After almost 20 years, I’m leaving my job here at NMFA to go work with military families as the Director of Case Management for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). As the last day approaches, I’ve been sharing my experiences with co-workers and thinking about how I, and our Association, arrived where we are today.
When I arrived at NMFA in 1995, I was at a crossroads. My qualifications to become a legislative assistant in Government Relations included years of experience as a military spouse who had cobbled together a resume of itinerant job skills and a wealth of volunteer service. We had always lived on post. I had raised three children in the military life, changing schools, supporting their activities, and learning the military health care system. Heck, we were Military Family of the Year on post one year in the 80s – the year we were never together as a family at the dinner table. I was—and still am—a connector, a go-to person for anyone with questions because I learned all I could about each community when we moved there.
It was all about the phone and letters in those days – pushing out info through the newsletter and fact sheets. Learning from the great ladies of our organization in my time – Sydney Hickey, Margaret Hallgren, Dorsey Chescavage, Edie Smith – and the men – Bob Rosen, Tom Sims, and Jim Mutter. Being a calm voice at the end of the phone when someone called with a problem or challenge with military benefits. Hardly ever hearing the words “military family” (unless we spoke them) as we worked with members of Congress or attended hearings on the Hill.
Cycle forward through 20 years. NMFA geared up and responded in a big way to the challenges military families faced as we entered the longest war in our history. From our office, we heard and felt the planes hitting the Pentagon on 9-11. We got rid of the paper and started reaching out to families in real time with the info they needed when they needed it. Our own spouses and children in combat. We were our own family readiness group, working with people who understood how it felt when we hadn’t heard from a daughter in Iraq for a few weeks. Sharing tears at the water cooler when it all became too much.
The pace was exhilarating, working long days and weekends, but seeing results in improved benefits and programs for the families of the deployed, the wounded and those who didn’t come home.
We’re fighting a different battle now – trying to preserve the benefits and resources that help keep our military families strong so that their service member can battle another day. We’re looking for support for what may be problems down the road, both for the spouses and children who faced the challenges of multiple deployments and for the families of those who have yet to serve.
I have been honored to work with a grand group of folks who are passionate about military families. It’s important to me because I see those next generations coming, with my kids who serve and my soon to be grandbabies who will be military kids. Some of the nicest people I know advocate for the military inside and outside the Pentagon. I know all the folks here, led by my outstanding Government Relations staff, will continue to channel that passion and make sure military families’ voices are heard
I’ve been privileged to have a family who supported me in my work, especially my husband Marty. Many thanks to my battle buddy, Joyce Raezer. I look forward to new challenges but know that it was NMFA that helped make me the advocate I am today. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a grand ride!