Tag Archives: military families

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

 

It’s Hurricane Season – Are You Ready, Military Families?

hurricane-evacuationI may not be a meteorologist or an insurance adjuster, but I can tell you this: hurricane season is serious business.

How do I know?

I’ve been evacuated for two major hurricanes.

When Hurricane Ivan hit, I was alone. My husband was deployed. After the storm, I came back to a lot of downed trees (and I am a treehugger, so I cried) and a wrecked roof.

For Hurricane Dennis, I was 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I didn’t come back more pregnant. Instead, I came back with a healing incision and a sweet baby boy. Luckily, the house was in pretty good shape, but it wasn’t exactly the birthing experience I had in mind.

Luckily, our area was outside of (but close to) the “cone of destruction” when Hurricane Katrina rolled around. Our block had a “hurricane party”…because schools were closed, just in case. And you had to eat everything in your freezer, just in case!

When you live in hurricane alley for a decade because the military tells you to, well, you just make it a way of life.

If you’re stationed in, or around, hurricane alley, you need TWO kinds of kits ready to go:

  1. The all-purpose disaster kit- This should include things you’d need to survive in your house, or a shelter, with no power and potentially no water: batteries, flashlights, radio, food, water, anti-bacterial wipes, first aid kit, medications, and other survival needs including diapers or formula for babies, and cash (because ATMs don’t work when there is no power).
  2. The travel disaster kit- This should include things you’d want to save if there was no house to come back to and some things to get you to safety: family photos, important documents including IDs, military documents, deeds, insurance papers, etc., irreplaceable and valuable items (keep space in mind…most things can be replaced), food, maps, phones, important numbers, money and a plan.

I never had to use the all-purpose disaster kit, because our installation commander evacuated the base before we could need it, and generally waited for power to be restored before calling people back.

Evacuation orders (with some geographical and cost restrictions) covered all family members, whether the service member was present or not. Upon return, a travel voucher would be filed for reimbursement. Keep in mind, for weaker storms, the service member may be required to evacuate sensitive equipment, but that is not the same as a full blown evacuation that includes personnel and families.

One more thing: remember how you take pictures and document all of your belongings before you let the movers come and pack you up for a PCS move, just in case? Do that before a hurricane, too. It helps with the insurance claim in the event of loss.

For more information on disaster preparedness visit Ready.gov.

What other tips would you share with military families who live in a disaster-prone area?

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

We’re On A Mission! Help Us Win $20,000 for Military Families!

vets-charity-challenge-2We’re super excited to let you know from today through July 3, our Association will be participating in the Veterans Charity Challenge 2! Craigconnects will be donating over $50,000 to organizations that honor America’s heroes… and military families are our heroes! The charity that raises the most money throughout the Crowdrise Challenge will receive an additional $20,000 donation, on top of the donations they raise on their own! Second place will receive $10,000 and third place will receive $5,000.

We’ve set a goal to win $20,000, but we’ll need your help!

Every single donation makes a difference, no matter how big or small – yours matters! To help now, please DONATE and give whatever you can; $10, $20, or $10,000. (Yes! TEN THOUSAND big ones! Last year, we had one amazing donor who ponied up $10k just for our military families!)

We’re not just asking you to give – we’re asking you to join in our efforts by helping us fundraise. All you have to do is click on ‘Fundraise for This Campaign.’ In just a few seconds, you can create your own fundraising page! And we just know you’re going to share it with your family and friends so that you can raise tons of money for military families, too!

Military families need our support…we’re in and we’re counting on you! So, get out there and get busy!

P.S. – Don’t forget to have fun! Just a few weeks ago, a man challenged his friends and family to raise money for military kids. The twist was…colorful! If they raised $2,000, he would dye his hair purple and shave it into a mohawk! And guess what? It worked! They raised over $4,000!

carolinePosted by Caroline Rasmus, Development and Membership Manager

Transitioning Out of the Military: Are You Ever READY?

saluting-spouse-at-retirementThe prospect of leaving military life can produce a wide spectrum of feelings.

Some are ready to have a break from the op tempo. They are ready to leave deployments, TAD/TDY trips, long field exercises, and frequent moves in the rear view mirror. They are eager for their lives to be their own again. Perhaps they are excited about moving back to their hometown.

Others are not ready to enter the civilian world again.

They miss the adventure of moving to new places, having a secure paycheck, and the camaraderie of the military community. The thought of having to figure out what they want to do in their “second life” can be daunting.

Then there are those who feel all of the above.

They may flip-flop between being ready to leave one day to experiencing anxiety about it the next. To throw another twist into the situation, the servicemember may feel one way about it while the spouse feels another.

In short, transitioning out of the military is a big life change and one that can be full of a variety of emotions for all members of the family.

My husband was ready to retire.

He had his eyes set on the horizon and was ready to leave his military career behind. He was finishing up his MBA degree in preparation for employment in the civilian world and was eagerly networking for a job.

Me? I was not ready to go. I loved our military life.

Serving military families is my passion. The majority of my employment and volunteer activities have revolved around the military, to include working and volunteering for the National Military Family Association. My husband’s new job moved us away from a large military community to an area where most people cannot even relate to us.

To be honest, I have been “home sick” for our military community and feeling very displaced. And my husband, who was originally ready to leave, misses being in the Marines.

Emotionally, our transition out of the military has been harder than we expected. It may sound odd, but we are almost having a bit of an identity crisis.

Financially, we thought we were prepared.

We had figured out how much my husband needed to earn to replace his base pay and BAH while allowing me to remain a full-time mom to our children. When he was offered a job, my husband spent hours reworking our family budget with his new income, the rent and utilities for the house in our new location, gasoline for the mileage he’d have for his new commute, our expected taxes and so forth.

After we moved, two things caught us off guard:

  • The first was something we should have predicted but didn’t… our grocery expenses increased because we no longer had access to a commissary.
  • The second was something we had taken for granted until we moved to a non-military area… the savings we had received from military discounts came to an end. For example, while living in a military community, we had been getting discounts from civilian businesses out in town for our son’s toddler gym classes and our children’s haircuts. The same companies that provided those services are located in our new non-military area, but they are owned by different franchisees who do not offer military discounts. It did not even occur to us that we would lose those savings after we moved.

Is your military family transitioning to civilian life in the next 2 years or have you transitioned in the past 24 months? What did you wish you would have known? The National Military Family Association has launched a Transition Survey and wants to hear from YOU!

We know service members have transition support, but spouses do not. We are creating a military Spouse Companion to the Transition GPS program. Help us help military spouses like YOU! Hurry the survey closes on June 4. Oh, and by the way – for taking the survey you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of three gifts cards! Don’t delay – take the Transition Survey today!

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC Spouse, Mom

Appreciating the Military, One Homecoming at a Time

sailors-on-carrier-shipHuddling on the pier on a frigid April morning, I shivered and wished I had thought to wear a winter coat instead of a light spring jacket. Who would have expected it to be 40 degrees in Norfolk, Virginia in April? Beside me, my teenage daughter yawned exaggeratedly, reminding me that it was not her choice to be awake and at the base by 7:00 AM. Neither one of us was quite as excited about this homecoming as we should have been. My husband had flown out to meet the ship toward the end of its long deployment, so we hadn’t experienced the many months of separation that other families had. Still new to the command, we hadn’t yet met many of the other families and stood off to the side, feeling awkward and out of place.

Before too long, however, we were caught up in the excitement of the families gathered on the pier. Proud parents held cameras high, ready to catch a photo of their young Sailor’s first homecoming. Young moms cradled newborns and kept careful watch on wound up toddlers. Everywhere there were banners and flags welcoming Sailors back home. Soon even my usually “too cool for school” teenager was waving a flag and jumping up and down, craning her head to catch the first glimpse of the ship.

A few minutes before 8:00, a roar went up from the crowd as the ship appeared in the harbor. Despite the wind and cold, Sailors in their summer whites stood proudly at attention along the ship’s rails. Families waved their banners wildly, hoping to catch their Sailor’s eye. I knew from experience that the crew couldn’t wait to rush off the ship and find their waiting families, but unfortunately guiding a massive warship into a slip isn’t quite as easy as parking a car. Minutes dragged on as the ship maneuvered carefully into place and secured to the pier.

Finally, the ship secure and the gangplank in place, Sailors began streaming off the ship. First, the lucky winner of the “First Kiss” raffle sprinted off the ship and into the arms of his thrilled wife. Then the new dads emerged to meet the babies born during the long months the ship was away. Finally, the rest of the crew began to disembark. All around us, families were reuniting, sharing their first hugs in months. Tearful moms held on to their Sailors as proud dads beamed and shot photos. Other Sailors knelt before shy preschoolers who barely remembered the parent who’d been gone for so long. Young moms gladly handed off heavy toddlers to dads who couldn’t believe how much they’d grown.

My daughter and I stood in the middle of the crowd, taking it all in. The excitement and emotion of families reuniting after such a long time was overwhelming. Right then, I realized how privileged we were to share in this moment. We might not know everyone there, but we were still part of the same family – the military family. I glanced at my daughter to see if she was feeling the same way, but she was looking past me, toward the ship. She grabbed my arm and without a trace of teenage boredom in her voice, squealed, “Look, Mom! There’s Dad!”

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Saving Money on a Military Income: It CAN be Done!

piggy-bankWhen it comes to saving money in a military household, most of us wonder where all this “extra money” is supposed to come from…especially for families in the enlisted ranks. When I was a new military spouse, my husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck. There just didn’t seem to be any other way to do it. How could we save money if there was barely any money at the end of the month?

Like myself, I think many military families may have trouble figuring out where to start, and how to make life something other than ‘paycheck to paycheck.’ And what if an emergency happens? Just charge it to a credit card, right?

Then I learned otherwise.

On a quest to get serious about our financial well-being, my husband and I paid off over $17,000 of debt in just 14 months. All by learning how to save. We followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. The trick we used was simple: don’t spend money.

WAIT. Hear me out!

We simply cut back on things that didn’t seem necessary: eating out every day for lunch, buying new clothes just because they’re on sale, or swinging by Starbucks on cold mornings. Oh, and using our debit cards.

Yep. We started using cash for everything.

With certain techniques, we learned to spend less, and save more.

Save Money for the Fun Things
Instead of impulse shopping with money you don’t have (i.e., credit cards), save your money for big purchases. This will give you time to shop around for the best deals, and may even give you time to think about whether what you’re buying is really necessary.

And there’s something to be said about paying for things in cash. Try it sometime and see how it makes you feel. Yes. Feel those feelings. Spending a crisp $50 bill feels a bit different than swiping your debit card. And TWO crisp $50 bills? That hurts! Ok, it doesn’t literally hurt, but you get it.

But Don’t Forget About the Future
Experts like Scott Halliwell, Certified Financial Planner™, with USAA says, “You need to save money for your future.

And he’s not just referring to retirement. Most military families don’t think long term about financial readiness. A Thrift Savings Plan won’t cover everything.

Scott explains, “No matter your age, there is one thing nearly everyone can count on: Your income probably isn’t always going to cover 100% of your wants and needs all the time. As a result, you need to save money today so it’s available down the road.”

My husband and I took this tip very seriously. When we started our financial readiness journey, getting a solid ‘emergency fund’ in place was the top priority. Each pay period, when we had extra money, we put it into our savings account until we hit $1000. It’s grown exponentially since those first days.

We also have a mutual understanding that Emergency Fund money is for just that: emergencies.

Saving money, in any fashion, is one of the smartest things you can do for your military family, in my opinion. What if BAH goes down? How will you cover your off-post rent? If TRICARE requires military families to pay more out of pocket, how will you buy yourself a pair of glasses? With money saved for the future, little ‘emergencies’ seem to be just an inconvenience, instead.

We live in a world where happiness seems to be associated with “things.” Remember: life isn’t about keeping up with the Staff Sergeant next door, and with a savings plan in place, you won’t have to!

Do you have any financial success stories or tips? Share them with us!


shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

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?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager