Tag Archives: new to the military

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Easy Tips to Keep Your Military Marriage Shatterproof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Elope? And Other Thoughts About Weddings…

“The Air Force just ruined our honeymoon. He’s deploying not even two weeks after our wedding. It’ll literally be just like when we got engaged and he deployed right after.”

My friend sent me this text a few weeks ago, and my heart broke for her.

She’d gotten engaged in September, and a few days later, her fiancé left for a six month deployment. Since then, she’s been meticulously planning what’s sure to be a beautifully romantic fall wedding, already ordering Save-the-Dates, bridesmaids’ dresses, and her own perfect white gown.

“What if you considered a honeymoon before the wedding?” I asked. “I’m a little backwards, so that wouldn’t seem weird to me!”

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But my own suggestion got me thinking about the pros and cons of scrapping the wedding altogether and just eloping. Plenty of military couples have done it – maybe there’s a reason?

Let’s take a look at some comparisons between weddings and elopements:

Eloping: Snap your fingers, and it’s done!
Maybe you’re facing a deployment, like my friend. Perhaps you could really use the benefits military life offers? Either way, eloping means you’ll be betrothed in a heartbeat.

Wedding: Nobody likes a finger-snapping Bridezilla.
With all the details, loose ends to tie up, and people to wrangle, it’s stressful to plan and execute a wedding. And sometimes, that stress can turn any sweet and patient bride into a fire-breathing, finger-snapping monster if not careful. Eloping boasts an easy, stress-free day.

Eloping: It’s cheaper but…
Whether you’re running hand-in-hand to the courthouse, or the two of you are flying to the Bahamas for a destination elopement, the costs associated with eloping are usually significantly less than a traditional wedding. Maybe you have plans to use the would-be wedding money on a down payment for a house, or paying off debt, instead.

Wedding: …Don’t cheapen the occasion.
Eloping, while quick, sometimes makes you miss out on the occasion—the planning, ceremony with guests, and reception to celebrate. Will you miss having someone to walk you down the aisle if you elope? Will you still feel married without the pomp and circumstance?

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Eloping: Keeps the peace.
Friends and family will weigh in like a ton of bricks on what traditions to follow, what music to use in your processional, even when and where to have YOUR wedding. It can be overwhelming, and start to feel like you’re babysitting people and their opinions. Eloping can keep tension at a minimum, and can guarantee your wedding day is just what you and your future spouse want.

Wedding: Don’t be the missing piece.
Having everyone who loves you and your partner in one place is a powerful thing. From your best friend who helped you through the rough break-ups in college, to your parents who’ve dreamed about your special day since you were little. Weddings celebrate the joining of two families, and it’s a beautiful way for all those people who love you to see your happiness culminate in one perfect day.

There are always pros and cons to everything, and the bottom line is that we won’t always please everyone. The military doesn’t plan for weddings, and it certainly doesn’t care about other big ticket events in your life, so why not do what works best for you and your future spouse?

Even if it means you have your honeymoon before your wedding. GASP!

What are your feelings about weddings verses elopements? Would you do your own vows differently?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

When a Saver Marries a Spender…and a Few Tips That Might Help

We were 20 and 23 when we married. I was a few months into my first job and my husband was in college. We took marriage prep classes through our church and discussed an array of topics from future kids and our perspectives on money.

We outlined our financial goals and priorities:

  • Support ourselves with jobs and income independent of our parents
  • Save for a down payment on a home
  • Save for the future

Creating shared goals was a great start but living the shared goals was another story. How should we prioritize paying off our student loan debt, saving money for emergencies, saving to buy furniture, and saving for the unknowns of the future (i.e. kids, retirement, dead car battery)? Living on one income, we had a very tight budget.

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This was where I began to notice our different feelings about money. If we were out of [insert household item here], one of us would jump in the car and run to the store to buy it. The other person would add it to the shopping list and wait to replace the item during a planned trip. One of us would clip coupons and only buy an item if it was on sale. The other was brand loyal and didn’t see toothpaste as toothpaste, and would only use a particular brand whether it was on sale or not.

