My Military Life | A Blog by the National Military Family Association
A Blog by the National Military Family Association. We provide families of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOAA with information, work to get them the benefits they deserve, and offer programs that improve their lives.
When I was first asked to attend the rehearsal for the PBS National Memorial Day concert, I was a little apprehensive. This was my first time attending an event with the intent of sharing my experience in a blog post. Luckily, my husband is a Navy Mass Communication Specialist and has attended many events like this, so I asked him to come as my photographer.
Little did I know, a fabulous group of military spouse bloggers was also in attendance they took me under their wing. The Capital Concerts staff was also AMAZING to work with and took great care of us.
I attended the afternoon rehearsals and saw Brian Tee and John Corbett performing the true story of two Korean War buddies–Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Joe Annello–who have remained friends for 68 years. These two are incredible actors and they were ON POINT! After their rehearsal, they met with our group of milspouses to answer questions and take photos.
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
They both gave “shout outs” to military families. Brian Tee, who stars in CHICAGO MED wished us a ‘wonderful and glorious’ Memorial Day, and John Corbett, who you may remember as Aiden on Sex and the City and Ian in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” thanked our group of spouses for everything we do.
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
West Wing actresses Allison Janney and Mary McCormack paid tribute to the contributions of female service members throughout history, and the ladies reflected on what the day means for them.
“We’re so grateful for the sacrifice that, not just the service members make, but the families make is huge,” Mary McCormack explained. “The least we can do is say ‘thank you.'”
Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band put on a great rehearsal performance for the crowd, as usual, I can’t wait for everyone to see them perform live!
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
In addition to these stars, General Colin Powell, Joe Mantegna, Graham Greene, Charles Esten, Cynthia Erivo, Leona Lewis, Megan Hilty, Alfie Boe, and the National Symphiny Orchestra will be featured, as well as Spensha Baker singing the National Anthem.
Tune in to PBS for the live broadcast of the 29th National Memorial Day Concert on the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day, Sunday, May 27th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. You can also follow the event on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Leave us a comment and tell us if you’ll be watching!
Posted by Vanessa Pineiro, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse
I have been an Army wife for a few years…well, it’s been a little longer than a few, but who’s keeping count, right?! I am seasoned Army wife with one beautiful little monster named Chloe, and a crazy fur baby named Alley, who I refer to as my first born. I had a plan to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter until she started Kindergarten. Well, that happens this fall, so I started thinking about what I’d do when she went to school.
In December, I decided to think long and hard about a New Year’s resolution that would add to my life. I wanted to work hard towards a goal that I could implement now and in the future. After a few weeks (and a possible sooner-than-expected PCS), I decided to go back to work, so I knew I’d need to complete my resume.
Right now, I am an active volunteer at Army Community Services (ACS) at Fort Leavenworth. I work within all the departments with whatever they need. I also help with special events. While volunteering, I have been a huge advocate for their programs, which is how I met a woman named Deb Stone. Deb is a Navy veteran and the Employment Readiness Manager who hosts resume building and interview classes on our base. Each branch of service usually has someone who can assist with employment readiness. They are usually found at the Family Service Centers. The Navy’s is called the Family Employment Readiness Program (FERP), ours is ERP – Employment Readiness Program. The Air Force has an Employment Specialist also.
When I talked to Deb about all the things she does for service members and her families, I was blown away by everything I was missing out on!
Though the functions and types of services/classes offered may vary from installation to installation, most will have a person dedicated to assisting spouses (as well as contracted civilians, transitioning service members, retirees, and veterans) in all aspects of job hunting.
Deb told me about classes and one-on-one consulations that focus on career exploration, federal and civilian resume writing, cover letters, interview preparation, even how to work a job fair. Employment Readiness Managers also refer people to employers in our local community and refer to the appropriate point of contact wherever they are moving next.
I made an appointment with Deb to help me with my journey back to the workplace. We are working together as a team to polish up my federal and civilian resume. When it comes down to it, no matter whether you’re a new spouse, or you’ve been married a while (like me!), you can always learn something new. If you’re thinking about going back to work, or you need to spice up your resume to be ready when the next opportunity comes along, consider meeting with the Employment Readiness Manager on your installation.
I have been lucky enough to utilize this program, and thanks to people, like Deb, I’m ready to tackle the next adventure!
Have you ever used the Employment Readiness resources on your base? Leave us a comment telling us about your experience!
Posted by Jessica Richardson, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer
I graduated undergrad in 1998, worked for six years and then my husband (who is active duty Navy) and I decided to start a family. For reasons that worked best for our family, I stayed home for 12 years with our children. Around 2014, during a particularly challenging sea tour, I started a Master’s program online; I needed an outlet and something for myself.
However, I quickly figured out online school was not for me. Finding time for class wasn’t the problem. I missed the interaction with fellow students and listening to lectures. In the winter of 2016, when we found out we were heading to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., I started thinking about applying to a traditional in-person school. For the first time in six years, my husband would be on shore duty and maybe, just maybe, it would be possible for me to attend school in person at night! I looked into schools in the area and applied to George Mason University.
I was accepted into GMU and was excited and nervous all at the same time. Would I be up for the challenge? Would I feel out of place because I was older than most of the students? Could I balance family and class?
Fast forward two years and I just graduated with a Master’s of Public Policy! I am not going to lie: there were times that I wanted to quit. There were nights when my husband would call just as I was about to leave for class and tell me he wouldn’t be home on time, but we military spouses have amazing support systems and I “phoned a friend” and worked it out. Leaving my kids at night was the hardest part because I had always been the one to put them to bed. But we all gained something from this experience. My kids would have taco Tuesday and mac-and-cheese Thursday with Daddy, and he read the bedtime stories. My oldest, who is 13, really stepped up to help, which filled me with pride.
I gained such a personal satisfaction going back to school. I always wanted a Master’s Degree; to me, it was a huge feeling of accomplishment. My middle son asked me often why I wanted to go back, and all I could say was that it was important to me. I hope through this process I instilled in my children it is never too late to follow a dream and hard work pays off.
So, what’s next? I am not sure. I work for the National Military Family Association part time and plan to continue to do so. At this point in my life I am looking for a job that fits into my family life and where I can feel like I am contributing to a greater good. I want to know that my time is going to a cause I believe in.
If you are thinking of going back to school, whether undergraduate, graduate or just to further professional development, I would say go for it! There are many different education pathways out there and you can find one that fits your personality and needs. Whatever you choose, you’ll have plenty of people in your corner, rooting for you–even NMFA (hello, military spouse scholarships)!
Have you gone back to school? How did you overcome the challenges you faced? Share your experience with us in the comments!
One of the things on a deployment checklist for the active duty service member is establishing or updating a will and a power of attorney. These legal documents ensure that if something happens to the service member, the law knows who to contact, who had authority to make financial and medical decisions, and even who gets custody of the kids (if there are kids), especially in the case of a divorced family.
But how many of us spouses have these documents in place in our own families? It’s so easy to be focused on our spouse that we make ourselves the secondary concern. Not because we think we’re unimportant, or others treat us that way, but because the list of things that need to be taken care of. The lists are long and sometimes on a short time table, leaving the spouse staying home to put everything towards the military member in the forefront. The reality that there could be a time where we’re in the hospital, injured, sick, or even the worst possibility death, doesn’t always sink in.
These scenerios couldn’t have been any more clear or real like they are right now as I lie in a hospital bed.
When my husband left for deployment, I had been living diagnosed with seizures for barely eight months. Yet with the medicine prescribed, I’d keep living the life I had and didn’t ever bother to think of putting a plan in place in case I needed to go to the hospital.
With four kids at home, my main concern and focus was on their needs. Getting them to and from track practice, birthday parties, after school clubs, even what seemed simple at the time (boy scouts and music rehearsals) was now not so simple. All those commitments my kids had became more difficult to juggle because now I needed to figure out who could help, how much they could help, and the extent of time others’ help would be needed.
I had no plan in place. After calling my doctor to explain what was going on, she wanted me at the emergency room immediately. But all I could think of was not freaking my kids out. Their dad wasn’t here to fill the role of taxi driver or dinner chef that I play everyday. The last thing I wanted was for them to feel afraid and alone. For my kids, my diagnosis was incredibly scary because all they’ve known their whole life is that my mom died from a seizure the month after I graduated high school. Last year when I was diagnosed, they connected ‘what if that happens to us?‘ My doctor was aware of my situation and savvy enough to know I wasn’t coming until I had a plan in place–a plan I should have developed 4 months ago.
In my world, being an independent person and reaching out for help is equal to pulling my eyelashes out one by one. In fact I’d rather go through labor again with no drugs–that’s easier for me. But my kids need and deserve for me to check my pride.
I reached out to two girlfriends. One could drive me to the hospital 45 minutes away and get my kids to and from, while the other could step in for anything else that came up, or in case the first couldn’t help at anytime. As soon as I arrived, I went straight into a room. My doctor left notes of my medical history and recent developments. What I thought would be one day, at most, turned into three days and I still don’t know when I’m leaving. But what I do know is that I now have people and have developed a small plan.
My plan will need some tweaking. It will need another person or two, and it’ll need things like remembering to leave a credit card behind for my older kids to use in emergency situations, like this, and it’ll even require me to finally get a power of attorney, advance detective, and update my will.
This was a great wake-up call for me. It’s okay to be independent, its okay to be strong, it’s okay to be self-sufficient, but it’s not okay to not have a plan in place. Someone needs to know what to do with your fur babies, what to do with your human babies, even things such as where a spare key is hidden or how to get ahold of your deployed spouse.
You may never need someone to jump in and bring you to the hospital, or take your cat to their home, or pick your kids up from soccer, but in case you do please put together a plan.
Do you have a plan in place for yourself? What advice would you give others who don’t?
Posted by Joanna Bradshaw, military spouse and mother
Military life demands a unique approach to friendship. Time spent at a duty station is typically not only brief, but also fraught with challenges. Most military spouses and significant others are looking for support systems, and that means friends.
The very things that drive spouses to invest in friendships are also the things that prompt them to make friends differently than others. When you’ve always got a countdown clock in your mind’s eye, you see people in light of the brevity of your stay at your current street address. When you’ve got a separation with your spouse looming, you know you’ve got to make relationships count.
Here are three ways the world would be a different place if everyone approached others the way that military spouses are prone to:
The World Would Be More Gracious
In a world full of mom-shaming and “dependa” jokes, it can feel tempting to take sides in the interest of finding solidarity. Take a one-minute scroll through Facebook if you don’t believe me.
But military spouses who make friends with other spouses have clarity when it comes to the challenges of their peers. You can knock on any door on your base housing street and be greeted by someone all too familiar with all the things in military life you struggle with the most.
Now, imagine a world where even though the specifics aren’t known, everyone approaches everyone else with the assumption that they’re dealing with some heavy stuff and that heavy stuff inevitably has an impact on how that person navigates the world. What if we understood that often when people are failing to present themselves well, it’s because there’s something in the way of their ability to do so?
The World Would Be More Attuned to Individuals’ Strengths
Most of us don’t assess relationships based off of what we need. We click with people, and it’s only later on, sometimes even in retrospect, that we realize someone impacted us because of specific things they added to our lives.
In my own experience, virtually all of my friends have contributed to my well-being in specific ways. I have a seasoned military spouse friend who taught me early on how to approach the post-deployment funk a couple can find themselves in, so when I found myself there, I was ready.
I have a friend who went out of her way to make the PCS that separated us easier for me. She hosted a goodbye dinner party. She bought patterned packing tape. She gave me a moving playlist to jam to. She filled my car with snacks, tissues, and Febreeze (I had the dog). She stayed up until the early morning hours helping us clean the house the day before our move-out inspection. She waved goodbye from my driveway when we pulled out for the last time.
I have a friend who runs. She participates in marathons. When I wanted to lose weight during one of my husband’s deployments, she helped me learn how to run well. She taught me how to pace myself, how to buy the right shoes, and how to land correctly on my soles. I lost 30 pounds during that deployment, but not only that, I learned firsthand one of the benefits of running is its mood-boosting abilities. When she taught me to run, she also gave me a tool to combat the depression that can accompany hard duty stations, hard PCS’s, and overall hard seasons of life.
The world would be better if it were more adept at recognizing that virtually everyone has something to contribute. You shouldn’t need to see what someone’s gifts and abilities are beforehand to treat them like they’re worthwhile.
The World Would Be More Discerning
A downfall of making friends fast and furious is that you inevitably will make relational mistakes. You will create a rapport with someone and then realize belatedly that they’re not a good influence. You’ll fall into traps you wouldn’t have if you had taken more time.
Because of this reality, military spouses become increasingly skilled at recognizing the telltale signs of problematic people early on. Additionally, because spouses don’t have time to waste and need a solid support system, the ones I have known are more likely to move on from problematic relationships instead of lingering.
If everyone saw the science-backed reality that our friends are highly influential and that investing in the right ones is worthwhile, less bad behavior would be accepted and more good behavior would be required.
Not all military spouses and significant others employ these tactics, and none of them are perfect friend-makers; there’s no formula to ensure relationship success with anyone. But military spouses do face situations that make them more likely to recognize and embrace the people in their community who are worthwhile, even if they don’t seem to be on the surface. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best qualities of military spouses.
Posted by C.N. Moore, military spouse, parent, and writer
Military Spouse Appreciation Day has special meaning to me, a U.S. Air Force veteran and military spouse. I honorably served 12 years as a Civil Engineer Operations Manager (CE Customer Service), then separated from the military to support my husband, who at the time was an HVAC craftsman. We were parents to two children. Pregnant with our third child, I miscarried the day before I separated from service. What a rough way to transition to my new life as solely a military spouse and mom. This start, nine years ago, prepared me for what new military spouses go through every day.
But I did not know my place in the military system anymore.
How did I fit in with spouses from whom I had felt isolated when on active duty? When my husband deployed for the first time after my honorable separation from service, I found out how I fit in. My first Air Force Key Spouse, Mrs. Nancy Hester, contacted me and cared for me during his deployment. To remember Mrs. Hester nine years later says a lot about her character—she was awesome.
I did not need much during the deployment. Like most military spouses, I needed to know that if I did have a requirement, my Key Souse would be there.
I remember how Mrs. Hester let me know about the resources available to me, and how she appreciated me for information I could share as a veteran and spouse. I remember how she gave her all, while still caring for her own family and maintaining a full-time job. My Key Spouse showed up and was available. Her care for me, early on in my new life as a military spouse, inspired me to want to do the same.
Fast track to today, our family is stationed at Joint Base San Antonio—Lackland, home of Basic Military Training, the Gateway to the Air Force. When we arrived at this duty station, I felt nostalgia as a veteran, observing the Military Training Instructors marching and drilling trainees.
I was so consumed with my own transition and care for family that it had not occurred to me, as a now seasoned military spouse, that there was a need to support the spouses of those soon to be new airmen.
Until I met Mrs. Vanessa Edwards. She further exemplified what caring for a military spouse looks like as she fulfilled the role of servant-leader. Our paths crossed at an annual cookie event we both served at. Subsequently, I got an email from her to come and welcome new spouses at a program called “New Spouse Orientation” (NSO). This program has been going on for the past three years and in that time, we have briefed almost 10,000 families.
Today, 50 Thursdays out of the year, I faithfully volunteer at NSO alongside a team of seven passionate military spouses. We know firsthand that knowledge of, and access to Air Force resources is the new spouse’s best friend. I feel good serving again in this new capacity of empowerment. It is an honor to pay forward the appreciation my Key Spouse sowed into my life nine years ago.
Transitions can be rough for military spouses—whether from base to base, or from basic military training to the first duty-station. In fact, I joke often that this military spouse life is tougher than active duty ever was. And that says a lot; considering I deployed to Iraq, slept in a tent city, and ate MREs for 120 days. ‘Military spouse life’ is challenge but it is not insurmountable.
Due to what I have experienced, we make sure that Military Spouse Appreciation is every week at the NSO. I get to celebrate new U.S. Air Force Spouses for who they are—from the stay-at-home spouse to the neurosurgeon. I get to celebrate my fellow new sister and brother spouses joining the support system of the homefront. I get to celebrate the vitality their unique skill-sets offer to the Air Force family. And lastly, I get to celebrate the diversity their gifts bring to the Air Force cornerstone, which is resiliency; for themselves and others.
As for me, I find I have come full circle on my journey.
I have found my tribe, I have my voice, and I feel appreciated every day as a veteran and military spouse.
