Tag Archives: military parents

Parent Pride: Being the Parent of a Gay Service Member

american-and-pride-flagI was honored to be asked to part of a panel for the Pentagon Pride event recently. As part of the recognition of cultural diversity, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in the Pentagon comes together to speak about what it means to be gay and to work for, or be in, the military.

I was there as the parent of a gay service member; one who loves her child and, who, before the recent changes to Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, worried about her as well.

Her father and I always supported her. We always loved her and welcomed her partner (now wife) into our family with open arms. It broke my heart to listen to one couple on the panel, living the military life with children, who did not have the love and support of other family members.

I listened to the other panel members talk about their experiences as they came out to co-workers and military comrades. For the most part, those folks were welcomed in their military communities, and were gifted with extraordinary kindnesses. I heard them talk about experiences so similar to my family’s as we raised our military kids. Volunteering as a family, experiencing moves, doing all the things families (especially military families) do.

But now they can do them in the open and not worry about adverse impacts on careers.

The most wonderful aspect of the whole panel? How ordinary the lives of these newly minted, and newly recognized, military families seemed to be, and how easily they had been assimilated in the short two years since the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.

I see that in the life of my daughter and her wife. No drama, just everyday life. Work, play, TDYs, caring for their canine child, keeping up their new home…living the military dream.

There are many organizations that members of the military’s LGBT community have created to support their families, and to work to overcome the obstacles that still exist, like recognition of gay marriage by individual states. Dear to my heart is the Military Partners and Families Coalition, who reached out to our Association the day before the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, looking for support for their families. We are a proud member of their coalition.

The American Military Partner Association invited our Association to be sponsors of their first-ever military gala, which we gladly accepted.

And, I can’t forget to salute Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – the original parent support group for the parents of LGBT children. Their original support book for parents has been replaced by specifically targeted booklets and brochures, but the message is still the same – loving and supporting your children.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Are you a parent of a gay service member? What ways do you support them?

kathyPosted by Kathy Moakler, Government Relations Director


Tough Mother: A Million Times Harder Than a Tough Mudder

In honor of Mother’s Day we would like to share the story of one former active duty military mom. Motherhood is tough. Combining motherhood and active duty Service is even tougher. We honor and appreciate all military moms and military spouses. Thank you for serving our Nation and being steadfast role models for our military kids.

GabyBeing a mom in the Marine Corps is definitely a roller coaster. There are some marvelous highs and abysmal lows. There are commanders who understand the need to respond to your child’s needs, and others who make your life hellacious for it.

While I was pregnant, I was working 12-hour days and pursuing my Masters degree. Oh, and my husband was deployed. My senior leader constantly gave me “helpful” comments like, “You know you’re wasting the Marine Corps’ time by being pregnant, right?” or (when I couldn’t PT) “Go home and read the What to Expect books because you’re certainly having trouble doing what you need to do here.” The constant jabs were mortifying and annoying, especially coming from someone who’d just welcomed his third child into his family.

Once our eldest was born, I reveled in the time I had with her during maternity leave. Like all children, she changed my world. It broke my heart the first time I had to leave her at childcare to return to work. I sobbed the whole way to the front gate. It was even sadder than having bid my husband good-bye six months earlier for his second deployment to Iraq. All too quickly, though, we both settled into a routine (that’s the milspouse in me).

While getting back into shape after having our daughter, I discovered something horrible: my ACL was badly torn and needed surgery. An out of shape Marine is the brunt of a lot of ridicule. It’s even worse when you’re an out of shape female Marine.

“Didn’t you know you’d blow into a whale because of pregnancy?”

“Why don’t you just stop eating?”

I heard these comments regularly.

It was a ton of pressure and unnecessary negativity.

Thankfully, I was assigned to a new section. My new senior leader was amazingly supportive, even when my little one went through a series of ear infections that had us at our pediatrician’s office every two weeks. He even suggested keeping a few (foldable) baby items under my desk so I could just bring her to work when her childcare center’s illness rules prevented her from attending class.

His positive influence and can-do attitude helped me overcome my struggle with getting back into shape after my knee surgery. I noticed once the negative emotional input from work was deleted, being a mom got a whole lot easier! I could enjoy getting to know my baby so much more.

I am thankful for both the positive and negative (yes, really!) influences from my Marine leaders during that time. Both shaped me into a better Marine, and parent, by providing me with an excellent example of what leadership should and shouldn’t look like.

I do my best to give my kids constructive input, even when what they’ve done is making me rage with anger or despair. We walk “through the valley” of their decision making together, pinpointing where they went wrong and how they need to fix it. They get disciplined accordingly, and I always make sure to follow it up with words of affirmation (and usually lots of snuggle time).

When I fail, as I assuredly do on a regular basis, I own up to it. I know I would like many people much better if they could just say, “I messed up, and I am really sorry about it.” I get down to my kids’ eye level, look at them in the eye, and tell them how I messed up and then apologize for it. They readily forgive me, tackle me with hugs and kisses, and I feel so much better having the ugliness off my chest and gone.

And that’s how my kids are being shaped by those two Marines.

Even though I loved being a Marine, I really had to give it up. Both my husband and I were working long hours (11+), and it was very difficult having to decide which one of us had “sick baby duty” so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our commands. When the doctor was doing my ACL repair and found many more problems with my knee, that made the decision easy. I would finish my contract and bid the Marine Corps adieu.

Several years later, it’s still one of the hardest decisions we’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the best ones. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. It’s still tough work, just a different kind of tough. But our kids are wonderful and bless me every day. Our marriage is great. I am definitely thankful for the leaders I had, both good and bad, because they taught me so much and are still helping me be better every day.

And you know what they say, “Once a Marine (and mom), always a Marine (and mom)!”

