Category Archives: Military spouses

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

Why Your MilSpouse Resume Isn’t Cutting It

You’ve PCS’d to a new location. You’re all settled in—boxes are (mostly) unpacked, kids are in school, dog has calmed down and gotten used to the new place, and you’re ready to start working again. But how do you make yourself stand out in the crowd? You have a beautifully designed resume that shows off your amazing skills. You have a new suit to wear to interviews. You have practiced all the tough questions, and even have a great answer to the dreaded “What are your weaknesses?” question.

So why isn’t anyone calling you for an interview??? It could be your cover letter.

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If you just said “What cover letter?” you’re not alone. Research shows only 50% of job applicants send cover letters.

But we have news for you: as a military spouse, you can’t afford to be part of the 50% who don’t send a cover letter. You must take this extra step to make yourself stand out in a crowd if you want to land that job.

The cover letter is Step 1. However, there are probably other things you’re doing that are keeping you from getting a callback.

The following are a list of job-seeking don’ts for military spouses. For each one you’re guilty of, bow your head a little deeper in shame. Kidding!

But be honest, have you ever…

Called the organization by the wrong name? This is an easy mistake to make when you’re filling in a cover letter template. Cover letters should be specialized for the position you’re applying for. They should highlight how your experience would benefit the company and show that you’ve done your research. Bonus: Don’t call an Association a “company,” or vice versa.

Addressed your cover letter “Dear Hiring Manager,”? That’s just plain lazy. It only takes 2 minutes to look at the organization’s website and find that Hiring Manager’s name. If it takes you any longer, just call and ask “To whom should I address my cover letter for this position?”

Focused too much on yourself? “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” -JFK. Swap out “country” for “organization,” and this is your new mantra. The Hiring Manager (whose name you now know) doesn’t care if the office is really close to your house, or if the hours are convenient for you to get to your kid’s soccer practice. Those are great things, and you should high five your spouse about them when you get the job. Until then, focus on “what you can do for your country.”

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Tried to convince someone to let you work from home? We get it—you live in the middle of nowhere. We’ve been there. Unfortunately, when you see your dream job in New York City—now may not be the time for you. Many organizations are becoming much more open to telecommuting, but not every position is suited for telework. If a job description states you must work in the office (therefore, you must live in the area), that’s what it means.

Recapped your resume? Your cover letter should not recap your resume. This is especially important for military spouses because you have some explaining to do. You’ve moved, changed jobs (a lot), had gaps in your employment, and may have more volunteer experience than paid. Your cover letter is your chance to explain.

Sent something generic? Do your research. Besides explaining your spotty employment history, a cover letter is your chance to showcase what you can do for this organization. How can you explain that, if you don’t know what they do? Personalizing matters.

A few more things: remember, the interview starts when you hit send. Always follow up. End your cover letter with something like: “I will email/call on X date,” and then do it! Thank you emails are important, too. Keep those lines of communications open, and try to enjoy the journey. Ask for feedback and learn from each experience. Soon you’ll be standing with your head up high and enjoying lunch with your crop of new co-workers.

Did we miss any important tips? Let us know in the comments!

christinabesaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director, and Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Should You Elope? And Other Thoughts About Weddings…

“The Air Force just ruined our honeymoon. He’s deploying not even two weeks after our wedding. It’ll literally be just like when we got engaged and he deployed right after.”

My friend sent me this text a few weeks ago, and my heart broke for her.

She’d gotten engaged in September, and a few days later, her fiancé left for a six month deployment. Since then, she’s been meticulously planning what’s sure to be a beautifully romantic fall wedding, already ordering Save-the-Dates, bridesmaids’ dresses, and her own perfect white gown.

“What if you considered a honeymoon before the wedding?” I asked. “I’m a little backwards, so that wouldn’t seem weird to me!”

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But my own suggestion got me thinking about the pros and cons of scrapping the wedding altogether and just eloping. Plenty of military couples have done it – maybe there’s a reason?

Let’s take a look at some comparisons between weddings and elopements:

Eloping: Snap your fingers, and it’s done!
Maybe you’re facing a deployment, like my friend. Perhaps you could really use the benefits military life offers? Either way, eloping means you’ll be betrothed in a heartbeat.

Wedding: Nobody likes a finger-snapping Bridezilla.
With all the details, loose ends to tie up, and people to wrangle, it’s stressful to plan and execute a wedding. And sometimes, that stress can turn any sweet and patient bride into a fire-breathing, finger-snapping monster if not careful. Eloping boasts an easy, stress-free day.

Eloping: It’s cheaper but…
Whether you’re running hand-in-hand to the courthouse, or the two of you are flying to the Bahamas for a destination elopement, the costs associated with eloping are usually significantly less than a traditional wedding. Maybe you have plans to use the would-be wedding money on a down payment for a house, or paying off debt, instead.

Wedding: …Don’t cheapen the occasion.
Eloping, while quick, sometimes makes you miss out on the occasion—the planning, ceremony with guests, and reception to celebrate. Will you miss having someone to walk you down the aisle if you elope? Will you still feel married without the pomp and circumstance?

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Eloping: Keeps the peace.
Friends and family will weigh in like a ton of bricks on what traditions to follow, what music to use in your processional, even when and where to have YOUR wedding. It can be overwhelming, and start to feel like you’re babysitting people and their opinions. Eloping can keep tension at a minimum, and can guarantee your wedding day is just what you and your future spouse want.

Wedding: Don’t be the missing piece.
Having everyone who loves you and your partner in one place is a powerful thing. From your best friend who helped you through the rough break-ups in college, to your parents who’ve dreamed about your special day since you were little. Weddings celebrate the joining of two families, and it’s a beautiful way for all those people who love you to see your happiness culminate in one perfect day.

There are always pros and cons to everything, and the bottom line is that we won’t always please everyone. The military doesn’t plan for weddings, and it certainly doesn’t care about other big ticket events in your life, so why not do what works best for you and your future spouse?

Even if it means you have your honeymoon before your wedding. GASP!

What are your feelings about weddings verses elopements? Would you do your own vows differently?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

The Benefit I Hope You Never Need to Use

Every time my husband got ready to leave for more than a few days, whether on a deployment or for training, we would have the same conversation.

“So,” I would ask uncomfortably, “are you sure your affairs are in order?”

The first time I asked, he was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“You, know – the important stuff – if something happens to you while you are gone, how will I be able to take care of our kids?”

“Oh, you mean life insurance?” he asked.

Yes, I couldn’t say the words without a lump forming in my throat. Life insurance.

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No one wants to talk about life insurance, or spend any time thinking about why you might need it, but it’s an important conversation to have. Service members and their families need to think about what they would do if the worst were to happen. As the mom of two young children, I had to be sure I would be able to take care of them, no matter what.

Military members are automatically enrolled in the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for the maximum amount of coverage of $400,000. Premiums are deducted from the service member’s base pay. A service member is automatically insured under full-time SGLI if he or she meets one of the following requirements:

  • Active duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard
  • Commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS)
  • Cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies
  • Member, cadet, or midshipman of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises
  • Member of the Ready Reserve or National Guard and are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year
  • Service member who volunteers for a mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)

If a service member would like to designate a beneficiary, reduce, or decline SGLI coverage, then a SGLV 8286 form (Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Election and Certificate) must be completed. SGLI coverage may be converted after active duty to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, or to a commercial life insurance policy.

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What about family members?

Military families also have access to Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). FSGLI is a program providing term life insurance to a spouse and dependent children of an insured service member under SGLI. The service member pays a premium for spouse coverage in $10,000 increments up to $100,000. Dependent children are insured at no cost for $10,000. FSGLI coverage is automatic for $100,000, not exceeding the service member’s SGLI coverage, unless the spouse is a dual-service couple. FSGLI spouse coverage is not automatic for service members who married other service members on or after January 2, 2013. Service members in this category will have to apply for coverage using form SGLV 8286A. Spouse SGLI premiums are also deducted from the service member’s pay and the premium rate is based on age category of the spouse. Post-military service conversion options are available for spouse SGLI, but not for dependent children.

How much life insurance do you need?

This can be different for each family. Generally, financial planners recommend short-term needs to cover immediate expenses such as outstanding debts, and long-term needs of future income to sustain the household. Take some time to talk to your spouse about your short-term and long-term needs, and learn more about life insurance options available for service members and their families. It may be helpful to consider your life insurance needs after your service member transitions out of the military, as well. A financial counselor can help you plan for your needs, and counselors are available at your local installation, military banks, or credit unions, or via Military OneSource.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist