Category Archives: Military spouses

Five Friends Every Military Spouse Needs

After 10 years of life as a military spouse, my network of friends has become huge. Everywhere we go, I am able to find a new tribe of friends who hold me up, encourage me, and keep me laughing even when life is tough. Even though the faces are different, I’ve come to realize that my tribe always seems to contain the same kinds of people.

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The Pollyanna
When I get really negative and whiny, this is the friend I need the most. She’s always able to see the positive in every situation. She can see the little things that make each duty station special–even if it’s the way the light shines in at an angle this time of the year, or how beautiful those yellow flowers are off the highway. She knows we can “do anything for a season,” and knows we have to “bloom where we are planted.” She’s the perfect person to get me to see the bright side.

The Resourceful Friend
This friend knows all the in’s and out’s of military life. She can tell you the difference between TRICARE Prime and Standard, she knows all the entitlements and benefits that come along with military life, and can decipher an LES with her eyes closed. I call her when I can’t quite figure out how to get a referral, or I want to know more about using the GI bill. She knows everything about everything, and if she doesn’t actually know, she knows where we can find out.

The Go-To Friend
I often meet this friend on the first day we get settled into a new duty station, and I am waiting in the office of Child, Youth & School Services on base, or the school, or at the hospital, trying to fill out forms. She offers to be my emergency contact, and not long later, we’re getting together for play dates and coffee. She’s the first person I call when I need someone to watch the kids so I can go to the doctor, and we routinely swap kids for date nights when our husbands are home. I can always lean on her when “home” is too far away. Before long, this friend becomes family.

The Wine Night Friend
This friend is always within walking distance…and for good reason. She comes to every event with a bottle of wine in hand, and doesn’t judge me for opening it during our summer play date in the backyard. She’s not too serious at first, but is willing to talk about the hard stuff after a glass or two. She’s often my confidant and closest friend.

The No-BS Friend
As nice as it is to have a friend who will sympathize with me, what I really need is a friend who is going to tell me to suck it up, encourage me to change out of my sweatpants, and get out of the house. This is often the friend who calls me on day three of a deployment, and helps me stop feeling sorry for myself. Some people may think she’s too rough around the edges, but she’s the perfect person to stop me from wallowing in self pity.

These five friends have been my support network in all the places we’ve lived on our military journey. I love them, appreciate them, and think they’re awesome. In a life where we have to rely on our tribe to get us through another day of deployment, a uncertain medical board process, or even a quick PCS across the world, I’m glad to have this bunch in my corner.

Do you have any of these friends in your milspouse tribe? Who else would you add?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Military Spouse Scholarships are Waiting for YOU!

“I’m waking up and realized I did not have a dream! I always told myself ‘It’s ok, I don’t need to go to school,’ because I never wanted to take money away from the things my family needed.” –Emily Yancey, NMFA Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

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Emily Yancey and family receiving her scholarship from NMFA Executive Director Joyce Raezer

At the National Military Family Association, we meet so many military families from all walks of life. We hear their stories and, whenever we are able, we try to make their family’s military journey a little easier.

Since 2004, NMFA has awarded $3.3 million in scholarships to more than 3,500 military spouses. Emily Yancey was not one of those 3,500 recipients, yet, she still wanted to make a difference through NMFA. Earlier this year, Emily helped NMFA secure a grant to assist local military spouses as they pursue their career and education dreams.

Emily’s dream is to pursue a certification in culinary arts, which will allow her to contribute to her family, lifestyle, and community. She says cooking as a family has helped them heal after their lives changed when Emily’s husband was medically retired two years ago.

In Emily’s NMFA scholarship essay, she wrote, “It is important that military spouses pursue their education and career goals because it is important to keep personal identity. I personally know how quickly and easily personal dreams and aspirations can get put on the back burner. My husband is 100% disabled and it has taken me over two years to truly understand a little time for yourself will go a long way. It is not necessarily a negative thing but, it is important to stay true to you. My husband has always been my biggest supporter to get to school but following through on my part is another story. Being a military spouse means traveling to new duty stations, quickly adapting, and most importantly being the glue that sticks the family together. It’s a tough but rewarding job to help encourage and support the ranking military spouse but it is also that important to follow through for yourself.”

NMFA is thrilled to award Emily with $2,500 scholarship to help her pursue her culinary dreams. But then, an anonymous donor heard the Yancey’s story and was so inspired they decided to surprise Emily and her family with a scholarship that will allow her to finish her degree!

As you can imagine, Emily was surprised and graciously shared her feelings with us. “Words cannot say loud enough how thankful I am for each person that made this happen for me. Thank you!”

Are you a military spouse pursuing an educational or career licensure or certification? NMFA’s military spouse scholarship application is open until January 31, 2016, and we’re ready to help you achieve your goals! Apply now!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

But I Didn’t Really Know What I “Signed up” for…

News flash: military life isn’t a Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure book. But it can be scary, and the choices you make might not turn out the way you think, because I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect when they marry into the military.

I wish people would stop saying “You know what you signed up for.”

Because, actually, I didn’t.

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Telling a military spouse that he or she should know what to expect out of military life is condescending and should be banned. Sure, there are some obvious challenges, but no one’s challenges are ever exactly alike, and by bunching them together and saying they’re all the same can make someone feel like their experiences really don’t matter. It makes them draw back from their peers, and disconnect from the ‘support’ network they thought they could count on.

Military spouses, we have to stop telling each other to suck it up. Each time we do, we crack the foundation in our solidarity a little bit more. We need to support each other through the ups and downs of military life. Let’s be in this together.

I didn’t know what I signed up for. I knew the title of the book, but I had no idea who the characters were, what the plot twists would be, or how it might end.

So why do we tell each other “You knew what you were getting into?”

How could we know all the twist and turns of a life we hadn’t even lived yet? Some challenges require us to stand there in a full-blown, can’t-get-through-this moment in order to come out stronger on the other side. How else do we glean the knowledge (and survival skills, am I right?!) to pass along to MilSpouses who follow us?

If we don’t leave the bread crumb trail, who will?

When we marry a service member, we have no way of knowing what plot twists will be waiting. We might not have the tools to fix cracks in our relationship. We might not know how to process the emotional stress of going through labor alone during a deployment. And we certainly won’t ever be able to understand why fate calls on our loved one to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

We can’t read the book of life backwards, people!

I really appreciate military spouses who tell me some honest, raw, emotional truth based on what they’ve lived. There were times they didn’t want to finish the book, but they kept reading. And now they know things others don’t. They have suffered and survived.

Imagine if we didn’t have those people in our lives, but rather, ones who tell us to ‘suck it up’ because we knew what we were getting into?

Did we choose our own adventure? We sure did. Are we strong enough to survive? Absolutely. But should we have to ‘suck it up’ because we ‘knew what we were getting into?’ Absolutely not. We deserve better. And we owe it to each other.

Do you think a military spouse really knows what they ‘sign up for’ when they marry a service member? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Running Towards an Enhanced Career: Lace Up and GO!

You are at the starting line, with the finish probably no where in sight. A gun goes off. And then you run.

For me, this applies literally–to actual running–and metaphorically to continuing my education. Currently, I’m attempting both. Both journeys are endless pursuits of self-fulfillment and self-improvement.

I started running about five years ago. We had just moved to sunny southern California, and my husband promptly deployed. I knew just a handful of people, had a job that I disliked, and was spending too much time moping about.

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So I ran. I started with up and back loops in my neighborhood. I took the dog for company, and we chatted about how my day went, what was for dinner, and what type of treat he wanted when we got back.

Those first weeks were painful. I was doing Couch25K before that was a ‘real thing,’ and I was frustrated. I remembered, from high school track, what it felt like to go fast, and I remembered my sub-three minute 800 meters. I remembered flying around the track. Now, I was barely wogging (if walking and jogging had a baby) along, even with frequent trudging breaks.

Right now, I am going back to school for an additional certificate in education. I am scared out of my mind. I’ve been out of school for over five years, and this whole program is online. I’m not sure how to pay for this, or how much work it will be, or if it will be worth it in the end.

But I’m trying it. If it is a disaster, at least I tried.

That’s how I viewed running when I started out: even if I am the slowest person on the road, I’m still faster than the person who never left the couch.

So I kept going. I laced up my shoes and pushed myself farther and faster every single day. One day, I was running again, not just jogging or trudging, but flying.

Education isn’t new to me; I’m a teacher. So you could say I’m pretty comfortable around a classroom. However, my program is in teaching English as a Second Language. English is my first, and only, language. Fine, I can throw a few “holas” around, and could probably find the bathroom if lost in France. Beyond that, I’m hopeless. How am I going to be able to teach children who are coming in without any English language skills?

Also, we just moved. Once again, I have no connections to the education world in sunny SoCal. My course requires that I teach sample lessons. I need to find a classroom. I need to do so many things to make this successful.

As the worries about ‘what-if,’ and ‘what-then’ overtake my mind, I think back to the very first race I ever ran post-high school,:an off-road 5K up in the hills of Camp Pendleton with my running buddy. I was so nervous at the starting line, my stomach was knotted up. I was pretty sure I might actually throw up, or pee my pants. Then my friend looked at me, smiled, and the gun went off. There we were, two former track runners conquering this intensely hard trail run together, side by side the whole entire way. The amazing part was that we both placed in our respective age groups. She got second in her group, and I pulled off a first place finish in mine. At that moment, I was hooked. I loved running, and everything about it.

