Category Archives: Military Families

Want to Win a Free Photo Session for Your MilFam?

May is Military Appreciation Month, and at NMFA, we believe that includes military families, too! You sacrifice daily to support and stand behind the uniform–something many others couldn’t do.

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To thank you and honor you during Military Appreciation Month, NMFA is bringing back our popular Military Family Photography Contest! Enter to win your family a free photo session with a talented, hand-picked military spouse photographer in an area near you. We’ve got photographers near and far, and entering is as easy as a few clicks!

Military life moves quickly, and sometimes the perfect moment for a family photographer is hard to get. We think your family deserves photos to cherish, and we found some amazing military spouse photographers who are volunteering to share their time and talents to capture a special moment in time.

Enter to win a free photo session!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Where are You From? Hometown: EVERYWHERE!

Growing up as a military kid, I sometimes puzzled over the question “Where are you from?” I never struggled to answer, but maybe that’s because I had a lot of possible answers. And yet, I never envied the kids that had just one answer. I still don’t envy those kids…and here’s why:

My father was a career soldier–first as an Army aviator, and then later with the Corps of Engineers. It was a path that took him, and our family, to places as far and wide as Germany, Virginia, Japan, Iowa, South Korea, Kansas, South Dakota, and Maryland. Along the way, we vacationed in Savannah, Georgia–my parents’ hometown. My folks later explained that they figured that we needed a hometown, too.

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Growing up, South Dakota was the place that we called home the longest. My father taught ROTC at South Dakota Tech, in the small Black Hills town of Rapid City, for three years. I’m sure my siblings would agree that we found ourselves more at home in Rapid City than at any other place, including Savannah. There were awesome winter sports, the place was obsessed with baseball (just like I was), there was a strong sense of community, and the city was genuinely welcoming to outsiders.

Of course, it was all temporary, and our next move was to be to South Korea, a place that I’d never even heard of (hey, I was only seven). My folks sold me on the move, as military parents often do, this time by telling me that bicycles were very cheap in Korea.

My older brother and sister were teenagers, so they weren’t as excited about bikes, and they weren’t excited about leaving their friends, either. As we drove through Wyoming on the way to drop off our car for shipment to Korea, there was no shortage of tears. But things got brighter as we made our way further west, and there was building optimism and excitement as we reached the coast.

We arrived in Seoul in the middle of summer, before school started, so it took a little while to get connected. Our household goods (and my toys) seemed to take a long time to arrive, but I guess time is on a different measure when you are a kid. We all managed to find new friends at our new post, as we always had. And sure enough, I was tooling around Yongsan on my new bike in no time (never mind that we got it at the PX for probably the same price that we would have paid in the states).

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Occasionally, I’m asked if growing up as a military brat was hard, if I missed having a true hometown. I respond that “hard” isn’t the word I would choose. Looking back, it was an incredible opportunity, and I experienced things that have changed me forever, and for the better. In just a single two-year slice of time in Korea, I became familiar enough with a new language to pick a soccer team with kids that spoke no English (kids just like me, I learned, except from a different country), I bargained with local shopkeepers over important things like chewing gum and yo-yos, I took field trips to 1,500-year-old temples, and I watched hundreds of local children sneak onto post for the promise of free Halloween candy (security was a little bit different in those days).

It wasn’t perfect, of course, and moving was never what us kids wanted at the time. But we tried to make the most of each assignment, learning to ice skate in South Dakota, touring castles in Europe, even speaking a little Japanese along the way (ok, very little, maybe just a skoshi). And we made new friends at each stop, some of which we are still in touch with (and without the benefit of social media back in the day).

My dad’s next assignment after Korea was Fort Meade, Maryland. On the way, we set it up so that we could pass back through our former hometown of Rapid City. During our visit, I asked my parents “Why are my old friends all still here? Shouldn’t they have been sent to live somewhere else like we were?” When they explained that not everybody has to move every few years, I thought, “Wow, they are missing out.”

Are you a military kid? What do you remember most fondly about growing up?

courtPosted by Court Ogilvie, Chief Operating Officer

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.

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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%.

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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

One Man’s 12,000 Mile Bike Ride for Military Families

With the national monuments as his backdrop, Brian D’Apice took his year-long journey, and his message, to Washington this week.

“The Appalachians are steep, but the Rockies are tall.”

Brian has been riding his bike around America—literally AROUND the entire United States—to raise money and awareness for something close to his heart: military families and kids.

Brian + Lincoln

Brian joined the Army after high school and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He did two tours in Iraq, including 15 months in Baghdad.

“I was lucky to be single, but I saw [my fellow soldiers] struggle,” Brian said. “They had really hard times with their spouses and their kids, especially when they were coming home and adjusting back to life with their families.”

Brian is single himself, but jokes that Siri (iPhone’s virtual companion) is his girlfriend. Siri helped him navigate rough terrains, find places to stay, and contact potential donors and schools along the way.

His three-part message is simple, yet powerful: Appreciation, Purpose, and Mission.

“We are so lucky to be in this country. Living overseas infused my passion and appreciation for America. My purpose is to help others and I want to let people—especially kids—know you can do anything you put your mind to.”

How does someone even come up with the idea to ride a bike around the U.S.?

“I just woke up one day and decided this is what I wanted to do—so I did it.”  If you met Brian in person, you’d understand. He’s full of energy and passion, lights up a room with his enthusiasm and immediately makes you feel like his new best friend—which made sleeping on strangers’ couches a little easier.

“I was in upstate New York and I parked my bike and knocked on this random door and asked if I could camp under her pine trees. This 80 year old woman looked at me and said ‘Are you kidding? It’s cold outside. Come on in!’”

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Brian has traveled nearly 12,000 miles since May 4, 2015 and will end his journey April 30 right where it began, in Times Square. That means he’s 94% of the way there!

Brian is a self-proclaimed Excel spreadsheet-junkie who tracks everything. Like, he…

  • Travels about 70 miles a day
  • Eats a tenth of a pound of peanut butter per day
  • Crosses a state line every 10.5 days
  • Spends about $12.50/day on food and housing
  • Rides his bike for 23.7 hours a week and spends the rest of his time making connections, speaking to schools and donors, and keeping up with his social media following

You can cheer him on at BicycleAroundAmerica.com.

Brian has already raised more than $40,000 for the National Military Family Association and Pencils for Promise. What’s next?

“There might be a book someday. Or I might take one of the suggestions I got from the kids and go swim around America next time.”

He’s kidding… but with Brian, you never know.

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

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.

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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

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

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Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

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Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

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While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.

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Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director