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 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.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Favorite Photo: Memorial Day

There were many events honoring our fallen this Memorial Day.  We appreciate all those who took the time to say thank you to those who have paved the way for our freedoms today.  One group in particular got our attention this year and we wanted to share this photo from the "Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride" last weekend.  Enjoy.

Thousands of motorcyclists gather in the north parking lot of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 30, 2010, for the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day weekend ride.
DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III

For more great photos, see the DoD Photo Essay "Rolling Thunder Memorial Day Ride."