Posts Tagged military families
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 1, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
June 1, 2012
Our national leaders often speak of military families’ resilience, and that is something I witnessed firsthand here last week at the 18th annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors National Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.
While hundreds of thousands of visitors descended on the Washington, D.C., area to commemorate our nation’s war dead, some 2,000 people crowded into a Marriott hotel here to help themselves and each other deal with the grief of losing their very own military heroes.
You might expect such a gathering to be morose, and there was an understandable amount of sadness. Most of the participants lost someone in recent years or months – a parent, spouse, sibling or child – and the deaths usually were sudden. The seminar and camps help by bringing surviving family members together in understanding and expressing their grief. Read more here.
The participants at TAPS events are called survivors, and the word is written on the red T-shirts all are given at registration. The word is more than just a way of describing the living, as you might read in an obituary; it also describes the strength and resilience of the families. When the adult participants came together in an oversized ballroom, they created a cacophony of chatter and, yes, laughter. In that room, on that day, you could not have known you were walking into a room full of grieving people.
Still, I moved delicately among participants, asking if they would like to talk about their lost loved one for publication. They all did.
“My husband was an awesome man,” Shelann Clapp, of Texas, told me. Her husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas Clapp, was an Iraq war veteran with 31 years of service when the helicopter he was riding in near Fort Hood crashed, killing him and six others, in 2004. A conference center is named for him at Red River Army Depot, Ala.
In the early days, Clapp said, she would put on sunglasses to hide the tears as she cried her way through traffic to work each day. She and her husband had commuted together. But on this day, at the TAPS seminar, Clapp, wearing a button with a picture of her husband as a much younger man in Army fatigues, smiled broadly as she spoke of him. “He left a legacy for us,” she said.
Like other survivors, Clapp wished everyone could have known the person she loved. “We all want to create pictures of what that person was like.”
The wound was fresher for Bob and Kitty Conant, whose son, John, died from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2008. The Conants traveled to Washington from California to attend the seminar and serve as mentors to other grieving families.
Like all the families, their loss was devastating. Army Sgt. John Conant was a combat medic who had deployed three times. Two days before his heart stopped, he was cleared to go again. He had been battling post-traumatic stress, but seemed to have turned a corner and was reconnecting with his family in the months leading up to his death.
“Let me tell you a funny story about John,” Bob Conant said last week. He proceeded to tell me about the time his son, in a burst of anger fueled by post-traumatic stress, got into his car, threw the gear shifter into reverse, and floored the gas pedal to leave his home — but he forgot to raise the garage door. “It landed in the street!” his father said, laughing.
With strong religious faith, the Conants now are in a place where they can laugh at memories of their son. Other families are in different places in their grief. But one thing they no doubt all would like is to carry on the memory of their loved ones, all lost too soon. Read more here.
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on May 21, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
May 21, 2012
Exciting changes are underway for military spouses that could affect families who serve for generations to come.
It used to be, in the not-so-distant past, that a decision to marry into the military was a decision to not have a career of your own. Even if a spouse could juggle the demands of military home life plus a paid position, who would hire her (95 percent are female, according to Defense Department figures) knowing she would be gone in a couple of years due to a forced military relocation? And how would she even get to the point of applying for a job if she had to renew her professional license – nurse, teacher, realtor, therapist, just to name a few with such requirements — in every new state?
Through the work of DOD’s Military Community and Family Policy office and Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s “Joining Forces” campaign, 16 states have passed laws to improve professional license portability and another 11 have legislation pending. Also, DOD’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership last week added 34 employer “partners” for a total of 128 that post jobs on the site specific to military spouses. As part of the program, the employers – CACI, General Dynamics, Dell, Microsoft, American Red Cross, GEICO, and Sterling Medical are just a few — agree that their positions can move with hired spouses.
The catalyst for change has been the spouses themselves who spoke up about the need. Indeed, DOD officials say 85 percent of military spouses have responded that they either want or need a paid job. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by in Family Matters on April 2, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
April 2, 2012
In honor of April’s Month of the Military Child, I created a Top 10 list of the qualities I most appreciate about children from military families.
Their amazing service and sacrifice deserve a much longer list, but I figured this would at least be a start.
What I most appreciate about children from military families:
10. Their sense of humor. Navy wife Vivian Greentree’s sons pasted pictures of their deployed dad on a stick, dubbed it a “dad on a stick” and took it everywhere with them. Her son, MJ, even asked if “dad on a stick” could help make macaroni and cheese. He carefully placed the following message to his dad under the picture of this mac and cheese preparation: We’ll eat mac and cheese when you get home. You can use my Spiderman bowl.”
9. They selflessly serve their community. Military children possess a strong sense of service — perhaps modeled after their military dads and moms who serve and sacrifice daily. But whatever its origin, they don’t hesitate to step up at school, at home and in their communities. James Nathaniel Richards, the fifth of six children in his military family, took on a host of deployment-related challenges when his Navy father and three of his brothers deployed at the same time. But rather than focus on the separation, the 9-year-old started a blog to help other military kids deal with deployments and separations. He also heads up the anti-bullying committee at his school, and has clocked more than 200 hours as a USO volunteer.
8. They stand by their military parent through thick and thin. I met a high school senior who told me his father would miss his graduation and his departure to college. But this teen wasn’t upset in the least. “He loves to be a soldier, and if it makes him happy, it makes me happy,” he said. “How can I possibly complain that he’s not watching me graduate when he’s out there sacrificing for our nation.”
7. Their sense of patriotism. Zachary Laychak was 9 years old when his father was killed Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Laychak struggled over the years with anger and confusion over the incident. But as time passed, his initial anger evolved into a deep sense of patriotism – born of resentment against those who dared to attack his nation and his family. “As terrible as this whole situation was, I know he was a very patriotic person,” he said of his father, and that he died serving his country. That’s a way he would have been proud to go.”
6. They support each other. Two California teenagers, Moranda Hern and Kaylei Deakin, were inspired to create the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs after they dealt with their National Guard dads’ deployments. They didn’t want other military daughters to feel what they did: alone. Their organization is intended to unite, inspire and lead girls with parents in the military.
5. Their adaptability. I attended a high school graduation at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., last year. The class included nine students from Defense Department high schools in Japan who had left with their families in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Although they had entered a new school and a new senior class just a few months shy of graduation, they were all smiles that day as they talked to me in their caps and gowns. A transition that would have thrown the best of us for a loop didn’t seem to phase these teens, who had already been through more changes in their 18 years than most people see in a lifetime. The students in that class had moved, on average, more than six times with one student tallying up a total of 18 moves in the same number of years.
4. Their compassion. A number of kids have military parents who return home wounded, some with visible wounds and others with less-evident injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. These kids immediately step up to help out at home – taking on additional chores, pitching in to babysit — during their parent’s recovery. Taylor Dahl-Sims’ Marine Corps stepfather returned home from his fifth deployment with a traumatic brain injury and she stepped in to help during his recovery. She already was helping her mother with her baby brother’s medical care. Many wounded warriors have told me their children don’t look at them any differently, even if their wounds are severe. They are simply grateful their mom or dad made it back alive.
3. Their global knowledge. Many military kids have traveled across the nation and around the world. They have an innate appreciation for cultural diversity and knowledge of world events that most kids who never crossed state lines would be hard-pressed to match. This will serve them well in the future as modern technology and the rise of a global economy increase the likelihood they’ll be exposed to a people of different cultures and backgrounds in their careers. “These children come to us with broadened perspectives and a broad range of experiences,” said Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity. “They’re the closest to being a global citizen that this world will have.”
2. Their strength. They’ve dealt with a decade of war and multiple deployments, with the associated worry and fear. But these challenges also have equipped them with a resilience that will prepare them for life’s setbacks and hardships. The first lady summed it up well at an event in June. “A bad grade on a test, a bad day at work, that’s not going to knock you off your game,” she said, “because from a very young age, you all have been dealing with the big stuff, and that’s given you perspective.”
1. They serve too. Their military parent signed on the dotted line; their children did not. Yet, they must deal with deployments, frequent moves and school transitions, and they do so with courage and grace. As a nation, we owe them a debt of gratitude. This month, and year round, we should take time to let military children know how grateful we are for their service, said Barbara Thompson, director of military community and family policy, children and youth. “One of the things that’s disconcerting is we know that 1 percent of our population is in uniform and is serving, and the other 99 percent of the country takes full benefit of that,” she said. “We owe it to our children to honor them and to protect them.”
Posted by in Family Matters on February 21, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
Feb. 21, 2012
A new NBC show that rewards selfless people for their good deeds is seeking service members, veterans and their families to spotlight in some upcoming episodes.
The show gives people an opportunity to pay a deserving hometown hero back “for always paying it forward,” an NBC news release said.
“The network and producers really want some military stories as no one is more deserving than those who serve our country,” Jackie Topacio, the show’s casting producer, said.
The show will involve someone — whether a friend, spouse, family member or even an acquaintance — surprising a deserving person with “the ultimate gift.” The recipient can be someone who always puts others first, deserves a lucky break, is underappreciated, saved someone’s life, or has made a difference in other people’s lives.
“If you know someone special who deserves more than life has delivered, we want to help you surprise him or her with a moment they’ll never forget,” the release said.
You can apply to be on this show by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should include your name, contact information, occupation, current photos of yourself and the person you want to surprise, and an explanation of why your friend or loved one deserves a special moment. And, apply soon. Producers are hoping to cast people in the next couple of weeks.
Also, since this show involves a surprise, producers are asking people to keep their participation a secret.
Posted by in Family Matters on February 9, 2012
Guest blogger Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly, of U.S. Pacific Command, is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, which provides pet resources for military families. She’s offered to share her pet-related knowledge in a series of blogs for Family Matters.
By Theresa Donnelly
Feb. 9, 2012
Pet overpopulation is a sad reality in the United States. Up to 7 million animals enter U.S. shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Of this number, about 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats are euthanized, and less than 2 percent of cats and 15 to 20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.
Military families on the move should think carefully before taking in an animal to avoid contributing to this problem.
First, you should take into account your lifestyle and potential commitment to a pet. Are you an active family, with weekend hikes and daily runs, or do you prefer lazy weekends on the couch? Are you home enough to ensure your furry friend will get the exercise, training and attention they need?
Posted by in Family Matters on January 31, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
Jan. 31, 2012
Caregivers of wounded warriors often make great sacrifices to be at their loved one’s side. They quit their jobs, sell their homes and leave family members and friends behind, often for years at a time.
Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama and other senior leaders gathered to honor the service and sacrifice of these military caregivers. Alongside Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the first lady announced a proposal that would enable more military family members to take the time they need to care for their wounded and ill loved ones.
“We want to recognize the extraordinary dedication, sacrifice and service of our nation’s caregivers, not simply with words, but with deeds,” the first lady told the audience gathered at the Labor Department in Washington, D.C. “These are men and women and children who will do anything for their loved ones, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the consequences.”
Posted by in Family Matters on January 26, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
Jan. 26, 2012
The Defense Department has launched a new website intended to bolster military children as they deal with deployments and the other stressors of military life.
Military Kids Connect offers military kids — from children to tweens and teens — an online community where they can learn about deployments, share feelings with each other and develop coping skills.
“We felt by connecting military kids with each other, through providing peer-to-peer support, they’d be able to build on the resilience they have already and learn new coping skills to deal with deployments,” explained Kelly Blasko, a psychologist from the DOD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology. The center, dubbed T2, developed the site.
The site features tools for all stages of the deployment cycle — from predeployment to reintegration — and is packed with activities, games, information and resources.
To best suit kids’ age-specific needs, the developers created tracks for three different age groups: 6 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17. With kids who fall in two of those age groups — I have an 8- and 9-year-old — I decided to check out the site for myself.
One of my favorite features was the interactive map. Kids can click on the country where their loved one is deployed and learn about the area and culture. To further keep them informed, they can view the weather and time there and have it appear on their home page whenever they log on.
To foster friendships and connections, older kids can register for a message board where they can talk and share their experiences with other military kids around the world.
Another section is dedicated to videos of military families, with kids of all ages talking about their deployment experiences.
While the site is geared for the younger generation, adults shouldn’t hesitate to log on. A parent module explains behavioral changes they should keep an eye out for and parenting strategies to help their kids weather the tough times. Another module helps educators recognize in-school behaviors that may indicate deployment-related anxiety.
Blasko pointed one of the best aspects of the site. Kids learn coping skills, she said, “they can carry through their whole life.”
Posted by in Family Matters on January 23, 2012
By Elaine Sanchez
Jan. 23, 2012
Last week, I traveled to California to join Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, as she embarked on a West Coast Joining Forces tour.
Dr. Biden had arrived with her husband a day earlier than me, so I caught up with her at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she was participating in a roundtable discussion on military kids and how schools across the nation can better support them.
She sat amid a group of educators, social workers and students involved in the Building Capacity in Military-connected Schools project, which helps to create military-friendly environments in schools and to raise awareness of their challenges among educators.
The participants took turns sharing their consortium success stories for Biden. Gena Truitt, a prior service member, military mom and social work intern, talked about how she created the Pride Club at an elementary school to foster camaraderie among military kids.
Robin Williamson, a Navy wife and school liaison officer, described how she helped to create transition rooms in 11 military-impacted San Diego-area schools. Families use the rooms to learn about school and community resources, and to create connections with other military families.
Biden wrapped up the roundtable by thanking the educators for their work and for rising to the Joining Forces challenge. “What you’re doing is a perfect example of how we want to change things in America, where every state, every school district has programs like this,” she said. “You’re doing exactly what needs to be done.”
After the roundtable, I drove down the coast to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, where Dr. Biden was headed the next day.
In the morning, I followed the media trail of cars down a very long and winding dirt road to the infantry immersion trainer. This state-of-the-art training complex simulates situations Marines may encounter in Afghanistan.
We were escorted to the top of a building, across the way from Dr. Biden, to gain a bird’s eye view of a live-fire exercise.
A Marine patrol entered a simulated Afghan bazaar and, moments later, a loud explosion echoed in the air. A female Afghan, whose leg had been “blown off,” fell to the ground screaming in pain. The Marines rushed to help her as a rocket-propelled grenade, shot from Biden’s rooftop, flew past.
The overall experience was incredible, Dr. Biden told us on her way out.
“It’s been an amazing experience to be here,” she said. “It made me realize just how difficult it is for our military when they go to Afghanistan and when they went to Iraq.
“Americans should be really proud,” she added.
Posted by in Family Matters on January 12, 2012
Jan. 12, 2012
The nation’s medical colleges are the latest to join forces with First Lady Michelle Obama to ensure the best care for troops, veterans and their families.
The first lady yesterday announced the commitment, which is aimed at improving training for civilian health care providers so they can better care for veterans and their families. It also calls for more research on combat-related injuries.
The Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, with a combined 130 schools between them, have signed on to use their expertise in education, research and clinical care to better serve the military population.
“Today the nation’s medical colleges are committing to create a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research facilities to make sure our heroes receive the care worthy of their military service,” Obama said in an article written by my AFPS colleague Lisa Daniel.
As part of the initiative, Daniel reported, the associations pledged to:
– Train their medical students as well as their current physicians, faculty and staff to better diagnose and treat veterans and military families;
– Develop new research and clinical trials on traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder;
– Share their information and best practices with each other through a collaborative Web forum; and
– Coordinate with the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
This new commitment is one of many spurred by the Joining Forces campaign. The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched Joining Forces last year to raise awareness of troops, veterans and their families, and to call on all sectors of society to support them.
“In a time of war, when our troops and their families are sacrificing so much, we all should be doing everything we can to serve them as well as they are serving this country,” Obama said yesterday. “It’s an obligation that extends to every single American. And, it’s an obligation that does not end when a war ends and troops return home. In many ways, that’s when it begins.”
Obama acknowledged the difficulties troops and their families sometimes face when they return home from war.
An estimated one in six Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return home with post-traumatic stress or depression, and at least 4,000 have had at least a moderate-grade brain injury, the first lady said. While some seek treatment, the stigma of seeking mental health care stops many troops in their tracks.
“I want to be very clear today: these mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness,” Obama said. “They should never again be a source of shame. They are a natural reaction to the challenges of war, and it has been that way throughout the ages.”
For more on this commitment, read the AFPS article, “Medical Colleges Pledge to Care for Troops, Families,” written by my colleague, Lisa Daniel.
Posted by in Family Matters on December 23, 2011
By Elaine Sanchez
Dec. 23, 2011
Molly Blake will unveil a special guest on Christmas, someone who is an even bigger hero to her daughters than Santa Claus: their dad.
She’ll use technology to enable her deployed husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Peter Blake, to participate in the morning festivities.
“We’ll prop him up on the fireplace on the computer,” she explained.
From his fireplace perch, their dad’s computer persona, which they’ve dubbed “Digital Daddy,” will be able to watch as his daughters, Leah and Helen, open gifts.
The lieutenant colonel’s deployment to the Pacific marks his fifth in the couple’s 10-year marriage. Molly, like many military family members, is accustomed to relying on creativity, and a heavy dose of technology, to keep her family connected throughout the holidays.
“He’s been gone for more Christmases than he’s been home,” said Molly, whose family is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Her husband is the commander of Marine Attack Squadron 311.
To help speed through this separation, Molly used aluminum foil to fashion a bucket in the shape of a chocolate kiss, which she calls a “kiss jar.” The girls counted out one candy kiss for each day of their dad’s six-month deployment and loaded them into the jar. They’ll eat a kiss each day until he comes home, she explained.
Molly also created a “Daddy Journal” for each of them with their picture on the cover. On a recent night when they went out for sushi, they brought the journals along and wrote about the experience. “When he gets home he can relive some of these things,” she said.
Overall, the girls are staying positive. They understand the importance of their dad’s mission, she said.
Molly said she, too, is focusing on the positive. Her husband left for his deployment shortly after Thanksgiving. But while he won’t be home for Christmas, she said she takes comfort knowing other Marines will. “It takes the sting away when someone else will be able to be with their family,” she said.