Archive for category Family Matters
By Lisa Daniel
It’s not often there is a national call to action over a matter of national security, but that is what’s happening over America’s obesity problem. Luckily, there is no shortage of resources for all of us to do our part in addressing it.
Concerns about the quick rise in obesity – some call it an epidemic — and its potential to harm military readiness are not new. Ever since 100 retired generals and admirals formed the nonprofit organization “Mission: Readiness” and released its landmark 2010 report “Too Fat to Fight” to convince Congress to mandate healthy school lunches, federal officials, at least, have known of the military imperative to reverse the fat trend. The report included the services’ assessment that 75 percent of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds do not qualify for military service – mostly due to obesity.
Those concerns were reiterated last month when the Bipartisan Policy Center released its report, “Lots to Lose,” which shows alarming trends not only in recruiting, but also in retention due to overweight problems. The report notes that nutrition concerns for service members and recruits factored into President Harry S. Truman’s decision to mandate the federal school lunch program. The focus then, however, was vitamin deficiencies.
In the past two years, the movement has changed from alarm bells to action as public officials, including Defense Department leaders, carry the issue from Washington to cities, towns and military installations across the country. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama took her “Let’s Move” campaign to Philadelphia to announce locally-based public-private initiatives that include things like closing a city street to traffic to make a “safe play” place, challenging residents to a city-wide diet, bringing farmers’ markets to low-income areas and holding information campaigns about the nutritional content of foods.
DOD has made similar changes, requiring all of its schools and daycare centers to give children meals emphasizing fruits and vegetables, restrict TV and computer time, ensure daily exercise and ban sweetened drinks. Read more.
Also last week, Charles E. Milam, principal deputy assistant secretary for military community and family programs, met with military food and beverage workers for their annual workshop and directed that they ensure that dining facilities and other installation eateries give healthy choices that also fit into today’s fast-paced culture. Read more. Also, Military OneSource offers free nutrition and fitness training to service members and their families.
In promoting Let’s Move, the first lady often talks about changing American culture toward healthier living. That’s where families come in. As I talk to military spouses and other parents, most agree that one of our toughest challenges is in challenging the idea that “kid-friendly” cuisine is limited to pizza, fries and chicken nuggets. Changing the culture will mean cutting back on the all-too-easy and inexpensive drive-through meals. It will mean cooking healthy and encouraging kids to try new things – even when your child’s friends are over. Changing the culture means challenging the notion that kids need snacks for every event – soccer, Scouts, etc. – even when the event only lasts an hour. And it means asking teachers to discourage parents from bringing cupcakes in the classroom for every birthday, especially when there are 30 kids in a class. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
As Missouri National Guard members met with Dr. Jill Biden this week to discuss their family challenges and areas of support, Jenn Whitacre’s feedback was both professional and personal.
As a National Guard family assistance center coordinator in Jefferson City, Whitacre spends her days helping Guard families – pursuing job opportunities, finding childcare, arranging transportation, shoveling snow, and the like. As it turned out, Whitacre’s toughest challenge was her own.
Whitacre’s husband, Army National Guard Spc. Shane Whitacre, returned from a year in Iraq with a shoulder injury that proved more complicated than the couple expected. Shane needed surgery and would not be able to lift anything or drive for six months. In the weeks after the surgery, he would spend six hours each day in a physical therapy chair and another six in an ice pack.
The couple had arranged their schedules around that of their four children, but things got complicated when they learned Shane would not be able to lift their 6-month-old daughter. Jenn had to leave at 6 a.m. for work each day, and daycare didn’t open until after 7. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
Lori Volkman was in college when she confronted what some would approach as an either-or situation: marry the Navy pilot she’d fallen in love with, or head for law school for the career she was passionate about.
Volkman had grown up in a Navy family and she knew she couldn’t have it both ways – at least not at the same time. “I knew exactly what was involved in that,” she told me when we spoke on Monday.
Not only would frequent relocations prevent her from practicing law, “I didn’t even know if we’d be anywhere long enough for me to finish law school,” she said. “I knew as Navy brat that there was a very real possibility of having only two-year duty stations.”
So Volkman and her husband came to an agreement: he would leave active duty for the Navy reserves, and she would go to law school.
Volkman, the deputy prosecuting attorney for Clark County in Washington state, says she is both fortunate and atypical of military spouse lawyers. “I’m one of the few who have enjoyed working in the same place for 12 years,” she said.
Just over a year ago, Volkman signed on to helping other military spouses pursue their careers in law after Erin Wirth, a federal administrative law judge and Coast Guard wife, asked her to join her and Mary Reding, another military spouse attorney, in starting The Military Spouse JD Network. Wirth had moved seven times in 15 years, and sometimes did not relocate with her husband, to maintain her law career even when it meant taking jobs below her experience level, Volkman said. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
Department of Defense Education Activity’s schools have been on a roll lately with high achievement of both teachers and students. Now that the 2011-12 school year is behind them, students, teachers and parents have much to be proud of.
The latest recognition goes to math teacher Spencer Bean at Baumholder Middle-High School, Germany, who has been chosen to receive the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching here June 27. Read more here.
Bean is the kind of teacher parents hope their children will have in school: high-energy, innovative and focused on individual student success. The motivating force for Bean is that he loves his work.
In his 13 years of teaching, he said, “I’ve rarely ever missed a day of work; I just love it that much.”
Like many high-achieving students, Bean said, he had to be talked into teaching. He was a math major and, already married in college, wanted to earn a good living. He considered going into accounting or some other business area.
Bean had the good fortune of having a mentor who advised him to go into something he was passionate about, and a brother – an Air Force officer based in Germany – who told him that, for teachers, DODEA’s pay, benefits and opportunities for travel are hard to beat.
“With public schools, … it’s a tough thing to do to say you’re going to be a teacher,” Bean said. “You have to be really motivated. DODEA can definitely have the best and brightest because of what they offer financially.”
Defense Department schools have demonstrated success in many ways lately. In April, Angela Wilson, a 7th grade language arts teacher at Vicenza Middle School, Italy, represented DOD schools as one of four finalists in the annual National Teacher of the Year competition here.
In May, Anuk Dayaprema, a seventh-grade student at Vincenza Middle School, represented DOD and State Department schools at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and Dominik Muellerleile, an eighth-grade student at Wiesbaden Middle School, Germany, represented DOD and State Department schools in the 24th annual National Geographic Bee here.
In June, DODEA celebrated its first graduation – of three students – of its Virtual School, a high school that serves students through technology to get required courses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to take. And, DODEA offered live streaming of its graduations where many parents are deployed.
There are many reasons to celebrate Defense Department schools. Bean is just the latest example of a school system that does so many things right.
“I’ve never regretted it,” Bean said of his decision to become a Defense Department teacher. “I’ve loved it ever since.”
By Lisa Daniel
May 24, 2012
When Decorda Owens’ father deployed to Afghanistan last year with the Mississippi Army National Guard, the 13-year-old stepped up to take care of the family yard work and help his mother with his three younger sisters.
Like so many children of Guard and Reserve members, Decorda didn’t have the support of a military base where he lives in Starkville, Miss., yet he’d assumed a lot of stress and responsibility. The shining light for Decorda was a grant from the Our Military Kids nonprofit group to pursue his passion for hip-hop dancing.
As summer approaches and families search for camps, activities and possibly tutors to get the kids through those long three months, they should know about Our Military Kids. The organization, which began in 2004, awarded 9,150 grants worth $3.75 million last year. The grants are reserved for children of deployed National Guard and Reserve members, as well as children of service members severely wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, whether they are active, Guard, Reserve, or retired. Families may receive up to $500 per child.
Decorda and four other children of National Guard and Reserve members traveled to Washington for an April 19 event to showcase how they’ve used Our Military Kids grants while their parent was deployed. The children, all honored as Our Military Kids of the Year for their high achievement, danced and performed various musical instruments before a packed auditorium at the Naval Heritage Center as proof of the nonprofit’s good investment.
The organization even appealed to top Navy leadership to cut short the deployment of Petty Officer Christopher Karnbach, a Navy reservist deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a couple weeks early so he could surprise his family and join them on stage as Our Military Kids’ Military Family of the Year. They agreed, and Karnbach had an emotional reunion with his wife, Anne Marie; son, Christopher, and daughter, Abigail, both of whom demonstrated that they’ve learned to break boards with tae kwon do kicks from lessons provided by the grants.
“It’s been a great opportunity for my children and I’m sure for everybody else’s to give them something to think about besides having a deployed parent,” Karnbach said of the grant money the couple’s two children received to take tae kwon do lessons.
The military’s top leaders frequently tout the importance of public-private partnerships to support military families and Our Military Kids, supported by public and corporate money, is a good example.
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
Ask people what their all-time favorite family vacation has been and chances are good national parks will be in most of the answers. I don’t have any science to back that up, but I have been struck by the number of people who recollect their best memories of family bonding in places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.
Somehow, even traveling for hours in a cramped car with cranky kids seems to vanish from the memories of those who have experienced America’s most magnificent places. From the peaks of Alaska’s Denali to the lowlands of Florida’s Everglades, the National Park Service’s 397 national parks and many thousands of historical and archaeological sites and wetlands were each brought into the federal system because they are the best of the best – those places deemed worthy of protecting for everyone to see.
That’s exactly what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had in mind when he announced yesterday that the $80 annual pass for all the national parks and public lands will be waived for active-duty military members and their dependents, starting May 19, Armed Forces Day.
Salazar said he hopes military members and their families will visit the parks and public lands for fun, rest and relaxation, family bonding, and to experience those places America holds dear. As the Interior secretary said, these are “the very places they not only defend, but that they own.”
The World War II generation had a close connection to the parks, National Park Service Director John Jarvis said, because some military training was done there – such as when the 10th Mountain Division trained on Mount Ranier in Washington – and some places were reserved for a time only for returning service members and their families. Also, the federal government then made a push to improve the parks and add infrastructure for the returning warriors.
“If you talk to folks of that generation, they came back, had kids, got in the station wagon, and did the national park tours,” Jarvis said.
Officials hope today’s generation of troops and families make the same connections. And with national parks – 84 million acres of land and 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs — in every state except Delaware, many are just a day trip, or less, away.
So, why wait? Play hooky on your Saturday chores, let the kids miss soccer practice, pry the electronics out of their hands, and hop in the SUV. Those mountain trails, battlefields, nature preserves and historic homes are just around the corner.
Posted by in Family Matters on April 25, 2012
Three years ago, I was in an editorial planning meeting here at American Forces Press Service where staff hashed out ideas for improving our content. We covered the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other DOD leaders voraciously. What more could we be giving readers?
Then came the voice of our then-new colleague, Elaine (Wilson) Sanchez. Elaine wanted to give a stronger voice to military families. A former military mom herself, her vision – that families matter, and we should say so — gave birth to AFPS’s Family Matters blog. The timing could not have been better, as attention to military families has increasingly become part of leaders’ messages, from the commander in chief and the first lady on down.
Posted by in Family Matters on April 20, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
April 18, 2012
It seems like just yesterday — but was nearly three years ago — when I first sat down with my bosses to discuss starting a blog about military families for Defense.gov.
As a former airman, military spouse and mom, I hoped at the time I could adequately highlight families’ challenges, strengths and resilience, and to offer up some helpful information and resources. I hoped, by sharing families’ stories, I could help shine a light on their service and sacrifice.
When I was leaving active duty after eight years, we were just entering this decade of war. I transitioned to the government civilian sector well before the nearly back-to-back deployments taxed every service, both active duty and reserve.
I watched from the sidelines as military spouses handled deployment-related separations — juggling parenting, household and careers – with strength and courage. I saw family members leave their homes, friends and jobs behind to care for their wounded loved ones. And I watched as their children marked milestones without a loved one, yet with pride and patriotism for their parent’s service.
I had started this blog thinking I could pass on some wisdom to these extraordinary military families, but it turned out they were the ones with lessons – of strength, resilience and sacrifice — to offer.
Posted by in Family Matters on April 18, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
April 18, 2012
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is seeking active duty service members and recent veterans to serve as volunteer mentors to children of the military fallen over Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C.
TAPS, a nonprofit organization that provides support and care to families of the military fallen, will host nearly 500 children and teens from across the nation at its 18th Annual TAPS Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.
Volunteer mentors work with these children one-on-one, serving as a camp guide and offering a sympathetic ear or shoulder to cry on. Mentors have ranged from privates to generals, and represent all military services.
Posted by in Family Matters on April 13, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
April 13, 2012
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, marked the one-year anniversary of their Joining Forces campaign this week with a renewed call to action and a message of gratitude to the nation.
“The hours logged, the services donated, the love and devotion and offers to help that have poured in from every corner of the country — all of that has far surpassed even our wildest expectations,” Obama said at an anniversary event on the South Lawn of the White House April 11.
I vividly remember attending the launch of this military-support initiative last year at the White House. Flanked by their husbands and senior military leaders, the first and second ladies announced their intent to raise awareness of military families and to spur Americans to better support troops, veterans and their families for years to come.
“This campaign is about all of us, all of us joining together as Americans to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much every day so we can live in freedom and security,” the first lady said at the time.
This week, the first lady and Dr. Biden celebrated the campaign’s anniversary with the White House event, followed by a whirlwind two-day tour across the nation. They spoke to everyone from military spouses and teens, to nurses seeking to provide better care for military families, to late-night talk show hosts, including satirist Stephen Colbert.
But fanfare aside, their intent was simple: to spread a message of gratitude for the “outpouring of support” Americans gave military families over the past year.
At the anniversary event, the first lady ticked off a list of contributions from the past year:
– More than 1,600 businesses have hired more than 50,000 veterans and spouses, and have pledged to hire at least 160,000 more in the coming years;
– Technology and employment companies such as Google, Monster and LinkedIn have stepped up to help connect veterans with jobs;
– State leaders are passing legislation to ease employment woes for military spouses with professional licenses moving across state borders;
– Medical schools are training health care providers so they can better care for military families;
– The Defense, Veterans Affairs, Treasury and Labor departments all have made “groundbreaking” announcements to support veterans, wounded warriors, caregivers and military spouses;
– Associations of doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and social workers are working to improve treatment for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries;
– TV shows such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Sesame Street” and organizations such as NASCAR, AOL and Disney are sharing military families’ stories; and
– Stars such as Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg have appeared in a series of popular public service announcements.
“If I had to sum up what we have seen since launching Joining Forces in one word, it would be ‘inspiring,’” Dr. Biden said at the anniversary event. “These efforts aren’t always in the headlines, but they support our military families every single day in real and meaningful ways.”
While a powerful gauge of the nation’s commitment, Joining Forces’ true impact can’t be measured in numbers of hours served, the first lady said. “The true measure of our success lies in the lives that we’ve helped to change.”
The first lady reiterated her call to action by asking Americans “to keep raising the bar” through actions big and small.
“We’re going to keep driving forward until all of our nation’s military families feel in real and concrete ways the love and support and gratitude that we all hold in our hearts,” the first lady said, calling Joining Forces a “forever proposition.” “That is our simple promise to you.”