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I’ve run many races since then. I have only placed in one other race–second place in that same trail’s 5K the following year. But each and every time I cross the finish, I am victorious. My journey to that place, in that moment, has been a triumph of my will over my body, the weather, the road, and my negativity.

My favorite races have been the hardest. The Marine Corps Marathon 2012 was the hardest race I ever ran. Completing a marathon less than six months following a PCS move from SoCal to DC, training through humidity and heat, and healing an injured knee, was just plain hard. But nothing would stop me from lining up that morning; not even Superstorm Sandy, and not even the nausea that hits before every race. I hit the wall hard at mile 20, but trucked along, pretty sure that I would need to stop, but willing myself forward. When that Marine handed me my medal, I had tears of absolute joy rolling down my cheeks.

Right now, as I look over my program–the expense of it all, the time required–I’m pretty sure I might throw up. How on earth can I balance military life, being new to my region, raising a toddler, and taking these courses?? But then I remember how satisfying it is to cross that finish line. How rewarding it is to overcome all of the obstacles placed in front of you by the military, by motherhood, by finances, by sheer self-doubt.

So, I’ll lace up my shoes, pay that hefty bill, and move forward. I will overcome everything in my path. I am a runner. I am a mother. I am a determined, courageous, highly-educated military spouse who WILL advance my career. Because when I reach the finish line of life, I don’t ever want to say I didn’t get off the couch in any part of this journey.

Have you ever conquered something awesome in your military life? What made you push through and do it?

meg-flanaganPosted by Meg Flanagan, a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

30 MORE Reasons We’re Thankful for This Military Life!

We know military life can be filled with up’s and down’s, and with plenty of reasons to be sad, mad, let down, and lonely. Most military spouses, however, can find many more reasons to be grateful, joyful, excited, and thankful (and we love that about you!).

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Have you been following our #30DaysofThanks (Military Family Edition) on our Facebook page? There, we’re highlighting some of the awesome reasons why military families, like yours, are thankful for your military life. Follow us on Facebook to check out the other 30 Days of Thanks posts!

But that got us thinking: there are WAY more than 30 reasons that we’re thankful for our military journey! Here are a few other reasons:

  • Having a friend in 20 cities around the world
  • Never having to look farther than your Facebook feed for travel advice
  • Not being the only one to ask a stranger in the CDC to be your emergency contact
  • The smell of jet fuel/gunpowder
  • Not having to worry about your power bill in the winter (God bless base housing!)
  • Having a chance to start over every 2-4 years
  • Curtains in every style, for every room
  • Starbucks mugs from all over the world
  • Frequent flyer miles and hotel points from PCSing and visiting family so much
  • Cheap lunch at the chow hall (best date ever!)
  • The National Anthem before a movie begins
  • That one spouse who knows how to make all the baked goods
  • Friends who bring wine on bad days
  • Not having to explain how you are feeling because the other spouses ‘get it’
  • Irreverent military humor
  • Seeing other people stop and thank a service member (thank you, humanity)
  • When the colors play on base and seeing everyone stop/stand at attention
  • Commissary prices!
  • Running into an old military spouse friend at your new installation
  • All the kick-butt women in uniform!
  • Gold Star families
  • Getting into base housing without a wait list!
  • The ability for dependents to continue their education, thanks to the Post 9/11 GI Bill
  • Hourly child care on base (and the awesome people who work there!)
  • Friends who open their doors during the holidays when you can’t make it home to family
  • When you find out your spouse made the list to be promoted, take a command, etc.
  • Having a Christmas card list a mile long because you have moved so many times and have THAT MANY FRIENDS you still keep in contact with
  • The unique furnishings, or souvenirs, you pick up from different assignments, TDYs, etc., around the world
  • When your spouse shows up to your child’s sporting event in uniform (because they are racing home from work), and random people come up and thank him or her for their service.
  • Planning a PCS move and stopping to stay with military friends along the way to your new home.

Do any of these reasons hit home for you? What would you add to this list?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

I’m Scared for What’s Next: A Military Spouse’s Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

There are some things in life that, no matter how hard you try, just don’t make sense. No amount of contemplation, insight, or prayer can bring sense to the evil of this world. September 11, 2001 shaped the way I grew up, and the way I view things around me. It took away my ability to see good and heroic things happening, and replaced it with fear and uncertainty.

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As a military spouse, fear can become a daily emotion. When tragedy strikes, our worlds seem to close in on us as we run the gamut of possible outcomes for our loved one; will they deploy, and where? When will training start? What holidays will he miss? How dangerous will it be?

President Obama recently said that he would keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017. This decision, sadly, didn’t seem to take any of us by surprise despite earlier pledges to withdraw them. My gut is twisted thinking of the other military families who won’t have their loved ones home for the holidays. My heart aches for the families who received news that their service members are being sent to relieve those left in Afghanistan or to protect our nation in other remote parts of the globe.

It’s been 14 years of war, and the state of the world isn’t getting any better. I’m not ready for an endless war, where places we thought were safe can become the frontlines of new types of battle. Places like Paris–beautiful, beloved Paris–a place where dozens of my friends have visited, even lived. Why would any evil target Paris?

As I was processing the death tolls, the injuries, and the eventual claim of who was responsible, I was overcome with emotion. I’m scared for what’s next.

There are military families in France and other countries in Europe; I’m scared for them. Stateside military families are wondering, no doubt, if their service member might deploy as a result of these attacks. I’m scared for them, too. I’m scared for the service members who are still enlisting in our all-volunteer military—they’ll be the next wave of support to join our nation’s longest war.

I don’t know what to expect except fear and uncertainty.

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Paris could have been anywhere—a military base, New York City, a theme park, an NFL football game. And I could have been there. My family could have fallen victim. And that scares me. Evil is out there, lurking, planning, targeting. And we’re only doing the best we can to protect ourselves.

Paris’ Night of Horror was unbelievably senseless and evil, and there’s no way to process why other humans would commit such an act of terror. As a military spouse, my heart hurts for the families of the victims. And I’m scared for what’s next for my own family.

There aren’t many historic events in my lifetime that give me hope that good still exists. But seeing the sacrifice our men and women in uniform, and their families, make to protect our nation gives me that hope. Tragedy isn’t avoidable, but I know that someone’s loved one—including my own—vowed to protect us from it as best they could.

I’m scared for what’s next because I know our service members are at stake. I know some military families will have to bear the burden of another deployment, another holiday alone, even another tragedy. And some of those families are my friends.

I’m asking you to rally behind the military families you know. Just as we all are finding ways to stand by the people of Paris, don’t forget to stand by our service members in harm’s way. Support the cause and display your pride in all ways. The war isn’t over. Military families need to know their country has their back.

Seeing our country stand behind the military and their families is the good that drives out the fear and uncertainty bred by tragedy.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

3 Tips for Military Spouse Writers Who Want to Publish a Book

I’d like to tell you my path to publication was easy, but that would be a lie. It took five states, five assignments, one retirement, another move, and 17 (that’s not a typo–17!) years to publish my first novel. But when it happened — it happened fast.

I started writing a novel after seeing an ad for a short story contest in the Dayton, Ohio newspaper when we were station at Wright-Patterson in 1997. I tried writing a short story, but subplots and interesting characters kept bubbling up onto the page, and I realized the story was so much more.

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So here’s my best advice about publishing:

Study the craft of writing.
I went to my first writers conference while we were stationed at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As part of the conference, I read the first five pages to the group. As I read I thought, “This is the worst drivel ever written and it’s all backstory.” Fortunately, it was a very kind group–they pointed out what was good, and I got back to work. Since then I’ve attended writers retreats and conferences, taken classes at a community college, listened to every author speak that I could find, joined a critique group, and read lots of books about writing.

Tagged for Death mech.indd

Get out there.
When we moved to Northern Virginia, I saw an ad for a mystery convention called Malice Domestic. While it’s considered a mystery fan conference, there were plenty of writers, agents, and editors roaming around. One year I met a well-known agent as I was checking in. She told me to mail her my manuscript and while she, ultimately, turned it down, it was an opportunity. In 2005, we found out we were going to be stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. That year at Malice, I happened to sit at a table with a woman, Julie Hennrikus, from Boston. She told me I should join the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attend a conference called Crime Bake. That chance meeting eventually led to my being published–more on that in a bit. There are organizations for Sci-Fi writers, children’s writers, almost any type of writing you are interested in.

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Get used to rejection.
In the early days of my writing journey, I snail-mailed my manuscript and got rejections back the same way–lots of them! I have a file folder with around 65 rejection letters. Some are just a copied form letter, some at least have a signature on them, then are some with a personal note. The ones with a personal note gave me a little hint as to why they said “no” and kept me going.

So back to meeting Julie. I did join the Sisters in Crime chapter and attended Crime Bake. I met more and more published and hoping-to-be-published writers. Three years ago at Crime Bake, another friend, Barbara Ross, introduced me to her agent, John Talbot. I pitched my series to him but he wasn’t interested (by that time I’d written three books). A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.indd

A week later, I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal with Kensington Publishing (and they’ve just asked for two more). The Sarah Winston Garage Sale series is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts, and on a fictional air force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. The first in the series, Tagged for Death, came out last December and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel at Malice Domestic. All of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came along.

So hone your skills, meet people in the writing world, and don’t give up! If you have questions you can contact me through my website, SherryHarrisAuthor.com.

Are you a military spouse writer? Let’s connect!

sherry-harrisPosted by Sherry Harris, military spouse. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series