Category Archives: Military spouses

Passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill to a Military Spouse: Yes or No?

For me, making the decision to use my husband’s Post-9/11 GI Bill, rather than save it for our kids, or for my husband when he gets out of the military, was difficult. The decision wasn’t hard for my husband, though. He has told me time and again that he wants me to use it. But it’s been difficult for me.

I am not the one who raised her right hand, and swore an oath to our nation. I am not the one who works countless hours, and follows every order, even when that order means missing out on holidays and graduations and plans with the family. I am not the one who deployed, or is ready and waiting for the next time someone needs to put their life on the line for Uncle Sam.

Not me.

I’m just the spouse. I am his cheerleader. I am proud to support him and do what I need to do to keep our home happy and healthy so he can do his job. I am doing everything I can to pitch in for our family, and that includes working, and hustling, and yes, going back to college.

My degree program is expensive. Very expensive. And climbing a career ladder as a military spouse isn’t easy.

Sometimes I wonder if spending this benefit on me is a worthwhile investment. I am not sure we’ll be in this area long enough for me to finish this degree program, let alone use it to it’s fullest potential. I am not sure I am going to be able to reach MY fullest potential as long as my spouse is active duty.

I’ve been struggling with this icky, dirty, rotten feeling, and wondering if my family made the right decision to invest in me, and this degree, right now.

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I shared these concerns with a friend, and fellow military spouse, who reassured me that I am not alone. She reminded me that degrees do not have expiration dates; if now is the right time for me to be working towards a degree, then I should do it. Even if we have a PCS looming, or I am unsure of what the future holds. I can get that degree, and hang it on my wall, and stick it on my resume, and it will be there for me when I need it.

She reminded me that struggling with guilt is normal, especially for a woman who is also a mom, like me. We are used to giving our kids the last scoop of ice cream and putting our needs to the side to care for them. So using a benefit for myself that could be passed to them is tough for me.

But, I can still use my degree to help them. Getting this degree will raise my earning potential, and impact my family’s budget. By the time my kids are ready to go to college, I could be earning much more money, and have an easier time helping pay their tuition. Before they are ready to go to college, our family will have more money to invest in sports and activities and tutors, so my kids will be more competitive when it comes to earning a college scholarship.

I need to remember that my husband and I are a team. We are in this together, and he believes I am a worthwhile investment. I need to believe in myself, as well. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to make a real difference for my family NOW. He is a “lifer,” and won’t be out of the military for another 10-15 years (knock on wood). By then, he won’t need the benefit. But I need it now, and our family needs my employment income now.

Lastly, my friend reminded me that many military spouses are struggling with employment issues. Many have put themselves, their educations, and their careers on the back burner. They’ve given up…and I don’t blame them at all. It’s hard to be ready and willing to work, and have the education and experience you need, and STILL hit a brick wall. Getting this degree will help me become more employable. It will make me more competitive. I may still struggle to find a job, and military life may still present it’s own challenges, but it’s always better to make sure there are multiple doors (and windows!) open to me. This degree will unlock them all.

I have an opportunity that has been lovingly given to me by my husband. He earned the right to choose where that benefit was best spent. He has chosen to invest in my education, and our family’s future. The best thing I can do for all of us is to continue to work my tail off, keep my head up, and know I am doing my part to help my family in the long run.

Are you a military spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? How did you decide it was right for your family?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

To Master’s Degrees and Beyond!

Each year our scholarship application opens to military spouses pursuing any level of education. Each year I am pleasantly surprised with the number of spouses seeking graduate level degrees. In 2016, out of our entire applicant pool 26% are pursuing Master’s degrees.

So should you consider a Master’s degree? Let’s ask the experts…in this case the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ (BLS) Career Outlook, “In 2013, the median annual wage for full-time workers ages 25 and over whose highest level of education was a master’s degree was $68,000, compared with $56,000 for those whose highest level was a bachelor’s degree—a $12,000 a year wage premium.” The BLS does note that some occupations and fields of study benefit from advanced degrees while others may not. Which ones benefit? BLS highlights: business, education, healthcare and social service and STEM.
  • In a Monthly Labor Review published in 2012, The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that the total employment is expected to increase by 20.5 million jobs from 2010 to 2020, with 88 percent of detailed occupations projected to experience employment growth. “The fastest growth is projected in occupations assigned to the master’s degree level; these occupations are projected to grow by 21.7 percent.”

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The stats are supportive but as a military spouse is it feasible? Over the past couple years NMFA has partnered with 2U on offering military spouse scholarships at various online graduate level programs. 2U partners with top colleges and universities to offer service members, veterans and their families the chance to earn a world-class degree from anywhere in the world — even while serving the country. Programs like the ones powered by 2U make it feasible for transient military spouses to complete their advanced degree at reputable schools.

  • Charity Mathis is enrolled in an online master’s program at Simmons College. Charity explains, “The program has worked well for me as a military spouse. I can get my kids off to school and sit down at my computer and attend class. I have even attended class in my soccer mom van at softball practice. I have seen other military spouses in my classes as well which is very encouraging to see others embarking on the same journey.”
  • Beth Ramsey, a Nursing@Simmons students explains, “I waited to pursue this degree due to the multiple military moves we have made. All that was previously offered was on campus options and I was always afraid that I would begin a program and then need to move. With this program, you get the best of both worlds, an “in class setting” from the comfort of your own home. Many of my classmates and myself have attended class from hotel rooms, other countries, and even our cars.”

Register with NMFA online to explore our 2U partner programs. There are programs for social workers, teachers, nurses, lawyers and more! Scholarships available at each partner university can reach up to $7,500.

If you need help deciding if graduate school is right for you, check out Peterson’s “A Guide for Potential Grad Students: Should You Go To Graduate School?

MilSpouse Geek Out! Behind the Scenes at the National Memorial Day Concert

You know what I love about military life? I love that I can walk into a room with spouses I’ve never met, from every branch of service, and leave that room with brand new friends. 

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It happened again yesterday. I received an invite to rehearsals for the National Memorial Day Concert—an amazing opportunity! I’d see the show before the rest of the country, and even have a chance to talk to the talent if I got really lucky. 

I was the first spouse to arrive  (as always- color me anxious, but I can’t stand to be late!) so I channeled all the confidence I could, and walked right in. For the first hour, I sat in the front row as Gary Sinise and Joe Montega rehearsed, sat in the row with me, lost their cell phones, and otherwise proved they are normal people just like me (hey, People Magazine dedicates an entire spread to proving this, so I can’t be alone in my delusional idol worship). 

Before long, other spouses began arriving. There were a couple Army wives, a Navy spouse, a Marine Corps spouse, and me, the lone Air Force wife. We immediately began bonding over our shared experiences, and started nerding out about the day and the performers in front of us.

This concert is a Memorial Day service intended to remind Americans of the sacrifice of our service members lost at war. It didn’t take long for stories of deployments and heartache to start pouring out of the women I was with. We sat together and listened to Trace Adkins sing “Arlington.” Other than the production crew, it was just us, the empty lawn of the Capitol, and Arlington off in the distance. 

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I am not from DC. I was not raised as a military brat.  I am not a Gold Star Wife. But I am a military spouse, and as I sat there with these women I barely knew, I realized how lucky I am to count them as my sisters in the journey. One of them turned to me and told me how this song reminds her of just how fragile life can be, and how fortunate we are to have our spouses safe and sound today. 

As the performers came off stage, they made time to stop and speak with us.

Mike Love of the Beach Boys told us about the bracelet he never takes off- a bracelet given to him by a Vietnam veteran who told him their music got him through the war. 

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Trace Adkins explained that he doesn’t perform “Arlington” to just any crowd. That song is sacred. He treats it with the “upmost reverence” because it’s the story of someone’s son- a young man who grew up to be a Marine like his father, and grandfather before him. That Marine is now in Arlington. 

In the Memorial Day production, Epatha Merkerson will tell the story of a Gold Star mom. With tears streaming down her face, she told us today was the first day that she has been to Arlington Cemetery, and seeing the families reminded her of just how important this occasion is. 

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Alfie Boe, a Broadway star spoke to us longest. He looked us each in the eye, and shook our hands like we had all been friends for years. He explained that this experience opened his eyes to what military families go through. “Not just the service men but the wives and the husbands of those people. It’s not just the service members who have to have courage and strength. Their wives and husbands are strong and courageous too. My heart goes out to them”

Memorial Day is a hard day for many of us. It’s easy to feel like the rest of the world just doesn’t get it. Radio ads promote “THE BIGGEST SALE EVER” while our friends, brothers and sisters gather in cemeteries to mourn their dead. It’s easy to feel so alone in our grief and sadness. 

Tonight’s Memorial Day Concert is a way to bring the nation together. Every performer I spoke with is here for all the right reasons. They get it. And tonight, when the concert airs on PBS, the nation will gather around their TVs and they will take a moment to mourn with us. 

We are not alone.

Tune in tonight at 8pm EST. Together we’re stronger. 

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HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Thanks, but No Thanks: 5 Reasons Military Spouses Are Saying “No” to Volunteering

Think fast: what would you say to someone from your spouse’s unit asking you to volunteer with the Family Readiness Group (FRG)?

There was a time, being a young, wide-eyed, new military spouse, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Having moved away from my hometown, volunteering in the military community seemed like a great way to meet other spouses, find new friends, and be plugged in to my husband’s world.

And it was, for a while. But then it got old.

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I served as the Ombudsman for one of my husband’s commands and hoped that, besides being a resource for the command families, I’d be a person others might gravitate to for friendship. Unfortunately, the friends didn’t come with the title. In fact, it felt like people RAN from me.

Once a new Ombudsman took my place, I knew I was done for a while.

I felt unsupported as a volunteer, but then felt guilty for not volunteering. Turns out, I’m not alone. Spouses are “over it” for a lot of reasons.

  1. Burn out.

“Volunteer positions aren’t always the best organized or most effectively communicated,” Kristen, a military spouse blogger told me. “I sometimes felt unappreciated or even taken advantage of. Plus it was hard to fit [volunteering] into my already-busy schedule.”

  1. Red tape.

Other spouses echoed Kristen’s thoughts about effective communication. Especially when procedures on installations tightened up and changed.

“I stopped volunteering on-post mainly because of all the red tape,” Karen, another military spouse, explained. “Oh my gosh, the regulations for fundraising, events, and other things were incredibly stifling to an FRG.”

  1. Childcare costs.

Heather, an Air Force Spouse, has always been a Key Spouse, but says she struggled to stay involved when her husband got new orders with frequent, unpredictable TDY’s.

“With four children, and limited access to affordable childcare,” she shared, “it was difficult to volunteer. As much as I wanted to serve, I couldn’t pay for a sitter to go work for free.”

  1. Family time.

But even with volunteer options that work around childcare, spouses, like Meg, say the commitment many volunteer positions require is a deal breaker.

“Most volunteer opportunities require a minimum number of hours–usually during the work day; And when it’s not during working hours, the time commitment expectation deeply cuts into the already precious time with my spouse and child,” Meg explained. “At the end of the day, the joy and satisfaction of volunteering for a good cause are outweighed by time and money.”

  1. Lack of support.

“I was Key Spouse for a year at our last base, and it was just awful,” said Kathryn, another Air Force spouse. “The squadron didn’t seem to care and just wanted to have someone [volunteer] so they could say they did. It was like pulling teeth to get information.”

Having an experience similar to Kathryn’s, I started wondering why commands even want these groups and volunteers at all when they don’t have the time to commit to helping them thrive.

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For service members to be 100% mission-focused, they need their home-life to be copacetic; kids are good, spouse is strong and supportive, life is stable. But military homes can’t find stability without support from the military.

That’s why Family Readiness Groups, Ombudsmans, and Key Spouses were created, right? But what if no one is supporting those volunteers?

In a recent blog post, military spouse, Rebecca, wrote about taking a break from volunteering, “I don’t think the military is doing a very good job of taking care of volunteers and families these days…So now, it’s up to me to take care of my family.”

It’s been 15 years of war for today’s military families, and there’s no end in sight. Many families are war-weary, leaving military service for the stability of civilian life, and licking the wounds from a battle-hardened, selfless job.

How will military families thrive without a strong, supportive, and understanding network of volunteers?

This community needs someone to say, “Me, too,” and “I’ve got your back,” and “Here’s some advice.” And it’s the military spouse volunteers who’ve been those fountains of knowledge and strength. We have to turn this train around. We do have each other’s backs, don’t we? At least in theory?

So, the question I want to know: would you volunteer with your unit’s FRG? Is it worth the headache? I’ll say yes if you will.

Have you taken a break from volunteering in the military community? What would it take for you to go back?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Do MilSpouses Even Want to be Appreciated?

Every May, since 1999 when Congress officially made it part of Military Appreciation Month, we’ve been recognizing Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  It’s our chance to honor the commitment and sacrifice of the silent ranks.

The Department of Defense joined suit in honoring military spouses by distinguishing the Friday before Mother’s Day as the official Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Pledging to support their loved one, military spouses fearlessly stand behind the uniform. They tackle parenting alone, pursue education and careers to provide for their families, and in some cases, drop everything to care for their spouse injured in combat.

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So why don’t many of the military spouses I spoke with want to be recognized? Why would they call it ‘just another day’ as important to them as “National Grilled Cheese Day?”

“I don’t need a pat on the back from those who don’t understand this lifestyle,” one military spouse said. “But it would be nice for service members to take a moment to reflect on how their spouses have helped support their careers. To take a quiet moment to say thank you.”

Are there flowers? Cards? Breakfast in bed? Shouldn’t this be the Mother’s Day before Mother’s Day?

“I don’t expect anything special, and we don’t celebrate it in my house,” another military spouse shared. “It’s nice when the base does something for us, but truly, it’s not necessary. My husband is the hero, not me.”

Besides quiet moments of appreciation from our heroes in uniform, there was one other thing military spouses agreed upon… appreciating each other is what makes Military Spouse Appreciation Day special to them. There may not be a big ceremony, flowers, or a Presidential declaration, but military spouses do like to feel the love from each other.

“I try to use Military Spouse Appreciation Day as a reminder to thank the fellow military spouses I know who have made a positive impact on my life,” one spouse shared. “It’s a good excuse to send some love!”

Another military spouse shared the same sentiment, “Life is too short to not love and appreciate those around us [by saying] thank you to all the spouses in my life that I know and love.”

At NMFA, we know military spouse serve in ways their civilian counterparts don’t understand. Through the highs and lows of military life, military spouses overcome obstacles no matter what.

So on a day that’s supposed to be all about them, it’s no surprise most military spouses are doing what they do best: supporting and encouraging each other.

THAT is worth appreciating.

How do you celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day? Or don’t you?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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