What does a lobster, a job and MyCAA have in common?

I came upon a career in the legal field by accident. We had returned from an overseas PCS, the house was empty awaiting arrival of our household goods, and I was living 8 hours away in the meantime. In celebration of our third wedding anniversary, I drove to meet my husband for dinner at Red Lobster (a HUGE splurge on our meager family budget). Our waitress asked what we were celebrating, and after a little conversation and learning we were new to the area, she asked what type of job I was looking for. She mentioned this was her second job, and she was a legal secretary at a Little Rock law firm. They had a legal secretary position open.

I sent my resume in right away and was hired the next weekend. Little did I know, a career was born. I continued to seek legal secretary positions over the next decade, albeit in different parts of the country every three or four years due to PCS moves.


When we received orders to Goodfellow AFB, in San Angelo, Texas, the job search was slim pickings in the legal field. After three months of fruitless searching and taking an administrative assistant position, I landed the only legal secretary position advertised. The job was not busy, or as fulfilling, compared to other positions I had held, however staying within my chosen field was really important to me.

I searched for additional things to keep my mind busy, especially since my husband had just deployed. After I finished all of the filing and shredding, I took two online refresher courses, neither that provided school credits. But I knew I wanted to keep learning. A portable career was, and still is, a top priority for me, so I chose to pursue my Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies.

I was not prepared for the cost of education, but found an online school I felt our family might be able to afford, and I applied. After acceptance, my school counselor mentioned all of the possible grants and tucked neatly within them was My Career Advancement Account, or better known by many as MyCAA.

I wasn’t sure whether online school would be covered, as it looked like most spouses were using their monies for certificate programs. So I first needed to confirm that my chosen school and degree program met their covered criteria. Lucky for me, it was covered!

Although it seems silly now, I honestly wasn’t sure whether I could go to class or if I would be up for the homework. At that point, the thought of going to college for the first time when I was 32 years old was quite scary. I had two children in high school and one in elementary – what would that be like? Could I really do this?


Knowing that the MyCAA investment was available gave me the encouragement I needed to take the leap into my education. The process of approval for payments was seamless. I only needed to ensure I gave myself, and MyCAA, enough time to approve and process the upcoming class for payment.

You might ask yourself whether going back to school is worth it. Do we really learn anything by getting a degree? Does it help you in your career? My answer to all three is a resounding YES! My career and family has been changed for the better. My degree has made it easier to find a position and transition to a new job with a corresponding salary range over each PCS move. None of which would have happened without the help of MyCAA.

I am so grateful to MyCAA for supporting military spouses all across the globe.  For me and our little family, a seemingly small contribution from MyCAA put a fire into me and gave me the motivation I needed. It went way beyond the monetary value. Knowing somewhere, someone believed in me was enough to kick start my education.

If you meet the eligibility requirements, I would highly recommend looking into MyCAA-approved programs. A 6-week course could change the trajectory of your professional future. It is truly possible to have a career, be a supportive military spouse, mother, and full-time student. You only must begin, take the first step, have faith in yourself and you, fellow spouses, will FLY!

Have you used the MyCAA scholarship program to go back to school? What was your experience?

Posted by April May Hackleton, Military spouse

Adventures of an Outlaw in South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, surrounded by trees, mountains and beauty, lies Outlaw Ranch. The Ranch held nine weeks of summer camp, but had the honor of closing out their camp season by hosting their first Operation Purple® Camp. But even better: I got to be there.

Being a kid isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a military kid. But the spirit of the campers was strong. There were multiple campers who came from a dual-deployment family–where both parents deployed. For a week, they got to go to camp for FREE and build lasting friendships with other military kids that are facing the same challenges.

I wanted to get the full camp experience since I never attended an overnight camp as a child. I fully immersed myself in the activities, from hiking and kitchen parties to field games and campfire songs, the fun never stopped! National S’mores Day happened right in the middle of the camp week, so of course, I let the camp staff know that a great holiday was upon us. We all celebrated it over an authentic campfire with the most amazing people…and S’mores.


So, why camp?

“I have never seen anything that is able to transform people’s lives in a short amount of time, both staff as well as campers,” said Camp Director Matt Rusch. As I looked around at the kids braiding each other’s hair, helping each other out with their variety show acts, playing field games and horseback riding, I knew these were experiences the campers would never forget.

I asked a few of the campers what their favorite day was, and the consensus was Military Day. That was no surprise because it was my favorite day as well. Soldiers from, the South Dakota National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base came out to coordinate fun activities with the children. There was an inflatable obstacle course, face painting and zorb ball—zorb ball definitely topped the list of the favorite activity.


“Camp is the perfect place to learn the most about people, improve your personality and experience another world, said Camp Counselor Orsi.

I definitely experienced another world here. If you asked me two weeks ago if I would ever make it to South Dakota, see Mt. Rushmore, go hiking in the Black Hills, it would have been a NO. And for many of the kids, it would have been the same.

On the last night at camp, the children played a game in which they described camp in one word. The top five answers were: fun, awesome, cool, exciting and adventure. I think those answers sum up my experience as well.

I am now thinking about going to camp every summer. Why, well why not?

Has your child attended an Operation Purple Camp? What was their favorite memory?

ivoryPosted by Ivory Smith, Graphic Designer

I’ve Known You For Five Minutes: Will You Be My Emergency Contact?

It’s almost the first day of school and I’m faced with a stack of registration forms. I have my smartphone with me and slips of paper tucked into my purse with names and addresses. Truth be told, I even need to look up my own mailing address because we just moved and the old address 3,000 miles away is what I recall.

I feel pretty on-top-of-it for putting our new address and phone number into my cell phone. That’s a win. Thankfully, I remembered to print out the pediatrician’s contact information. I have a copy of my son’s birth certificate and feel, for a moment, I’m rocking filling out these registration forms.

Then, comes the tough request: Please provide the name, address and phone number of two local emergency contacts. The emergency contact must be within 25 miles of the school.

Oh, dear. Beads of sweat form above my brow. I nervously glance around the school office and watch the other parents filling out their child’s forms. I look for the tell-tale sign of another military spouse, parent – someone who appears to be stressed by the requirements for a local emergency contact. I’ve only been in town a week. I can’t navigate myself around the base let alone have I had time to meet anyone who might be willing to let me add their name to a form as my child’s emergency contact?


Why can’t I add my mom’s cell phone number and skip the address part? Because, the receptionist politely handed back the forms to me and said, she understood I may be new to town, however, the school has had more than one occasion where neither parent has been available and they needed to contact someone local – not someone several states away- who could immediately pick up a child. Other well-meaning parents had provided contacts out of the local area and the kid was sent to child protective services.

Fast forward three schools later and I’ve become a pro at spotting a potential emergency contact. Before we move, I check with my network of friends and ask who is the area or knows someone in the area. I exchange emails, Facebook messages, and text messages with people who I have never met screening them as potential emergency contacts. If there is a school event, such as a registration day, I chat nervously with folks in line and try to find someone in my situation – another non-local eager to make friends and willing to be an emergency contact for my child in exchange for me being a contact for her child.

The key, I’ve found, is offering to be a contact for someone else.

I know it can be nerve-wracking to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. I find that most moms are relieved when I offer to be a contact for their child as well. After I establish a network in the area, I update the registration emergency contact information. I keep a list in my smartphone and on a virtual drive and make sure each emergency contact has a copy of my list and specific information related to my child. If I’m listed as an emergency contact, I ask the parent for contact information and specifics about their child, just in case.

I remain cordial with emergency contacts and several have become great friends. It turned out there was a flash flood in our local area and another parent couldn’t make it to the school in time to pick up her child. Her spouse was deployed and she didn’t have anyone else in the area. I told her not to worry; I was listed as her emergency contact and my path to the school wasn’t washed out by the flash flood. I was happy to help and she was relieved she didn’t have to worry about her child’s safety.

In our mobile lifestyles, it isn’t uncommon to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. What other tips would you offer to military families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

The Post-9/11 GI Bill: What Can Spouses Actually Use?

I know, I know. Shouldn’t you save the Post-9/11 GI bill for your kids? Or your spouse? I can’t help you get over the guilt of using your service member’s Post-9/11 GI bill (that’s a private convo for you two to have), but I can tell you how the benefit works if you decided to use it.

There is a lot of confusion about what the benefit provides if a service member is using it, or a veteran, or a spouse, or a child. Remember, the rules vary depending on two factors: (1) who is receiving the benefit and (2) the service member’s active duty status when the benefit is being used (i.e. is your service member on active duty or a veteran?).

How Does it Work?

For a spouse to use a transferred benefit a service member must:

  • Have 6 years of service and agree to serve 4 more;
  • Complete a “Transfer of Education” benefit form; and
  • Be on active duty. (There are no exceptions to this rule.)

The benefits a spouse will receive when using a transferred benefit will depend on whether the spouse uses the benefit while a service member is on active duty or in veteran status.

Spouse beneftis table

A spouse can access the benefit while the service member is on active duty for up to 15 years after service member leaves service. Tuition and fees are covered at the in-state tuition rate at public schools, or a maximum cap at private schools. The private school maximum cap is adjusted annual and as of August 1, 2016 is $21,970.46. A spouse is also eligible to receive a $1,000 book stipend prorated based on enrollment. Keep in mind – if you do not attend full time, you won’t receive the entire $1,000 book stipend.

A new law to be aware of is the Choice Act. Under the Choice Act, public schools may only charge in-state tuition and fees (not the out-of-state rate) to a veteran spouse using the benefit within 3 years of service member leaving active duty. While the Choice Act does not apply to active duty spouses, a spouse of an active duty service member can receive in-state tuition where the service member resides or is permanently stationed, regardless of whether they are using the GI bill.


The housing allowance is for a veteran spouse only. You can’t access this stipend when the service member is on active duty because the service member already receives a basic allowance for housing. The housing rate is paid at an E-5 with dependents rate for your school’s zip code. To receive the full rate, you must attend more than 50% of the time, and in-person. If you attend online the housing allowance is a flat rate of about $800 per month for the 2016 academic year.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is only open to veteran spouses and is used by select private schools. Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program agree to pay additional funds to help buy-down the cost of tuition at private schools. This means a student receiving Yellow Ribbon funds, would receive funding beyond the annual private school cap. There are several nuances with the Yellow Ribbon Program. Ask early and ask often – there may only be a limited number of Yellow Ribbon spots. Spots vary by school and degree program. For example, a school may only have 5 graduate student spots, but an unlimited number of undergrad Yellow Ribbon seats.

Are you a military spouse or veteran spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? What other tips would you share with families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Survive and Thrive: San Diego

San Diego, California is America’s amusement park–filled with trails to hike, beaches open to camping enthusiasts, and a fun nightlife. Don’t trust anyone who said they were bored in San Diego because this city will keep you on your toes.

It is one of the few military stations where landlords are willing to negotiate the rent, and rightfully so. San Diego can be expensive, but as long as you know how to budget, this city can be yours.

san diego

Here’s a few tips  about living in San Diego:

Can’t negotiate or refuse to negotiate? I suggest you tighten your belt and ask your future landlord to negotiate the rent. You must quickly move on from landlords who refuse to budge on the rental. San Diego has a 1% sales market. This means the city has few houses available for sale, making it a rental market.

I was able to negotiate  lower rent with lawn service included! What’s the secret to negotiating? Smile when you bid low. As a renter, the options for rent can be vast, depending on what you’re looking for.

Who needs community supported agriculture when you have community conscious grocery stores like Sprouts, who support local farms with their affordable, abundant and the freshest fruits, vegetables, herbs and legumes.

For my pantry, I shop at the commissary. The commissary has the best quality and prices on their selected meats, poultry and fish. Their birthday cakes are delicious. The best part of the commissary is that they routinely offer bulk items so my pantry was always stocked with the best.

Love ethnic food? San Diego offers the best ethnic grocery stores supporting cuisines from Iran, Korea, Vietnam, India, Japan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, and many more. San Diego’s international grocery stores are the the United Nations of grocery stores!

San Diego is the queen of consignment shops.
You will soon realize that most people in San Diego are fashion forward. Don’t fret if you don’t have the cash to keep up. Just graze the local thrift shops, like Amvet, Goodwill, and independent consignment shops, to see what you can find! I bought all of my swanky ball gowns at the consignment shops on Spring Street in La Mesa.

Side note: get your hair and makeup done at the many salons that cater to Quinceañeras and weddings. You’ll be the envy of the ball!

MWR is the key to the city.
Want to see a play? Concert? Ride the roller coasters? A panda is pregnant at the San Diego Zoo and you like to witness the birth? Want to take a selfie with your favorite princess at Disney? Maybe your team is playing in San Diego? A museum that needs your viewing? Want to tour the wineries in Temecula?

Visit MWR for all of your recreational activities. They have the best deals to movies, plays, concerts, museums, zoo entrance, theme parks and tours. I suggest you also cross reference with the places you like to visit to see who offers the best deal.

Don’t forget to ask everyone about their military discount. Don’t be shy!

san diego zoo

Chuck that raincoat. Break the umbrella. Pin all the ways your galoshes can be beautiful planters.

Say hello to constant sunshine. Just like winter, constant sunshine can become depressive, too. To combat depression, make sure you find a healthy activity to keep your mind and body refreshed. I suggest spinning on the beach at the Hotel Del Coronado, yoga at Mountain Hawk Park in Chula Vista, or paddle boarding around Mission Bay’s shore.

Make sure you have extra hats, sunscreen, rash guards and light long-sleeved cardigans to shield yourself and your family from the sun.

Social clubs.
San Diego is very social. Voted the best place to host conventions, San Diego thrives on all kinds of enthusiasts, from hikers, to bikers, and Comic Con cos-players. There’s a club to cater your hobby. Check meetup.com to find your new best friend.


There are several beaches. The best are on the military installations in the San Diego area. My favorite beach was Breakers Beach on Coronado in the North Island Naval base. Breakers offers us a private beach, allowing my kids to roam freely without fearing strangers stealing our stuff or bothering us.

You can camp on Camp Pendleton’s beach, or rent their beach cabins. You can rent boats, paddle boards, and  kayaks at the Marine Corp Recruiting Depot in Point Loma.

I can truly go on forever about all the activities in San Diego but it’s best for me to allow you to explore for yourself. You know you’re home in San Diego when you find your favorite taco and craft beer.

Have you been stationed in San Diego? What did you love about it?

Posted by Fari Bearman, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Dear New Teacher, It’s My Military Child’s First Day of School

Dear New Teacher,

Today my child enters your classroom for the first time in a new school. It might be the first day of the school year, or it might be inconveniently smack-dab in the middle of a grading period. He likely knows no one in his homeroom class, likely no other children in the school.

Every child has a story to tell, and mine is no different. I am hoping to share a bit of his story with you since you will be with him, teaching and guiding him, this year. His story includes attending preschools in three different states. He will be in second grade next year. And he will be preparing to move again to a new school, his third elementary school since Kindergarten.

His daddy deployed to a combat zone when he was very young, and has been home for the past few years. But my son knows what soldiers do. He knows that someday his daddy will likely deploy again to a place he can’t yet find on a map for more days than he can count, for reasons nearly impossible for a child to understand.


He didn’t choose this life.

But I asked him if he ever wishes that he weren’t a military kid, and he said, “No, why? What would Daddy do if he weren’t in the Army?” You see, this is the only life he knows. He is a happy, resilient, funny, sweet kiddo. I’m so proud of each obstacle he has overcome.

We do have bad days, though. He misses his old friends, our old home, our old church, and our old routines. He occasionally asks when we can go visit our old houses, and the restaurants and parks in a town we used to live in. To be honest, military life is downright difficult sometimes. But this is one thing I’ve learned: military children are so very strong. And so very brave. Military children are resilient. They simply don’t know how to be anything less.

Please keep in contact with me and let me know if he has any difficulties in school during (and after) this transition. The purpose of this letter is not only to inform you of my son’s background but to affirm our family’s commitment to support him, and you, his teacher.

Thank you for answering the call to educate the children of our great nation. What a truly noble and worthy profession you have chosen! Thank you for loving children who aren’t your own, and shaping their lives forever. And thank you for supporting our military-connected child, during yet another transition for him. Because of your support at school and the support of our community, my spouse is able to commit fully to his own calling: serving our country.

Mama of a Military Child

What would you tell your child’s new teacher? 

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

“Go To Your Happy Place,” and Other PCS Lessons Learned Towing a Trailer

PCS season may be winding down for the majority of military families, with schools starting back, and pools getting their last straggling visitors. But for other military families, they’re still on the move! This summer, my family was one of the many leaving one community and arriving in another. We have moved a number of times, but I always learn something when we move.

This time, I learned about driving a vehicle with an attached trailer. My husband handles a majority of the move’s logistics, and this meant he was organizing our partially procured move. One day while I was really busy with a work deadline, a new recipe and maybe giving the dog a bath (not exactly all at the same time…but almost) he asked if I could drive our SUV and pull a trailer behind it during our move.

“Sure!” I said. I was obviously focused on something else. No problem! I didn’t give this another thought until my husband returned from the UHaul place with the trailer. The trailer was larger than I thought it would be. A lot larger. Uh oh!

Image: MovingInsider.com

What do you do when faced with situations like this? You ask another military spouse who has trailer-pulling experience! My good friend told me she towed a sail boat up the East Coast during one of their moves…in the middle of a hurricane! I thought she would certainly have some words of wisdom and comfort that would apply to my current situation.

“If something goes wrong on the road, just go to a happy place and don’t hit the brakes!” she shared.

I was really hoping for more substantial advice, but I honestly needed the laugh more than the actual advice. Thank goodness for good friends. She also told me I could absolutely do this.

The next morning, the trailer was attached to my vehicle and off we went. We were a two vehicle, two trailer caravan of two people and one slightly worried puppy. The dog was with me and may have sensed my “go to a happy place plan.” He is pretty smart.

Along the way I noticed something: I was not alone.

We stopped at several hotels and there were other military families all along our route. There were other military spouses with vehicles packed with children and suitcases and several of them were also driving a vehicle with a trailer. I wasn’t alone! This made me laugh. I looked around and thought, “If they can do this, I can too!

I may have been extremely careful, not ever putting myself in a position to need to go in reverse, but overall, we had a great trip. I was driving fairly intensely with no music in the vehicle, no driving too fast and I had a death grip on the steering wheel…but we arrived safely!

During our move I learned I can drive a vehicle and tow a trailer, if I need to. I absolutely learned I need to listen a bit more intently when we are dividing our move related tasks! I also learned to have a lot more respect for anyone who drives a really large vehicle for a living!

What have you learned during your recent PCS?

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager