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.

Are There Success Stories With PTSD? Absolutely! Here’s One.

As we wrap up Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, and our series about PTSD in the military home, we wanted to share a success story with you.

If you haven’t read the previous week’s posts, check them out. We shared stories like Bailey Francisco’s, a military brat that spoke frankly about his dad’s battle with PTSD and how it ripped their family apart. Week 2 touched on how PTSD is no excuse for abuse–there is a difference between the diagnosis and inexcusable treatment of a spouse or a child.

Week 3 we heard how Paul, an Army veteran, lives with the guilt he carries after leaving the military and not being able to deal with life. A struggle that resulted in anger and explosions at his family. With a PTSD diagnosis and proper treatment, Paul’s journey took a drastic turn.

And in Week 4, perhaps the most important lesson was learned: PTSD isn’t a catch-all diagnosis, and why it’s so critical to seek help from a professional to find the right treatment for the individual.

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This week, we want you to meet the Grenier* family.

Matthew Grenier is now an active duty E-6 in the Army. He still remembers the day he enlisted.

“I have known since I was a child that I wanted to join the military. Just like my father ,and his father before him.” For Matt, there was never a question. Even Amy, who is now his wife, knew that about him.

“We were high school sweethearts,” she remembers, “and he was always straight with me that if we were going to get married, the Army was going to be part of that equation.”

That equation turned out to be a lot heavier than either of them anticipated. Upon finishing Advanced Individual Training, he was off to his new unit, and on his way to Afghanistan. “I always knew it was a possibility,” Matt explained, “and it was what I had trained for. To be honest, I was looking forward to going. I was worried about my then 5 months pregnant wife. That was hard.”

Amy shared, “I had a pretty easy pregnancy, thankfully, so it wasn’t too bad. But, still, I had wished that he could be there for the birth of our baby. He did get to see the ultrasound and we found out our baby’s gender. That’s a lot more than other families get. So, I was grateful.”

In Afghanistan, Matt’s unit saw heavy fire. It was 2007-2008. They lost lives. He saw things he still won’t talk about.

When he returned home, it was a difficult time. He recalls, “I didn’t want to hold my baby girl. I didn’t want to talk to my wife. I was a ghost in the family.”

“It was like he wasn’t even there,” Amy says. “He was always quiet. He didn’t go out, he kept to himself and his only other emotion was anger.”

Matt wasn’t doing well, and at his command’s urging, he sought help for what he later found out was PTSD. At the time, he didn’t know what PTSD was, and had no interest in talking to anyone–a commonality shared by many military members.

Matt started individual therapy, and then family therapy shortly thereafter. He even sought out the company of his fellow soldiers who were going through the same things. He recalls that just spending time together with other people who understood the struggle, and being there for each other when needed was enough.

It’s been 9 years since his deployment, and 7 years since he first sought treatment. He’s been off medications for 3 years, out of treatment, and ‘in recovery,’ as Matt calls it.

“I can see now that PTSD is treatable. I always thought it was an incurable disease–something I would always carry with me.”

Matt now shares his story of recovery with others, “I know how hard it is to accept and to talk about. My family was suffering. I was suffering. It was needless. Just get help. If there is one thing I want others to take away from this is just that. Find help. Talk to someone. Do it before you lose everything. And, remember, this is completely treatable. I’m not saying I don’t have my moments, but I can say that I’m living a much fuller life and so is my family.”

Do you have a PTSD success story? We’d love to hear about it.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline

 

*Names changed for this story

Orange is the New Black Portrays Military Veterans as Power-Hungry Band of Brothers in Season 4

Who’s watching Orange Is the New Black? I’ve been a fan, and loyally binge watch every season as soon as it comes out. With the premiere of Season 4, I was ready to see what was going down at Litchfield Penitentiary.

If you’re watching…you probably know what’s going down: murder, untreated mental health issues, and the most disgusting portrayal of military veterans that makes me want to cringe every time I watch.

If you’re not watching (how are you NOT watching?!), here’s a rundown: in an effort to maximize government incentives for hiring military veterans, Litchfield Penitentiary, a minimum security women’s prison in upstate New York, employs a new staff of corrections officers—all who are prior military. As the season progresses, the new officers turn into one of many villains this time around, sexually assaulting and harassing the female inmates, even using torture-like punishment for disobeying orders.

And I’ll say it: I think this season has gone a little too far. The show’s writers portray these military veterans as a scumbag band of brothers looking to relive their glory days and wartime stories. Even the show’s civilian characters get in on the stereotype of veterans.

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(JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

One especially memorable scene happened in episode two, aptly named “Power Suit;” a few corporate executives for the newly-privatized prison system discuss the tax incentives they’d receive if they hired veterans as corrections officers. One of execs makes a gun with his fingers, and explains why they hadn’t hired them before.

“You know, veterans,” he says as he pretends to shoot down the rest of the people sitting in the meeting.

These “power suits” even talk about how much more money they’d get for hiring wounded veterans. Litchfield’s Warden Joe Caputo dismisses the idea of using veterans with injuries because, “That might make the guards less effective.”

The civilian world already has a difficult time understanding military families, and the struggles that each person goes through when a family member serves in the military. There’s an even bigger gap to bridge when it comes to veterans and wounded service members.

Sure, it’s just a television show. And I guess if it bothers me so much, I could do like Litchfield’s finest corrections officers, and just ignore it or stop watching.

But then there was the finale. (No spoilers, I promise)

One military veteran corrections officer shares his experience being deployed overseas with another officer–a civilian, during Season 4’s shocking plot twist finale, and explains it’s best to just “get over” traumatic experiences:

“[There’s] so much time spent chasin’ after the bad guys,” he says, “and then you don’t get ’em, and then they blow up your friends or shoot up your convoy, and you just get so mad, tired and bored. So you just grab a farm kid from a grape field, and you make him juggle live grenades until one of them blows up…and you just gotta get over it…It can get rough, the dreams. And also being awake. You’re in for some hard times, but like I said you gotta get over it.”

Nothing perpetuates a stereotype like continually adding fuel to the stigma.

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Not all veterans who have seen battle are off-kilter and not all veterans that are off-kilter have seen battle.

Orange Is The New Black portrays the military veteran corrections officers as heartless, violence-driven, power-hungry psychopaths. Even the one female veteran hired wasn’t safe from stereotyping; though she was a little cooler in her demeanor, she stood idly by as her ‘brothers in arms’ took advantage of inmates left and right.

I think we need to have more open discussions about how our communities can embrace military families—active duty, Reserves, wounded, and veterans, alike. We need more people to know that 20% of service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that 1 in 4 military children struggle with depression. And that there’s a nationwide shortage of mental health providers that have the cultural competency to appropriately provide care to military families.

These are the stories that people need to know about the military community. And there are so many more like them that aren’t being heard. Unfortunately, with seasons like this one of Orange Is The New Black, I think its doing damage to the strides that organizations like NMFA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, and others are making to strengthen our nation’s service members and their families.

Our military members, veterans, and their families have sacrificed far too much for us to just sit back and let the stereotypes gain momentum. We owe it to them to reduce the distance and bridge the gap between these typecasts and the real life stories of military life.

Are you a military family watching Orange Is the New Black? What did you think of their portrayal of military veterans?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Join the NMFA Volunteer Corps and Volunteer Virtually!

The National Military Family Association is fortunate to have Volunteers in communities worldwide. NMFA Volunteers participate in a variety of projects locally, and virtually, and their work has a lasting impact. And not all volunteering has to be in-person. Here are some of the ways our Volunteers are working to improve the lives of military families around the globe, in person and virtually:

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  • Conference Calls. NMFA Volunteers participate in all kinds of conference calls; from new Volunteer conference calls, to team conference calls, and even calls with our Government Relations department. Our conference calls help educate, connect, and further our advocacy efforts on behalf of military families.
  • Branching Out. Our Volunteers have added their voice and writing talents to this blog! They share stories about moving, saving money, PCSing with pets, and inspire other military families to share their stories and be informed.
  • Operation Purple® Camps. This year, nine Volunteers wrote letters to Senators and members of Congress inviting them to visit one of our Operation Purple Camps, and meet some of our youngest heroes! We also have Volunteers packing their backpacks and lacing up their hiking boots to visit an Operation Purple Camp for the day. Each of our Operation Purple Camp visitors visit a camp to observe our curriculum, meet with the camp staff, interact with the campers, and make sure campers are having a true Operation Purple Camp experience. They will probably taste s’mores, too!
  • Local Events. NMFA Volunteers are the face, voice, eyes, and ears of NMFA in their local communities! They are busy hosting information tables all over the globe, attending town hall meetings, Yellow Ribbon Events, and participating in patient advisory councils at local Military Treatment Facilities and clinics. Why is this local outreach so important? Because it helps military families better understand who NMFA is, and it helps us understand what military families are experiencing on a real-life, day-to-day level.
  • Advocacy. Our Volunteers are the heart of our advocacy efforts. Because of the information we receive from our Volunteers and our social media networks, we’ve been able to defeat the proposed ER Misuse fee, and tell Congress how important the Commissary benefit is to our nation’s military families. Currently, we are asking Congress to be thoughtful about TRICARE reforms.
  • Scholarships. This year, our NMFA Volunteers worked tirelessly supporting our Joanne H. Patton Military Spouse Scholarship program. Eighty Volunteers judged 4,726 scholarships! These Volunteers donated an equivalent of $65,000 to military spouse education!

So what do all of these projects have in common? Each of these projects happen in local communities, and in some cases the comfort of your own home. Our scholarship judging project is a virtual project. Volunteers choose the events and meetings they attend, and conference calls happen at differing times to accommodate multiple time zones and schedules. Do any of these opportunities sound like something you are interested in?

Do you want to help your own military family and the military families in your community? Then join our Volunteer Corps

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager