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.
“Of course, the teachers and administration want military children to thrive in their schools, but they each have a full plate with their jobs already,” said Army spouse Jennifer Carter. She goes onto explain one thing she would love to see in each school: a dedicated staff member that helps all students transition.
Carter learned how the transition can affect students when
she moved her children several times during their elementary school years. Her
oldest, now in middle school, went to pre-kindergarten in Fairbanks, Alaska and
kindergarten in Anchorage. Then it was off to Northern Virginia for three
years. After that, the family moved to Hawaii, where the children attended two
different schools, before moving back to Virginia. The Carters will move again
this summer, to Fort Campbell, on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Not all transitions
Some of the transitions have been easier than others, but
they have all ended on a positive note, she says. After a tough start in
Hawaii, Carter found a way to help make the transition better for other
students. An attorney by trade, Carter has put her career on the backburner to
care for her children. She’s always been very involved in their education,
volunteering in the classroom, and she continued that when the family moved to
Soon after, she was offered a position as a transition coordinator
at Pearl Harbor Elementary School. After working there for one semester, she
transferred her kids to that school as well. “I took the job to a whole new
level,” she said, proud of her accomplishments and proud of what the schools
have done to help.
“Hawaii really sets the standard for transitioning students,”
she said. “The program at Radford High School is phenomenal; people model their
own programs after that transition program.” While Hawaii schools may be ranked
lower than Virginia in their academic standards, the Aloha State has some fantastic
schools. “Their writing program was great, and they had band starting in fourth
grade. The teacher provided all the students with instruments and they had
on-stage musicals. It was amazing,” Carter recalled.
Making a difference
While working as a transition coordinator, Carter got to be
a voice for military students and all transitioning students. “I met with the
kids, parents, teachers, and administrators to make sure they were comfortable.
I went to meetings and asked about how new policies would affect transitioning
students. I worked with the School Liaison Officers and programs like the Joint
Venture Education Forum.” Carter found this position to be incredibly
When the family moved back to Virginia, their transition was
a little rockier than anticipated. But her children have thrived. They moved
mid-year and love the school system. State testing was not a problem and
additional tutoring was available.
Now her family is looking forward to their next adventure.
Carter admits it’s a lot to balance at times, starting with housing. “We need
to find a house that fits our family of six and is zoned for good schools, at
all levels,” she said. With her oldest starting 8th grade and moving
into high school, she’ll soon have children at all three school levels.
Carter’s advice for others moving this summer – or in the
near future – is to “have patience through the educational and emotional
challenges that will happen when you move. It’s going to happen. Positive
attitude and open-mindedness help, connecting with people also helps to ease
the journey, for you and your kids.”
Carter says she chooses to continually rise up to help fix the problems she encounters. She’s grateful for all of the opportunities her children have had. “By living in all these various locations, we have been able to live out Social Studies, and it’s going to make my children amazing adults. I’m so thankful for it and hope we continue to learn from challenges in a positive way.”
When your military member has been serving for 20 years, you may approach another PCS move like it’s an old hat. And for some things, it is. You know how to house hunt, you know what not to let the movers pack, and you know how to get connected in your new community. But when it comes to moving school-aged children, the situation is never the same as the last time.
For Danielle Smith, this was exactly the case. In 2018, the
Smith family moved with two teenage daughters from Washington State to the
Washington, D.C. area. It was their 10th move as a Navy family, and while she
heard about how much harder it was to move with older children, she still
wasn’t quite ready.
“It was one of the harder transitions we had,” Smith
said. “In early elementary, it really just seems like you pack up and move. I
felt like this move – with a rising junior in high school – was going to be
more challenging.” And she was right. Luckily, Smith was proactive in this
move, and knew about some of the resources available to them.
Using the Compact
One of the resources Smith used during this transition is
the Interstate Compact on Education for Military Children (“the Compact”). The Compact,
established in 2006 in cooperation with federal, state, and local officials
determined to make educational transitions easier on military families, is not
perfect. But it does help.
“I first learned about the Compact when we were moving in
between the middle school and high school years,” Smith said. She wanted her
daughter to continue in gifted classes without retesting. “I didn’t think it
was fair for her to go through their version of testing again,” she said. “It
was a matter of gathering her records and bringing it to the district, an evaluation,
and a few phone calls from the outgoing gifted teacher. It was a little bit of
legwork there to get her accepted into the program. It was the first time we
didn’t just show up with shot records for registration,” she said.
But it didn’t always work. Fast forward a few years later
and the question of “what class can that count for?” came up when transferring
high school credits. Smith lobbied for an earth science class to count, even
had the curriculum from the old school sent over for evaluation. She was denied,
and her daughter was enrolled in two science classes in one year to make up for
Later, another student transferred in to the school, and
that student’s earth science credit was
accepted. “So, I called back to Washington state and spoke with someone very
passionate about fixing this. A few weeks later it was fixed, but my daughter
was three quarters of the way done with taking two sciences in one year,” Smith
While the Smiths are now settled in Virginia (for a little
while), they have some tips on how to make the transition the best possible,
and how to make sure the educational standards are consistent and military
students are taken care of.
“We try to live close to my husband’s work with a focus on neighborhoods that have a good school district,” Smith said. Several things go into a “good school district.” A little homework on sites like SchoolDigger.com and GreatSchools.com can give some insight on test scores and other factors about the school itself.
All in all, the Smiths admit they’ve been fortunate when it
comes to moving around and the quality of schools their daughters have
attended. On this last move though, Smith admits to not using all of the
resources available. “I thought I had control of the situation, I didn’t push
as hard as I could have,” she said.
And she advises parents to not just take the first – or second, or third – answer they’re given, but to keep pushing. “We’ll keep fighting, but why should we have to?” she asks. “We expect so much of military kids, and we handle so much being a military family. Fighting for your kid’s education should not have to be on the list of things we’re responsible for.”
Military spouses are a very diverse group of people and we should consciously choose to be kind and inclusive towards each other. Through positive efforts, we can create a sense of unity across our military family community. This starts by deliberately making all military spouses feel included.
Let’s leave our differences aside and focus on what we share in common—the military spouse experience—to help unite us. Let’s look out for each other and advocate to the fullest on each other’s behalf. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness, which helps add the perfect piece to the larger military spouse quilt. Let’s depend on each other like there is no tomorrow. When we are together, we are stronger.
What military spouses have in common is that they love someone in uniform, but otherwise, we come from a wide range of backgrounds, birth-places (including foreign-born), and political opinions. Our nation’s 640,000+ military spouses include men, as well as women. Some military spouses are focused on raising families, others on pursuing education or careers. Some are trying to do all three. Some prefer to stay in their bubble, others are social butterflies. Some like to get out there and advocate for military spouses as a group, others like to mentor one another in private.
Despite this broad diversity, a lot of people attempt to throw military spouses into one box (or perhaps into the junk drawer we all have somewhere in our homes) and just call us “dependents.” This word has been the object of many heated discussions and many military spouses do not like to be called that.
It’s about time we put a positive spin to that word. Yes, we are dependents. Not because of the boxes they want to put us into, but because we, military spouses, depend on each other. We depend on each other to keep our sanity during deployments; we depend on each other to deal with the hardships of the military life; we depend each other to advocate on our behalf for what is just. We simply depend on each other on everything relating to the military aspect of our lives. This is because nobody else can understand the demands that this crazy life places on families, except for another fellow military spouse who went through a similar experience.
You can depend on your fellow military spouse to keep your sanity during deployments when everything could go wrong does go wrong. Maybe this sounds familiar: your spouse is deployed for the entire year. You desperately watch the news to see if they mention his or her location. You are trying your hardest to keep it all together and your kids start acting out and ask you questions that you are nowhere near prepared to answer…“Mommy, we have no guarantee that Daddy will come home safely, right?” Your supervisor has no heart and no clue what you are going through during a deployment and only makes life harder on you; your co-worker knocks on your office door just to tell you that yet another American was killed in the country that your spouse is in. Your house falls apart and your car stops working; your distant relatives are concerned about your spouse and keep asking you if he is going to be okay; your civilian friend tells you she understands what you are going through because her husband is out on a business trip for the weekend. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
In this mess of the deployment, only a military spouse would understand what you are going through. You can depend on a military spouse to lend a shoulder to cry on.
But we can only truly depend on each other when we feel included among other military spouses and feel like we are part of the bigger team. Let’s join forces and be the best military spouses we can be. Let’s treat each and every military spouse as one of our own and not make even a single military spouse feel like an outsider. Let’s not let anything divide us. Our husbands’ ranks do not matter. Whether we work outside the home, are studying for a degree, or take care of our families at home, we all share a common position as military spouses. Our different heritages, our different religions, our places of birth (and many of us are foreign-born) are best mentioned when we are celebrating each other and our diversity.
I am a proud military spouse of almost two decades, and a mom to my two military kids who have lived through too many years away from their father. I am also a foreign-born naturalized citizen and a fierce patriot. Most of my experiences with other military spouses have been extraordinarily supportive, especially when I most needed the help. But a few times I did I feel like I was on the outside of our military spouse community, an experience that can be quickly remedied if everyone remembered what we hold in common—we are the patriot military spouses married to a service member who proudly serves this wonderful country.
So this year, let’s go out of our way to make each other feel welcome. When we are together, we are stronger. Leave no military spouse behind!
Have you ever felt like an outsider when you are with your fellow military spouses? How do you think that we can be more inclusive of each other and make all military spouses feeI welcome?
Posted by Ozlem Barnard, military spouse, attorney, and NMFA Volunteer
“When our oldest started second grade and the teacher said
he needed extra work on counting money, we were shocked,” Air Force wife and
mother Courtney Power said. “It turned out he didn’t need extra work, he just
needed the basic instruction.”
The Power Family moved from New Mexico to Virginia between their oldest son’s first and second-grade years. Most people wouldn’t even think about how a move from one state to another could put a second grader behind the curve so drastically. They might think high schoolers are the ones who struggle with moves and credits transferring, not kids in early elementary school. But this is not the case.
The struggle for consistency in education is a real problem for military children, of all ages. Power said her family really felt a difference in the educational transition from New Mexico to Virginia. The public school her son attended was located on the military installation, had a very involved parent and teacher community, and was very highly rated in Albuquerque. “But you can’t overcome poor funding and poor standards,” Power said. “Counting money wasn’t introduced in kindergarten or first grade, which put him behind when starting second grade in Northern Virginia.
The Difference Can be
Just as Northern Virginia, and Virginia as a whole, is known
for their robust education system, New Mexico is known for the opposite. The
states are ranked 14th and 49th, respectively, showing some drastic differences
in graduation rates and adults with college degrees, and one similarity in the
area of public-school spending. Both states spend about $10,500 per student,
falling 15th and 17th lowest in the country.
But more important than spending, graduation rates, and test
scores are the way students move in and out of the schools. Military students
especially struggle in the transition, a transition they are forced into. A
transition that may happen many, many times over their elementary school years.
The Power Family currently has two children in school, one in fourth grade and one in second grade. Next year they’ll have a kindergartener in the mix. Right now, the children all attend the same public school. But that may not always be the case. One kid has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and one is gifted. And, like any siblings, they learn differently and have different needs.
All of which has led Power to keep an open mind on their education. “We’re willing to consider all educational options, including homeschooling, private school, charter schools, online schools, all of them,” she said. And the decision is made based on the specific child. “I would homeschool one and not the others if that’s the best choice,” Power added.
Playing a Role as a
“Sometimes it’s easy, and even desirable, to put your kid on
the bus in the morning and say ‘have fun’ but I’m the only one who is going to
consistently understand their educational experience,” Power said. As their
primary educational advocate, she has a few tips for other parents.
Record keeping is very important. Power keeps all of the
reports that are sent home. She explains, “While we get a final report card,
the note and comments from the teachers on progress reports and quarterly
report cards don’t transfer to that final report card.” Other teachers can see
those notes later on and get an idea of past performance.
In IEP and Gifted meetings, Power makes sure everything is
documented, even if all the services aren’t being utilized. “Even if they
aren’t needed at the time, it’s documented as considered in case it is needed
in the future,” she explained.
The Power kids have great role models of lifelong learning
in their parents. Both of them have master’s degrees and a passion for
learning. They read books for interest and pleasure, they aim to improve upon
their hobbies, and by doing so give their children a tangible demonstration
that learning doesn’t stop just because they’re no longer in a classroom. “I
like to joke that I’m a closet homeschooler,” Power said. “We do a lot of stuff
at home, like the ‘highly suggested’ summer reading list from school and a mom
writing requirement and fun science activities throughout the summer.”
What the Future May
With somewhat younger children, the idea of high school and stability seems quite a way down the road. But Power’s husband may very well still be on active duty when their oldest reaches high school. As a military brat, he doesn’t feel as sympathetic towards the need for stability in high school and Power agrees. “It’s hard to know what we’ll want to do at that point because it’s based on the child and their academic needs, their reaction to transition, and what we may be looking for in a best-case educational scenario. And what’s best for one isn’t always the best for another.”
This Air Force family is likely facing another move, probably next year. At that point, middle school and elementary school are in the picture, and consistency becomes even more important. Really, Courtney Power has one goal for her children’s education, “consistent growth and progress towards successful independent adulthood.”
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an Operation Purple Healing Adventures retreat in Trinty, Texas. YMCA Camp Cullen is a magnificent 530-acre camp located along Lake Livingston. This was the first Healing Adventures that I have attended, and I am beyond grateful for the experience.
NMFA hosted 19 families of the wounded, ill, or injured with activities that included: archery, zip-lining, riflery, arts and crafts, an Alpine climbing Tower, and a bounce pillow for kids. I was amazed meeting these resilient families who all experience different injuries but bonded together through their service to country and desire to make the most of the weekend experience.
One particular family inspired me because of their obvious care and compassion for each other. Robert, who was Army Special Forces, arrived Friday evening with his wife Garnett, daughter Chelsea, and son Reginal, and quickly I learned Robert was a wounded veteran dealing with multiple severe injuries. Garnett encompassed everything a caregiver would be and more; she told more how she fights for Robert and works to “keep going” for the children. While Robert was determined to participate in every activity, Garnett would be right there next to him worried the toll the physical exertion would have later. Garnett explained Robert is often up most nights in pain, but that he never talks about the amount of pain he is truly in.
One of my favorite moments was at the archery range. Garnett expressed her concern for Robert and his injuries, but he didn’t care. Robert wanted to stand next to his son and shoot arrows at targets, despite how sore he might feel later! While standing at the archery site, Robert and another wounded veterans bonded over their injuries, sharing where in their bodies they had metal replacing bone or muscle.
Throughout the weekend, Garnett would pull me aside to thank me for the experience, she explained the family doesn’t take many trips due to Robert’s injuries. Garnett pointed out that Robert could never go to an amusement park with the loud noises, walking, and roller coasters.
When the Healing Adventures retreat was over, Garnett shared with us, “Thank you for the amazing experience. Our family enjoyed our time together and we were able to make new friendships. The fellowship with other veterans, caregivers, and families was something we are not able to do, and we didn’t realize how much it would help. I saw growth in myself, my husband and our children in one weekend. I cannot express all the gratitude I have-Thank you!”
NMFA is especially grateful to the USAA Foundation, whose generous donation made this retreat a possibility.
Located an hour east of Atlanta, GA, Camp Twin Lakes offers a respite away from the everyday cares of life. Just a few weeks ago, the National Military Family Association hosted twenty military families at an Operation Purple Family Retreat amid its stunning nature trails and lakefront properties. Camp Twin Lakes is a 100-acre facility in the middle of Fort Yargo State Park and allows families to unplug and connect in a powerful way. Our Family Retreats utilize outdoor surroundings and activities, such as boating, zip-lining, fishing, and archery to provide families the opportunity to reconnect after a deployment or separation.
One mom, who recently returned from a deployment, said this was the first time she and her family were able to get away and have quality time together.
“This last deployment exceeded 18 months away from home, due to an extension, and we need to spend time together as a family away from work needs, school needs or Boy Scout needs. Despite being home since October, we’ve not had a chance to actually spend any time together on a vacation. We need it.”
This family came and tried new things and were able to challenge some fears while having a really great time.
Many parents remarked they were amazed to see their children come out of their shells, whether it was by socializing or by overcoming their fears (heights, animals, separation, etc.) Several teens even commented that they didn’t even miss their phones!
When asked what they learned about themselves over the weekend at the Operation Purple Family Retreat, one teenage girl said, “I learned that if I get out of my comfort zone, I can accomplish more and still have fun.”
Thanks in large part to Camp Twin Lakes and their amazing staff and volunteers, these families had personal helpers throughout the weekend to provide child care when needed so that couples could spend quality time together and build stronger foundations. One service member mentioned in his application for the retreat, “My wife gave birth to our twin sons within a month of me returning from my deployment, she and I have been very stressed and would like a chance to relax together and have some fun.”
This young couple with one-year-old twins had volunteers watching the twins while they went for a walk and rode horses. Mom told us, “This is the first time I’ve been away from the kids since they were born. My husband is gone a lot and I’m just enjoying this time being with him.” She and her husband were extremely grateful for this experience and left the camp different parents than when they arrived.
One dad commented, “All staff members and volunteers were
amazing. Their attitude and willingness to be here to make this weekend
possible for us will never be forgotten! Thanks guys/gals for this incredible
weekend. Life memories were made.”
That weekend was not just a memorable experience for the families, but for staff and volunteers as well. One volunteer wrote, “It is an honor to work with these families and one of the greatest joys of my life. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help these families accomplish their goals and have a meaningful experience.”
Another helper said, “I am amazed at the change I saw in the
families over such a short period of time…as a veteran [myself], I am grateful
that a program like this exists because I know where they are coming from and I
am amazed at what they grew into.”
As a staff member who was also privileged to work with these families, I can say on behalf of all NMFA that we are honored to be a part of a program that serves deserving families who have given so much to our Nation. Special thanks to The Kendeda Fund for their generous support of Operation Purple Family Retreats.
More About Operation Purple Family Retreats NMFA brings families to beautiful outdoor locations to spend quality time reconnecting after a deployment, separation, or during a time of transition. It’s the perfect environment to bond and reconnect as a family. We welcome families from all service branches, including National Guard and Reserve, and the Commissioned Corps of NOAA and USPHS. For more information and to learn about other locations, visit www.MilitaryFamily.org.
Our daughter is a proud military brat. She happily learned the Air Force song as a tiny tot, wears red on Fridays, and has been present for three of Daddy’s promotions – one while in utero – and twice she has proudly pinned on his new rank.
She is 10 years old and currently in the fifth grade. In those six years between kindergarten and now, she has been in FIVE schools. The longest she’s been enrolled in one school is 1.5 grade levels. I am continually amazed by her resiliency and ability to make new friends. It isn’t easy, and I know it won’t get easier as she gets older, but she manages to do it with such grace and excitement.
But in those 5 schools, we’ve learned a few things that help
make the transition from school to school a bit easier.
1.Make the student a part of the process.
This time around, we were concentrating our home search in two areas near the base; one had middle school for grades 6-8 and one had grades 7-8. We talked about why she might prefer one over the other. Taking her opinion into consideration helps her feel heard, and gave us a perspective we may not have thought of before.
2.Meet and greets can add friendly faces.
Starting at a new school can be
scary! Taking a tour of the school ahead of time will help alleviate some
wonder and maybe some fears. Meeting some of the staff, maybe even a new
teacher can help by having a friendly face waiting. Some schools have military
groups or Facebook pages that can help connect you; there may even be a buddy
program. The Military Child Education
Coalition also has student to student groups in many areas that
match kiddos up.
3. Make copies of everything.
Even though records can easily be transferred by filling out a few forms, it can be easy for things to get lost in the shuffle, or end up in the wrong place. Our last school had so many military students, they had record transfers down to a science. Our new school was on a different schedule, and that meant different office hours, summer vacation, and confusion. But I had paper copies of everything, and that aided in the process. Also, be familiar with the Interstate Compact, and the resources available. Reach out to the installation School Liaison Officer, who can assist during the process.
