The Struggles of a New Military Spouse: I Signed Up For This

I became a military spouse 2 years ago, and I am still learning the “ways” of this new life! I thought I knew what I was in for–I grew up with my brother-in-law in the service, and saw all the things my sister did and experienced. Despite having that perspective, I was still in for a rude awakening! Yes, having some background knowledge was helpful, but it certainly didn’t give me everything I needed.

I think one of the biggest hurdles I still face is that my husband and I waited to get married until we were older. I was 34. Sometimes I feel like people think I know everything, or assume that I have been through enough moves or changes that I am a pro at this. That is so far from true!

This life is different, and not only am I not a pro, but I am just as scared and freaked out as the rest of the new spouses. I often find myself wondering where to find my “New Military Spouse” handbook?

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Sometimes I even ask myself, “What the heck did I get myself into?”

I dove right in at my first base, though. I became a Key Spouse and was very involved in unit activities. I always felt up-to-date on what was going on, and what was coming up, and found that I fit in with my new military family very well! Then, out of the blue (or what felt like out of the blue to me), we got our first PCS orders as a family! We headed to a joint base, with very little Air Force family and no unit, and I found myself lost and out of place.

This year, I am learning what it’s like to live on a joint base where I am surrounded by families from other services, instead of being immersed in our own branch of service. This is a very different experience for me, and one that has already taught me quite a bit in a short period of time!

For example, I am learning all the Army words for the equivalent offices, or buildings, I used a lot at our last base–PX instead of BX, Family and MWR instead of Family Readiness Center. I am still overcoming the “not part of a family” feeling and being in the dark about activities, either on this base or with my husbands office; he is not part of a unit, per se, so I don’t have the option to be part of anything.

Despite these challenges and the constant feelings of discomfort, I remind myself that we are on this wild ride as a family. I am privileged to be able to see so many new and wonderful places, and my children get to grow up with such a diverse culture around them. I have an amazing neighbor and friend that I am more than thankful for, and without her I would truly be lost. I remind myself (and I sometimes remind friends and family) that this IS the life I signed up for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

How do you deal with feeling out of place in the military community?

Posted by Joleen Sickbert, Air Force spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Take Your Military Family on Vacation…On a Budget!

It is that time of the year again–time to plan one last family vacation before we PCS. The leave form has been signed and approved, and we are ready to soak up the sun at the beach! Our family has learned that the key to a stress-free trip is to budget a travel fund throughout the year and try to save money wherever we can while we are traveling.

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Here a few simple ways you can take advantage of the resources around you, leave more money in the bank, and still have an enjoyable vacation:

Hotels/lodging

  • If your service member goes TDY as much as mine does, he/she may have rewards programs where points can be redeemed for free nights in hotels.
  • Book lodging on a military installation for deep discounts. We just booked a mini vacation to Florida, right on the beach, for $60/night! There are military installations with lodging available in a variety of locations, both CONUS and OCONUS that are open to DoD service members and their families.
  • Ask for military discounts. A government issued ID card will have to be shown for verification. And remember: the military/government rate may not be cheapest option!
  • Check to see if the hotel offers free continental breakfast. If not, see if you can purchase a breakfast along with your room at a discounted rate.
  • See if there are hotel/attraction packages. All-inclusive packages can sometimes be money-savers, but shop around and remember that tips are not included.
  • Book a studio (a room with a kitchen) and try cooking one meal a day to save money.

Food/Dining Out

  • Google “Kids Eat Free in [insert city]” for a list of restaurants that allow kids to eat free, usually with a paying adult, on certain days.
  • Use coupon sites, and warehouse/membership stores, to buy discounted gift cards. We search for the city and try new restaurants in the area. This also works for attractions/services all over the world.
  • Visit a local grocery store and stock up on essentials to make snacks and lunches. Most parks, amusement parks, and attractions allow you to bring in your own food.
  • Pack reusable water bottles to fill up with water for free.
  • Check out the local installation’s Commissary and Exchange. One of our best memories was buying sushi at Naval Base Coronado and eating a picnic lunch on the secluded beach.
  • Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Or, take advantage of early dining options to save both wait time and money!

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Attractions

  • Visit Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) to rent equipment such as boats, campers, canoes, skis, etc. at bargain prices. You can also purchase discounted tickets to theme parks, local attractions, hotels reservations, cruises, and so much more, from MWR.
  • Research memberships prices, like annual passes, to see if you can save money on tickets, food, souvenirs, and more!
  • Book last minute! Being in the military life, it can be hard to plan a trip more than 2-3 months in advance. You can score great deals on last-minute bookings by being flexible with your destination.

