Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning How to Stay

This blog post is courtesy of Michelle Ward, daughter of Mary K. McKinney Ward. Orginally shared on the Army Well-Being Facebook page, this essay describes not only the resiliency of military children but the habits created by Army life that are sometimes hard to break.

As a child with a military parent, I have gotten used to moving every few years. In fact, this way of life is all I have known because I have not lived anywhere longer than two years since I was five years old. I have grown to expect that there will be occasions when my father will be deployed for long periods of time, as he is now. I have also come to expect that there will be constant mobility. These things I am perfectly able to cope with precisely because they are expected. However, the most difficult thing I have had to face as a result of my father being in the military was completely unanticipated, and it happened just a few weeks ago.

I was sitting in my apartment at the University of Virginia, and I got a call from my mom. She wanted to talk about moving this summer and all the things that would need to be done. I have been through this so many times that I automatically slipped into a “moving time” state of mind. Usually, this involves things like making lists, deciding what to ship and what to take with me, and starting to pull myself away from my friends so that it will be easier to leave in a few months. So naturally, when my mom and I started discussing the moving process, I did the same thing I have always done. Completely unaware of what I was doing, I started to pull myself away from my college friends.

However, within a week or so some of my friends made the comment that they had not seen me in awhile. This caught my attention, and I immediately realized what I had been doing. When I explained my situation, a friend equated it to muscle memory, which was quite fitting. I never learned how to stay and form long-term friendships. I only learned how to keep myself detached and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Realizing that I will be staying at UVA for my third year has been much more difficult than I ever expected, and through this I am learning how to commit to lasting friendships. I am learning how to accept some stability, and most importantly, I am learning how to stay.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reconnecting with Army Friends

This blog post is courtesy of Traci at This Fabulous Army Life. It describes the bond created between Army Families and how, even after years apart, reunions are always welcome.

Army kids reunited after years apart.

On a recent Block Leave trip, my Family was able to connect with one of our favorite Army Families. They were our next-door neighbors at Fort Hood for a couple of years and we survived a deployment together, complete with sharing meals, kids, frustrations, joys, and time.  In the Army, your neighbors are not just the people you nod to as you get into your car in the mornings, they become family.

In our time together, the wife of this Family watched my kids, listened to my woes, and took care of everything from shoe-tying to diaper-changing for my kids when I sprained my wrist while our husbands were gone. In return, her kids were always welcome in my home and spent more than one Friday night eating pizza and watching movies with us.

When my water pipes burst that deployment winter, she was there with me, fighting the raging fountain of water, clad in our pajamas.  On the first day of school, we shared a traditional school bus cake (her tradition, but one that become ours, too).  We created a six-week rotating walk to school schedule where one parent would walk all the kids to and from school for a week then trade with five other families on our block.  When it was time for her to birth her fifth baby, I went next door to sleep in their house until her older kids woke up.  In April of 2007, we sat on my sofa watching the horror of the Virginia Tech (her alma mater) shootings unfold on the news.

Our kids became psuedo-siblings and played together daily.  We planned a front-yard flashlight Easter egg hunt one Spring, and bought matching Gerbera daisies for our front gardens, at our childrens' request.  Many a meal was eaten at one another's homes, and a few restaurants saw the gaggle of us dine together as well.

A few weeks ago, when we posted on Facebook that we would be at Disney, I immediately got a text from her asking where we would be that week as they were headed to Disney for a vacation as well!  We were driving from Fort Hood; they were driving from Fort Stewart.  It was easy to coordinate a meeting spot and we met up the next day.  The kids were excited to see each other and, over ice cream, began reminiscing among themselves.  "Remember that time we went to the zoo in Waco and they had that cool slide with the otters surrounding it?"  "Remember when we got in big trouble for cutting the canvas on our wooden playset and tried to blame it on the the little kids?"  "Remember when we used to have pasta picnics at your house?"  ... and on and on it went.

It was so much fun to see them!  The baby who was born just weeks before they PCSed to Fort Carson was now four years old!  Their oldest, who was in 4th then 5th grade here, is now a beautiful high schooler, enrolled in ROTC and talking about boyfriends.  All the kids had changed so much, yet there was not a single awkward moment.  It was just fun to see them again and catch up face-to-face.  They are one of our favorite Army Families and will always have a special chapter in our Army lives.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top Ten Things to Know About an Army Formal Ball

Army formal events are a time of fun for all involved.
An Army formal ball is a fun opportunity to build comraderie, get to know your unit Family, and spend time together in a social setting.  If you've never attended a ball before, there are some general characteristics that will likely be a part of what you will experience.  Use these tips to prepare yourself for this important event in your unit.
  1. Arriving:  Arrive at the venue with enough time to park your car, find your way around the location, and chat with your fellow Soldiers. This is a great time to introduce your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse to the people you work with every day. This is also the best time to check your coat (if available) and use the restroom.
  2. Receiving Line:  Some units may choose to include a receiving line at the beginning of the event.  You will likely be called by company to line up to meet the command team, guest speaker, and any VIPs present.  The first person in the line will be in charge of announcing the names of the guests.  He/She does not shake hands or carry conversations; his/her job is to introduce the arriving guest to the next person in line.  A few things to remember:  Ladies walk first through the line, your hands should be free to shake hands with those in line (no cigarettes or drinks here), and keep conversations limited to a brief greeting then move on.  Because names do not travel well, please repeat your name to any person in the line to whom it has obviously not been passed.
  3. Posting of the Colors:  Once everybody has been introduced, it's time to check your name on the seating chart to find your table.  There, you can visit with those around you as you wait for the entrance of the colors.  As colors are being posted, those in uniform should remain at attention and face the colors at all times during the presentation.  Civilians should stand quietly and follow the colors as well.  The colorguard posts the colors once indicated by the commander.  Once colors are posted, gentlemen will seat their ladies then stand behind their chair until everyone at the table is ready to sit.
  4. Toasts:  The Toasts are a very important part of the Ball. The Toasts give the unit an opportunity to raise a glass to pay tribute to a variety of meaningful people and groups. At this time, a designated speaker will propose specific Toasts in accordance with the sequence in your ball program. It is your responsibility during this time to respectfully listen and reply with the appropriate response, also found in your program. *The response is not the same as the toast so be sure to follow along in your program.
  5. Table of Remembrance:  You may notice a small table set for one that is off on its own - it is reserved to honour fallen comrades in arms. This symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit. We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured the agonies of pain, deprivation, and death.
  6. Order of Events:  The order of events will vary from unit to unit, but may include a slide show or video, a skit or sketch, entertainment, or possibly a punch or 'grog' ceremony.  During this time, simply follow along in your program and show respect by being attentive to those speaking or presenting.
  7. Guest Speaker:  At some point in the evening, the guest speaker will be introduced.  It is important to show the guest speaker the proper courtesy of not speaking or leaving your seat during his or her remarks.  All cell phones should be turned off, and trips to the restroom postponed until after the speech is complete.
  8. Retiring of the Colors:  After closing remarks, the colors will be retired. Remember how you respected the colors as they were posted? The same rules apply when the colors are retired. Too easy.
  9. Dancing:  Now comes the fun part ... time to dance! Hit the dance floor and cut up the rug like never before, but keep in mind that this is a formal ball, not the dance club you may be used to going to on the weekends. 
  10. Fun & Responsibility:  Here comes the most important rule: Have fun!  This is an excellent opportunity to see your teammates outside of work and continue to build strong relationships. Have fun, but also be responsible. Designate a driver or make arrangements to stay at a nearby hotel. If you have had too much to drink, be strong enough to realize this and call a taxi or work with your chain of command to get safely home. As with everything in the Army, have a plan, and if that plan doesn't work, use your back-up plan.
For More Information:

"Married to the Army" Blog Post: My Experience with Army Balls and Formals


Sgt. Parker's Guide to The Old Guard Ball

Toast to Fallen Comrades

DA Pamphlet 600–60:  A Guide to Protocol and Etiquette for Official Entertainment

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are Soldiers Fairly Compensated?

Soldiers with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division salute
during a re-enlistment cermony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, July 17, 2007.
Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
I took the online Army Well-Being poll recently that asked, “Do you think our Soldiers are fairly compensated for their service?” and immediately answered with a resounding “No!” I got to thinking about that question, and added to one of my Twitter updates, “How could you possibly?” That has been the question on my mind since then. How do you ‘fairly compensate’ a person who willingly puts his/her life on the line out of duty and service to country? What would be enough?

Today’s Army is a challenging career choice. Soldiers sign up and reenlist knowing that long deployments are all-but-guaranteed for them. The dangers are real, the separations are long, and the job is tough. There’s no way around that. Yet our Army Soldiers are maintaining a force unequal in the world. They are consummate professionals, training others around the world to defend themselves and creating independence unknown in many countries. They are extraordinary warriors, training and fighting to defend our own country, and to keep danger from arriving at our own doorstep. They are moms, dads, husbands, wives … our very own Family members, who set aside their own preferences to secure the freedoms that we enjoy here in America. I could not possibly be more proud of each and every one of them.

I once had a family member ask me why Army Families received extra money during deployments, and I was surprised by the question. My husband was deployed at the time in a dangerous area, maintaining equipment valued in the millions, and was directly responsible for over a hundred other Soldiers in his unit. Why on earth would he not receive extra pay for that kind of job description? How do you equate those responsibilities to the civilian sector? If you’re a civilian with over one hundred people reporting to you and have millions of dollars worth of equipment to oversee, would you be ‘compensated’ for that? I am guessing any civilian job with that job description would be paid pretty well. I think what I realized from that conversation is that money could never be the only ‘compensation’ for our Soldiers.

I do understand and believe that the Army works hard at ‘compensating’ its Soldiers and their Families for their service. Regular pay raises, quality benefits, and continuously upgraded support services are only some of the ways that the Army is working for its Soldiers. More than ever before, Army leaders are looking at Families and Family Programs to make whatever improvements are necessary to enhance Army life. I am deeply appreciative of the changes and utilize these programs as often as possible. I love my life as an Army wife and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I simply am not sure what we could possibly do for these amazing Soldiers to fully compensate them for what they do.

Our Army Families have been dealt a lifestyle that a very select few choose to endure, and are largely handling the challenges with strength and resilience. Compensated enough? Never. But honored and appreciated, knowing we could never fully ‘compensate’ for their sacrifices? Always.

~ Traci Cook for Army Well-Being

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Army Social Media Handbook is Here!

Army Social Media Handbook 2011
View more documents from U.S. Army.