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A book I had been asked to review arrived at the house the day we were packing to leave for a weekend away, so I popped it into the knitting bag as we went out the door. Since I woke up the next morning at 5, I pulled it out, and switched on my little book light to let my husband sleep since the ceilidh the night before went late.

The book – Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington. Briefly (and without giving out the ending) this is the story of a young teenage girl, whose Reserve/Guard dad has been activated for service in Iraq during the peak of Guard deployments. Her mother Angie’s reaction to the deployment – Alice’s relationship with her mother and father, and the boy next door – her little sister Ellie who is 8 going on 37 – the Gram who gives her strength and love; this family is everyone’s family. For the women reading this – remember when your daddy was the perfect hero, the greatest strongest person, the only one who understood you? And your mother didn’t get it, she was just so… so impossible? This is Alice’s reality. She is her daddy’s girl and when he goes away, her life changes in more ways than she can handle.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was written by a member of a current military family; from Angie’s inability to function in the home; Alice’s desperate wearing of her dad’s shirt until it reeks; the “backwards dinner” or the cereal meals, it’s written with an empathetic voice and understanding for these people that reverberates through the book.  The box of letters from her dad written for her to open “just in case”, is one of those rites of passage that the military community understands without question, but that most civilians wouldn’t be able to comprehend.

Crying while I read a book is not a common occurrence, but these characters were my family and I wept for them, laughed with them, and ached to comfort them when they hurt. As one of the 1% who are being impacted by the multiple deployments, these people are mine, this family represents all those I’ve seen at the farewells and the FRG meetings; those spouses who leave the comments on Facebook pages asking for help, for understanding, for a shoulder to lean on for just a few minutes. If Ms. Harrington can introduce the rest of the country to these families, if her words can help the other 99% understand how we are functioning, can shine a light on the situations we find ourselves conquering; we will all stand in line to say thank you and I’ll be first!

Putting the book down was painful, although at times reading it was almost agonizing. If you are the parent of a teenage girl you’ll recognize Alice; if you are a military family member, you’ll recognize the family.

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I received a request from the researcher – she wanted to ask for our help. This study will ask about US, the spouses; about how deployments are affecting the spouses.  This research is focusing on Army National Guard and Reserve spouses.   The purpose and the background for this research is set out in the press release below.  Read it first.  Yes, I know, another study.  But we need to give them the information – we need to get our voices heard.  So be LOUD!  here’s the link   but read the release below first.

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NEW RESEARCH FOCUSES ON POST–DEPLOYMENT EXPERIENCE OF ARMY NATIONAL GUARD AND US ARMY RESERVE SPOUSES

The ravages of war often stay with soldiers who return from combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Guard and Reserve soldiers return from battle directly into their civilian communities. Now their spouses are on the frontline. Researchers to date have largely ignored these spouses. New research focuses on the post-deployment experience of this neglected population. Support for military families is a timely topic and deserves nationwide attention.

Returning Guard and Reserve soldiers return from combat and go directly into civilian communities. Their homes and families are off military bases – often great distances from existing post-combat support systems. Their spouses are thrust into caring for and coping with someone who may have been profoundly affected by combat. Recent studies indicate that Guard and Reserve soldiers experience higher rates of PTSD and suicide than active duty soldiers1, 2, 3. How are spouses coping with this? How is it affecting their marriage? Is there volatile behavior in the home? Are spouses experiencing any behavioral health issues? Where do spouses turn for help? Is military family support helpful? Is support from family or friends helpful? These are important questions, which a new research study seeks to answer.

A nationwide study is being conducted at the University of Hawaii and it focuses on marital distress and behavioral health issues of Army National Guard and US Army Reserve spouses. Numerous studies have researched the adverse impact military combat has on the behavioral health problems of military combat soldiers. However, little research has examined the level of post-deployment marital distress and related behavioral health issues affecting the spouses. Research is especially lacking for spouses of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers.

Recruitment is underway for this study nationwide. The study is set-up as an online survey and the link to the survey is located at http://armyspousestudy.com. The participant’s identity is not collected or required and all data received is anonymous.

Why does this study focus on Army Guard and Reserve families?

Since the 1990’s, the Reserve Component has been viewed and used as an operational reserve rather than a strategic reserve force4, 5. This shift in perspective has greatly increased the use of the Reserve Components overseas since the Global War on Terror began in 20014, 5. From Sept 2001 – Nov 2007 OEF/OIF deployment included 254,894 National Guard and 202,113 Reserves6. Additionally, during the first Gulf War, 18% of Reserve Components were deployed, whereas more than 40% of Reserve Components have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. These figures do not include deployments from 2008-2011.

There are similarities between the Guard and Reserve families that differ from the Army’s Active Component. Fifty-six percent of active duty soldiers and their families live on or near their base, whereas no Guard/Reserve soldiers and their families live on base. Additional¬ly, 48% of Guard and 50% of Reserve live more than 30 minutes from the nearest military installation and about 27% of Guard and Reserve live more than one-hour away.  The distance from base may create problems with access to military resources for the soldiers and their families.

Another important difference between Reserve and Active Component spouses is in their understanding of the possibility of their husband’s deployment. In a survey of spouses in 2000, only 35% of Guard and 28% of Reserve spouses thought it would be likely or very likely that their husbands would deploy during the next five years. Between 46% to 69% of Guard & Reserve spouses were unprepared when their husbands were called to deploy in ’01 & ‘028. Furthermore, 60% of Reserve families were given only a 2-week notice at the time to prepare emotionally & administratively (preparing wills, power of attorney, & other necessary financial and legal documentation) for deployment.

These are only a few of the differences between the Reserve and Active Component families that give good cause to understand the challenges faced by the Reserve Component spouses during the post-deployment period. Nevertheless, studies of active duty spouses are greatly needed as well and it is hoped that the findings of this current study will help to further research for all military spouses.

This study intends to gain understanding of the many challenges faced by spouses of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who have returned from OEF/OIF deployment. This includes marital relationship and behavioral health issues (such as depression). In addition, we want to understand how well community and military family support services are helping spouses with post-deployment needs.

Information from this study will be used to inform the public and policy makers about the challenges faced by spouses of Guard and Reserve soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan military combat deployment. Additionally, information from the study will inform the public and policy makers about the community and military family support service needs of this population. The results of the study will be widely distributed to have maximum benefits for families and those who provide services to families.

Who should participate?

If you are a civilian spouse (or unmarried couple but living together) of an Army National Guard or Reserve soldier who has returned from OEF/OIF deployment, your participation is very important. You will have the opportunity to have your personal situation heard and understood. By participating, you will help get information to the public about the challenges faced by Guard and Reserve spouses, which could lead to improved and/or new services to Guard and Reserve families. We anticipate that some spouses and their marriages are doing well and some are not. In order to understand the differences in these spouses and their marriages, it works best to compare and contrast the different situations, so we encourage spouses who are doing well to participate in the survey as well as those who feel they are not doing well.

As mentioned above, the study is being conducted as an online survey and the link to the survey can be found at http://armyspousestudy.com . The survey is anonymous. It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete. There are a number of questions regarding your background, your emotional well-being, your marital relationship, and support received from family, friends, and military family support services. At the end of the survey, there are open-ended questions available for you to state anything you feel is important to understand about your situation that was not covered by the questions.

Cynthia J’Anthony is the principle investigator for this study. She is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Psychology. Send questions regarding this research to csjantho@hawaii.edu.

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Suicide – new PSA

A video/Public Service Announcement from Blue Star Families – about a very important subject. Military Family Suicides. Pass it on. Please.  Because I do know what it’s like.  It’s a lonely time during deployment, and a fraught time before and after; but we aren’t alone.

If you know anyone in trouble, if you think someone is in pain – please please give them that phone number.  Give them your phone number.  Reach out.

KSF

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The story I linked to yesterday, by Alison Buckholtz, has some interesting comments. They run the gamut, from support for Jessica and other military spouses, to a not so supportive diatribe of bad grammar and suppositions that frankly flummoxed me. Especially when you realize, this is another military spouse who says

Well first off this is a sad story but on the other hand I dont feel that bad for her.. I know that sounds bad but I just think when she refers to how she wished her husband died in combat I just think she was refering to the money she would have recieved and not the support from the local army community (because she has no job,etc and now is single). Also there is a saying “If the Army wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one” … That being said they have improved many things for spouse “dependents” and I find it hard to believe they turned her away at any family support group especially when she had suidical thoughts…We might not be the first priority on the armys list but we are very important to them and not just to them but to our soldiers fighting the wars…I just cant feel that bad for this woman.. She put it out there so to me she was looking for attention… I just dont feel bad for woman who do this types of things when they are in a middle of a divorce and or just divorce a service member…. There are many things on base she could have seek help at and I just dont think she tried hard enough

Well,  lrsack, let me put you straight here.   She’s not looking for attention, she wanted to make her (thank goodness not successful) suicide actually mean something.  Having dealt with an FRG leader who refused help, informed us that she wasn’t there to make phone calls, or deal with families – she was there because her husband told her she had to do it, and she was going to raise lots of money to have the best holiday party ever – I can believe Jessica’s “cold shoulder” story.  If you aren’t a member of the in crowd or permanent party at a school post – they don’t want you.  Really.

If you’ve not been in this depth of depression, if you haven’t looked into that dark place, I don’t think you can understand why she felt this way.  What bothers me even more, is that an attitude like this isn’t that rare in the milspouse world.

So – what do you think.  Let’s have it!

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In the past few days, the milspouse world has been rocked by a message from a  fellow military wife – who decided that her pain was too great, that her life was no longer worth living.  A friend wrote about this very eloquently at Left Face Blog.  The outpouring of support for her, is very heartening {as of the time of this post, 219 comments of love, support and offers of help}.   To us in this little world of ours, it isn’t surprising either.  What’s heartbreaking – that she didn’t feel that support and love before she made the decision to end it all.  That she stopped, that she realized that she didn’t need to do this, that it wasn’t all hopeless – was a relief to us all.  That she is getting help, that she has decided to try to carry on no matter what – is a triumph for that strength that we know she has.

Another friend is going through a crisis – and we are all trying to rally around her, make sure that she gets the support she needs, but also gets the space she needs.  The space to adjust how she sees her future, the future of her children, the changes in her life.  The urge to “fix” it all, to jump in and just take over – for many of us, it’s a natural!  We are used to taking charge, getting it done, moving forward.  Most of the military spouses I know have had to take charge during deployments, or sea duty, or lengthy TDYs.  Most of us are volunteers in our FRG, or Key Spouse programs, in our children’s schools, in our community  places of worship, pet shelters, community kitchens or veterans centers, youth programs, military family support groups.

Our urge to help is one of our strengths as a community. The temptation to do too much, the burning our candles at both ends, and the middle – is one that most of us know.  We just jump on that moving walkway and run like a rabbit, dashing from one thing to another, giving each project a hundred percent, wearing ourselves out but making sure we give our families the same hundred percent. It’s our strength, and our weakness.  We do  do do do, in a frantic race to get it all done, to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.   I wonder how many of us are doing too much; how many of us are papering those cracks over and not acknowledging we need to rest.

I wonder.

KSF

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The new program/continuation of prior work “Joining Forces”  that was announced at the White House yesterday is, I hope, an indication that we as military families, aren’t going to be shoved under the rug again. In the past, we’ve been used as window dressing, as props on a stage. In the past two years, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have been pretty vocal in their support, have started programs and pushed for changes.  Of course, there are the folks who wonder why they don’t “initiate” **legislation to keep our pay safe; or make the President give us all a raise; or stop the wars; or work on longer dwell time; or whatever other issue they are having. There is a little thing called the Constitution that prevents them from doing much more than they are doing now.

They are using what Teddy Roosevelt called his “bully pulpit” – they use their name recognition, they use their ability to get a bunch of cameras together, a bunch of reporters, the pomp and circumstance – and some judicious arm twisting.   For example -as reported by USA Today

Among the commitments announced Tuesday:

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will guarantee a job at a nearby store for military family members who have been transferred to another part of the country. Military spouses often have a hard time finding work because employers are reluctant to hire employees they know will be moving on in a couple of years.

•The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold 100 hiring fairs around the country to help 50,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs outside government.

•The YMCA, National Military Family Association and Sierra Club Foundation will offer free summer camp to 7,000 military kids at camps in 35 states this summer.

Is this everything we wanted?  NO.  but is it a start?  YES.  The push to get other Departments of the government involved – the push to make sure we aren’t just dependent on the Department of Defense – getting the rest of the country to realize that after a decade of wars and multiple deployments – we are STILL OUT HERE! I’m going to hope, I’m going to be positive – because I think we need to be.  We have a lot of work to do – to remind the rest of the country that while they sit in their Barcalounger watching Dancing with the Stars or worry about what Katherine Middleton is wearing – another soldier died yesterday in Afghanistan, a sailor died the day before, and Marines gave their lives the day before that.

I’m ready to step up too, how about you? will you at least send a Link – at LIFT?  here’s a link for you to head over to, and show some support

KSF

** yes – some one on Facebook actually wanted to know why Mrs. O didn’t initiate a bill in Congress.

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Before I was a milspouse – I was a State Dept Brat – who went to schools all over the world.  This was waaaay long time ago – ok ok.. in the 60s.  Now – I was and still am, scared of math, and terrified of science.   Just ask my current bio psych teacher – that class is making me insane.

My teachers didn’t make me feel terribly clever in science either!  I know they tried to get me into the whole chemistry deal… but just trying to get the Periodic Table into my head – gives me a headache just trying to think about it. I did enjoy the whole crystal formation on a string project though.

We got our son through highschool. And I hated highschool math as much the second time around, as I did the first!  the science classes- I gave up totally – hoped the husband or the tutor could work on that with him.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with an online “imaginary friend”.  She’s smart.  seriously smart – seriously science type smart.  She’s a milspouse, a PhD student in Geobiology/Geomicrobiology/Biogeochemistry, teacher, blogger… Yeah and a helluva lot of fun at a brewpub/lunch place. She blogs as Slightly Rifted at Extremofiles and a couple of other iterations periodically.

We were talking about kids/milkids especially- these kids go from school to school and sometimes get lost in a shuffle.  There’s a great program, that I’ll let her talk about.

The program is called GK-12 or the Graduate STEM Fellows in Education. This program matches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM)graduate students with a mentor teacher at a local elementary, middle, high school to assist with improving the science content and serving as a science role model in the classroom. Over the course of the fellowship scientists learn to communicate their research to the kids in the classroom and translate their improved science communication skills to communicating with the public throughout the course of their careers

Here’s the entire post on her blog.

These grad students are working on some really incredible cutting edge technology research –

Energy policy, climate change, species diversity, earthquake science and engineering,  water quality and urban development, astrophysics, agriculture, development of unmanned aircraft, and AIDS vaccine development are just a few of the content areas GK-12 fellows are researching. Many fellows research develops technologies and addresses challenges that Adm. Mullen has cited as critical to National Defense. The true breadth of their research could not be summarized in a blog post and possibly not even in a book.  This program doesn’t imagine the power of having kids being mentored in research by cutting edge scientists, it’s doing it and your children are benefiting from it.

If my granddaughter could have a teacher like my friend, who would get her excited about science  or a math person to take that fear out of numbers- that would be so incredible!

BUT – yeah, there’s a BUT.  Even though this program has proved itself, by better results in testing, budget cuts are threatening to cut it completely.  In my friend’s class  “This past year, 9 of the 11 students I work with have entered science fair having completed individual research projects that are largely of their own design and execution.”  And they won a lot of awards!

Between the awards, and getting kids interested in working in the fields we need to have more people getting into – pretty much a win win, don’t you think?  So – of course – those in charge of funding are deciding that they need to cut it.   Do me a favour – call your Congressperson.  Do your kids a favour- call your Congressperson.  Do our country’s techno future a favour – call your Congressperson.  Tell them that the GK12 program is working – it’s needed, it’s necessary.  If we want our tech run by our kids, if we want our kids inventing the latest and greatest way to reverse climate change and keep our air clean and our waters drinkable, if we want our National Defense protected by the latest and greatest gadget invented by our kids – we need to raise our own scientists.  Not in college – in grade school, in high school.  Please – make the call.

KESF

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