Archive for Military Life

Casualty Notification is a Sacred Duty — Not a Facebook Poke

As a military spouse, I spent my husband’s deployment terrified that I would see the black sedan drive down my street or that there would be a knock on the door and I would open it to find a chaplain and a casualty notification officer.

At least I could lay down some of the burden at night–there is a window during which notifications are made. This may seem like a trivial thing if you haven’t spent a year on edge but, trust me, it is some small solace to know you will not be woken or startled at 3am by a phone call or a knock on a door.

That is, unless, another soldier or family member takes it upon him or herself to text message you or notify you via Facebook.

What a horrible thing to do to a military family member!

While it is true that no form of notification can bring the soldier back to life, casualty notification procedures are in place for a reason.

  • The procedures ensure no false notifications. By notifying someone independently, you have disrupted the entire system and created an environment where rumors thrive.
  • You do not know how someone will react to the shock. Fainting, going on a rampage, driving off the road–these are all plausible responses to casualty notification. Let the trained professionals be there to handle it.
  • How someone finds out may affect long-term processing of the grief. People always remember where they were when they found out big news. The ceremony and respect of the official notification system, and the support that the military immediately offers, may ultimately help the family member process the grief. Maybe you do not buy this but it is NOT your call. You do NOT get to take that away from these families.

When a soldier is catastrophically injured or killed in action, his base is supposed to go on communications black-out. There should be a total lock-down of all telephone and Internet signals. And all soldiers and family members should know not to discuss casualties prior to official notification of the next of kin.

Yes, we all knew when someone had been killed in action when no one had any calls that night. Yes, the waiting was tense. However, that is a small price to pay to know that the proper respect will be paid to a fallen hero and his family. We owe our brothers and sisters in waiting at least that much.

(DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp)

Military Moms Are My Heroes

“Is Daddy coming home?”

My husband is off on a month-long National Guard drill and “Is Daddy coming home tonight?” became, “When is Daddy coming home?”, and eventually transformed into, “Is Daddy coming home?” Asked at least 20 times each day by my two eldest.

The last time my husband was gone this long, he was deployed to Iraq for a year. He missed our entire first pregnancy, the birth, and most of the first three months of our first child’s life. At the time, people said, “I don’t know how you do it!”

But all of that is nothing compared to explaining to young children why Daddy is not there to cheer for them, to dry their tears, to lift them up. Even a month is challenging–I can barely imagine the fortitude required to guide children through a year-long deployment.

Although I know that you find the strength you need, I really admire the resourcefulness, the strength, and the love of military moms.

They cheerfully put up the countdown calendars and mask their own uncertainty.

They reassure their children and swallow their own fears.

They do bath night and homework help and garbage night. And then, after they get the children to bed, they clean the house and pay the bills and fix the toilet.

They are the provider, the nurturer, the disciplinarian, and the cornerstone of consistency the children need.

It is a duty I pray I never have to fulfill but I hope, if I do, I do it half as well as the moms I have had the honor to call my friends.

Military Moms aren’t just married to heroes. They are heroes!

Photo by FamilyMWR

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When it Gets Tough

My husband is on a month long drill and this morning my three year old woke up screaming that “Daddy is downstairs! Let me go downstairs! I want to see Daddy!” When I finally calmed him down, he asked, “Is Daddy coming home tonight?”

Cue the sound of my heart breaking.

At least Daddy is coming home. And at least he is coming home in a couple of weeks. And at least he is not overseas.

How do you answer the questions when Mommy or Daddy is gone on a long drill or a deployment? How do you handle the meltdowns? How do you keep them looking forward to the homecoming without making the days seem overwhelming?

(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Justin Connaher)

Rock You Like a Hurricane: National Guard Duty Calls

My husband was supposed to have National Guard Drill this weekend.  They cancelled it because the public transportation has all been shut down in the New York Metro Area due to Hurricane Irene and many soldiers rely on public transportation to get to drill.

So, we were excited to have him home all day on Saturday.  An hour ago, he received a call that he is being activated to help with the emergency efforts.

We are, ourselves, directly in Hurricane Irene’s path.  At this point, it looks like a weak category 1 hurricane will hit mid-Long Island sometime tomorrow morning. If it hits around 8am, the South Shore will have high tide.  If it hits closer to 11am, the North Shore will have high tide.

I am about a mile away from the beach and the low-lying areas in my village have been evacuated.  We’re up on a hill, though, so we will most likely be fine.  My parents are visiting so I will have help with the kids.

We may be incommunicado for a few days but I will try to send out smoke signals after the hurricane passes, when I can, to let everyone know we are okay.

Stay safe, everyone!

Pay Grade and BAH – Housing in the Military (Ask Molly)

From the Facebook Page:

New army wife planning for the first PCS not knowing where it is! How can I find what housing looks like or how many rooms you get for a family of 4? (E4) thank you to any help!!

Housing availability and quality varies widely from base to base. The best answer I can give is to look at what BAH is supposed to cover. Base housing should, in theory, be at least equivalent to that.

In any given location, BAH depends on the costs in your area (which is an unknown for this reader), your pay grade, and whether or not you have dependents (although the number of dependents does not matter).

According to About.com, rates are determined based on the costs of these types of housing for each pay grade:

BAH Calculations With Dependents

  • E-1 through E-4 – The midpoint between the average rental cost of a 2 bedroom apartment and a 2 bedroom townhouse.
  • E-5 – Average rental cost of a 2 bedroom townhouse.
  • E-6 – Average rental cost of a 3 bedroom townhouse.
  • E-7 – Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 36 percent of the cost difference between a townhouse and three-bedroom home.
  • E-8 -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 75 percent of the cost difference between a townhouse and a three-bedroom home.
  • E-9 – Average rental cost of a three-bedroom home, plus 16 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom and four-bedroom home.
  • W-1 -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 1 percent of the cost difference between a townhouse and a three-bedroom home.
  • W-2 -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 52 percent of the cost difference between a townhouse and a three-bedroom home.
  • W-3 – Average rental cost for a three-bedroom home.
  • W-4 -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom home plus 22 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom home and a four-bedroom home.
  • W-5 -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom home plus 48 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom home and a four-bedroom home.
  • O-1E -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 44 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom townhouse and a three bedroom home.
  • O-2E -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 93 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom townhouse and a three bedroom home.
  • O-3E -Average rental cost for a three-bedroom townhouse plus 26 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom home and a four-bedroom home.
  • O-1 -Average rental cost for a two-bedroom townhouse plus 11 percent of the cost difference between a two-bedroom townhouse and a three-bedroom townhouse.
  • O-2 -Average rental cost for a two-bedroom townhouse plus 98 percent of the cost difference between a two-bedroom townhouse and a three-bedroom townhouse.
  • O-3 -Average rental cost of a three-bedroom townhouse plus 98 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom townhouse and a three-bedroom home.
  • O-4 -Average rental cost of a three-bedroom home plus 58 percent of the cost difference between a three-bedroom home and a four-bedroom home.
  • O-5 through O-7 – Average rental cost of a 4-bedroom home.

Of course, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

More information:

How about you, dear readers? Has BAH been enough to cover these types of housing? How has on-post housing stacked up compared with this chart?

Supporting Military Families Should be a Priority

While I take a brief maternity leave, I am feature guest posts like this heartfelt response from Fallon Wharton of Fallonella’s Almost Fairtyale to the discrimination and challenges many military spouses face in the workplace and elsewhere.

The article about Employee Rights and Military Spouses on ArmyWivesLives.com really bothered me, probably because it hits so close to home regarding a military spouse desiring a stable career of their own while support their husbands stable, yet ever unpredictable military career.  Technically, military spouses are not supposed to be discriminated against when it comes to employment because of our spouse’s career, but so often we are. Even if we keep mum regarding our personal life employers are going to notice on our resume that there we have moved, possibly every couple of years, and the very perceptive ones will realize that each move was around a Military Installation. I have no doubt this is frustrating for those families that need and want to bring in two incomes. The Military spouse all ready sacrifices so much of their own life for that of their spouse’s, on top of that we have to worry about being viewed differently in our workplace or potential workplace due to our spouse’s chosen career field to work for our country. The ever sacrificing military spouse shouldn’t feel forced to live in fear of losing our job or the ability to be hired for one soley because our loved one has chosen such an honorable yet challenging career field, none of which defines our experience, education, or skills. If it defines anything, it defines our loyal, strong, and loving character to support another human being in such an ever changing and important career.

The author suggests living by the adage “Loose Lips Sinks Ships,” and therefore suggests not talking about our personal life with our interviewers or coworkers as it could jeopardize getting a job or being promoted with in one. I know that I am naturally social, shy at first, but very open and friendly none the less, and the thought of having to be so guarded about normal everyday things signifies a somewhat lonely life in my eyes. Sharing your life with you coworkers, on any level, builds camaraderie, as well as levels of trust and though this may not be entirely lost on the Military Spouse in the workplace, it certainly isn’t entirely fair that they aren’t able to operate in the same way that others are on a day to day basis. Granted, overtime the Military Spouse’s work will speak for itself and hopefully they can slowly but surely begin sharing aspects of their life they’ve felt they had to keep quiet in order to keep their job, income, and family safe of discrimination. Though, take the woman in the article, maybe it’s best to never let your guard down and instead always keep half of your life hidden. I don’t know the answer, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see employers’ point of view of not wanting to hire and train someone only to lose them in 2 years. With that said, there is no guarantee of any length of employment with anyone that is hired, not just the military spouse.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden visit Sesame Street on Monday, April 18, as part of the White House's "Joining Forces" Initiative and Sesame's military families project, to tape Public Service Announcements asking all Americans to support our military families. © 2011 Sesame Workshop. Photo by Richard Termine.

Our First Lady, Michelle Obama along with Jill Biden have taken notice of our ever sacrificing Military Families and the disconnect between the families within the military and our fellow American families. The Joining Forces Initiative “Aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society to ensure military families have the support they have earned.” It’s evident that our First Lady has recognized that the families ‘serve’ as well, and she has asked others to help their fellow military families, though my question to all of you out there is, what would help you out the most?

Would it help to just have someone shovel your snowy driveway? Or make a meal a week? Or take your kids for the night? Or, could it just simply be having other women (or men) over for coffee and conversation since you may be in a new place and not live on post? I think if there is a call to American’s from our First Lady to help the families behind those serving, then we need to help them understand what would is actually considered help. Maybe it’s just a simple thank you and acknowledgment of our sacrifices as well, since spouses can often feel overlooked. Either way, I’m extremely curious to hear what would help our fellow military families because though I’m an Army wife, my husband and I only have ourselves and a gorgeous grey chihuahua to look after, so I wouldn’t even begin to understand the complexities, stresses, and day to day strength needed for those of you who have so much more to juggle when the title of Mother that is also attached to military spouse.

This initiative also excites me because bringing about such awareness, and calling on those within our country to take notice of those within the military family could quite possibly aid in the employment issue that many military spouses must deal with, as with the woman in the,  Employee Rights and Military Spouses article. Perhaps, this initiative along with increasing awareness will allow those around us to not easily discriminate and instead look beyond the Army Combat Uniform wearing spouse of ours, or insert your spouse’s branch uniform, and instead view our skills, education, drive, and overall abilities when it comes to getting and/or keeping employment.

I love that Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden are using their positions as a platform for such an important cause. Like it or not, there is a disconnect among Military Families and the rest of our society, this isn’t to say it’s because our fellow American’s are bad people, in fact I think they’re great people and are very thankful for our service men and women, but also may not always know what to do as the Military is its own language and may be often misunderstood.

Mrs. Obama mentioned the fact that she has heard more than once that the Spouses of the Military have such a hard time having their own career. I must say, “cheers!” to the recognition for those of us who dream of our own career filled lives. Mrs. Obama has said (excuse the paraphrase) “Our Military Spouses are some of the most well educated and well-rounded individuals we have in our society,” and she is right. All of you military spouses need to remember that we have to stick together, keep each other motivated, and remind each other how very special, unique, strong, intelligent, and beautiful we all are, after all we’re fighting a fight too, just not one that most people see.

We also need to voice what we want or need when it comes to ‘help’ from others. Again, it could be simple or complex, but if we don’t speak now that Mrs. Obama is trying to uplift us then we won’t get what we truly need, and again, it may only be a simple thank you for the hardworkof supporting your spouse. We are afterall, “The force behind the force, and they too are the reason we’ve got the finest military in the world.” Thank you, President Obama.

From one MilSpouse to another, THANK YOU, I know this military wifestyle is often exciting and offers us a lot of different life experiences to check off of our bucket lists. However, it doesn’t come with sacrifice and a lot of strength, so thank you to those before me who have served for many years setting the example that it can be done, and done well.

Much love!

Signing off –

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About the Author:

Fallon Wharton is a proud Army Wife who holds a degree in Mass Communications / Journalism and has her own career aspirations.  She enjoys writing poetry and short stories that draw upon her experiences and she blogs at Fallonella’s Almost Fairtyale.

Military Wives Have a Right to Speak Out About the Government Shutdown

I am just livid about the comments on articles like this one: Food or rent? Soldier’s Wife Fears Government Shutdown.

Yes, a lot of these idiots are trolls but I am shocked at the vitriol being spewed by such a large number of commenters.

Here is my response to those who think military families are uneducated “moochers” living off of their tax dollars:

And for intelligent and articulate commentary on the shutdown, check out Krystel Spell of Army Wife 101 on MSNBC.

Can a Military Spouse Pursue a Professional Career? (Ask Molly)

Dear Molly,

My boyfriend is currently in an ROTC battalion. He won’t be commissioned until 2013. He has, in the past couple months, begun to talk about getting married. He’s 24 and I’m 20. We currently have a long distance relationship because we go to school about 3 hours apart. With all of my extracurriculers and his work/ROTC we’ve been seeing each other once, maybe twice, a month since we started dating last year. This has forced us to talk a lot more than most couples our age and he is my best friend without a doubt. I love him and agree with him that we will possibly be married in the future. The problem is, I can’t stand the uncertainty of the Army. We are waiting for him to get a waiver so he can go to basic this summer (too many traffic tickets). It’s been over a month since he went to MEPs and they still haven’t contacted him either way. There’s no telling where he will be in 4 years when I graduate from grad school. How do military wives deal with their own careers? After I’m married, I want to live with him. I want to be able to be with him as much as possible and I’m willing to live on base and raise my kids on base. But, are there generally job opportunities for spouses near bases? I plan on getting a Masters of Public Policy and be research oriented, but some of my friends said that the only jobs you could get would be minimum wage type jobs. Eventually, he is going to retire and I will be able to settle into a professorship at a university somewhere. I guess my main problem is the uncertainty the Army brings to MY dreams, plans, and goals. It seems to amplify the normal problem that almost engaged/engaged/newly married couples go through in synthesizing two lives into one. Do you have any advice, other than talking about it because we do, for us?

Thanks!

Dear Reader,

Uncertainty is a fact of military life.

A military spouse may have a career but it may require a certain degree of flexibility and creativity.

Some of the variables that will affect your job prospects are unknowable: where he is posted, at what point he is deployed, and how long it will be before you move again.

There are other considerations that are more under his and your control but may shift over time: what his career goals are in the military, what your short-term and long-term career goals are, and at what point you would like to start a family.

Every post is different. There are some where the job market is abysmal and there are others where there may be opportunities to someone in your field. When I was in Texas, there were many spouses who found various medical and administrative jobs at several nearby hospitals. You might even find a job with the military and will receive some preference in applying for federal jobs as a spouse.

I am not familiar with the types of institutions that hire people to do public policy research. I would imagine most “think tanks” are based out of Washington, DC, but there are probably national charities, public service institutions, school districts, and government offices near most posts. You might not find your ideal job at each location but you can probably find something that makes use of your skill set and education in many places.

Another option is a consulting or freelance position that enables you to telecommute. Although I was able to re-certify as a classroom teacher each time I moved, I decided it made more sense to consult and write curriculum. This way, I had continuity no matter when and where I moved and I had the perfect job for when we started our family. Plus, I maintained my qualifications in my career field and gained experience.

There are career fairs, virtual and face-to-face, online web portals, and state programs in many locations (Texas had a great one) dedicated to helping military spouses further their careers. So, there is help available. I am actually doing some research right now and plan to write a post about some of these resources.  In the meantime, here are some links that may be helpful for military spouses on the job hunt or assessing their career path:

You might also decide if you receive an assignment in an area that makes it difficult to pursue your career that it is a good time to try to publish your own papers, volunteer to keep up your credentials, and/or start your family. In other words, you can pursue a path parallel to your career goals, while fulfilling personal and family goals. Then, once you are in a better position personally and geographically, you are still more or less on-track.

Yes, you can continue to pursue a professional career. However, the path may have a few more twists.

Hope this helped!


“Ask Molly” represents only my opinion and the comments of readers represent their opinions. I draw upon my training as a Family Readiness Group leader, my own experience and that of those I know, and any research I found on the Internet. I am not a trained counselor. Have a question? Send questions to askmolly [at] armywiveslives [dot] com.

I'm Not a Single Parent

soldier calling homeTonight, I looked at my beautiful children–a sight that normally fills me with love and joy–and felt dread. I felt the dread of the solo bedtime routine. Trying to balance the needs and desires of two very young kids while still leaving myself enough time to do work and straighten up can be exhausting.

But I am not a single parent.

My husband is just on drill. He’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll have my parenting and life partner back.

Even when he was deployed, he was still my husband. Although I miss him when he is gone, that is a very different type of absence than that felt by someone who is widowed or separated.

We still have our love and our mutual support and our commitment to working together on our relationship and our parenting.

I’ve heard some military spouses…and even some moms whose husbands are on business trips…joke that they are “single parents”. I think we are allowed our little jokes and I hope the real single moms don’t take offense. Really, though, we aren’t single parents at all. We have our own challenges, of course. Personally, though, I’ll take my own set of challenges over those of the single parent, any day.

Geographical separation is not the same as separation by divorce or death.

Choices

Fallon Wharton is a proud Army Wife who holds a degree in Mass Communications / Journalism and has her own career aspirations.  She enjoys writing poetry and short stories that draw upon her experiences and she has launched her own blog. She shared this post with us.

Fallon WhartonSometimes life is about knowing… I don’t think all decisions are meant to be permanent, though they so often feel that way. Just the mere fact of choosing something in order to know what it will bring you. Though I use the term ‘mere’ lightly, because it’s never just a mere choice is it? It’s a definite proverbial fork in the road with its glaring signs “this way to…” “Or that way to…” and if you’re lucky, as I have been, neither choice is bad, but the choices are so different that it’s evident each one will bring you completely different results. One result might leave you looking back on your life thinking.. “damn, what would have happened if I would have went that-a-way??” So, I tend to choose the one that I feel won’t derive the ‘what if’ of life, though that’s never really guaranteed.

So often, we make a choice that we know is important to better ourselves for now and the future, and because we don’t want to live with the ‘what if’ thought. “What if I wouldn’t have or would have done that?” We make a choice, we learn, we see after so long where that choice is taking us. We’re then presented with another choice, another, and another. I guess that is the beauty to life. The freedom to choose. I guess that is an adversity to life. The freedom to choose. Through all of these choices some are obviously easier, while others feel, and often are, insurmountably more difficult.

I recently had to talk to my boss about my job, potentially leaving to be with my husband, or stay with the company but working remotely so I can live with my military husband. (I know, odd right, the thought of actually living with your husband?!? Ok, bad joke. ) Mind you, this job is one I love, with a company I can go very far in, not to mention learn a lot. It’s mirroring back to me the potential dream career I thought never was. So, though confronting your boss in this manner may not sound like much, it was by far one of the hardest things I’ve had to face, and a nerve-wracking experience at that. I’ve only been with this company for 9 months, all the while planning on staying here until my better half was done with training in another 8 months. Then we would find out where we’d be stationed, and only then would I potentially leave the office here in Virginia to work from home, transfer offices, or totally walk away depending on what the military decided for our lives. Ah it felt as if we had planned the perfect yellow brick road.. but instead a change of path lie ahead, ie, another major life choice.

Choice decided to have other plans for my husband and I. What’s funny about choice is I wouldn’t even be faced with these choices if we weren’t a part of the Military, which seems very choice unfriendly, or choice-less (if you will) well – to a spouse anyway. You’re at their mercy 100% and if you have any hopes of keeping your family together and pursuing your own career, if you’re career minded the way I am, you have to keep those hopes in order and you better have a strong marriage, oh and eternal optimism doesn’t hurt. Two parties pursuing their career is a great thing… unless one of those parties is in the ever-changing-no choice making-but love my country Military. You can count on being apart a lot of the time even if you do follow your husband post to post (hooah!), and you can definitely count on being apart all of the time if you too decide you want stability enough to allow your own career and life to flourish. (mild applause) We’re faced with these choices… knowing we’re not the first, but sure feeling like we are.

Choice is made and I am moving forward with hope and a realization I can manifest and create what I want, though it often feels easier said than done. I know what I’m worth and as my mom once said, “She’ll grow wherever she is planted,” I have recently learned upon observation that I’ve proved that statement to myself time and time again, and I’ll never cease to grow nor give up on my own dreams, and I’ll always make the right choice as long as I follow my ever-so-clichéd heart, wherever that may be during my husband’s career span to… YES, defend OUR freedom. J I’ll save the what if’s for the birds… and in the meantime cherish every moment I have with the one man who means the world to me, because without my big strong Army Officer… life wouldn’t be as worth living, career or not.