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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Band of Brothers

Today's guest blogger is Marti Kubena who writes "The Kubena Family" blog.  A military spouse, Marti talks about that intangible bond that Soldiers forge when serving in combat together.
When we went to take family pictures, neither Bryan nor I planned on actually being in any of them. But they wanted to do several shots of the baby that required us to hold her.


This is probably my favorite picture of Georgia from the session. We ended up buying this picture, but our copy is zoomed in enough that you don't see Bryan's Texans jersey.

Before he took the pictures, the photographer asked Bryan to take off his watch and bracelet. The watch, sure, but he said NO to taking off the black bracelet.

It is just one of those rubber bracelets that you see for many different causes these days. But it was given to him by one of his buddies in Iraq. And the Soldiers gave them out to the other Soldiers that they felt honored to be serving with. To be at war with. And then it became a reminder of the guys from Bryan's unit that were killed in battle during that deployment. For Bryan, and his buddies, it's a reminder of Sgt Cody Legg.

And he does not take it off.

He has not taken it off for two and a half years.
I'm so used to it that I don't even notice it anymore. The kids know not to play with it. He rarely wears his wedding ring, but he always wears this little black bracelet. And I don't mind that at all.

As cute as Georgie is, I love this picture for more than just her.

I love that Bryan said "NO" to pushing aside the memories of his buddies, even for a few moments.
 


For more information on deployment, visit Army Well-Being: Deployment Cycle Support.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Ten Years Later ... An Army Mom's Reflections

Today's guest blogger is Karen Estrada, MS,  with the"Military Health Matters!" blog. 

Not only does Karen focus on military health, working with Milhealth's Directory of Military Health Information, Resources, and Research, but she's also a military mom.  She has one son in the Army and has experienced first-hand the life of supporting a loved one in the armed services.

Read here as she describes what she's learned in the past ten years since her son first entered the service.


“Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, who is it for? All the lonely people, where do they all come from, all the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Today is the 10th anniversary of OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom). Ten years? Where did the time go? Ten years ago my son, freshly 18 was finally hearing his last name barked out during formation by his DI). Think back, those of you who are military moms, parents, spouses… could you have imagined ‘now’ ten years ago?

So what have you learned?

I learned how to color my own hair, that yelling at the TV can be therapeutic, that I can cry at any McDonalds in Fayetteville, NC (Ft. Bragg), I’ve learned that I can’t fix everything, I’ve learned sometimes all I can do is hold my daughter-in-law’s hand quietly while she weeps, I learned what a capable, strong woman she is.

I've learned how to pack a ‘mean’ care package, I’ve learned that my cell phone “is” part of my body, I learned how to pronounce the names of places I'd never heard of before, I’ve learned how to exist on less than 3 hours sleep at times, I’ve learned to pray a lot more… and I’ve learned God doesn’t ‘really’ make deals with us (even if we think so). I’ve learned how to make the kind of friends you feel you’ve known your entire life.

I’ve learned to become more outspoken, and I’ve learned when I need to keep my mouth closed. I’ve learned 101 witty responses to well-meaning but clueless questions, I’ve learned to accept hugs from total strangers, I’ve learned not to be upset over insignificant things, I’ve learned reverence. I learned how to be a compassionate leader.

I’ve learned about ‘deep in the gut’ sorrow, I’ve learned how to talk with someone who’s lost their child, about tragedy and death, I learned about ‘that deep sigh of relief', I’ve learned its okay to cry on my son’s shoulder before he leaves, that I don’t have to ‘suck it up’….

After four deployments, I’ve learned how to pace myself, the worry and anxiety. Okay, well, I’m still learning that one.

What have you learned? What are you still learning?

~ Karen Estrada, MS “Milhealth” Proud Army Mom!
“H-Minus”

SFC Juan Hernandez, Mortars. 2-505 PIR, 3rd BCT 82nd Airborne. Ft. Bragg, NC
Lyrics, Eleanor Rigby (Lennon/McCartney) 1966.


For more information just for Army parents, visit Army Well-Being: Army Parents.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Guest Bloggers ... Report for Duty!

We are hosting guest bloggers at Army Well-Being and would love to include YOU.  If you are a blogger (or just have great stories to tell), let us know!  We accept entries from US Army Soldiers, spouses, Family members, support organizations, and troop supporters.

Most importantly ...

We focus on news, information, stories, and tips that are helpful for US Army Soldiers and their Families.

If you have a story to tell that fits that criteria, we want YOU!  Read on for more details.

Guest bloggers must:

  • be the original author of the posts (no duplicates of other stories/posts)
  • provide information/resources relevant to US Army Soldiers/Families
  • agree to have a post duplicated on the Army Well-Being blog
  • agree to have their blog (or website or Twitter account) linked on the Army Well-Being blog
  • provide a photo to include with the blog post (preferably a personal photo)
Are you interested in sharing some of your Army stories?  The best blog entries also fit some other basic criteria:

  • Between 500 - 1000 words
  • Free of grammatical and spelling errors
  • Written in first person (I experienced this ... I have a story to share ...)
  • Personal account of Army life
  • Educational and interesting to Soldiers and Families 
Here's how it works:
 
We would post your entry on our blog then link back to your blog. We would also feature your post through our Facebook page and Twitter account.
For an examples of guest postings, see these great posts:

 If you are interested, please send us the URL links you think would be most relevant along with one photo for each posting. You can also email us your post in a Word document with a photo attached.
 
Thanks for considering this opportunity ... we love to tell the Army story and appreciate YOU for your service and sacrifice.

Please email us at armywellbeing@gmail.com, "like" us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter!

And as always, visit us online at http://www.armywellbeing.org/.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Favorite Army Themed Movies

Has a movie ever moved you to tears?  Prompted you to take action?  Told a story you were certain was meant for you?  Movies have a way of touching our lives, sometimes in unexpected ways.  There are many movies made about Army Soldiers and war ... some more accurate than others.  All of them help tell the story that is being an Army Family.  Do any of these movies resonate with you?  Tell your story?  Make you proud to be a Soldier or Army Family?  Frustrate you with inaccuracies? 


We asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers about their favorite Army-themed movies. We've compiled a list of these favorites from our Army Families. Here is what we gathered from our audience:

  1. We Were Soldiers
  2. Platoon
  3. Saving Private Ryan
  4. Apocalypse Now
  5. Home of the Brave
  6. Black Hawk Down
  7. The Patriot
  8. The Big Red One
  9. The Hurt Locker
  10. GT Bilko
  11. Band of Brothers (series)
  12. In the Army Now
  13. Patton
  14. Stripes
  15. The Longest Day
The first several responses we received told us that "We Were Soldiers" was a top favorite.  "We Were Soldiers" is a 2002 American war film that dramatized the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, the first major engagement of United States military forces in the Vietnam War. Directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson, it is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.  Here is a trailer for the movie:



What are your favorite movies?  We'd love to hear from you!

Join in our conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Are You Eligible for Stop-Loss Pay?

Are you eligible for Stop-Loss pay?
President Obama encourages all servicemembers to apply for Stop-Loss pay if eligible. How do you know if you're eligible or not? Check it out here:

Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay

Veterans Administration

U.S. Army Veterans Resources



For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Troops are Encouraged to Apply for Stop-Loss Pay.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Why I Love this Army Life

Guest blogger Kristen Smith is an Army wife who blogs at "That Army Wife Life."  In this post, she shares a glimpse into the life of an Army Family and describes the joys of lifelong friendships forged in some of the most challenging of circumstances.

I have had a truly awful week for the last seven days. Soon, I'll sit down and type it all out but I don't have enough distance yet to do it justice.

Let's just go with I've been really stressed for the last 6 days or so.

I was just as stressed this morning as I attempted to get the house cleaned up, laundry done, start packing, and generally working down the checklist of things that needs to be done before a road trip.

Then, my Soldier called and told me that an old friend of ours was in town for the day and wanted to have lunch. I was planning to just swing through on my way to our baby's 12 month appointment to say, "Hi." But after getting there, I called the Doctor and told them we couldn't make it. Totally the right decision.

You see, the real reason that I love being a member of the Army Family is the people.

The friend we met for lunch was with my Solider at his first assignment and deployed with him on his first deployment. He is one of the people that my Soldier admires. We have some really funny alcohol-related stories about him. He is human and flawed.

But he is also a hero. In the truest, most honest sense of the word. He is an incredibly accomplished and decorated Soldier. In my husband's words, he is one "baaaaaaaad dude."

For four hours today, I watched my Soldier and this friend reminisce about mutual friends, shared battles, and experiences since they last saw each other. They laughed about getting old, recent injuries, and coworkers they didn't like. They speculated about retirement and various job prospects.

In the way that warriors do, they slipped into a shared language. For four hours, this battle-hardened hero played with my one-year-old, joked with me, and commiserated with my Soldier. While discussing a particularly hairy combat experience that occurred while they were deployed together, he casually helped my baby try to climb the restaurant booth.

This is why I love this life. This man is a warrior. A hero. A Soldier's Soldier. "One baaaaaaad dude."  And today, he tickled my son while telling me what his wife has been up to since the last time I saw her.

At it's most basic, this is why we are so strong.

For more information about Army Families, visit Army Well Being: Personal Life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Best Investment You’ll Ever Make

Today's guest blogger, Jillian Lemons, has learned some tough lessons through repeated deployments.  But the best lesson she's learned has helped her be a better -- and happier! -- person.  Read how this National Guard spouse decided to be proactive, take a postive view of life, and invest in herself!  You can follow Jillian on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JRLemons.

As always, feel free to comment on this post and share your ideas, too!

Being a military spouse and a stay-at-home mom are two very challenging roles to play. I’m an Army National Guard spouse, so I don’t live on post or near a base like the typical military spouse does. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that when your spouse is deployed, all the responsibilities end up on your plate.

I’ve taken a different approach to being separated from my Soldier this time around. Instead of being negative, feeling sorry for myself and sadly looking at the calendar and how much further we have to go until he comes home, I decided that this time around is going to be better. I decided that I’m not going to let my negativity infect my whole world and make everything harder and worse for myself.

Not only have I taken this new way of thinking and applied it to my military life, I’ve applied it to my everyday life as well. My new mantra is: Invest in yourself.

When I say, “Invest in yourself,” I mean exactly that. Take the time to make sure you’re at your absolute best. It’s like a going on a long road trip. You wouldn’t just get in the car and get going, would you? No, you would make sure the car was prepared for the journey; oil change, tires, engine, etc. Same goes for you when it comes to deployments. In order for you to take on the responsibilities necessary for you and your Family to make it, it’s smart to fine tune yourself as well; physically and mentally. It’s like the old saying goes, “you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” It’s also true for caring for your Family. How can you expect to take care of your Family and do the best job you can, if you’re not taking proper care of yourself?

Most mothers will admit that they put their spouse and children’s needs before their own. And while I agree with that to a point, I’m a firm believer in making yourself just as high on the priority list as they are. It takes a lot to care for a Family. It takes even more to care for a Family while you’re spouse is deployed. You’re running the whole show! Just like your husband is on the job 24/7, so are you. And why should you get moved to the bottom of the list, just because you’re solo? If anything, that’s the reason you should move to the top of the list! If you’re not at your 100% best, it will ultimately affect your ability to care for your Family, which will then make it harder on everyone else, too.

We knew ahead of time that we had a deployment coming up. This meant that I had many responsibilities that were going to be served up to me, ready or not. And I decided to be ready! I started by going through the usual “checklists” for military spouses when preparing for a deployment. But I also made a self checklist too.

I decided to find psychologist/therapist to see and talk to throughout the deployment. I figured, it couldn’t hurt and would most definitely help. It’s a great way to just talk about whatever is in the forefront of your mind at that point in time and the best part, the therapist will listen objectively! No friend/family input or opinions or unwanted advice. Therapy is definitely an indulgence for me. My therapist isn’t there to try and “fix me.” That’s not what it’s about. It’s just a good way to get the “stuff” floating around in my head, released. I look forward to those appointments and end up leaving happier than when I arrived. I lucked out and found a great person that I really meshed with. Therapy and mental health get a bad rap in general, but believe me, it’s definitely a great thing to check out and see if you benefit from it or not.

The other things I did to put myself first is to be at my healthiest. I started exercising 4-5 days a week. I designated a specific time to workout and was consistent with it. It was MY TIME. Yes, I have to take my 1 year old with me, in her stroller, but I still count it as “me time.” I could make excuses that I’m too tired, or I have a baby and two other kids and can’t go or a million other reasons as to why I can’t find time to workout. However, I’ve found that exercise is yet other key to being at your 100% best. I’ll be the first one to admit, its hard work, but having the dedication and commitment is crucial to becoming successful. I found a quote by Ralph Marston that goes, “Success often comes from doing ordinary things with extraordinary commitment.” I think this is an awesome quote and a great way to look at the things in your life.

The biggest and most challenging thing I’ve done to grow through this deployment instead of getting through this deployment is being positive. I know that may sound cheesy and but it’s a lot easier said than done. By getting rid of all the negative things that surround the word “deployment” and turning it into a great thing, I saw it as an opportunity for me to set goals for myself, find new hobbies, discover and learn things about myself, and to be proud of myself and the things I do. I take pride even in the smallest accomplishments. All of those small accomplishments will add up to one big one when the deployment is done.

Like I said before, it’s not easy to have a positive attitude and outlook all the time. Sometimes you just have to learn to laugh at the situation or let it go, no matter how bad you think it is. Life isn’t always smiles and fun. But being able to see the brighter side of things instead of the darker side is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your Family.

I’ve even been able to help turn my husband’s attitude around by giving him positive advice about whatever is going on in that particular moment in time. Everyone needs to vent at one point or another. Get it out and then move on. There’s always going to be something good that comes out of something not-so good. Not only is negativity a waste of time and energy, it’s contagious. It infects everyone around you. Same rings true for a positive attitude and a smile … whether its real or not.

There have been many times that I haven’t wanted to smile or be a “positive Polly.” It’s easier to join in on the negativity and stew in it, instead of rising above it and choosing a different outlook. Now, I don’t have to fake the smiles or “pep talks” so-to-speak. They’re real. It’s become my persona. Quite a few friends have taken notice of this change as well. It’s funny because in the past when I had the negative outlook, no one said a thing. But now that I’ve changed all of that, people are speaking up and complimenting me on how well I seem to be doing. And there’s no “seem to be” about it. I’m doing well. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that I’m doing great! I’m a stay-at-home mom of three kids, my husband is deployed, and I can still smile and have a wonderful day.

Surprisingly enough, these past almost four months have flown by. I haven’t once looked at the calendar and thought to myself, “Ugh … time is going by so slow! When will this be over?” To this day, it still shocks me at how fast the days, weeks, and months are coming and going. I’m most definitely giving the majority of the credit for the way things are going to the fact that I decided to invest in myself, prepare myself ahead of time, and no matter what, always look at the brighter side of things. All of this has reflected from me to my Family and even all the way across the world to my husband.

For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Deployment Cycle Support.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who Am I to Advise Anyone? I'm Just an Army Wife.

Today's guest blogger is Army wife Jennifer Morrison.  Jennifer records her military life at her blog, "Also Known As ... The Wife."  In this blog post, she reflects on the advice she wishes she had been given as a new spouse ... and shares some tips on how to best jump right in to the Army life!

What advice would I give to someone whose spouse is joining the military? This was a question I inadvertently posed to myself when I saw a friend’s Facebook status wishing her husband luck on his ASVAB test tomorrow. I saw many people wishing him luck, some of those who are military spouses themselves, but no one really gave my friend any type of advice or a brief heads up about what she could expect through the enlistment process, Basic Training and Advance Individual Training, and then life as a service member’s wife.


It seems that the spouse is always an after thought, if a thought at all, for most people. What could I say to her that could convey the huge lifestyle change that her young family was about to embark upon? What advice did I receive when I decided that my life would be intermingled with the military? The more I thought about it the more I realized that no one gave me advice on what to expect until after I was head-first down the rabbit hole.

I’ve developed my own mantra which I live and die by with all things military-related: “Nothing is ever definite in the military until after it’s done … and even then it’s negotiable.” This has proven itself true over and over again in the course of the six years Tim and I have been together. I’ve been told that he’s going to a school needed for promotion more times than I count only to have it fail to come to fruition. I’ve seen my husband go up to a promotion board, pass, and be told that it didn’t count because it wasn’t the correct board. Tim was activated for deployment three times since September 2001 and has only deployed twice. Amazingly, his deployable status seems to be more favorable since we’ve been together. I could go on and on with examples but my point is to prepare for anything and everything, the worst case and the best case and somewhere between as well.

I’m big believer that you’ll enjoy the military lifestyle more if you become an active member of the military community. There is no one else in this world that can truly empathize with what it’s like being married to a service member more than another military spouse. Sure, your friends can tell you how much they missed their husband when he was gone for two weeks for work training but it just isn’t the same because your friend’s husband isn’t training for combat operations and, last time I checked, San Diego wasn’t a war zone with a different language, culture, and a population who gave you the most evil of eyes every time they walked past you.

A military spouse can listen to your deepest concerns and worries and in the next breath make you forget all about them. When I found out Tim was heading for another deployment, I quickly became more involved with the unit and then with the Family Readiness Group. I wanted to be ‘in the know’ and the only way to do that was to get involved. I went to family meetings hosted by the unit and I did all the reading I possibly could. I also joined a military spouse message board and it became of a wealth of information and support when I needed it the most.

Knowing I wasn’t alone in dealing with all the crazy things the military can throw at you allowed me to throw away that “woe is me” attitude and realize it’s not just me and I could certainly have a worse situation. There’s also something to be said for the military rumor mill; you can sometimes get some good information from it and other times you can get an incredible belly laugh.

The best piece of advice that put it all together for me came from a friend who was then a Captain in the Air Force. He said to me, “You need to realize you’ll never be number one, hell, you may not even been number two at times. It’s always duty first and the Soldier decides to prioritize the rest.” I sat with my mouth open for a good thirty seconds because I couldn’t think of a reply to debate his point. He was absolutely right. No one can prepare you for not being your spouse’s first priority; it’s completely against the tenets of most marriage vows (“forsaking all others” ring a bell?).

The military will become your husband’s wife and you’ll be the mistress sometimes. It’s especially frustrating being a second priority when your spouse is still your first, but you know the old saying about life not being fair. Once you realize this, you’ll become a more empowered person; you’ll be handling situations you never dreamed you’d be handling without your spouse. I’ve learned to change my car battery, beat the hell out of my car starter to get the engine to turn over, and that I can drive from New Jersey to Florida in 12 hours.

If you’re shy, you’ll come out of your shell in the blink of an eye and wonder what took you so long and what really was holding you back. If you embrace and accept reality, you’ll actually enjoy the role you play in this crazy lifestyle.

So again, what would I advise a new military spouse? Be skeptical, be well prepared, get active, and get with reality. It also helps if you can cook or bake; there is no better way to fall into good favor with the Soldiers then by bringing up some chili or cookies. I would know; I’ve earned the nickname of “The Cookie Lady.”

For more information on Army life, visit Army Well-Being: Personal Life.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Family Matters: Army Community Services

Today's guest blogger is Kristen Smith.  Kristen is an Army spouse and blogger, writing about her experiences in the Army at "That Army Wife Life."  This post is about all the amazing resources available at every Army installation.  New to your post?  Start with Army Community Services!

There are a multitude of services of available on every post for Soldiers and their spouses. The key is learning where to look and who to ask when looking for assistance. My experience has been that a great many of these programs are vastly underutilized. People don't know that they are there, the benefits to utilizing them, or don't think the programs can help them.

A good place to start no matter what you are looking for is Army Community Services. Known as ACS, Army Community Services provides information, assistance, and guidance to active duty Soldiers and their Families. In many cases, ACS can refer an individual or Family to the appropriate agency.

I wanted to highlight a few of the standard offerings of ACS. While it is an Army-wide program, the details of any program will vary a bit from post to post.

ACS OFFERINGS:

Army Emergency Relief (AER) - Emergency financial assistance in the form of low interest loans and (occasionally) grants. The application for AER assistance goes through the Soldier's chain of command and is generally approved to pay a very specific amount (bills/car repair). Soldier is often required to provide proof that the funds were used to pay that specific expense by bringing back a receipt or similar verification.

Financial Readiness - credit information and assistance, budget preparation, and more offered through financial readiness classes. Open to both service members and their Families. These classes are frequently offered by units, especially while gearing up for a deployment.

ACS Volunteers - Between jobs, want to get out of the house, or build a resume? ACS is staffed by volunteers in many areas. Some posts offer free childcare to ACS volunteers.

Information and Referral - Assistance regarding crisis counseling, foster care information, support information, referrals for food stamps, emergency food resources, emergency food baskets, and community education.

EFMP Assistance - Help with resources, information, referrals and assistance with registration in the Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP.

Relocation Readiness Program - Know that a PCS is imminent? Or just arrived at a new duty station? ACS has Welcome Packets and local information. Citizenship assistance and classes as well as ESL (English as a Second Language) are often also offered.

Loan Closet - short term loan of daily use items for Families in the course of a move to or from an installation. Usually available are dishes, plate and silverware, cots, cribs and other similar household items to bridge the gap between the move and the delivery of household goods.

Army Family Team Building (AFTB) - a series of classes with something for everyone. Army basics (like what all those acronyms mean!), an installation tour, basic overview of resources available at your post, and a chance to speak to representatives from many different on post organizations.

This list is not exhaustive, but should show you that your local ACS has something to offer for even the most experienced spouse. There are all these resources out there to many this often challenging life a little easier ... let's use them!
 
For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Resources A - Z.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"I Do." Vows to Keep In An Interfaith Marriage

Today's guest blogger is Archelle Georgiou, MD.  Her blog, "Archelle on Health" is a fabulous resource for all things health-related.  In this post, she shares with us some of her experiences in an interfaith marriage and offers some (unsolicted) advice for newlyweds, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy.  Read more about her marriage, advice, and let us know what you think!  We always appreciate hearing from Army Well-Being readers.


The marriage of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky generated speculation about how this couple's religious differences would sort themselves out:

How will they raise their children?
Will she convert?
Will he keep Kosher?
And, of course: Will they have a Christmas tree?

The newly married couple has been spotted in Namibia on a safari. But soon enough, the honeymoon will be over. Since I have a bit of experience regarding interfaith marriage, I thought I’d offer some unsolicited advice.

Dear Chelsea and Mark,

David and I have been married for 22 years. While the religious details of our wedding are a bit different than yours -- I converted and we had a Conservative Jewish wedding -- we have faced many of the joys struggles of an interfaith marriage. So, I thought it might be helpful to share what we have learned as the two of you begin your new life together.

-- Don't ever EXPECT that your spouse will change their values or their belief system.

While an individual’s religious beliefs can evolve (as mine did), that change can only come from within. Even then, it’s really hard. I sailed through my conversion process that consisted of “10 Easy Lessons to Becoming Jewish.” Then I spent the next 10 years figuring out (and struggling, at times) how to embrace a new faith while honoring and respecting my past.

Mark, I was thrilled to see that you signed a Ketubah, stomped on a crystal glass, and danced the hora on your wedding day. Chelsea, I hope that you, too, incorporated equally meaningful symbolic moments into your day. To be honest, I was a little worried that they weren’t as evident in all the pictures that we saw. Remember, each of you has entered your marriage with over thirty years of traditions-—family traditions, religious traditions, cultural traditions. They make you who you are. Getting married is an opportunity to share them…not abandon them.

-- Decide what religious beliefs and traditions will guide the upbringing of your children, and, figure it out well before they’re born.

We got this one right from the beginning. In our case, it was easy; the kids would be raised Jewish. But, in 1994, during a moment of inconsistency, I talked David into letting me decorate the house with garland during the “winter” holiday. I rushed off with Arielle to Michael’s Crafts, and while we were in the checkout lane, she said "Mommy, why are you buying that? We don't celebrate Christmas." My 5 year old's reminder made it easy to leave the store empty-handed. Do your kids a favor -- don't confuse them. Children look for unity in the messages that they get from both parents.

-- Intrafaith differences are just as important to address as interfaith differences.

David, the grandson of an Orthodox rabbi, grew up in a traditional Kosher home. Fasting on Yom Kippur really meant eating absolutely nothing! I, on the other hand, was raised in a home where fasting for Easter simply meant not eating meat on Good Friday. We entered our relationship with very different expectations of our levels of observance, and it took several holiday cycles to find some common ground. Here’s the best advice I have on this issue: compromise.

Its easy to think that I was the one who compromised most in the relationship. I thought so too, for twenty years, until June 2008 when Fay, David's mother, passed away unexpectedly. I saw my husband fully immerse himself in the Jewish Orthodox funeral traditions -- sitting shiva, remaining unshaven, wearing a torn shirt and tie for a week and committing to saying Kaddish for a year. I realized that at his core, David is highly observant because he finds comfort in the structure of organized religion. But, he had quietly and willingly given that up and, on the surface at least, he settled into the looser traditions of Reform Judaism so that we could live our life together.

-- As your children mature and recognize that you came from different backgrounds, be prepared for questions that challenge and explore your deepest held assumptions beliefs.

Our girls attended the funerals of 2 grandparents in one year. Fay's had a closed casket. My father's Greek Orthodox funeral had an open casket accompanied by wailing women in black veils. Why the difference? Which approach offers a greater sense of closure? What would the girls each prefer when they die? Can they be Jewish and still have an open casket? Arielle has made the decision, at the age of 20, to document a specific, customized interfaith approach to her own future funeral so that it can be exactly how she wants. These conversations aren't for the faint-hearted.

Chelsea and Mark, you are both highly intelligent people and clearly thrive on intellectual and spiritual stimulation. If you are open and accepting, your interfaith marriage can be an ongoing journey that is just as enlightening as it is challenging.

Mazel Tov,
"Συγχαρητήρια για τον γάμο σας"
Archelle (and David)

For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Your Relationships.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Catch Those Creative Juices and Box 'Em Up for Your Soldier!

Today's guest blog post comes from military spouse, Jillian Lemons.  Jillian shares some great ideas for care packages while your Soldier is deployed.  You can follow Jillian on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JRLemons

As always, feel free to comment on this post and share your ideas, too!

I haven’t been a military spouse for long, but with all the care packages I’ve sent and ideas I have you’d think I’ve been doing this for a lot longer. I love being creative as creative as I can. I love doing things for my husband that I know will make him smile or totally make his day great!

Anything and everything that I think may make my husband smile, especially if I think it may be silly or stupid, it’s usually the things he loves the most. Sending a thoughtful package that I’ve put lots of time, effort, and love into makes me just as excited to send it as it is for my husband to receive it.

It seems that when I come up with a great idea, I get worried that I won’t be able to “top” it, in a sense. But somehow, someway, I end up thinking of another way to show my love and appreciation for my Soldier.

I’ve complied some of the things I’ve done for my husband and some ideas I have yet to do. I hope it gives you some inspiration and that you can put your own creative spin on things or even add to them and make them even better!

One of my husband’s favorite things I’ve ever sent to him was this box full of ordinary, everyday items that I turned into anything but. Each item that I included in the box had a bigger meaning behind it than you would normally think of when you saw each item. I also attached the name of the item and then the reason it was in the box (I typed up, printed out, cut apart, and glued each one on red, white and blue construction paper) with ribbon.

Here’s a list of the things I put into the box:

  • A yellow ribbon: so you always know you have 100% support.
  • A piece of rope: for when you’re reaching the end of yours.
  • Lifesavers: because that’s what you are to me.
  • Hug (Hershey’s): so you know that someone is always on your side.
  • A bag of marbles: for when you feel like you’ve lost yours!
  • Ibuprofen: because all jobs can be a headache sometimes.
  • A tootsie roll: to help you roll with the punches.
  • Confetti: to remind you to have fun.
  • A candle: to light up the darkness.
  • A penny: for luck!
  • A rubber band: to stretch yourself beyond the limits.
  • A cotton ball: to cushion the rough roads.
  • A jolly rancher: to remind you of how sweet things can be.
  • Magnets: to remind you of how strong and powerful our love is for each other.
  • A battery: to give you that extra charge to keep you going.
  • Tape: to fix things that won’t work.
  • String: to tie things together when everything falls apart.
  • A match: to light your fire when you’re feeling burned out.
  • Starbursts: to give you a burst of energy on a day you feel you have none.
  • Gum: to help your unit stick together.
  • Smarties: because that what you are..SMART!
  • A bag: to help you keep it all together.
I’m sure there are many other things that could be included with this idea, but those are the ones that I used. He loved it!  It took a little time to put it all together, but it was worth it!

For more information, visit Army Well-Being "Deployment Cycle Support."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Long Live The Greeks ... But Will They Prosper?

Today's guest blogger is Archelle Georgiou, MD.  Her blog, "Archelle on Health" is a fabulous resource for all things health-related.  In this post, she shares with us a recent trip to Greece with her family ... and the lessons she learned there.

Celebrity chef, Andrew Zimmern, said it well in a recent article, "Headlines be damned. Greece is still open for business."

Well, sort of. . .

My family and I recently returned from a month long trip to Greece. Indeed, it was glorious, and it would be fun to write about the exquisite meals, the inspiring history, and the experience of "moving in" to Lahania, the small village (population: 50) where my father was born. But, that's not what I'm writing about because, frankly, I expected that we would have a wonderful vacation. What I wasn't expecting is that I would get an insider's view of the Greek economic crisis.

It started the moment we arrived. The plan for our first full day in Athens was to visit the New Acropolis Museum that opened to rave reviews in 2009. It cost $200 million and sits near the base of the Acropolis with a direct view of the Parthenon. BUT....we were promptly informed that the museum was closed. In fact, all of the historical sites were closed due to a 1-day national strike.

Two and half million public and private sector workers in Greece were on strike in Athens and other major cities protesting the European Union-International Monetary Fund austerity measures. This particular strike was scheduled on the same day that the Parliament was voting on a bill to increase the retirement age to 65 and decrease early pensions for workers. FYI...the Greek government has policies that promise early retirement (age 50 for women and 55 for men) to 700,000 people. Warning: Don't get in between a Greek and their "syntaxi" -- their retirement check.

No problem...we decided to spend the day in Varkiza, one of the lovely beaches just outside of the city.

Interestingly, despite the palpable anger and frustration (with their own government, not the EU or IMF), we didn't see any picket lines or strikers. The beach, however, was packed with locals who were thrilled to have a day off. Little did we know that this was the 5th national strike since February with the sixth strike scheduled for July 25.

Over the course of the next four weeks, we had many conversations about the financial crisis, and there were two consistent themes regarding the root cause: overspending and fraud.

Overspending

There are many reports that suggest that the 2004 Olympic Games put the country into a downward spiral, and this issue came up frequently in our discussions. Costing $11 billion dollars, in addition to infrastructure costs, this was 50% over budget and clearly more than the country could afford. In our conversations, however, the prevailing perspective was that it was the government's fault.

Maybe so, but there is a long history of overspending, in the form of entitlements, that the country cannot afford to continue but, yet, the people don't want to give up. Did you know:
  • As a way to stimulate population growth, women who have three or more more children are given a lifetime stipend. One family that we were with has four sons. All are adults, and the mother continues to receives 200 euros per month...forever.
  • As a way to stimulate tourism, the government established incentives for entrepreneurs to build hotels and open restaurants. And, what a deal! The government gifted--yes, paid for...60% of the development costs for new projects. This helps explains why the islands are lined with large, luxurious hotels with a 57% average hotel occupancy rate.
  • All employees receive two bonuses a year: a Christmas bonus equal to one month of salary and an Easter bonus equal to two weeks of salary. So, employers are obligated to pay 13.5 months of wages for 12 months of work. Can anyone say pay for performance? Management discretion? Nah.
Fraud

The common enemy among those we spoke to is the 2004-2009 government led by Kostas Karamanlis. "They stole our money! Why should we suffer as a result of those criminals?"

Agree. Many articles describe Karamanlis' reign as corrupt and scandalous with fraudulent financial practices. But, fraud is not limited to the government. Greece has a well-known, long history of tax evasion that costs the country $20.5 billion per year.

While I was well aware of the tax evasion, I didn't realize how much fraud is woven into the country's culture. Defrauding "the system" is not considered unethical, it's how they win. They don't hide it. Rather they brag about it -- because it's the norm. We heard several examples that simply made us cringe:

  • In casual conversation, one gentleman was telling us about his fifteen day hospital stay; the doctor submitted a bill for thirty. One of long time friends, a US citizen, didn't have insurance in Greece but needed Lovenox, an expensive medication to prevent blood clots. She had a doctor write the prescription for her mother, a Greek citizen, who was insured by the national plan. An economist and health care broker estimated that 10% of health care costs are fraudulent.
  • Business going under? Set it on fire and start over. Arson drives about 20% of fire insurance claims.
  • It was recently discovered that on top of the 2.6 million people getting a retirement check, there are an additional 160,000 people are on the pension rolls. Here's the problem: they are dead and their families are still cashing the checks.
As a Greek, I deeply disappointed. As a US citizen, I am deeply concerned because it seems that the EU-IMF's rescue loan will only have a sustainable impact if the country's values are re-wired to include personal accountability and integrity. However, in my opinion, the prognosis is dim and, according to Alberto Alesina, a professor of political economy at Harvard, "...what matters is (the) family....there is less of a sense of duty towards the state." (WSJ, 2/10/1010). In other words, less money in the government's pocket means more money in the family's pocket. And, that's what matters most.

The Greeks' unflappable commitment to their families is both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Extended families frequently live within steps of each other and eat two meals together...every day. Young adults enjoy spending time with their parents and live at home until they are married. The elderly are included as an important member of the family, and placement of seniors in nursing homes is the exception rather than the rule. It is well known that family connectivity, meaningful conversation, and interacting with people who make us feel loved and appreciated is a key component of longevity. The life expectancy in Greece is 79.8 years versus 78.2 years in the US.

So, what's the bottom line? Take a trip to Greece. Eat a Mediterranean diet. Get up and dance on the tables. Drink ouzo. Take a nap. Watch very carefully how families interact.

Then, come home to the good 'ol USA and incorporate the good that you've learned into your life.

Create Health,
Archelle

For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Health Information.

Monday, August 09, 2010

An Open Letter to Teachers of Military Kids

Today's guest blog post comes from This Fabulous Army Life and reminds us that back-to-school can mean different things to different students ... and our military kids may have more on their minds than just first day of school jitters.

My military kids heading back to school
Dear Professional Educators,

For most kids, Back to School means school supplies, new shoes, and a reluctant farewell to the lazy days of summer. For military kids, it might be a bit more complicated. If you have military kids in your classroom, this letter is just for you!

On the first day of school, many of our military kids will be attending yet another new school. They will have to learn new rules and procedures, introduce themselves to new friends, and try to find their place in a world that is brand-new to them.

Remember that they may have just moved into the area, leaving behind close friends and familiar surroundings. It could be that they are still living out of boxes since their family’s household goods were delivered the day before. Or they might be the ones who stayed in their home while their closest friends moved on to a new installation in another state. Thank you for providing them a comfortable, safe place at school to learn and grow.

If these military kids have a parent deployed, they are in a special group all to themselves. This group of children may need additional support, extra attention, and a touch of compassion for their unique situation. When a young mind is worried about the safety of their parent, it changes their perspective on life and could affect their school performance.

If one appears uninterested in geography, it may be that he is distracted, thinking about countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where his hero has been and is currently deployed. If another becomes aggressive at recess, consider that she may be acting out on emotions she doesn’t even understand. They miss their Soldier-parents. Thank you for showing them kindness and helping them learn appropriate ways to handle their frustration.

Finally, thank you for taking on the challenge of educating today’s youth. We appreciate your dedication to teaching and encouraging our children. Along with their peers, they need teachers like you, who will care about them, set high standards, and work to ensure their success. We look forward to working with you to determine the best learning possible for our kids and making this a successful school year.

Very Sincerely,
Military Parents

Leave a comment or share your tips for preparing our military kids for a new school year!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Our Normal" Between Deployments

Guest blogger Christina Piper describes how deployment affects daily life for military Families, even during the coveted "dwell time" when servicemembers are at home with their Families.  It's a powerful post with which many Army Families can identify and empathize.  Read more of Christina's posts at "Her War, Her Voice" blog.

I am thinking that we might be hitting our normal, at least normal for us. We still have crazy hours, and the Army is still a very active role in our lives but deployment shenanigans have almost disappeared.

It has almost been a year and a half since his last return from war. The dreams have stopped. I am not jumping at fireworks, and his jumps are not as noticeable. I am use to sleeping next to him again, and will rarely double check if he is really there. I am not shocked to hear his voice in the mornings, or as annoyed when my stuff is moved around in the bathroom. There is now space for him. There is now space for Us.

The kids are coming around. My girl lives for every moment spent in his arms. She watches for any opening to touch him, and love him. She is no longer crying for him at night, and looks forward to doing anything that he is a part of. Her laugh fills the air when he is around.

My son is still giving him a hard time, but there are moments that his walls come down. There are moments when he will cuddle up in his lap and chill. He can’t wait for wrestle time, playful arguments, and any sort of competition. He struggles with showing his love, but it is there.

I see my husband relaxing into this life, again, and there is a sense of peace in him, at times. I also see him react to the news that his guys are going again, and I know that he would go with them, given the choice. I don’t feel him flinch when I touch him, and his smile is reaching his eyes, at last.

I am beginning to let my guard down, and that scares me. I am enjoying normal in this moment, and I am waiting for the next set of orders. Deployment gnaws at the back of my mind like a rat trying to get into a seed bag, persistent and relentless. Guilt swims in my veins at every word from others facing the “D” word. I cry, and I know that that will be us again.

I fear the fourth long deployment. I fear it, and I know that it is coming. It is coming like the tide, and I don’t know when it will arrive. But I feel it lingering there waiting to break up our normal. Waiting to tear at us, and challenge us again. Waiting to put tears in my children’s eyes, and waiting to take him away. Waiting to take him away from us, yet again.

We will live in normal while we can, for as long as we can. I will breathe his smell in deep, for I know what it is like when that smell is absent for a year or more. I will be thankful for this time, and cherish it while I can. I will hold him in spades, wash his underwear, and deal with his foul habits, because when he is called again to war I will need to look back on normal.

More Resources for Deployment Cycle Support

Friday, July 16, 2010

Soldiers are Encouraged to Reach Out, Talk, and Listen

This blog post appears in the DoD Live Blog.

Army Suicide Prevention

The Army’s commitment to providing all members of the Army Family with the support and care they deserve is unwavering. Army leaders are speaking out to let Soldiers, DA Civilians, and Family members know that their mental health is just as important as their physical health, and that when they need help staying mentally fit, there is always someone within their Army Family ready and willing to help.

Army leaders aren’t the only ones speaking out. Those who’ve experienced emotional crises, sought help to heal their wounds, and have emerged stronger Soldiers as a result, are coming forward to let others who are struggling know that they are not alone.

Shoulder to Shoulder: I Will Never Quit on Life features vignettes and testimonials of real Soldiers, DA Civilians, and Family members who received help for psychological distress or who assisted an individual in need.

Designed to be used as a supplemental resource for the Army-approved suicide prevention and awareness training model, ACE (Ask, Care, Escort), the video illustrates how we can work together to keep each other, and our Army, mentally fit.

Suicide is not just a problem within the Army. The stories and underlying messages apply to all of us. Soldiers, Army Civilians, Family members and the public are all encouraged to watch Shoulder to Shoulder, and consider how they can live by the examples of these Army Strong Family members.



Have you or someone you know experienced similar struggles? How did you cope?

For Immediate Concerns

The Army Suicide Prevention Office is not a crisis center and does not provide counseling services. If you are feeling distressed or hopeless, thinking about death or wanting to die, or, if you are concerned about someone who may be suicidal, please contact Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information, visit www.preventsuicide.army.mil.

Back to Suicide Prevention

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Remembering Our Heroes as we Celebrate Our Freedom

The 4th of July is a favorite holiday of many in the United States. And why not? Celebrating the freedoms we enjoy daily is a great thing to do. From fireworks and family gatherings to cook-outs and picnics, Independence Day is a true celebration.

At Army Well-Being, we wanted to bring you some must-see stories about our heroes who are fighting for those very freedoms, even now. Take a moment to remember those who have sacrificed so much for the values we hold so dear.

Some great reading for you on this holiday:

Independence Day Greetings from Combat

On Independence Day, like many other holidays, Soldiers are given the opportunity to send a shout-out to their loved ones back home.  This is a great service provided by Army broadcasters, but not too many people know where to look for these videos. The Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System holds on to thousands of these greetings, so visit DVIDS Greetings and see if you can find your Soldier this Independence Day.




Remember the Price Paid for Independence Day Celebrations


For most of us, the 4th of July will be filled with family gatherings, festivals, and fireworks. While we enjoy our freedoms here in the states, U.S. military members around the world are patrolling deserts, flying in darkness, navigating the high seas and risking their lives in far-off places. This commentary is an attempt to put that aspect of America's independence into perspective and offer an expression of gratitude for all that American warfighters have done and continue to do.




Thinking About Independence Day



This blog post, from the Jane Wayne blog, is written by an Army spouse and reminds us to think of all our servicemembers on this Independence Day.  As we approach our Nation’s birthday, I am always reminded of the service and sacrifice of so many who have come before us. From the day that we adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776 until today, brave men and women have served, sacrificed, fought, and died to preserve it. Freedom truly is not free.


Happy Independence Day from all of us at Army Well-Being!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Feeling Lost? Take These First Steps at a New Army Post

Today's guest blog post comes from blogger Crystal Lewis Brown.  Crystal is an Army spouse of five years and editor of the Fort Jackson Leader.  She shares some excellent advice for new spouses  ...  and those who may be feeling a little "lost" due to a PCS move or other Army change.  You can read more of Crystal's stories at her blog, "Emotional Tightrope."

The hit television show, “Lost,” is about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves stranded on a mysterious tropical island. Each episode, the characters become more and more confused as they encounter polar bears, a monster made entirely of black smoke and unknown assailants.

For many of us, our first experience in the Army life may feel a bit like that. It’s easy to feel lost as we try to become acclimated to the new world we have entered.

But unlike those plane crash survivors, we don’t have people lurking around every corner, threatening us with harm. Instead, there are those who work countless hours to provide us with everything we need to become acclimated to the Army life. So for those who are new to the military life, I offer the following tips:
  1. Take a visit to the Army Community Services center. When I arrived at my husband’s first duty station, he was instructed to take me first to ACS. Although I had no clue at the time what ACS was, it made a huge difference. I got the chance to see what types of services were offered, get a calendar of on-post events and I even left with a couple of job leads.


  2. Take advantage of the free classes and events. Fort Jackson offers a wide array of classes every week. The best part is, they’re all free. Whether you want to learn how to “speak Army,” get a handle on your finances or learn how to deal with your active toddler, there is a class for you. ACS even holds events for newcomers that provide information on various on-post agencies and what they have to offer.


  3. Contact the hospital. Even for those who never get sick, it is a good idea to be familiar with the on-post hospital. While Moncrief Army Community Hospital doesn’t have an emergency room, there are several other clinics, including an urgent care clinic, that offer Family members and Soldiers an opportunity to be seen.


    It is also a good idea to stop by the TRICARE office to make sure that you and all of your family members are enrolled. A couple of weeks ago, I missed out on an appointment for my son because I never bothered to fill out the proper paperwork. Taking a few minutes in advance to make sure all of your paperwork is in order can mean avoiding a hassle later.


  4. Get in touch with your unit’s Family Readiness Group. At an FRG meeting the other day, one of the women shared how she had an emergency soon after she and her husband reached their new duty station. With her husband already away on assignment, she was left to take care of things alone. The FRG offers support for spouses, whether in an emergency or not. Don’t wait until a deployment to seek guidance from the FRG, start now. If your unit doesn’t have an FRG, or if you’re unsure, speak to the company commander about possibly starting one.


  5. Get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to want to keep to yourself upon arriving in a new place. But it is healthy for you — and your family members — to experience all that the post has to offer. Check out the community calendar at http://jackson.mhsoftware.com/. Or take advantage of the hourly care options on post and take some “me” time to go shopping, work out or just take a nap while the children are under the care of trained professionals.
Is this an exhaustive list of hints to get you ready for a new life in the military? Of course not. But I can assure you that there are many men and women, much wiser than me, who have the best advice possible.

And many of them are right in your unit.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Honor of Army Dads: Happy Father's Day!

In our continuing series describing "My Fabulous Army Life," Traci Cook thanks Army Dads for their service and sacrifice for their Families.

Photo: Our Army dad showing his boys around the 1st Cavalry Division museum.

I was waiting on a flight at Dallas/Fort Worth airport several years ago and remember seeing a young Soldier get off the plane at my gate. He stepped into the waiting area, looked around anxiously, and then ran toward a young woman holding an infant. As they embraced and she lifted the baby to hand him to the Soldier, I realized that this young man was seeing his baby, his son, for the very first time. I know this scene is played out across our Army all the time, but it brought tears to my eyes to watch their reunion. This young Family stays with me as a reminder of what our Soldiers give up in the cause of freedom.

As Father’s Day approaches this year and we plan to celebrate the dad in our Family, I couldn't help but think about all the Army dads out there who do such an amazing job of balancing family and work.

Having watched my husband of 16+ years, the past 10+ of those as a dad, I have seen how difficult it can be to be a great Soldier and a great Dad. It takes constant practice, endless perseverance, and boundless patience. He is amazing at it and I am thankful each day for his love and leadership in our family, but I think he’d be the first to tell you that it’s no easy task.

Any Army Family can tell you that being in the Army is not like many other jobs. In fact, "job" doesn't quite cover it. "Career" or "lifestyle" come closer, but it's an all-consuming life choice to be an American Soldier. Work days are long and hard, field exercises take dads away from their homes for weeks at a time, and ... to quote one of my favorite Toby Keith country songs about the American Soldier, "... I can't call in sick on Mondays when the weekend's been too strong ... " Many of the everyday liberties taken by workers all across our country (like calling in sick or showing up late) are not an option for our Soldiers.

Army training and combat operations trump all other events. Believe it or not, this is not a concept that makes me angry or bitter. I get it. I can clearly see how ensuring that our combat teams are prepared for war and keeping them focused and ready during combat operations is key and fundamental. Got that. What are a little harder to swallow are the missed births, first words, high school graduation ceremonies, and other life events. I intellectually understand why this happens, but emotionally, my heart breaks for these dads who miss so much. (Quick note: I am aware of the sacrifices made by our Army moms as well … and dual military Families have all of these issues two-fold … but today I want to focus on the dads in the Family.)

Army dads have a supreme mission … to perform well as a Soldier and to support a Family. Being gone from the home for extended periods of time can make it hard to keep ‘the pulse’ of what is happening, but I have seen countless success stories … dads who remain close to their kids, stay involved in the Family, and keep their marriage top priority. To these dads, I give my thanks and gratitude.

For every Soldier-dad who has heard the words, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” I want to say THANK YOU. Thank you for your courage, strength, and sacrifice. Thank you for serving your country even when it is not convenient for your own family. Thank you for loving your children enough to show them the right way to do things, even when it’s not the easy way. Thank you for dealing with the tough times in order to make our lives safe and free here at home. When that little dagger stabs you in the heart at the sound of “I miss you so much,” please know that you are appreciated and loved.

For their endless patience and love, and in honor of their sacrifice and courage, Army Dads are my heroes!

Also, to Army dads … if you haven’t seen the video for the song “Price of Peace,” you simply must see it. It describes a daughter’s perspective on her dad going to war. Even more powerful is the fact that the song was written by a young girl whose Dad serves in the Reserves and is sung by this talented young girl along with her sister. Good stuff.




For more information for Army parents, visit Army Well-Being: Personal Life
** This blog post reposted from "This Fabulous Army Life" blog.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kids Enjoy a "Mock Deployment"

Traci Cook writes about her Family's attendance at the "Mock Deployment" recently hosted on Fort Hood, Texas.

Fort Hood hosted a "Mock Deployment" for children last week, an event designed to educate our kids on a little of what our Soldiers encounter when they prepare to deploy.  I was interested right away and signed up my two boys -- ages ten and seven -- for the event.  The kids were encouraged to dress in their best Army or camoflauge summer clothes for the event.  Our boys immediately took out their battalion t-shirts and camo shorts and were ready for the day.  After a flurry of sunscreen and final preparation, we were on our way.
Upon arrival, the boys checked in at the registration desk for their deployment packet ... a backpack full of fun stuff: camo binoculars ("bi-nos" for our experienced kids), dog tags, water bottle, and lots of great booklets and information for them.  They were given new identities for the day:  PFC Cook, N. and PFC Cook, J.  After being assigned to "Echo Platoon," we headed outside so the boys could fall into their formation.  A military roll-call ensued followed by a few quick lessons on right-face, left-face, about-face, forward march, attention, and at ease.
As the new troops stood in formation behind their platoon guidon, the Army Community Service (ACS) coordinators welcomed the troops and the III Corps Command Sergeant Major gave a brief overview of the day then taught the kids how to shout out a proper "HOOAH."  The formations then all marched into our first briefing of the day.  The introduction brief was all about what it's really like during deployment, complete with a slide show.  From there, the kids moved through several fun stations.
A first step in the process was getting throug the Medical station.  The kids all received 'shots' ("Thank goodness THOSE were fake," says one of the boys.) from medical personnel then moved through dental (receiving new toothbrushes and toothpaste) then taking an eye exam where their vision was deemed fit to deploy.  The next few stations were definitely among the most fun of the day.  First, all participants were face painted in camo then allowed to try on a variety of real Army gear with Soldiers standing by to assist.  The kids could try on:  kevlars, bullet-proof vests, protective masks, gloves, boots, and more.

Just like in a real preparation for deployment, the kids participated in several briefings throughout the day.  They heard the In-Country brief where they learned about the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan, some "dos" and "don'ts" of dealing with the people of those countries, and saw lots of photos of what the area would look like when they got there.  The participants also talked about all the things they needed to do before they left the country, including age-appropriate descriptions of Powers of Attorney, financial requirements, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  They even participated in the Family Readiness Group (FRG) brief where they talked about things like "What is an FRG anyway?"  Next, the troops moved outside for a mini-road march complete with cadences then a training obstacle course.  The course contained tires to step through, a water grenade qualification range, low crawls, and a zig-zag speed course.  My boys had a blast doing this!

Water Grenade Qualification Range
Low Crawl
The Final Run

After the obstacle course, the military police from Fort Hood demonstrated their amazing working canines.  We watched some of their training techniques and enjoyed the dogs showing off their skills.  Once that was complete, each participant was given a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE, certificate of completion, and said farewell in a final formation.  After the event was over, we went back to the static displays of various Army vehicles and equipment.  Our unit had some Soldiers there showing participants through a Howitzer.  It was a huge hit with the kids and my own boys spent a good amount of time crawling in and out and asking a million questions.  All of the participating Soldiers were fabulouse ... informative, friendly, and eager to show off their prize equipment.  It was a great time.

Here, the boys spend lots of time quizzing Soldiers about the Howitzer.

Later that evening, my Soldier demonstrated the finer points of preparing MREs to the boys.  They opened up their packages and were eager to eat "just like Daddy does in the field."  We brought home Chicken & Dumplings and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.  The boys were very good sports, trying all of the different items.  My favorite quotes of the night?  "Daddy, is this a chicken or a dumpling?" and, in response to me telling them that Daddy had eaten lots of MREs throughout his years in the Army, "Poor Daddy."
Thanks for reading about our fun time learning more about how to prepare for deployment!  I'd love to know what you think ... or if your installation has a similar event?  Please feel free to comment here!


For more information about preparing for deployment, visit Army Well-Being: Deployment Cycle Support.