Souvenirs

  • Shop at discount stores near the attraction. They sell t-shirts, mugs, lanyards, pins, and more. The only difference? They are a fraction of the cost!
  • If you have children who insist on buying overpriced trinkets, let them earn spending money before the trip. Better yet, they give the money to you, and you pay for the goods while earning points on your rewards credit card. Be firm and let them know that when they spend their money, it’s gone.

Try a Staycation

  • Use coupon sites such as Groupon and Living Social for deal-of-the-day services that are 40-60% off. Be a tourist in your own city!
  • Have a movie marathon with free rentals from the installation library.
  • Camp in the backyard, roast marshmallows and pop Jiffy Pop over a bonfire. Added bonus-clean bathrooms are only a few steps away!

Hopefully, these money-saving tips will make your trip one to remember and not just because you are still paying for it! Share your money-saving tips with us in the comments section!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Redstone Arsenal, AL

3 Easy Tips to Keep Your Military Marriage Shatterproof

Dating, loving, and eventually marrying a service member can bring a flurry of butterflies. The uniform, the exotic PCS locations (29 Palms, am I right?!), and the pride that goes with standing next to your military loved one is incomparable.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and military spouse, myself, I often have other military couples who want guidance with how to make their relationships shatterproof. Here’s 3 tips I like to share:

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Keep civilian friends. Being a military family can start to bleed into every crevice of your life. Initially, maybe you’re simply dating someone in the military, but then all of a sudden, you’re moving halfway across the country, leaving your job, your friends, your church, and your family.

It can be extremely important to keep an anchor in the “real world,” and have someone there to remind you how exceptional your life is. Normalcy (whatever that means) still exists, and someday you will be faced with it again. It’s hard to imagine, but for many active duty members, the choice to stay in the military has a lot to do with the fact that they haven’t written a resume in years! They wouldn’t know how to begin interviewing and applying for jobs. They can become so engrossed in war stories and surreal job descriptions that to have a ‘9:00am-5:00pm’ job can be extremely jarring. Keep civilian friends around to help you from falling too far down the rabbit hole of an all encompassing military family lifestyle.

Remember your partner is fighting for YOU. In the words of Brad Paisley, “You think you’re one in millions, but you’re one in a million to me.” I know we can get lost in thinking that with all the hours, deployments, tests, and such, we’ve become an accessory to a military career. In all my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found it’s the complete opposite that’s true for the service member.

Often times, when a young person enters into the military, he or she tends to marry very young. Why, you might ask? They have money, a stable job, friends and camaraderie…why settle down so quickly? From my experience, it seems as though most times, these service members want to ensure that they will have someone to come home to, someone to fight for, and give a face to their mission. Therefore, dating is not enough. Some want to lock in their partners, and have a sense of security they might very well lose in every other aspect of their life.

Loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, motherhood/fatherhood, and other traits are LEARNED. I remember a time when my son was still very little and he felt sick. It was late, and I was a new mom so I was trying to decide whether it warranted an emergency room visit. I kept asking my husband what he thought and finally he said, “I don’t know! YOU’RE the mom!” I yelled back, “I wasn’t born knowing how to mom! I google things just like everybody else!”

In hindsight, this is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I was irate. As a military couple, we are given a lot of responsibility very quickly and it can feel like trial by fire, but its important to remember we were not born with innate values and the ability to love deeply, faithfully, perfectly. We must remind ourselves that even with the jobs, the marriage, the kids, we are never really grown up; we are always maturing and growing. The question is: do you want to grow together?

What tips would you give to other military couples? Leave us a comment an tell us!

Posted by Erin Calahan, M.S., LMFT, LCDC, military spouse and mother of two. Find out more about Erin.

To the Military Spouse Unpacking Boxes…

This is likely not the first time you’ve packed up all of your earthly belongings and relocated across the country (or across the globe) to a new installation–one you’ve probably never been to before. You’ve painted walls and planted roots in so many homes in nearly as many years. You’re an expert at the art and science of PCSing.

Exciting opportunities await you and your service member at this new assignment, but getting there implies goodbyes, packing, traveling, and living out of a suitcase for a few weeks.

After long hours in the car with kids (and maybe a dog and a cat), you survived the journey along a path that connected your old home to your new home. And you kept track of all the kids’ school enrollment paperwork, teddy bears, and tablets. You navigated backseat sibling rivalry, and developed innovative answers to the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”

And now you’re here. Your new home. The unpacking begins.

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You’ve wondered to yourself, “How many more boxes?” and “When did we accumulate this much stuff?” and “I just need to unpack my right shoe. Where is my right shoe!?” And if you’re like me, you might have lost your cell phone among the jungle of cardboard that has swallowed your new home. Twice. A day.

You’re feeling a bit peeved because you still can’t find the box that has the hand-embroidered heirloom Christmas stockings. Of course you carefully checked for each numbered box when the movers unloaded, but this one seems to have somehow escaped roll call. But you have found the box where the movers packed your plunger. As in, your toilet plunger. WHY, movers, WHY?

You worry about the kids. How will the moving affect them? How soon can they make a new friend? The preschooler has asked a hundred times already when we can go back to the “old house.” You gently remind them that there’s a “new house” to be excited about. But in the pit of your stomach, you feel homesick, too. When it it’s time for your service member to go back to work with his or her new unit, and you stay home home unpacking the remainder of household goods alone, loneliness creeps in.

We know what you’re going through, dear military spouse. We see your strength. We see the way you carry on and just simply make it all work.

Dear friend, this is what we want you to know: You’re doing great. The kids will be okay. They will make friends. And you will, too. Take a deep breath. You might even find that pesky box of Christmas stockings hidden among other identical boxes in the garage. This season of unpacking opens the door to a new season of life in your new garden. Paint those walls and plant those roots. Grow and bloom, friend.

Do you have a friend who could use encouragement? Share this blog post with them!

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Grab a Bite to Eat, and Help Military Families…At the SAME Time!

Summertime means BBQ, family time, and travel! And this summer, the National Military Family Association is excited to partner with TravelCenters of America for the fourth year in a row to honor active duty military, veterans, and their families.

From June 28 through August 5, Country Pride and Iron Skillet full-service restaurants will donate $1.00 to NMFA on select breakfast, lunch and dinner menu items sold each day for the duration of the campaign.

That’s right…donating to an awesome cause just got THAT much easier, and more delicious! Just by eating food, you’ll help NMFA continue to impact military families, like the Stack family, who attended our Operation Purple Family Retreat in Wyoming.

“We are so thankful for this opportunity to come here and be able to reconnect,” Jason Stack, active duty service member and father of two, shared. “We get to just be together as a family without the distraction of phones or internet, or anything. It’s really nice to just bond together as a family.”

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Does it get better than that?

Actually, it does.

On July 4th, select menu items will be available for free to all active military personnel and veterans at both TA and Petro full-service restaurants to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who’ve served our country—something the Stack family knows all too well.

“We try to support him,” wife Christina explained. “Especially when he’s away, I try to make sure everything’s taken care of at home so he doesn’t have to worry about it. He knows and trusts I can handle life at home while he’s gone, and that helps him focus on his job while he’s away.”

So, as you and your family travel around this summer, keep TravelCenters of America in mind to help give back and support military families, like the Stack’s.

Our nation’s military families sacrifice every day. Take a pit stop to show them their sacrifice isn’t unnoticed.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Wondering what to do tonight? Tune into A Capitol Fourth!

It’s July 4th and I’m very giddy. I got to interview celebrities for a behind the scenes preview of PBS’s A Capitol Fourth concert yesterday

Needless to say, I WAS FREAKING OUT. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had yesterday and for being able to live in this amazing country. I realize that we have been at war for 15 years, but I feel safe right here, right now, thanks to the many men, women and families that allow me that peace of mind.

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Right before my first celebrety interview- do I look nervous?

I had the chance to catch-up with singers Gavin Degraw and Kenny Loggins, as well as actor Tom Bergeron and former Olympian Scott Hamilton. I really wanted to get their thoughts on the issues our service men, women and their families face every day. I also picked up some fun tips. And somehow I managed to keep it together long enough to get some solid info.

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Me and Tom Bergeron

Tom Bergeron shared with me what he thought about the reality that military families serve too. He said, “I know it is customary for people to say to service men and women that we appreciate your service, but I think that same compliment should extend to military families because they serve in ways that are not overly appreciated, so thank you.” After speaking with him I let him in on the fact that he was my first official interview ever. Tom told me, he couldn’t tell and that I was a natural. Insert metaphorical pat on the back—nailed it.

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For all of the Olympic sports fans out there, according to Scott Hamilton, “the only way to miss the Olympics is to [actually] go to it.” You know what that means, I will be tuning in from my living room to make sure I don’t miss a thing. Sorry Rio, maybe some other time. This is from the real deal, believe it.

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After tapping along to Kenny Loggins’ classic “Footloose,” he shared some insight into his legendary song. Apparently, it didn’t used to be such a big deal. He said “there was a period of time when the tempo wasn’t cool. I would play it live and people wouldn’t get up and dance to it. Now, I can play a full a benefit concert and before people would be stuck to their chairs, but as soon as I hit “Footloose,” people are up and dancing.” According to Kenny, “the song is really about personal freedom and lyrically it is the perfect song to do on the 4th of July.” Later, when he performed it live for the dress rehearsal show, I really felt free and couldn’t keep my feet from moving.

When asked how we could do more to support our troops, Kenny said “keep them in your mind and your hearts and just know that they are out there and doing the best they can with the situation they are in. I’ve got a girlfriend and when I’m out on the road, at least I get to come home in a few weeks. I keep thinking about the guys and girls that are out there and away from home for so long and I marvel at the stress they are under, and the job they are doing. Like so many people, I really appreciate what they are doing out there. Especially in the new era of terrorism we are facing, it is getting hotter and we need their help.”

While the entire day was amazing and humbling, my favorite part was getting to meet Gavin Degraw. I truly felt like a starstruck teenager. I had the opportunity to meet Gavin a few years prior, but couldn’t put two words together then. After finding out I was there on behalf of military families, he gave me the most memorable high five and let me know we were doing much needed work. 

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I was excited to find out how he writes such great music. For him, “sometimes a common story or theme in your life or friends life keeps coming up and you write a song about it.” I think many military families can definitely relate to that one. So now, according to Gavin, all that you have to do is “take things that people are feeling and make it rhyme.” Easy peasy. I’m going to dust off my old rhyming dictionary and get to it.

And to all the military spouses, Gavin had a special message for you (watch it here!). He “hopes your loved ones get home safe, sound and soon.” I’ll second that.

It was a long day in our great nation’s capital, but it was worth it. Happy 240th birthday America.

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A Capitol Fourth will air live on PBS, Monday, July 4, 2016 from 8 to 9:30pm ET. You can follow or join in on all the excitement by using #July4thPBS

ivory-smithPosted by Ivory Smith, Graphic Designer

Cost-Saving Summer Activities for Military Families!

Summer is here, and for those who aren’t moving, the days and weeks can seem daunting. Pinterest is full of lists and ideas for things to do with your kids, and I think we all start out with an overzealous schedule and then, by week 2, we’re overwhelmed. I’ve put together some free, or low-cost ideas, that are easy, quick, and can be done with friends or without.

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Kids Bowl Free – One of the best summer programs for those located near an AMF Bowling Alley. The specifics on ages, hours, and prices on shoe rentals vary by location but each registered child can play 2 games per day, every day, all summer long. The goal of the program is to provide a safe and secure way for children to enjoy the summer. The air conditioning, exercise, and price make it perfect for parents. Register your kiddos here!

Park Passport – If your town has a bunch of playgrounds, parks, and splash pads, you can easily find a way to visit all of them, and make it fun. Depending on your creativity level, you could make a checklist for the kids, a passport with stickers, or even a scavenger hunt to spread out the excitement of a new place. Pick a day of the week that is Passport Day, and spend a few hours at the park, with friends and a snack, and make a new summer tradition.

Summer Reading Programs – Not all kids find reading fun or the library exciting, but summer reading programs can help with that. Most local libraries have a summer program, with rewards for reading books, weekly programs for kids of all ages, and help for parents who are hoping their kids discover the joy of reading. Along with libraries, book stores are also participating in summer programs. Check out the Summer Reading Program at Barnes & Noble or Books A Million’s Summer Quest Reading Adventure.

Find a Family Hobby – Sure, crafts are messy and can be expensive, but kids really just want to spend time with their parents. Maybe you have a budding photographer who wants to take a photo-a-day, or an artist who wants to create things from dirt and leaves. Encourage your kids by joining in on their hobbies or helping them to find one on their own. Spending time together being creative will give both you and them lots of satisfaction.

$1 Movies – Most movie theaters show free, or very cheap, movies during the day, during the week. These are not first run movies, but they are usually pretty recent and often include discounted snacks. Regal Cinemas’ Summer Movie Express has movies for $1 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Theaters on military installations often follow this pattern during school breaks, to include the summer. Free movies, free air conditioning, and two hours of relative quiet – or at least minimal “Mom, Dad, can I….” questions.

So, now that school’s out, take some time to relax, decompress, and figure out what is going to work best for your family this summer. And, if you come across some other free or low-cost activities, let us know!

rebecca-alwinePosted by Rebecca Alwine,  a military spouse of over 8 years. She enjoys traveling the world, learning about herself, running, lifting weights, is a voracious reader, and actually enjoys most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Follow her on Twitter.