Tag Archives: military parents

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?”

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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

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