A Failing Government is Not an Option for Military Families

Recently, someone asked me why I was trying to rationalize President Trump’s cabinet nominations after they overheard me talking about General James Mattis, the new Secretary of Defense. I got the impression they believed there was nothing redeemable about the nominees, including Gen. Mattis, and that it was best to wait for them to fail.

Well, that’s not an option for me…especially for the Secretary of Defense. And it will never be an option regardless of who is in the White House.

I’m a military spouse. I’ve been through three Presidential administrations with my service member. As you know, the federal government has an amazing amount of control over my family’s life. It tells my husband where he is going to live and how long he will live there. The government determines how my husband’s healthcare will be provided, and how much of a raise he’ll get (or if he’ll get one at all), regardless of his job performance. It determines whether he will be in harm’s way thousands of miles away from home. The list goes on and on, and includes frequent moves and uncertainty that also impacts my career, employment, and earning potential.

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The policies that the President supports are important to most military families, because it impacts us directly. It matters if the Secretary of the Defense has strong leadership skills and can weigh different points of view. It matters whether Congress can govern and pass authorizing legislation and federal appropriations (the funding to implement authorizing legislation) on a regular basis. And it’s because we never know where we are going to live and for how long we are going to live there that our nation’s military families needs America’s infrastructure, school systems, healthcare, economy, and the Veterans Administration to work, regardless of what state or community they are located in.

Military families have a unique story to tell because of our mobility. That makes us some of the best advocates for efficient and effective government at EVERY level.

But that’s not a free pass. It’s a reality for all the reasons above. We should still expect government to work as efficiently as possible. However, obstructionism in government is not a friend to those in the military, their families, and those that love and support them. We can and should be a strong voice for efficient and effective government.

Posted by Beth Ann Ray, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

Operation Purple Camp Helps Military Kids Who Struggle in Silence

I was born into the military. My dad is a West Point graduate, and for most of my childhood, I was the only one in my class who had immediate family serving in the military. Many of my peers did not know or understand what I was going through. It’s one of those things in life that unless you are living it, you can’t 100% understand it. I often felt alone and kept my feelings inside thinking nobody could relate.

But life changed as I knew it when my dad was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. That year, I had turned the big 13, a significant time in every teenager’s life, and received a life changing opportunity–I attended the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple® camp.

During my week at camp, the professional camp staff with the Tsuga Community Commission helped me address the negative feelings I had bottled up inside about my father’s service. It allowed me to be part of a community that I didn’t know existed, and feel proud of my family instead of feeling embarrassed and alone. I was able to escape the hardships and struggles, focusing on being just a kid at camp.

My father deployed again to Afghanistan a few years later when I was a sophomore in high school, and I was able to attend Operation Purple camp again, this time bringing my younger sister for the first time. Watching her flourish that week is something I’ll never forget. She gained confidence and a feeling of belonging that she had been lacking. Something I believe many military kids struggle with in silence.

It was the Tsuga staff who opened my eyes to see that even though there aren’t any active military installations in Oregon (where I lived), a support system was actually out there for military children. It helped draw out my inner leader, and inspired me to become a camp counselor at Operation Purple camp. I joined the same Tsuga staff who helped me out so much.

After two summers of working with military children, I was able to identify that my passion lies in serving others and being part of something bigger than myself. Operation Purple camp holds a special place in my heart because of what it did, not only for me, but my family and many others like it. Without NMFA’s programs, our military’s youth would be without a resource that provides support and community for our dependents that need it the most. We cannot forget that our Military Kids Serve, Too!®

It’s that time of year: Operation Purple camp applications are online now! Find a camp near you and give your child the experience of a lifetime!

Posted by Lauren Miner, Former Operation Purple Camp Attendee and Counselor 

A Trip to Remember: Visiting Your Spouse While They’re Deployed

Within a month of my husband’s deployment to Camp Stanley, South Korea, I had already booked my plane ticket to visit for the Christmas holiday. When we first received the news that the unit would be doing a 9-month rotation to Korea, visiting never even crossed my mind, but with encouragement from other spouses in the unit, I planned my trip.

It’s very rare in this military life when the stars align and you can visit your spouse while they are fulfilling their duty abroad. You get to see a different side of your spouse away from the ‘normal life,’ and you are able to break up that long deployment period with a visit in between. I spent the first few months in excited anticipation of my trip, and after the visit, I have the memories from the trip to get me through the last few months of the deployment.

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Thinking of visiting your spouse abroad? Here’s how I planned:

My first recommendation would be to avoid the holidays. I went during the holiday season (due to time constraints) and it was expensive. If your schedule permits, Space A is a great option! I have friends who visited their spouses in Europe and Japan using Space A flights. I always had friends visit during the spring time during the off-peak season. My second recommendation is to research military-owned hotels at your destination. I stayed at Dragon Hill Lodge in the Yongsan district of Seoul, South Korea. This hotel is Department of Defense owned, and nightly rates are determined by rank. Another perk: the hotel is only accessible with military ID. My third recommendation is to reach out to friends and family and let them know you’re planning a trip. Ask if they’ll help with funds for the trip. Our families are always looking for ways to support us and to show us their understanding of military life.

When everything was bought and planned, I finally made my way across the globe to see my spouse. The experience was amazing. Seoul is so beautiful and clean. There is so much to do, and there are many historic landmarks to take in. As always with military life, despite my best efforts in planning, my husband still had to work the week I visited. My hotel was an hour south by train from Camp Stanley, where he was stationed, so he would come after work and we would get dinner and sight see.

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One day, I made the trip to Camp Stanley by myself (!!!). I got to see his room, the base, and his favorite places to eat. It was great to finally visualize all the sights, sounds, and smells he had described to me. On the days he had to work, I planned a tour through the hotel, and on another day, I had a pamper day and went to the salon in the hotel and read a book while enjoying the view of the city. On his days off, or the few hours off he had, my husband and I would explore different parts of the city, and go to museums, malls, and markets. We ate Alabama-style BBQ and Mexican-style tacos in Itaewon, had drinks and appetizers in Gangnam, and had bulgolgi in Uijeoungbu. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything!

When I arrived back in Texas, I was exhausted, but so happy I went on the trip. Our conversations from then on took on a new meaning for me because I could recall the places we visited while I was there. It also helped to break up the long time apart with a new countdown to when he would come home!

I absolutely recommend visiting your spouse abroad if you have means and opportunity. It’s an experience that you both will cherish for a lifetime.

Have you ever planned a trip like this? What tips would you share?

Posted by Lesley Boatright, NMFA volunteer, Fort Benning, GA, Army spouse

Survive and Thrive: Norfolk

I spent 11 years in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area and when it was time to PCS, truly felt I was leaving my village. When getting orders to Norfolk Naval Station, one will soon find out that Hampton Roads has so much to offer and a variety of options when it comes to where to live. There are multiple duty station options nearby. Besides the Norfolk Naval Base, there is Little Creek, Oceana Air Station, Fort Eustis, Langley, and numerous Coast Guard Bases, just to name a few. This can come in handy if you want to stay in one area for an extended period of time. With its strong military presence, Hampton Roads has so much to offer in the way of support and services for a military family.

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Where to live. The areas surrounding Norfolk Naval Base are all individual cities, with their own school systems. The cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk seem to be the most popular in terms of where service members tend to live. My advice is to figure out what is most important to you in terms of distance from base, schools, housing type, and amenities in order to narrow your search. Each of these cities have different things to offer and their own pros and cons. Many people purchase a home when stationed in Norfolk. If that’s on your radar, the median home price for all of Hampton Roads is $225,000, but this value varies slightly within each of the cities.

Tunnels, Bridges, and Tolls, Oh My! Yes, to live in Hampton Roads and commute in here means you will undoubtedly use a bridge and/or a tunnel on a regular basis. This should be a consideration when deciding where to live. Two of the major tunnels that lead to Norfolk Naval Base have tolls.

Attractions abound. Luckily, there is plenty to see and do in the area, and many of the local museums offer military discounts on yearly memberships.  Some of my favorites include: the Norfolk Zoo, Living Museum in Newport News, Virginia Beach Aquarium, Children’s Museum in Portsmouth, and the Nauticus and Wisconsin Battleship museum. Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown are a short drive away and are an amazing opportunity to go back in time and experience early America.

Shopping. Because there are multiple bases in the Norfolk area, there are just as many commissaries. The Norfolk Naval Base and Langley Air Force Base commissaries are the two biggest, but many of the other bases have small commissaries as well. There are many options when it comes to grocery stores off base, too. All of the big chains are there, and both Sam’s Club and BJ’s offer a military membership price. There is a nice mall in Norfolk and Williamsburg Premium Outlets are a short drive away.

Busch Gardens/Water Country. Also a short drive away is Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. As a military member, you are entitled to one free day (with up to three family members) at the parks. However, if you think you would want to go on a more regular basis you can get a Summer Fun Card to go all summer–$15 parking fee not included. My suggestion is to get one single year membership (which includes the price of parking) and the rest Summer Fun Cards to get the most bang for your buck! If you have a preschooler, Busch Gardens has a preschool card for free!

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Sports. Norfolk has a local baseball team, the Tides, which is a fun outing whether you are single, married without children, or bringing the kids. There is also the Norfolk Admirals, a hockey team, part of the ECHL.

