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6 Reasons We Should All Be Volunteering

 Posted by on May 2, 2016 at 21:53
May 022016


It hit me when I was pinning gold leaves on my husband’s collar one unusually hot February afternoon: I’m not the “new spouse” anymore. But, I didn’t feel ready to be a spouse with answers; I still had a whole mess of unanswered questions. I still use names like, the Jack Nicolson and the wedding one to describe my husband’s uniforms. I know they have real names. I know I should probably know what they are after nearly eight years, but I can only fit so many penguins on my iceberg — I have to leave room for school pick-up and drop-off times, my own phone number and, of course, my sponsor’s social.

We are all learning as we go. We all went through that “stupid question” phase. If we’re being honest, we’re all still going through that phase because the minute we have something figured out, someone changes it.

My purpose in showing my military spouse age is not to invite comments about how I don’t look a day older than my first deployment brief or how I am wise beyond my military spouse years. Although, if you feel compelled, who am I to stop you? Really, my point is to spike participation in…well…everything.

Lack of volunteerism among military spouses is an ongoing issue — go figure, it’s the one thing that never changes from installation to installation. Don’t misunderstand — there are always, always a handful of ladies and gentlemen who do the work of many with just a few of their own hours to work with. I know, for myself at least, I’ve always put off getting involved until my kids were older and I had a better handle on this whole military spouse thing. Realizing I’m no longer new at this made that new-spouse expiration date hard to ignore.

We are all busy; we are all perpetually the new kid after each move. We all have our kids, fur babies, jobs or school that vie for our time, and we couldn’t possibly add anything else into the mix. But there’s a cyclical stigma with volunteering: People avoid it because they don’t want it to take over their agendas, but because most people are hesitant to get involved, five people do the work of 500. The cycle continues with that, “If I don’t make eye contact, you won’t call on me,” mindset — because we don’t want to have another thing to do at the end of an exhausting day. But volunteering doesn’t have to swallow up our time, and it shouldn’t. If everyone in the military community found something to do once a month there wouldn’t be so much work to pile on the regular volunteers.

Volunteering somehow, somewhere in the military community is worth our time because we can:

  1. Support military-community programs that support us and incoming military families
  2. Learn on the job
  3. Make new friends
  4. Network with other spouses
  5. Add some community involvement skills to our resumes
  6. Be a part of decisions that shape the military community

You don’t have to do it all, but we all just have to do something. So, the next time you get an invitation in your inbox or your service member comes home with spotty details about something you could do (you know, if you want), get the details before you number off the reasons you can’t do it (believe me, no one is guiltier of this than I am). Chances are all we’ll have to do is give two or three hours of our day — that’s pretty harmless. And carving out a little time now will ensure that popular programs and services are around for the next round of incoming military spouses and service members.

Guest Blog | Four Benefits of Volunteering

 Posted by on November 12, 2014 at 08:15
Nov 122014

Blogger Biography: Cecelia Curtis is a marketing and communications professional with experience in the corporate, nonprofit and government sectors. She is also a proud military spouse. Cecelia’s husband of 11 years, Bryan, serves in the U.S. Air Force. Cecelia and Bryan currently live in South Florida, just outside of Miami.



I’m in a new city…again. My husband and I have been married for 11 years, and we’re on our fourth duty station. I can honestly say, though, that I’ve enjoyed every single place that we’ve called home. When people ask me what the best part about military life is, I say moving. Thanks to my husband’s Air Force career, I’ve gotten to see many parts of the world, and I’ve met some truly wonderful people. When people ask me what the most challenging part of military life is, I also say moving. Each move means that I have to say goodbye to my job, my friends and my home. It’s never easy, but I’ve learned that serving others during periods of transition helps me in four key ways:

1. It takes the focus off me. Making one big life change, such as moving to a new house, can be tricky. Making multiple life changes at once, like moving to a new city, changing jobs and leaving your family and friends, can be downright stressful. With so much going on, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even get a bit down. Serving others can help, though. I’ve found that when I focus on other people’s needs, I stop thinking so much about myself and any stress or frustration I’m experiencing. Plus, it just feels really good to get out and contribute to my new community in a positive way.

2. It introduces me to new people. Being new in town can be a lonely experience, but it doesn’t have to be. When I touch down in a new city, I always think, “The sooner I meet people, the sooner I’ll make friends, and the sooner this place will feel like home!” Volunteering can be a great, safe way to meet people who share similar interests. Whether you’re building a house for a family in need, ushering at a local playhouse or stuffing envelopes at your kid’s school, you will probably have time to talk with others. These conversations can lay the groundwork for great new friendships.

3. It teaches me new skills. It doesn’t matter where I volunteer or what I say I want to do — I am always asked to do something that I didn’t quite sign up for. And I almost always say yes. I love learning new things, and I never know when a new skill will come in handy. I’ve learned so much on volunteer sites…how to hang drywall, new recipes, social media management and even TV and radio broadcasting! These skills have helped me both personally and professionally, and I learned all of this for free while helping others! I just had to be willing to give a little bit of my time.

4. It boosts my job search. It can be tough to find a job, particularly if you are new in town and don’t know anyone. Again, volunteering can help. As you’re focusing on helping others, meeting new people and learning new skills, you’re also networking. Filling out job applications is one thing, but there’s nothing more powerful than a strong network of people who know your skills and have seen you in action. In fact, I was recently offered a job by one of my fellow church volunteers. Of course, I wasn’t serving at church expecting a job in return, but what a pleasant surprise!


In short, moving is a part of military life, and each move has its unique set of rewards and challenges. Serving others as a volunteer can help make life in your new city more rewarding and a bit less challenging as you focus on others, grow your social circle, learn valuable new skills and look for a job. Still, I’ve found that what I love most about volunteering is that it just feels good. It feels great to put my skills and talents to good use helping others no matter where I happen to call home.


It’s Better to Give Than to Receive

 Posted by on December 24, 2012 at 07:00
Dec 242012
Staff Blogger Melissa


I remember when I was around seven years old opening presents as the sun was rising, watching my mom with curiosity.  She had the biggest smile on her face, but she wasn’t opening anything. In my young mind I couldn’t understand how she could sit there so patiently while my sister and I took turns ripping open our goodies from Santa. I kept giving a gift to my mother and wanting her to open it.  She would politely decline and kept encouraging us to open presents as she snapped pictures. I remember asking her why she didn’t want to open her presents right away. What she said has stuck with me for over 20 years: “It is more fun watching you girls.”

I thought, “WHAT?!?! Are you crazy?” How could it POSSIBLY be more fun watching other people open presents? My mom said I would understand when I was older. I didn’t believe her at the time, but boy was she right!

When my niece was three years old, she finally understood the concept of the holidays to a degree that made everything fun. That year I seriously got the biggest kick out of watching her open presents. I LOVED watching her squeal with excitement over each package she opened. It didn’t matter if the package contained a doll, clothes or socks; she was just tickled to death and that joy in her smile would just melt your heart. That was when it clicked: “It truly is better to give than receive.”

When it comes to the holidays, I never want anything anymore. I think this is just a rite of passage that comes with getting older. However, I love making a list and coming up with ideas of what to get family and special friends. I enjoy the “hunt” of finding the perfect gift at the perfect price, then coming home and wrapping it with fancy paper and a coordinating bow with LOTS of curled ribbon. Depending on who you are I might tape the box excessively and knot the ribbon to add to the excitement of watching you open it (or maybe even do the whole wrapping of a smaller present inside a bunch of bigger wrapped boxes just for my own personal amusement)!

Also, I get childlike delight at telling “little white lies” at holiday time to throw people “off my scent” when it comes to tracking down a gift they TRULY want. Since we are currently living in Okinawa, it is so easy to trick my husband into thinking that everything he wants can’t be shipped here. Little does he know that I have little Santa elves helping me get his dream gift sent here.

Our family also enjoys giving to others not only during the holiday season but throughout the year through different service opportunities. When I was growing up, my parents always made sure that we volunteered in some capacity to reinforce the lesson that life isn’t all about us. It is a healthy habit that my husband and I have carried on in our life together. Whether we are helping serve meals, donating our time or giving to a needy child from the angel tree, we still get the same warm fuzzy feeling from giving. And that feeling my friends, is not something that can be bought in any store.

Alternative Holiday Plans

 Posted by on December 17, 2012 at 07:00
Dec 172012
Staff Blogger Melissa


As a military family it is inevitable that a time will come when your service member isn’t home for a major holiday. When my husband was deployed for the holidays it was simple for me to just go home so I could celebrate with family. But what about when your spouse is on shift during a holiday? It isn’t fair to jump ship and head for your parent’s home if your spouse is stuck at work and will be home at some point during the day… even if it is just to sleep. At this point in my husband’s military career, I feel that I have celebrating the holidays without him down to pro status! I have learned that it is best to do something untraditional during the holidays so that I am not stuck at home sulking in misery.

I have mentioned before that my husband is a shift worker, so without fail he will work at least one major holiday during the year. This year we hit the jackpot and he works ALL the holidays because of the way they fell on the calendar. I will admit I was pretty bummed when I figured this fact out in August, but I made a conscious decision to not let it stop us from having special holiday memories… even if it meant opening presents at 11:00 at night on the day we exchange gifts.

While I may have planned our family celebrations around my husband’s schedule, that has left me with lots of time during the day that is typically set aside for traditional family celebrations.  To fill this huge void in time, I could sit in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream sulking because I am alone, or I could go out and spread the holiday cheer! As tempting as that pint and reruns of holiday movies are, I have decided to make better use of my time and volunteer!

Since we are in Okinawa, there are plenty of other service members that are celebrating the holidays away from their families. There are also military families that will be without their service member due to a deployment and unable to make it back to the states to be around family. So if you are in the same boat as me this holiday season, don’t worry…there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer!

The USO can always use volunteers when it comes to serving holiday meals, and your spouse’s unit may even have something planned like “Secret Santa” for single service members. If you are in the states, numerous organizations could use your help for a variety of projects. If your spouse is not deployed but working on a holiday, and if their job allows it, gather all the family members and organize a holiday meal to take to his or her work for all to enjoy while they are working. The smiles on their faces will warm your heart!

You don’t have to be stationed overseas to share part of your holiday with a family or organization that could use your help, and volunteering doesn’t have to be limited to the holidays. Volunteers are usually needed all year long. If you know of a family going through a deployment, invite them along on your volunteering adventure. It will help keep their mind off of missing their loved one. So if it is in your heart, and you have time, take the time to add an alternative tradition to your holiday. You won’t regret it.

Navigating the Job Market: The Milspouse Edition

 Posted by on November 15, 2012 at 08:00
Nov 152012

Navigating the Job Market: The Milspouse Edition



Ever since I was young, I had big aspirations for my career.  At age five, I knew I was going to be an artist. By age eleven, I wanted to be a journalist and magazine editor. At fourteen, I was convinced I was meant to be an emergency room physician. From sixteen forward, I had it right— I wanted to be (and eventually became) a graphic designer.

As with any new relationship, my aspirations shifted a bit when I met my husband. He is on his second active duty enlistment in the military, and I’d be lying if I said his career didn’t throw a few roadblocks into the path of my career plans. I’m not alone, either. Military spouses face unique challenges when it comes to their professional careers.

For starters, you can’t choose where you live, and military installations aren’t always situated in prime job markets. A career is hard to establish when you know you will be moving every two or three years. A resume full of short-term jobs usually requires an explanation to potential employers. Balancing a job, your spouse’s absences, long and unpredictable work hours, and family is not an easy feat, but— ask anyone in this unique situation— it can absolutely be done!

The hard and simple truth is this: you have to work to get work. It takes time, effort, and know-how. If you’re anything like me, there probably has come a time when you’ve felt stuck. Lost. Maybe like you’re just ready to say “I’m done” and throw in the towel. But listen— don’t give up. There are so many resources out there for military spouses. The trick is just finding them and using them to your advantage!

Here are some tips on things that have worked for my friends and me.

Rework your resume. Chances are, if you’re looking for jobs, you already have your resume good to go. But are you getting any calls back? Have you had any interviews? If not— rework it. Switch up the order of your skill set; add community service; ask your spouse or an experienced friend to look it over; and by all means, check for spelling errors! A refresh may be all you need to catch the right person’s eye.

Use social media to your advantage. There are so many ways to get your resume and profile out there for prospective employers to see. After all, you know you’re fabulous… why wouldn’t they want to hire you? You just have to get your qualifications in front of them! If privacy is an issue, create separate public profiles on your favorite social networking sites just for your career search. Join new sites, too, especially ones that are job-search specific or created to show off your resume. Reconnect with old classmates, colleagues, friends, and relatives to see if they have any connections or know of anyone hiring.

Consider a portable career. Portable careers are such a great option for military spouses. Even with all the moving we do, relocating doesn’t have to mean the end of your career if you’re able to take it with you! Your talents, skills, and ambition are all you need to get started. When I left my full-time design job to move to be with my husband, this is the option that worked for me. I was reluctant to leave a position I loved, but I loved my husband more and being with him was my first priority. Regardless, I knew I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t following my own career path and working on my own goals. After leaving my job, I started my own freelance design business. It was a portable career because I could talk to clients online and work from my home. After a year of freelancing, I went back to corporate employment when I knew we would be stationed where we are now for a couple of years. That’s the beauty of portable careers— they work with you.

Know what is yours. As a military spouse, there are options available that were created just for you! When I moved from freelancing back to corporate work, I found employment with a company in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP). This is a great resource that partners Fortune 500 companies with military spouses. They know our situation and are full of opportunities! USA Jobs is another great source for employment opportunities. That site often lists jobs in or around military installations (great for when the surrounding job market isn’t exactly stellar). Lastly, the Department of Defense offers priority consideration for competitive civilian personnel positions through the Military Spouse Preference program. These are all worth checking out if you’re on the hunt.

When in doubt, volunteer. Not only does it keep you active (and look great on your resume), but I have met several spouses that got their job through the connections they made by volunteering, be it at their spouse’s duty station or out in town. Just getting out there and networking puts you in place to meet the right people and be the first to know if a position opens up. Or, if volunteering isn’t your thing, take a few of the free classes or workshops on the installation (usually listed on your installation’s website). The more people you meet, the more likely you are to make the right connection and score the perfect job.

Sharin’ the Love: The Legacy of Mentoring

 Posted by on June 18, 2012 at 08:00
Jun 182012

Sharin’ the Love: The Legacy of Mentoring

Staff Blogger Kelli


What I love about being part of the military community is that I have collected so many dear friendships along the way. Friends so diverse in culture, religion, political thought, and lifestyle that if we were to gather them all into one room it would cause us to break into song singing “We are the world!”

In this group of friends, I can point to many who have acted as a mentor to me throughout my life in one way or the other, and many that I was able to mentor as well.

If I had not had mentors along the way I think my journey would have been much more difficult, especially that one time I felt like I was in Oz and I was terrified of running into the flying monkeys. But that is another story for another time. In my role as mentor, sometimes I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing. My experience has been that military spouses naturally fall into mentor/mentee roles without actually saying “I’m going to mentor you.” Sometimes it’s a natural fit. Other times, it is a more formal relationship.

In a formal setting we are able to be direct, provide do’s and don’ts, and offer clear guidance and advice. Informal mentoring is a little more flexible and creative.

Formal Mentoring. All the Services have spouse education programs. This is where the formal mentoring fits in. I had the privilege of working in both the Marine Corps Lifestyles, Insights, Networking, Knowledge, and Skills (L.I.N.K.S.) program and the Army Family Team Building (AFTB) program. It was a great experience to be able to present to new spouses information that would help them navigate this life a little more easily. I almost always came away with a few new tips and insights into life in the military myself.

The first time I went to L.I.N.K.S. I had already been a military spouse for five years or so. I was amazed at what I didn’t know, and amazed at what I did know. I was excited to share my experiences and knowledge with other spouses, so I became a mentor. Later, while stationed at Fort Bliss, I had the unique opportunity to also become part of the AFTB team and participate as a briefing coordinator. Not only did I get to talk with Army spouses, I was able to brief different school houses and help educate the troops about the existence of this wonderful program. I had the best time being the “Marine Spouse” on the team.

Informal Mentoring. So, how does this happen? Well let me give you an example. It was during one of our deployments. We lived in housing and I had more than a few kids. I needed to mow the grass. I can do that. I grew up mowing grass. This particular day the lawnmower was being nasty. I had a small window of time to get the grass mowed while all the kids were asleep, at school, or otherwise contained. I pulled the cord, nothing. I pulled the cord, nothing. I choked the choke, pumped that button to bring up the gas, pulled the cord again. I think I may have screamed at the lawnmower and then, like a crazy woman, repeatedly pulled the cord, somewhat violently, while possibly maybe yelling a few encouraging words at the lawnmower.

A neighbor walked over and waited for me to stop attacking the lawnmower. She asked if I needed any help. Well, that did it. I let it all out right there in the front yard. She listened and very wisely did not offer to fix everything I had just unloaded. But she did offer to either let me borrow her lawnmower or wait till her husband came home so he could try starting my lawnmower for me. She later stopped in to see how I was doing and if I needed anything from the store. Little by little she was able to offer advice or help without being too obvious or taking over the responsibilities I needed to learn to juggle.

The best mentor/mentee relationships I’ve had or been witness to have been those in which both people respect each other’s opinions, lifestyle, and decisions. It’s not about changing another spouse to fit your idea of what being a successful or good military spouse is. It’s about providing insight, understanding, and options.

Conversations starting with “What you need to do is…” are limiting and directive. Mentors should share their thoughts while not dictating action. I always appreciated something more along the lines of “Have you considered…” or “You might want to check…” Allowing me the opportunity to make informed decisions based on my family and life view was far more empowering than being led by the hand or told what to do. I know that one of the greatest gifts another spouse ever gave me was helping me more clearly see my individual worth and abilities, and encouraging me to take full responsibility for my life.

It wasn’t about the lawnmower that day, although the nasty thing was the target of my frustration. It was about everything else under the surface and the darn lawnmower just represented everything frustrating and out of my control during that deployment. I had a wonderful neighbor who became my dear friend by recognizing it wasn’t just my grass that needed some tender care.

Jun 122012

Guest Blogger: Creating a Sense of Community-Making Haste

Blogger Biography: I am a native Texan and a stay-at-home mom for my two rambunctious preschoolers (four and two). My family and I are in the beginning stages of our Army adventure, establishing roots at our first duty station, and getting ready to wrap up our first deployment. I am (mostly) loving the Army lifestyle and ready to see what lies on the road ahead!

When the Army moved us to our first duty station on Fort Bliss nearly three years ago, I was totally lost. Having lived my whole life in Texas, I thought that I would be able to adjust quickly. Boy was I wrong.

Here’s the quick breakdown of my story:

Moving day: Uncontrollable excitement.

Day 1 in El Paso: I am not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Day 2: What do you MEAN there are no houses available to rent?!

Day 3: Let’s take the extra-small house, honey. It’s just the three of us, and it’s the only thing available. Besides, if this is taken out from under us, we are in a world of hurt.

Day 4: Sign the lease.

Day 5: Find out I am expecting my second child. Um…where am I going to put the mountain of baby stuff in this tiny house?

Day 6: Discover what a “swamp cooler” is. Vow never to live in a house with a swamp cooler ever again.

Day 7: Movers arrive. Man, I hope we got all the boxes! Um…want to put your dresser in the closet, honey? It doesn’t fit in our tiny bedroom. (Oops.)

Day 10: Kiss husband good-bye for a month for Sapper school.

Day 11: Let panic ensue. If I die in this tiny house today, no one will find me because no one here knows who I am.

Day 12: Figure out who to put for emergency contacts for my daughter’s child care when I don’t know a single soul.

Day 14: Google my way to the Bliss Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) page. Sign up for all of the Army Community Service (ACS) classes in sight.

Day 15: Plug everything into my GPS. And I mean EVERYTHING! McDonald’s, grocery store, gas station, home address. (Oh man! Where do I live again?) Discover in this process that nothing on the installation is going to pull up on my GPS…but not before believing for about thirty minutes that almost everything on Fort Bliss is located on “Unnamed Road.”

Day 16: Try to figure out where in the world the hospital is to take care of my prenatal business. Realize that this is going to be WAY different than having a baby in a civilian hospital. (Why are you taking all of my blood, man?!)

Day 20: Begin ACS classes. I’m starting to get the hang of this now!

Day 21: Find a church. Make a friend.

Day 30: Fly in mom for moral support. (And to tell her you’re pregnant.)

Day 40: Welcome husband home. Laugh when you have to tell him where the nearest gate onto the installation is so he can report to his unit.

…the rest is history.

Three years later, after being shipped to somewhere completely foreign to me and left there right off the bat to fend for myself, I am happy to say that El Paso feels like home to me. No, it didn’t feel that way at first. But now the very real truth that we are getting ready to leave somewhere in the near future has me feeling very sad.

Am I scared about starting all over? Of course! And I have a feeling that this inkling of fear is going to happen with every PCS from here on out. But that won’t stop me from trying to turn every move into an adventure and every tiny house into a home.

How do you make it a home? You make yourself some roots, my friend. And however shallow your roots are buried, I promise when you commit your efforts to loving a place, you will take a piece of it with you wherever you go.

Milspouses do not have the luxury of time. We have to wear our hearts on our sleeves when we would normally prefer to be a bit guarded. Friendships are formed quickly, because most spouses are just as open. Of course, many of the friends I made at first were the first ones to leave me, but I never let that stop me from meeting new people. We all need to be a bit hasty when it comes to friendships with spouses, because those are the ladies you will use for your emergency contacts, to watch your kids when you get sick and need to go to the ER, or to hold your hand through the rough parts of a deployment. When it comes to learning the city, we just have to dive right in. Take on volunteer work, attend churches, and sign up for MWR supported classes and activities. You never know how much you will like something until you try it. And you’ll never know what you have been missing out on until you dedicate yourself to showing up for it.

So go ahead. Make a home for yourself; and make it snappy.

Guest Blog: On Giving Back

 Posted by on May 29, 2012 at 08:00
May 292012

Guest Blog: On Giving Back

Army Girl Nay

Army Girl Nay

At age seven, I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, a Soldier. From that point on, it’s all that I focused on, all that I wanted. At 17, I joined the Idaho Army National Guard and thus began what I thought would be a long career in the Army. At 18, I made the switch from National Guard to Active Army and was excited to meet all of the goals that I had planned back when I was a little girl.

Then I met my husband. After a rough start of not really liking each other to falling in love, we got married and had our first son. My future wasn’t going quite how I planned and soon I found myself overseas and married with two children. We spent a lot of time apart and I was away from my kids way more than I wanted to be.
Being a dual military Family was hard and the constant separations were taking a toll on our little family, so I decided to leave the Army when my contract was up and become a full-time mom.

I miss being a Soldier, even after all these years, but I decided that if I wasn’t going to wear the uniform, I would support those that do and those who love them. Most of my volunteer ventures involve Military Families and it’s so amazing to feel like I’m making a small difference in this unique and often challenging lifestyle. I currently volunteer with Army Family Team Building and teach miscellaneous classes like Family Readiness Group Leader and Care Team training on post, as well as conduct pre-deployment and post deployment briefings for Army Families.

People often ask me why I devote so much time to something that I receive so little in return from. This is where I disagree. I cannot describe the feelings I get when I feel that I have made a difference in someone’s life. Maybe it was just something I said, a feeling I justified or just being willing to listen.

What better way to build a legacy of service then to set that example for our next generation. Already our boys love to serve and are always looking for a way to help others.

So why do I volunteer and work with no pay? Because the relationships, experiences, and the empowerment is worth more than any agency could ever pay me.

A note from the Blog Brigade: For more information on the benefits of volunteering or to find volunteer opportunities, visit Military OneSource.

Apr 162012

Deployment Superpowers: The First Time Changes Everything

Staff Blogger Cassie


One of the current blog call topics is all about deployment superpowers. Oh yeah, guys. I found mine during my husband’s first deployment to Iraq. Can I just say that I never thought I’d be standing with my rear in the air, scrubbing out the inside of an outdoor trash can? It’s amazing what happens when the hubby disappears and you’re faced with “clean it yourself or deal with the stench of rotten food stuck to the bottom for eight. long. months.” I voted for option A. Trash can cleaning was just one of the superpowers I discovered while my hubby was away. Here are a few others.

Plumber. I now know how to unclog a toilet with a plunger, to use a “snake” to retrieve little, metal cars from said toilet, to clean hair from drains (mostly mine, anyway), and what NOT to put in the garbage disposal to avoid a call to a real plumber. FYI—garbage disposals don’t like shredded carrots, potato peelings, or rocks from fish tanks. Just sayin’.

Fire tamer. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know how to light the grill before my husband left, much less start a beach fire. I’m totally a pro, now. And I only burned one pair of flip flops during the learning process.

Sports ninja. I consider myself somewhat athletic. But having little boys brings new meaning to the word “energy.” Every afternoon, while the kids were outside, I stayed out with them. I learned to ride a push scooter, to skateboard, and to jump on a trampoline without breaking an arm. I even coached my son’s basketball team with another mom. We were six and two for the season, thank you very much.

CPA. Now, I will admit that I handled the finances even before the hubby left, but doing taxes ALONE, and budgeting for groceries ALONE, and buying a car ALONE are things I had never done before. We even had a no-pay-due when my husband first deployed. That means we didn’t receive a paycheck because we were overpaid two months’ worth of our Basic Allowance for Housing during a move. The lesson to be learned there? If your service member is overpaid, know that it will come out of their check eventually. Avoid these things by staying on top of your family’s Leave and Earnings Statement. Check it monthly and plan ahead! Fluctuations in pay happen A LOT.

Volunteer extraordinaire. After all our years in the military, I knew the best way to stay informed was to volunteer for our unit, which I did. What I didn’t realize, though, was that people eventually thought I knew what I was doing. I found myself in a position to mentor brand-spankin’-new spouses and help them through a time that was difficult for all of us. I also discovered that during the worst parts of that deployment, when we knew our unit had suffered multiple casualties, I had a sisterhood I didn’t even know existed. You guys? The folks I met during that deployment are some of the best friends I have in my life. Volunteering was the best thing I could have done to make it through.

Education tamer. When the hubby left, Frick and Frack (my kids…no, those aren’t their real names) were seven and five. I attended every parent/teacher conference, volunteered in the library, went on field trips, and walked my kids to school every day in an effort to ensure they weren’t going to light the school on fire when someone wasn’t looking. But, mainly, I did it because if I didn’t, no one would. And as I mentioned before, I like to be kept informed.

It’s now eight years later and my husband, it sometimes feels, is gone more than he is home. Do I miss him when he’s away? Sure. A quarter of our family is missing—a sixth if you count our dogs. But what I discovered during that first deployment is that there is a difference between surviving in the military and thriving in the military. Yes, I’ll gladly give up trash can cleaning duty the minute he walks back in the door, but I discovered that I CAN do it, along with a lot of other things I didn’t think I had the strength to do alone. That deployment changed me—in a good way. I value every minute of time with my husband even when we fight. I am a hundred times tighter with my boys. And I can light the grill with the best of them. What are your deployment superpowers?



Overseas Adventures: Managing Cultural Differences

 Posted by on March 22, 2012 at 08:00
Mar 222012

Overseas Adventures: Managing Cultural Differences


You can prepare for living overseas by reading websites, blogs, articles, and talking to people, but to truly understand the gravity of living in another country you must experience it yourself. In the months leading up to our move to Okinawa, I scoured the internet for cultural and lifestyle information, tried to learn some basic Japanese phrases, and talked to friends that had lived in Okinawa. I even tried to prepare myself for culture shock. On our first trip out in town, seeing everything written in Japanese while driving on the “wrong” side of the road made me feel like Dorothy in that scene of the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

The military offers an incredibly helpful Newcomers Orientation brief to help service members and their families acclimate and understand their new surroundings, rules, and local customs. During the presentation, an Okinawan liaison told us basic information about some cultural differences and expectations. For one, it is considered rude to point with your index finger to other people or objects. Instead use your whole hand to gesture, but you can point with your finger to yourself. In America, eye contact is expected to show that you are listening and engaged when someone is talking. However, in Okinawa, too much eye contact is considered disrespectful or rude. There are also rules for using chopsticks. Chopsticks should be laid across the top of your bowl when they are not in use and absolutely NEVER stuck into your rice bowl because of a meaning associated with their burial ceremony traditions. And then there is the bowing, which left me pretty much confused. We have all seen the bowing in movies, and we all know it is to show respect when meeting someone, saying excuse me, or thanking someone, etc. I am pretty sure the first couple of months, I walked around randomly bowing. In fact, when I was shopping at a mall out in town I had an elderly Japanese woman smile and chuckle at me when I bowed as I excused myself out of her way. I think she could tell that I was not used to this gesture and that I was just trying to be respectful. As she smiled at me, she said something in Japanese that seemed reassuring. At least I hope it was reassuring. Continue reading »

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