Category Archives: Military

Our Most Amazing Christmas Celebration Happened North of the Arctic Circle

Christmas is often hard on military families, especially when they are far from family. The best thing to do is make memories of your own. We did that when the Executive Presbyter asked the Good Chaplain to lead a Christmas Eve candlelight service in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, in 1996. Memories were undoubtedly made for our family that year.

Anaktuvuk Pass is a small village in Brooks Mountain Range 150 miles above the Arctic Circle. The only way in or out is via dog sled or airplane, although the people in town did have some vehicles to drive around town. The “terminal” at the landing strip also served as the post office. Think “Northern Exposure” only more remote.

The Good Chaplain is a Presbyterian minister. Above the Arctic Circle, tiny villages dotted the north slope of Alaska. Many of the towns had small, pastorless Presbyterian churches. The Presbytery of the Yukon called on the Good Chaplain from time to time to preach.

When the Good Chaplain first proposed the idea of going there for Christmas, I was reluctant. People in the village stopped living in sod huts only 20 years before. Most of the houses did not have flush toilets. And when the last pastor left, a group of angry teens burned down the manse. Alcohol and domestic abuse are rampant in many of these villages. Did I want to expose our 11-year-old twin girls to that? Besides, Christmas is our family thing.

On the other hand, how cool would it be to spend Christmas in an Inupiat village, learning about a new culture? The girls were all for it, so we went. We even stayed in the school with its Olympic-size swimming pool and running water.

The village is nestled between two mountains in the Brooks Mountain Range

I fell in love the minute we landed. The village, in between two mountain peaks, seemed busy, especially for such a small town. People walked, drove, rode on snow machines. I’m not sure where they were going, but they were on the move.

Subsistence living, or living off the land, was the primary source of food and income. Catching one whale could feed the village for months, not to mention the uses of the blubber, skin, and bones. Caribou were plenty in the area. And, of course, the village received a portion of the proceeds from the Alaska Pipeline.

The town met in the school gymnasium for a gift exchange and meal this Christmas Eve. We did not know about this event, but they included us, even giving gifts to the girls. The meal was caribou stew. We thought the stew had rice in it, but then the Good Chaplain swiped a big glob of fat out of his mouth, and we realized it wasn’t rice at all. We didn’t eat that much fat at home.

The school in Anaktuvuk Pass was the hub for celebrations and feasts as well as basketball tournaments!

I sat in the bleachers watching the villagers interact with each other. Although many were blood relatives, they treated everyone as if they were family, including us. At one point, a young mother thrust her baby into my arms and told me to watch her for a little while. I was astounded. Never would I hand my child over to a perfect stranger. Then the Good Chaplain reminded me I couldn’t take the baby anywhere because there were no roads out of the village. Good point.

I especially enjoyed watching the people interact with the elders of the village. Everyone treated them with respect and kindness. They listened to them and seemed to take heed to the wisdom they imparted.  I wished all of society would be so deferential to our seniors.

Chapel in the Mountains, Anatuvuk Pass, Alaska, complete with the Northern Lights dancing above just like that Christmas Eve.

Soon, the real magic of the evening would begin — the church service. The Good Chaplain, the girls, and I trudged up the snow-covered hill to the little wooden church above the village to set up for service. As the time for the service neared, no one was coming. As we stood on the front porch, we could see a commotion in town at the medical station. A young girl broke her leg in an accident, and a helicopter transported her to the hospital in Fairbanks. After the helicopter left, people made their way to the church.

I commented to The Good Chaplain that the only thing that could make the evening better was the Northern Lights to come out. However, one of the villagers told me it probably wouldn’t happen because it was too warm.

The Northern Lights in Alaska can be spectacular!

The service itself was beautiful; the Good Chaplain preached through a translator. Singing “Silent Night” in both English and Inupiat in candlelight was a highlight of the evening until we stepped outside. The Northern Lights were indeed dancing across the sky. The elder, who thought it was too warm for the lights, piled us into her sport utility vehicle and took us to a place where the lights were more spectacular than they were at the church. She sang a song meant to cause the Aurora Borealis to dance across the sky as we watched in awe.

Soon it was time to head back to the school and bed. When we got there, we could hear townspeople over the school’s CB radio calling out to each other, thanking them for the gifts, and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. It was indeed a magical night.

The Memorable Time My Indoor Cat Captured a Live Mouse

As I walked into the house after a workout at the base gym one sunny morning in 1999, Mrs. Tech Sergeant was walking out on her way to a babysitting gig.

“Mom, River is acting strange,” she said. “He’s just sitting in the kitchen staring at the cabinets.”

My big, fluffy Chartreux, River

River was our big, fluffy Chartreux cat. He was about three years old at the time.

“Okay, I’ll check it out. Thanks.” I went into the house. “Hey buddy, whatcha doing?” I asked as I stroked his wooly fur. I barely got a mew out of this ordinarily vocal animal.

I shrugged and went into the dining room to start reading my Bible study. Suddenly, a loud crash came from the kitchen.

 “River, what are you doing,” I muttered as I got up to see what happened. As I rounded the corner, he met me in the doorway, with a MOUSE in his mouth! Our house on Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota was on a large corner lot that backed up to a field, so it was inevitable we would have field mice coming in at some point.

As I stood staring at him, River headed down the six stairs to our basement family room where Illinois Girl sat watching television.

 “River’s got a mouse,” I warned her.

“What?” she asked as she looked behind her. Just then, River dropped the mouse, and it tried to scurry away.

 “It’s a real one,” Illinois Girl shrieked as she leaped over the couch and scrambled up the stairs.

I grabbed the phone to call the Good Chaplain at his office.

“River’s got a mouse,” I screamed into the phone.

He calmly replied, “Is it alive?”

“I don’t know,” I said as I peeked down the stairs just as River caught the mouse in his mouth and brought it back upstairs.

“Yes, come home now!” I slammed the phone down, and Illinois Girl and I bolted up the other set of stairs leading to the bedrooms. We ran into my bedroom, closed the door, and cowered on the bed.

As we waited for the Good Chaplain to rescue us, it occurred to us that the bedroom door had a big gap between it and the floor, big enough for a field mouse to fit under it, but not a 10-pound cat.

Illinois Girl’s solution, in the event the mouse did get in the room, was to get into the shower in the master bathroom. “I’m pretty sure the mouse can’t climb up tile,” she said.

From the Good Chaplain’s perspective, he claims all he heard on the phone was a hysterical woman telling him to get home now. He claims he wasn’t even sure it was me. (I don’t know about that!) He did come home, and he walked into an empty, echoing house. He spotted River in the living room, a paw on either side of the mouse, looking proud of himself.

“What do you have there, buddy,” the Good Chaplain said to the cat as he approached. The mouse moved. River smacked it, and it died.

Illinois Girl and I heard the Good Chaplain come in and cautiously opened the bedroom door. “Is it safe?” I asked.

“Yes, you can come down. The mouse is dead,” the Good Chaplain said.

As Illinois Girl and I crept downstairs, the Good Chaplain wrapped the mouse in a paper towel to dispose of it. But he showed it to us first.

“Aww, it’s so cute. It looks like Ralph from The Mouse and the Motorcycle* book,” I said.

The Good Chaplain rolled his eyes. “I’m going back to work.”

Stay tuned for more of my lunacy as a military spouse in next week’s blog!

Until then,

Vicki

*The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.

What kind of craziness have you gotten into as a military spouse? Reply below.

Shameless plug time: My new book, Where You Go, I Will Go is now available on Amazon.com as both an e-book and in paperback. Check it out here.

Untold Stories: How a Fishing Trip Got Me Out of My Comfort Zone

Editor’s Note: Starting today, my blog posts will feature stories from my 31 years as a military spouse. These are stories that did not make it into my upcoming book, Where You Go, I Will Go, but are entertaining nonetheless. I hope you enjoy them.

I am not an outdoorsy type of person, so Alaska proved to be a challenge sometimes with all the activities that take place outside. But it was a challenge I took so I could experience the Alaskan way of life.

A big part of Alaska living is fishing. We had fly fishing, river fishing, lake fishing, deep-sea fishing, and all sorts of other fishing. A favorite was fishing for king salmon. A person is allowed only one king a year, and you had to get a special stamp for it on your fishing license.

One day in the summer of 2007, the Good Chaplain came home and said the 18th Aggressor Squadron was going on a camping and fishing trip in a few weeks. Did I want to go? That sounded kind of fun — as long as I didn’t have to bait the hook or clean the fish. I said yes.

Members of the 18th Aggressor Squadron and their children cooking ribs during a weekend fishing trip in 2007.

The weekend was rainy and cold, but we all went anyway. There I was with these macho F-16 fighter pilots, a few other spouses, and some children. Fighter pilots are incredibly competitive, so the trash talk began the first night. Each one was sure they were going to catch the biggest fish.

On Saturday morning, we were divided into teams of three or four. The Good Chaplain, me, and a pilot nicknamed, Skin were put into one boat with our fishing guide. We cruised up the Talkeetna River, looking for a good spot. The guide found a likely spot, baited my hook, and cast my line into the water.

We chatted about inconsequential things while we waited for a strike on one of our lines. Suddenly, a sharp tug hit my line. The guide jumped into motion. Because of the rules, I had to reel the fish in, but the guide could coach me through the process. He identified the fish as a king and proceeded to tell me how to bring it in — pull up on the line, now let the line play out a little, jerk on the line, reel it in, reel it in, reel it in. I lost track of time while I fought this behemoth, but I know it took longer than when I used to catch crappie with my dad. Finally, the fish was in the boat, and it was a beaut.

Soon the Good Chaplain caught one too. Not as big as mine, but decent-sized. Unfortunately, Skin got a strike, but the fish snapped the line and took off. From the looks of it, his fish would have been bigger than mine.

Me with my big catch.

We got back to camp, where others were bragging about their fish until I brought mine around. My fish was 30 pounds and ended up being the largest one caught that day. Hah!

On Monday, during a commander’s meeting, the general gave the pilots a hard time. “You big tough fighter pilots let a woman catch the biggest fish? A woman? What’s wrong with you guys?”

I will always remember this trip. I was out of my comfort zone, and I bested a bunch of macho men! Between my fish and the Good Chaplain’s at 20 pounds, we had enough salmon to last for the next year and a half of our assignment in Alaska.

Stay tuned for more untold stories of my journey in the military world.

Until then,

Vicki

Do you have any fish tales to share? Let’s see them in the reply below.

Super Exciting News! My Book is Ready to Publish

Hey everyone. I’m taking a little different track with this blog. Many of you may know that I am writing and self-publishing a book for military spouses based on my 31 years as an Air Force Spouse.

I’m so excited that the book should be for sale on Amazon by the end of April. It’s called “Where You Go, I Will Go: Lessons From a Military Spouse.”

This is a mock-up of the book cover.

In the book, I use lots of things I’ve learned along the way to help military spouses, particularly new spouses, navigate the strange and wonderful world of the military. The book is filled with many crazy stories, some funny and some serious, about issues I covered in this blog.

Now that the book is coming out, I have many more stories that didn’t make it into the book that I plan to share with you for the next several blogs. Stories like the time a two-star general came up to our table to chat during a base social function. For some reason, the conversation turned to politics. This Major General discussed how much he admired President Barak Obama. Then he said, “But I suppose you are supporters of President Bush.”

I replied, “Yes, Sir. I supported George H. W. Bush in each of his campaigns for President, and I am a huge supporter of George W.” But I couldn’t leave it at that.

I looked at the Major General and said, “But we respect other people’s opinions, no matter how wrong they are.”

The Good Chaplain went apoplectic, but the Major General simply laughed, excused himself, and walked away. We are still friends with that Major General today.

Sometimes my mouth speaks a thought before my brain can process it.

I will keep you up-to-date on the book launch. In the meantime, be prepared to be regaled with more such stories from my life as a military spouse.

Until then,

Vicki

When have you put your foot in your mouth? Share your stories in the comment section below.

A Guide to Help You Decipher What Those Dress Codes Actually Mean

Today we are getting into etiquette and protocol, and the first up is the dress code. Yes, the military has a dress code for civilians as well as military at certain functions.

Typically, when you receive an official function invitation, it usually specifies what attendees should wear in the bottom left corner. A lot of time, there is confusion about what that means. And the meaning can depend on where you live. For instance, business casual in Alaska usually means no Carharts, while in Washington D.C., it means a suit and ties for men. It all depends. When in doubt, ask the host what they are wearing.

I happen to have a handy guide of what to wear that the Good Chaplain got when we were stationed in Hawaii. It’s a pretty good guide for the basics. So let’s dive right in.

Women’s Casual Dress
Women’s Semi-Formal Dress
Men’s Business Casual
Men’s Formal Dress

  • Women’s Casual is a conservative dress or a nice shirt with slacks, capri pants, or a skirt. Sandals are fine.
  • Men’s Casual is a button-down shirt with slacks—no jeans or streetwear.
  • Women’s Business Casual is what you would wear to work. A nice blouse or top with slacks, capri pants, skirt, or dressy sundress.
  • Women’s Business is a suit with either pants or a skirt and a jacket. Closed-toe shoes are more appropriate.
  • Men’s Business Casual is a sport coat, dressy button-down shirt, and slacks. The sport coat can be optional, as is a tie. No jeans.
  • Men’s Business is a suit where the color and style of the pants and jacket match. The shirt color and style can vary.
  • Men can also have Open Collar Casual, a Polo, or button-down shirt with slacks or khakis. No jeans.
  • Men’s Semi-Formal is a white shirt with a tie and a dark-colored suit. No boots. No overcoat was used as the jacket.
  • The dress must be lower than mid-thigh to a tea length and conservative for Women’s Semi-Formal or Cocktail Dress. No thigh slits or excessive bust line showing.
  • For Men’s Formal, a tuxedo or black tie with a black suit is most appropriate, along with a white shirt.
  • Women’s Formal is similar to semi-formal except dresses should be tea length or floor length. Again, no high front or thigh slits. Although the open back is allowed, a shawl is recommended. (The ballrooms tend to be chilly, so this is a good recommendation anyway.) Women’s Formal can also be a floor-length evening pants suit, but not your normal business suit.

Most dress for formal events such as changes of command or promotions is business casual for the civilians and uniform of the day for the military. Uniform of the day means either OCPs (Operational Camouflage Pattern) uniform that most people wear to work or Service Dress uniform (Blues, Class A, or whatever your branch calls them.)

My friend, Marlene, used to tell me the dress code was my “Sunday best” until I told her I normally wore pants to church, and I knew she was talking about a dress. Knowing what to wear is important. You don’t want to be either overdressed or underdressed. Neither scenario is comfortable. But the language of what is appropriate is as clear as mud. I hope this post will help you decipher some of what is meant by different types of dress.

Next time we will talk about when it is appropriate to contact your spouse’s commanders.

Until then,

Vicki

Do you have an official function coming up? What do you plan to wear? Reply in the comment section below. And be sure to subscribe to this blog, so you never miss any earth-shattering pieces of information I have to share with you.

How Four Military Wives Acted Like A Spy Ring Without Knowing It

Today I am going to tell you a story. It’s an innocent story but one that will explain why Operational Security — or OPSEC — is so important not just for military members but for their families as well.

Once upon a time, a captain’s wife enjoyed walking every morning with her neighborhood friends. One day these friends, a lieutenant’s wife, another captain’s wife, and a lieutenant colonel’s wife were walking when the first captain’s wife mentioned her chaplain husband had to stay close to the base the upcoming weekend.

The lieutenant’s wife mentioned her husband, a pilot, was on call for the weekend. Hmmm.

The other captain’s wife, whose husband was in communications, also said her husband was on call. Double hmmm. What was going on?

When the fourth wife, the Operations Support Squadron Commander’s wife, said her husband would be working all weekend, the ladies all knew something was up. What was going on in the news that week? The ladies put their heads together to try and figure out what would require their husbands, all in different fields on base, to stay near home.

It was the U.S. invasion of Haiti in September 1994. You can read more about the invasion here, but the gist of it is that troops from the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force gathered in Puerto Rico and Southern Florida to support an invasion led by the Joint Special Operations Command.

General Joseph Raoul Cedras

The purpose of the invasion was to get General Joseph Raoul Cedras to step down as president and re-instate the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Cedras led a military coup to overthrow Aristide in 1991.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

A diplomatic delegation of former President Jimmy Carter, former Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Colin Powell, and U.S. Sam Nunn of Georgia went to Haiti to negotiate with Cedras. It wasn’t until he was shown a video of the 82nd Airborne aircraft being loaded with troops that Cedras capitulated. He apparently assumed it was a live feed but was told the video was taken two hours before, and the planes were already over the Atlantic Ocean headed for Haiti. Cedras accepted the best deal he could get, and Aristide returned to Haiti in October 1994.

That’s enough of a history lesson for now. The important piece here is how four wives put together what they knew about their spouses’ orders and, together with what they saw on the news, figured out what was going on before it happened.

“This is how spies work,” the Good Chaplain said. They gather bits and pieces of information, get a clear picture of what is going on, and sometimes determine exactly what is happening.

Remember OPSEC. Next week I will talk about what not to talk about.

Until then,

Vicki

Do you have an OPSEC story like the one above? Share it in the comments below.

Use Your Military Spouse Superpowers to Make 2021 a Kickass Year

As we say goodbye, or should I say good riddance to 2020, I pray your 2021 will be an amazing year. Look back on what you did accomplish in 2020 and plan to continue making strides in the new year.

I know 2020 looks like a wasted year, but I’m sure as military spouses, you used your superpowers to get some things done, even if they had to be done differently. Pat yourselves on the back. You made it through a pandemic year, and many of you did that without your significant other. Be happy and content.

But don’t rest on your laurels. Keep going. Take the lessons you learned in 2020 and move forward. You know what you are capable of, what your strengths are, so use those strengths. I believe in you.

If you make New Year’s resolutions, I hope that your first one is to make 2021 the best military spouse year ever! Mine is to publish my book about helping new military spouses navigate the maze of military life.

Until next time,

Vicki

What are some of your resolutions? Enter them in the comment section below. I might just check in with you and hold you accountable.

The Most Important Things to Know About Retirement for Military Spouses

Retiring from the military looks different for everyone, but there are a few commonalities to keep in mind if you want to transition successfully.

Our final farewell to military life

First, make a plan. It doesn’t have to be done far in advance, but military couples should talk about a few things before taking the plunge.

  • Talk about where you want to live. Do you want to stay near your last base? Near a base for continued medical care? Do you go back to your home state? Is living near family important?
  • Will the retiree work? Many people are still young when they retire from the military. Do they want to get a job? A whole new career?
  • Is it the spouse’s turn to do what she or he wants to do? Many spouses have put their lives and careers on hold to follow the military member around the globe. Is it their turn to develop their own career?
  • What about the kids? Depending on their ages, you may want to stay put until they are out of high school.

Second, make sure your marriage is strong. Again, depending on your children’s ages, you will be living together, just the two of you, soon enough. If you haven’t worked on your marriage throughout the military career, life can be different for you later. The Good Chaplain had to retire because he was about to age out of the system. We had been empty-nesters for six of our assignments. If we didn’t like each other, we would have been in trouble. But throughout our marriage, we put each other first. We had regular date nights. We had similar interests. And our focus wasn’t totally on our girls. When they left for college, our relationship continued as it always had been. “The best thing you can give your children is a good marriage,” the Good Chaplain said.

Third, as a military spouse, think about what you really want. It really should be your turn to be a little selfish and get what you want out of your life. I sometimes feel I am too old to do what I want, but here I am at 61, writing a book to help new military spouses figure out the whole system. Determine what you want to do and go for it. In fact, start now before retirement. And don’t let age be a factor. You are never too old to follow a dream.

Sit down with your spouse, ask these questions, and go out and make your retirement years the best they can be! You’ve got this.

Until next time,

Vicki

What are your retirement dreams? Do you want a career? Do you want to travel? Put your answers in the comment section below. And don’t forget to follow this blog so you never miss a post.

Last Minute Plan Changes Can Be Frustrating for New Military Spouses

I’m sorry.

I owe you an apology. In reading over my post of November 18, it sounded rather negative to me. My intention with this blog is to put a positive spin on your role as a military spouse.

I dare say I might even be a little Pollyanna-ish about the military lifestyle. But I loved the life and miss it now that the Good Chaplain is retired. I’m proud of his career, achievements, and the way he related to the airmen, no matter their rank. That is his gift.

I also loved the camaraderie and friendships that go along with the common bond of being a military spouse.

But in reality, there will be hard times. You might have a baby without your husband present because his ship is delayed. Or the military version of Murphy’s Law will happen, and everything will break as soon as he deploys. Mrs. Tech Sergeant can attest to this, and I know many others can as well.

Or the big one this year — COVID-19 hit, and all your plans changed, too. And speaking of changing plans, that leads us nicely into our next question: Are you willing to not make plans far in advance or change your plans at the last minute? Because that will happen.

The girls and I took many a road trip without the Good Chaplain.

I’ve often traveled with just the girls to visit family because the Good Chaplain’s plans changed. I remember when our niece, Hannah, was born. The girls and I drove to Illinois alone because the Good Chaplain couldn’t make the trip. We were stuck in Illinois because of a tropical storm that stalled over central Georgia, causing major flooding. And that turned out to be a good thing because Hannah was two weeks late!

Get-togethers with friends are often made last minute because you never know your husband’s work schedule. Most military members have to be flexible because they never know when they will get called in. Many times we’ve had to leave a movie or dinner because of an emergency call. I didn’t always handle these interruptions to my night out with grace. Let’s just say flexibility was the “f” word in our house.

Friends are so important for your social life since your spouse may not always be available.

I can’t even tell you the number of family gatherings and holidays he missed, including his own family reunion. In the photos, one of the girls held up a picture of him. My family seemed to get together every year or two for various celebrations. My sister, the organizer, would want to know well in advance if we would attend. My answer was, I don’t know. It depended on our move schedule, the Good Chaplain’s deployment schedule, or even what was happening in the world that might cause leaves to be canceled — like our current pandemic.

Terrinoni Family Reunion in California in 2002, while the Good Chaplain was deployed. Illinois Girl is holding his picture.

I know it can be lonely to go to things without your spouse, or not to go at all, but you will handle it with confidence. Just one word of advice: Get travel insurance in case you have to cancel at the last minute.

Next week I will answer the question, “Will I lose myself because I am a military spouse?”

Until then,

Vicki

What are your experiences of missing out because of the military? Answer in the comment section below. And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, so you never miss any of my riveting insights!

Happy Thanksgiving to all Military Spouses Near and Far

Thanksgiving was always a different holiday for us when we were in the Air Force. Most times we chose not to go home, but celebrating as the four of us seemed boring. So we started taking in strays — those single airmen or young couples who would otherwise be alone for the holiday. Then it branched out to the chapel staff as well. At one point we crammed 25 people into our dining room. And I loved it all. It helped us when we were away from family and it helped make others’ holiday special too.

Chapel staff, friends, and family Thanksgiving at our house at Joint Base Langley-Fort Eustis, VA

I know many of you are probably celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time away from your families. And unfortunately, in this time of COVID-19, you can’t really invite others in. I pray you are able to make the holiday as special as you can in the midst of this crazy year. And remember, we all have lots to be thankful for, even when we can’t celebrate with our loved ones.

The Good Chaplain and I, we would like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. I hope the message below brightens your day. Enjoy.

See you next week.

Until then,

Vicki

What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions when you can’t be with family? Share in the comments below.