Tag Archives: military families

One Man’s 12,000 Mile Bike Ride for Military Families

With the national monuments as his backdrop, Brian D’Apice took his year-long journey, and his message, to Washington this week.

“The Appalachians are steep, but the Rockies are tall.”

Brian has been riding his bike around America—literally AROUND the entire United States—to raise money and awareness for something close to his heart: military families and kids.

Brian + Lincoln

Brian joined the Army after high school and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He did two tours in Iraq, including 15 months in Baghdad.

“I was lucky to be single, but I saw [my fellow soldiers] struggle,” Brian said. “They had really hard times with their spouses and their kids, especially when they were coming home and adjusting back to life with their families.”

Brian is single himself, but jokes that Siri (iPhone’s virtual companion) is his girlfriend. Siri helped him navigate rough terrains, find places to stay, and contact potential donors and schools along the way.

His three-part message is simple, yet powerful: Appreciation, Purpose, and Mission.

“We are so lucky to be in this country. Living overseas infused my passion and appreciation for America. My purpose is to help others and I want to let people—especially kids—know you can do anything you put your mind to.”

How does someone even come up with the idea to ride a bike around the U.S.?

“I just woke up one day and decided this is what I wanted to do—so I did it.”  If you met Brian in person, you’d understand. He’s full of energy and passion, lights up a room with his enthusiasm and immediately makes you feel like his new best friend—which made sleeping on strangers’ couches a little easier.

“I was in upstate New York and I parked my bike and knocked on this random door and asked if I could camp under her pine trees. This 80 year old woman looked at me and said ‘Are you kidding? It’s cold outside. Come on in!’”

NMFA Group Shot

Brian has traveled nearly 12,000 miles since May 4, 2015 and will end his journey April 30 right where it began, in Times Square. That means he’s 94% of the way there!

Brian is a self-proclaimed Excel spreadsheet-junkie who tracks everything. Like, he…

  • Travels about 70 miles a day
  • Eats a tenth of a pound of peanut butter per day
  • Crosses a state line every 10.5 days
  • Spends about $12.50/day on food and housing
  • Rides his bike for 23.7 hours a week and spends the rest of his time making connections, speaking to schools and donors, and keeping up with his social media following

You can cheer him on at BicycleAroundAmerica.com.

Brian has already raised more than $40,000 for the National Military Family Association and Pencils for Promise. What’s next?

“There might be a book someday. Or I might take one of the suggestions I got from the kids and go swim around America next time.”

He’s kidding… but with Brian, you never know.

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

The Military Community Needs You: Here’s How You Can Help!

To kick off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I posed the question: is volunteerism in our military communities dying? Shocking question, isn’t it? It might be, but I think the military community should pay attention to the answer.

4-13 Military Comm Horizontal

Military spouses are reporting a slight decline in the time they spend volunteering within their own military communities. Instead, they say they are volunteering more in their civilian communities.

Think about that for a minute.

I think volunteering in either community is greatly appreciated. Volunteerism can be a family activity, a day of service, or simply a way to give back to others however you can. Getting involved in a cause builds strength in a community, breaks down barriers, and allows love and compassion to thrive.

But why are military spouses not giving back to their own as much as they used to? What’s so important about volunteering within the military community?

Because no one should walk through military life alone. Sharing experiences, struggles, and accomplishments are what bring people closer together. Extending help by sharing resources, providing information on programs, or lending a helping hand is all part of what makes us stronger.

4-13 Military Comm PINTEREST

I encourage you to look for ways to volunteer in your military community. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a few ideas.

  • Reach out to the installation Volunteer Program Manager. This person usually has the low down on volunteer opportunities on the installation.
  • Get involved with your family support group. It doesn’t have to be a huge task, there are simple ways to volunteer that will be appreciated.
  • Try Child and Youth Services. If your kids play sports, help out the team or the coach.
  • Check into military faith-based organizations. There are many ways to volunteer. Choose what works for you!

Not living on or near an installation?

  • Find a local organization that helps support military families or veterans.
  • Find out what your local church or religious organization is doing to support military families and get involved. Or, maybe start a program and get others involved!
  • Network with your military family friends on social media sites. Find out where they’re volunteering and tag along.

Of course, you already know how awesome our NMFA Volunteer Corps is, but if you want want to get some other ideas of how you can help the military community, check out our list of incredible ways to get involved or to support our nation’s families.

What other ways can you volunteer in your military community? Let us know!

christinaPosted by Christina Jumper, Volunteer & Community Outreach Director

6 Ways Civilians Can Help Military Families

You’re probably reading this because the title spoke to you. Maybe you have a desire to give back to a community that has given so much already? Or perhaps you want to see if you’ve ever done any of these things?

Whatever the case, you’re here. And that’s awesome. It’s extremely important that we continue to remember our nation is at war. We’re in our 15th year of war, actually. Fifteen years.

In that time, a child could complete a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree. Since the start of this war in 2001, we could have potentially seen four different Presidents elected in 15 years. We’ve watched the United States compete in seven Olympic Games, cast our votes to crown 14 American Idols, and some of us have remained loyal fans through 30 seasons of Survivor.

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And through those 15 years, military families have continued to sacrifice while their loved ones serve and protect our freedom to see all of those amazing things happen.

As members of this country, we owe a great deal to the men and women who fearlessly defend, but we must not forget that military families serve, too.

If you’ve sent care packages to deployed service members, or run 5K races to honor the fallen, you’ve answered the important question, “What are you doing to serve others?”

But let me ask you this: what small token of ‘thanks’ could you do for military families? How can you show the children of deployed parents that they’re brave, too? Is there a simple way to encourage a military spouse in your life?

Serving others, in any capacity, is invaluable. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to start.

4-7 Civilians PINTEREST

We’ve got you covered. Here are 6 ways any person can support and serve military families:

  1. Support NMFA through concession stand purchases at a game
  2. Sponsor a toy or supply collection to support our military kids at camp
  3. Ask your employer to host a Casual Friday/Dress Down day event at work
  4. If you own a business, commit to hire a military spouse
  5. Spread the word on social media with pictures and videos of fundraisers that benefit military families
  6. Help organize a community welcome home ceremony for returning military members

If any of these simple ideas sound like something you want to do within your own community, let NMFA help you get started! We’ve got a few other ideas and ways you, your employer, or anyone else can make a difference in the lives of military families.

Donations are wonderful, too. It’s how NMFA continues to do the work we do. But sometimes, what’s more valuable than the donation is the person who gave it. You can add value to the military community. They need your support. Give time. Change lives. Together we’re stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

Moving Back to States Horizontal Graphic

Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

Moving Back to States PINTEREST PIN

Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

Geo-Bachelor Horizontal Graphic

While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.


Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

Pets Oconus Graphic

Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.


So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Jacksonville, Florida!

I hope you like water, sports, and adventure, because your orders to the River City will turn any snow bunny into a Florida-loving beach bum before you can say “More sunscreen, please!”

Jacksonville, Florida boasts salty intracoastal waterways, and one of the nation’s few north-flowing rivers—the St. Johns—which runs right into beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches. And smack dab in the middle of this growing city (the largest city by area in the contiguous United States) is the third largest military presence in the US, a combination of NAS Jacksonville, NAS Mayport, Blount Island Command, and Kings Bay Naval Base.

As a native of Jacksonville, my heart bursts with pride when I hear friends getting orders to the First Coast. I’m a walking billboard and like to play travel agent for new Jacksonvillians.

S&T Jacksonville Graphic

My home can be your home. Here’s what you need to know to survive and thrive in Jacksonville:

Not all beaches are created equal.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and think Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and St. Augustine Beach are the same. They’re not. But they’re awesome. Jacksonville Beach is your buzzing, typical vacation-style beach town—beachside restaurants, boardwalks, and surf shops abound. Ponte Vedra Beach is an upper-income beach town famously known for its golf affiliation (it’s home to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship), but it isn’t best for wild and crazy spring break adventures. If you want to drive your car on the beach, St. Augustine Beaches are your only choice in the area, and they’re perfect for a family beach day.

Every side of town is like a different state.
Within the Jacksonville area are multiple booming towns, and depending on what you’re looking for in a community, all offer different experiences. Downtown Jacksonville and its immediate surroundings are a mix of upcoming neighborhoods right next to historic areas, like the oak-tree lined streets of Avondale and Riverside. Just south of downtown is the Town Center area, with landmarks more my speed: Norstom, Macys, PF Chang, and Louis Vuitton. It’s a shopping mecca with everything you’d ever need. The University of North Florida sits just across the way, and there’s no shortage of unique bars and restaurants. If you want a family-friendly area with good schools, look to Fleming Island, Mandarin, or St. John’s County. You’ll find settled neighborhoods, plenty of kids’ activities and clubs, and a little less traffic. Where ever you find yourself, my best advice: give yourself 30 minutes to get anywhere.

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Get outside of the city limits.
Jacksonville sits in one of the best spots in the state, I think. Drive two hours in any direction and you have an awesome day trip waiting to happen. Two hours to the north is Savannah, Georgia. To the west is Tallahassee—the capitol of Florida (and the best school in all the world, Florida State University…I’m totally biased). And hold your cousin, because two hours south of Jacksonville is where the magic happens. Literally. Orlando is home to Disney World, Universal Studios (hello, Harry Potter World), the Orlando Magic NBA team, and the closest IKEA you can get. If two hours is too far, you have St. Augustine—the nation’s oldest city. Rich in history, great seafood, and the Alligator Farm, it’s the perfect place to take visiting relatives.

All the sports.
If you love sports, Jacksonville is your place. We’ve got the Jacksonville Jaguars, who might not have the best record, but darn it, we celebrate every coin toss win. There’s a minor league baseball team—the Jacksonville Suns, who are pretty awesome. You want amazing stadium food, the Suns games are where it’s at. Every January, Jacksonville hosts the TaxSlayer Bowl, for NCAA football. And if you’ve always wanted to go to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this is your chance; The University of Florida Gators meet the Georgia Bulldogs in college football showdown on neutral ground in Jacksonville. It’s so serious, a small sub-town pops up right outside EverBank Stadium the week before the game, lovingly dubbed RV City. Tailgating is on great display and you don’t want to miss it. Not a football or baseball fan? There’s golf tournaments (The Players), the Daytona 500 (an hour away), and an indoor football team (The Jacksonville Sharks), too.

No matter what you have an itch for, Jacksonville can scratch it. Your time stationed there will prove to be the most memorable…and for good reason.

Now, what will you do first?

Have you ever been stationed in Jacksonville, Florida? Tell us what you loved!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager