Tag Archives: military families

Survive and Thrive: Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston and its surrounding areas are full of history and intrigue for the casual weekend vacationer looking for a getaway. It’s also awesome for the military families who live in the area! It’s no surprise that Charleston was recently named the best city by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards.

Charleston Geography
When first moving to the “low country,” as this area of South Carolina is called, it can be a little daunting and difficult to navigate. Charleston refers to not only downtown Charleston, but is also comprised of smaller towns and communities in its surrounding area. If you are moving to here, make sure you have a map and a GPS to navigate the areas of downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, Folly Beach and the other communities in the area.

Charleston has several larger cities and tourist destinations within a five-hour drive including: Columbia, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, Hilton Head SC, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA and Orlando, FL.

Where to Live
For many in the Navy and Air Force, living in the base housing is an ideal option because of the proximity to base and the many amenities offered.


Those who do not mind a short drive, with possible traffic and sometimes frequent railroad-crossing stops might prefer to live off base in Goose Creek, Hanahan, Ladson, Summerville, or North Charleston. For those working on the Coast Guard base, the communities in West Ashley or Mount Pleasant offer affordable, family friendly options housing options.

Most of the neighborhoods and communities in this region have Home Owners Associations with amenities such as gyms, clubhouses, and pools. So if you plan on buying or renting, make sure you understand those additional costs and requirements before committing to purchase or rent a home here.

What to Do
The low country does not disappoint in events and activities available to those who live here. Joint Base Charleston has pools, gyms, movie theaters, bowing alleys, libraries, and an outdoor recreation center. Additionally there are biking and walking trails, dog parks, access to boating and fishing and disc golf courses on base.


For a day at the beach, head over to the Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, Sullivan’s Island, or SeaBrook Island. In addition to catching some rays, you can kayak, surf, windsurf, and kite surf. For the avid fisherman, there are many local companies that offer charter boat trips around the waters of the low country.


For a day out with the kids, there are many options including the Children’s Museum, Charleston Aquarium, Monkey Joe’s Indoor Play Space, Ice Palace for Ice Skating, and Velocity Air Sports. Also popular with kids during the summer months are the Charleston County water parks: Whirling Waters, Splash Zone and Splash Island.

For the history buff, check out Patriot Points (home to USS Yorktown and other smaller ships), Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, the H.L. Hunley (sunken confederate submarine), and Riverfront Park. There are also historic plantations including: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and Boone Hall, as well as the Nathaniel Russell House and Joseph Manigault House.


There are many festivals held throughout the year celebrating everything from the arts, local food and wine, breweries and much more. Charleston 2nd Sunday is a popular monthly event downtown on King Street with live music, local merchants and outdoor dining. Another popular festival is the annual Flowertown Festival. This is the largest arts and crafts festival in South Carolina, held the first weekend of April at Azalea Park in Summerville. It is a fun event and has something for all ages.

Charleston is also home to sports teams that offer military nights and discounts each season: Charleston Riverdogs (baseball), Charleston Battery (soccer), and Charleston Stingrays (hockey). College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern University also have a variety of sports played on their campuses throughout the year. And located on Daniel Island, the annual Volvo Car Open Tennis Tournament is held at the Volvo Cars Stadium in April.

And let’s not forget shopping.  There are all types of options in the area, from flea markets, thrift stores, department stores and malls, to designer stores, like Louis Vuitton, and even outlets! For local goodies like the famous Sweetgrass baskets, hand made soaps, lotions and more, make sure you visit the Charleston Market.

What to Eat
In recent years, Charleston has gained a reputation of being a haven for foodies. From casual to upscale, there is a restaurant that will cater to every appetite.. There’s a wide variety of local restaurants that serve cuisines with Caribbean, African, American Southern and soul food influence. Popular must try restaurants are: EVO, Hominy Grill, Husk, Boxcar Betty’s, Taco Boy, and Smash Burger.

When living in Charleston, make sure to try some of these staples of the region: Carolina style barbecue (vinegar and mustard based), shrimp and grits, frogmore stew (sausage, crab, shrimp, onions, corn, and potatoes), boiled peanuts, sweet tea (supposedly first made in Summerville), and anything with pimento cheese.


Opportunities for Spouses
A great part of living in the Charleston region is that there are many opportunities for careers, additional education, and training for military spouses and families.

There are lots of opportunities for employment due to the large military presence, defense contractors, and local businesses in the area. There are also employment opportunities for positions for those with medical and teaching experience as there are many early childhood learning centers, K-12 schools and medical facilities on the military installations and in the area.

Say Hello to Charlie
By the time you have finished your stay living in Charleston, I hope you’ll agree that it’s a great place to live. If you’ve tried everything listed above and you don’t agree, please make sure to visit my good friend Charlie. He is the official Officer in Charge of Complaints on the NWS side of JB Charleston.


Have you ever been stationed in Charleston? What are your favorite things?

lauran-griffithsPosted by Lauren Griffiths, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer, Charleston, SC

Give Thanks for Open Doors and Open Arms

In towns that surround military communities across the country live local citizens who may have never experienced the life of a service member firsthand. However, the sight of a moving truck is a regular occurrence in their neighborhoods, and they may even be able to hear bugle calls from their home while sipping their morning coffee. The people in these communities may rarely set foot on the military base nearby, but their lives are interwoven with the military families who live among them.

They are the business owners who welcome the sight of uniformed personnel in their establishments. They are the community leaders who plan events and parades to honor local veterans every single year. They are the preachers who call spouses of deployed service members, just to check in. They are the school administrators who ensure that the military children in their schools are receiving enriching, supportive educational experiences.

They know that when their own children befriend the new kid at school, a military child, they are taking a bit of an emotional risk. Military children don’t often stay more than a couple of years in their town. They know that even though their own children are not military children, they will likely feel the sting of painful goodbyes.


These school board members, city council members, teachers, physicians, business owners, ministers, postal workers, neighbors, and friends are all too familiar with the ebb and flow of new military families that arrive to their communities every year while the ones they’ve known for a couple of years pack up and move away.

But they welcome us anyway. They greet us with open doors and open arms. They learn our names, and they befriend us. They care for us.

To the local families who live among military communities: thank you. Thank you for the countless jobs you do to make these towns great places for military families to live. Thank you for supporting and including your military-connected neighbors. Thank you for giving us a place to belong, a home, even if for only a short season.

Have you ever lived in an awesome community? What would you tell the civilian supporters around you? 

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

Advice For New Moms: Just Kidding, We Know You’re Sick of It

Even on baby #3, it still feels like I can’t get it “right.” Part of that is because every baby is so different. But also, what’s “right” is a moving target. Those books you read 10 years ago? Toss ‘em. That advice your doctor gave you after baby #2? That’s no longer the case either. And every mom you meet is full of advice from their own personal experience.

“Oh he’s not sleeping? Have you tried keeping him up later?”

“You should put him down to sleep earlier.”

“Stop nursing him at night.”

“Definitely nurse him at night. You don’t want your breastfeeding supply to dwindle!”

I have to remind myself the breastfeeders and the formula feeders, the co-sleepers and the never-co-sleepers all want the same thing… happy, healthy babies.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. If you’re a mom, you know about SIDS. It’s our worst fear. Once we finally get over the fear of losing our baby in utero, we move on to this next phase that keeps us up at night (along with the crying newborn).

In honor of SIDS Awareness Month, let’s try something different. I’m not going to tell you to how to take care of your baby or how to create a safe sleep environment. We get enough of that, right? Instead, let’s narrow down the whole conversation to two important points.


  1. Babies need to breathe.

Mary Adkins, a member of the National Action Partnership to Promote Safe Sleep (NAPPSS) steering committee, agrees that moms get bombarded with enough advice.

“Parents are so tired of everyone telling them what to do and making them feel like a bad parent,” she said. “That just doesn’t work.”

Preach, sister. We are tired of it. I’ve read it all; I have a (sleep-deprived) brain; I can make my own informed decisions.

Keyword: informed.

“If you think about how tiny that nose and mouth really is and how very little it takes to obstruct that. If you can get that visual and always keep the air around your baby’s nose and mouth uncompromised, the other recommendations follow logically,” Adkins said.

  1. Babies will exhaust you in a way you never thought imaginable.

My one year old woke up EVERY HOUR for the first 7 months of his life. Even now, he’s up once a night. The toll this takes on your body and mind is no joke. You make decisions you wouldn’t normally make—letting your baby sleep on your chest while you sleep in a recliner, for example. No judgement, I’ve done it. Is it safe, though? Absolutely not.

“Parents, especially first time parents are pretty stunned about what that baby requires,” Adkins said. “They are not prepared for how different the sleep cycle of an infant is from their own.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a national program to help military spouses with newborn sleep, but there are programs like Mission Sleep taking steps to make a difference.

And here’s something I wish somebody had told me: you’re not going crazy. This is what babies do, and it won’t last forever.

Most importantly—ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Military spouses often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation: alone with a new baby while their spouse is deployed and their families are across the country.

If you find yourself in this position, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or your FRG leader about support groups. Take advantage of the military spouse tribe near you.

If you’re like me and you’re still not getting it “right,” don’t worry. That’s what ice cream is for.

What kept you sane during those rough, sleepless nights with your newborn? Share your encouragement in the comments!

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Suicide Prevention Matters and Every Second Counts

“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

How am I supposed to ask someone that? Can I even get the question out? Such a personal question…and what do I do if the person I ask says yes?

Several years ago, I participated in an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program offered by the Chaplain’s office. I was nervous and a little uncomfortable at the start of the training because of the topic, but I left hopeful and more informed. Like mental health and domestic violence, the ‘hush-hush’ stigma surrounding suicide is one that we absolutely need to change the conversation about. Yes, it’s a difficult subject to discuss. But it MATTERS. It’s a disease, and it’s treatable. And you can help.

In the first quarter of 2016, 110 service members (Active and Reserve Components) died by suicide. And I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific statistic that 20 veterans complete suicide each day. How many received treatment and were helped?

What’s worse, we don’t have any idea how many military family members died by suicide–a whole group of people unaccounted for. But Congress directed the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office in the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA to track and provide those numbers.

We’ve been waiting for that data…for over a year. Suicide happens in moments, and in desperate times, someone considering suicide could be helped in just a few seconds. NMFA will continue to urge the Department of Defense to release this information so that we can help every military family member who needs help RIGHT when they need it. Every second counts.

So what can you do to help someone who is thinking about suicide?

Ask them directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Then:

  • Care for them – listen to them and remove anything that could be used for self-injury.
  • Don’t leave them alone. Take them to the chaplain, a behavioral health professional, or if it’s a service member, remember you can take them to someone in their chain of command

As we come to the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, it’s worth remembering that suicide prevention isn’t something that we should think about one month a year – it’s something we should always be aware of.

The Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office has launched the “Be There” campaign as a way to encourage everyone to take responsibility to help prevent suicides—it’s not just the Department of Defense’s duty, its all of ours. The campaign asks us to be there for service members, be there for families, be there for the civilians who support them.

Look for suicide intervention programs at your installation Family Services office, Suicide Prevention office or Chaplain’s office. If they’re not offered ask for them.

Asking someone if they want to end their life is a difficult question, but for many service members and family members, it is a question they should become more comfortable asking. By simply asking, it may help someone. And if nothing else, it lets someone know they’ve been heard.

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Hruska, Government Relations Director

Basics of Money We Can Learn From Kids

As part of becoming a personal financial counselor, I had the privilege to teach the financial literacy program, “Money Management” to the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona Cochise County for two years. I entered this teaching opportunity naively thinking I would teach these young girls about money. Ultimately, these girls reminded me of the basics of money. A subject that we have simply forgotten.

Here are two things you can learn from them too:

What is a need versus a want?
The Girl Scout Brownie Curriculum says a need is something you must have to stay healthy and safe. A want is something you enjoy and want to have, and is not a need.

This was easy subject matter to teach children. They understand they need food to stay healthy and a home to stay warm and safe. However, according a blog called “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans,” adults have forgotten this over time. This blog asked individuals whether they could come up with $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. Slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19% could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans.

The conclusion: Nearly half of American adults are financially fragile and living very close to the financial edge. Households are living paycheck to paycheck, or in other words, beyond their means. Have we forgotten this basic concept?

One girl scout’s solution: ask yourself when you go shopping, “Is it a need or a want?” If it’s a want, maybe it can be saved for another day, or perhaps a birthday or holiday gift of some sort. Too often, we fulfill our wants, leaving our needs to be tightly met by a small amount of remaining funds.


What is a savings account?
According to the Girl Scout Money Management program, a savings account is used to deposit money in a bank and earns interest over time. The purpose of this account is to save money that one does not need for daily use. This account is the easiest account to open because of its simplicity.

When I asked the girls if they owned a piggy bank, all the girls’ hands went up and they described their piggy banks to me. Some owned a butterfly, a frog, and one even owned a hippopotamus. While a piggy bank is not a savings account since it is not growing interest, it teaches children the importance of putting money away for use later. A recent Forbes.com article said 63% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. This means that families are resorting to charging to a credit card or borrowing funds in order to meet the cost of the unexpected event.

Why do children grasp the concept of money, yet, as adults we decline to follow the very basics of money management? We are the example for our children and yet we allow instant gratification and fulfillment of our wants to get in the way of our savings. Next time you take a look at your shopping list, take a moment to take a step back to basics! We are our children’s most powerful teachers on how they will view and manage money, learn a little from them as they learn a lot from you!

Have you learned any money tips from your kids? Leave us a comment and share it!

Cynthia Giesecke is a candidate for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), a Girl Scout Money Management volunteer and part of the “Military Family Matters” blog team for NMFA

Soldier to Civilian: Establishing VA Benefits

My husband, Clay, recently retired after more than 20 years of service in the United States Army. Over the past 20 years of his career, his life was reminiscent to the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere.” He has been stationed, or trained on just about every military installation in the continental United States, not to mention assignments in South Korea and Germany. Oh, and there were the deployments, training exercises and more deployments.

Our family’s transition was fairly easy. Clay has a tremendous VA staff while undergoing this process in South Korea. He was shown how to properly complete the paperwork and they handled his case with the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not all service members receive the same care in this process.

Are you a military family nearing retirement and transition? Do you know a family who is transitioning from active duty to civilian? One thing that can be difficult for some is healthcare in the VA system. So, to help, I wanted to share a list of helpful information for you prior to your transition from the military to civilian life in regards to VA Benefits. Here is my checklist that helped our family:


  • Document EVERYTHING! I don’t care how minor the issue, go to sick call and get it documented. When you begin your transition, the VA requires a copy (digital or hard copy) of your medical records. It’s difficult to claim a disability when you’ve never gone to a doctor or physician and had it documented.  You must approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
  • Make copies.  The VA requires a copy of your medical records. If you’ve served one day in the military, you already know paperwork gets lost. Don’t be a statistic. Do yourself a favor by making copies. In the event you need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those records. Never give your only copy away. When the military medical system went online, your medical records went digital are are now kept on a secure server. If you’re like my husband and enlisted prior to 2005 (and when medical records went digital), part of your records are hard copies. Worse yet, he spent four years of his military career as a recruiter. That means he had medical records from a civilian doctor. What we found out was that the military medical system frowned upon civilian records. For example, he was stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, after recruiting. When we left Fort Bliss, all Clay’s civilian medical records were missing. Luckily, he had made copies and inserted them back into the medical records we were keeping. However, every time we PCS’d, the same happened to his civilian medical records. If you remember nothing else from reading this, remember this: MAKE COPIES!
  • E-Benefits. Each branch of the military as some sort of class that help the service member transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This website allows the service member to track and manage your benefits. You can also establish care at the closest VA medical center through this website. Take time to navigate through the website and familiarize yourself with the information provided – there’s a lot of info!
  • Disability claims. Claim everything. Sore knees? Claim it. Injured your wrist in training? Claim it. Do not be shy, timid, or think the claim “isn’t that bad.” If you have had an issue with your health (physical or mental) caused by your service, or the underlying condition could become worse as time goes along, claim the disability. Your VA representative can help you fill out the paperwork.
  • Service Officer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offers assistance when filing VA claims. The claims process can be confusing and one that service members and veterans shouldn’t try to navigate alone.  VFW Service Officers are trained experts, helping veterans develop their case with ease by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, they assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. And they won’t hesitate to request hearings before the VA and the Board of Veterans Appeals to present oral arguments when needed. This is a service the VFW is proud to offer–free of charge–to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
  • Do not waitGet your medical documents together as soon as possible. When Clay retired, he retired from an assignment in South Korea. The wait time to obtain a copy of his records was about a month. If you wait until the last minute, there could be a delay, or worse, a denial of benefits. Get seen by medical professionals, get your concerns documented and request the records.
  • Be prepared. I wish I could tell you why the VA approves and denies claims. I’m as confused concerning the approvals and denials of benefits, too. Having said that, be prepared to appeal. Chances are, you may not have to appeal; however, be prepared to appeal. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep copies of your medical records secure. The copies that will be provided to you will more than likely be digital copies. Continue to monitor, manage and track the VA claims process through E-Benefits. Don’t hesitate to contact a VFW Service Officer to assist you in the claims process. Continue to ask questions as they arise and research on your own.
  • Be patient. The process could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed along the process. Every VA area is different in regards to timing. We decided to retire in Tennessee. The wait time for Clay’s disability rating was a lot quicker than most of our friends who retired in other states, yet slower in a few other states. The point I’m trying to make is to be patient. Monitor the process through E-Benefits. You can call the VA everyday, but it makes no difference. When the VA gets to you, they will get to you. Remember there are hundreds of other service members who are going through the same process as you. Be patient.
  • VA Appointments. When your service member is retiring, they will receive a call from the VA to schedule their VA appointment prior to their official retirement date. Ensure the service member’s information is up-to-date with the VA through the E-Benefits website. Whatever phone number you designate as your point of contact, try to keep it until your appointments are complete. The last thing you want is a missed call or missed appointment. These appointments will take place at the nearest VA medical facility. You will also receive a small travel reimbursement for the mileage it takes to drive there. Be prepared for the appointment to last at least 2 hours. Your service member will be asked a plethora of questions and will be checked physically from head to toe. If your service member is claiming a mental disability claim, they will also be seen by a psychologist or licensed therapist. If a service member is not retiring, the process is the same, but the appointments may or may not occur prior to your official retirement date.

I hope this list assists your family during the transition process. Reach out to other veterans to learn from their experiences and visit your local VFW. The guys and gals in the VFW are loaded with helpful information.

Do you have any helpful tips for other transitioning military families? Share them with us!

laura-prater-headshotPosted by Laura Prater, National Military Family Association Volunteer and blogger at Raising Soldiers 4 Christ

Survive and Thrive: Monterey, California!

People come here, to Monterey, California, on vacation–I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped on my morning run on the rec trail to take a picture for someone who was struggling with a selfie. There are certainly worse places to spend a year or three, but with so much to do, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of tourists and chased back home by that pesky fog. Here are some tips to survive and thrive, should your military family find yourself here at some point:


Think like a local.
I’ll tell you: all the houses are circa 1950, small, and insanely expensive. Now that we’ve cleared that up, get used to being on a vacation from your dual sinks and walk-in closet. And lets talk central air conditioning. This south Texas native broke out into a nervous sweat when I was told my AC was just to “open the windows.” But I survived the Indian summer without incident. In fact, while I was confused the first time our heater kicked on in June, my cold toes were definitely appreciative.

Like any savvy local, you’ll need a parking pass as soon as you roll into town. It’s $10 for the year, and it gets you two free hours of parking at three lots in town. It’s saved us oodles of cash in parallel parking and parking at the Fisherman’s Wharf (where I jump on the coastal rec trail for a jog). Annual passes to popular attractions are well worth the money if you can swing it. And finally, thinking like a local means avoiding the crowds. Skip the beach on holiday weekends, and hike instead. Outsmart the line for the aquarium that wraps around the block by showing up right after lunch (that’s when the field trips are loading back on to the buses). But, crowds or not, you need to see the whales, see the greens of Pebble Beach, and visit the world-famous aquarium.


Go green.
Monthly power outages will remind you in the most inopportune times that electricity is a luxury. Stock up on flashlights, candles, and don’t count out that generator just yet. You’ll also want to collect reusable shopping bags since much of the area charges for bags. And, there’s no better motivation to kick your family’s recycling up a notch like the teeny little trash can you’ll find on your curb.

And since we already know that your abode will be on the small side, you might as well get outside whenever possible. There are hiking trails and beaches everywhere. I can literally use the same parking lot for the beach and the grocery store. Between the redwoods, waterfalls, beaches, sea cliffs, and valleys, you have too much to see to just spend Saturday at the movies. Make sure you have your free (for military) America the Beautiful national park pass, and, if you know you’ll be a frequent visitor, consider a California park pass.


Ignore the weather.
The sea fog outsmarts me more than I care to admit. Some days it hangs around until after lunchtime, and just when this work-from-home mom has committed to a day of sweatpants, the sun breaks out, shining down rays of guilt for not being more productive and/or adventurous for the day. Other times our outdoor plans are dampened by cold drizzle. We know better now — we throw on raincoats and hike anyway. You can also expect to be cold 11 months of the year — coats are beachwear.


Branch out.
Fun Monterey fact: It’s the language capital of the world. Embrace it! Learn something new. Befriend an international student.

And, in an attempt to squeeze two meanings into this last ambiguous instruction, “branch out,” as in get out and explore the state — there are some big-ticket bucket list items just up (or down) the road!


Have you lived in Monterey? What tips would you add?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer