Category Archives: Military Families

Reading the Defense Budget’s Fine Print: Is Your Military Family a Priority?

What’s the advice every financial counselor gives you before you sign a contract for a car loan, an apartment, or a service agreement for your new big screen TV? Read the fine print! It’s important to understand, legalese buried in a sub-clause might end up costing you if you don’t do what it says. It’s also important to know what protections for you weren’t included in the contract so you can fight for them—things like a military clause in a rental agreement to keep from being penalized for a sudden PCS move. 

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Our Government Relations team has certainly been reading the fine print on the budget proposal submitted by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the next fiscal year (FY17). I’m testifying before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, on behalf of our Association, about how that proposal will affect military families. We’re asking Congress to read the fine print and consider:

  • Pay raises: In their budget presentations, DoD officials have been quick to highlight that the proposed 2017 pay raise of 1.6% is the largest basic pay raise in four years. In the fine print, they admit this figure is smaller than the 2.1% increase in private sector raises, which is the standard currently in law. If the 1.6% pay raise is approved by Congress, 2017 will mark the fourth year in a row military pay raises lagged behind pay increases in the private sector.
  • TRICARE Reform: Although its primary mission is keeping our troops healthy and strong when in harm’s way, the military health system also has an obligation to deliver high quality care to military families, retirees and their families, and survivors. Too often, as military families tell us, DoD has failed to meet this obligation. Any discussion of TRICARE Reform must start with how DoD can fix the problems it knows exist in order to improve military families’ satisfaction with their access to care and the quality of that care.

In its FY17 budget proposal, DoD did acknowledge many of the issues military families face in accessing health care: the shortage of same-day and urgent care appointments, the time-consuming and cumbersome referral process. But, it stopped short of committing to specific improvements.

Instead, DoD chose to focus first on controlling costs. They propose eliminating TRICARE Prime, Standard and Extra and replacing them with two new plans: TRICARE Select (a managed-care option that sounds a lot like Prime but with higher out of pocket costs, particularly for retirees) and TRICARE Choice, a preferred provider option that would allow families to choose their providers. What’s in the fine print? Increased costs for Choice users across the board, including higher catastrophic caps and co-pays for out-of-network care, as well as a new annual participation fee for retiree families—but no expansion of the network or improved benefits.

  • Force of the Future: Lots of good ideas in what’s been released thus far: good ideas that will help many military families. But, will these enhancements and recognition of some of the demands military life places on families be enough to offset the constant budget threats to pay and support programs, downsizing, more missions to be performed with a smaller force? Where in the fine print are those things mentioned?

When I testify on Capitol Hill today, I will talk about what’s important to today’s military families. How does the Department’s proposed budget address their needs? Does it make a mom feel her sick child’s health is a priority? Does it ease fears about downsizing? Does it ensure support will be available for a family during their service member’s deployment, whether it’s the first or the fifth? Does it support a spouse eager for a career? Does it promote smooth transitions, whether to a new duty station or life after the military? Does it support families financially? Does it keep our military families strong?

I want to thank all the military families who share their stories with us, complete our surveys, and comment on our web and social media posts. You help us tell your story to people who not only want to hear, but who are in a position to address your concerns. Our message is stronger because of your trust in us. Together we’re stronger.

Watch the hearing today at 2:30pm ET and hear our full testimony on behalf of our nation’s military families.

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel-Raezer, Executive Director

Get Organized and Save Money During Your Next PCS!

As a military family, we move…a lot. And moving comes with a long list of expenses–everything from non-essentials while moving, to security and utilities deposits. But one place you can save some money is by keeping yourself organized so you don’t have to buy multiples of the same things because you can’t find them, or because you recently got rid of something that you will need in just a few years.

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Pack Outgrown Kids Clothing by Size
When kids outgrow clothing, it is easy to just throw them all in a few boxes and decide you will just go through the clothing and organize it if you have anymore children. But the majority of the time, those boxes end up donated or mismarked, and you find a box of clothing that is too small for any of your little ones, months after it would have been useful. Instead, pack up clothing by size. I keep a clear plastic bin in my daughter’s closet with a label taped on the inside with the current size she is wearing. Then as she outgrows a piece of clothing, rather than returning the clothing to her drawers after washing them I place it directly into the bin.

By taping the label on the inside I don’t have to worry about the label getting lost or torn during moving. I labeled each bin with a simple breakdown. For example, the very first bin was labeled Newborn & 0-3 Months. I put everything from clothing to socks and hats. That way, if we ever have another child I know where to start.

Pack Up Kid Toys by Age
Using this same idea, I have been packing newborn and toddler toys in clearly marked oversized footlockers. That way, if another child is over visiting, or if we have anymore children, I will know exactly where to find the perfect age-appropriate toys, without paying for new toys each time.

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Keep Seasonal Wear, Even When You Know You Won’t Need it For a Few Years
When orders come in and you find yourself moving to a warm and sunny climate, it can be tempting to void your closet of all your oversized wool sweaters, winter coats, and snow gear. But we all know what happens when four years later, you find yourself PCSing way up north. All of sudden you have to go and repurchase all those things you got rid of. It is a rookie mistake almost every military family makes at some point. One easy way to save some money is to invest in a few really good storage containers and fill them will all your seasonal wear that will now be obsolete.

Hold onto Household Goods That Might Not Fit Your Current Home
I know a lot of military families that have a box with multiple move stickers on the outside with at least one set of curtains on the inside. When you move as often as we do, things like curtains and rugs often fit one house, but not the next. And buying curtains and rugs at each house can be quite expensive, so to save a little money, I keep a box of all those extra little things that may not fit this house, but just might fit our next.

It is amazing how much staying organized can really save your family money in the long run! If you’re interested in learning how to save even more money, take the pledge to save as a part of Military Saves Week!

Where do you save money through organization in your home?

Posted by Tara O., National Military Family Association Volunteer

Hey, Millennials! Saving Money Isn’t Scary, and Here’s Why You Should Start

I’ve always heard people say that they think Millennials understand and see things differently. Sure, we were born after 1980 and we were the first generation to reach adulthood in a new century, but I think the excuse, “It’s because they are a Millennial” has started to become more of a misconception.

Millennials don’t want, or know how, to save money. That might be true, but it’s not because we are millennials. I think it is more accurate to say there are two different fears that millennials faces when thinking about saving: ‘losing’ money or having it ‘taken away’ through deductions, and not having enough money at the end of the month.

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I have a simple tip that can address both of those fears: make your money visual.

Budgets are cool. When people hear budget your money, most young adults think it’s complicated and full of spreadsheets. But it doesn’t have to be! It can be as simple as having a calendar and visualizing your money. Before you start writing on the calendar, write down all of your monthly bills, add them up until you have a total of your monthly bills. Then write down your income (how often you get paid a month and how much) and total those together. You can then subtract those two totals and know how much spending money you have for the month.

Visuals make savings real. For some, this might be visually enough but I suggest taking it a step further. Using the calendar, write down when your bills are due and the amount owed, then write down your pay dates. Look at when your bills are due and when you get paid. On your calendar, next to your pay date, write how much from that one paycheck needs to go towards bills.

Monthly planning works. By doing this monthly, you are able to visually see your money coming in, and where your money is going. This helps in other areas of your life where money is involved. Visually seeing your money will make you more aware each month of how much money you are able to spend. And after a while, you will even be able to see how much you typically spend on common items such as groceries and gas, which you can then subtract from your monthly spending. Eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to see how much you can save each month. It might not always be the same amount each month, but you will be able to consistently put some money away.

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Cherish your hard earned money. Making your money visual and being aware of it can prevent you from making those impulse buys. Avoid those very tempting impulse buys by waiting a day or two, and see if you still actually want to make that purchase. Most of the time, you will no longer feel the need to buy that item. You might even forget about it.

Budgeting doesn’t always have to be complicated–it can be as simple as writing it down and making it visual. Take the first step towards responsible budgeting by making a pledge to save. It’s not scary, and it’s so easy, even a Millennial can do it!

What’s tip has helped your family budget and save? Share it with us!

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Coordinator, Resident Millennial and Saver

When a Saver Marries a Spender…and a Few Tips That Might Help

We were 20 and 23 when we married. I was a few months into my first job and my husband was in college. We took marriage prep classes through our church and discussed an array of topics from future kids and our perspectives on money.

We outlined our financial goals and priorities:

  • Support ourselves with jobs and income independent of our parents
  • Save for a down payment on a home
  • Save for the future

Creating shared goals was a great start but living the shared goals was another story. How should we prioritize paying off our student loan debt, saving money for emergencies, saving to buy furniture, and saving for the unknowns of the future (i.e. kids, retirement, dead car battery)? Living on one income, we had a very tight budget.

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This was where I began to notice our different feelings about money. If we were out of [insert household item here], one of us would jump in the car and run to the store to buy it. The other person would add it to the shopping list and wait to replace the item during a planned trip. One of us would clip coupons and only buy an item if it was on sale. The other was brand loyal and didn’t see toothpaste as toothpaste, and would only use a particular brand whether it was on sale or not.

Making decisions about how to spend and save money wasn’t easy. One of us wanted to save for a rainy day while the other wanted to spend our hard-earned money to buy a well-deserved treat/item/experience. We each played the role of “saver” and “spender.”

How did we resolve our different philosophies towards money?

We didn’t.

Instead we learned we needed to have continued conversations about money and develop short-term and long-term financial goals. After my husband joined the military, we participated in several free financial workshops hosted on base, online via Military OneSource, and even met with a personal financial counselor.

Here are some tips that have helped us along the way:

  • Set money goals and make a plan to achieve your goals. We were off to a good start by setting goals, yet we didn’t really have a plan. In the early years, the plan was to save whatever was left at the end of the month. This didn’t work for us because (1) there wasn’t money left and (2) we wanted to spend the money on something we felt we deserved.
  • Make savings a habit by “paying” yourself first. Whatever your goal is, you’ll need to create an action plan to achieve your goal. We decided to automatically put money into a savings account each pay period. We each set up an automatic deduction from our payroll account into a separate savings account. The amount we set aside changed as our income fluctuated. What is important is that the money is set aside in a separate account.
  • Review your goals and plan often. Most years our goals stayed the same – we still wanted to save for emergencies, a house, and our retirement, yet the plan to reach the goals would change. After a move and a break in employment, we had to adjust how much we set aside.

Military Saves is a great opportunity to pledge to become a saver. Yes, a saver and a spender can live happily ever after with shared goals, a plan, and an adjustment or two. The first decision is figuring out which one you are: the saver, or the spender.

How do you and your spouse reach financial goals together?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

7 Reasons the Commissary is Better Than Walmart

I’m just going to say this now: the commissary is better than Walmart.

If you’re like the majority of military families who live on or near a military installation, you know there’s always one constant: the commissary. No matter where you go, you know you can count on there being a commissary, even worlds away from the United States.

As a kid, I remember trips to the commissary with my babysitter, a retired military spouse. It was the best day because there were always booths set up to taste test things. So, while my babysitter shopped, we’d run through the store tasting all the snacks. It was a military grocery store version of Epcot’s World Showcase. But with florescent lights.