4. Moving doesn’t mean saying goodbye.
We’re firm believers of the “see ya later” mantra. While it is very exciting (and sometimes scary!) to start a new chapter and make new friends, that doesn’t mean you need to say goodbye to the old ones! As a military spouse, I have friends all over the world, and Facebook or email helps me keep in touch. It’s a bit different for the kiddos! We encourage her to send cards and notes to friends from afar, and we set up a monitored email address that she can use to send notes. This has become a major point of pride for her, as she has friends across the globe and looks forwards to their letters and emails.
5. Have things to look forward to.
While not necessarily school
related, having a list of things to look forward to can ease the transition.
When we find out we are moving to a new duty station, our first plan of action
is to start our family bucket list. We use the internet and guide books to plan
what we want to do in the area. This can even include school activities – does the new school have
a team or club that your child might want to join, or maybe a neat annual event?
This has an added bonus of providing a ready list of activities to do for the
weekend when we are otherwise looking for something to do.
Military life is full of change and uncertainty, and our goal has always been to help prepare our daughter and make her feel supported. Transitions can be tough, but with a little preparation, it’s possible to make it a positive experience and happy memories.
What tips have helped your military kid transition to a new school? Share your suggestions in a comment!
As a kid, I was somewhat unaware of the emotional impact that comes with an active duty loved one being deployed overseas and the effect it can have on a family as a whole. That changed when my stepdad was deployed to Iraq and I witnessed the shift in our family’s dynamic. The constant worry and uncertainty took its toll on my mother, who decided to become heavily involved with our local Family Readiness Group. Through that group, she discovered an opportunity for me in 2008 for Operation Purple Camp.
I was always a shy kid with a backstage type personality, so the idea of traveling to Florida to spend weeks of the summer with people I’d never met was a little nerve wracking. However, after forming a circle outside on day one and meeting Mr. Mucci (the camp director) along with some of the people I’d be camping with, hearing the activities we’d take part in, and more importantly the purpose of the camp, I was all in.
The initial camp was intended for older teens to take part in team building exercises and leadership development in order to potentially be involved as mentors for the younger kids that were set to arrive in the following week for Operation Purple Camp. In that first week of mentor camp, we tested out some fun activities that would be used during camp and I was amazed at how engaged and involved I was, being that I usually feel more comfortable in the background. However, being able to build connections with kids my age who had gone, or were currently going through the same family situations helped validate my feelings about military life and how to cope with those feelings.
After the counselor camp, I was asked to come back as a mentor for Operation Purple Camp and was thrilled for the opportunity. Having already experienced a sample of what was being offered by this program, I was eager to guide and support younger kids going through similar situations, and what an experience it was.
We traveled to several Florida State Parks by bus, and even had the chance to kayak to a river camp! The team building exercises (scavenger hunts, human pyramids, hiking navigations, building fires, and setting up campsites) brought us all closer together and gave each of us an insight as to what we were capable of, personally. Towards the end of camp, I felt like I had finally broken out of a shell that was keeping me from being the best version of myself. On the last day of camp we were given notebooks to be used as a yearbook where fellow campers could write their information down and little mementos about their experiences during the camp. Saying goodbye to such an awesome experience was bittersweet, as I couldn’t wait to tell my family what I’d been up to.
Fast forward almost 11 years to my adult life. I currently work as a logistics specialist for a tech start up in Birmingham, Alabama. One day while cleaning and organizing my apartment, I came across a notebook that looked familiar. As I opened it up to see whether or not it was worth keeping, I started flipping through decade old pages of notes from fellow Operation Purple campers. I starting tearing up as memories flooded back to me. I read what others had written about the change they saw in me over the course of the camp in terms of leadership and initiative, and I started to recall how empowered and connected I felt during my time there.
Since camp, I’ve been through some difficult personal and family situations, and I honestly believe the leadership and interpersonal skills I developed at Operation Purple Camp helped me mature into the person I am today. I will forever cherish those memories and I am overjoyed to see the growth this program has accomplished since my time there. Finding those notebooks reminded me of the importance in maintaining these opportunities for the youth of America’s military families, as these camps provide a wholesome experience that promote positive impacts not only for the kids involved, but the families they belong to, as well.
If your military kid needs a fun (and free!) summer activity, Operation Purple Camps are now accepting applications for military kids to attend the 2019 camps around the country!
Operation Purple Camps are fully funded by donations from supporters who care about our nation’s military kids. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to help give other military children the life-changing chance to spend a summer at Operation Purple Camp. The memories really do last a lifetime.
Posted by Seth Mikell, former Operation Purple Camp counselor and military kid
It was 2014, and I was sitting in on a high school scholarship award ceremony in Fort Riley, Kansas. I was enjoying the keynote speaker’s congratulatory address to the recipients, when she pulled out a picture of an arrow that, instead of taking a straight forty-five degree trajectory upward, segued left, curled upward, and veered right, then straightened, then over and around again.
She meant to encourage the students to keep at their chosen goals, to be open to change, and remind them of their need for flexibility. The arrow suggested that success wasn’t a straight line.
I sat up, the caricature a gut check.
That arrow was me. That arrow was many of the military spouses I knew.
I lived and am still living this truth. The trajectory of my own career up to that point was like a dot-to-dot picture, though all the while I chipped at my dream of becoming an author. By then, I was sixteen years into both my marriage and my husband’s military career. While he was marching up his generally straight arrow, I was navigating through a creative career that was barely marked and riddled with challenges such as PCS’s, deployments, temporary jobs, and single-parenting, where my guides were my instinct, hope, and my peers who inspired and mentored me along the way.
At this ceremony, I wondered how many more lefts, rights, and u-turns it would take to achieve my dream of publishing a book; if my daily 5am wake-ups were worth it, if saying no to other opportunities in lieu of writing was wise. Why was I putting time toward a dream that was seemingly unattainable and impractical?
Then, I flashed back to a conversation with a newfound mentor when I had asked her about the value of me going back to grad school, when she vehemently answered, “Of course you should. This is for you.” She had reminded me that the opportunity to better oneself mustn’t be dismissed. So, at that moment, I reaffirmed that being a published author was not only a dream for me. It was also my voice, my legacy.
Just as your artful dream is yours, friend, and you should pursue it.
I’m glad I listened, because the answer came three years later, three months after my husband achieved his twenty-year service milestone. My first book was published. My dream was just at its glorious beginning, sending the poignant evergreen message: It’s never too late.
It’s never too late to chase your creative passions, to make a career out of your creative life.
But I would add something to that message: It’s never too late unless you let go.
And to keep hanging on I believe you must claim, work, research, imagine, and relish your dream.
Claim the dream: For many years, I kept my writing to myself. I was an Army nurse, then a mother, then a civilian nurse, and so on and so forth. While I blogged and journaled, I denied this passion—I didn’t say I was a writer. Military life entailed putting others before myself; the needs of the community (whether it’s family or the unit) was paramount. Attempting to be a writer amidst the operational tempo and the real world conflict we lived in seemed a foolish endeavor. But I learned that power and fortitude follows intention and words, and by speaking your dream, by writing it, by putting it on paper gives it life. By taking it out of your head, you will give it the time it deserves. By declaring it to your network of loved ones, they will know exactly how to support you as you undertake the journey to achieve it.
Research the dream: Every industry has its niche information source, its own nationally or locally recognized organizations. Read everything about your industry and immerse yourself in communities of its professionals. This will enable for you to manage your expectations about timelines and industry standards, what can be expected in regards to salary and expenditures. Proper research can save you time and money in the future. Accessing these spaces could lead you to a mentor or a peer group who are in your stage in your creative career. And this you can do easily despite where you live. The internet provides a plethora of information, and social media connects like-minded creative people together.
Work for the dream: I say work for and not at because you must put in the time. There is no substitute for time, to learn through the minutes and hours spent on a task to be a subject matter expert, to hit roadblocks and learn to traverse them. For a writer it means writing and editing many words; a painter, to put brush to canvas. For me, it meant waking before the rest of the family to hit my word count, blocking my calendar to get writing time, and setting appropriate and distinct deadlines. It meant sometimes saying no to events, to some volunteerism. It meant prioritizing what important things in your community to commit to, but creating boundaries to make art.
Let your imagination fly: Set goals! Allow yourself to have a few wild lifetime goals. Let yourself dream of what you could be. Think big. Then, backtrack and dig deep into the realistic and log in goals: 3 months, 6 months, a year, five years, 10 years. For those like me who also like to make goals in relation to military time, create this statement: “While here, at this duty location, I will accomplish __ .” Finally, continue to reevaluate these goals regularly, and allow yourself the flexibility to change them in accordance with the eventual fires the spring up.
Relish in the journey: That’s right—because goals change, dreams flip over on its head and reveal more than what you had envisioned. So relish. Soak in the journey. Every piece of art has value, and all writing is good writing. The creative life yields unmeasurable gifts for your community and will reward you with satisfaction that even if the arrow twists and turns, you are still, inevitably, on your way.
So, in the words, of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
About the Author: A veteran Army Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Administration, Tif Marcelo is a craft enthusiast, food-lover and the occasional half-marathon runner. As a military spouse, she has moved nine times, and this adventure shows in some of her free-spirited characters. Tif currently lives in the DC area with her own real life military hero and four children. Her new novel THE KEY TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER will be released on May 14, 2019.
Melvin and Danielle Smith glanced up at the James Monroe Building
just before they walked through the doors. The pair headed up to the 22nd
floor of Richmond, Virginia’s tallest building with one thing in mind: their
two daughters’ education.
High above the Richmond skyline, the Smiths, their two daughters, and a handful of other military families with school-aged children, gathered to meet with military and veteran representatives, education officials, and Virginia’s Secretary of Education.
“When we moved to the Northern Virginia area from Washington State, we weren’t sure how the girls would adjust,” Melvin explained to officials. “Luckily, they’ve done well. But what’s concerning is how much we’ve had to step in and speak up for our kids in their new school.”
The Smiths’ youngest daughter, Camryn, a 12-year-old in 7th
grade, loved playing soccer at her school in Washington. But her new middle
school in Virginia didn’t have one, so she was left taking a drama class
instead. Camryn said the new class wasn’t something she’d pick if given the
“I’ve never taken an acting class, but I didn’t get a
choice, so I’m going to have to do it!” she said with a smile.
Her older sister faced a bigger challenge. Madisyn, a junior in high school, jumped through hoops at her new school—which didn’t offer many of the same courses she was taking at her old school. She was left having to retake classes, or worse, be placed in classes below her peers simply because Virginia didn’t accept her credits from Washington.
Before they moved to Virginia, the Smiths said they started
looking at schools before they even knew where they’d live. And they involved
their kids because they felt it was important that they have a say in where
they spend their high school years.
Camryn hoped for a soccer team. Madisyn was concerned with
credit transferring and test scores. Neither got exactly what they wanted; and
neither did dad, Melvin, who now commutes over an hour and a half to work at
“If a long commute to work means my girls thrive in school,
I’m willing to sacrifice,” he said.
All three have done their best to flourish in their new
school (and Dad on his new commute). Mom, Danielle, says she is proud of both
of her girls’ resiliency.
The Smith’s struggle
In fact, while families across the country are thinking
about where they’ll head for spring break, military families, like the Smiths,
are thinking about where they’ll have to move next and how they’ll tackle these
same problems at a brand-new school.
“What would be great was if there was an even judging criteria across all states, so when a student moved from Washington to Virginia, what is accepted in one state is accepted in another,” Melvin explained. “It’s just not that way.”
The National Military Family Association is teaming up with military families in Virginia, Texas, and Florida to raise awareness of the varying education standards among states. Families will meet with policymakers, education officials, and other leaders to share their child’s education struggles, how they’ve been their best advocate, and why military kids—and all kids—deserve high, consistent standards everywhere they move to.
No child’s education should suffer because of a parent’s call to serve. Military life is hard enough. School shouldn’t have to be.
Learn more about the Smith’s education journey and hear from more families speaking up for their children.
Has your student
experienced issues moving to a new school after a military move? Share your
story with us in a comment!