Making decisions about how to spend and save money wasn’t easy. One of us wanted to save for a rainy day while the other wanted to spend our hard-earned money to buy a well-deserved treat/item/experience. We each played the role of “saver” and “spender.”

How did we resolve our different philosophies towards money?

We didn’t.

Instead we learned we needed to have continued conversations about money and develop short-term and long-term financial goals. After my husband joined the military, we participated in several free financial workshops hosted on base, online via Military OneSource, and even met with a personal financial counselor.

Here are some tips that have helped us along the way:

  • Set money goals and make a plan to achieve your goals. We were off to a good start by setting goals, yet we didn’t really have a plan. In the early years, the plan was to save whatever was left at the end of the month. This didn’t work for us because (1) there wasn’t money left and (2) we wanted to spend the money on something we felt we deserved.
  • Make savings a habit by “paying” yourself first. Whatever your goal is, you’ll need to create an action plan to achieve your goal. We decided to automatically put money into a savings account each pay period. We each set up an automatic deduction from our payroll account into a separate savings account. The amount we set aside changed as our income fluctuated. What is important is that the money is set aside in a separate account.
  • Review your goals and plan often. Most years our goals stayed the same – we still wanted to save for emergencies, a house, and our retirement, yet the plan to reach the goals would change. After a move and a break in employment, we had to adjust how much we set aside.

Military Saves is a great opportunity to pledge to become a saver. Yes, a saver and a spender can live happily ever after with shared goals, a plan, and an adjustment or two. The first decision is figuring out which one you are: the saver, or the spender.

How do you and your spouse reach financial goals together?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

7 Reasons the Commissary is Better Than Walmart

I’m just going to say this now: the commissary is better than Walmart.

If you’re like the majority of military families who live on or near a military installation, you know there’s always one constant: the commissary. No matter where you go, you know you can count on there being a commissary, even worlds away from the United States.

As a kid, I remember trips to the commissary with my babysitter, a retired military spouse. It was the best day because there were always booths set up to taste test things. So, while my babysitter shopped, we’d run through the store tasting all the snacks. It was a military grocery store version of Epcot’s World Showcase. But with florescent lights.

When I married a service member, taking advantage of the commissary was something I looked forward to. I learned the in’s and out’s, like avoiding the commissary on payday, and making sure to tip the baggers

Don’t get me wrong: in a bind, I’ll swing by Walmart, but let me tell you why I love the commissary so much more:

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Baggers. This sounds lazy, but I love the baggers. I love that they push my cart to my car and help me unload my grocery bags. And did you know they work only for tips? Many of them are military dependents or retirees, so giving them a few bucks to deal with my awkward conversations as we walk to my car seems like the least I can do. They’re working hard for the money!

Great selection. I really love that commissaries offer such a variety of products, even international. If you’re like my friend, Heather, who lived in Germany for a few years with her service member, you start to miss those international foods, like Mezzo Mix. But check your commissary to see if they have it in stock. Maybe you’re an all-American foodie? There’s 15 different selections of ketchup for your taste buds to enjoy. I called Walmart near my house to check…they only carry 8. Boom. Winning.

Case lot sales. It’s when the commissary turns into your very own Sam’s Club, or Costco. Twice a year, stateside commissaries put out the best-selling items at lower prices. What’s better? Use those coupons to score an even better deal.

It’s cheaper. It just is. As someone who loves a good steak, I go to the commissary to buy meat. Two New York Strips at Walmart costs me between $16-$21. At the commissary? $12-$14. Most military families will save 30% at commissaries, and one military spouse recognizes the savings, “As a family of 5, I cut coupons like crazy and shop at the commissary. Off post, with the coupons, it is still not affordable!”

There are scholarships. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t either until I joined the NMFA team. Each year, generous manufacturers and suppliers whose products are sold at military commissaries worldwide help fund scholarships that are given out at each location operated by the Defense Commissary Agency (even OCONUS). In the 15 years these scholarships have existed, nearly $14 million dollars have been awarded to military children.

Comradery. This might seem silly, but I’m one of those people who always feels a sense of pride when I go anywhere on base (except the pharmacy, because patience is limited). When I’m at the commissary and I see a service member in uniform with their family, it puts a smile on my face because I know we’re all this military thing together. These people understand my life, and I feel like we’re all a little family. And I’m proud of that family.

The “dress code.” This one speaks for itself. And although there are differing opinions about the commissary’s dress code (and not all have one), I’m all for it. Mostly. I live in workout clothes these days, so I know I’m breaking the rules at some commissary somewhere, but the alternative has the potential to ruin your day. I’m talking to you, tan leggings lady at Walmart. We’ve all seen the People of Walmart website.

When I think about the crazy ride that military life can be, I always seem to feel ahead of the game when I can locate the commissary at a new installation. I can be guaranteed these seven reasons will make my grocery shopping a little more bearable (because I absolutely dread it).

What does your military family love about the commissary?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

You’re Engaged! Now What? 3 Tips Before You Plan Your Military Wedding

Congratulations! You’re engaged to be married! By now, you’ve called your parents and closest family to tell them the news; you’ve probably shared a photo or two on Facebook and Instagram, and you’re one step closer to #MilSpouse status.

Planning a wedding is next on the list, and many of us can tell you: it gets a little overwhelming sometimes. Should your significant other wear their uniform? Will you have a saber arch? What happens if your partner-to-be gets deployed at the last minute?

Good questions. I’m glad you asked.

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Wearing military uniforms in the bridal party.
Always a classic, patriotic, and let’s be honest – sexy – choice. Seeing your love in their dress uniform always brings out the butterflies in your stomach. And you know those portraits and photos are going to be amazing, so why not wear the uniform?

TIP: Consider the time of year you want to be married, and which uniform your significant other will be wearing. Will it be dress whites? Dress blues? Mess uniform? Once you figure that out, the civilian bridal party members will be easy to coordinate. Another tip: boutonnieres and other flowers aren’t allowed to be pinned on any military uniform.

What to know about an Arch of Swords.
They make for fabulous photo ops, and are a fun and unique tradition for military weddings, the saber arch (also known as the Arch of Swords) is a way for the new couple to be ‘welcomed’ in their new life together. The bride and groom walk through the arch and just before exiting, the last two swords are lowered, the couple exchanges a kiss, and enter married upon the swords being raised.

TIP: If being married at a military church, check with the church to see if they have enough swords on hand. Rifles can be used as a substitute if there aren’t enough swords. But don’t mix. Also, ask your service member about the “wife swat” and decide if that’s something you’re okay with.

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What if an unexpected deployment happens?
It’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not romantic, but it could happen. What do you do if your wedding planning is going smoothly and the bomb is dropped: your service member is deploying during your wedding? The first thing to consider whether a short ceremony before deployment might be something you’re both interested in. Many military couples have been married in courthouse ceremonies, only to have all of the pomp and circumstance after the service member returns. This idea is a point of contention among military spouses, but do what feels right for you and your soon-to-be-spouse.

TIP: Wedding insurance is a thing. Check into it. Ask your vendors, venues, and other wedding-specific people what their terms and conditions are should a deployment derail your perfect day. Wedding insurance can also protect you from inclement weather, freak accidents like your wedding dress getting lost or ruined, or other unexpected events.

There are many things to think about when planning your wedding because we know you want it to be memorable and filled with love. Don’t forget the little details, and keep your focus on what makes you and your partner happy. This is an exciting time and we’re so happy for you!

Now, go ahead and take another photo of your ring…

What tips do you have for newly-engaged and soon-to-be military spouses? Share them with us!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager