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Archive for the ‘Milspouses’ Category

It was an amazing weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Army 10 Miler expo, working at the Code of Support Booth – and met some awesome people. Two wonderful ladies from Illinois representing Operation Support Our Troops America – got some rubbed off glory since they have had The Lt. Dan Band come and play at a concert they sponsored… sigh…Gary Sinise! Talked to  many members of our military community, who have been stationed in so many places, met civilians who want to support military families – and a few who were really pissy when we wouldn’t let them have any candy unless they signed the pledge – one even threw the candy back in the bowl and stomped off!  Silly woman.

But Sunday – the day of the 10 miler was a great day.  it was sunny and brisk, and thousands of people thronged the parking lots at the Pentagon. The music was loud, the announcer even more so  I usually go to this with my husband, getting there at oh dark 30 min. cold, watching everyone stretching and doing all the incomprehensible things that runners do before a race.  he called me this time just as the first few runners began to cross the finish line. Watching the wounded coming across in those racing chairs, was as always inspiring.

I’ll be at AUSA for the next couple of days. I’m hoping that the presentations concerning families won’t be the same thing that I’ve heard for the last three years.  We hear promises,we hear of new programs, we are told that we will have our concerns heard.  I continue to hope that even with the budget cuts that we know are going to be coming down, the powers that be will realize that our families need help.   Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war. We know how tired we are, we know that our families are stressed and stretched.

KSF

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Today I watched the hail and farewell for Adm. and Mrs. Mullen. The speeches were wonderful with sincere heartfelt appreciation. The Admiral showed everyone the love and respect he holds for Deborah, as well as his boys. He read his wife’s letter to the rest of us; the milspouses for whom Deborah Mullen has worked, advocated, and been a friend to.

“Nothing can be more trying at times than life in the military — the deployments, the stress, the uncertainty and the fear,” the admiral read. “But then, nothing born from ease and comfort can ever foster the pride and the resilience that military families exude every day. It has been my honor — my deep honor — to be a military spouse and a Navy wife, and to know so many others who wait and worry and work so hard.”

Mullen concluded the message from his wife, “Thank you for your quiet sacrifice and for empowering me to represent your concerns. It has been the greatest privilege. I will miss the life and I will miss all of you.”

It is no secret, at least from anyone who has read anything I have written about Deb Mullen, that I am a great admirer of hers. Let’s be frank, I’m a huge huge fan.

A couple of years ago, I was volunteering at a Congressional Military Family Caucus event and my post was at the desk where the nametags had been set out. Other Senior Spouses had come to the caucus, with advisors and aides trailing along behind. A woman approached the desk, and in a quiet voice let me know that the staff had misspelled her name. I looked up at a lady, with no entourage, who I recognized immediately. After we corrected her name, she sat at my table, we began to discuss with the other members of the group various aspects of military family life. At this function, only first names were used. The ideas came fast and serious, and criticism of senior military members was free-flowing. “Deborah” had to leave for a family engagement, and after she left some of the other table members were wishing she could have stayed. One point I asked didn’t any of you know who she was? No one else seemed to and were in shock when I told him who she was; Deborah Mullen. She was easy to talk to, had great ideas, and wasn’t shy about giving them.

Today I watched as the Admiral and Mrs. Mullen held hands as they were “piped ashore”. We in the military spouse community are going to miss her, are going to miss both of them. I always felt that caring for military families was more to them than just a subject for speeches. Her gentleness and compassion were brought up over and over today. She may have been gentle, but the lady is no pushover. I remember her standing in front of a huge conference and asking how do you think you can help military spouse suicides when you aren’t even counting them. She didn’t overtly “ wear the rank” but her quiet authority was undeniable. I have read of her gentleness and kindness to the families of the fallen and wounded, and the care that she takes, e-mailing and writing to many of the family members.  As Sec. Panetta said she has been at the forefront of issues, especially the special challenges of military children, she is a “powerful voice of military families”.  While none of us begrudge her a quiet retirement, I can only hope she will continue to give us the benefit of her knowledge and compassion.  In her words – we will miss her.

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This wasn’t the piece I was going to write. I had a piece full of milestones and thoughtful phrases; reminiscences and remembrances. But when I hear political speeches about the costs and know that these people are talking about just the  dollar signs: when I see the politicians with their flag pins in their lapels grinning and shaking hands with men and women in uniform on their websites, but see their voting records when they cut funding for veterans programs and quibble about paying for mental health care for the families, all of those thoughtful phrases become meaningless and fly out the window.

With the upcoming first decade anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been asked how has my life, how has our life as a family changed since that day 10 years ago, what has been the cost since that day to my family. I can talk about the multiple deployments, sending my son to Iraq and my husband to Iraq and now Afghanistan; I can talk about the toll that has been taken on the families of my small military community. I can write about the wonderful friendships I have made, both the online and in person that would not have been possible without the need to construct a community of our own, in the midst of growing apathy in the civilian world. I can praise the wonderful groups that have sprung up and evolved, to help troops, veterans, and their families.

But Wednesday afternoon while I was speaking as a guest on a radio show, a woman who I know only online, a woman who is the best friend of my good friend, opened the door to two soldiers in ACUs.  They told her that her husband, who is an EOD specialist (explosives and ordnance demolition) had been wounded. The world as she knew it came to a halt as they told her he lost both legs, one below and one above the knee.

As her online community absorbed the news, we did what we always do; we rallied around her. Another friend  M, with whom I sat while her husband lay in the bed at the now closed Walter Reed, immediately sent her a list of suggestions, hints, knowledge to help her get through this.  I watched M as she negotiated the days and weeks after doctors amputated one of her husband’ s legs and the multiple surgeries on the other leg; I watched a young woman with strength, grace, and grit be her husband’s caregiver, negotiate the corridors and bureaucracy of a military hospital, all while keeping her small children calm and holding her family together.

For all of us, 9/11 changed the world. For the military community the world turned upside down. For my friends and for the families of the thousands upon thousands of wounded in hospitals across the country, the world will never be the same. All the money, all the time, all the families in crisis, all the anger and pain; for me the cost is reflected in the faces of those families.

After the chest thumping and flag-waving, the grim face television announcers, the poignant stories on the news and documentaries about that day and the aftermath are over, the reality will live on. The reality of men and women learning how to walk again, or dealing with wounds none of us can see; the truth of the lives of their families, who adapt to their new reality and go on, somehow keep going on. We go on while the politicians talk, the flags wave, and the ambulances roll up to Bethesda/Walter Reed.  That is the cost.

 

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I’ve been writing over at care2.com for a little while: I wrote a piece on the TIME Magazine “New Greatest Generation”. When my mother called to find out if we have survived the latest little natural disaster – Irene- she mentioned that she had seen my name in her TIME Magazine! I thought she was kidding but then I got a copy and voila!

I won’t deny that I am absolutely delighted with this.  But even more, I am so excited that someone is actually reading what I’m writing.  After many years of blogging and writing in the small military blog world – it is wonderful to know that others are actually listening!  This Quote is actually from my friend Tammy Jacobson – wish I could tell TIME that I didn’t come up with it.

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For those of us in the military community, we are used to seeing the pictures – those stern faced young men and women in uniform posed in front of a flag, the ones that are released by DoD or the Guard Bureau when the names of the fallen are released.  We think – how young.  Or – what a sweet face.    And we mourn.  We look at the same picture on our own walls, and send a silent “thank you” that it wasn’t our child, wasn’t our husband or wife.

The pictures that hurt even more are those that are attached to the heartbreaking stories that we read from the family members.  A little boy wrote a letter to CNN about his daddy, who was the pilot of the Chinook that was shot down last Saturday.  He wanted us all to know his dad, because all everyone was talking about were the SEALS on that flight; he wanted us to know that he loved his dad, and was proud of him.

The picture that Braydon Nichols sent was one that so many of us could have on our walls, a bunch of guys in uniform sitting together… his daddy is the one on the far left.

What many civilians don’t understand – we usually already have the picture picked out.  After all, during deployment many spouses admit they have planned their spouse’s funeral – the music, the pictures… We hope we never need to use it, never need to put that plan into motion.  And when we see those other pictures, we say “that could be us”.  That could be our family.

For Braydon, for the other sons and daughters, for the wives, mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, aunts and uncles of those who died, we can only send our condolences and our heartfelt thanks for their service.   There have been 19 other casualties since August 1st.  To their families, we send our gratitude and condolences.

We’ll look at those pictures, we’ll think of those families.  Every day.  Because to us, they are family.  Because to us, they remind us of ourselves.

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when screaming is the only thing you can do  This has been a year of frustration -the Army has really tried to make me say UNCLE. Between the craziness of trying to figure out where we were going, the halt called to movement a week before he was due to leave and then the sheer insanity of not getting orders until the Friday before the Sunday he was supposed to leave,  I wasn’t sure which way was up.

Shall we talk about this training TDY?  probably not a good idea – but I wonder why the efforts made to contact the “support” person for the unit have resulted in a deafening silence.   One phone call from Rear Det to make sure they had the right phone number and email.  Then one mass email – and one envelope with a “newsletter” composed of pictures of past training classes, and copy/paste information from ACS and the Red Cross.  No response to emails volunteering to help; no response to any requests.  I don’t want to hear a word about how FRSAs need help; I don’t want to hear a word about the lack of communication and the lack of participation in FRGs.  Really.  Not. A. Word.

Now, with less than a week until they are done with this training… still no word whether or not they are getting leave, a pass, or flying out right away.  Never mind that we could have booked an affordable flight a few weeks ago, or even last week.  Never mind that actually saying goodbye, in person, is necessary.  Never mind that the already justifiable stress and tension in the families isn’t healthy for either the family or the soldier.  Never mind.

For all the talk about “we support the families”; for all the “families are important”; for all the “we recruit the soldier, retain the family”…  THIS is the reality of this deployment.  No briefings about what to expect, no information, no support.  nothing. I’m lucky, I’ve done 4 other deployments, so I know what to expect.  I’m hoping at least most of the other team members are in the same boat. But, really – is this necessary?  Is this how we are being “taken care of” or even just kept informed?

I think the grade I’m going to give this particular deployment and prep?  FAIL.

KESF

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She got married recently. And if you are looking for a pageantry filled military wedding – look no further. The bride wore an amazing wedding gown to walk up a very long historic aisle to her handsome soldier/pilot husband, who looked resplendent in his full dress uniform. This is one uniform that outshines the Marine Dress Uniform.

A few days later, he was headed back to work, piloting rescue helicopters and she went back to their home, went grocery shopping and started planning a big trip.  That trip took the couple to Canada, where they enjoyed canoeing, attended a big Canada  Day celebration, met lots of fun folks and ended up at the Calgary Stampede.  She packed carefully, and even recycled some of the clothes she already had, including her fave jeans and those really comfy heels for when she had to be on her feet for a long time.

The trip ended in the US, where they went to a huge party, he played some sports, they did some art and fun stuff; then they went to a military support activity and packed some care packages.

Sounds like a fun trip, huh?  Well, I think HRH the Duchess of Cambridge had some fun, but she was also working hard.  Working hard as a representative of the Queen; working hard as a representative of her new family; working hard as a new wife.

She met thousands of people, from Governor General and elected officials, to homeless teens; from Green Gable re-enactors to cancer patients; from survivors of fires, to members of the tribes of the First Peoples, from stars of stage, screen and TV, to children on Skid Row. The last appearance was at a Joining Forces, Service Nation/Mission Serve event.  As her husband said:

This is the last event on our tour of North America, but to my mind, it is one of the seriouslyt most important. This is because it is about men and women who – of their own freewill – choose to put their life on the line for their Country. They are the front line of a remarkable relationship between the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, which has safe-guarded our freedoms for a century.

But Mission Serve is about something more than just men and women in uniform. It is about our other halves. The half that makes the loved one’s duty and sacrifices possible and worthwhile. It is about you: families, partners and friends.

When HRH talked to some members of Blue Star Families, she mentioned wanting to help the military spouses in  her own country. Clarence House/St. James’  has made it clear that she and the Duke are going to maintain a lower profile while he studies for flight captaincy and she mulls over which of the thousands of charities she will become a patron of.  I can only hope that she will choose a group that works with military families.  We may not hear as much on this side of the Atlantic, but our military family over there are struggling with the same issues we have; deployment after deployment; reintegration problems; PTS and TBI; dealing with the military bureaucracy.  While she cannot influence the government, she and Prince William can take the work they saw during their LA trip and extend that.  The Prince William and Prince Harry Foundation are already working with military families and Prince Harry has made helping wounded warriors a priority for him.  As the Duke said:

I am delighted, therefore, that our Foundation – and in that I include my low-flying Apache very average brother – is a partner in today’s event. We have much to learn from you.

It was wonderful to see the attention being paid to our issues by the mainstream press, even though some of them were more interested in the Duchess’ dress.  I could hope they continue to spend some time on them, without the dazzle of royalty.  We’ll see!

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