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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.

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The Time I Showed My Parents an Excellent Alaskan Adventure

When my parents visited us in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the summer of 1996, we wanted to show them a uniquely Alaskan adventure. We took them to the Knotty Shop in Salcha for ice cream. We went to a traditional salmon bake. We enjoyed lunch at our favorite sandwich shop, the Chowder House. We even drove eight miles so we could see the mountains “out” at 11 p.m. But nothing could top the trek to a friend’s cabin on the Yukon River.

Curt and Cindee invited us to their cabin for an afternoon in nature and moose steaks for dinner. Curt warned us that we would have to ford the river to get to the place, but usually, it wasn’t a problem.

Mosquitoes could get pretty thick in Alaska!

It was drizzling, but otherwise an okay day. We followed Curt’s directions to the cabin, parked the car, and waded across the river to the house where friendly fire was going to warm ourselves and dry our socks. At one point, we decided to go for a walk through the woods. It was still drizzling as Curt and Cindee showed us the various plants growing wild like raspberries and rose bushes. But the mosquitoes were terrible, and we decided to head back to the cabin to get dinner started. We would need to leave in a few hours to pick up my niece, Julie, at the Fairbanks train station later that evening.

Back at the cabin, we sat around the fire, chatting and listening to stories from our hosts, who were raised in the Fairbanks area. We ate a great meal of moose steaks, something my parents never had before, and then it was time to leave so we could get home, change into dry clothes, and go pick up Julie. But, as we walked outside, the river was no longer a meandering stream we could easily walk across. Because of the steady rain, it was a torrent of rushing water. This situation presented problems.

My dad and the Good Chaplain, attached to a guide rope, went first to see if it was doable for us womenfolk and the girls. If it wasn’t, Curt said there was a trail, part of the old Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race Course, that would lead us to the highway.

After the Good Chaplain and my dad made it across the river, they decided our twin daughters would probably get swept away in the current, so we should go with plan B, the trail. Dad and the Good Chaplain would drive the car to the bridge where the path met with the highway and pick us up.

Sometimes the mosquitoes seemed as big as this carved one outside the Knotty Shop.

The problem – Curt couldn’t remember exactly where the trail was located. At one point, we waited in the pouring rain, swatting at the thick swarm of mosquitoes, while Curt ventured ahead to discern the right path. My mom said she was afraid the swarm of mosquitoes around Illinois Girl were so thick they were going to pick her up and carry her 70-pound body away.

It seemed like we were on the trail for hours when we reached the car at the bridge. It had been only 45 minutes, but we were soaked to the bone and mosquito-bitten as we climbed into the Jimmy and thanked Curt for an adventure we were sure to never forget.

Now it was too late for us to drive home, change, and pick up Julie. We would have to go straight to the train station in our present water-logged condition. We arrived at the station just as the train was pulling in. Julie said she saw the six of us dripping wet, sloshing through the station in soaked tennis shoes and socks, covered in mud, and she almost didn’t claim us as her kinfolk.

This is what we looked like when we picked up Julie at the train station!

In addition, our GMC Jimmy could only seat six, and now we were seven. We could not get on base without everyone in seatbelts. We ended up putting the girls in the rear of the vehicle, laying down where the gate guards couldn’t see them until we made it home.

We absolutely showed my parents an authentic Alaskan adventure they wouldn’t soon forget!

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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.

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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.

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Six Ways to Stay Positive During a Military Deployment

Your spouse just left for a military deployment, and you are sitting in your car at the airport or dock crying. You know you need to get it together. You need to figure out just what this deployment is going to look like. Are you going to be miserable or make the best of the situation?

It’s hard not to look at the negatives of deployment. Something major breaks at home. The kids get sick. You are in charge of making sure every chore around the house gets done. Plus, you are without your soulmate for an extended period of time.

True for both the military member and the spouse left behind

Thankfully, with technology, you have more contact with your significant other. Whenever I boohooed over the 15-minute phone call once a week, I thought about spouses in World War II, and I felt lucky for what I had. Those spouses were happy to get a censored letter every month. The military member was sometimes gone for four years to faraway places. Sometimes letters would arrive after the telegram telling you he was killed in action, a prisoner of war, or missing in action. I can’t imagine being in their shoes. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t have bad moments, but thinking about others who came before you can help.

Keeping busy is the best thing you can do to make the time seem to go faster. If you work outside the home, that will occupy your time. But other things to do include:

  • Socializing: Make time for coffee with friends. Go to spouse gatherings. Start a neighborhood Bunco group. Hire a babysitter and have a night out so you can talk to other adults.
  • Education: Now is a great time to take a class or two you’ve always wanted to take. Or finish your degree.
  • Hobbies: Take up a new hobby or spend more time on the one you already have. Your spouse isn’t around to grouse about all your scrapbooking items scattered all over the dining room table, and your kids won’t care.
  • Kids: Do fun things with the kids. Now you don’t have to worry about your spouse not being able to do an activity. It’s only your schedule and the kids’ you need to consider.
  • Fitness: Do you dream of that smoking hot body? Or maybe you already have it, but deployments are a good time to drop the kids off at school and get to the gym. Although I gained weight when the Good Chaplain was deployed because I worked out less and ate junk food a lot of the time if you are like me. My intentions were good, though.
  • Entertainment: You get to stream whatever shows or movies you want after the kids are in bed. You get to go to the movies whenever you want. I had a friend who went to the matinee once a week while her kids were in school. You also might have more time to read before bed without interruption.

I know all of this sounds Pollyannish. I’m an optimist, and I try to find the good in everything. You will be sad, frustrated, and mad at times. You will wonder why you ever married a person in the military. But I’m here to say you can handle deployments and have fun during them.

As the Serenity Prayer says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Neibuhr

You can’t change the fact that your spouse is deployed, but you can change your attitude about it and make the best of it.

Until next time,

Vicki

What positives do you see during deployment? Reply in the section below.

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8 Tips to Help Your Spouse Reintegrate After Deployment

Welcome home, soldier!

He’s finally returning from his deployment. You are excited and anxious at the same time. Let’s face it, no matter how long he’s been deployed, everything has changed. He may have seen some disturbing things. You became more independent. The kids and pets have grown since he last saw them in person. Things change.

Here are eight tips to help your spouse’s reintegration into the family easier.

First, is he coming home with his unit or by himself? The Air Force tends to send one person or maybe two people instead of an entire squadron or flight. So homecomings are not usually as big a ceremony as the Army or Navy do it. Once, when we lived in Alaska, the whole fighter squadron deployed together. There was a big homecoming for that one, but usually, it was just my husband and maybe one other person returning at the same time.

I did get to attend my Army nephew’s homecoming when we were all stationed in Hawaii together. It was a spectacular event, even though it was about 2 a.m. when his unit finally arrived. Families gathered in a large hangar with large screens set up to see the buses roll in and then see our loved ones file into another part of the room separated by curtains, and then finally appear on our side of the curtain.

My nephew, left, salutes the Good Chaplain, right, while 5-year-old Mason looks on during my nephew’s homecoming in December 2012 . We did not know Mason was there until we saw the photo.

My nephew’s son was about 5 at the time. It also happened to be Christmas Day. My nephew’s wife told their son she had a big Christmas present for him, but they had to go pick it up. When we got to the hangar and saw the buses drive up, we asked Mason if he knew what his present was, and he said, “A school bus.” But then he saw his dad on the screen and said, “That’s my dad,” in a voice filled with awe.

Lesson #1: No matter how they come home — alone or in a group — remember that other people are going to want to see them and welcome them home. I know I always resented when the Good Chaplain’s staff came to the airport or the reunion spot with me because I wanted him to myself. I didn’t even want to share him with the girls. Let others greet him and then steal him away.

Lesson #2: Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. It’s okay to run to him and give him a hug and a kiss, but don’t scream and shout and cause a big ado. If he is in uniform, PDA rules still apply.

Lesson #3: Take things slowly when you get home. Allow him to acclimate to the surroundings and the changes. He’s probably got jetlag and is dog tired from flying halfway around the world, so let him rest and relax for a few days. Don’t throw a big party or plan a big trip for immediately after he gets home. Save the party for the following weekend. And you know he doesn’t want to get on a plane or leave home again very soon. Keep the first week or so low key with just you and the children. Also, as tempted as you are to do so, don’t throw all his chores and responsibilities back on him the minute he walks through the door. I know I am guilty of this one. After months of handling everything, you just want him to give the kids a bath for once or for the next year.

Lesson #4: This ties into number 3. Allow him time to get used to the changes at home. The best advice I ever got was to treat him as a guest for a few days to get used to the new way of doing things. The colonel’s wife, who gave me that advice, told me the story of how while her husband was deployed, their child learned to cross the street by himself, but hubby did not know that. So one day, shortly after his return, the child went across the street to play, and his father spanked him for doing it. You can’t remember to tell your returning spouse all the little things like that, nor do you want to bombard them with everything that happened while they were gone. So don’t have them do anything but observe for a little while. You’ve handled everything this long; you can do it for a few days more.

Lesson #5: Do plan a little alone time with your spouse in the first week. It may be awkward at first, like when you were first dating, to know what to talk about or to be intimate again. Go for a walk. Hold hands. Put the kids to bed and then sit on the couch and just talk and cuddle. It will come back soon enough.

Lesson #6: Let him talk or not about what he saw and did. Don’t pressure him to reveal things he is not ready for you to know about. Mr. Tech Sergeant didn’t tell us about a mortar round going through his room until months after returning from his first deployment. But do listen to the stories he does have to tell. It is important to share what he wants to share so you can appreciate what he did and saw.

Lesson #7: Help him recognize the children’s changes and why they might not react to him the way he expects them to. We had one friend whose small daughter did not know him and cried when he tried to pick her up. She was just a toddler, and although she saw pictures of him, this man was a stranger to her. It took a few days for her to come around. You could tell his feelings were hurt, but sometimes children are that way. They may not go to the parent who was deployed for questions or advice for a while because that’s been your role for so long.

Lesson #8: Most of all, be patient! Things will never return to what they used to be, but they can be even better if you take time to get reintegrated.

Now that we’ve talked about homecomings, let’s talk about the actual deployments and what to do during those trying times.

Until then,

Vicki

What advice would you give for post-deployment reunions? Answer in the reply below.

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Military Spouse Rules: When is it Okay to Call the Command Structure?

Let me present three scenarios for you.

  1. My neighbor’s kids keep riding their bikes across my yard. They do this when it is dry or wet and is starting to leave ruts and bare patches.
  2. The storm last night damaged a big tree in my backyard. A large branch is hanging precariously across the sidewalk and street.
  3. My husband is deployed and hasn’t called in like three days.

In which of these three would you call the command structure of your base or post? Notice I said command structure — not the commander because there is a chain of command even civilians should follow when reporting a problem or a complaint.

The answer, of course, is number two. This really happened to me when we lived on the corner in Minot. A storm damaged a tree, and a huge branch was hanging over the sidewalk and into the street. One more gust of wind, and the whole thing would come crashing down. I’d called the number the base gave out to report the damage. Nothing happened. I called housing maintenance. Again nothing happened. I finally called Civil Engineering, and they sent someone out to look at it.

In this case, the issue was one of potential danger. The street and sidewalk led to the junior high on-base. Kids and cars were around all the time. I was afraid someone would be in that spot when the branch broke off. This was a time to get the command structure involved.

Commanders at all levels are busy people. It’s not that they don’t care about you, but they have bigger picture things to handle, so they don’t want to get involved with petty neighborhood squabbles or your husband not calling on time. Trust me, if something happened to your deployed spouse, you would be notified through the proper channels.

Sometimes you have to call the chain of command, like when your spouse is abusive to you or the children or committing a crime. Or if issues at home might affect his or her ability to focus on their job. And especially in emergencies when you cannot reach your spouse or need the Red Cross to deliver a message.

Twice in Georgia, I implemented the call to the commander. Once, Mrs. Tech Sergeant fell and hit her mouth on a concrete stoop. Her mouth was bleeding badly, and I felt I should take her to the emergency room. I knew the Good Chaplain was out with the vice-wing commander, but I didn’t know where. Also, he should have been home by then. We didn’t have a cell phone, so I called the vice wing commander’s house.

“Bobby, this is Vicki. Do you know where the Good Chaplain is?”

“What’s wrong?”

“One of the girls fell and hurt her mouth. I need him to meet me at the ER.”

“I’m on it.”

And he was. In the meantime, the Good Chaplain came home.

“Bobby, this is Vicki again. He just got home. Thank you for your help.”

“Oh, good. I’ll call off the police.”

He called the police to find the Good Chaplain and relay my message. He was a commander who cared about his airmen and their families.

The second incident also happened in Georgia, but the Good Chaplain was away on a temporary duty assignment in New Mexico. Again, Mrs. Tech Sergeant had an issue. Her teacher called me in to report behavior that might indicate she had been abused. I was beside myself. Who would do such a thing? I tried to reach the Good Chaplain, but he was in the field. I tried all week. I left frantic messages. I called the Chapel to see if they could get a message to him. Unfortunately, they were of no help. I knew the Air Force Reserve Command, located on our base, had chaplains at the same location, so I finally called their chaplain office. They told me the group was delayed a day in the field, but they would get the message to contact him as soon as possible. I don’t know about you, but I want my husband by my side in an emergency.

Chain of Command

I didn’t precisely follow the chain of command in all these instances, but I knew who I could call to get the help I needed. It’s easy to find out who to contact by going to your family resource center. They have many resources, phone numbers, and classes to guide you in the right direction.

After trying the family resource center, the next step is to contact your unit’s Key Spouse (Air Force), Ombudsman (Navy and Coast Guard), Family Readiness Coordinator (Marines), or Family Readiness Support Advisor (Army). These people are specially trained to help. They are assigned by the unit commander to aid in issues affecting life in the military.

If that isn’t enough, the chain of command begins with your spouse’s immediate supervisor. Then the supervisor’s supervisor. Next in order is the First Sergeant, Flight or Company Commander (or whatever it is called in your branch), Squadron Commander or Chief, Group Commander or Chief, and then the Wing, Base, Post, Ship Commander or Chief.

Try the person directly in charge of your spouse first and work your way up. But you maybe don’t need to go to the supervisor at all. Like with the tree branch, I called the base’s number, I called housing maintenance, and then I called Civil Engineering, which at the time handled housing maintenance.

“The commander is the last resort. They are not the ombudsman. Try all the other agencies to do what you can do. Then, if you have exhausted all other resources, get the commander involved,” the Good Chaplain said.

Many problems can be resolved by going directly to the source — the neighbor whose children are riding their bikes across your lawn, leaving ruts. Talk to your deployed spouse when you can and ask them to tell you when they won’t be able to call, so you don’t worry.

“The military has the presumption of adulthood. Act like an adult,” the Good Chaplain said.

Find out the resources available to you and use them. Usually, the problem can be solved at the lowest level.

Next time, is it appropriate to carry on and make a big to-do at a homecoming celebration?

Until then,

Vicki

Did you have to get command involved in an issue? Comment in the reply section below. And be sure to sign up for this blog to never miss another exciting post!

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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.

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8 Practical Social Media Do’s and Don’ts for Military Spouses

Social media can be a great friend to everyone during this pandemic. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites help us stay in touch with friends and family all the time, but especially now. FaceTime has been a godsend. Zoom too.

But are you careful about what you post? In 2020, our country went through a nasty period of time. George Floyd’s death sparked a summer of protests that turned violent and destructive in some areas, and for whatever reason, the violence continues. However, I don’t think it has anything to do with George Floyd anymore.

And on the political front, things took an ugly turn during the campaign, dividing the nation into the left and the right and no in-between. Of course, the election was complicated by the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Ugly, ugly.

Much of these problems were inflamed by social media. I didn’t like what you said about Donald Trump, so I unfriended you. Or worse, I replied with a nasty diatribe about why I think you are wrong. Even families split apart because of differing opinions and things posted about each other. That is not okay, and it has no place in the military family for sure. It can tear a base in two as people side with one or the other in a disagreement.

That disagreement doesn’t have to be about politics either. It can be based on rumors and innuendos being spread, whether true or not, and hurting each other over something small or nothing at all.

So here is a list of do’s and don’ts of social media:

The Do’s

  • Do vent your feelings about something for which you care deeply, but be polite and respectful. See the tip above about mentioning names. Unless they were helpful. Then you can give them kudos.
  • Do be helpful. If someone has a need, answer their cry for help.
  • Do keep things positive. In today’s world, we really need to boost each other up, not tear each other down.
  • Do tell stories that will make people smile or laugh. Did your two-year-old do something funny or cute? Let’s hear it because we all can relate.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t post in the heat of emotions. Write it down and set it aside. If you still feel the same way, post it the next day.
  • Don’t be nasty or public shaming someone. If you have a problem, go directly to that person. Don’t bring it to the public to get involved.
  • Don’t name names. It’s okay to describe a situation that occurred, but does everyone really need to know who the parties involved are?
  • Don’t bring others into your personal drama. I don’t care that so-and-so hurt your feelings, and you are going to seek revenge.
  • Don’t complain about your spouse’s job or shop. Everyone in the shop is probably in the same boat and know what is going on. Talk to each other privately if you have an issue.

Remember, just because you are posting on your social media doesn’t mean the base, squadron, or flight commander won’t see it.

Next time, we will talk about etiquette and protocol.

Until then,

Vicki

What is your biggest pet peeve about social media? Reply in the comment section below. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!

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Military Spouses Should Never Reveal These Three Details of Deployments

Many of you have heard the saying “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” It’s an old saying from World War II reminding the military and their families to watch what they say because you never know who is listening.

Today we have Operational Security or OPSEC. Here is an article from the blog, Sandboxx, which lays out why OPSEC is so important. OPSEC exists to protect family members and military members, so both groups need to know what can be said where to whom.

I sometimes thought it was silly to have to be protective of information about deployments, exercises, and the military member’s daily work. As I showed you in my post last week, if four spouses can piece together what was happening by comparing the snippets of information each had, think how easy it would be for a trained spy.

I also scoffed at the idea of a spy caring about what I had to say or that spies were even among us. Seriously, who would want to spy on Warner Robins Air Force Base, with its maintenance depot? Could be a lot of people. And it could be anybody. Recently, a Congressman from California was criticized for having a woman suspected of being a spy for the Communist China Party work as a major fundraiser for his campaigns years ago.

At one of our bases, we a contingent of officers and students from the Middle East. They were receiving training our soldiers were getting on base operations, flight operations, and meteorology. These courses may seem innocuous but think about it. How the U.S. military runs its bases could be valuable information to our enemies.

Today, this information can be passed along by overhearing conversations, whether at the commissary, church or over cellphones and in social media. While the article I referred to on Sandboxx above talks about the why of OPSEC, I want to lay out three things that should not be talked about in a public setting, or over the phone, or on the Internet.

  • Never talk about where your spouse is deployed. It’s okay in most cases to mention he or she is deployed, especially in military settings, but never give out the location. The Good Chaplain still talks about his location in Bahrain as a classified site, even though it closed years ago. You probably shouldn’t mention aloud that your husband is deployed when you are off base as well. One friend, who lived on base, worked as a news anchor on one of the local television stations. Although she never mentioned his name or talked on-air of his absence, she wore a pin signifying a deployed spouse on her lapel on the air. That was a grey area in OPSEC protocol.
  • Never give an indication of how long your spouse is gone. In the Air Force, since 9/11, deployments are generally six months, but not always. Tech Sergeant is deployed right now, and although we know how long he should be gone, we don’t know when he will be home. Even once you get a for a sure date (there is no such thing as a date written in stone), do not post that your sweetie will be home at such-and-such a time or date. That’s easier to keep quiet in the Air Force since our troops usually deploy in ones or twos, but the Army and Navy deploy mostly as units, so there is usually some fanfare when they come home. And third,
  • Never let it be known that you are home alone. Of course, people on base will know, but if the knowledge is public off base, you could be an easy target for the criminal element in your town.

I don’t give these warnings to scare you, but they are something to keep in mind before you open your mouth to talk about how lonely and miserable you are. As I’ve said before, do share that with other military spouses who understand and whom you can trust.

It is okay to talk about deployments without giving away specific details of where, when, how long, and your personal information like your phone number, e-mail address, and physical address. It’s for everyone’s safety.

For more information on OPSEC, visit storyhttps://militarybenefits.info/opsec/ or check out Military One Source, the one-stop-shop for everything military.

Next week we will dive into Social Media protocol.

Until then,

Vicki

Make sure to sign up for my blog below and never miss any of my words of wisdom for military spouses again!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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3 Ways Military Spouses Can Keep Their Own Identity

I believe in any marriage, each party loses its identity somewhat. You become Mrs. So-and-So, or someone’s wife or husband. It is inevitable. The Good Chaplain was well known before he entered the military, so I spent a lot of time as “his wife.” I had a moment of satisfaction when he went into a store, and someone asked him if he was my husband.

It happens in the military too. I couldn’t remember my Social Security number for years because we used his for everything on base. In the past, spouses were often identified by who their husband was. “She’s the chaplain’s wife.” “That guy is married to the wing commander.” I’m guilty of it too. Heck, the title of my blog is Chappy T Wife. Today, we spouses try hard not to identify each other by our husband’s rank or job. But I like to know what the military member does so I can put things in context.

In our house, the Good Chaplain knew the military members he worked with each day, and I knew the children and spouses. That made for a good team. But it is easy to lose your identity in the military unless you take the time to be yourself, remember who you are outside the service, and develop your own persona.

I have three steps to help you do that.

First, ask yourself who you are besides so-and-so’s spouse. What do you do for work? What are your passions? What is your role in the family? How would your high school/college friends see you? Build your own identity on these things. I was the city editor of our local paper when the Good Chaplain was asked if he was my husband.

Second, develop your own interests. I love to read, and I read a lot. I can read 40 books in a year while the Good Chaplain maybe finishes two. I love football; he loves hockey. We support each other in those sports. I’m an extreme extrovert; he is an extrovert but not to my extreme. Come evening, I need to just sit and relax in front of the television, while he usually starts projects after dinner. Find a group of people with similar interests and socialize with them. A good marriage and partnership do not require you to be joined together at the hip.

Thirdly, don’t identify yourself by your husband’s rank or job. This is a hard one, and I am guilty of it. I like to think I would introduce myself as the chaplain’s wife because I was so proud of him, but I think it’s because that is how I identified myself. At most spouse club events, I would introduce myself with my name and maybe further identify as a writer. The Good Chaplain’s job would come up eventually, but rarely the rank. You definitely don’t want to be the one walking around, saying, “My husband is a colonel.” Or a sergeant, or an airman, or a general. We don’t care. We want to know you.

Have confidence in who you are, not who your spouse is. You may lose a bit of your identity in the military, but if you follow your own interests and path, you will find people will recognize you and ask your spouse if he is related to you.

Next time I want to talk about what happens when your spouse retires.

Until then,

Vicki

How do you keep your identity in your marriage and in the military? Answer in the comment section below. Don’t forget to follow this blog so you never miss out on any of my posts.

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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!

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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.

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Military Spouses, Can You Handle Living the Single Life While Married?

“I totally understand what single mothers go through now,” I said to the Good Chaplain while he was off on deployment. I remember thinking I did not get married and have children only to be a single parent. My only saving grace was I could call him with any problems. I’m not sure all single mothers have that option.

Military spouses often are single parents.

Unfortunately, this is something that happens when you marry the military. You are married, but in many ways, you are still single. Whether it is long hours, temporary duty, or deployments, you are on your own A LOT.

Basically, you are going to raise the children on your own. When we lived in Georgia, the Good Chaplain was gone so much in our third year that the girls called him the guest. “Mommy, we should let the guest get his food first.” “Why is the guest sleeping in your bed Mommy?” We’d laugh, but it still stings the Good Chaplain whenever we mention it. He did not like being away from us, and your spouse doesn’t either. Trust me.

A friend once told me to treat your spouse like a visitor for the first few days after deployment, just so they can observe how things changed in the household. While her husband was gone, one of the children learned to cross the street by themselves. But Hubby did not know that, and he spanked the child for crossing the street to go play with friends. She had to tell him it was okay; the children were allowed to cross the street now.

As the sole parent at home, enforcing rules and regulations will fall on your shoulders. The Good Chaplain would ground the girls from playing or watching television after school until I pointed out to him that he was punishing me as well because I had to enforce it.

The other drawback is you end up going to many official functions alone, especially as your spouse moves up in rank and expectations increase. You will become the ambassador, representing your spouse. Most of the time, this is okay, but sometimes it is awkward. You have to suck it up and do it anyway, as the Good Chaplain would say.

Or, you can get an escort. When the Good Chaplain deployed to Africa, one of his chaplains, a single man, asked the Good Chaplain if it was okay for him to escort me on occasion. We didn’t want to start any gossip. If it was an official event, it helped to have a partner. If it is a social event, you can choose whether to go or whether you want an escort or not.

At yet another family reunion without the Good Chaplain.. I am on the far right with my parents and siblings in 2016.

You will learn to raise your kids alone or go to events solo, but you probably won’t like it. As I told the Good Chaplain, “I did not sign up for this to be alone.” It’s the nature of the game, and you will get used to it. But first, ask yourself if you are strong enough to be married but single.

Next time I will answer the question, “Am I willing to not make plans far in advance or cancel them because of your husband’s schedule?

Until then.

Vicki

What issues have you had with being “single” while married? Answer in the comments below.

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Common Sacrifices Military Spouses Make: Are You Ready for the Challenge?

Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices it takes to be a military spouse? Do I really want to uproot my children every few years? Can I come in second behind the military for my husband? What about a career?

Think about what you are willing to sacrifice to be a military spouse.

These are all good questions supplied by some seasoned spouses when I asked what they wished they’d known before becoming a military spouse. Whether you are marrying a military man or your spouse is planning to join, these questions need to be explored. Only you can decide what you are willing to sacrifice by being a military spouse.

The Good Chaplain and I were married for four years when the military came into the picture. We were married 10 years when he came on active duty. But I still needed to answer that question. Was I willing to make sacrifices, such as giving up my full-time job for his career? Luckily, my career was portable, and I could find work if I wanted it.

But what about kids? Every time we move for the military, we are uprooting our children, and they have to start all over again. My girls went to five different schools before graduating from high school. And they got to spend three years at the same high school. Sometimes military families move between junior and senior years. Not fair for most kids.

For the most part, kids are resilient and make friends faster than adults do. But they also have issues with loneliness, homesickness, and missing the friends they already have. If you have children, include them in the decision-making process.

“Am I willing to be satisfied that every flower I plant will soon be someone else’s?”

Kendra V. — military spouse

Another issue to consider is all the moving around. Generally, the Air Force gave us advanced warning of a move, but sometimes it was short notice. When we moved from Alabama to Alaska, we had a month. In that month, the Good Chaplain went on a temporary duty assignment, we traded in our travel trailer for a new one, we sold my minivan, and the Good Chaplain performed a wedding in Illinois. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a short time if you have to. But you need to determine if this is something you are willing to do.

Of course, making new friends is on this list as well. It is hard to forge friendships at one base, only to start again at another station. And if you are introverted, it is even harder. So you have to decide if you are willing to make an effort to build new relationships knowing it may only be for a few years.

I once knew a colonel’s wife, who told me she didn’t make friends anymore because it hurt too much when they moved. Even early in my husband’s military career, I thought that was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. You never know when that BFF is right around the corner.

Couples need to decide together whether the military is right for them and their family.

There is so much to think about when contemplating whether to marry a military man or if your spouse is considering joining the military. These are not easy questions, and each person/couple needs to determine what is right for them.

Next week, I will try to answer the question of going solo while being married.

Until then,

Vicki

Do you have an opinion about this piece? Or more questions? Reply in the comments below.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane Sparks Surprising Melancholy for this Military Spouse

The Good Chaplain and I took a trip down memory lane this week when we visited the now-closed Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, IL. It was hard to see many of the buildings boarded it up. It also brought back memories of base life.

Chanute was decommissioned in 1993, but before that, it was one of 32 Air Service training camps in the U.S. during World War I. After the First World War, the base was used as a storage depot for plane engines and other surplus items. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Chanute became a training facility for ground crews, and later as a training base to include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In 1971, all military flight operations were closed at Chanute, and it became a non-flying training base until 1993 when it was closed permanently.

Chanute Air Force Base Hospital boarded up

Not to say bases look alike, but we could pick out an astonishing number of buildings for what they were used for. Hangars are obvious, but we also picked out the golf pro shop, the chapel, the hospital, the fire station, the headquarters building, the shoppette/gas station, and, of course, base housing.

Many base areas are used by the Village of Rantoul and repurposed as housing, a motel, a fitness center, daycare centers, the golf pro shop and course, and a general aviation airport.

Chanute Air Force Base Chapel is being used by a church. The design is the same as other base chapels built at the same time.

But several of the buildings are unused and boarded up. We felt a certain melancholy at all the unused space which could be fixed up and repurposed for the village or private use. Housing even looked the same as older housing on other bases where we lived, and I wondered why none of it was updated.

One reason for the disuse of certain buildings is that the former base is an EPA Superfund site because of all the chemicals used over the years. Also, many of the buildings have asbestos and other issues that come along with older buildings.

The final legacy of Chanute Air Force Base — an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The closure of Chanute hit the economy of Rantoul and the surrounding area very hard. The base employed 2,665 civilians at the time of closure. The loss of military and civilians caused revenue to decrease, while the village’s number of roads doubled. The street and police department budgets also doubled. The village also was responsible for the repair and maintenance of gas and steam systems at the base and the many buildings in need of repair or demolition.

Chanute contributed 25 percent of the total economy of the village of Rantoul. But with the base closure, other businesses left as well, such as restaurants, retail, construction, and auto.

In a 2014 survey of residents, people reported that Rantoul’s biggest challenges included negative community image, a large number of rental units and low-income housing, dilapidated buildings, lack of downtown events, and limited downtown shopping hours, a slow economy, and Chanute maintenance and redevelopment.

While I did not go downtown in Rantoul, our drive around the former base gave me the impression of an impoverished community that needs a lot of work. The fact that old base housing was still being used instead of being renovated or torn down was evidence enough without the other empty, boarded-up buildings. And I know Rantoul is not the only community to still have negative economic effects of a base closure.

As I said earlier, I felt melancholy at the base’s emptiness and conditions, one I know was once vital to the military and the community to thrive. I pray for all communities facing the same situation because of military downsizing.

Until next time,

Vicki

Have you visited a base or live near one that has closed? What was the effect on the community? Post your answers in the comments below.

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On-base Job Opportunities Abound for Military Spouses

Now that you’ve decided whether you want to pursue a job or a career, your next decision is whether to work on base or off base. Opportunities abound for on-base jobs. And many have spouse preference when it comes to hiring.

Mrs. Tech Sergeant is the director at her base Child Development Center

The Military Spouse Preference program makes it easier for spouses of military members to get federal jobs. It can also help reduce the interruption of a career because of a PCS. Mrs. Tech Sergeant has worked in the Child Development Center field since she graduated from college. When she and Tech Sergeant moved from Alaska to England, she was able to get a job in the CDC in England. As a Government Schedule (GS) worker, she had a year to find a job in the same GS rank she currently held. That was okay because she was pregnant with Tony B at the time they moved. After Tony B was born, she took a job in the system in the base Youth Center. Then, when an equivalent position opened up in the CDC she moved over to that position. The MSP does not guarantee a job when you move, but it does put you on top of the list when a position does open. For more information on spouse preference go to www.sandboxx.us

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) or the Navy Exchange is another place to look for employment on your local base, especially if you want a job in retail. AAFES offers all kinds of jobs from hourly workers all the way through management and corporate positions. They use the Associate Transfer Program to help you find a job at your next duty station if you meet the requirements of PSCing with your sponsor, worked for the Exchange for at least six months, and get a satisfactory or higher rating on your performance review. I’ve known several military spouses who have moved up in this system to become managers. Also, since Exchanges are throughout the world, jobs are available overseas as well. Talk about portability.

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) employs more than 18,000 civilians in 14 countries. DeCA jobs include baggers (who work for tips), cashiers, stockers (often hired by an outside company to stock shelves), and a variety of other jobs. Again, another source to gain experience in retail if that is what you are looking for. Jobs are listed on USAJOBS.

And don’t forget the Non-appropriated Fund (NAF) jobs on base. NAF jobs are different from civil service or government schedule jobs because they are paid out of funds raised through services on base. For example, money taken in from the clubs on base, Outdoor Recreation, etc. go to pay the salaries of NAF employees. NAF jobs include clerical, administrative support, managerial, laborers, crafts, and trades. Applications for these jobs are accepted on a regular basis through the NAF office on base, so put your application in and then wait.

The Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC) recruits workers from “every profession imaginable” for jobs in support of the mission of the military. Most, if not all, bases have a CPAC. It acts as the human resources department. For example, when Mrs. Tech Sergeant needs to fill a position, she contacts CPAC and they send her qualified people. She then hires the person she wants for the job. It is a good idea to contact your local CPAC to see what they can do for you.

To search and apply for most of these jobs, you go through USAJOBS. It can take a very long time to hear back from USAJobs, so if you know you are going to a particular location, you might want to search the website in advance of your move. In the meantime, federal jobs are open to anyone from no high school diploma to doctorate degrees and everyone in between. You will fill out a profile, upload a resume, and put down what types of jobs you are interested in. I saw a job on USAJOBS for a job in my hometown in Central Illinois. It truly is the clearing house for jobs on base.

 Local jobs are available for military spouses. You just need to determine what you are looking for, find the necessary resources and go for it.

Until next time,

Vicki

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Job or Career: What Military Spouses Should Know

When the Good Chaplain went on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, I had a decision to make. I was the city editor for a local paper. I’d been working on newspapers for the last 10 years, and it was something I loved. But, I also knew our new lifestyle would include frequent moves, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be bogged down working full-time.

Luckily, my job was portable, and I ended up becoming a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines nationwide. Sadly, we did not need my income to survive. His salary as a beginning captain was what the two of us were making combined in the civilian world.

As your spouse enters his military career or continues if you married someone already in the military, chances are you will have to make the same decision. Do you want to work outside of the house, work from home, or not work at all? And the biggest question to ask yourself is, do you want a job or a career?

That question is key to the job search. Some careers lend themselves better to the military lifestyle. Teaching and nursing are two that come to mind. But keep in mind, it can be like starting all over again when you move to a new market. I’ve known many teachers who have to start as a first-year teacher each time they move. That sucks.

Making the decision of whether to pursue a career or a job depends on several factors.

  1. What is the area job market like? Is it saturated in your career field? What kind of professional positions are open? Is the area depressed with a high unemployment rate? Do some research before you even move to the area. I contacted the newspaper in Minot, North Dakota before we even left Alaska, and the editor called me while we were packing out, so I knew I had a job in my career field when I got there.
  2. If you are pursuing a professional position, do you have the necessary certifications? The military just made it a little easier for some professionals to move around with new reciprocal certification rules. Under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the service branches can reimburse spouses up to $1,000 for any re-licensing or certification costs because of a military move. Check with your branch to see what it does. Also, many states are using license portability for military spouses. This action helps make the licensing and certification go quicker. For more information on state-sponsored reciprocal agreements, click here. The site provides a map of which states are involved in the agreement and finding information on your profession.

Finding the right job is not always easy for military spouses, but using the tools I gave you last week and the information from today, it can be accomplished.

Next week I will talk about whether you want a job on base or off.

Until then,

Vicki

Share your experiences trying to transfer licenses or certificates in the comments below.

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8 Sources for a Military Spouse’s Job Hunt

You want a job, or maybe a career, but it is hard to get established as a military spouse because of frequent moves. Don’t get discouraged. Plenty of jobs are out there if you know where to look.

In today’s post, because I am no expert on the military spouse job hunt, I am going to refer you to some other sites that do a good job of helping you land that dream job, or get the training necessary for that job.

Helpful Websites to Read

Military spouses should all have the Military OneSource website saved as the go-to site for everything military. On this website, you can find help with taxes, financial and legal help, of course, education and employment, as well as a wealth of other topics about military life. Make sure you check it out.

Under the tab, Spouse & Family, on Military.com, are links to military spouse jobs, among other topics. Also, on Military.com, you can select the service branch you which you want information. Click the link above to visit this site.

CareerStep has a section on career training for military, veterans, and their spouses with several programs eligible for financial assistance through My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA). CareerStep offers online training to suit the needs of the military lifestyle. A link to MyCAA is available through Military OneSource.

Check out what the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network can do for you during your job hunt. In addition to an impressive array of national corporations that hire military spouses, the network matches you to hiring managers looking for your qualifications. They also provide skills training, readiness training, and resume preparation.

Most of us have heard of Monster.com, but did you know they advise careers and job searches? The link above takes you to an article about the best companies for military spouses. While you are on the site, look at some of the other help it can give you.

Helpful Books to Peruse

The Stars Are Lined Up for Military Spouses: For Federal Careers (Ten Steps to a Federal Job) 

Advancing the Careers of Military Spouses: An Assessment of Education and Employment Goals and Barriers Facing Military Spouses Eligible for MyCaa

Mobile Military Spouse: Make Money From Home with Print on Demand Products Merch by Amazon & Kindle Direct Publishing (Military Spouse Entrepreneurs)

By exploring which companies are most friendly to military spouses and using tools available through these and many more websites and publications, you should begin to decide what kind of work you want to do.

Next week I will discuss whether you are looking for a job or a career.

Until then,

Vicki

Do you have any experience with job hunting as a military spouse? Share them and any tips you have to offer in the comments below.

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The Challenges of Raising Military Kids

Raising a family in the military can be a two-edged sword. Yes, your children are still children, but they are also part of a community where they may have to grow up a little faster.

More is expected of military children than most children in the civilian world. Generally, there are always exceptions to the rule; military children are better behaved and more polite than most children. They learn early on how to listen to their elders and interact with all sorts of people.

Changing schools — often

Photo by Arthur Krijgsman on Pexels.com

The girls’ school at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, was run by the Department of Defense. Only one other Air Force Base elementary school in the Continental U.S. was a DOD school. Teaching at such a school was a prime job, and many of the teachers stayed their whole careers at these schools. I think the pay was higher, but parents also played a role in their child’s education.

Many bases we lived at had elementary schools, but they were run by the local school district. Even then, teachers sought out jobs on base. One teacher told me she loved teaching military children because they were nicer than kids in the other district schools.

Moving around the world

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Other aspects of growing up military are not so positive. Our children moved eight times with us, so they went to several different schools. Our girls went to three different elementary schools on the same base.

Moving can be stressful for children who have to leave their friends and possibly extended family. Children are resilient and tend to make new friends faster than their parents, but it is still hard. As a parent, you can help your child through this transition by listening to what they say and don’t say. Pay attention to cues they might not be adjusting. Be encouraging but not pushy. If your child doesn’t want to play soccer, don’t force them. Offer several activities they may enjoy and let them choose.

A good way to transition to a new location is to read up on the location. Find out what the base and the local town, or even state, have to offer. Let each child pick something they want to do to explore their new surroundings. Help them get excited about trying new things that are particular to that area. And be excited about the area yourself. We looked forward to moves because of the adventures each held for us.

Those deployment blues

Deployments are also tricky. Children miss their deployed parent and they react in different ways. Some act out at home and in public, others withdraw and don’t express their sadness. Setting a routine quickly is crucial.

Whenever the Good Chaplain deployed, we had a chick-flick night, where we would put on our pajamas, watch movies, and sleep in the living room on the first Friday he was gone.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Planning special outings, like a drive-in movie or a trip to the swimming pool, help give the kids something to look forward to. Also, having a system to count down the days until the parent comes home is helpful. One friend put Hershey Kisses in a jar to represent the number of days of the deployment. Her son got one Kiss a day, and when the jar was empty, that was the day Daddy would come home. When the return date got pushed back, she simply added more kisses to the jar. I think that only works on younger kids.

Positives of being a military kid

But on a positive note, nuclear military families seem closer to each other in part because of all the moves. We turned moves into vacations and stopped in interesting places. Plus, being twins, our girls always had each other to lean on whenever they experienced something new. But it does seem generally military children are closer to their siblings and their parents.

Military children also get to live in places other kids can only dream about. They meet people from all over the world, and their friends are of all races, colors, and ethnicities. And no one bats an eye.

Kids get to do new things like dogsledding in Alaska, snorkeling in Hawaii, or traveling through three countries to get to school every day, as Tech Sergeant had to do when his family lived in Belgium. Some people never leave their home state.

Mrs. Tech Sergeant dogsledding in Fairbanks, AK

Raising kids in the military opens up more opportunities to shine. It builds confidence. It builds character. It shows the children how adaptable and strong they are in new situations. If they decide to live a different lifestyle in adulthood than a military one, they can. Illinois Girl chose to plant roots. Mrs. Tech Sergeant chose to marry the military and continue to live this particular adventure.

Next up I will be talking about careers for the military spouse.

Until then,

Vicki

What things have worked for you in raising your military kids? Reply in the comments below.

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How to Juggle Being a Military Spouse and a Grandparent

I appreciated more what my parents must have gone through when some of their grandchildren, including mine, moved away from them. Being grandparents is amazing. But living far away from those grandkids is hard.

Our first two grandchildren, Tony B and his brother, G (he doesn’t want to be called Gaby Baby anymore.), were born in England while we were stationed in Hawaii and Mississippi, respectively. Tony B. was born the day the Good Chaplain had to report for duty in Hawaii in May 2012. We were in Illinois staying with Illinois Girl and Soccer Stud, waiting for the Good Chaplain to leave for Hawaii. I planned to fly to England in two weeks to be there in plenty of time for the birth. Tony B had other plans. He was three weeks early.

Tony B. and Nonna

A mutual friend of Mrs. Tech Sergeant and I woke us in the middle of the night to tell us Mrs. Tech Sergeant was in labor. The same friend called again in the morning saying our new grandson was here and gave us a phone number to the hospital since our daughter could not call out from the base hospital room. When I saw his cute little face in the pictures they sent, I fell immediately in love.

The Good Chaplain didn’t get to see him until the following November when he was six months old. I can’t say enough about the technology of Skype and now FaceTime. Because of that technology, we saw Tony B most Friday nights as we prepared for bed, and he was getting up and enjoying his breakfast on Saturday morning.

Two years later, when I flew to England after G was born, as I got into the car, Tony B looked at me and said, “Hi, Nonna.” I was impressed. He hadn’t seen me in person since he was six months old, but he knew who I was because of our Skype sessions.

A happy G

As he is wont to do, G messed up our plans by coming into the world two days after we moved to Mississippi in June 2014. He was two days late. I remember we were at our first church service in the officers’ club’s banquet room, followed by a lunch to welcome us. Since lunch was in our honor, we sat at the front table. Normally, my phone would not be on during worship service, but I knew Mrs. Tech Sergeant was in labor, so I placed my phone front and center on the table before me.

Baby G’s heart rate dropped with each contraction, so Mrs. Tech Sergeant had a Cesarean section. This time, the plan was for both the Good Chaplain and me to fly to England to meet our newest grandson at the end of July. But since Mrs. Tech Sergeant had a C-section, I moved up my ticket and left on July 5 to help her out. I stayed for four weeks and held that chubby little child the whole time. His daycare workers were not happy with me because he did not like to be put down after I left.

Little Bitty was teeny tiny.

Two and half years later, our granddaughter was born in December of 2016 in Illinois while we lived in Virginia. Much closer. Illinois Girl and Soccer Stud wanted time to bond with Little Bitty before family descended on them, so we came to town for the New Year. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that little one, so it was a long two weeks before I could hold her.

When they were little and living in England, we only saw Tony B and G about once a year. But, they moved to Delaware in 2019, and I’ve seen them twice since then. They are planning on visiting us in Illinois in October, and we are planning on going to Delaware in December. After seven and a half years, I am so excited they are finally living on the same continent.

When the Good Chaplain retired in 2018, we moved back to Illinois and live just around the corner from Little Bitty, so we get to see her several times a week. And, since Illinois Girl is expecting her second girl any day now, we finally get to be around to help out when our grandchild is born.

Even from far away, I take my grandmother’s prerogative to spoil my grandchildren seriously, and they don’t want for much. This is the life we’ve always dreamed of. The Good Chaplain wanted to be the pesky grandfather, and now he is. Don’t wish for your children to grow up too fast, and enjoy each phase of their lives, but remember, as the Good Chaplain frequently says, “Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your own children.” When the time comes, enjoy it.

Until next time,

Vicki

If you are grandparents on active duty, tell me how you feel about being away from your grandchildren. If you are not grandparents yet, how do your kids feel about living away from their grandparents? Answer in the comment section below.

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What Military Spouses Should Know About Being Empty-Nesters

Last week we talked about how hard it was to leave your parents and family when you married into the military. Well, guess what? In a blink of an eye, your children will be leaving you. So, the number one thing you should know is — You will become empty-nesters. No way around it. And that applies whether you are a military spouse or not.

To prepare for this eventuality, it is important to work on your marriage before this happens. Go on date nights. Sometimes, before military days, we only could afford to pay the babysitter and drive around, talking. Do it. You are a couple first, then parents. As the Good Chaplain says, “The best gift you can give your children is a good marriage.”

A second thing to know is — if you are a military spouse when your children are grown up, you may actually leave them.

I didn’t have problems when the girls left home to go to college. Sure, I worried about them being in Illinois while I was in Alabama, but since they went to the same school, roomed together, and lived only hours from family, I wasn’t as concerned as possible.

Of course, I knew I would see them frequently — holidays, summer breaks, etc. But, in fact, I became the “Mom who never leaves.” I visited for various reasons once a month from when I dropped them off in August until February. I had legit reasons, but I also enjoyed seeing my girls and making sure they were safe. After that first year, we didn’t see each other as much, but we talked on the telephone and e-mailed frequently.

The Good Chaplain had a hard time every time the girls would leave to go back to school, either from holiday breaks or summer vacations. He’d get quiet, a little teary-eyed and mopy for a day or two, before getting back into his routine.

The hardest times for me were when we left Illinois Girl in Illinois after college graduation and left Mrs. Tech Sergeant in Alaska when we moved to Oklahoma.

Both girls worked at the Child Development Center at Eielson Air Force Base, AK, during summer breaks. The CDC offered them jobs after graduation, and Mrs. Tech Sergeant accepted that offer. She moved to Alaska. Illinois Girl, having already met Soccer Stud, decided to stay in Illinois. I sobbed when we pulled away from her apartment.

By this time, the Good Chaplain and I had gotten down a routine as empty-nesters that did not include children. We went to the Officers’ Club every Friday night to meet up with a group of friends. We went out to eat when and where we wanted. We went to the movies when we wanted.

Don’t let your kids become like George!

And then, Mrs. Tech Sergeant moved back in. Which brings me to my third point — sometimes they come home again. I felt strange the first time my daughter came to the club with us and ordered a drink. I had to think about what she might want for dinner or if she would want to go out with us. Once, when we were going to the movies, she asked what we were going to see. She said she didn’t want to see that movie. I said, “Good because you aren’t invited.”

A year later, Mrs. Tech Sergeant met Tech Sergeant in Alaska. She moved into an apartment with a friend. She liked her job and her future husband, so she stayed in Alaska. Neither the Good Chaplain nor I were in good shape when we left her. And it didn’t help that a few days later, while we were somewhere in Canada, Mrs. Tech Sergeant contracted the H1N1 virus, and I was not around to help her.

The bottom line is becoming empty-nesters can be tough, but it is also an enriching time to rekindle your relationship with your spouse.

Next time I’ll tell you what it’s like being a grandparent halfway around the world.

Until then,

Vicki

Tell me how you felt leaving home for the first time or having your children leave home in the comments below.

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How Military Spouses Cope Away From Family

January 26, 1986, is a day I will always remember. It was the day after the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. It was also the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all aboard. But I remember it as the day my in-laws had to rescue us because the Good Chaplain and I both came down with a nasty stomach bug. We couldn’t even get out of bed to feed our three-month-old twin daughters.

The Good Chaplain was not yet in the Air Force Reserves or on active duty. Thankfully, both sets of our parents lived about 20 minutes away and could help. I don’t know what I would have done if we already lived at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Yes, I do. I would have called on neighbors and friends to help out. This scenario plays itself out all the time in the military world. I received several calls to please watch the children because the parents were sick. And it will happen. You will find yourself as either the caregiver or the person needing care.

As you prepare for life in the military, knowing it means moving away from family, you frequently ask yourself how you are going to cope in a variety of situations without your mom nearby. It’s scary, especially if it is your first move away from home.

As I did when we went on active duty, if you have children, you mourn the loss of weekends away while grandparents watch the kids. You also mourn the loss of family Sunday dinners, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. It’s hard because you are leaving all the familiar comforts and going into the unknown once again. We actually moved two hours away from family before coming on active duty, so I experienced a few of those feelings before the big move out of state.

Be prepared for traveling during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to celebrate with each side of your family. We never had less than three Christmas celebrations once we got married, and sometimes more. Once we moved away, it was worse because not only were we traveling and lugging all the presents with us, but we had to drive all over the Chicago suburbs from one house to another. Yep, I’m whining about the hardships of being with loved ones over the holidays.

Also, be prepared to visit family for the majority of vacations. Rarely will you go somewhere exotic for a vacation. I remember one summer when we were traveling to the Chicago suburbs, one of the girls said, “We always say we are going to Chicago, can we actually go into Chicago?” Good point. We gave them a day in the city to do whatever they wanted to do. The family was invited but could not make any decisions on what we would see or do. Our nuclear family also discovered a place called Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, and we made sure we spent some time there every year as our own little getaway.

And family visited us frequently as well. We knew who really wanted to see us and who simply used us to stop en route to other places. For instance, when we lived in Georgia and Alabama, we were the stop on the way to Florida. But when we lived in Minot, North Dakota, we knew they were coming to see us.

Family is important to our life in the military. I think I grew closer to my mom once we moved away. I was more intentional about calling her because I knew I wouldn’t see her for a long while. Plans needed to be made, and schedules coordinated. And money was also a factor since we were traveling further. But you manage to make it all work.

Next time I will shed light on the parents’ perspective on all this.

Until then,

Vicki

What was the worst part of moving away from home for you? Comment in the section below.

And don’t forget to sign-up for my e-mail list and subscribe to this blog.

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Making New Friends Needn’t be Hard for Military Spouses

Editor’s note: So I don’t have to keep using the word “spouse” , and since most of my readers are female, I am going to use the word “wife” interchangeably with spouse. No offense is meant to the many male military spouses out there.

You’ve left all your friends behind, either because you just married into the military, or because you’ve just moved to a new duty station. Either way, you are going into new and unknown territory. You are going to need new friends.

Making new friends doesn’t have to be hard or scary. I realize not everyone is an extrovert like I am. They don’t talk to anyone they meet or comment on their observations. My daughters often were mortified when I would speak to someone in the line at the commissary, whether I knew them or not.

Maybe, it has something to do with teaching them not to talk to strangers and then doing that exact thing myself. However, a smile or a friendly hello goes a long way in brightening someone’s day. The Good Chaplain, pre-military days, was a salesman. Sometimes his job took him to the not-nice neighborhoods of Chicago. He found if he said hi to people, it took them off guard. They look up, so if they were planning on mugging you, you’ve seen their face. They either have to kill you so you can’t identify them or leave you alone. Luckily, he was left alone. Plus, he was friendly.

For those of you who are not uber-extroverts, if you want friends, you will have to put yourself out there. Trust me when I say that people will not come knocking on your door, seeking you out. Oh, sure, the next-door neighbor may bring you a plate of cookies and offer to help in any way. And they mean that, but they get busy with their own lives and so you need to make the first step to ask for help, or say hi, or return the plate with more cookies on it.

But how do you make friends? Well, if you are a parent, that is the easiest way. Meet the parents of your children’s friends. Because you know your children are already out on the playground, making friends of their own.

What are your interests? Reading — join a book club. Sewing — take a quilting class. Dancing, cooking, antiquing — find the group that fits your interests.

Whenever we moved, I looked for two groups, the women’s group at the chapel and the spouses’ club. These groups offered smaller clubs to get involved in that suited my interests, such as Bible study, book club, and my favorite, Lunch Bunch. They can also introduce you to new things. I had no idea what Bunko was until I joined a spouse club.

If you work outside the home, most of your new friends may come from the job. They may or may not understand your military lifestyle, but that’s okay. You still have work in common.

The saddest comment I heard was from a colonel’s wife at our first assignment. She said she doesn’t bother to make friends anymore because it hurts too much when they leave.

See this link for more on friends leaving. https://soldierswifecrazylife.com/2015/06/05/the-5-stages-of-watching-your-best-friend-move-away/

My friends don’t be like that. Even if you are only friends for the short time you are together, it is worth it. Every person you meet has the potential to become your BFF. And even if they don’t, they can bring enjoyment to your life for the time you are together.

Make a move. Put yourself out there and reap the benefits of friendship, even if only for a season.

Until next time,

Vicki

How have you met some of your best friends? Share in the comment section below.

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All Military Spouses Feel Isolated at Times

Editor’s Note: I need to congratulate Staff Sergeant on becoming a Technical Sergeant. We are so proud of you. From now on, I will call him Tech Sergeant, and his wife, my daughter, will be known as Mrs. Tech Sergeant. Congratulations to both of you on your promotion!

All spouses feel alone at times

Today’s topic deals with isolation. As a new military spouse, I’m sure you are feeling isolated. Even seasoned spouses think that from time to time. It is a normal feeling. First, you know no one. You’ve just moved to a new town (base, post, station,) and you haven’t had time to get your feet wet. You are too busy finding your way around, unpacking boxes and setting up housekeeping to find your niche. So, you find yourself sitting at home by yourself with no one to talk to.

If you are newly married to the military, you are also beginning a new life as a spouse, in a new way of life. