Category Archives: Guest Posts

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

Just Passing Through: Military Kids Kick Things Up a Notch

My daughter decided to play soccer this spring and is one of only a few 10 year olds on her Under-12 soccer team. It’s not an installation-sponsored, select, or travel team, but simply part of our county’s recreational league. It’s a six week long season, with practice several nights a week, standard issue jerseys, and local teenagers refereeing the games. Her team has practiced regularly and intensely. My girl has worked hard; she listens, follows coaches’ directives, and has conditioned her little heart out.

Despite her efforts, at her first match she sat the bench for nearly all of the first and second halves. After the game ended in a tie, the team huddled while the parents waited at the other end of the field. My daughter walked toward us dejectedly, fighting back tears and a quiver in her lips. I knew it would be best to wait until we were back to our vehicle to ask her about the game.

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When the dam broke, I learned she was not only very disappointed about her minimal playing time, she was also upset because her coach had yelled at the team about their lack-luster performance. She took his critical remarks to heart and personalized his punitive declarations. Clearly, her spirit was crushed.

I’ll admit, I was angry that a rec-league soccer coach had allowed his own competitive nature to take over and that he used this crude approach with a group of pre-teen girls. It also made me mad that he hadn’t given my daughter an opportunity to showcase her potential, despite her skill and hard work.

Half a dozen players on our team have been playing soccer together for five years. The coaches have their favorites, and haven’t been overly open to outsiders, newcomers, or my daughter who, as of now, is only known by her jersey number. Our team feels already solidified among the friendships of the players, with the coaches’ impressions of talent and skill, and among the parents who socialize outside of soccer. As the military family, we are often the outliers.

This team doesn’t yet know of my daughter’s fierce competitive nature, her outstanding work ethic, her kindness and ability to make others around her feel special, or her passion for whatever her hands (or feet, in this case) may touch. How could the team know this? We aren’t permanent residents of this state or community; we don’t have much history or a future here; we are just passing through. My anger after the soccer game seemed justified because I felt somehow, indirectly, my daughter was sitting the bench because of our Army service. Our patriotism was perpetuating her penalty.

I didn’t do a good job of hiding my frustration. I was in mama-bear mode and I wanted to protect my daughter’s heart and shield her from this pain she was experiencing. However, as she grows and matures, I’m doing my best to let her fight her own battles when appropriate. I asked her how she thought she should proceed and handle this dilemma. I was half-expecting her to say she was finished with soccer or hear her ask us to speak to the coach. Nope!

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My 10 year old showed up to her next soccer practice and stood right in front of the huddle ready to listen. She maintained the front spot and led her team on the one mile warm-up run when practice began. She asked the coach to let her scrimmage as an offensive forward instead of the fullback position where she’s been stuck for the past few weeks. She scored a goal using her less-dominant foot.

I observed all of this and I beamed with pride. You see, this supple fire inside of her isn’t something that we, as her parents can take credit for. It’s just part of who she is and how she is choosing to handle the adversity of being the new kid (again) on her team-du-jour. Our frequent relocations are giving her copious experiences to fine-tune this character trait; spring soccer is just another opportunity.

As her mother, there’s a lesson for me in how my 10 year old is rising above her situation; springing back into shape; recovering from her difficulties.

Here are three ways this soccer season serves as a metaphor in the life of a military child:

1. They show up eager to listen and learn.

Our kids are often the “new kid” on the block, at school, or in sports. They know there’s power in just showing up, sticking to the commitment, and having a teachable spirit. Life is one long learning experience. And our attitude can often determine our aptitude.

2. They take the lead when appropriate.

Because of their varied life experiences, many military children are natural leaders. They understand the importance of honesty, empathy, respect, and communication; these qualities are all part and parcel of adapting to frequent relocations, dealing with prolonged absences of family service members, and expressing often heavy emotions. Our kids, whether they realize it or not, are developing a vast toolbox of personal, real-world readiness.

3. They speak up for the change they’d like to see.

Our military kids have a voice. They are witnessing first hand in their parents, people who advocate for the good of our nation; they’ve given their lives to it. Military kids have a unique and powerful perspective they can offer in their spheres of influence. They aren’t afraid to ask for change. It’s natural for a military child to understand a world where things can be modified, reformed, transformed, and turned around. If anyone knows anything about adaptation, it’s a military kid.

Our soccer season has just begun. And while it has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, I have no doubt it will be a winning season for my big girl! She has the tools in place to kick her own self-esteem into high gear. I’m not worried about her all.

How have you seen your military kids overcome a difficult situation? I’d love to hear from you!

claire-woodPosted by Claire Wood, Army spouse and blogger at Elizabethclairewood.com. She has recently released her faith-based book for military spouses, Mission Ready Marriage, and is stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA

Miss Northern Idaho Brings Attention to Military Kids

Lucy Maud Montgomery had the right perception when she wrote about military families in her novel, Rilla of Ingleside: “Our sacrifice is greater than his…our boys give only themselves. We give them.”

America has done a significant job in promoting our servicemen and women, with national holidays like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. However, how many people would know what month is the Month of the Military Child (it’s this month!)? How many people take the time to consider the accomplishments and struggles of military children?

Unfortunately, many Americans do not realize the sacrifices of military “brats” are insurmountable compared to the daily lives of their peers.

My purpose in my platform within the Miss Northern Idaho, Miss Idaho, and the Miss America organizations is to raise awareness of the challenges and blessings that come from being a military child.

Because of my platform, military children will know that they are valued, not only for their sacrifice, but also for who they are as a person. Growing up a military brat myself, I am aware of what it feels like to have a parent deployed, to move a number of times, and to feel alone and abnormal because no one understands what it’s like to have the experience of being a military child. I am also aware of the advantage of knowing people in every corner of the globe, to be diverse, to be adaptable, and to be independent.

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I have had much involvement with Operation Homefront, which assists military families financially, because of their Military Child of the Year award. I also have involvement with the National Military Family Association because my family was the Coast Guard Family of the Year in 2010. Both of these organizations salute military children, and using my involvement with these programs, Miss North Idaho will be able to educate the public about the many sacrifices and accomplishments of local military children.

Military children are by no means ‘normal;’ oftentimes they are more mature than their peers – stronger emotionally, and better at acclimating.

I think the main issue in not appreciating military children is simply ignorance. People just don’t think about the homefront as much as they do about those on the front lines. My purpose is not to take away from our amazing soldiers, but to show the civilians what goes on behind the scenes in the military lifestyle. Everyone has seen videos of emotional reunions of soldiers and their families, but it is much less common to see a video of a family packing up their home to move for the fifth time in 3 years, or to see a child kissing a picture good night because their parent is overseas.

With the title of Miss Northern Idaho, I’d like to highlight our military brats for their sacrifices, but much more so for their accomplishments. Even though I changed schools so many times, I was always able to keep excellent grades and I know many others who were able to do the same. That’s not an easy feat, especially when different schools and states have differing curriculum.

“Experts say that military children are well-rounded, culturally aware, tolerant, and extremely resilient. Military children have learned from an early age that home is where their hearts are, that a good friend can be found in every corner of the world, and that education doesn’t only come from school. They live history. They learn that to survive means to adapt, that the door that closes one chapter of their life opens up to a new and exciting adventure full of new friends and new experiences.”

These are just a few examples of how special military children are. Many military brats are also exceptional volunteers, outstanding citizens, and are passionate for their country. They make their families and nation proud, and deserve to be recognized!

Do you know and awesome military kid? Tell us about them by leaving a comment!

Posted by Olivia Kennedy, military child and Miss Northern Idaho

Military Brat: A True Term of Endearment!

Merriam Webster defines the word ‘brat’ as:

brat
noun | \’brat;\
1 a: CHILD; specifically: an ill-mannered annoying child <a spoiled brat>

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The word brat, alone, is not considered a compliment in general speech, but put the word military in front of it, and you get the most loving term of endearment that I, myself, would ever want to be called.

I grew up an Army brat. My dad served 30 years from 1972-2002. I spent 22 of those years experiencing military life and watching him serve his country.  Through his service, I grew into a world traveler with a love for adventure. I developed a proud admiration for my country and anyone in a military uniform, and I developed a sense of adaptability and a go-with-the-flow nature that has kept me sane throughout my adult years.

As proud as I am of my experiences, I know a military childhood is not without its downsides. Moving every couple of years is hard work for a kid. I blame my ever-present restlessness as an adult on the military moves from my childhood. Yet, some of my fondest memories take place among a house full of brown moving boxes, with moving men and their moving trucks as background scenery. I remember very clearly the year my brother made me pee my pants from laughing so hard at the escapades he created with my super hero cabbage patch doll and the towering box buildings she couldn’t quite leap with a single bound.  Not really Comedy Central material, but, man, it was the everything to a seven year old who was about to have her world turned upside down, again. I imagine, though, that the memory remains so vivid to this day because of the ruckus that followed once my mom realized what happened. Now a parent myself, I can understand how unexpected soiled clothing from a seven year old during a move could damper the mood.

I have four Army brats of my own, and I can see through their little eyes, now more than ever, how much our military kids serve our country, too. Mine are still young, and the few moves we’ve experienced probably won’t affect them much in the long run. The stability we’ve been able to experience, however, has been offset by their dad’s military travel. Our oldest–who will be nine this year–has been through two deployments and countless TDYs. When he was younger, it didn’t occur to me how much he was processing from military life. But when he was five, I began to notice his anxiety around airports. He was always with me when we dropped dad off, or picked him up, and one day as we headed to the San Antonio airport for a drop off, I could see him start to tear up in the back seat before we even turned in for departures. He never did cry, just got a little watery-eyed as he sat very somberly in the back seat. We didn’t make a big production of dad’s comings and goings, as to not let on that he would be away for a while, but it was obvious how unsuccessful we were in our attempts to shield him from his dad’s absence. He was very capable of putting two-and-two together, and at five, he could already recognize an airport from a distance.  Later that year, as we traveled to the airport to pick someone up, he very eagerly asked who was coming. I don’t remember now who exactly it was, but I will always remember the disappointment on his face when the answer wasn’t dad.

Despite the absences and missed moments that pepper our memories, I don’t see my kids’ lives as scarred or sad. I don’t pity them or wish for different circumstances. Instead, I admire them for their strength and unconditional love for their soldier and own personal hero: their dad.

I love that they know when dad is gone it means he is working hard to take care of them and others around them. It also means when he comes home, they will spend days riding bikes, playing together in the front yard, watching movies, and taking rides in his truck just for the fun of it. That’s what they look forward to and what keeps them going. But in the meantime, while he’s away and the kids have questions and want to know what dad is doing, I love to sit down with them and put on the movie The Avengers, and say “That’s what daddy’s doing!”

I know his job isn’t nearly that glamorous or heroic, but to our kids, he is nothing less than a super hero, so that’s the best way I can imagine explaining it to them.  I’ll make sure they will forever be our proud military brats.

If you asked me, I’d define brat this way:

military brat
Noun | \ ‘military brat’
1 a: CHILD; specifically: a child serving our country with strength, dignity an love as his or her parent(s) fight for our nation’s security domestically and abroad.

What do you love about your military brat?

Posted by Jenni Miller, Army spouse, photographer and blogger at Jenn Elisabeth Photography

4 Threats to Your Military Marriage and How to Fix Them

As a military spouse and professional counselor, my favorite thing is seeing military couples build a great marriage. In a lifestyle that is constantly changing and stressful, it is difficult to stay connected and thriving. Deployments, long work hours, and other types of separations interfere with family time and couple time. Experiences from deployment can often change the way a couples relate and handle stress.

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Here are some common topics I hear from military couples in my counseling office, and suggestions I offer:

Our schedule makes it difficult to find time for each other.
A healthy marriage needs regular face-to-face time to keep a couple connected.  Over time, the relationship can become more shoulder-to-shoulder, especially when children come along. It is imperative that you are intentional with the limited amount of time that you do have. Plan at least one uninterrupted ‘date’ each week (in advance) where all surface talk will be set aside. Commit to making your time positive. Refrain from resolving major conflict and be protective of these moments. Commit this time to encourage and build each other up rather than fixing problems.

Also, set boundaries at work when possible. Leave when they say you can leave, and set an example for your colleagues on investing in your family. Even if you feel your marriage has become more “back-to-back,” make intentional time to look each other in the eye. You will be surprised how quickly your spark comes back.

We have grown apart after frequent separations.
Needing our spouse often gets a bad rap, as if it somehow makes us actually “needy.” The truth is, couples get married because their spouse adds something of value to their life. Take them away, and something will be missing. You have powerful influence into your spouse’s self-confidence and sense of value. Much of that happens when there is a place for them in the home and the relationship.

After many separations, couples grow used to having separate lives, which causes conflict or a quiet distance between them. Starting a new pattern will be difficult, as the spouse at home relinquishes control and the service member tries to re-engage. It is not an issue of who does it better, but whether you feel you are a team. Although this isn’t true in every case, men typically understand love through feeling respected, while women do through emotional connection. Talk about sharing more responsibilities shoulder-to-shoulder, as well as meeting needs that are more intimate.

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My service member’s traumatic experience in the military has changed us as a couple.
Anytime life hands us something unexpected, it creates an opportunity to grow and change as a couple. If your spouse has been through something traumatic, professional help for one, or both, of you may be necessary. Many spouses struggle with resentment and anger that professional counseling will help with.  Flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behavior, and irritability makes any couple feel they’ve been robbed of the relationship they had before. There are treatments available that lessen current anxiety and help manage the memories that often surface.

Support in your community will also be important for both of you. Consider looking into groups of other spouses who are in your situation, as well as other veterans or battle buddies, if you are a service member.

My spouse refuses to go to counseling with me.
It takes two to work on a marriage. Having goals and working on them together will set you on a path to grow and mature as a couple. If your spouse is not ready, or is resistant to marriage counseling, consider going on your own. Working on your own personal goals and learning healthy boundaries will ensure that you are making healthy decisions during a difficult time. The hardest part of marriage is having no control over the choices your spouse makes. Sometimes, when your spouse sees you growing and making changes, it will trigger them to want to grow as well.

If the problem is getting your service member help off the installation, make an appointment for marriage counseling as the dependent, and have your service member join you. This helps with avoiding any red tape that could slow the process down for them.

I believe marriage is the greatest asset we have as military couples. It offers stability to a lifestyle of uncertainty. When we invest intentionally, it becomes a “home” that never changes, a safe place when times are difficult. Your marriage should always be growing, with new goals and ways to improve. Commit to creating opportunities for face-to-face time and make it a priority. You have great influence in breathing new hope and life into your spouse.

My motto? Start simply, but simply start.

What ways do you put effort in to your military marriage?

corie-weathers-headshotPosted by Corie Weathers, LPC, 2015 Armed Forces Ins. Military Spouse of the Year and host of Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast

How the “Talking Doctor” Helped my Military Kids Cope with Deployment

My in-laws have a fantasy with how  they view my family.

Their assumption is we have the perfect family. We only enjoy the benefits that the military offers dependents. We get to travel. We visit exotic cities like Norfolk, VA. Our medical care is almost free and we save money shopping at the commissary. It seems we literally have the best quality of life.

Recently, they visited us. We showed them where the kids go to school and where their ballet studio is located. We showed them our local library, where the girls check out their books and attend story time. We also pointed out their pediatrician’s office, and where they attend sessions with their “talking doctor.”

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“What’s a talking doctor?” My in-laws were deeply puzzled.

I explained to them that once a month, my children attend therapy with a licensed child psychologist. My in-laws were horrified to realize their granddaughters attend therapy on a monthly basis, and without reservation.

“Why? What horrible thing has happened to them that they need to see a psychologist?” they demanded to know.

I politely explained that my children have rarely seen their father in the last four years. He’s unwillingly missed four consecutive birthdays of both children. He has missed big holidays like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve. Worst, he was never able to send them to school on their first day, attend parent-teacher conferences, and wasn’t home to congratulate them when they finished the school year. He has been on two consecutive deployments, several underway missions, and works long hours, since he has been on his department-head tour.

I told my in-laws that despite sending them cute pictures of us smiling, we experienced many sleepless nights with the girls crying for their dad. There were many school nights where the girls refused to do their homework because they missed their dad. And there have been many times when we all went to emergency room, spending several hours waiting for medical care because one of us was sick, and I didn’t have a sitter or a friend to help me watch the other.

 

Life for the military dependent is down right hard, but for many of us, we refuse to give up the mission. And we won’t give up hope and help provided to us.

I tried, on my own, to make our daughters lives a little brighter. After many trials and errors, I built a community where I thought my kids felt welcomed. When my daughters didn’t feel like they fit in at their school, I looked for options to transfer them to an institution where they felt they could learn in a supportive environment.

No matter how many people I forced to visit us, how many friends we forged, or how many expensive places I took the girls, none of it mattered. They still missed their father.

Despite all my efforts, I realized my daughters’ anxieties were multiplying. I finally scheduled an appointment with a therapist. It took a while but we found the right therapist that understood our complicated plight.

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Our typical military dependent plight:

“Dad is still married to Mom and loves her. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves the girls and works very hard to support the family financially but Dad is not physically seen or present.”

In the civilian world, at least the breadwinner has some flexibility in his or her working hours, but it’s not the same in the military. My in-laws encouraged us not to tell many people that we see a psychologist. They lectured us that people might take it that something is severely wrong with us. I told them there is no shame in receiving help, especially when it comes to my children’s health.

Since we have seen a therapist, my daughters are much happier. They needed to hear from a medical professional that their daddy is safe. The work he does will not necessarily kill him. We also discussed how to manage situations that are out of our control. We learned to how to effectively communicate as a family. I learned that just because I can handle the deployment, doesn’t mean my kids will follow my lead as their mother.

I thank TRICARE for allowing us to utilize resources, like our therapist, to help us understand each other and how to control our fears and loneliness. The girls learned in therapy that even though “deployment” means Dad might enter a war zone, it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to war or will have to shoot guns at anyone. It was a huge revelation for all of us; I think my girls know about modern-day politics and the constant possible wars we are engaging.

Therapy has been heaven-sent, helping us relieve the heavy burden we were all carrying mentally.

Have you ever done something rewarding for your family that others didn’t agree with? How did you handle it?

Posted by Katie M., Military Spouse and Mother

5 Tips to Fund Your Military Family’s Future

New Years can call for reflection and resolutions to set the next 365 days in the right direction. You resolve to take care of yourself, your military family, and this includes your financial well-being, too. If you’ve decided that this is the year to take charge of your finances, take advantage of these five budget tips to monitor your monthly expenses.

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Organize Your Bills Digitally
There are many software programs, online services, and apps available designed to help a person track their monthly bills digitally. Some of these services require paying a few dollars a month. However, others are completely free. Money Stream is a free online service that can alert you when bills are due with a calendar interface.

Track Receipts
Bills are only part of a person’s monthly budget. If you want to get a clear picture of how your finances are being spent, track all of your receipts. But doing this by hand can be a real pain. Thankfully, there are receipt scanners and smart phone apps that can automate the process for you and add totals to a database.

Consider VA Loans
If you are a service member, veterans, or eligible surviving spouse, take advantage of the Veteran Administration’s loan program. A VA loan is a type of mortgage guaranteed by the federal government, but made available to veterans and service members through different lenders, some that even provide loans with an interest rate 2% less than expected. VA loans have some great benefits for many prospective home owners, like not needing a down payment. They also offer interest rates lower than comparable conventional mortgages.

Create an Emergency Expense Account
You should have one savings account that is strictly for emergency expenses. This can include sudden bills, like when your car needs unexpected repairs, or if your plumbing goes awry. You may also have health bills and need to pay off a good portion of your deductible at once. This account should have a few thousand dollars in it and be replenished as the money is spent.

Create Budgets
Create budgets to track your expenses. This should include budgets for particular months, as well as budgets for the week. You can do it on paper, or even in a spreadsheet file. This way, you can add totals and change numbers around as needed.

Fiscal responsibility is something that is important for everyone to manage properly, especially as a military family. Take advantage of the resources available to you, and put some plans in place to make sure you have the ability to accurately track your expenses. Avoiding debt is always worth the effort.

Will you try any of these tips with your military family’s budget? Let us know! 

Posted by Rachelle Wilber, a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. When she isn’t on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Follow her on twitter: @RachelleWilber