When I married a service member, taking advantage of the commissary was something I looked forward to. I learned the in’s and out’s, like avoiding the commissary on payday, and making sure to tip the baggers

Don’t get me wrong: in a bind, I’ll swing by Walmart, but let me tell you why I love the commissary so much more:

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Baggers. This sounds lazy, but I love the baggers. I love that they push my cart to my car and help me unload my grocery bags. And did you know they work only for tips? Many of them are military dependents or retirees, so giving them a few bucks to deal with my awkward conversations as we walk to my car seems like the least I can do. They’re working hard for the money!

Great selection. I really love that commissaries offer such a variety of products, even international. If you’re like my friend, Heather, who lived in Germany for a few years with her service member, you start to miss those international foods, like Mezzo Mix. But check your commissary to see if they have it in stock. Maybe you’re an all-American foodie? There’s 15 different selections of ketchup for your taste buds to enjoy. I called Walmart near my house to check…they only carry 8. Boom. Winning.

Case lot sales. It’s when the commissary turns into your very own Sam’s Club, or Costco. Twice a year, stateside commissaries put out the best-selling items at lower prices. What’s better? Use those coupons to score an even better deal.

It’s cheaper. It just is. As someone who loves a good steak, I go to the commissary to buy meat. Two New York Strips at Walmart costs me between $16-$21. At the commissary? $12-$14. Most military families will save 30% at commissaries, and one military spouse recognizes the savings, “As a family of 5, I cut coupons like crazy and shop at the commissary. Off post, with the coupons, it is still not affordable!”

There are scholarships. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t either until I joined the NMFA team. Each year, generous manufacturers and suppliers whose products are sold at military commissaries worldwide help fund scholarships that are given out at each location operated by the Defense Commissary Agency (even OCONUS). In the 15 years these scholarships have existed, nearly $14 million dollars have been awarded to military children.

Comradery. This might seem silly, but I’m one of those people who always feels a sense of pride when I go anywhere on base (except the pharmacy, because patience is limited). When I’m at the commissary and I see a service member in uniform with their family, it puts a smile on my face because I know we’re all this military thing together. These people understand my life, and I feel like we’re all a little family. And I’m proud of that family.

The “dress code.” This one speaks for itself. And although there are differing opinions about the commissary’s dress code (and not all have one), I’m all for it. Mostly. I live in workout clothes these days, so I know I’m breaking the rules at some commissary somewhere, but the alternative has the potential to ruin your day. I’m talking to you, tan leggings lady at Walmart. We’ve all seen the People of Walmart website.

When I think about the crazy ride that military life can be, I always seem to feel ahead of the game when I can locate the commissary at a new installation. I can be guaranteed these seven reasons will make my grocery shopping a little more bearable (because I absolutely dread it).

What does your military family love about the commissary?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Meet the Best Military Spouse Photographers of 2016!

Last year, NMFA ran a promotion hoping to pair up fabulous military spouse photographers with families who deserved some family photos to cherish. These photographers volunteered to share their time and talents, and were eager to send us the best shots from their photo sessions.

Here at NMFA, we are proud to support military spouses as they chase their dreams. This contest gave us an opportunity to celebrate the talent found within our communities, and we hope next time you need a photographer, you check this list to hire a military spouse in your area!

Photo Contest Photographers

April Kroenke Portland, OR: April Kroenke Photography

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April Kroenke is an international award winning photographer who is recognized for the experience she creates for her portrait clients. She specializes in modern lifestyle portraits that tell the story of her clients through connection, expression, personality, and the surrounding environment. April’s passion is in creating beautiful works of art and a wonderful experiences for her clients. She looks forward to telling your story!

Find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Ashley Langtry Brunswick, ME: Ashley Langtry Photography

View More: http://ashleylangtry.pass.us/kellyfamily

Ashley Langtry specializes in baby and lifestyle photography. Her site says “I am painfully awkward, but equally awesome. I am an aspiring gypsy, lover of all things whimsical, and mama to two little crazies. I am hopelessly optimistic, believer in romance, hugger of trees, and lover of a US Navy Sailor. I try to design a photo, as well as document a moment. When people hire me to photograph for them, they are hiring me because someone they love is on the other side of my lens. For me, it is an honor to capture that love for them.”

Find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+.

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Athena Plichta Naples, Italy: Athena Plichta Photography

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Athena is a food, lifestyle, and travel photographer currently based in southern Italy.

Find her on Instagram.

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Cindy Corcoran Newport, RI: Ellie Lynn Photography

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Cindy is a lifestyle photographer, specializing in portraits for families, children, couples, military members, seniors, and special occasions. Memories are only but a moment captured in time and she loves to capture real people living their real lives.

Find her on Facebook.

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Danielle McCown Lakenheath, England: Danielle McCown Photography

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Danielle has a beautiful natural style, and is wonderful with children and families.

Find her on Facebook.

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Emily Grace Fort Rucker, AL: Emily Grace Photography

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Emily says it best: “What photographs are you passing on to your kids’ kids? Instagram selfies? (No way!) Stop thinking you have to look a certain way to be photographed! You are you, and that’s beautiful. Don’t believe me? Ask your kids. Ask your spouse. Ask your neighbor. Ask me.”

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Judith Lovett Atlanta, GA: Judith Lovett, Photographer

Judith loves to take portraits that tell a story.

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Find her on Facebook.

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Julie Rivera El Paso, TX: Julie Rivera Photography

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Julie has a message for you: “Your life, at this very minute, is enough. I want to show you the majesty in between the highlights. The day-to-day that is the very essence of your child’s childhood. I want you to see that everything you do is more than enough: it is the life of your family. And it is tremendous!”

Julie is not currently taking new clients, but you can see her work on Facebook and Instagram

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Kathryn Bailey Hessen, Germany: LittleB Memories

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“A toothless grin. A newborn snuggle. Tiny arms around your neck. Moments like these happen far too fast. Portraits bring those memories back long after those little ones have left the house. LittleB Memories is a place where that magic is treasured; I capture the times you value the most, so you can relive your favorite moments again and again for years to come.”

Find her on Facebook.

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Meagan Drew Monterrey, CA: Momma Mea Photography

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Meagan strives to capture moments for you and your loved ones just as a Momma would see them!

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Michelle St.Clergy Fort Polk, LA: Chaque Bonne Memoire Photography

Chaque Bonne Memoire means “Every Good Memory.” And that is exactly Michelle’s mission: to ensure each moment, each facial expression, and each journey that you take us on with you is left with an everlasting good memory.

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Nichole Glover Fort Gordon, Ga: Glover Images

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Nicole specializes in family photography.

Find her on Facebook.

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Robyn Mroszczyk Huntsville, AL: Vanderport Designs 

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Robyn Mroszczyk is a natural-light photographer who specializes in family, maternity, and children sessions. She is a military spouse to her high school sweetheart, and they have two boys who keep her busy. Robyn believes in affordable photography so that everyone can have special moments captured and displayed. When she is not doing photography, Robyn is an Accredited Financial Counselor, where she assists transitioning Service members preparing for a deployment, redeploying, retirement, and everything in between. Her sense of humor, patience, and ability to make a fool of herself have served the photography world for the last four years. Robyn looks forward to creating memories in the Huntsville area until the fall when her family will move to Washington D.C.

Find her on Facebook and Etsy.

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Rosie Suerdieck Colorado Springs, CO: Reflections by Rosie

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Rosie is a wife, mother of four, cuddler of her Lab and Jack Russell, and momma to 10 chickens. “Life is an adventure, and I take it on. I specialize in high school senior portraiture for the fashionable girl, and mentor fellow photographers on how to be better businesswomen.”

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Sarah Case Washington, DC: Tiny Sparrow Photography

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Sarah’s intention as a photographer is simple: “When time has erased all the details — of the long stretches of sleepless nights, small meltdowns, first words and first steps — what I hope will remain are the beautifully captured moments and timeless photographs I have created for you — that we’ve collaborated on together.”

Find her on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Stefanie Adams-Figueroa Ramstein, Germany: Wunderkind Photography

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…because they’re only this little once…

Find Stephanie on Facebook.

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MilSpouse PhotographerWhy choose a military spouse photographer? These entrepreneurs have set up their businesses again and again at each new duty station. Many photographers build their business through word of mouth, and when you move every 2-3 years, it isn’t easy.

We are proud to be able to promote these photographers as a special “thank you” for the time and service they donated to their communities this year! Help us encourage these spouses  by hiring one in your area next time you need family photos taken. This is an investment you won’t regret!

Interested in being featured on NMFA as a military spouse photographer? Our family photo contest runs each spring, and pairs hardworking photographers with military families for a special photo session. If you’d like to hear more about the program and donate a photo session to a deserving family while building your business at your current duty station, fill out this form.

Bloom Where You’re Planted…With Little Commitment!

During my 10+ year journey as a military spouse, I have tried to keep the old adage, “bloom where you’re planted,” as my personal motto. And believe me, I have been planted in some places I never thought I would be. As a girl from the Pacific Northwest, it can be pretty crazy to try to set down roots in Central Texas, Southern Oklahoma, or most recently, Western Louisiana.

What has been the most surprising is how trying to bloom where we’re planted has provided experiences and opportunities I never would have dreamed about. I have learned the only way to really flourish in a place that is foreign to me is to put myself out there and get to know the area AND the people who are there with us.

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My journey as a military spouse truly began when I joined my husband in Ft. Hood when he redeployed from Iraq. We had been married for over a year and a half, but it was the first time we were going to be able to start our life together.

However, I had no experience with the military lifestyle, so I did what I knew how to do: I got a job and established a routine with my husband. I wasn’t involved with an FRG, any unit functions, or anything having to do with the Army at all. I was very isolated from the people and things that were part of my husband’s career.

After another deployment to Iraq, we found ourselves in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I left my job to move, we had a baby on the way, and I had NO IDEA what to do. I realized if we were really going to do this ‘military thing’ for the rest of our lives, I better learn more about it. I started taking classes at Army Community Services (ACS), and when the classes were over, I realized I liked the ladies who worked there so much, I started to volunteer. I joined the Spouses’ Club, because some of the spouses I met volunteering at ACS were members, too. I started attending fitness classes on Post, and once my son was born, I went to every playgroup I could find.

A lot of the same people were popping up in many of the groups I was involved with; people who were going through the same thing I was–trying to build a life on this crazy military journey. And sometimes we don’t have the time or opportunity to work outside the home, but we still crave the personal connection with other adults. During our almost four years at Fort Sill, I met some of the most wonderful people I have ever known and truly created life-long friendships.

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We left Fort Sill for Washington D.C., where my husband spent almost 4 years between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. We were not in a traditional unit and did not live on any of the Posts in the area. We found ourselves very separated from military life…again. After welcoming our daughter, it was time to find some connection with our military life. I decided to go to work at a non-profit supporting military families. That job gave me the personal relationships and friendships I had been missing. And luckily, I was able to work with a few other military wives who gave me the connection to military life I had been missing.

The time came for us to move on to new orders. We left Washington D.C., and I left my job and friends to move to Fort Polk, Louisiana; a new place, with new people. I will need to really push myself, put myself out there to meet some other moms, spouses, and friends to connect with. I am going to use what I learned during our time at Fort Sill to try to find the people who I mesh with.

I have met a few ladies from our unit and talk to the other moms at our daughter’s gymnastics class. I plan on joining the Spouses’ Club, too. With my husband preparing to join a unit already in Afghanistan, I know my ability to get involved with a lot of things will have to wait, but I am going to grab the little moments in daily life to try to bloom where I have been planted.

How do you get involved with military life without much commitment? Share it with us in the comments!

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Army Spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer