Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Life of a Military Child

As we near the end of the Month of the Military Child, we want to share this blog post from guest blogger, Julie of the blog, "Julie the Army Wife: Daily Ramblings from the Wife of a Soldier." 

We appreciate the sacrifices of our youngest heroes and with this blog post, say "Thank You" not only during "Month of the Military Child," but always.

The military child lives a very special life. They start serving their country from day one. They have to say goodbye to daddy (or mommy) more times than a child should. They have to say goodbye to friends all the time.

They have to be the new kid every 2-5 years. They usually don’t get to grow up around grandparents or cousins. Sometimes it can be years between seeing family. Daddy might have missed their birth, first steps, first day of Kindergarten or high school graduation. And anything in between. The children of the military are the little heroes.

They get to see the world and meet all types of different people. They get to experience so many different things. I can sometime ask my oldest son if he remembers that time we walked on an airfield in Newfoundland at 3 in the morning. I can ask my 3 year old if he can possibly remember anything about living in Germany.

I often wonder what kind of mom I would be if my husband never had to go away? I wonder what our Family would be like? This lifestyle isn’t easy, but it is ours. The good with the bad. All I can do is help my children through what they may have to face. And pray that daddy won’t have to deploy as often in the future.

Send Julie a comment!

~ Courtesy of "Julie the Army Wife: Daily Ramblings from the Wife of a Soldier."

For more information, news, and resources for Army kids, visit Army Well-Being: Army Kids.

Do you have an Army story to share?  Please email us at: with your blog name and we will send you information on becoming a guest blogger!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stop the Drama and Spit!

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 the importance of genetic testing.

I've been called many names...and, most of the time, I ignore it and let it roll off my back. But last week, I got the ultimate compliment. I was ordained as one of the "Disruptive Women in Healthcare," a blog site that invites anyone, particularly women, to speak up and challenge the health care status quo. Since I got formal permission to be disruptive (as if I really needed to have someone tell me it's okay), I am going to allow myself to be a bit irreverent in this blog entry. I apologize in advance.

The focus of this week's blog is on the health benefits of personal genetic testing -- an emerging area of medicine that intrigues many people when they read about it, but scares them too much to get tested themselves. Yes, the blog last week had a similar theme but was centered on the insight you can gain on your ancestral history. In full disclosure, that blog was just a set up; I used a heart-warming, personal story as a first step to getting your buy-in.

The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, and since then, companies have been springing up that offer personal genetic testing to consumers. The space is dominated by 3 companies: Pathway Genomics, Navigenics, and 23andMe. For anywhere between $350 and $999, testing kits can be purchased without a doctor's order. Unfortunately, even as the price has come down, very few people choose to get their genetic testing done.


"I don't want find out something I don't want to know." "What if I find out I am higher risk for Lou Gherigs disease?" My personal concern was learning that I might be at higher risk for developing Alzheimers. I was so scared that I stared at the test kit for 3 weeks before I spit into the vial and sent it in. I told my family that the results would come back in 4-6 weeks and the information "had the potential to change our life forever." The drama (which I am pretty good at) was almost worthy of a gold statuette.

But, after going through the entire process, I realize that the worry, the procrastination, and the hand-wringing were wasted energy. The report results were relevant, practical and actionable -- TODAY. And, the benefits of knowing my genetic makeup far outweigh the false sense of security that we allow ourselves to experience when we are simply blind to the facts.

The majority of my fears were probably fueled by the unknown: manufacturers' descriptions of report results are vague; I had never met or spoken to someone who had the testing done. So, the goal in sharing my test results with readers in this blog is to dispel some of the mysteriousness of genetic testing and to demonstrate that this important new technology is an easy, cost-effective way to improve health. And, in my opinion, it is the only tool/technology I have seen that might be able to successfully influence behavior.

So, I have one important key message I hope to get across: Knowledge is Power.

The 77 page report I received online was divided into 3 health-related sections: Drug Response, Carrier Status, and Complex Health Conditions.

Drug Response: I had an atypical response to 2 of 9 drugs/therapeutic classes.

1) I metabolize caffeine at a slow rate due to lower levels of the CYP1A2 gene that makes the liver enzyme responsible for caffeine metabolism.

Practical application: Very interesting. This result likely explains why I had a drug reaction to a Midol that I took for the first, and last, time about 6 months ago. Midol, as well as many other OTC drugs (for example, Excedrin and Anacin) contain caffeine. So, no more caffeine-containing drugs for me, and no purchases of OTC meds without checking the ingredient labels first.

2) I have a reduced response to Tamoxifen, a drug used in prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

Practical application: Fortunately, I don't have breast cancer and am not high risk for this diagnosis. But, if I did, tamoxifen wouldn't work particularly well in me. Here's what's scary: genetic testing for the CYP2D6 gene is not routinely done before women are put on tamoxifen. So, there is a population of breast cancer patients who are currently on ineffective therapy...and don't know it. Hello?

Carrier Status: The panel includes testing for 37 carrier states -- conditions that can be carried silently in a family for generations, only to be discovered when two carriers have a child with the condition. I am a carrier for hemochromatosis, a liver storage disease.

Practical application: The only carrier state I ever worried about and got tested for when I was pregnant was thalassemia (Mediterranean anemia). But hemochromatosis? News to me! I am completely healthy since there is only one copy of the gene present. Since my reproductive life is over (hallelujah!), there is nothing more for me to do. However, each of our daughters has a 50% chance of having the trait and pre-natal testing for this condition will be critical.

Complex Health Conditions: The panel looks for SNPs, short genetic sequences, that are associated with risk for developing 24 different complex conditions. I have no increased genetic risk for any of them. Just for clarification, these results mean I have average risk, not zero risk.

Practical application: I clearly won the genetic gamble and got a healthy deck by my parents. (Thanks mom and dad!) I found myself making some subtle behavior changes: one less glass of wine, stocking my travel bag with calcium and vitamins so that I don't miss doses when I am traveling -- because I feel even more responsible to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

If, on the other hand, I was at increased risk for any of the conditions, this information would have helped me focus on the prevention, screening and lifestyle choices that mitigate that risk. Without this focus, being "healthy" means complying with a long list of sacrifices:

Eat healthy

Exercise daily

Wear sunscreen

Consume no more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day

Avoid red meat

Sleep 7-9 hours per night

Get 15 minutes of sunlight a day

Eat a low cholesterol diet

And on and on.....

Frankly, I can't live in a sterile, sinless bubble. You probably can't either. It's understandable that so many people hopelessly throw in the towel and do nothing. So, for me, the results offer some leeway in those areas where my body might be able to tolerate some extra indulgence.

For those of you who are still uneasy about learning something you don't want to know: Do you avoid having blood tests at your doctor's office because they might diagnose something you don't want to know? Of course not. Why is this different?

For those of you who are nervous about your personal genetic history being on the internet and having your privacy violated: Who really cares about your personal genetic history other than you, your family, and the people that love you? Strangers would much rather know about the details of your bank account.

For those of you who are nervous about your insurance or employer using the information against you: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008. It protects Americans against health insurance and employment discrimination based on their genetic information.

So, just do it!

Stop the Drama and Spit!

Create Health,

~ Courtesy "Archelle on Health"

Note: The image in at the top of this blog was provided by Lynn Fellman who creates fine art that is inspired by the science and stories that are revealed by our DNA. More of Lynn's art can be viewed at

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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on R & R: Expectations and Reality

A big thanks to Tim Blake, author of the blog "Army Dad: A blog about life from a stay at home dad and proud Army spouse" for this great post about deployment.  Tim reflects on R & R ("Rest and Recuperation") leave .... from an Army husband's perspective.  You don't want to miss this!

I can't remember many things in my life that I've anxiously waited for quite like I did for R&R. We began the countdown to my wife's return home way back in January. Each day that passed was another crossed off the calendar. As the days got closer, the waiting got harder. It's hard to imagine being more ready for anything like I was for her to come home.

And then, it finally happened. She came home. And what followed was probably two of the happiest weeks of our marriage. But they weren't without their own issues. You see, both of us had expectations for what life would be like, both of us had imagined what the reunion would be like. Like so many things in our lives, though, reality is usually a lot different from what our expectations are. And I'd like to talk about the contrast between the two.

When you are going through something like we are, a year apart from your spouse who is in a war, the only thing certain is that you will change as a person. There's no way to avoid it. Now, sometimes you change for the worse. Many of us who've lived in a military community for years know of those examples. Some marriages don't survive the year long deployment. Some people don't remain faithful to their spouse while they are apart. Other times, like in my case, you change for the better.

Whatever the case may be, change occurs. What that means is you aren't the same person that your spouse left. Sure, you talk on the phone often and ‘Skype’ and all those VTC things. But that's not the same as being there. I've learned to raise 4 children all alone this year. I've been through a lot and have grown a ton. All of that is related to the experiences I've had this year. And everything I've experienced, I’ve experienced alone.

What this all means is you and I, the spouse back home in this war, have to allow our Soldier the chance to get to know us again, to get used to the changes in us. Unfortunately, our expectations are that when our spouse gets off the plane they will know exactly who we are and where we are coming from. What's more, our spouses have been in a combat environment for so many months that they aren't the same person either. What you have, then, is two people who have changed over the course of the deployment and need to get reacquainted. Both of us probably thought we'd be seeing the same person we saw 7 months ago.

So you can see how the expectations of us picking right up where we left off were completely unrealistic. What I found to be the case was this: the first couple of days together are blissfully happy. They are filled with joy and peace as we finally got to see each other and hold each other again after so long apart. Since we spent the first two days without the kids, this was an even better reunion. It was like a honeymoon!
The next few days, however, were a little bit strained as she had to become acquainted with our routines and methods. When you are raising 4 kids on your own, you are bound to do things differently than you did as a couple. It's only natural. And that was our situation.

The next few days were really a readjustment period. And it was more on her part as she was forced to come to grips with our way of doing things. That said, she was prepared for it as I explained to her in the weeks leading up to R & R that she would need to adopt a ‘guest mentality’ when she arrived. Now, you might think that was mean or unreasonable, but in light of what I wrote above, you can see the logic. We have our way of doing things right now and that way is meant to get us through. I remember telling her that I'd be completely open to discussing changes in the way we do things when she came home for good later this year, but this was how things were going to be until then. To her credit (she's such a better person than I am!), she was completely on board with this.

After the readjustment period, things really smoothed out and we had a great time together as a family. Our R & R (I say ‘our’ because it was a break for both of us from this deployment) was exactly what we needed. Sure, it did take a couple of days for us to get reacquainted and get back into the "married" mentality. But the fact that we were able to is a testament to the strength of our marriage.

You see, I will go to the ends of the earth for my wife. My love for her means I'll make whatever adjustment I need to so that she can feel at home. No, it isn't always easy. But she's worth it. What's more, she feels the same way. I remember her telling me "I want to be a part of your routines, not interrupt them, or, more importantly, disrupt them." She understood how important our routines are to us as we carry on while she's gone.

Readjustment is easy when both of us realize that the other isn't quite the same person any more. One thing that never changes for us, though, is how much we love and support each other. And that's what helps get us through this deployment!

~ Courtesy "Army Dad: A blog about life from a stay at home dad and proud Army spouse"

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

Monday, April 12, 2010

Is Your Army Kid Depressed?

Christina Piper is today's wonderful guest blogger; she writes for the blog, "Her War, Her Voice."  In this post, Christina talks about an important topic: Depression and children, especially those in military Families.

In an article titled, "The Depressed Child," the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that our kids can get depression and that stress and loss can increase the chances of having childhood depression. So what does this mean for our military kids? Our kids that are facing one or both of their parents leaving for a year or more at a time, and then that parent coming home for a short period and going again. Or even worse, never returning.

So when a friend called me and discussed that her wonderful six-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with clinical depression, I wondered, “How could she not?” This sweet little girl has had the love of her life ripped from her over and over again. Her dad has been away with three deployments and year long school totaling 80% of her life. Her mom fights depression herself and is trying to do her best to get them through another deployment.

This little girl kicks and screams and completely shuts down. She bottles up her emotions and refuses to cry. She wants to be strong and she doesn’t want to disappoint her family. She turns to repeating the same phrase over and over again to comfort herself or to hide. This loving little girl internalizes everything because she doesn’t have the ability to say what she needs. Her mom is fighting to relieve her stress and all the pressure placed on her little soul. All she wants is her dad and that is the one thing her mom cannot produce for her.

I listen to their frustration and I cry for them, but being so far away I don’t know what to do but listen. I hear my friend’s fear and I worry about her husband’s reaction and how this will eat at him. I allow them to let me have it to let loose all their worry, and I know that this is all I can do. I listen.

They are doing the right things and it is a fight. They have her in counseling and they are finding ways for her to have control of her situation. They are giving her a safe supportive place for her to feel whatever she is feeling. She is going to be OK but what about all the children that are not getting diagnosed?

Here are some signs to look for.  If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help:

• Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying

• Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities

• Hopelessness

• Persistent boredom; low energy

• Social isolation, poor communication

• Low self esteem and guilt

• Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure

• Increased irritability, anger, or hostility

• Difficulty with relationships

• Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches

• Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school

• Poor concentration

• A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns

• Talk of or efforts to run away from home

• Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self destructive behavior

Source:  "The Depressed Child," The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Not all of our kids are going to have these issues, but we do need to be aware of the symptoms. There is nothing scarier then not being able to help our kids.

~ Courtesy "Her War, Her Voice" blog

For more information, see Army Well-Being: Behavioral Health.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Deployment and the Stages of Grief

Our next fabulous guest blogger is Sara of the blog "Welcome to the Blog of an Army Wife."  She describes her initial reaction to deployment when husband, Joe, first leaves. 

I was talking to a (civilian) friend of mine earlier today and probably complaining a little too much. I've known this girl since I was 8; she's been my best friend for a long time. She even knows Joe. At one point she gives me a reality check and reminds me that Joe is just deployed, not dead.

But it got me thinking, a very dangerous thing for a wanna-be psychologist to do. In college, I read a book called "On Death and Dying." by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She outlines 5 stages of grief.

The stages Kubler-Ross identified are:

  1. Denial (this isn't happening to me!)
  2. Anger (why is this happening to me?)
  3. Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
  4. Depression (I don't care anymore)
  5. Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)
I fully believe I am going through these stages. The day I left Joe at his company I came home and couldn't believe what I had done. I walked around the house repeating, "what have I done, what have I done? This cant be happening."

And then yesterday, I ventured outside of my apartment. Every time I saw a man in uniform I could feel myself getting angry. I even mentioned it on Twitter and some people agreed with my statement and even said the emotions were normal.

So today? I stared at my phone until noon. "I just need a phone call. I just need to hear his voice. I just need to know he's okay. Please call me." And at noon, I heard his voice. And my day got noticeably better. It dawned on me that I hadn't eaten since Thursday morning (I get what we have coined Depression Fasting, I actually forget to eat when I'm sad or upset. And when I am hungry, nothing sounds appetizing). I had even opened a box of girl scout cookies so I would eat something and they had been left on the kitchen counter.

So maybe depression is next? I'm not a depressed person, so this could get interesting.


Wikipedia defines it as a response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed.

There is this huge void in my life right now. I knew I would be lonely. Anyone could predict there would be a little depression and a lot of sadness. But the stages of grief? I never saw this one coming.

~ Courtesy "Welcome to the Blog of an Army Wife"
For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Deployment Cycle Support.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Army Kids are Heroes

April is the Month of the Military Child. In honoring our Army kids, we want to share this blog post with you. It comes from an Army wife, writing about her recent reunion with her Soldier after a year-long deployment, and how her kids have shown her true perserverance through it all.

I have been thinking lately about Army kids and how they seem to have their very own brand of independence and confidence, honed by years of moving to new places, meeting new people, and saying farewell to good friends whose Soldier had been reassigned to a new location. When my kids talk about taking a family trip, they don't stop at the local Six Flags or Water Park. They suggest places like Washington, DC, London, England, and Vicenza, Italy ... all places where friends have moved in the past year.

In my reminiscing of Army kids, I was reminded of an Army child I met years ago, before we had kids of our own. My husband and I had just moved into temporary quarters at Fort Stewart, Georgia, when we heard a knock at our door. We had just arrived and no one yet knew how to reach us, so we were surprised to have a visitor. When I opened the door, a little girl about nine years old was standing there. "Welcome!" she said, "I am new here, too. Do you have any kids I could play with?" I loved that she was making the most of her situation (with her parents close by), and "growing where she was planted." It makes me wonder what personality traits she will take with her into her adult life that are enhanced by living the Army life during her childhood.

I have been keeping a close eye on my own children as well, evaluating their reactions to the separation from their father along with seeing more close friends pack up to leave this summer. Last week, we were able to welcome our Soldier home from a year-long deployment. As we went through the various stages that were a part of this event, I kept an especially close eye on both of my children, ages nine and six. They have endured a long year of separation from their all-time hero and father and were beyond excited to welcome him home.

I enjoyed observing them making "Welcome Home" banners (favorite quote? "Mommy, how do you spell 'welcome-home-daddy-you-are-my-hero-and-I-have-missed-you-so-much-and-let's-play-our-favorite-game-when-we-get-home!'"), cleaning their rooms, baking welcome-home cookies, and hanging welcome home signs all over our house. They both made comments that the last few days before 'welcome home' were just too long. One said it's harder than waiting for Santa Claus; the other simply stated, "We've waited for this day for a long time."

Numerous times, I found myself filled with a strange mix of emotions -- pride, joy, sadness, anxiety -- as I worked with them to get ready for Daddy to come home. I loved how excited they were and was so proud of how well they have handled all that they had been handed during this time apart. I was thrilled that we would be a complete family unit again and that my youngest would have a parent available who could actually help him with his baseball stance (and not just say things like, "Mmm, I don't think that looks quite right, honey. Try lifting your elbows a bit ..."). I was also a bit anxious about what their reaction would be to seeing their Daddy again. I knew they would be happy, but it must be every Army spouse's nightmare that their children might not recognize their Soldier-parent upon return.

As it turned out, our welcome home ceremony was scheduled for midnight. The boys were crushed that they had to go to bed ONE MORE TIME before Daddy would be there, but were able to fall asleep fairly quickly. When I woke them up, the oldest bolted out of bed, slid into his shoes (they both went to bed in the shorts/shirt they would wear to greet Daddy), and raced to the front door. The youngest was exhausted and fought all the way to the car ("Why are you waking me UP?!?!?"), but woke up on the ride to post, thrilled to be on his way to getting his Dad.

When we arrived at the parade field, I was again amazed at the flexibility and independence of Army kids. My sons immediately approached a group of kids gathered on the field and, within minutes, were playing like old friends. As "arrival time" grew nearer, I watched the growing group of kids on the field. A dee-jay was playing fun songs and they ran and danced and played like they had all been best friends for life. It occurred to me that having a deployed parent in common might just be as strong a bond as knowing each other since birth.

Eventually, the deejay announced that the buses were just moments away. We watched as the military police car, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, escorted our Soldiers to the field. The Soldiers then exited the bus, moved into a formation, and began marching across the field. As they got close, the deejay announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen! America's Heroes are HOME!!" The cheers were deafening and the front row of kids looking for their parent again caught my attention. The looks of pure joy and excitement on these little faces were a wonder to see.

As the 2-minute ceremony ended, the announcer said, "In the fine tradition of the Cavalry, it is time to find your Soldier ... CHARGE!" If you've ever seen an elementary school field day race, you'll have some idea of how fast these kids reached their Soldiers. I think my oldest might have broken some sort of land-speed record as he sprinted to tackle his dad. As caught up as I was in greeting my husband, my hero, and the love of my life ... I still was astounded at the Army kids around me, all welcoming their hero home, and all ready for whatever might come next.

For these and a hundred other reasons, Army kids are heroes!

~ Courtesy This Fabulous Army Life

For more news and resources just for Army kids, please visit Army Well-Being: Army Kids.