Tag Archives: volunteers

Connect With Your New Military Installation Fast! Here’s How…

The gym had been transformed; it was filled with tables decorated in beautiful autumn colors. A large screen dominated one corner, already broadcasting Armed Forces Network’s Monday Night Football game. The buffet table gleamed with silver chafing dishes, piled high with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Leaders dressed in their finest stood at the ready, serving utensils in hand. The band swung into “City of New Orleans” and the room began to fill with single service members and newly arrived families for our “Taste of Home” Thanksgiving dinner. The evening was a resounding success thanks to our volunteer team.

Volunteering is how I connect with a new community. Once the boxes are unpacked at a new duty station it can be challenging to know what to do next. Volunteering has always been my next step; it not only helps me connect with issues I care about in a new community, but it introduces me to others who care about them, too. It has given me the flexibility to put my family first in this often tumultuous lifestyle, while still finding a way to contribute to my community.

After arriving in Belgium in July 2014, I reached out to the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to see if there was a way I could volunteer while overseas at a NATO base. The answer was yes (yay!), giving me license to get involved in my new community. I spent time talking to organizations across the installation, meeting lots of new people and gaining insight to the challenges of this new duty station. I was able to share resources and programs with families who might not otherwise be aware of them. And I was able to connect with others who were committed to supporting military families.


Over the course of this assignment, I saw that while Europe has much to offer, families especially missed home around the holidays. Those times of year were challenging for our young single service members, many of whom lived in barracks. Newly arriving families, living in temporary lodging, were also faced with trying to create a holiday environment at a brand new duty station, often while living out of a suitcase.

Last fall, we pulled a team together, sponsored by the senior chaplain, and began reaching out to every organization we could think of – BOSS, JROTC, MWR, AFN, Boy Scouts, and even our local thrift shop. Every single organization we invited eagerly joined in to make this event happen. These volunteers brought their talents to the task at hand and made that Thanksgiving one to remember.

Volunteering is the single best way I have found to connect with my community and make a difference. And the volunteer support I have received from NMFA has been key to my success. The Volunteer and Community Outreach Managers are encouraging. They empower their Volunteers and ensure that we understand NMFA’s mission and focus. NMFA actively seeks our Volunteer input from the field and uses it to better advocate for military families. If you’re looking for a way to connect with your community and support your peers, volunteering with NMFA is one of the best ways I know to do both. Come join us!

Interested in finding out more about how you can serve military families from ANYWHERE around the world, check out our Volunteer section and apply now! (It’s free!)

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Henry, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

10 Reasons Parents Happily Say Goodbye to Summer!

School is back in session. You can’t see me, but my arm is raised with a fist pump! It’s been a great but loooooooooooonnnng summer. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been looking forward to this day since mid-July. Of course, having the kids home for almost three months has given us a chance to sleep in, extra snuggles and tickles, parent-child bonding, travel and adventures. I love them so much my heart wants to burst, but my house has been bursting with kids, noise and stuff all summer. There are a few reasons I’m happy summer is in my rear-view mirror.


  1. Rediscovering the foreign sound of silence.
  2. Not doing other children’s laundry. Yeah, that’s right. The random socks, t-shirts, shorts that are left over after an all day of play or sleepovers. It was cute in June…annoying by August.
  3. Cereal boxes opened by a T-Rex. The cardboard box top is ripped to shreds, the plastic bag that holds the cereal has a hole where one should not exist, and there is more cereal on the floor and the counter than in the bowl. I’m attributing this chaos to the unfortunate small arms of the cereal eating T-Rex that lives sight-unseen in my home.
  4. Finishing a sentence. This one needs little explanation.
  5. The appearance of my mud room/entry way. For most of the summer it looked like the shoe department in a thrift store that just had their red tag sale.
  6. The daily clean up of unfinished art projects. Seriously, it’s like my daughter leaves a trail of art supplies and paper all over the house from morning to night. If I can’t find her, I follow the endless art droppings around the house to find her napping with crayons still in her grip.
  7. My living room strangely resembled a frat party or a cheap KOA campsite this summer. By the end of the day there are multiple blankets, solo cups, plates, bits of food, books, games, clothes and strange inventions. I pick it up at night, only to return to the same party site again the next day.
  8. Talking on the phone without interruptions. All summer my work and personal phone conversations have been interrupted for emergencies such as, “He looked at me,” or “She touched me,” or “Can I have your lipstick because I can’t find my red marker?” and the true emergency of, “I’m bored.”
  9. Finding juice boxes and freeze pop wrappers in sneaky, lazy places like in between my couch cushions, under my planters outside or just “near” the trashcan. Over it.
  10. The daily fly massacre with my most lethal and accurate fly swatter at 6 pm nightly when I finally discover what door was left open all day.

Actually, I’m going to miss my kids after a few weeks of being by myself again. Grown ups will be too serious, and my job will begin to pick up intensity again. The silence will grow too long, the house will be too clean, the quietness will be too much for a busy mom who loves her children and their friends. I’ll miss being the Kool-Aid house where everyone is welcome to stop by, grab a treat, get a hug and play until it’s time to find their way home – some just stay.

But, until it does, I’m going to bathe in the stillness of my house with my coffee in hand while alone watching the school bus drive away. Next year, we will PCS again, so this was our last summer with friends from the neighborhood. I’m really going to miss the summer….sometime near the October.

What do you rejoice about when school starts again? Share it with us!

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Allsbrook Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: San Diego

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

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

san diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

san diego zoo

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Posted by Fari Bearman, National Military Family Association Volunteer

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

Dear New Teacher,

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

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

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


He didn’t choose this life.

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

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

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

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

Mama of a Military Child

What would you tell your child’s new teacher? 

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

Survive and Thrive: NAS Corpus Christi, Texas

Crank up the AC, you’re heading to Corpus! Which, so early in this blog post, brings us to rule number one:

The locals call it “Corpus.” Earn 10 points right off the bat by dropping the “Christi.” While we’re at it, we also call North Padre Island, “The Island.” And the area where the bulk of the shopping, dining and new construction is located is known as “The Southside.” It’s also commutable to NAS Kingsville.


This installation is a little more near and dear to my heart than any other because it’s my hometown, and I had the opportunity to return as a grown up, so — after 22+3 years — I feel like I can offer you a pretty well-rounded synopsis:

Repel the mosquitos. If you have an itchy welt on your arm, you’ve encountered the unofficial Texas State Bird, the mosquito. The bad news is that they run free from sunset to sunrise anytime it’s not freezing (which I’ll get to in a second). The good news is that they’re humungous, which means they’re easy to swat.

Exercise caution: Winter is a week, not a season. Pack up your coats, you won’t need them here. Instead, double up on sunscreen, swimsuits, and shorts. South Texas has two seasons: summer and winter, but summer is basically 11 months long, and you’ll get roughly four weeks of winter — no guarantee they’ll be consecutive. Shade and hydration are your friends.

Meet humidity. Someone at a grocery store in North Carolina once complained about the humidity there, and I laughed in her face. Nothing compares to Corpus humidity. Frizzy-haired gals, prepare — you’ve trained your whole life for this.


Park on the beach. I’ve lived on every coast in the United States, and never have I found another place that lets you drive on the beach. With this privilege comes a little responsibility. Make sure you know how to drive on sand. Follow tire tracks. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive, avoid loose sand. Mind the tides. Don’t be afraid to accept help if you get stuck — it happens to the best of us. And, make sure you purchase your beach parking permit before your first beach day.


Try a “taco stand.” Newbies won’t understand that you don’t need to know the name of the closest taqueria. Just find the one closest to you. Learn your favorite breakfast burrito (my decade-long streak with the potato, egg, and cheese with a lemonade has never done me wrong). And, while we’re talking food, branch out into Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex — trust me.

Take or leave the local festivities. I grew up attending the local fireworks display, but I never took my own kids when we were stationed there. I, to date, have never attended Buc Days (it’ll ring a bell after you’ve arrived). These free local events are very popular, which translates to very crowded. If you’re up for a crowd, give it a go. If you’re a homebody, count it out.


Prepare for extremes. Depending on when you arrive and whether it’s an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern, you could find yourself in the middle of a drought, a flood, or a hurricane warning. Do yourself a favor and brush up on the local weather. For drought water restrictions, check the city’s website. For flood and hurricane warnings and otherwise inclement weather, check the local forecast — in can change in the blink of an eye. Make sure you’re up to speed on where boards are for your windows before hurricane season starts (June 1-Nov. 30), and be clear on your insurance policies. As a side note, it’s always, always windy.

Take a trip. When you’re in Corpus, you’ll think that you can day-trip all over the state (unless you’re from the great state, of course). But, after your first trip to San Antonio, you’ll realize that you are hours away from a bigger city, and there’s a whole lot of nothing in between. So, as long as you’re up for a longer road trip, you can be in San Antonio in two hours, Houston in three and a half, Austin in four, and Dallas in a whopping eight hours. You east-coasters will wonder why you haven’t crossed at least three state lines in that time! That being said, you have a lot to see within the Texas borders — see the sites while you can. And if you can’t get out of town, see the local attractions: the beach, USS Lexington, Texas State Aquarium, and the iconic orange and white burger joint.


You will be uncomfortably hot. You will develop a sudden fondness for Texas Country (it is a thing, look it up if you haven’t already). And, if you live it right, it could be one of your favorite duty stations. Enjoy your stay, and I hope my hometown treats you right!

Have you been stationed in Corpus Christi? What are your tips?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

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

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?


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