Tag Archives: military families

In Their Words: September 11th Through MilKids’ Eyes

Fourteen years have passed since the sunny Tuesday morning that would change our nation forever. As we reflect each year on the lives lost that day, and the years following in our nation’s longest war, there are some who haven’t seen the history unfold for themselves.

Many military kids weren’t alive when September 11, 2001 happened, though many of their parents joined the military as a result of the attacks. Many have seen their parent deploy, miss birthdays, even miss the birth of other children.

Some military kids may not have lived through our nation’s darkest day, but they’re left to grow up in it’s wake.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

World Suicide Prevention Day: Change the Direction of Mental Health

September marks the start of Suicide Prevention Month, with today being World Suicide Prevention Day—a time when to reflect on the lives taken too soon, and focus on saving lives. We know suicides within the military community are growing at an alarming rate, with more than 20 veterans taking their lives each day. Studies are only beginning to track military family suicides, but we know this number is unsettling, too.



Mental health and the military community has long been an issue swept under the rug…but why? Some service members say they don’t seek help for mental health illnesses for fear of getting in trouble with their unit, being teased by fellow service members, or being discharged altogether. Family members face their own obstacles when dealing with mental health care, ranging from their own embarrassment in seeking treatment, to the lack of mental health providers equipped to understand what military life is really like.

The National Military Family Association is committed to ensuring the nation’s military families have access to programs and initiatives that strengthen and support them, like proper mental health care. One way we’re doing that is by joining forces with The Campaign to Change Direction and pledging to share, with at least 200,000 military families, the Five Signs of Suffering.

“Those who serve our nation, and their families, face unique challenges and stressors that can place them at higher risk for the development of mental health concerns. The Campaign to Change Direction gives us the opportunity to ensure those in need receive the care and support they deserve,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, the backbone organization leading the Campaign.

So what is The Change Direction initiative? On the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Give an Hour and a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector came together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

“We are honored to partner with the National Military Family Association in this critical effort to educate all military families about the Five Signs of Suffering,” Van Dahlen adds.

This story will spark a movement to change the way we view mental health and help us to recognize signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others.

five signs of suffering

The most important piece of information we can learn from the Change Direction initiative are the Five Signs of Suffering:

  1. Personality Change. This can happen suddenly, or gradually, and can sometimes look as though they’re acting outside of their values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down.
  3. Withdrawal. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy.
  4. Poor Self-Care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

What happens if you see these signs in someone you know?

Change Direction offers this advice, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The face of mental health within the military community is all too often ignored—by policy makers, military leaders, and even the service member and their family. Through NMFA’s pledge with Change Direction, we will make sure that you and your military family continue to have the support you need, and we will continue to fight for the benefits and programs your family has sacrificed for.

Join NMFA and The Campaign to Change Direction on today’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and make a pledge to create a culture where mental health is valued and achievable.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

“Yes, and…”: Mastering Military Life Through Improv!


Did you know that as a military family, you have all kinds of improv talent? Wait. Don’t stop reading! Recently while re-reading comedian Tina Fey’s book BossyPants. I learned about improvisation.

She details her time at Chicago’s The Second City Theater, where improv was perfected. Not sure what improv is, exactly? Tina describes improv as being on a stage with your partner, with one person initiating a conversation. The other person must agree with the initiated conversation, then respond with “Yes, and…”

The “Yes, and…” signifies to both participants that the scene can continue. You are committed to the scene, and forward momentum of the conversation is set in motion. Often times, improv has odd situations, funny dialogue, funny faces, and lots of laughter. These are just the first two rules of improv, but they really got my attention; to accept the forward momentum, then reply with “Yes, and…”

To me, the scenario of being on a dark stage with a partner, having a conversation in public going in an unknown direction sounds terrifying. But it also oddly familiar.

It occurred to me that most families–especially military families–live some kind of improv every day. And most of us are experts. Think about it: we’re often in situations where we’re in the dark about something (a move, a deployment, etc.), and there we stand with our spouse, waiting to start the dialogue that will move us forward. Usually, it’s the service member who starts the conversation, as they often have the orders causing the rest of the family react with (you guessed it), “Yes, and…”

But some “Yes, and…” responses vary based on the situation. We might have to fight back some tears, and a bit of fear when faced with a deployment, or a move to an unfamiliar place, but we say finally do accept and say, “Yes, and…”

I once said “Yes, and…” but cried while driving away from a beloved duty station, dear friends, and a job I loved. Not exactly a safe way to operate a vehicle, but it’s necessary to continue the scene. Sometimes our “Yes, and…” comes with excitement so hysterically funny that it’s almost YouTube-worthy. I’ve been there, too!

Sometimes, the “Yes, and…” involves a really long pause and a lot of silence as you think about what the right “Yes, and…” is for your family. Maybe you need to stay where you are while your service member is assigned to another duty station for a year. Maybe your “Yes, and…” looks very different from someone else’s. That’s okay.

What’s important is that you say “Yes, and!”

Don’t stop the dialogue. I guarantee you will be laughing at some point…probably at yourself.

What was your hardest “Yes, and…” moment? Tell us about it!

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer Services Coordinator, East Region

Calling All Bloggers! Share Your Story on Branching Out!


It’s no secret—military families have collected their fair share of stories, experiences, and traditions throughout their military journeys. We know you’ve got plenty of tips, tricks, pictures, and laughable moments up your sleeve. That’s why we want you to be a guest blogger!

Our blog covers all areas of military life, including PCS moves, raising military kids, spouse employment, military marriage, and the tough stuff—like transition, being a caregiver, and even divorce.

Think you’ve got awesome blogging skills and want to share your journey with other military families? We’d love to hear from you!

What works:
Inspirational stories – we want readers to jump out of their seats because they were moved by your journey. Sharing personal stories, hardships, or humor can be just what someone needs to relate to you. Don’t be afraid to amaze and inspire!
Original content – We will not publish content that has already been published elsewhere on the web. We aim for authentic and unique content!
Well-written content –Your writing should reflect your individual voice! So if you feel excited, let us know! Had a hard time with a recent PCS? Express that in your writing. Great blog posts will grab the reader and keep their attention through awesome details!
Topics about military families or military life – We are 100% military family focused, so make sure your submission is, too! Are you a company looking to share a resource? Great! Use your original content to tie back to the military community, and keep in mind: our subject matter experts will review any resource prior to posting.
Sending your own photos – Pictures are the best! And we want to share yours! Make sure images are appropriate, clear, and don’t violate OPSEC or PERSEC.

What doesn’t work:
Incomplete, unedited articles – Always be sure to proof read your work before submitting it. If you’re unsure if something is well-written, have a friend or family member read over it and give their thoughts!
Inappropriate content – No profanity, graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments will be accepted. Make sure you aren’t oversharing, or violating OPSEC or PERSEC! If you’re submitting photos, please be sure they are tasteful.
Advertisements – We don’t promote any business or organization we are not in direct partnership with, and we do not offer advertisements on our blog; however, we do have advertising opportunities through our mobile app, MyMilitaryLife. Please email App [at] MyMilitaryLife [dot] org. Please keep external links to a maximum 3 links.

How to Submit:
Email your completed article to Blog [at] MilitaryFamily [dot] org. Because Branching Out is 100% military family focused, we will review each submission to ensure it aligns with our content strategy. If it does, you’ll receive an email from us to let you know your article will be published. Please allow us some time to respond – our little fingers type as fast as possible!

Blog submissions must include:
First and last name
Contact email
Service affiliation and location
250-700 words per post
Headshot or clear photo of yourself

The Fine Print:
Sharing is caring – We want your original content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the link on your own website after we’ve published your submission! Share like crazy!
Editing and adapting – We reserve the right to edit and adapt your guest blog content as we see fit.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Is Cyberbullying a Sign Our Military Community is Imploding?


Why are service members making it a point to create hateful, misogynistic jargon online about military spouses? And what makes military spouses turn on each other creating the same?

By now you’ve probably seen the op-eds in Task & Purpose, and the Washington Post, declaring a ban on ‘entitled’ veterans, active duty service members, and their families. I’m sure you’ve read the counterparts to these articles in the Huffington Post, and on Military.com.

Anti-bullying campaigns have been around for quite some time, and an overwhelming number of them just don’t work. They aim to ‘fix’ the bully, and ‘teach’ the victim with an overarching theme reminding us we’re just doing it wrong–we’re just existing wrong. (Read: when we don’t stand up for ourselves, we become victims. When we stand up for ourselves, bullies emerge to fight back.)

Bullying stops when an environment is positive, supportive, and enriching, and when character and value are promoted.

I think that’s where the mess happened; our environment shifted, and we had to fight back.

Since September 11, 2001, 2.5 million military families have seen a loved one deploy, 600,000 service members have been wounded, and nearly 7,000 lives in our all-volunteer force have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Add in Sequestration, force reduction, and politics, and you’ve all but knocked out our military and their families cold.

Those who once supported our nation, and this military, have quieted. Flags that used to be as bright as the sun that shone upon them, are now torn, faded, and walked upon in protest.

The bigger picture is this: military families don’t feel entitled.

We feel unappreciated, ignored, stuck between a rock and a hard place, not supported, and now, hated. With nowhere to turn, our community has imploded, finding acceptance and support by picking apart each other, and the network that has long supported our service members: military spouses.

The internet is full of viral videos of veterans and active duty service members calling out others who illegally impersonate a military member in uniform, and controversial Facebook groups which exist to target unsuspecting military spouses by making fun of them.

The viral videos and hateful social media groups have given others a pass to rip into anyone who ‘impersonates’ anything. Ask the Washington Post and Task & Force op-ed authors what they think of military spouses, like me, they’d say we’re ‘impersonating’ service members in our own way: by declaring our own sacrifices, demanding support from our government, and by wearing our husbands’ rank for power.

In such a climate of hatred, it’s hard to see the ones who are trying to clean up the mess. We ignore the spouses who are receiving death threats for asking people to stop the tormenting. We mock the spouses who are trying to disbar the ‘Dependapotamus’ stereotype by pursuing higher education, getting their own insurance (gasp!) through full time employment, and who are being recognized by the White House as Champions for Change.

Yet, nothing seems to be good enough to make the cyber-bullying stop.

What we need are positive, supportive, enriching communities who are steadfast with their loyalty, and encouraging even in times of stillness. Our military and their families need to be reassured that we are accepted, wanted, and appreciated.

That’s not ‘entitled,’ or high-maintenance. It’s human nature. Calling us entitled is adding fuel to the fire. We ferociously defend ourselves, only to be met by more hate, name-calling, and follow up articles putting us in our place.

Instead of making a military spouse feel ostracized for not knowing the TRICARE handbook, respond positively, and share a resource. Rather than laughing when a young spouse admits they’re having trouble making friends, be their mentor. And for those service members who call us ‘Dependas,’ ask yourself where that hate is coming from and remember that we are here to support you.

It’s up to us to clean up the mess, military community. If we don’t provide ourselves with the environment we want to live in, how will anyone else?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Win a FREE Photo Session for Your Military Family!


In honor of Military Family Appreciation Month, we’ve teamed up with 25 amazing military spouse photographers to bring you the contest to beat all others! You’re not going to want to miss out on this opportunity!

We’ve got photographers in all corners of the world, ready to offer you a free photo session for your military family! Yes – we’re talking to you, in Germany, and you, in Japan! And entering is as easy as a few clicks. If you’re near any of these locations or installations, we want you to enter!

All of these amazing photographers are military spouses donating their time for this awesome contest. Stop by their websites and like their Facebook pages to check out their work!

Colorado Springs, CO:  Reflections by Rosie Photography
Fredericksburg, VA:  Jessica Green Photography
Washington, D.C.:  Tiny Sparrow Photography
El Paso, TX:  Julie Rivera Photography
Montclair, VA:  Judith Lovett, Photographer
Des Moines, IA:  Britney Brown Design Photography
Newport, RI:  Ellie Lynn Photography
Jacksonville, FL:  Amy Hensley Photography
Pensacola, FL:  DJENNphoto
Sangdahlem AFB, Germany:  Little Bit of Life Photography
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA:  Simply Immaculate Photography
Naples, Italy:  Athena Plichta Photography
San Diego, CA:  Ashley Langtry Photography
Taunusstein, Germany:  Little B Memories
NAF Atsugi, Japan:  Lina Elyse Photography
Ft. Leavenworth, KS:  Patton Portraits
Charleston, SC:  Haley Hickman Photography
Ft. Hood, TX:  April Kroenke Photography
Huntsville, AL:  Vanderport Designs
Monterey, CA:  Momma Mea Photography
Oahu, HI:  Tabitha Ann Photography
Maine: Neola Photography
Ft. Rucker, AL:  Emily Grace // Photography
Ft. Drum, NY:  Wunderkind Photography
RAF Lakenheath, UK:  Danielle McCown Photography
Ft. Polk, LA:  Chaque Bonne Memoire Photography

Are you ready to win? ENTER HERE!

Entries are being accepted until midnight on May 31, 2015. Winners will be selected June 1, 2015.

Have trouble viewing the entry form? Visit our Facebook page and click the “Enter to Win!” tab.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Is War From the Homefront Sabotaging Military Marriages? ‘Good Kill’ Says Yes.

Good Kill trailer image
Last night, I attended the D.C. premiere of the new Ethan Hawke-January Jones movie, “Good Kill,” about Air Force pilot turned drone operator, Maj. Tom Egan. If you’re interested in drones, you’ll learn a lot from this movie—but what hit home for me was how this service member’s high-stress job impacted his relationship with his wife.

As a drone pilot, Maj. Egan often kills dozens of people, watches the aftermath on the computer screen, then drives home to his wife and kids. The film explores how the emotional stress and responsibility of being a drone pilot creates a wedge between his wife and him. Mostly, he shuts down. “It’s not about the security clearance, I just don’t want to rehash it.” But when he does confide in her he admits, “I feel like a coward every day.”

Their marriage heads south fast, due to his internal struggles, alcoholism, and anger management. In one scene, they talk about how things were so much better when he was actually flying planes over Afghanistan for months at a time. “It was scarier back then, but at least we made each other laugh.”

In the Q&A following the movie, I asked Ethan Hawke and Director Andrew Niccol why they chose to depict the relationship that way. Niccol said that’s what the drone pilots he interviewed experienced. As he explained, there’s no time to decompress; they can’t compartmentalize; their family doesn’t understand what they’re dealing with on a daily basis, or how – even though they’re technically “home”—they can’t be available in the same way other non-service members are.

There’s a scene in the movie when Maj. Eagan sends a last minute text saying he can’t pick up their kids from school.

“You promised,” his wife reminded him. “And I had an appointment today.”

“Was your appointment life or death?” he asked. “Because mine was.” He had been assigned—at the last minute—to keep a group of soldiers safe by watching them through a drone camera so they could get some sleep.

That part of the movie hit me like déjà vu. I was taken back to my first year of marriage. It was Valentine’s Day and we had plans. I’d made a candlelit dinner and a handmade book chronicling our first year together. There I was in Jacksonville, North Carolina waiting for my Marine to come home and celebrate. Hours later, sometime after 10pm he came home apologizing, but there was nothing he could say. I was hurt and enraged. He begged me to understand, saying a life-or-death situation kept him at work. One of his Marines had attempted suicide in the barracks and nearly succeeded, and he was dealing with the aftermath—the hospital, the NCIS agent, the rest of his Marines. Meanwhile, I was dealing with the fact that he didn’t call, text, or come home on Valentine’s Day.

The line between the battle front and the homefront is blurred, and military life is hard on families. Let’s remember to care for all of our military families, whether that service member is deployed or at home.

As “Good Kill” shows us, we don’t know what burdens they may be carrying.

Can you relate to this movie? How do you deal with the unexpected changes in military life? 

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director