Tag Archives: our staff

My Date with Michelle Obama and the Star Trek Cast

Despite just having a few weeks under my belt at the National Military Family Association, I was lucky enough to receive an invitation of a lifetime this week.

My husband and I got to tag along with four coworkers for an early screening of Star Trek Beyond at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

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The screening, hosted by none other than First Lady Michelle Obama and members of the cast, was part of Joining Forces, The First Lady’s initiative which helps connect service members, veterans and their families to employment, education and wellness resources. Joining Forces also host events (like this one) to show appreciation for service.

After going through some real deal security checks, we made it inside a building that houses a majority of offices for White House staff. We took our seats next to a mix of service members, veterans and their families, and waited (what seemed like forever) until Chris Pine, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban showed up. The trio explained how their involvement in the Star Trek series allowed them to better understand the military. Fun fact: The last installment was even dedicated to post-9/11 veterans and even featured four vets in one of the movie scenes.

I’ll be honest. Although I won’t ever turn down an opportunity to stand next to Chris Pine, my husband is the real Trekkie in the family. While he was pumped to see Kirk, Bones and Scotty, I’d been counting down until the First Lady graced us with her presence. After a sincere thank you, the actors introduced her and basically made my life.

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There we all are in the third row!

Sadly, no #FLOTUS selfies came of our visit, but the First Lady talked about Joining Forces and the last seven and a half years she’s spent using her platform to promote appreciation for our military families. I especially loved her focus on military kids’ sacrifices and spouse employment. Afterwards, she introduced the movie we’d all been waiting for with a comical, “May the force be with you.”

FLOTUS has jokes, in case you didn’t know.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but if you like action movies it’s one to add to your list. After the screening, we got a chance to cheese it up before heading out.

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My husband is partial to Next Generation, but still geeked out when introduced to Simon Pegg, Chris Pine and Karl Urban after the film. He never smiles for pictures, but there he is grinning like a kid in a candy store.

It was an amazing night and one I’ll be forever thankful for. I’m definitely going to take the First Lady’s advice and “lord this event over my friends.”

No shame. Now to work on that #FLOTUS selfie.

margaritaPosted by Margarita Cambest, Staff Writer

Margaret Vinson Hallgren: In Memory

I remember the first day I met Margaret Hallgren. I was green–only 24 years old–and excited about my new job as NMFA’s Newsletter Editor. We were gathering for the Editorial Committee Meeting to walk through the upcoming newsletter articles. In walked a beautiful, older woman with slight build and gray (mostly white) hair. She was kind and gracious as she introduced herself to me as the former NMFA President and an English grammar enthusiast.

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The latter part turned out to be the understatement of the century. Margaret was not only a grammar enthusiast, she insisted on nothing less than perfection. Our Editorial Committee dedicated hours to go through 8 newsletter articles as each member went through, line by line, with their changes. I was the fortunate soul who took the feedback from the 10-member committee and merged the changes into a final version that made sense. Margaret was the final eye and she took this responsibility very seriously. This process would often take several weeks. Young and eager to accomplish as much as I could, that initial frustration ultimately taught me not about editing, but about image, dedication, passion, and a genuine love for military families.

In the words of a long-time employee, “Margaret lived and breathed advocacy—so she’d wait until each word was perfect for mobilizing, without alienating, others. Sheer perfection.”

Throughout the years I worked with Margaret, I learned the importance of high-quality work. Her expectation for nothing less than the best was born from her character of integrity and grace. Her slight build was deceiving, underneath her porcelain exterior was pure iron and grit. Her presence commanded authority and anyone else in the room paled in comparison, to include high ranking officials. She was a trailblazer; a woman clearly ahead of her time.

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A Congressional Tribute presented by former Virginia Representative James Moran called Margaret “the vanguard of Congress and the Department of Defense’s efforts to sustain readiness and the all volunteer force.”

I can confidently say that all who knew and worked with Margaret were influenced by her quiet, yet formidable poise. With the fierceness of a lion and the grace of angel, Margret will remain in our hearts and minds as we forge on to support and protect today’s military families. We will always remember her and be forever changed by her presence.

Margaret Vinson Hallgren
June 20, 1928 – September 19, 2015

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, NMFA Communications Deputy Director

Why Do I Serve Military Families? They’re My Family, Too.

welcome-home-troops-girl-with-signGrowing up, you always hear stories about soldiers and their families. You see them on TV, in movies, or commercials, but it’s not until someone you love becomes a soldier that you really understand what it means.

That’s how it was for me until I was 15 years old, when one of my cousins, Michael, joined the Marine Corps. The United States had been at war for a couple of years and I remember, perfectly, the day of my cousin’s first deployment to Iraq. I was on vacation with my family and I remember thinking, here I am with my family on vacation while Michael was on his way to war. It didn’t seem fair. That’s when I finally understood what it meant to have a love one be a member of the military.

Two years later, one of my brothers, Chas, joined the Army National Guard right out of high school. This was no surprise to us; since we were little, we always knew he was going to join. Two years after that, my other brother, Brian, joined the Army National Guard; which was a big surprise for my family.

My brothers had always been the most important men in my life, but when they joined the military, they somehow became even more important to me.

In 2011, both of my brothers were deployed to Egypt and my cousin, Michael, was on another deployment in the Middle East. I remember saying goodbye to them, watching all the other families say goodbye to their loved ones, just before those buses drove away. I felt so far away from them and was having a hard time dealing with it. There was a feeling I couldn’t explain to anyone, and that never went away. I also saw how difficult it was for my family during that year when both of them were gone. That summer, while they were still deployed, I decided to take an internship at The Reserve Officers Association to try and feel closer to them. It worked, not only did I feel closer to them, but I felt that I was doing something for them.

The military changes your family dynamic. When my brothers joined the Army National Guard, it felt like I gained a lot more ‘brothers,’ and not only that, but their families became my family, too. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do: give back to service members and their families–who have given up so much to protect this country. Over the past few months I have been asked the question, “Why did you decide you wanted to serve military families?”

The answer is an easy one for me: they aren’t just military families, they are my family.

Who do you know that serves in the military? Honor them with a small gift, today.

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Legislative Assistant

The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective of 20 Years at NMFA

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After almost 20 years, I’m leaving my job here at NMFA to go work with military families as the Director of Case Management for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). As the last day approaches, I’ve been sharing my experiences with co-workers and thinking about how I, and our Association, arrived where we are today.

When I arrived at NMFA in 1995, I was at a crossroads. My qualifications to become a legislative assistant in Government Relations included years of experience as a military spouse who had cobbled together a resume of itinerant job skills and a wealth of volunteer service. We had always lived on post. I had raised three children in the military life, changing schools, supporting their activities, and learning the military health care system. Heck, we were Military Family of the Year on post one year in the 80s – the year we were never together as a family at the dinner table. I was—and still am—a connector, a go-to person for anyone with questions because I learned all I could about each community when we moved there.

It was all about the phone and letters in those days – pushing out info through the newsletter and fact sheets. Learning from the great ladies of our organization in my time – Sydney Hickey, Margaret Hallgren, Dorsey Chescavage, Edie Smith – and the men – Bob Rosen, Tom Sims, and Jim Mutter. Being a calm voice at the end of the phone when someone called with a problem or challenge with military benefits. Hardly ever hearing the words “military family” (unless we spoke them) as we worked with members of Congress or attended hearings on the Hill.

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Cycle forward through 20 years. NMFA geared up and responded in a big way to the challenges military families faced as we entered the longest war in our history. From our office, we heard and felt the planes hitting the Pentagon on 9-11. We got rid of the paper and started reaching out to families in real time with the info they needed when they needed it. Our own spouses and children in combat. We were our own family readiness group, working with people who understood how it felt when we hadn’t heard from a daughter in Iraq for a few weeks. Sharing tears at the water cooler when it all became too much.

The pace was exhilarating, working long days and weekends, but seeing results in improved benefits and programs for the families of the deployed, the wounded and those who didn’t come home.

We’re fighting a different battle now – trying to preserve the benefits and resources that help keep our military families strong so that their service member can battle another day. We’re looking for support for what may be problems down the road, both for the spouses and children who faced the challenges of multiple deployments and for the families of those who have yet to serve.

I have been honored to work with a grand group of folks who are passionate about military families. It’s important to me because I see those next generations coming, with my kids who serve and my soon to be grandbabies who will be military kids. Some of the nicest people I know advocate for the military inside and outside the Pentagon. I know all the folks here, led by my outstanding Government Relations staff, will continue to channel that passion and make sure military families’ voices are heard

I’ve been privileged to have a family who supported me in my work, especially my husband Marty. Many thanks to my battle buddy, Joyce Raezer. I look forward to new challenges but know that it was NMFA that helped make me the advocate I am today. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a grand ride!

kathyPosted by Kathy Moakler, former Government Relations Director

8 Lessons Learned Being a Working MilSpouse

susan-eversFor military spouses, working at the same company for more than 3 years can be considered a win. Getting to telework when you PCS makes you feel like you hit the jackpot. And sometimes, there’s the rare unicorn.

This month, Susan Evers, a military spouse and our Volunteer Coordinator for the West Region, celebrated her retirement from our Association after 17 years of service. Starting as a Volunteer Representative in 1997, she’s worked in nearly every department, making an impact on each person she came in contact with.

Along the way, Susan picked up a few ‘lessons’ learned during her time with our Association that we think perfectly sum up military life and making the most of any situation. Are there any you can relate to?

1. Never underestimate the power of saying thank you.
One of the things I think we really do well is thank people for all they’ve done. When you read our testimony, you will see this trait displayed very well. I don’t know if it comes from so many of us being moms (Thank you for making me this nice picture, now how about cleaning up your room?), but it seems to work.

2. Learn the secret code.
Secret words like “access standards” and the “DODI” can solve problems and make people think you know more than you do. And if you don’t know about something, there’s always someone who will teach you.

3. Love the color purple.
I never used to like the color purple; but, I’ve learned to love it. I think it was all those cute kids at camp!

4. Be a Mighty Mouse or a Little Engine That Could!
Small groups can bring about big changes. A few women around a kitchen table brought about a program (SBP) that has benefitted thousands of spouses. Just because you’re small or few in number, you can still achieve great things.

5. Master new skills.
When I started as an Association Volunteer in 1997, we were still mailing in paper reports with newspaper clippings attached. Since then I’ve learned how to use a computer, record a webinar, be a friend on Facebook, chat, and text. I still don’t have a smart phone, so there’s more to learn!

6. Don’t mess with Mama Moose!
One of the great joys of being a coordinator is reading the reports our Volunteers send in. Some of them really put their personality and local flavor into them. A Volunteer of ours in Alaska was famous for including the wildlife in her monthly reports. I learned about beluga whales, bears, and shrews among others. One report stated, “The bear are out of hibernation and have been spotted around the base and in living quarters areas. It is also calving time for the moose. DON’T MESS WITH THE CRITTERS! They’re bigger than you are and the reputation of a mama bear has nothing on a mama moose.” Our Association is a lot like those mama bears and moose. Don’t mess with our military families! You will be sorry you did!

7. Try to be a remote employee, if possible.
While you miss all the parties, homemade treats, and left over lunch from meetings here and there, you also don’t have to worry about using your indoor voice or whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. You can work all day with rollers in your hair (as I do), and talk as loud as you want. However, it’s always your turn to clean the kitchen.

8. Remember who we serve!
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in meetings with powerful people, press releases, and pleas for money and forget about families who are facing deployments, moving, and trying to access quality healthcare. Keep in touch with regular military families and try not to develop the “beltway mentality.” Visit an installation or military unit and talk with families and those who support them.

Thank you, to our own unicorn, Susan, for serving with us for 17 years. No doubt, you’ve made an impact and leave big shoes (and rollers!) to fill. As you know, in military life, we don’t say goodbye…we say “see you soon!”

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

‘Board’ering Awesome! #WayBackWednesday

Our Board of Directors is integral in the day-to-day operations at our Association. We have an awesome team of leaders keeping our mission to support and strengthen military families in the forefront of our daily work. From securing partnerships and donations, to promoting our Association through the media, and planning our advocacy efforts, our Directors do it all– just like those pictured here, in 1983!

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Storming the Hill Since 1969! #WayBackWednesday

It’s the 1990s, and our Association is making waves on Capitol Hill. During this decade, we released an innovative health care plan for military families, which included recommendations that were later incorporated into TRICARE.

Twenty years later, we are still on the forefront of TRICARE issues, including those controversial topics that your military family needs answers to. Not finding the answers you need? Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help!

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