Category Archives: Make a difference

Suicide Prevention Matters and Every Second Counts

“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

How am I supposed to ask someone that? Can I even get the question out? Such a personal question…and what do I do if the person I ask says yes?

Several years ago, I participated in an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program offered by the Chaplain’s office. I was nervous and a little uncomfortable at the start of the training because of the topic, but I left hopeful and more informed. Like mental health and domestic violence, the ‘hush-hush’ stigma surrounding suicide is one that we absolutely need to change the conversation about. Yes, it’s a difficult subject to discuss. But it MATTERS. It’s a disease, and it’s treatable. And you can help.

In the first quarter of 2016, 110 service members (Active and Reserve Components) died by suicide. And I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific statistic that 20 veterans complete suicide each day. How many received treatment and were helped?

What’s worse, we don’t have any idea how many military family members died by suicide–a whole group of people unaccounted for. But Congress directed the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office in the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA to track and provide those numbers.

We’ve been waiting for that data…for over a year. Suicide happens in moments, and in desperate times, someone considering suicide could be helped in just a few seconds. NMFA will continue to urge the Department of Defense to release this information so that we can help every military family member who needs help RIGHT when they need it. Every second counts.

So what can you do to help someone who is thinking about suicide?

Ask them directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Then:

  • Care for them – listen to them and remove anything that could be used for self-injury.
  • Don’t leave them alone. Take them to the chaplain, a behavioral health professional, or if it’s a service member, remember you can take them to someone in their chain of command

As we come to the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, it’s worth remembering that suicide prevention isn’t something that we should think about one month a year – it’s something we should always be aware of.

The Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office has launched the “Be There” campaign as a way to encourage everyone to take responsibility to help prevent suicides—it’s not just the Department of Defense’s duty, its all of ours. The campaign asks us to be there for service members, be there for families, be there for the civilians who support them.

Look for suicide intervention programs at your installation Family Services office, Suicide Prevention office or Chaplain’s office. If they’re not offered ask for them.

Asking someone if they want to end their life is a difficult question, but for many service members and family members, it is a question they should become more comfortable asking. By simply asking, it may help someone. And if nothing else, it lets someone know they’ve been heard.

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Hruska, Government Relations Director

2016 Presidential Election: There’s Strength in Numbers, Military Families!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’re in an election year. This November, Americans will take to the polls to elect a new Commander in Chief. Many of us have watched news coverage of the candidates’ campaign efforts and tuned in for one of the 22 presidential primary debates that have been televised since last August (TWENTY-TWO?!). Others have even showed up to rallies to support our favorite candidate.


As military families, we’ve been briefed on the do’s and don’ts regarding political campaigns—the Department of Defense (DoD) even has well-defined directives for Armed Forces members:

No marching or riding in political parades.

No display of partisan political signs at one’s residence in military housing.

Don’t wear your uniform to, or be an official Armed Forces representative at, any partisan political event.

Don’t speak before any partisan event or gathering that promotes a specific cause or candidate.

Basically, don’t do anything except vote?

Well, not exactly. The DoD explains there are things service members CAN do:

Register to vote.

Express your personal opinion about candidates…just not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

Display political bumper stickers on your personal vehicle (but nothing bigger).

Attend partisan events, rallies, or other activities as a spectator not in uniform.

Though none of these rules apply to military spouses or family members, it’s smart to consider what you do and don’t share, participate in, and identify with.

So, with such a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, why should any military family give a hoot about this election? Why bother? Only 1% of the American population serves in the military…1% can’t make a difference.

That, my friends, is where you’re wrong.

Many elections in our nation’s history have been decided by a margin smaller than 1%. From presidential elections to legislative elections, every vote matters. And if it wasn’t a margin of less than 1%, it sure was close. Remember in 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote and defeated John Kerry? That victory margin was a mere 2.4%.


Military families SHOULD care about voting in this year’s Presidential election.

You have the opportunity to decide your next Commander in Chief. This person will have the final say on important issues, like Sequestration (remember when your commissaries closed, and your MTF doctors weren’t on call?), foreign war, and your service member’s earned benefits.

The next President will make the call on whether your loved one will deploy in support of continued war.

Sure, there’s been 22 presidential primary debates in the last 8 months, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say those debates have been…interesting. But regardless of how many rules and regulations the DoD has for participating in political activities, the one that matters most is that you CAN vote. And you SHOULD.

There’s a reason military units don’t go into battle alone. There’s strength in numbers, and though 1% seems small, if this community banded together, the impact will be huge.

Between now and November 8th–when voters will take to the polls–NMFA will be spending time making sure this message is loud and clear: your vote matters! We’ll be sending out helpful information to make sure as many military families as possible are registered to vote and who make their voices heard by choosing the next Commander in Chief in November’s election.

You are the 1%. The small, but mighty 1%. And just like we always say here at NMFA: TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER.

Do you have questions about voting? Not sure where or how to register? Leave your questions in the comments and we’ll answer them in upcoming blog posts!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

6 Ways Civilians Can Help Military Families

You’re probably reading this because the title spoke to you. Maybe you have a desire to give back to a community that has given so much already? Or perhaps you want to see if you’ve ever done any of these things?

Whatever the case, you’re here. And that’s awesome. It’s extremely important that we continue to remember our nation is at war. We’re in our 15th year of war, actually. Fifteen years.

In that time, a child could complete a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree. Since the start of this war in 2001, we could have potentially seen four different Presidents elected in 15 years. We’ve watched the United States compete in seven Olympic Games, cast our votes to crown 14 American Idols, and some of us have remained loyal fans through 30 seasons of Survivor.

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And through those 15 years, military families have continued to sacrifice while their loved ones serve and protect our freedom to see all of those amazing things happen.

As members of this country, we owe a great deal to the men and women who fearlessly defend, but we must not forget that military families serve, too.

If you’ve sent care packages to deployed service members, or run 5K races to honor the fallen, you’ve answered the important question, “What are you doing to serve others?”

But let me ask you this: what small token of ‘thanks’ could you do for military families? How can you show the children of deployed parents that they’re brave, too? Is there a simple way to encourage a military spouse in your life?

Serving others, in any capacity, is invaluable. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to start.

4-7 Civilians PINTEREST

We’ve got you covered. Here are 6 ways any person can support and serve military families:

  1. Support NMFA through concession stand purchases at a game
  2. Sponsor a toy or supply collection to support our military kids at camp
  3. Ask your employer to host a Casual Friday/Dress Down day event at work
  4. If you own a business, commit to hire a military spouse
  5. Spread the word on social media with pictures and videos of fundraisers that benefit military families
  6. Help organize a community welcome home ceremony for returning military members

If any of these simple ideas sound like something you want to do within your own community, let NMFA help you get started! We’ve got a few other ideas and ways you, your employer, or anyone else can make a difference in the lives of military families.

Donations are wonderful, too. It’s how NMFA continues to do the work we do. But sometimes, what’s more valuable than the donation is the person who gave it. You can add value to the military community. They need your support. Give time. Change lives. Together we’re stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Super Tuesday: What is It and Why Should Military Families Care?

Today marks the single biggest day in the 2016 Presidential Election process – other than the official Election Day, of course. It’s Super Tuesday.

What’s so super about Super Tuesday?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

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Super Tuesday is the day when multiple states (and one territory) hold primary elections in order for parties to vote for their nomination in the upcoming Presidential election. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia will hold voting for both Republicans and Democrats. In Alaska, Republicans will hold caucuses, and in Colorado, Democrats will hold their caucuses. And if you didn’t know, American Samoa, a territory in the South Pacific will also hold a Democratic primary election on Super Tuesday.

That’s a lot of information. I don’t know if I feel like voting.

As a military family, you have a big voice and an even bigger impact in nominating our next President. Your vote matters, and your vote counts, even though this isn’t the official Presidential Election Day! Super Tuesday, and the subsequent caucus days that follow are critical to determining which candidates will be at the finish line come Election Day, on November 4th. Your vote will tell the candidates, “Hey, I think you’ll do great things for our country and my military family, I’d like to see you in office,” or “Wow, you really don’t seem to promise much to support our troops and their families, I don’t want you to be the next President.”

If you live in the state in which you’re registered to vote, take advantage of your American right, and cast your vote!

I didn’t get an absentee ballot in time. What do I do now?

We know the window to get absentee ballots has passed, but don’t let that stop you from taking the steps to request a ballot for the upcoming State Primaries and the Presidential election. Each state has different time frames for registering, requesting ballots, and returning ballots to be counted in these polls. Check out the Federal Voting Assistance Program and select the state where you’re registered to vote from the drop-down bar in the red square at the top left of the page (where it says “Military and Overseas Citizens start the voting process”). Here, you’ll find the deadlines and dates to remember for future voting.

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What if I’m not registered yet? I’m from Oklahoma and I live in Virginia. Where do I register?

As a military member or military dependent, you have the choice to register for voting in your home state of residence, or the state where you’re physically residing. If you register in the state you’re stationed in, and it’s not your home state of residence, you’ll need to update your registration in the next state you move to. If you’re stationed overseas, your voting rights are covered! You’ll follow the guidelines set out by the state where you’re registered to vote.

Voting in a Presidential election is your privilege and right as an American citizen, we encourage you to take part and help change the future for your military family, and the families of the future force.

Are you planning to vote this year? Tell us why it’s important to you!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Pass the Torch: Put Your Black Friday Savings to Good Use This #GivingTuesday

You’ve downloaded the shopping apps, checked the sale papers, and even sat outside the toy store waiting to buy the coveted gift of 2015. You know how much it costs and where the best place is to buy it. But have you given as much thought to this year’s charitable donations?

Today is Giving Tuesday—a day where Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers are encouraged to share the holiday spirit by giving back to their communities and the organizations that support them. We know you work hard for your money, and you make careful choices when it comes to spending. We have found an option we think you’ll be pleased with.


Your donation to the National Military Family Association makes a huge impact.

Last year, NMFA sent more than 3,000 military family members to our Operation Purple® Programs, and awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships and professional support to military spouses and caregivers through our Spouse Scholarship Program.

How does your gift make a difference?

$30 will provide that military child a full day of meals at Operation Purple Camp.

$100 sends one military kid to an Operation Purple Camp, where they don’t have to worry about the stressors of military life while they enjoy a summer-camp atmosphere with other military kids.

$500 provides the funds for a military spouse to obtain a certification and, ultimately, a job to help provide a stable financial foundation for their family.

$1,500 allows a military family of three to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat or Operation Purple Healing Adventures camp, where they can reconnect, create new memories, and learn skills to overcome the obstacles military families face.

$2,500 covers a semester of college for that military spouse, helping them achieve their goal of higher education and a coveted degree.

For 46 years, military families have depended on NMFA. Now they’re depending on you. Why not use those Black Friday savings to make a noticeable difference for our nation’s families?

Donate now and watch your dollars do amazing things.

Together we’re stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

“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.


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.’”


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

Behind the Front Door: Help Military Families This Holiday Season

With the holiday season around the corner, we know families are coming together, creating cozy, love-filled, homes to celebrate. Behind every front door are stories and traditions passed from year to year. For military families, the traditions and stories sometimes don’t include every member of the family.

Only 1% of the nation serves in the military. Since September 11, 2001, more than 3 million service members have deployed in response to the war on terrorism. That means 1.8 million family members were left behind to continue their holiday traditions without their loved one. More than 2 million children had a parent miss out on making special holiday memories.

This holiday season, you have the opportunity to help military families continue their traditions together.


Through generous donations, our Association is able to continue our mission to empower, strengthen, and heal our nation’s military families through programs designed to help them overcome obstacles together.

For $1,500, we are able to send a family of 3 to an Operation Purple Family Retreat® or Operation Purple Healing Adventure® camp, where they can connect and make new memories in a wilderness camp setting. And with a $30 donation, we can give a family member a full day of meals at camp.

But your donation doesn’t have to stop there. A $50 donation can provide a college or graduate-level textbook to a military spouse, furthering his or her education. With that education, he or she can build a stable and strong financial foundation for their family, and enjoy each holiday without the stress of wondering how they’ll afford gifts.

You have the chance to change the way a military family creates new traditions and memories for themselves. And we need your help. Our Association relies on the generosity of donors, like you, who want to make a difference, and who stand firmly behind the ones who serve in the silent ranks.

Military families need you. Please donate today.