after deployment. Or if a war injury has caused a shift in your family dynamic, attending an Operation Purple Healing Adventure will assist families in coping with, and overcoming, injuries and the stresses they cause.

We are still accepting applications for both Operation Purple Family Retreats, and Healing Adventures, but time is running out to take advantage of this FREE experience.

Still want to know more? Check out this military families first-hand account of their experience at a recent Operation Purple Family Retreat, tucked in the beautiful landscape of the Grand Tetons, in Wyoming.

So what are you waiting for? Your families next adventure is awaiting you!

Apply today to attend a Family Retreat or Healing Adventure!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

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

Got $10? That’s All You Need to Help Military Families!

soldier-hugging-dadThere’s a quote that we like to refer to at the National Military Family Association:

“The strength of our Soldiers is our Families.”
-General Raymond T. Odierno, General and 38th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army

Our Association serves the family- and you can too!

This week only, we need as many people as possible to donate just $10 towards our Crowdrise Veteran’s Charity Challenge 2 fundraiser!

The charity that gets the most individual donations wins $2,500—putting us that much closer to the grand prize of $20,000.

Here’s what $20,000 would do for military families:

  • Fund the education and career path for 20 military spouses
  • Send 40 children to an Operation Purple camp, or
  • Host 10 families at a Family Retreat!

Tell your friends, share it on Facebook, and help us win this week’s challenge!

Click here to donate!

Thanks for your support – we couldn’t do it without you!

carolinePosted by Caroline Rasmus, Development and Membership Manager

Military Family Support Shouldn’t Just Come From Military Families

patriotic-girlI am not a military spouse and neither of my parents served in the military. So why would I want to work to help support military families? Because in one way or another, we all have a connection to military families.

My mom was a military kid. She and her five brothers and sisters lived in Texas, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Kansas, Germany, and Colorado, and finally settled in Florida after my grandpa retired. My grandfather was a Lt. Colonel in the Army and served in the military during both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Sadly, he passed away a few weeks after I was born, so I was never able to hear his stories firsthand. But I still get to hear stories at each family get-together—stories about PCSing, deployments, living overseas, and living on base.

Even though I don’t know what military life feels like, I know military families are strong and resilient, and they serve too.

I have always been grateful to the military for all they do. I was in 7th grade when September 11th happened. In college, I felt compelled to stand on the streets to show my respect while the funeral procession of a boy from my high school passed by. He was brought back to our hometown after losing his life protecting ours.

When the 10th anniversary of September 11th came, I helped organize a ceremony in my hometown which honored families who had lost someone on that tragic day, and throughout the wars that followed.

I have enjoyed supporting our military since I was young, and I wanted to find a way to support our military as an adult.

As a new member of the Communications department here at our Association, I could not be more proud to be working with this organization. I want to help secure better resources and benefits for military families. I want to make sure military families’ voices are heard.

And I want to make sure civilians know military families shouldn’t be the only ones supporting each other.

I don’t think you need to be a military family to love military families. We are all connected to a military family in some way. Whether it’s a direct connection, a friend, or a neighbor.

Even in the short time I’ve worked for the Association, I’ve met so many military families within our community, and across the country, and I am honored to do my best to support them.

jordanPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

What to do for Father’s Day When Your Father Isn’t Here

annie-and-dadLast year, I had the honor of writing a blog post for Father’s day. As Father’s day approaches once again, I read over the fond memories I shared about my dad and his military strength. At the time, I didn’t share his recent diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer, and I didn’t know it would be his last Father’s Day.

In the spring of 2013, I traveled back to Oregon to help my mom recuperate after knee replacement surgery. While I was there, we found out what my dad believed to be a pulled muscle was actually a deadly form of cancer. Life for all of us began moving at a very fast pace.

My dad served in the Army during the Korean War, and enjoyed going through the many boxes and albums of old photos from his younger years. He reminisced about his days in Korea with his Army buddies. Most have passed away, but a few are still hanging around. It was fun to hear his stories and to see his eyes light up with delight when a long forgotten name was suddenly remembered. A couple years ago, he started jotting names down on the backs of those pictures and began tracking down those who still survived. Some he found, but his search wasn’t complete.

We lost my dad on November 26, 2013, almost six months to the day he was diagnosed. He was a strong, courageous man who fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished strong!

This will be our first Father’s Day without him.

I’ve been trying to think (and on some days not think because it’s just too hard) of how I would pay tribute to him this Father’s Day. I enjoy making donations to military charities in his honor because he was very proud of his military service. This year, my gift will be “in memory” of him, something I know my mom will appreciate.

But I also want to do something special to remember my dad. So I came up with a brilliant idea. I made a “Flat Stanley,” or “Flat Frank” in my case. I plan to take him with me and visit some of the places my dad never had a chance to see. One of those places is New York City, where I’ll be during Father’s Day. After that, “Flat Frank” and I will hit the road to see some other sights!

Being in a military family often means spending holidays, like Father’s Day, apart. But there are plenty of ways to honor the special men in your life:

  • Take your dad to a minor league baseball game. Tickets are inexpensive, and games are filled with fun family activities!
  • Share an experience, like hiking in a local park. Spend some quality one on one time with Dad and ask him what his life was like growing up.
  • Make him breakfast and serve it to him with a smile and thanks for all his hard work.
  • Simply write him a letter and tell him how much you appreciate all he does for your family.

herobraceletOne very special way I honor my dad is something I actually wear most days. I bought a Hero Bracelet in honor of my dad. I adore it and it gives me strength and comfort on those days I need it most. Hero Bracelets also donate a portion of their proceeds to various military charities, so it’s a win/win!

This Father’s Day, pay tribute to the special men in your life by making a donation in their honor. And spend a little extra time and find out more about them – you might be surprised what you learn!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Our memories live in my heart forever. I love you!

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director