Tag Archives: military spouses

Survive and Thrive: Embassy Duty!

After almost 24 years of moving around with my husband, I didn’t think any new assignment would faze me. Then the Air Force sent us to Quito, Ecuador, an assignment without a military base. And we’re not alone—many military families live in cities around the world without the kind of support we’re used to seeing. No commissary, no base exchange, no military hospital, or community center.

Assignments like these are most common in the Army, where junior officers start off as Foreign Area Officers (FAO) and eventually end up as attachés at many US Embassies around the world. But more senior officers in other services are offered opportunities as well. And where would any good Defense Attaché Office be without support staff? Jobs for both junior and senior enlisted exist in all services in just about every location.

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If you’ve only been to large bases where there are strict rules about socializing between officers and enlisted, an Embassy assignment might come as a bit of a shock. The military is only a small portion of the Embassy whole, and part of our job is to blend with the State Department culture.

Survival tip #1. Be prepared to leave your military etiquette at the door (but don’t throw it away completely).

State Department employees and their families don’t have strict delineations between staff, so everyone socializes with everyone else. In fact, on many Friday nights, the Marine House is the go-to spot to meet everyone. And because many spouses end up employed at the Embassy, the combinations of who works in which office, and who works for whom can be rather overwhelming. But it’s also how everyone knows how to support everyone else. It may seem a little incestuous at first, but if you aren’t in the loop, support can seem lacking.

Survival tip #2: Find a way to belong to the Embassy community, whether it’s as a valued employee, volunteer, or an often seen participant in community functions.

With these two tips, you’re going to survive. But we want more than that. We want you to thrive! That sometimes means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Living overseas most often means dealing with a new language. It always means dealing with a new culture. It is possible to make a life that revolves simply around the Embassy community. In fact, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the trips offered by the Community Liaison Office (CLO), and joining the group language classes offered by the Embassy community, especially when you first arrive.

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But to thrive, you’re going to need a comfort level with the local language so you can leave that safe place and enter the world around you. You’ll want to purchase food at the local markets, speak to your neighbors in their native tongue, and have the mechanic fix your car. Waving hands and smiling can only get you so far, and after a year in country, it will be downright depressing not to be able to ask for a ripe avocado instead of the unripe ones offered.

My tips for immersing in the local culture include getting to know other foreign spouses. If the United States has an Embassy at your location, so do many other nations. Here in South America, the majority comes from Latin American countries, and the common language is Spanish. That doesn’t mean I won’t find English speakers. But in order to thrive, I’ve forced myself to speak Spanish beyond my comfort level. I make mistakes and laugh at myself when others point them out. And by doing so, I’ve learned that Spanish-speakers make mistakes, too. A common word in most of Latin America is a swear word in Argentina. It’s funny to watch the face of an Argentine when someone from Venezuela is saying the equivalent of the “F word” in the middle of a pretty mundane conversation. Moments like that happen all the time, but unless you understand what is going on, you miss out. And when you miss out, you feel like you don’t belong.

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My final tip for thriving is to make friends with the locals. Many already work at the US Embassy, so they’re easy to find, and are often very willing to share their favorite restaurant recommendations, or the best place to spend a weekend away. Your spouse will know more than a few local military because of his or her job. Getting to know those folks can be very rewarding. We found an acting coach for my son through a retired Ecuadorian officer’s wife, who also happens to be an actress. That simple introduction has made my son’s Ecuadorian experience much richer.

My example of thriving comes from friending the wife of a local military officer on Facebook. She noticed my love of photography and my love-affair with her country. This opened a new door for me – she and her husband have introduced me to people and places I would never find in a guide book. They’ve opened their hearts and minds and in return, I offer them friendship. At the end of the day, and at the end of any military tour, it’s the friendships that help us thrive.

angie-drakePosted by Angie Drake, Air Force spouse, and blogger at Not Your Average American, Quito, Ecuador

Finding the Man She Married: Caregiver Receives Master Bedroom Makeover

For Tanya Abbas, being a military spouse is more than just dealing with deployments and packing up her home every three to four years to move to the next duty station.

Each day, she lays out medication for her husband, Dustin, who suffered a head injury while deployed in Iraq. She manages the household, takes care of her husband, and searches for glimpses of the man she married.

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While Dustin can’t express himself the way he once did, he notices all that she does. Without Tanya knowing, he entered her in our Mother’s Day contest to win a master bedroom makeover from design firm Laurel & Wolf.

“When he got the head injury, he stopped being my husband that I have known for my whole life,” Tanya explains. “And all of a sudden, now I’m having to lay out his meds, and doing things around the house for him, and more than just being a wife.”

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Military spouses are often more than just spouses. They’re support systems, volunteers, and in Tanya’s case, caregivers. Laurel & Wolf and the National Military Family Association partnered in this Master Bedroom Makeover because military families deserve to be recognized.

In 2010, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported 96% of caregivers were women, and 70% provide care to their spouse or partner. After more than a decade of war, service members return home with both visible and invisible wounds, and families become wounded, too.

Beaming with love, Tanya smiles and remembers the man she married, “It’s an indescribable feeling to… look at everything [and know]…that’s because my husband loves me.”

See Tanya and Dustin’s story, along with an awesome before and after of their master bedroom:

Laurel & Wolf :: Master Bedroom Makeover – Arizona from High Res Media on Vimeo.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Give Us Your Tips to Survive and Thrive at Your Duty Station!

Calling all military family members! spouses-sit-outsideWe’re looking for guest bloggers to share their tips, tricks, stories, and encouragement with other readers, and we’d love to feature you!

We’re working on a series dedicated to sharing awesome tips for Surviving and Thriving at different duty stations around the world. Have you been stationed in Okinawa, Japan for so long, you’re pretty sure you’re fluent in the language? What in the world is there to do near good ‘ol Camp Lejeune, North Carolina? Are the spouse clubs in San Diego as rad as they sound? Tell us!

We want to hear from you…yes, you…in Weisbaden, Germany, and you in Whidbey Island, Washington!

Tell us how you survive and thrive in your town! Join a great couponing class? Or a running club? Have you gone camping at a breathtaking location? And why not let the kids join in? What are their favorite things to do and see around your town?

If you have some advice or tips to share, send your original work to us at Blog@MilitaryFamily.org. Make sure you include your name, a clear headshot of yourself, along with your current duty station and the town it’s in. And, of course, share 4-5 tips (or more!) with other military families so they can survive and thrive if they ever find themselves in the same place.

If you’re interested in contributing, but are not quite sure you’re the best writer, leave a comment and we’d be happy to get in touch with you to help find your inner writing voice!

Military life is crazy…but with a little help from those who have gone before us, we’ll be able to survive and thrive!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

Navigating the TRICARE maze: Prime vs. Standard

tricare-prime-vs-standardCo-pays.

Cost-shares.

In-network vs. out-of-network.

I’ll have a whole new vocabulary once I master the TRICARE maze!

For the past 9 years, I’ve used TRICARE Prime. I’ve seen doctors at Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) and in town. I thought I scored big time when I was assigned a Primary Care Manager (PCM) out in town because the base was too full to take new patients. When we were stationed outside of Washington D.C., I navigated between multiple MTFs to get the care I needed.

It’s not a perfect system and there are some glitches. For example, accessing records between an Army hospital and a Navy hospital…let’s just say it doesn’t work as well as it should. The different systems don’t always “talk” to each other, which means you may need to hand-carry records, especially ultrasounds, MRIs, or other digital images between MTFs. And if you do see a civilian provider off the installation you’ll also need to carry records between providers.

With Prime, one thing I never had to worry about was cost. As long as I had referrals and pre-authorizations – I had minimal co-pays, if any at all. In fact, I had our first son while covered under Prime and don’t recall paying anything for my prenatal care, labor, delivery, or post-partum care. I attended child birth classes, met with a lactation consultant, took an infant CPR class, and even left the hospital with a bag full of goodies for our newborn.

Four years later, we are expecting our second and I decided to switch to TRICARE Standard. Why? Because when I got pregnant, I was recalled by the MTF, even though I live more than 30 miles from an MTF and was already seeing a civilian provider in town. And, unfortunately, the MTF I was recalled to doesn’t have the providers I need. I didn’t want to navigate appointments in opposite directions driving 30 miles one way to the MTF and 30 miles in the opposite direction to specialists.

I thought I understood the deductible, co-pays, and cost-shares under TRICARE Standard. Yet, maternity care has its own set of cost-shares, too. I’ve learned to keep copies of my Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) and any bills I receive directly from a provider. I call my regional contractor frequently to review claims and ask questions. I discovered my OB’s billing office isn’t an expert on TRICARE billing, and as a result, I was being overcharged. I had the same problem with overcharges for lab work, too.

And I discovered the hospital education benefits I enjoyed at the MTF with my first pregnancy aren’t covered. There is a fee to take a child birth refresher class or meet with a lactation consultant.

Our second baby is due in a few short weeks and overall I’m happy with the quality of care we are receiving under TRICARE Standard. I’ve learned I have a role to play in keeping costs down by asking questions about coverage, reviewing bills, reading the TRICARE website, and talking to my regional contractor to understand our benefit. TRICARE Standard has given me the flexibility to see the providers I prefer, but it comes at a cost.

What are your experiences with TRICARE Prime vs. TRICARE Standard? What would you recommend to other military families?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

I Just Don’t Get…the Ever-Complaining Military Spouse

i-just-dont-get“Ugh! Just had to wait for 30 minutes to get a prescription from the MTF!”

“Seriously, I am so tired of ‘mandatory fun’ – what’s fun about it?”

“I can’t wait for us to get out of the military! If I have to deal with one more holiday alone…”

Do you know a fellow military spouse who’s a constant flow of negativity—always complaining about military life and everything that goes with it? From their spouse’s duty weekend to the terrible selection of ketchup at the Commissary – nothing is off limits. And it all gets aired on social media.

I just don’t get it.

Military life isn’t always sunshine and unicorns (can it be, please?), but it is something special. We have a secret weapon most civilian spouses don’t: a built-in community of support…each other.

No matter where you PCS, there’s a neighbor in base housing who understands the frustration of raising toddlers, a FRG leader who knows the perfect dentist out in town, or a spouse in your command who loves wine as much as you do.

So why is nothing ever good enough for that ever-complaining milspouse?

What I love so much about this military community is the camaraderie and pride we all seem to share. Maybe the ever-complaining milspouse hasn’t had a chance to see how supportive we can be. I have to think that if they did, they’d see how important it is to be that pillar of strength for someone else. It’s our duty as military spouses to pay it forward. Be supportive. Share resources. Do for others.

That’s the only way we can ensure the complainers become extinct – by doing our part to make the camaraderie live on.

Maybe then, there might not be as much to complain about.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

We’ll Sweep You Off Your Feet…and on to a Southwest Air Flight!

Military-Spouse-Appreciation-homepageMilitary Spouse Appreciation shouldn’t be a one day thing. That’s why we’re celebrating all month long! We’ve teamed up with Southwest Airlines to give seven lucky military spouses a pair of roundtrip tickets. That’s right, one military spouse from each of the seven uniformed services will win!

We know you have places to go and people to see. Maybe you were hoping to go home this summer to visit family or dreaming about a post-deployment getaway. Free plane tickets could make your dream a reality.

It’s easy to enter for a chance to win. Just download the MyMilitaryLife App and register using the promo code: SpouseLove. Already have the app on your phone? Great! Select promo code from the menu in the top left corner of your screen and enter SpouseLove.

The contest ends at midnight EDT May 31, 2014.Visit our website for contest rules and details.

michellePosted by Michelle Joyner, Mobile Initiatives 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