Do you have a special military spouse who helped guide you? Share their name in the comments along with your favorite memory!
Posted by Reverand Diane Reece, Air Force veteran and military spouse
My friends often say I have a cool gig. I travel across the country and plan outdoor military family programs for the National Military Family Association. The weekend long retreats include camp activities such as boating and archery, as well as communication workshops for the whole family.
I’m often fine-tuning schedules, coordinating with retreat staff and asking myself questions like “Do we have a gluten-free option at breakfast for that one family member who needs it?” There are a lot of moving parts and it is challenging for me to make sincere connections with all the 15 – 20 families that are in attendance.
Recently, I was asked to attend an Operation Purple Healing Adventure in Georgia as a secondary staff member. This retreat is for families of injured, wounded, or ill service members, and was a welcome change for me. My main priority was just to connect with families and take photos without stressing about the schedule or program implementation. I was like the space tourist they send to the International Space Station – just don’t break anything.
What resonated with me the most from the weekend was the morning Yoga session. The Yoga instructor started off the class by saying, “I’m a very competitive person…when I started Yoga it was very difficult for me to understand that Yoga was not a competition against others. In Yoga, we are striving for self-growth day by day.” For someone that has never attended a Yoga class, this statement resonated with me throughout the weekend.
It made me reflect on my Teach For America experience in Baltimore City, Maryland. I was placed as a Special Educator and taught students with various learning disabilities. There were many school days throughout my two-year commitment where I felt discouraged that my students weren’t making the necessary academic progress. Quite frankly, I felt that I was failing them daily because I was a first-year teacher and didn’t have all the experience necessary with meeting the diverse academic needs of all my students.
It wasn’t until the spring of my first year of teaching that I realized I had to stop comparing myself to other model teachers. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus (who remembers her?). My mentality was to strive to be a better teacher than I was yesterday. Of course, I was concerned about my student’s progress in reading and math, but above all, I wanted my students to internalize that they were not defined by their disability. This thought made me think of one family at our retreat.
During the retreat, we had one medically retired father, who survived an IED explosion in Afghanistan, tell a volunteer that he “didn’t want his injury to define who he was to his daughter.” That weekend was an opportunity for him to show that he was more than his injury. He canoed with his daughter, and participated in outdoor activities with other military families that have similar, yet unique, challenges associated with their service-connected injury.
Based on Operation Purple Program application essays that I read, and my conversations with families, that’s what families who want to attend a retreat are looking for: an opportunity to unplug from the daily stressors of life that all “normal” families encounter, and connect with one another in a unique outdoor setting. It’s difficult to be the parent you always want to be when you’re juggling work life with kids’ school schedules and various other commitments.
It’s even more difficult when you factor in additional stressors associated with a service member’s injury (VA appointments, caregiver responsibilities, the loss of income and more). This recent retreat in the woods of Georgia, away from technology, provided families of the injured, wounded, and ill, the opportunity to set an intentional time to focus on one another and to strive to be better caregivers, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers they always wanted to be.
For me personally, seeing families thrive at this retreat is a humble reminder that I can always be improving as a person. There’s small steps I can make to better implement outdoor programs for military families, or even just beat my previous half-marathon time. So, I agree with my friends, I have a cool gig, not only because the growth I witness from many families during a weekend, but the opportunity for me to reflect and grow as well.
Start a business, they said. It’ll be easy, they said.
Every business owner probably rolls their eyes when they think back to the humble beginnings of their company. Whether those companies are side-hustles, or full-time money makers, military spouses know the value behind a thriving business. And the stability that comes with owning your own venture is priceless.
Just ask Andrea Gallagher, a military spouse who founded The Better Business Babe after struggling to get her portrait photography business off the ground.
“I think entrepreneurship was an amazing option for me,” Andrea shared. “I am very driven and creative, and my husband’s demanding military schedule made it the only option for me to earn income while being present for my 3 children, who were very small at the time.”
Many military spouses put their careers and educations on hold while their loved ones serve our country. Frequent moves, multiple deployments, and other unexpected circumstances hinders the ability to finish a schooling program, or find meaning work in a location. Often, spouses who do manage to find employment are underemployed, making significantly less money than they’re actually worth. Others are simply unemployed, despite their best efforts to find jobs in fields they’re qualified to work in.