Living in Hampton Roads gives you the ability to be at the beach in the Outer Banks in two hours, the mountains of Virginia in 4-5 hours, and Washington DC in 4 hours. Many families love living in Hampton Roads, mine included, not only for all it has to offer, but for its military friendly atmosphere! I would say yes to orders there again, would you?

What are your favorite things about the Norfolk area? Share it with us!

Posted by Jenna Lang, Government Relations Legislative Coordinator

When Minimalism & Military Lifestyles Merge

Stacks of unopened mail by the door. Broken crayons in the junk drawer (c’mon now, we all have one). Maternity clothes shoved on the top shelf of my closet from my last pregnancy…three years ago? And that box of six inch heels I never got to wear, because well, let’s face it, clubbing days are over – as if they ever even started. Clutter is everywhere, and as time goes by, it feels like it’s beginning to swarm me. It’s closing in on me. Where did it come from? Why am I picking up the same things that could have been thrown out by now?

The first duty station came and went. It’s where our lives began; first house, first baby, and our first living essentials as a young family. Understandable.

Fast-forward, we’re back in the U.S, with a new house, which means it’s time to redecorate, right? Shove those old decorations in a box towards the back of the garage just in case we want them later.

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Come the third, fourth, and even fifth duty station, we’ll start asking ourselves questions like: Why can’t we get out of debt? Where did all this useless stuff come from? And why is it taking so long to unpack compared to last time?

Okay, by now I am sure you get the idea. As a military family our lives adjust to being very mobile, and that means trying to bring light to a new house, a new city, and surroundings. It means adjustment, and making a new house a home. Though sometimes we get so caught up in making our new house a home, we often forget about our old attachments that helped make our previous house a home–the stories behind our clutter. We forget that purchased items aren’t the only things that make a place a home, but rather memories shared there.

Big moves usually entail time restraints. From the second we get new orders, the prepping time we thought we had begins creeping away. We didn’t get enough time to rid unwanted, unsorted things we once found value and joy in. Sometimes, we hold onto things we think we’ll need eventually, things we sometimes find comfort in, or those things we think we’ll fix, but instead, we tuck them away, and never see them again…until we come across them looking for something entirely unrelated, or its time to pack up again. How in the world do we change this? The key is to minimalize.

Prior to my knowledge of a minimalist lifestyle, I found more value in the amount of things we had versus precious time those things took away from. Those things wasted money, time, and well, patience and sanity trying to keep the stuff in order. The energy I use just by looking at those things is overwhelming and stressful, when I could be putting positive time and effort into bettering the lives of my family, whether it be financially or through memories.

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Here’s what we can ALL do to solve our clutter issue:

Begin by considering the items you have not touched, thought about, or needed in the past six months. Will you absolutely touch, think about, or need in the next six months? If your answer is “no”, then do the following:

  • Sell old, unworn, untouched items (clothes, electronics, toys, etc.)
  • Donate, donate, and donate! There is always someone less fortunate than you.
  • Throw away anything lifeless – anything broke, torn, and overly-worn.

With less clutter laying around, you have more cash to build interest on, or simply more money to pay for that hotel during your next family vacation…you know, when your spouse finally gets to take leave. As military families, we all know the value of precious time when our families are truly whole! Now, forget walking into a room where you don’t have to be reminded of the clutter that swallows you, and instead think about the memories that can now fill the room.

The thoughts that come from a clean, clutter-free home? Well, the possibilities are endless!

What could you do with more space, more time, more money, and less stress?

njohnson-headshotPosted by Nicole Johnson, Marine Corps Spouse & National Military Family Association Volunteer

Create Lasting Impressions by Volunteering with NMFA!

What makes you smile? What makes you light up from the inside? For me, it is volunteering. I remember volunteering my time alongside fellow girls as a Girl Scout. It is a passion of mine which has grown from the time I was 5, to now, 31 years old.

I grew up a Navy brat, and my dad kept his work life in the military separate from his family life. I had no idea what the USO, ACS, or NMFA were. Now, I have been an Army wife for a little over 12 years, and I have spent time volunteering with family readiness groups, ACS, and an organization off-post near Fort Hood, Texas.

I recently started volunteering with NMFA, and it is hard to put into words just how excited and blessed I feel right now. I have not been involved in the community on post the last few years due to my husband’s job assignment. We also had a baby in 2012, so my focus lately has been on my family. Only recently have I felt like I have a little more “JESSICA” time, as I call it.

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As I grow with the NMFA, I often take time to remember all the things volunteering has added to my life. Lasting friendships, references for employment, experience to add to my resume, real-world training, and of course, the feeling of accomplishment. While stationed in Europe, I could not get a job from time to time. Instead, I would volunteer, and the experience from volunteering and references aided in my future employment. If you’re in the same boat trying to fill a depleted resume–give volunteering a try! NMFA is waiting to add you to the Volunteer Corps!

I have had people try to understand why I love volunteering. They don’t understand why I would work for free. To me, volunteering is a blessing and honor. I have no issues if a person does not understand; I just invite them to join me. Come and see the smiles that light up at the events. The smiles alone are the blessing. We never know what is going on within a family. I can help a family forget about the training or deployment that takes a loved one away. I can help them forget that the car payment is late, so they can feed their kids. I can offer compassion and support to them and let them know that they have a family here. Volunteering creates lasting impressions.

As a volunteer I cannot wait to write and share my very own adventures in volunteering. I hope I can inspire others to volunteer and add to their military community.

Has volunteering ever impacted you in a great way? We’d love to hear your story!

jrichardsonPosted by Jessica Richardson, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

A Cook without a Kitchen: Hotel Microwave Cuisines for the Win!

We moved last summer, and to be honest, it felt like we’d been moving all summer. I love to move. The possibilities of a new community, a new house, making new friends, and reconnecting with old friends makes me happy. When we move, (you will think I am crazy) I also get excited about a new kitchen. The kitchen is home to me. It’s my happy place. And during a PCS move, I am a cook without a kitchen.

I might take over your kitchen.

We stayed with my parents for two weeks during our PCS, and the last week of our stay, my parents left for a planned vacation. My husband and I were alone in our family’s house and my husband looked at me and said, “Well, your mom left, and she didn’t leave any food.”

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His words were like some kind of call to action for me. I immediately went to the cook book shelf, made a list, went to the grocery store, returned from the grocery store, and began cooking. My mother called later that day and asked what I was doing and I excitedly gave her the list of the six dishes I had prepared. There was food in the freezer, food in the crock pot, food in the oven and food simmering on the stove. It was a little crazy, but my husband was extremely happy.

The kitchen is home to me…any kitchen! My mother-in-law says I should make this fact public information and I would have invitations to stay anywhere I like. It is true, if I stay at your house for any length of time, at some point I’ll probably cook something…or a whole meal.

I cook in hotel rooms, too! Have you ever done this?

Once, when we were in a hotel in Kansas for an extended amount of time, I grew tired of eating out and I started cooking scrambled eggs with bacon, chopped green chilies, and cheese in the microwave. My husband nearly applauded the first morning I made them. He calls them “PCS Eggs.”

Here are the items you need for PCS Eggs:

Cooking spray
Two eggs, or one egg yolk and one whole egg
Real bacon pieces, or pre-cooked bacon strips
Two paper bowls (the soak proof kind)
A plastic fork
One paper towel

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Whisk the eggs (or one egg and one egg yolk) in a paper bowl along with the bacon pieces. Coat the second paper bowl with cooking spray. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl coated with cooking spray, and place in the bowl in the microwave. Cover with the paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Check for doneness and cook for an additional 20 seconds. If needed, microwave at 10 second intervals until the eggs are thoroughly cooked.

But be careful! Hotel microwave temperatures vary a lot, and eggs can get rubbery and inedible very quickly.

Possible mix-ins: shredded cheese, canned chopped green chilies, chopped onions, chopped peppers, spinach, chopped ham. The sky is the limit (well, the microwave is the limit, really!)

Possible toppings: salsa, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, tomato sauce

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Four years ago, my husband and I were in a hotel for longer than usual in a part of the country famous for BBQ sauce. Tired of eating out (again), I went to the grocery store purchased some vegetables, a rotisserie chicken, and some BBQ sauce. I steamed the vegetables, tossed the vegetables, chicken and BBQ sauce in a bowl and made BBQ bowls! It wasn’t a fancy meal but it wasn’t from a restaurant, and I had chopped and steamed a portion of the meal so it felt like mine.

Vegetables you can steam for hotel room vegetable bowls include: broccoli, potatoes, carrots, corn, peppers, cauliflower and spinach. Many of these vegetables are available in steamer bags in the frozen food section of the grocery store and are also available in the produce department in steamer bags. You can even buy steamer bags so you can chop and make your own mix of veggies to steam! Purchase a rotisserie chicken or other prepared protein of your choice from the deli and find a BBQ, teriyaki, or other flavorful sauce for a healthy meal option while traveling.

A word of caution about steaming broccoli (as you may know): broccoli can be a bit smelly while steaming. My apologies to our hotel neighbors!

While traveling to our new duty station, when we aren’t spending time with family, we were in hotel rooms. I found myself slicing heirloom tomatoes from farmer’s markets with a plastic knife to improve a supermarket salad, mixing fresh berries into microwave oatmeal, and trying to think of new ways to test the limits of a hotel microwave! At one hotel, my husband excitedly pointed out that the hotel had a very nice grill. I may have to test my grilling skills on our next PCS move!

What do you do to find a sense of home in the middle of a move?

Ann HPosted by Ann Hamilton, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager