Tag Archives: military spouses

“Look for the Helpers:” Encouragement After Devastation and Uncertainty

I’ve felt a bit stressed out lately. Things have been crazy at work–I’ve come the grim realization that I’ve said “yes” to entirely too many things! Closer to home, we’re adjusting to my husband’s retirement and my parents’ move from the farm where they’ve lived for almost 60 years to a retirement community. My kids have loving partners and happy lives, but I don’t see them often enough.

Then there’s all that craziness in the world today: terrorist attacks overseas and threats here, uncertainty for military families because of those threats, military budget pressures that are prompting downsizing, continued deployments, and the fear of too many unknowns.

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A speaker at a conference I recently attended said, “Stress is not always bad–it’s how we respond to stress [that matters].”

This is not the first time I’ve felt stressed; I felt stressed when we moved every couple of years while my husband was on active duty, when my kids had to switch schools, when I had to put my career hopes on hold, and when my husband deployed. And sometimes other events intruded and added to the ‘out of control’ feeling: Desert Storm, September 11, natural disasters, school shootings.

When my kids were young, our TV viewing included some Sesame Street, lots of Looney Tunes, with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney videos also in the mix. But every once in awhile, when things were particularly harried, we’d spend some quiet time in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The slow pace, courtesy, and obvious love calmed even the most frenzied four-year old and his mom.

During Desert Storm, and again after the September 11 attacks, Mister Rogers reassured frightened children that grownups would take care of them, despite the things they saw on TV that seemed scary. He provided guidance for their parents. We still seek out his words when we’re on overload because of scary things happening in the world, “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

In tough times, Mister Rogers would often say, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

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And so, that’s what I’m trying to do these days–look for the helpers. It’s comforting to know they are everywhere for my family, for me, and for our military families. One of my ‘helpers’ is a friend–a widow–who meets me for dinner before choir practice. She thinks I’m helping to ease her loneliness, but the chance to relax after a long work day with a good friend over a glass of wine and a good meal is such a break for me!

Helpers are everywhere and I’m fortunate to find them in the course of my work. Our helpers include our service members, and their families, who answer our Nation’s call every day. Our National Military Family Association Volunteers are helpers to us, and their communities, as they link military families with resources and help us speak up for those families.

I met other helpers, veterans and veteran-serving organizations, at a summit on Bainbridge Island, Washington at Islandwood. These helpers developed recommendations for Washington’s Governor on promoting the health of military families and job readiness for veterans through programs in the outdoors. Most recently, I met hundreds of helpers in Fayetteville, North Carolina; they are the teachers, counselors, community organizations, and medical providers who gather each year at the Forward March conference to learn more about supporting military families and veterans.

Helpers are everywhere, and connecting with them not only helps reduce our stress, but also the stress others feel. In this crazy, scary world, let’s celebrate the helpers and join with them to make our part of the world a little less stressful.

Are there ‘helpers’ in your life who help relieve your stress? Share it with us in the comments and give them a big THANKS!

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, National Military Family Association Executive Director

I’m Scared for What’s Next: A Military Spouse’s Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

There are some things in life that, no matter how hard you try, just don’t make sense. No amount of contemplation, insight, or prayer can bring sense to the evil of this world. September 11, 2001 shaped the way I grew up, and the way I view things around me. It took away my ability to see good and heroic things happening, and replaced it with fear and uncertainty.

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As a military spouse, fear can become a daily emotion. When tragedy strikes, our worlds seem to close in on us as we run the gamut of possible outcomes for our loved one; will they deploy, and where? When will training start? What holidays will he miss? How dangerous will it be?

President Obama recently said that he would keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017. This decision, sadly, didn’t seem to take any of us by surprise despite earlier pledges to withdraw them. My gut is twisted thinking of the other military families who won’t have their loved ones home for the holidays. My heart aches for the families who received news that their service members are being sent to relieve those left in Afghanistan or to protect our nation in other remote parts of the globe.

It’s been 14 years of war, and the state of the world isn’t getting any better. I’m not ready for an endless war, where places we thought were safe can become the frontlines of new types of battle. Places like Paris–beautiful, beloved Paris–a place where dozens of my friends have visited, even lived. Why would any evil target Paris?

As I was processing the death tolls, the injuries, and the eventual claim of who was responsible, I was overcome with emotion. I’m scared for what’s next.

There are military families in France and other countries in Europe; I’m scared for them. Stateside military families are wondering, no doubt, if their service member might deploy as a result of these attacks. I’m scared for them, too. I’m scared for the service members who are still enlisting in our all-volunteer military—they’ll be the next wave of support to join our nation’s longest war.

I don’t know what to expect except fear and uncertainty.

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Paris could have been anywhere—a military base, New York City, a theme park, an NFL football game. And I could have been there. My family could have fallen victim. And that scares me. Evil is out there, lurking, planning, targeting. And we’re only doing the best we can to protect ourselves.

Paris’ Night of Horror was unbelievably senseless and evil, and there’s no way to process why other humans would commit such an act of terror. As a military spouse, my heart hurts for the families of the victims. And I’m scared for what’s next for my own family.

There aren’t many historic events in my lifetime that give me hope that good still exists. But seeing the sacrifice our men and women in uniform, and their families, make to protect our nation gives me that hope. Tragedy isn’t avoidable, but I know that someone’s loved one—including my own—vowed to protect us from it as best they could.

I’m scared for what’s next because I know our service members are at stake. I know some military families will have to bear the burden of another deployment, another holiday alone, even another tragedy. And some of those families are my friends.

I’m asking you to rally behind the military families you know. Just as we all are finding ways to stand by the people of Paris, don’t forget to stand by our service members in harm’s way. Support the cause and display your pride in all ways. The war isn’t over. Military families need to know their country has their back.

Seeing our country stand behind the military and their families is the good that drives out the fear and uncertainty bred by tragedy.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

3 Tips for Military Spouse Writers Who Want to Publish a Book

I’d like to tell you my path to publication was easy, but that would be a lie. It took five states, five assignments, one retirement, another move, and 17 (that’s not a typo–17!) years to publish my first novel. But when it happened — it happened fast.

I started writing a novel after seeing an ad for a short story contest in the Dayton, Ohio newspaper when we were station at Wright-Patterson in 1997. I tried writing a short story, but subplots and interesting characters kept bubbling up onto the page, and I realized the story was so much more.

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So here’s my best advice about publishing:

Study the craft of writing.
I went to my first writers conference while we were stationed at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As part of the conference, I read the first five pages to the group. As I read I thought, “This is the worst drivel ever written and it’s all backstory.” Fortunately, it was a very kind group–they pointed out what was good, and I got back to work. Since then I’ve attended writers retreats and conferences, taken classes at a community college, listened to every author speak that I could find, joined a critique group, and read lots of books about writing.

Tagged for Death mech.indd

Get out there.
When we moved to Northern Virginia, I saw an ad for a mystery convention called Malice Domestic. While it’s considered a mystery fan conference, there were plenty of writers, agents, and editors roaming around. One year I met a well-known agent as I was checking in. She told me to mail her my manuscript and while she, ultimately, turned it down, it was an opportunity. In 2005, we found out we were going to be stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. That year at Malice, I happened to sit at a table with a woman, Julie Hennrikus, from Boston. She told me I should join the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attend a conference called Crime Bake. That chance meeting eventually led to my being published–more on that in a bit. There are organizations for Sci-Fi writers, children’s writers, almost any type of writing you are interested in.

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Get used to rejection.
In the early days of my writing journey, I snail-mailed my manuscript and got rejections back the same way–lots of them! I have a file folder with around 65 rejection letters. Some are just a copied form letter, some at least have a signature on them, then are some with a personal note. The ones with a personal note gave me a little hint as to why they said “no” and kept me going.

So back to meeting Julie. I did join the Sisters in Crime chapter and attended Crime Bake. I met more and more published and hoping-to-be-published writers. Three years ago at Crime Bake, another friend, Barbara Ross, introduced me to her agent, John Talbot. I pitched my series to him but he wasn’t interested (by that time I’d written three books). A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.indd

A week later, I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal with Kensington Publishing (and they’ve just asked for two more). The Sarah Winston Garage Sale series is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts, and on a fictional air force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. The first in the series, Tagged for Death, came out last December and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel at Malice Domestic. All of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came along.

So hone your skills, meet people in the writing world, and don’t give up! If you have questions you can contact me through my website, SherryHarrisAuthor.com.

Are you a military spouse writer? Let’s connect!

sherry-harrisPosted by Sherry Harris, military spouse. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series

5 Tips to Connect with LGBTQ in Your Military Community

My wife, Vanessa, is an Army veteran. When we met, she had already served and returned to civilian life, but she’s thinking of enlisting again, soon. And for me, I need information; I needed to know what my life would look like if my wife joins again. I googled my little heart out, but I saw little of what I was looking for.

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I noticed there weren’t many blogs or voices from lesbians in the military, so I created a website and blog to create a positive place online for lesbian military spouses; a space I might need if I become a military spouse, too. I also wanted to create acceptance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the military. Creating this space online was a way to honor my wife as a veteran, because when she did serve, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was still in effect. DADT made it hard for her to have a relationship and live her life the way she wanted. I’m thankful she was single when we met after she got out of the Army. It’s only been a few months since same-sex marriage was made legal, but not all LGBT military personnel may be publicly open about their personal lives. And that’s okay. 

What does same-sex marriage mean for your military family? Embracing change may be the simple answer. Today, more than 71,000 service members identify with the LGBT community, and it’s common to have an LGBT person serving military families. Same-sex marriage creates a chance for everyone to be proactive and treat families in military units or on bases with an open heart, regardless of their sexual orientation or self-identity. 

I’m passionate about writing, and I love that I can blog and create a positive place for LGBT military service members online. I want to use my voice to help military families see LGBT service members are people with families, too. It’s important to respect others and treat them as you want to be treated.

Here are 5 tips to get you engage and help you connect with LGBT within your military community:

1) Acknowledge everyone. Greet and introduce yourself to everyone in the room. When inviting people over, or to an event, use the term ‘spouse’ instead of wife, or husband, to be inclusive.

2) Be friendly and welcoming. This is an easy one: just be yourself. Ask questions about their life, and talk about yours. It’s always nice to feel welcomed and acknowledged, and who knows, you might make a friend in the process!

3) Be an ally. Invite co-workers, spouses, and significant others to events. Some LGBT military personnel join the military because their own families might not support them for being who they are. See if they need help with something, or just need a friend to talk to. Being an ally for someone who is LGBT is being someone who shows up and is tough, but gentle when needed.

4) Support equality and find common ground. The LGBT community is a great place to start! Educate yourself about the diversification of gender and sexuality so you can understand the range a person can identify as.

5) Be courageous and speak up. Learn what terms means within the LGBT community, and tell others who might not know. If someone starts a joke about being gay or transgender, let them know it’s offensive. Today, 7 in 10 Americans have close friends or relatives who are gay. By speaking against homophobia and transphobia, you support those in the LGBT community. You can make a huge impact on how others treat LGBT people in the future by engaging with others and talking about LGBT friends.

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LGBT relationships are no different than straight relationships: two people in love with each other. The repeal of the DADT made it legal for any person, regardless of sexual orientation, to openly serve in the military. But LGBT families need continued support from straight allies. That’s why I think it’s important to be part of this open-minded, open-hearted movement within your military community. At the root of everything, we are all human beings with families, who love and want be loved.

The more you know about LGBT families the easier it will be for you to interact and introduce yourself within your military communities. It can be very intimidating or nerve racking being new to the military community as a military spouse whether you are in a straight relationship or same-sex relationship.

How have you connected with the LGBT community in your military life?

norine holguinPosted by Norine Holguin, creator of Lesbian Army Wife, and OMG Lesbian Army Wife Blog

Being #MoreThanASpouse is More Than A Mantra

When we entered the world of military service, now, almost five years ago, I set aside my part-time career as an adjunct English instructor at my alma mater.

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This was a job I enjoyed for almost eight years; a job for which I trained; a job for which I earned a Master’s degree; a job for which I strategically planned to coincide with motherhood; a job for which I spent many hours perfecting my craft and aiming to competitively stand out among my peers. This was a job where I made a difference in the lives of hundreds of college students on their path to a bright future, full of promise.

I felt fulfilled by and called to the profession of teaching. I enjoyed having my foot in the working world while my children were young. I felt validated earning a paycheck and contributing financially to our family’s future.

When my husband commissioned into the Army, I set aside my career with feelings of simultaneous willingness and disappointment. I was willing to do my part as a wide-eyed military spouse and yet, part of my heart was left in the classroom alongside the SMART Board, dry erase markers, and composition notebooks.

I consider myself a positive person, a supportive wife, and a woman who longs to make the world a better place. It was with this same bravado that I embraced my role as a chaplain spouse, cavalry wife, and dependent (as we spouses are so often namelessly called).

During those first three years at our inaugural duty station I poured the same amount of passion, work-ethic, and heart into my new role. I sincerely enjoyed my endeavors in unit leadership, chapel ministry, and the work of being the steady, always-available default parent and partner in our home. I wasn’t earning a paycheck, but my payment for this hard work came in the form of hugs, high-fives, ‘atta-girls,’ and certificates of completion for all manner of Army Family Team Building (AFTB), Key Caller, and Care Team trainings.

During that season, I know I was absolutely fulfilling the roles I was called to be filling. I served as president of a women’s ministry, homeschooled our three children, taught Sunday school and a Bible study, organized a LEGO camp, did some freelance writing for a local business, and I kept the home fires burning during my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. I faithfully attended more than my share of spouse coffees and unit functions; all with a smile on my face, and all while wearing the appropriate pin and insignia over my honored and satisfied heart.

mtas-mantra-2As efficacious as those years were, there was also a complex sense of anonymity that I sensed. Sometimes among a roomful of people, I’d feel alone. One of the great disappointments of military life is that we don’t always really, truly, and deeply get to know those we are serving alongside.

As a life-long overachiever, I often wanted to make sure people around me knew that I was capable, trained, educated, smart, available, or as the National Military Family Association’s campaign suggests, #morethanaspouse. I have gifts, talents, and abilities of my own. I’m not just a wife, spouse, dependent, or sidekick to my soldier. See me! Notice me! Take advantage of my skills, my expertise, my competence and qualifications!

Unlike our beloved service members, I don’t wear my rank, experiences, or education on my sleeve or blouse. Whether you know my husband or not, you see part of who he is based on his visible Army flair. As a spouse, you may never know how awesome I am unless you get to know me and I share with you my credentials and personal narrative. That’s the world we live in as military spouses.

Most of the time, most of us are mostly okay with this arrangement. Most of us are resolved to being in the shadows and in the background. We’re mostly cool with being the wind beneath our soldier, seaman, or airman’s wings. Most of us are comfortable with setting aside our passions and dreams for the call of duty. We feel proud to support the missions of our spouse’s career, the military, and our great country!

Very recently, however, I experienced an unpredictable and long-suppressed sort of pride.

Our family is now onto our second duty station and in the midst of “savoring the lull” of a slower op-tempo. I applied for and accepted a part-time job that morphed into a full-time teaching gig. I’ve found myself holding class in the college classroom again and I’m overjoyed. Here are a few of the top reasons why:

I’m thrilled to have an employer who took a chance on me despite reading a vitae full of professional and volunteer experiences from three different states in less than four years. Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas endeavors all enumerate my resume and speak loudly and clearly to a life that won’t be settled in one place too long. (If you are a military spouse, you know this is a real crisis plaguing our employability as dependents.)

I’m ecstatic to be earning a paycheck that is commiserate with my education and experience. I’m not above taking a minimum wage job if necessary, but my pay should reflect my background, training, and work history. For the first time in a long time, I feel valued and motivated by financial success.

I’m delighted to be getting some personal, positive feedback from my students, inquiries about my successful methods and practices from my peers and colleagues, and occasional accolades from my superiors. I don’t work hard simply for the praise, but it’s nice to be complimented and recognized by others for a job well done.

And ultimately, I’m elated that for the moment, I know that I am #MoreThanASpouse. It’s not just a mantra I’m repeating in my head; it’s not just a cry of my heart. Presently, I am in a role where others see me, where I am flourishing, and where an actual paycheck validates that I am, indeed, more.

Reality tells me that this job, this duty-station, this wave of professional fulfillment isn’t permanent. I know that it is finite; it has an expiration date. I know we will be moving again before I know it. But for now, during this academic year (and possibly one more) I am Mrs. Wood.

I am an English instructor. I am a teacher. I am an encourager. I am a leader. I am an influencer. I am a coach. I am a mentor. I am a preceptor to a group of nearly 140 college students. I am #MoreThanASpouse.

What’s your #MoreThanASpouse testimony? Share it with us!

claire-woodClaire Wood writes about her own struggles to make sense of military life at www.elizabethclairewood.com and she has recently released her faith-based book for military spouses, Mission Ready Marriage. She enjoys reading, early morning outdoor walks, trying out new recipes, and hosting friends and family in her home. Claire is married to Ryan, an Army Chaplain. They and their three children are stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA.

Military Balls: Save the Antics for the After Party

I love military balls. I love any formal event, really. I love the fancy dresses. I love the traditions and ceremonies. I love spending the night with my spouse (who looks pretty darn handsome in his Mess Dress). I always go home from the party madly in love with military life and my spouse.

If you are new to military life or haven’t attended a ball yet, you’re in for a treat. There are a few things you need to know before you put on your glass slippers and head out for the party.

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Choose Appropriate Attire

Pay attention to the invite to the ball to make sure you understand what the dress code is. Each event will be a little different, but the majority of evening events will call for your spouse wearing their Mess Dress, and you in either a formal, floor-length gown or a tuxedo.

A great rule of thumb is to ask yourself “What Would Kate Middleton Wear?” (thanks NextGenMilSpouse) and go with that. Keep it classy- no cut-outs, no short dresses, nothing see-thru. It should match the level of formality your spouse is wearing.

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Don’t be the Mean Girl (or Guy)

If you pick the perfect, classy gown, and show up to the party to discover that one crazy wife is in a mini-dress with all her goods showing, do not be catty or talk about her all night. Worry about yourself and enjoy the evening.

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Be on Your Best Behavior

Military balls are considered an “official place of duty.” Your spouse is at work, and most of his chain of command and co-workers are going to be there. You absolutely want to be yourself, but you also want to make sure your behavior is in check so your spouse is not worrying about whether or not you are going to embarrass them after drinking one too many glasses of wine.

Many events will have a receiving line where you and your spouse will shake hands with everyone who is someone at the party. Your opportunity to make a good first impression doesn’t end there. You can use this event as a place to network and make new friends, just be sure you aren’t being remembered for all the wrong reasons!

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Participate Respectfully in the Program

Each event will be a little different, but there should be a speaker, some sort of call and response, your branch’s song may be sung as a group, they will present and retire the colors, there may be a POW/MIA table. The program should have all the information you need to follow along, but when in doubt, keep still, keep quiet and do what the others at your table are doing. Stand when they stand, sit when they sit and enjoy the pageantry!

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Follow Etiquette Rules 

Don’t stress too much about this part, but again, while at the party, keep your eye on someone you trust to know how all this “fancy-schmancy” stuff works and do as she does.

More importantly, have fun. In this situation, trying your best is all that matters. You don’t need to take it so seriously that you can’t enjoy yourself. No one is really going to remember if you said someone’s rank wrong or garbled the words to the Air Force song.

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Party It Up On the Dance Floor! 

Service Members know how to cut loose! When the head table takes off their jackets and heads to the dance floor, that is your cue to have some fun as well. No bumping and grinding please, but do get out there and shake it!

Also, make sure you know the line-dance of the day. Everyone will be on the floor for the Cha Cha Slide.

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Check out our Pinterest board for more articles (and more hilarious videos of service members dancing.)

https://www.pinterest.com/militaryfampins/mastering-the-military-ball/

 

What is your best piece of military ball advice?

Mastering the Art of the Empty Nest!

I thought I had this Empty-Nester thing figured out; I spent over 20 years raising children and preparing them for all life has to offer. And, last month, when I drove off to take my youngest daughter to college, I was excited for my new future. The possibilities seemed endless!

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The 1200 mile road trip to drop her off was fun–she and I are two peas in a pod. We’re like the Gilmore Girls: she’s basically my best friend (I know what they say: you shouldn’t be “friends” with your children – you should be their parent). But she is special, she’s an old soul. I felt like I was losing my best friend.

The good-bye was actually easier than I anticipated. I was confident her father and I had prepared her for pretty much anything. She was ready to fly the coop.

Upon returning home, things felt weird. My husband went TDY, and for the first time since 1992, I was HOME ALONE. What should I do first?! I could do anything I wanted. My responsibilities had dramatically decreased, so I could sleep all day, lie around watching old movies, or spend the entire day at the gym. Instead, I went to the grocery store. And I didn’t bother with the commissary this time. Heck, it was only my husband and I now, and we don’t eat that much, so I could afford the name brand stores this time! I wandered around aimlessly in a daze, and walked out with a loaf of bread, a six pack of beer, and a rotisserie chicken (and I don’t even eat meat!).

Was this how my new life was going to be? Wasting time wandering around and accomplishing nothing? I felt like I needed a plan. For over two decades I’ve always had a regimented plan and schedules to follow. I’m not used to down time…I need to be productive.

I allowed myself the full weekend to be a big mess of confusion. Then I decided it was time to get myself together and figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It was only three weeks into Empty Nest Life, but I still wasn’t sure what that is. For 25 years, I’ve been focused on everyone else. A few months after marrying my spouse, we PCS’d for the first time. I had to quit the big job I got right out of college, and put my career on the back burner so we could pursue his together. Then I had babies.

For years and years, I raised those kids and supported my husband through many PCS moves, deployments, and TDY assignments. I got whatever job fit my schedule. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to find work that allowed me to see my kids off to school, and be there when they returned home. It was never about me and always about them.

How does one go about deciding what she wants and needs, when for most of her life, she’s always been what everyone else wanted and needed?

The possibilities are, indeed, endless. I can finally pursue my group fitness instruction again. My evenings are free to teach classes, since there are no more softball games to attend, no more back-to-school nights, no more homework to help with (let’s be honest: my kids quit needing my help with that years ago). Maybe I can go back to work full-time. My day can now start and end when I want it to. Maybe I can do both?!

Maybe I need to cut myself a break and give myself a little bit of time figure it all out. For 25 years, I did what had to be done. And now it’s only been a month…

In the meantime, I will continue my projects around the house, and continue walking the dogs twice a day (they’re very confused by all of this, and although they enjoy the walks, they are a little tired from all the attention!).

Do I miss my kids? You bet I do. Am I sad to be an Empty-Nester? Nope. I’m excited. And I’m pretty sure I will master this Empty-Nester thing after all.

Are you an Empty-Nester? How did you navigate your new “free time?”

cindyPosted by Cindy Jackson, Finance Manager