Posted by Gaby, former Marine Captain, military spouse, mom

FAQ Series: Domestic Violence Awareness month

domestic-violence1October is a national Domestic Violence Awareness month and a time to remind military families about the available prevention resources in your community. As a mobile population, military families may not be familiar with navigating local resources or know where to go for help.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it’s hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children’s safety. Or they’re financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.

Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also need help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.

Q: How do I come up with a safety plan?
A: Contact the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on your installation to request a victim advocate. A victim advocate can give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go. Once you have a safe place to go, talk to trusted friends or family members about the situation. Come up with a code word or signal so that confidant knows when to call for help. Go over safety plans with your children. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need help. Most importantly, plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place, preferably away from where you live.

Q: Are there any legal actions I can take?
A: You can get a restraining order or Military Protective Order (MPO) to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work, or contacting your children. A restraining order or MPO can usually be extended to child-care centers or providers. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so. Contact an attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse. He or she can explore custody, visitation, and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can help you obtain legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.

Q: I feel like no one understands the situation. Where can I turn for help?
A: Find your local FAP office by using the locator at Military INSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Family Support Center. Call a domestic abuse hotline. They are available twenty-four hours a day at the National Violence Hotline (888-799-SAFE [7233]) and can help you find shelter, counseling, support groups, job training, and legal assistance in your area. Utilize any support group you can. While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you’ll gain strength and support from being around them.

(Source: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/monthly-focus?content_id=266708)

Remembering Justin on my First Gold Star Mother’s Day

Justin_and_Phyllis-GOLD-STARI’m a new Gold Star Mom. I’m just beginning this new journey of what that means to be a mother who has lost her child.

My son Justin was a calm baby in the womb, usually perfectly happy to just sleep calmly close to my heart. That all changed when he was born six and a half weeks premature, and spent his first weeks in the NICU. That’s when we knew he was a fighter.

Growing up, Justin would always zero in on one particular thing in life, and be so passionate about that one thing. First, it was dinosaurs. Then wolves, pirates, and sunken ships. After that, it was a love of knights, castles, and finally, the military and its history.

My own family could trace its military history back to Europe and the Revolutionary War. My father-in-law was a West Point graduate and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Having two grandfathers who both served in the military was something Justin admired very much.

It came as no surprise when Justin told us he wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember how he told us, but it just seemed to be the natural order of his life. It was in his genes, and we supported him.

Justin wanted to attend West Point and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brooks. After doing everything necessary, he was not accepted. Justin was very disappointed, but took it as a challenge to fight for what he wanted. He took an ROTC Scholarship to his dad’s alma mater, Florida State University.

At the end of his freshman year at FSU, Justin chose to give up his ROTC scholarship, and join the Florida National Guard. Much to our dismay, he followed his heart and finished Basic Training in the summer of 2008. A few months later, his National Guard Unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. As a full time student, Justin did not have to go. However, we were surprised to learn that he made the decision to deploy with his unit anyway.

We asked Justin, “Why?”


He told us he felt the need to serve, and thought the experience would give him a better idea of what it would be like to lead his fellow soldiers in the future. Just like that, he was off to fight.

When he returned, he received the Bronze Star for his service, which is unusual for a Specialist to receive. He shrugged it off and said he was “just doing his job.”

Justin was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2012.

It was a proud moment for us all. He completed Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne and Assault, and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 1-506th, 4th BCT at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was a dream come true for Justin, as he had always admired the Airborne Unit. He deployed ahead of his unit on April 2, 2013, as part of TORCH, a group sent to light the way in preparation for everyone else to follow. Just like that, he was off to another fight.

[Read more of Phyllis’ journey here]

Got Baggage?

baggageOn any given day, I carry anywhere from 4-5 bags to work.

On my right shoulder, there’s my purse, which contains everything I hold dear—my phone, my money, a diaper, a small package of wipes, and my keys (if it’s a good day).

On my left shoulder, there’s my computer bag, which weighs an estimated 15 pounds. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Next to my computer bag strap, rests my workout bag. Yes, I bring my gym clothes to work. If I don’t strategically plan my exercise time to land between the time I leave work and the time I go home, I will never get to it.

Then there’s my lunch bag. This is not just any ordinary lunch bag; it has three compartments and an ice pack for my many small meals.

Sometimes, I go home with more bags than I came with. Bags full of clothes or toys for my kids from my generous co-workers. Or, bags with information and promotional items from conferences.

There are many moments where I feel like I’ll be buried alive by all of my “bags.” You know—the purse, which is really everyday life. The computer bag— the reality that work and family constantly overlap. The gym bag, making “me” time despite the insanity. My lunch bag, which I’d like to say contains only healthy and smart choices, but really is the fuel that keeps me going.

Not long ago, I had an additional bag—my school bag. I was one of those working adults, with a small child, who decided to go back to school to continue my higher education. This was not an easy or inexpensive decision, but it was the right decision for me and my family.

I am not a military spouse, but like many of them, I attended several colleges and universities before finally getting the chance to finish my degree. It took me a total of 3 schools and 9 years to have my diploma handed to me.  My school bag was the symbol of my future.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot of baggage, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know there are people out there who would give anything to carry some of the bags I do. Our bags symbolize who we are and the many life paths we travel.

We need to remember that these same “bags” have been carried by many before us who have put resources in place for our benefit.  If you’re a military spouse and you’re looking for information to make your load a bit lighter, look no further.

Visit our Spouse Employment section for job tips and our Spouse Education site for steps to help you attain your education goals.

What about you? What bags do you carry every day?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director, Online Engagement

Operation Purple Camps: 10 amazing years


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:


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


  • 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


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


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


  • 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


  • 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


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


  • 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


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


  • 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


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