Category Archives: Guest Posts

3 Easy Tips to Keep Your Military Marriage Shatterproof

Dating, loving, and eventually marrying a service member can bring a flurry of butterflies. The uniform, the exotic PCS locations (29 Palms, am I right?!), and the pride that goes with standing next to your military loved one is incomparable.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and military spouse, myself, I often have other military couples who want guidance with how to make their relationships shatterproof. Here’s 3 tips I like to share:

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Keep civilian friends. Being a military family can start to bleed into every crevice of your life. Initially, maybe you’re simply dating someone in the military, but then all of a sudden, you’re moving halfway across the country, leaving your job, your friends, your church, and your family.

It can be extremely important to keep an anchor in the “real world,” and have someone there to remind you how exceptional your life is. Normalcy (whatever that means) still exists, and someday you will be faced with it again. It’s hard to imagine, but for many active duty members, the choice to stay in the military has a lot to do with the fact that they haven’t written a resume in years! They wouldn’t know how to begin interviewing and applying for jobs. They can become so engrossed in war stories and surreal job descriptions that to have a ‘9:00am-5:00pm’ job can be extremely jarring. Keep civilian friends around to help you from falling too far down the rabbit hole of an all encompassing military family lifestyle.

Remember your partner is fighting for YOU. In the words of Brad Paisley, “You think you’re one in millions, but you’re one in a million to me.” I know we can get lost in thinking that with all the hours, deployments, tests, and such, we’ve become an accessory to a military career. In all my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found it’s the complete opposite that’s true for the service member.

Often times, when a young person enters into the military, he or she tends to marry very young. Why, you might ask? They have money, a stable job, friends and camaraderie…why settle down so quickly? From my experience, it seems as though most times, these service members want to ensure that they will have someone to come home to, someone to fight for, and give a face to their mission. Therefore, dating is not enough. Some want to lock in their partners, and have a sense of security they might very well lose in every other aspect of their life.

Loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, motherhood/fatherhood, and other traits are LEARNED. I remember a time when my son was still very little and he felt sick. It was late, and I was a new mom so I was trying to decide whether it warranted an emergency room visit. I kept asking my husband what he thought and finally he said, “I don’t know! YOU’RE the mom!” I yelled back, “I wasn’t born knowing how to mom! I google things just like everybody else!”

In hindsight, this is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I was irate. As a military couple, we are given a lot of responsibility very quickly and it can feel like trial by fire, but its important to remember we were not born with innate values and the ability to love deeply, faithfully, perfectly. We must remind ourselves that even with the jobs, the marriage, the kids, we are never really grown up; we are always maturing and growing. The question is: do you want to grow together?

What tips would you give to other military couples? Leave us a comment an tell us!

Posted by Erin Calahan, M.S., LMFT, LCDC, military spouse and mother of two. Find out more about Erin.

Health Care for Transgender Military Kids: Where’s the Equal Access?

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month is a time of celebration–and the members of today’s Armed Forces and their families represent the most diverse military population in history. But even with the Department of Defense (DoD) joining the celebration of this month, we are reminded that under the current DoD regulations, transgender service members are unable to serve openly, a damaging reality that hurts the entire family unit. Thankfully, that’s all about to change soon. The DoD is in the process of updating these outdated regulations. But unfortunately, the DoD also has specific healthcare guidelines that prohibit certain medical care for transgender military dependents.

With so much anti-LGBT legislation out there now, much of which targets transgender people, service members are often stuck in the proverbial closet protecting their transgender children. To make matters worse, when they are home, they are continuously fighting the battle to have their children cared for. Service members have the heavy burden of protecting our country and should not also have to worry about whether or not their family members are getting the care they need.

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The Brewer family is one of these military families. Amanda and her husband Josh, a soldier who has served for 14 years, have a transgender teenage daughter who has continuously struggled to receive adequate support and assistance navigating military channels and healthcare.

Their family has experienced substantial struggles navigating TRICARE–even simply receiving adequate healthcare for their daughter, Jenn, has been harder than necessary. And thanks to the DoD’s transgender exclusion policy in the military healthcare system, it doesn’t get any easier.

TRICARE’s exclusion policy restricts transgender dependents to only receiving care at military installations. Any off base referrals for specific mental health professionals or medical appointments are denied.

For the Brewers, this means their daughter has had to forgo critical and needed care because services are not always available. When TRICARE deems transgender as suffering from “gender dysphoria,” any medical care or hospitalizations outside of a military installation has to be paid out of pocket, which places profound financial stress on these military families.

Currently, the DoD only has two bases that provide care to transgender dependents. If policies were to change, dependents would likely be categorized under the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). With the limited locations of medical care for transgender dependents, many service members’ careers would be jeopardized. Without a critical reconsideration of this policy, many transgender children and dependents remain untreated and excluded.

 

One current military provider, who has been treating transgender military dependent children and adolescents for the last several years told me:

The main problem that families encounter when seeking treatment for their transgender child is that there is a lack of TRICARE policy supporting medical treatment of transgender dependents. For the families that are able to find military providers who are willing to provide necessary treatment at a military facility, transferring to a new duty station may mean losing access to their care.”

She also said, “Several of the largest military training facilities have tried to establish multidisciplinary treatment teams that would treat transgender children and adolescents. This approach follows World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) practice guidelines. We also had several military providers in different pediatric sub-specialties who have received training to treat transgender children and adolescents. However, as medical providers, we find ourselves unable to provide standard of care to this population in great need of services, due to a lack of policy supporting the treatment of transgender dependents.”

This LGBT Pride Month, we are reminded of the tremendous progress we’ve made, but also of all that we have yet to accomplish. We look forward to working together to continue that progress and ensure that all service members and their families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are getting the care and support they need and deserve.

Posted by Jennifer Dane, Diversity & Inclusion Policy Analyst, The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest resource and support network for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s LGBT service members and veterans

5 Things Your Service Member Needs From You

I met my husband when we were both active duty. Being a former Marine, I recognize that in most situations, I have it a little easier because I understand my spouse’s daily life.

These are some important things we all need to understand in order to support our spouses, and remove unnecessary stress from our marriages.

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Complain less, listen more
Even though they go to a job each day, the military is not a normal job. In most instances, your spouse will have several people to answer to and may not feel like they are heard or listened to at all. The hours are long with no set release time and planning around duty can be difficult.

What can you do about this? Just support them. Be there to listen, and don’t complain about a situation that they couldn’t change…believe me, there will be a lot of those. Adding stress to your spouse’s life by complaining does not help either of you.

Your spouse’s battles are not your battles
I have a hard time with this because I like to take action, but if someone disrespects my husband (and he tells me about it at home), that is not my battle to fight. Nor is it my business to bring it up to the spouse of the person with whom my husband is having a conflict. Helllooooo, drama!

There may be many times you want to give someone a piece of your mind, but that will only cause more conflict in the workplace for your spouse.

The better approach is to talk through the situation together, even if you can’t come to a solution. Sometimes getting your point of view and support will help your spouse navigate the personalities they come in contact with each day.

The more you know about your branch, the better
Your spouse could never explain everything to you about how things work in the military. The more you can educate yourself about the rank system and history of your branch, what your spouse went through in basic training, and how your spouse’s job fits into the big picture of their unit, the more relaxed you will be.

If your spouse talks about some kind of training or work event that you are unfamiliar with, ask them to explain. They will enjoy the chance to show what they know and like bringing you into the fold.

The day you remember something specific about their job, they will do a double take and be impressed because they probably feel like they are always talking at the wind!

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Decompression time
Otherwise known as alone time. If I could be stuck to my husband 24/7 I would, but he needs his own decompression time. I know spouses whose husbands get their alone time in at the gym, or tinkering in the garage, or playing video games.

Whatever the case, your spouse needs daily time to themselves to just be a person – not a military member, not a spouse – just a person.

Reassure them there is life outside the military
When my spouse works 12-14 hours a day all week, then we go to the commissary on the weekend, and just chill around the house in our downtime, to him there is nothing outside the military in this scenario. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

Having been in the military myself, I know this is so important, especially in the beginning years of their career. Military life can be a bubble, but you need to break out of it for sanity’s sake.

It can be something simple like taking a daily walk to talk and relax. Or planning a trip together – even if this trip is to a public park in the next town over.

No one is going to tell you this life is easy, but the more you can try to understand what your spouse needs and feels due to the nature of his/her job, the less complicated and stressed your military family will be!

What tips would you give another military spouse? Share them in the comments!

RileyVheadshotPosted by Vera Riley, Marine Corps spouse and fitness and lifestyle blogger at The Noble Big Sister

Be “On-Point” for Gold Star Families This Memorial Day

May 30th—Memorial Day—marks a unique opportunity for every American to remember and honor those who lost their lives in service to this country for the freedoms we enjoy.

Memorial Day is designated as the last Monday in May each year to honor U. S. military service men and women who died while serving their country. The day is especially poignant for Gold Star Families, those family members who have lost a loved one serving in the military.

Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, which is always celebrated on November 11, and honors all military veterans. The tradition of Memorial Day in America started during the Civil War, first called Declaration Day. After World War I, Declaration Day became a unifying event for the country, officially celebrated on May 30th. In 1968, Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, and declared it as a federal holiday.

The National Moment of Remembrance Resolution, passed in 2000, set a moment of remembrance to be held at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day.

In 1936, the United States government designated the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. And Gold Star Wives was founded during WWII. Today, the federal government recognizes Gold Star Family Members—mothers, fathers, spouse, children and siblings of those who died in military service.

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Memorial Day was always a special day when I was on active duty. Celebrating the holiday with friends and families of our unit served to strengthen the bond between all of us that endures to this very day.

My family’s fondest memories of Memorial Day were during our six years in the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Division began the Memorial Day celebration the Monday before with a week of sports competitions, memorial services, and alumni events. On Memorial Day, Fort Bragg celebrated with a concert and a spectacular fireworks display.

Serving almost three decades in the military, including command during two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, I was separated from my family frequently and for extended periods of time. So now, our family celebrates Memorial Day together. We share a meal and share memories of our time in service with some of the most remarkable and selfless people we have ever known. We thank God for blessing us with the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, with a mission that was larger than ourselves. We reflect on the unthinkable sacrifice so many endure through the loss of their fallen warrior, and we pray for those Gold Star Family Members.

Now, as a veteran, I have the privilege of serving as director of Point 27. Point 27 partners with military units and other nonprofit organizations to strengthen and encourage members of the Armed Forces, veterans, military families, first responders, athletes, and chronically ill people. Our primary means of encouragement is through jewelry engraved with scripture called Shields of Strength. Shields of Strength serve as a physical reminder of God’s Word, His promises and His unconditional love.

This Memorial Day, Point 27 is teaming with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), another nonprofit, to give more than 2,000 Gold Star Family Members a specially-designed necklace. Each pendant is a replica of a folded American flag like those presented during military funerals and engraved with the words from John 15:13.

The Folded Flag Necklace is a lifetime keepsake, an acknowledgement of the families’ enduring sacrifice, and an assurance that we have not forgotten their loved one.

On Memorial Day, military members, veterans and their families can take significant roles in educating civilians about the sacrifices of military service. Volunteer to speak or help coordinate an honor guard for Memorial Day celebrations and community gatherings. Make a special effort to locate and reach out to Gold Star Family Members, and engage your community in honoring them and supporting nonprofit organizations that focus on Gold Star Families.

We can all be on-point this Memorial Day to make sure America honors and never forgets the fallen and their families.

Posted by Retired Army Colonel David Dodd, Director of Point 27 Ministries, a nonprofit founded by Shields of Strength.

What is a Life Coach? And Do I Need One?

No one knows how to roll with the unexpected better than a military family. Whether it’s a sudden change of duty station, or a last-minute deployment, steady upheaval is just a given. The trouble is, some military spouses get so good at coping with change and supporting the family that they lose sight of caring for themselves.

That’s where life coaching can be helpful. Maybe you long to start your own business, or you’re demoralized by a stubborn weight problem. Perhaps you want to improve your relationship with your spouse, but can’t quite break old habits, or are recently divorced and baffled by the prospect of dating again. There are life coaches who specialize in these areas and more. And just like an athletic coach, they help you see where you’re stuck and find the resources and behaviors to help you move forward. And, even though your official status may be “dependent,” you can’t count on anyone but yourself to make your dreams come true.

So, what is this ‘life coaching’ thing?

Let’s start with what life coaching isn’t. Coaching is not counseling, therapy, nor psychoanalysis. There is absolutely a place and time for these critical services, but not in coaching. In very simplified and broad terms, therapy tends to look into your past for causes of certain behavior and reactions; then helps you process, so issues from your past don’t hold you back.

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Coaching is focused on helping you create the future you want. Coaching will help you articulate your goals and dreams, create a plan for attaining those goals, and finally, support your steps to achieve them.

Your coach will help you move past all the “Yeah, but…” circumstances. It’s difficult to build a career when you move every three years, or to build up a social life in the revolving door of a military post. It’s tough to make significant health changes when you spend much of your time as a (more or less) single parent.

But just as your coach will be familiar with those challenges, they’ll also help you better tap into the rich, deep assets your military connections provide, from available tuition benefits to internships. And they’ll help you discover more about the possibilities waiting for you in the transition back to civilian life, from creating a feeling of community in a new long-term home, finally being able to launch the business you’re dreamed of, to helping your kids get settled.

You might be thinking, Why should I hire a coach to help me figure this stuff out? Shouldn’t adults be able to work things out on their own, to do their own thinking and problem-solving? Why can’t I just talk to my spouse, partner, or friend?

The problem is we often are so close to our situation, we can’t see what’s in our way—that’s how ‘blind spots’ got their name. Our friends, partners, and spouses are often all too willing to tell us what they think we should do. Sometimes, this advice is colored by what they want, not what’s best for us.

A coach will listen to you without judgement–as a sounding board. They won’t tell you what to do, but rather will help you discover for yourself the choices that best align to you and your dreams. When you make decisions that are aligned to your purpose and your goals, you are more apt to attain your goals and build new, lasting habits.

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Sound interesting? Let me tell you how to find a coach that fits you. There are many good industry organizations, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF), or the National Career Development Association (NCDA) that govern, guide, and credential the professional competency, proficiency, and ethical practices of coaches. When choosing a coach, you should look for reputable credentials so you know you are working with a dedicated professional.

Within our coaching program at Life Reimagined, we vet all of our coaches and only accept credentialed coaches with five or more years of experience. Today, we have 19 coaches with a broad range of experience and specialties, including working with the challenges facing military spouses and families. Coaching with the support of a guided program, such as Life Reimagined, can be an affordable, approachable, and effective way to get connected to your purpose, goals, and dreams.

Once you choose a coach, the actual coaching “meetings” often take place over the phone or using a video connection, like Skype or Blue Jeans. This means you can work with your coach when and where it’s convenient for you. And you can work with a coach who is located anywhere there is a phone or computer connection.

Typically, you will have an initial meeting during which, you and your coach will get to know each other. You’ll set up a plan for your sessions and get clarity about what you want from coaching. After the first meeting, you’ll meet periodically to further explore your goals, and develop steps to achieve them.  Your coach will be your partner throughout the cycle of reflecting, clarifying, identifying, planning, and achieving the life you want. And when you’re ready, they will be your accountability partner to help remind you of the goals you’ve set for yourself.

The beauty of this is that you don’t need to have anything figured out before you connect with a coach. All you really need is the desire and willingness to share your story. Are you ready to gain clarity and live purposefully? Are you ready to be heard? If your answer is yes…then you’re ready for a coach.

Check out Life Reimagined and explore the coaching options available to you!

colin callahanPosted by Colin Callahan, Director of Coaching Services for Life Reimagined, where he is responsible for strategy, operations, and quality for coach offerings, including one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and live group workshops. Reach out to Colin through coaching@lifereimagined.org.

Survive and Thrive: Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Dearest sweet North Carolina,
As I reflect back on your glistening winters cuddled up by a crackling fireplace, spring seasons filled with fragrant blooms of jasmine, vibrant falls watching the leaves change from green to warm oranges and reds, and hot, southern summers complete with fireflies and cold sweet tea, it occurred to me: this is home. This is where I belong. I long to see fields of cotton and tobacco; sit on the front porch and talk for hours about the weather. Cheerwine. Bojangles. Tar Heels…a few of my favorite things. You are the sweet to my tea. Forever up and gone to Carolina in my mind. Until we meet again.

Feeling a Southern state of mind coming on? I know I sure am! When we were stationed at Camp Lejeune, I fell in love with North Carolina. Many of the Marine Corps’ best will eventually land at Lejeune, and I hope you love it as much as I did. Here are a few tips and tricks to surviving and thriving in Jacksonville, North Carolina:

1. Two words: Bug repellent
You’ll thank me later. Camp Lejeune is home to numerous swamp lands. You know what that means? Mosquitoes the size of small cats. I kid, I kid…but seriously, those critters are ruthless. Citronella alone cant handle those bad boys. Do yourself a favor and invest in some heavy duty insect repellent. Birds aren’t the only thing flying around.

2. Watch out for the Jacksonville Ninja
Seriously. Jacksonville has their very own ninja. You can see him on the side of Highway 17 practicing his mad karate skills. Although I’m unsure of his name, he has become a local favorite and a legend, if you will. You cant miss him. You’ll know him when you see him. And snap a pic when you do!

3. Bring your spirit of adventure
Up for a road trip? The Crystal Coast lines the shores of Eastern Carolina. Along these shores, you can find many of the East Coast’s best beaches: Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, Topsail Beach, Surfside Beach, and Emerald Isle, just to name a few. So pack your sunscreen and get some vitamin sea!

Not about that beach life? That’s okay. North Carolina has something for everyone! Wanna go into the mountains for a getaway? Head to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. You won’t be disappointed. Not into the finer things in life? Rather keep it simple? Western North Carolina is home to numerous Appalachian Mountain ranges and trails. Various camping sites are dotted throughout this mountainous region.

Other places to check out, if you’re looking for some family-friendly staycation ideas around the Camp Lejeune area Fort Macon State ParkFort Fisher Aquarium, and the USS North Carolina Battleship, Wilmington.

4. Try something new.
Cheerwine. Bojangles. Cookout. Hwy 55. All Carolina favorites. Try them, you’ll LOVE it!

 

5. Are you ready for some football? Or basketball? Or baseball?
Duke University. University of North Carolina. Eastern Carolina University. North Carolina State University. Nuff’ said. North Carolina is ACC Country. A sport for everyone, all year long.

6. Humidity.
Embrace it. It’s not goin’ anywhere.

7. “Pardon our noise, its the sound of freedom.”
With Marine Corps Air Station New River being only a few miles from main side Camp Lejeune, you’ll be sure to hear the maneuverings of aircraft daily. Embrace it. Learn to love it…it’s the sound of freedom!

8. Take it slow. Kick your feet up.
Welcome to the South, a place where the tea is sweet and the accents are sweeter. Time moves a little slower. Summer starts in April. Macaroni and Cheese is a staple. Front porches are wide, and words are long. Talk to your neighbors. Wave hello. ‘Y’all’ is the only proper noun. Chicken is fried. Biscuits are covered with gravy. It’s a grit-eatin’ world. Everything is “darlin’” and someone’s heart is always being blessed.

Enjoy your stay.

Have you been stationed at Camp Lejeune? What are the must-do’s?

Posted by Amanda Ward, Marine Corps spouse and blogger at With Love, Mandy Lou

Hey, MilSpouse: We Can Tackle This Mission Together

My husband has been absent for most of the last 4 years, particularly gone 10 straight months, and in the last 16 months, we were lucky to see each other two days in a row.

Sadly, when he did come home, I found his skin had paled in shades of blue and white, similar to the white walls in our house. His hair started to blend in, too. Wrinkles popped around his eyelids from the stress. He was tugging a big boulder over his shoulder. The boulder was his mission from the military: work ups, deployment, inspections. A vacation and breaks were given sparingly and almost always discouraged.

Every now and again we hear people thanking him for his service. I believe he did more than just wear a uniform and salute the flag. He gave up his own happiness, his family time, and himself for the sake of the mission. No one asked him. No one demanded. He chose this life and I accepted it–my family accepted. So did my friends and neighbors. Those who accepted his mission also accepted me and my girls to become their mission.

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Putting the mission first means we sometimes become sensitive and distant. Sometimes we don’t always see the helpers. In spite of that, I want to take the time to say thank you.

Thank you to those who found it in their hearts to welcome us, even though we are temporary neighbors. I want to thank community members, particularly my daughters’ teachers, my fitness coaches, and different mommy organizations. They all welcomed us. They all acknowledged our troubles. They laughed with our joys, and allowed us to make mistakes, but also forgave us.

Thank you for loving us by taking the time from your life and responsibilities to include us in yours. You will never know the impact you’ve made, and we will never forget. Your simple hugs, invitation, and love gave me the strength to to wake up in the next morning, even though I knew I’d have to take on the day without my husband, the father of my children, and my friend.

As we embark on a new town, a new job, and new duty station, we promise to pay-it-forward. With so many how-to’s and ‘not-to’s‘ written out there, I want you, other military spouse, to know we welcome your friendship and you can ask us any questions. We’re ready to tackle this mission with you.

Do you have a tribe in your life who helps make the military mission a little easier on you? 

Posted by Fari B., National Military Family Association Volunteer