Andrea is no stranger to the struggle. “I believe we are undervaluing our military by undervaluing the people that support them—the military spouse,” she explained. “Service is something that we, as a family, take pride in, and I hope our country will continue to find ways to strengthen the network of support for our troops and their families.”
Those networks of support are critical for the military spouse business owner. Because they move so frequently, it can be difficult to create meaningful mentorships, friendships, and clientele in one location.
“I wished I could have gotten more strategic support from an expert on what I needed to do, when to do it, and how to avoid the slow (sometimes costly) mistakes you can make as a new business owner,” Andrea told us.
She says connecting with others is just as important as remembering to value one’s self along the way. Andrea said she’s seen other women start their business journey with big goals, only to get burnt out because they overwork and undervalue themselves in so many ways.
With her own experience behind her, Andrea created a space for other women to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs on similar journeys. The Better Business Babe Forum provides a virtual network of encouragement and strategy, giving members the ability to ask each other questions, give advice, and share experiences.
Today, Andrea’s expertise covers Strategic Brand Consulting and Life and Business Coaching. She says her focus is on helping others realize, pursue, and achieve their goals and dreams.
“Military life has been rewarding,” she says, “but having a fulfilling life while supporting your spouse is important, too.”
If you have an education or career goal, but need help paying for it, NMFA is here to help! Since 2004, the Military Spouse Scholarship program has given away more than $4 million in scholarships and funding to deserving military spouses—and you could be one of them this year.
The tears couldn’t stop. I’m the person that rarely in public shows my emotions. But I wasn’t prepared for this evening. As my daughter went on stage, I thought about my husband, who wasn’t there. I bought only one ticket this year for her school district performance. But as she entered the stage beaming with pride from years of hard work, my eyes began to fill with tears.
I thought I’d be fine. As I bought that single ticket, I thought I’d watch this performance like all the others. And like all the parents around me, I’d be proud mom smiling ear to ear. I was proud, of course, but this performance brought emotions I was not prepared for.
As her dance company lifted her into the air, I caught a glimpse of her radiant smile–she’s always wanted to be the “lifted” girl. As I watched, a tear moved down my check. Their performance song shifted and a new song called “In Your Eyes” now played. My heart, my brain, and my emotions were overwhelmed, and the flood gate of tears couldn’t be stopped.
All I could think of was how my youngest had waited years for this moment…and her dad was deployed, missing it. Missing all of it. And even though he’d seen her dance plenty of times, he’s never seen her in the front middle or lifted, and this would be her last time performing with this group of kids. In a few months, she’d close out her chapter of being a middle schooler and enter high school.
This was our first deployment, and I wasn’t prepared for all that comes, or should I say, is missed. We’ve done several TDY’s, we’ve been separated for weeks, even months. He joined after we were married and had our third on the way, and that was a 6 month separation.
But this was different. He can’t just fly home at a whim. With the kids being older, they have so many school commitments, scouts, music, and community service activities; our life isn’t easily uprooted when we say, “Let’s go see Dad today.”
Going into this, I knew there was going to be distance separating us and a lengthy time period, but it still wasn’t real. From the age of 10 months until I graduated high school, my father worked as a Merchant Marine. There was not a single year that he was home. My whole childhood was spent with him at sea for ten months, then at home for three, or at sea for six months, and home for two.
Because of that, I learned to cope by disconnecting. As a wife, I went into this deployment with a wall up to protect myself thinking I would just throw myself into whatever the kids needed, continuing community service projects, and helping at our local church. But when my son came into my room after two weeks of daddy being gone and shared with me how he was sad, my wall began to crumble. Then with each event, big or small, the wall kept taking a hit. My ability to just disconnect, like I did as a child, would not work as a mom. I had to learn that being vulnerable, sad, and lonely were all normal and acceptable feelings. It didn’t make me weak. It was better to work through them than to ignore them.
My husband is going to continue to miss dance performances, band recitals, Junior ROTC events, even big birthdays, like our oldest son turning 16, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate with him. Everyday, the kids make videos through a program they upload for their dad to see when he gets time. They put silly stuff like knock knock jokes, they tell him about their day, or even share a highlight from a book they’ve read. When he has a spare minute, he makes videos for them, too. They get to stay connected, they get to see him, they get to hear him.
The kids and I are proud of him and don’t ever question whether this life is the right choice for us, but it’s still hard and we’re learning as we go. I can’t say what we’ll learn next, but as a family we’re doing it together.
Did you struggle to find your footing during your family’s first deployment? How did you get through it?
Posted by Joanna Bradshaw, military spouse and mother
We can all remember the teachers who made a difference to us when we were in school. A teacher who made us feel special or recognized our unique abilities. A teacher who whispered a few words of encouragement or offered a hug on difficult days. A teacher who made us want to do our very best to make him proud. Their praise was just as rewarding to us as the praise of our parents.
When my children enter a new school in a new home town, I hope they’ll have teachers who will differentiate between initial shyness and a continuing struggle to connect with peers. Because states vary widely in learning standards, my military kids need teachers who are responsive to curriculum differences, who have the time and help them catch up with new curriculum if they’re behind, or keep them engaged if they’re repeating material they’ve already learned.
Many burdens are placed on teachers today. We ask them to be protectors, counselors, and mediators, parental substitutes, and supply cabinets, without paying them what they are worth. I worry that teachers are being asked to solve too many problems. I worry that the needs of my well-behaved military kids will go undetected, lost in a sea of needy faces, additional tasks, and administrative demands.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 now requires federally funded schools to identify and track the academic performance of military-connected students. Identifying military students in a classroom is a positive step, but all the tracking and data in the world can’t match the power of a caring and attentive teacher.
A good teacher can make or break a military student’s year, especially after a move or just before one, or during a deployment. Deployments, TDYs, and ops tempo demands can also affect a military child in the classroom. Teachers can be the calm during these storms by offering compassion, understanding and a listening ear.
After identifying military students, even the best teachers can’t meet the needs of those students without partnership with military parents. The concept of parents and teachers as a student-advocacy team is central to a book I coauthored with Amanda Trimillos, Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers. (Elva Resa Publishing, June 1, 2018.)
Amanda, who is a teacher and parent to military-connected kids, says parents and teachers should both feel free to ask questions, to begin the conversations that build the partnership between parents and teachers.
“The truth is teachers may need to help start the conversations with parents,” Amanda says. She suggests that teachers ask military parents questions like these: How many schools has the student attended? When is the next deployment? Or the most recent one? Is the student struggling to make friends? What struggles or successes did the student have last year?
“These are questions that can create a partnership between parent and teachers. Don’t let the burden of asking for help or reassurance fall only on the parents,” Amanda says. “Military families, because they live a unique lifestyle, are sometimes unwilling to ask for help or appear to be complainers.”
Amanda recommends parents take initiative in conversation with teachers, too. “Yes, it’s true, teachers are asked to be many things. But a teacher wouldn’t be a teacher if they didn’t care. As a teacher, I hope parents willing to share their personal concerns with me, so I can help settle the student in the classroom and provide the best learning environment I can. It’s what teachers do.”
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For a military family, teachers are the windows we desperately need into our students’ academic lives to ensure they can manage the multiple stressors placed on them by military life. Teachers can’t help us unless we partner with them as team, and that means communication.
Here are a few ways to troubleshoot issues at school or head them off before they happen:
• Talk to your child’s teacher. Make an appointment and be considerate of his or her time. Spend a few minutes one on one.
• Share your concerns, your hopes, your fears so a teacher can place your military student on radar. Let the teacher know if a move or deployment is looming, or if you are concerned about your child’s behavior or schoolwork.
• Seek input from other staff members at school. Guidance counselors have amazing tools to help students feel more connected, supported and welcomed. School psychologists are trained to help when tough situations arise and can help the team if parents and teachers are out of their depth.
• Don’t forget about principals and vice principals, they run the ship and help steer serious concerns back into calmer waters.
Whether it’s moving this summer or starting new school in the fall, parents and teachers in partnership can help students to thrive socially and academically. Military families need and value our teachers and schools even if we are only there for a year or two. They help keep the home front afloat during tough times.
There are days I think our military family needs a teacher more than they need us. But the truth is we need each other to ensure our military students thrive.
What are some ways you troubleshoot issues your child may experience when they move to a new school? Share your tips with us in the comments!