Tag Archives: military kids

A Video Glimpse of Operation Purple Camps

We have spent the week recognizing the 10-year anniversary of Operation Purple Camps. We’ll leave you this Friday with one of our favorite clips so you can see just how special this program is.

Operation Purple Camps: 10 amazing years

MichelleObama-OPkids

Who knew when we started Operation Purple Camps in 2004 that we were kicking off a legacy! It has been an amazing 10 years.

Here’s a glimpse of how the program has grown:

2004

  • Operation Purple Camps kick off in 12 states
  • Jessica Lynch makes guest appearance at OPC Pennsylvania

2005

  • Senators Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole host Capitol Hill reception to kick-off the 2005 summer camp season
  • Operation Purple Camps make the front page of the Chicago Tribune
  • OPC was featured on NBC Nightly News and in the Wall Street Journal

2006

  • Operation Purple featured on CBS Early Morning and Fox and Friends
  • OPC camp highlighted in Time magazine

2007

  • Operation Purple Camps make the cover of USA Today
  • Operation Purple Camps featured on CBS Sunday Morning

2008

  • Operation Purple Leadership Camps pilot program opens for military teens
  • First Operation Purple Healing Adventures for families of wounded, ill and injured
  • We host an Operation Purple Camp to support the children of delegates attending the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Symposium
  • Sierra Club releases “Red, White, and Green,” a short film about Operation Purple Camp
  • CNN features Operation Purple Camp on its website homepage
  • 1,500 Operation Purple applicants participate in an Association funded research study looking into the effects of deployment on military families
  • Camp attendance tops 10,000 kids in one summer

2009

  • Mullen-at-OPCOperation Purple Camp featured on NBC Nightly News segment, “Making A Difference”
  • Operation Purple Family Retreats program hosts first families
  • Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife, Deborah, visit Operation Purple Camp California

2010

  • Operation Purple Family Retreats featured on NBC Nightly News segment, “Making A Difference”

2011

  • Operation Purple Campers participate with First Lady Michelle Obama in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his wife Becky visit families at Operation Purple Healing Adventures Washington

2012

  • First year without national sponsors; Local camps help fund the program so that it remains free for military families

2013

  • Operation Purple Camp reaches 10 year milestone! In 10 summers, 48,000 military kids have participated in the program

All of this would have been impossible without the generous donations and support from so many individuals and organizations committed to taking care of military families. Thank you!

An Advocate is Born: Affecting change for military families

Susan-Reynolds-and-son

We have all heard the phrase from William Shakespeare, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

A few years ago I was content with my starring role in the production of “Susan’s Military Life”. An active volunteer, educator, mentor, and friend were my starring roles. That changed when my infant son was denied healthcare coverage for a cranial reshaping helmet. I was offered a different role – the role of a lifetime – and I couldn’t pass it up.

The National Military Family Association and I were introduced in October 2011 when I was asked to be a volunteer. From there I discovered a world of advocacy that I never knew existed. The Association was working on issues ranging from education to healthcare. I fell in love and knew I was ‘home’.

In July 2012, I was invited to a conference in Washington, D.C. to tell my son’s story. In two days I had eight meetings on Capitol Hill and my performance had to be flawless. Fortunately, I had great support from the Association’s Government Relations department, as well as Kara Oakley from the Children’s Hospital Association.

The National Military Association encouraged me to use my voice to advocate for my son and all military children. I learned not to be afraid to share my story because I had a gift for speaking. You see, according to the Association, my story and my voice is powerful and should not be forgotten.

A year has passed since those meetings, and so many doors have opened because I’m a volunteer with National Military Family Association. The Association has helped me define my story and because of their support, I’m a stronger, more confident volunteer and advocate for military families.

As the saying goes, “a star is born every second.” In my case, an advocate was born and is supported by the National Military Family Association.

Susan ReynoldsBy Susan Reynolds, National Military Family Association Volunteer

An Outsider Looking In: Military life perspective from an AmeriCorp member and civilian

volunteer-with-flagAs I wrap up my first month here at the National Military Family Association , I wanted to share my perspective as a civilian working for a nonprofit that advocates for military families. For the next year, I’ll be a member of the Government Relations team through the AmeriCorps Call 2 Service Corps

Honestly, when I initially decided to apply for positions through AmeriCorps, I anticipated something along the lines of “feed the hungry!” or “clean up this polluted stream!” Those are both issues that pull at my heartstrings, and are typically what one thinks of when “AmeriCorps” comes to mind.

However, when I came across the Association’s job posting, I liked what I read about the kind of work I would be doing (think: research, reading, and writing), while working alongside these great experts in the Government Relations department. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m not sure about the whole ‘military thing’, but they’re working for the betterment of families, so let’s do it!”

I haven’t regretted the decision to accept my position for one second. Learning how different the lives are of military families, in comparison to civilians, has astounded me. I had so many preconceived notions about military life, many of which greatly underestimated the realities of the hardships the families face, and many more of which were completely off base and entirely inaccurate. For instance, I assumed “military brats” moved to 2 or 3 different places by the time they finally graduate high school. In reality, many of them move every 2-3 YEARS!

I can’t begin to imagine trying to navigate the confusions of childhood and adolescence all while having to make new friends and adjusting to a new location on a regular basis. I knew that deployments were often long and not easy for military families, but I didn’t quite grasp just how hard they were. To get a better idea, check out these videos. My coworker (and military spouse), Karen, showed these videos to me to help me grasp the realities military families face every day – the same realities SHE faces every day – while husbands and wives, siblings and children, are deployed.

I am looking forward to my year of service to the Association. I am excited to continue learning about military families, and the issues that matter to them. I am excited to further develop my skills as an ally and resource. I am excited to see, firsthand, the efforts our Staff and Volunteers make to ensure military families receive the benefits and help they deserve. I am excited to be a part of the National Military Family Association.

What tips do you have for those wanting to learn more about military families and the military community?

nateBy Nate Parsons, Government Relations and Volunteer Services AmeriCorp Member

Father’s Day at the White House: A military family’s experience

MWI was ecstatic when we were offered tickets to the White House Father’s Day event on June 14th. We’ve been in the DC area for a little over a year and I knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity.

When we arrived, we waited at one of the entry gates with about 30 other people. After going through a ton of security, we were eventually met by a White House employee who also volunteers for the National Military Family Association. She gave us an amazing mini-tour of the west wing of the White House and walked us to where we would be having lunch shortly thereafter. Along the walk we were able to admire many of the pictures taken of our nation’s leaders throughout history, including Presidents, First Ladies, and celebrities. One picture which was especially memorable to me, personally, was a picture of Princess Diana and John Travolta dancing. It was certainly not something that I would expect to see occur at the White House, but it was impressive.

Much to the delight of my youngest son, Brady, a military band played nearby as we stood in the buffet line. Lunch turned out to be a simple, yet delightful meal: hamburgers, French fries, fruit, and salad.  There was a bit of a lull after we finished eating and Brady was becoming restless. I gave him my iPhone to keep him entertained while we waited for President Obama to arrive.  Shortly after, the President walked into the room and started speaking. I tried to grab my phone from my son to get a picture and when I grabbed it he started yelling, “NO, NO, NO!!”

President Obama replied back, “YES!”

Now, our family jokes that Brady is the youngest Presidential heckler! The President gave a short speech stating that being a father is the best job he has and when he looks back on life, he will remember the times with his kids and Michelle.

AndersonFamilyAfterwards, the President took the time to come around to each table – about 8 tables in total – to take a picture and chat for a few minutes. It was a surreal experience to shake hands and speak with the President! He looked and sounded exactly as I expected, probably because of all the speeches and appearances I had seen during this last election season. He asked my husband about his military service, where he currently worked, and also asked about how we met. When my husband told him that we met in Oklahoma, he asked me if I had any family affected by the recent tornadoes. He also made small talk with our boys and shook their hands. Normally, you are lucky to get a high five out of my two year old, but even Brady knew he needed to shake the President’s hand. He thanked my husband for his military service three different times. Being thanked by the Commander-in-Chief was so memorable and amazing. It is something I will never forget.

After President Obama left the room, it was his dog, Bo’s, turn to make an appearance. Bo ran around and sat by the tables so all the kids could pet him and take pictures.

In between the events, we went to Jefferson Park, which is conveniently located across the street from the White House. My two sons chased birds, ducks, and squirrels, and eventually met a friend – a child from Canada – to dig in the dirt with. After playing in the park, both boys were tired and wanted me to carry them for the rest of the long walk around the White House (which is no easy feat). When my oldest son pointed at a Pedicab and asked what it was, I decided this happened for a reason and we hopped right in. The Pedicab, a bicycle powered rickshaw, dropped us at the gate for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building for an early preview of Monster’s University. My kids haven’t been to a theatre before, so it was especially cool for them to experience their first movie in the White House.

We often hear that as a military family, we will see and experience amazing things during our travels around the world. I believe this recent experience in Washington D.C. will be hard to top going forward in my military life.

What experiences have you had that made you feel appreciated as a military family?

Amanda headshotBy Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife App

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.When the first Soldiers and Marines boarded the planes for Afghanistan in October 2001, no one was standing at the door asking them how they were doing. No one asked their families, either. Research on the well-being of service members and families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was slow to appear. And, many military families had already experienced a deployment or two before researchers were able to begin their studies of family separations, mental health, the effects of service member’s injuries on family relationships, child well-being, and multiple deployments and returns.

I’m proud that the National Military Family Association was the first to launch a large-scale study of military children and deployment as we commissioned RAND to follow 1,500 children and their at-home caregivers for a year. RAND reported in our Views from the Homefront study, released in 2011, that most military children and their families were handling deployment stresses well. But, researchers found military children had more anxiety symptoms than civilian kids. Military families were more at risk the longer the service member was deployed. Children had a harder time if their at-home parent was having problems dealing with deployment or if there was poor family communication in the home.

Other research is now being released and more is underway that is adding to our understanding of how the past decade of multiple deployments is affecting families. It’s both heartening and disappointing that this research is validating some of the conclusions of our study.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to understand and how our Association can use the latest research on military families presented at two recent conferences: a symposium on National Guard and Reserve families held in April at the University of Michigan and the International Research Symposium for Military Families held last week by Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute.

What are researchers reporting they’ve learned about military families? They find that most service members and families remain resilient, but:

  • More months of deployment are associated with more family challenges, more mental health services and medication use by military spouses and children, and more academic issues for children.
  • Spousal support has a strong impact on the ability of ill/injured service members to work towards getting better, but spouses need accurate information about illness, warning signs, and strategies for communicating concerns to health care providers.
  • Female service members and veterans identify several barriers to accessing support services, including gaps in information about the issues they face and a perceived lack of understanding of gender differences, especially concerning parenting.
  • Among deployed service members, family stress appears to be primarily related to service members’ actual or perceived inability to be a source of support for family members at home.

Getting more information about what’s happening to military families affected by war is important for many reasons. It can help guide the creation of better programs, policies, and laws. It can pose questions about what else we need to know about military families to support them. In this era of tight budgets, knowing what service members and families need must be the first step in creating new programs and deciding which existing programs need to be cut.

A key part of the discussion at these recent research conferences focused on what else we need to know. We need to know more about the experiences and needs of female service members and veterans—and their children. We need to know more about the long term effects of the past decade of war on military children, not just while their parent is on active duty, but after the service member becomes a veteran. How are military families making the transition to veteran status? What help did they receive from the Department of Defense? What do they need after leaving the military and settling into their new civilian community? What kind of support are families seeking in their communities and is it helping? What are the long term effects of a service member’s serious injury on the family, including the parents and siblings of single service members? What new issues will emerge for families as they face new military missions?

What questions do you wish researchers would ask about the military family experience? What do your think our Nation needs to know about service members, veterans, and their families in order to support them in the future? Tell us!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.By Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

I’m a Military Spouse…Let Me Introduce Myself

Flat Daddy DVDRecent articles about lavish benefits and ketchup choices have sparked many conversations in our community about the lack of understanding of the military lifestyle. Many feel that our civilian friends just don’t understand what it’s like. There are feelings of frustration and anger pitted against the sacrifices made during these past 12 years of war. As a military spouse, I can identify with the emotions these conversations evoke.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it is like to be the wife of a firefighter or police officer. I don’t know what it is like to have a long haul truck driver, a pilot, a teacher, or a chef in my family. My point is no one knows what it is really like on the other side. There are many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but as military families, we have to face the fact that we hold some responsibility. We need to share our story, educate the community, and speak up for ourselves.

There are several resources to help. One in particular is the movie, Flat Daddy, now available on DVD. Flat Daddy follows four families who used “Flat Daddies,” life-sized cardboard cutouts of their loved ones to ease the pain of separations. Filmed over the course of a year, the film explored the impact of war on those left behind. The filmmakers’ primary goal was to raise awareness about the challenges military families face and the long-term effects war can have on families.

Other great tools include the How to Help Military and Veteran Families print series that offers valuable information to families, friends, neighbors, and teachers to assist and support members of the military, their families, and veterans. Also, check out our Community Toolkit with action items and useful resources for anyone who wants to stand behind military families. For a lighthearted take, read Sarah Smiley’s Dinner with the Smileys, the story of an adventurous mission Sarah embarked on with her sons to fill the empty chair at the dinner table during her husband’s deployment. Each week the Smileys invited a guest for dinner and learned important lessons about families and the community.

What I’ve learned in the last several years is that I need my family and friends. They understand what my life is like, but that is only because they’ve had the chance to learn. We have to be brave enough to share and educate.

Let me introduce myselfBy Michelle Joyner, Communications Director

Tough Choices: Geo-Bachelor or Another Move?

Tough Choices: Geo-Bachelor or Another Move?Since I became a military spouse more than 16 years ago, my family and I have moved eight times for the good of the Navy. Some moves have been greeted with excitement and others with tears, but each time the Navy has asked us, we have packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends, and traveled obediently to the next duty station.

There’s no denying that it has been a great adventure. While our military life has not been as exotic as some others, we have lived in many interesting places. Our kids have explored Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, visited Disney World and the White House, and enjoyed beaches from Rhode Island to Florida. I recognize that in many ways the military has been good to us.

Still, there have been sacrifices. Sacrifices like the challenges that military families face each and every day. My kids have cried at leaving dear friends and struggled to adjust to new schools. I have given up jobs and worked to find a place in a new community.

It’s true, some things do get easier with each move. I’ve discovered a foolproof way to tape up the hardware for our bookshelves so they don’t get lost, for example. But some things never get easier. And a few things that seemed easy the first move got a lot harder the seventh and eighth time.

So, when my husband told me that he would be receiving orders to another ship, in another town, we decided not to follow him. This time, he will go on to the new duty station on his own while the kids and I stay behind. He’ll be what we in the military know as a geo-bachelor. This was not a decision we reached lightly. We talked about it for hours, over the course of many days, and I still lie awake at night wondering if it’s the right thing to do. It will be hard on us as a family. It will be hard on him as he makes the drive home every weekend. And hard on me as I juggle my job with being both Mom and Dad to two teenagers.

But the more we thought about it, the clearer it became that it is the right thing for us, right now. The kids are in high school, tightly woven into a network of friends, neighbors, teammates, and classmates. We have a house that we probably paid too much for and can’t afford to sell. And I finally – finally – have a job where I can find professional satisfaction. All of that seems like a lot to give up, even for the good of the Navy.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this decision. I have received a few skeptical looks from family and friends when I told them about our plans. Even the Defense Travel Office says that “a fundamental philosophy of military service is that members, with their families, create a better work environment and esprit de corps when they can be active participants in the local base and community.”

I understand the military’s philosophy. In fact, I agree with it. In a perfect world, it would be better if my family could all be together. But we don’t live in a perfect world and family life is complicated. Right now, the best decision for our family seems to be to live apart. That hasn’t been true in the past and it might not be true in the future. Certainly every family is different. What works for one family might be a disaster for another. We can only hope for the best and trust that the strength, resilience, commitment, and love that have gotten us through eight moves can get us through one “not-move.”

What do you think? Have you ever lived apart from your service member? What made you decide to stay behind? 

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Families Outdoors: Reducing stress on kids and your wallet!

Families outdoors: reducing stress on kids and your wallet!I recently stumbled upon a New York Times blog post that discussed how a simple walk in the park could reduce brain fatigue. You know, that feeling of being disjointed or mentally drained. The post got me thinking; if a walk in the park could provide a simple brain refresher; just imagine what a week of camp or a weekend retreat could do!

At Operation Purple® camps and retreats we embrace the healing powers of the outdoors and thrust kids and families into beautiful environments to do just that – reboot. Life is already busy and chaotic so overlapping it with a military lifestyle just seems to be more than any one person should be able to handle. Giving these families a week or weekend away and “unplugged” makes perfect sense.

Our intent is to energize families to try new activities and create memories with the hope that they recreate these stress-reducing moments once they go home. I often reflect on activities my family did for fun that were actually my mom’s way of turning our heads. As a financially stretched military family, expensive vacations or entertainment activities were out of our reach. So our industrious mother chose instead to use night hikes through the neighborhood instead of using what little gas was in the car to pick up little brother from the sitter. Mom-instructed, kid-friendly gardening, was an excuse to get dirty while reducing our grocery budget. Creating our own flour dough in the backyard meant mom never had to consider whether she could afford our request to “have purple, blue, AND pink” play dough.

My mom had no clue her homemade distractions were “reducing brain fatigue”—she just knew doing things outdoors cost her less financially and emotionally. Performing simple outdoor activities provided hours of harmony in our home. So, here are a few of my favorite memories that stemmed simply from a military mom giving her kids some fun in the sun on a tight budget:

  • Have a picnic. We often packed our favorite books, a few blankets, and a simple meal before venturing to a local park or outdoor space. As a kid it was an adventure to eat on the grass after collecting my share of grass stains. For mom, it was a cost effective alternative to my never-ending McDonald’s plea. To this day I love to rejuvenate by sitting on an expanse of grass with a PB&J in hand.
  • Fly a kite. I know this sounds very Mary Poppins, but putting a kite in my hands as a child created an obsession that couldn’t be stopped. I tried it once and was hooked. I quickly gave up my precious Nintendo and found myself running up and down the neighborhood just to see the streamers fly. I’m cringing at how that dates me, but the scenario of being tied to the TV by an electronic game system still rings true for most kids today. My mom’s ploy to avoid purchasing yet another video game created an adult city dweller that now religiously rings in spring by participating in the annual kite-flying extravaganza on the National Mall.
  • Set up a scavenger hunt. Nothing turned sibling rivalry around quite like a friendly competition. Organizing a scavenger hunt that resulted in a team sweet treat to enjoy while basking in the sunshine was a win-win for mom. She got hours of quiet while we feverishly hunted to find every clue outside. The inevitable family nap that happened post-scavenger hunt was a bonus. I honed my trivia skills on a monthly basis while out in the sun.

Spring is here, with summer close on its heels—don’t wait to get kids outside! How will you reduce stress on your kiddos’ brains, and your wallet? What fun new memories will you create that your kids can use when they are adults?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director

Big Brothers Big Sisters: An Extended Family for Military Children

An Extended Family for Military ChildrenIt’s a busy school day. Children of different ages are running around the house, loudly voicing their wants. The mother tries to ensure everything is on schedule and the kids are taken care of. This might sound like another day in the life of super moms everywhere, but for military children, having a parent deployed can be a hectic time.

“It’s hard to be a working mother, or even a stay-at-home mother, with four children plus dad gone,” says Danielle Woodring, a military spouse stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Danielle has chosen to enroll her two younger daughters, Ilyana and Kiera, in the federally funded Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring Program. The program is free of charge and specially designed for military families. The goal is to give military children another trusted adult who can provide guidance. “It gives them time away from all the chaos at home,” Danielle explains.

Ilyana and Kiera, called “Littles” under the program, are paired with two “Bigs,” or volunteer mentors. These Littles are among the 800 military kids who benefit from the program nationwide. The Bigs are carefully screened, trained, and matched with their Littles according to their interests. The Bigs dedicate a few hours a month to their Littles, engaging in various low-cost fun activities and programs. To qualify for the military mentoring program, children need to have one parent in an active duty status. All children of the fallen (in the line of duty) are eligible. To become a Big, volunteers must have a desire to help children and successfully pass the screening process.

“The power of Big Brothers Big Sisters is the premier one-to-one mentoring organization,” says Rodney Davis, National Director of Military Mentoring for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Both the Bigs and Littles are carefully interviewed in order to find common likes and dislikes, guaranteeing a better match. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring program supports children in military families and engages active duty, reserve or retired/separated military personnel, as well as civilians as volunteer mentors. There are approximately 2,600 active duty service members volunteering as Bigs nationwide. With a minimum commitment of one year, some of the service members also maintain the relationship while deployed.

For Kiera’s Big Sister, Kaylene Hasto, the mentoring program has been a new and exiting volunteer opportunity. She looks forward to spending time with her Little and appreciates her outgoing personality. Kaylene encourages future volunteers to make sure they have the time for their Little. “They depend on you and they are really excited to see you, make sure you are committed to them,” Kaylene says.

Military kids enrolled in the program have a chance to take part in diverse activities and look up to their Bigs. Little Ilyana describes her Big Sister as “fun, caring, hard-working, and good with kids.” She is excited her Big Sister is in the military, likes Hello Kitty, and takes her to the library. Little Ilyana is very enthusiastic about the time spent with her Big Sister. “We actually get to build our relationship and have fun,” she says. Kiera’s Big Sister takes her to Big Brother Big Sister picnics and the gym. Little Kiera describes her Big Sister as a great planner who likes to help people. “She helps me if I have a problem and she’s someone to talk to,” Kiera says.

Danielle believes the program has really made a difference in the life of her family. She is relieved that she has a helping hand she can trust. She feels that taking part in the program helps ease the pain of having their father deployed for another year. In the future, she hopes this experience will encourage her daughters to become Big Sisters as well.

For more information on volunteering or enrolling your child, visit Big Brothers Big Sisters of America at www.bbbs.org or learn about the Military Mentoring Program.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association


Photo courtesy of the Woodring family