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Posts Tagged ‘Deployments’

By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

The viral military Christmas card. Did you happen to see it floating around internet land the past couple of months? Totally cliché, right?

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sistrunkblog2Let me back up and introduce myself. Hey, I’m Ashley! I’m an almost 30 year old (how did THAT happen) wife and mother to four perfectly imperfect children….oh and I’m a military spouse whose husband is only halfway through the journey to retirement.

We’ve had quite an interesting military experience that I’m sure MANY of you can relate to.

When we were 18 & 19, we had this crazy idea to get married and start a family together…but didn’t factor in the expenses. My husband, Brandon, worked at a BBQ restaurant and I worked as a hairstylist in a salon. Not too bad, right? WRONG!

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We were married 4 beautiful weeks before we discovered we were expecting our first child! How did we find out? The fumes from the hair salon started to make me sick, so I did what any logical 19 year old would do….I bought 10 pregnancy tests and sure enough, they all read POSITIVE.

We told our families and within that process, realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a child with a BBQ income alone, since I could no longer tolerate the smell from the salon.

So, this started our military journey.

If you’re lucky enough to know my husband, you know he is one of the most giving, kind-hearted people on the planet. He will do anything for anyone, which can be taken advantage of at times. He knew that joining the military would cover the medical expenses of having a child, even if it meant sacrificing his own life at some point. Who does that?! Only 1% of America, apparently.

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Off to boot camp he went, while I was left behind, 6 1/2 months pregnant. I would write him letters every single day and would pray to receive one from him. Not a single letter came. When I finally saw him at his graduation, he explained that his unit kept getting in trouble, so their punishment was not being able to write letters. I think in a way, that helped prepare me for the rest of our military journey.

My husband missed the births of 3 out of 4 children. One due to tech school and the others due to deployments. The recruiter must have forgotten to mention the chances of that happening. Either that, or we were just young and naïve and assumed we would have a fairytale life.

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When he left for this past deployment, my children were 9, 7, 5 (she turned 6 while he was gone), and 2 months. “They” say deployments get easier each time. I say “they” must not have children or “they” somehow speed up time during deployments. No one prepared us for the emotional strain that this deployment would bring. The kids were now old enough to be downright MAD for him being gone. Not just mad, but incredibly sad too.

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I had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids and myself connected to the person we absolutely ADORE while he was thousands of miles (7,038 miles, to be exact) away, BUT… I’ve never had a creative bone in my 5’1 body.

That’s where Pinterest stepped in. Pinterest SAVED this deployment!

*All the mommas say AMEN*

Here are some things my family and I did to stay connected through this deployment:

1) Deployment wall: We had a family night a week or so before my husband deployed and we decided to spend that time putting our deployment wall together! *See picture*

We showed them on the map where we were and where daddy would be. We had two different clocks, one that showed our time and one that showed his. We had a picture of him in uniform and a picture of him with the kids (added later). We had a space where they could roll out a sheet of paper and draw him pictures or write him letters, or even just write down how they’re feeling that day. We had little baskets for mail received and mail to send out. I would catch them going to the wall and just staring at his picture. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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2) Pictures on pillow cases, recording his voice in a stuffed animal, and video recording bedtime stories. If you haven’t visited your Airman & Family Readiness Center, I suggest you do! They have so many different things that can help a deployment along! My husband was able to go and have pictures of him and the kids printed onto pillow cases, have his voice recorded in stuffed animals, AND video record himself reading them each a bedtime story! So they got to see him every night before bed!

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3) Care packages: Pinterest has SO many awesome ideas for care packages! The kids loved putting things in the box and decorating it! They would say “Oh! Daddy will LOVE this!” And their little faces would light up! If you’re OCD, this will really test your patience, but it’s so worth it to see them wanting to get involved!

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4) Technology: This is huge for military families! We didn’t have Skype or video messenger until my husband’s 2nd or 3rd deployment. Before that, you heard from your spouse whenever they could find an open phone, which was never guaranteed. For this deployment, we were so blessed with technology! The kids were able to talk to their daddy *almost* every morning before school! Of course the connection was sketchy or would fail, but most of the time they could at least say hello!

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5) Holidays: Holidays are tough with your loved one halfway across the world. As the parent, you have to put your feelings on the back burner and focus on the physical/emotional needs of your children, ESPECIALLY around the holidays! For holidays, we would remove his picture from the deployment wall and tape it on a chair at the head of the table. This way, the kids could see he’s not been forgotten and that he is still a part of our special day, even though he’s not actually home.

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For Christmas, we made our first ever Christmas card! Yes, the viral military Christmas card! Honestly, the card ALMOST didn’t happen. I had my husband take his pictures from his deployment location, but the timing never seemed right for us to take ours.

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As each day got closer and closer to Christmas, I would see more and more pictures of all the happy families together on their beautifully crafted cards. At first I was sad. So terribly sad. I wanted nothing more than for my husband to be home for Christmas, but I knew that wasn’t an option. So, I decided TODAY IS THE DAY! We went out and got each shot on the first try, thanks momma!

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I pieced them together that night and decided to post them on FaceBook. The response was unbelievable! Within a few days, it was EVERYWHERE! So many spouses reached out saying “We’re apart for the holidays too! Thank you for showing us your togetherness through it all!”.

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Deployments are hard, especially if you actually love spending time with your spouse and consider him/her your best friend. The days can be so long and it can be so tempting to let that cause division in your marriage or family, but if you can focus on the good, you WILL get through it! Give yourself some grace. You will have days where you just want to bury yourself under the covers and cry and that’s ok! Try not to take that frustration out on the deployed member, but at the same time, be honest with them if they ask what’s troubling you. They will feel helpless at times, but that’s where you have to rise up and show them that you are strong TOGETHER, even if you’re not physically together. Your hearts are bonded, for better and for worse.

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“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” — Mulan

MCOY_blog_squareEdelweiss, Edelweiss…

Although this flower was made famous by the beloved musical, “The Sound of Music”, and admired for its beauty, this is no hothouse flower. Growing from a rock at high altitude in frigid air, resistant to radiation, needing little water, Edelweiss’s strength and resiliency is the stuff of legends. So much so that it has been honored on currency, coats of arms, and to this day is an insignia for the Alpine troops of several militaries.

When one takes a moment to marvel at the beauty of this world, you will find no shortage of examples of resiliency. We don’t have to look any further than the young patriots raised in our military families for examples of not only surviving but blossoming in the harshest conditions and under extreme adversity. For those young men and women daring enough to look the world in the eye and say “Show me what you got,” April is the Month of the Military Child.

Think about it. Many of our military children have never known a country not at war. Even those who are old enough to have been born before our current conflicts were probably too young to remember what it was like to serve in peace time (and make no mistake, families serve, too). On average, they move 6 to 9 times between kindergarten and 12th grade.[1] They go long periods of time not seeing Mom or Dad. They long for a hug but have to settle for Skype. They lose parents, or have friends that lose parents. Sometimes, their parent returns, but isn’t the same.

And yet still they maintain outstanding GPAs, volunteer in their communities, find others in need and help them. They are class presidents and varsity athletes. They find the silver lining and turn it into gold.

So why Month of the Military Child? Because, however we can make it happen, they deserve to take center stage. For their stories are our stories.

Over the next couple of weeks, it will be the honor of Operation Homefront to share more about these amazing young men and women as we celebrate this year’s recipients of our Military Child of the Year Award®. We’ll check in with our past recipients to see where the next chapter of their lives has taken them. We’ll also post information and stories about our military children on our Facebook page. Hopefully, you’ll be as inspired by them as much as we are. Every day.

The sixth annual Military Child of the Year Award® will be presented April 10, 2014 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. In addition to the trip to our nation’s capital, recipients are awarded a $5,000 cash prize. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will speak, and legendary musician, entrepreneur, and philanthropist (and military child himself) Bret Michaels will give the keynote address. Mike Emanuel, chief congressional correspondent for Fox News Channel, will emcee the dinner and award portion of the evening event.

 

[1] http://www.dodlive.mil/index.php/2013/04/infographic-wrapping-up-month-of-the-military-child/

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By Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront

By December, defense officials estimate the number of U.S. troops left in Iraq, if any at all, will amount to less than 5,000. At the height of the war, in 2006 and 2007, the U.S. had between 130,000 to 172,000 men and women fighting there.

By summer 2012, the total number of deployed troops in the Mideast will drop from 150,000 to 70,000.

Cue the ticker tape parades and kissing couples in Times Square, right?

Wrong.

After almost ten years of fighting, America’s soldiers, and their families, are exhausted. The military’s expansive manpower needs have meant that active duty as well as Reserve and National Guard forces have served overseas, often, more than once.

An astonishing 2.3 million servicemembers have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Roughly 1 million of those people have deployed twice, three and even four times.

As the battles waged, there was a groundswell of support for the soldiers and their families from local communities. Nonprofits were formed overnight to provide everything from baby showers for Army wives left home alone to summer camps for teenage military kids.

The military too increased its efforts to support families. New programs were created and individuals were hired specifically to organize family support groups within individual units. Money, millions of dollars worth, was spent to help stabilize these families during very rough times.

Now, the troops are headed home. It would be easy for outsiders, especially those who have never endured a wartime deployment, to believe that all is happy and good for those families.

Unfortunately that may not be the case.

During those years of war, many military children grew up seeing their servicemember parent for only a few months each year. Thousands of other children had a parent killed in action. Thousands more now live with a parent who is severely disabled due to their wartime injuries.

Mental health experts are still grappling with the long-term effects of deployment on military children. From 2003 to 2008 the number of outpatient mental health visits for children of active duty parents doubled from one million to two million. During the same time period, the number of days military children spent in psychiatric care centers increased as well.

Reports of child abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse among troops also grew with each passing year. Military couples continue to post increasing divorce rates as the strain of repeated deployments grows heavier.

The war may almost be over, but the battle at home has just begun.

America’s warriors are now facing an uncertain future. Their bodies are broken. Their families have suffered. By year’s end, their jobs may be gone as well.

Federal budget cuts have already lopped $465 billion from the defense budget.

Additional cuts, which members of the House Armed Services Committee estimate could be as much as $500 billion, would mean 200,000 Marines and soldiers would lose their jobs.

In an economy already struggling to employ every American searching for a job, these men and women may have an even tougher search. The current unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 22 percent. For veterans combined, young and old, it’s 11 percent. Compare this to the national rate of 9 percent.

Wounded veterans face an unemployment rate of 41 percent.

Ships would not be built. Fighters would not fly. Troops would be asked to perform more missions with less people and more time away from home.

In military homes, the cuts could cause significant hardships as well. Lawmakers opposing the budget slashes suggest that military families living overseas could be asked to pay tuition for their children to attend on-post schools, as much as $2,850 per child.

Commissary savings would be reduced if not decimated completely. Spouses would receive less tuition assistance. Over $300 million in morale, welfare and recreation programs at bases around the world will disappear.

The changes ahead for our nation and its military leave Operation Homefront left to consider how our mission will change as well.

Historically, our role has been to assist the families of deployed service members. As those missions come to a close, we must re-evaluate the needs of these families now and how we can best serve them.

Part of this decision means evaluating not just our resources, but those of the nation.

As communities see more of their warriors returning, and staying home, will they lose their drive to rally around military families? It is easy to assume that military homecomings mean a happy ending. As the statistics above suggest, that is not always the case.

As budgets are slashed, and on-base resources are eliminated, will military families increasingly begin searching for help off base? Will those resources be gone as well?

After almost ten years of great personal sacrifice, America’s warriors, and their families, are being asked to give even more.

Americans everywhere need to consider not just the cost of the military in dollars. They need to weigh the years of hardship, separation and dedication given by the families who served and how sweeping budget cuts will leave many of them not just jobless but broken and destitute.

The war may almost be over but the fight has just begun. Continue to step up America. Your defenders need you now, possibly more than ever.

(Photo, left to right: Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront and Carlos Evans, a resident at one of our Operation Homefront Villages for wounded warriors, meet up at our Annual Reception.)

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-puts-iraq-withdrawal-plans-under-wraps-to-discourage-attacks/2011/10/13/gIQAGw4LiL_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/24/AR2010052403842.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/29/report-budget-cuts-would-leave-military-hollow/?page=all

http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/28/divorce-rate-in-military-continues-upward-trend/

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=052aad71-19cb-4fbe-a1b5-389689d542d7

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-gop-lawmakers-dig-in-against-defense-cuts-101011w/

http://forbes.house.gov/StrongAmerica/

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/08/01/more-young-veterans-jobless/

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Tim McGraw and Outback have offered military members VIP tickets to Tim's shows. We appreciate their generosity.

The week is off to a great start when I have more goodies to give out.

Our friends at Outback Steakhouse and country superstar Tim McGraw have offered us two VIP tickets to Tim’s concert next Thursday, May 13 in North Charleston, S.C. We can’t supply travel, so you need to either be local or willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

Here’s what we need to know to select our winner:

How does Tim’s music help you get through deployments? Tell us in the comments section of this blog in 20 words or fewer.

Reminder: Operation Homefront serves active duty military/guard/Reserve and wounded warriors. So our winner has to be enrolled in DEERS, on TRDL or a recently separated wounded warrior/WW dependent; we’ll ask for proof of status. Prizes are awarded at our sole discretion.

We’ll take comments through 3 p.m. MT on Tuesday, May 4.

We’re so proud to count Outback and Tim among our supporters. They truly are committed to giving back and helping military families in need.

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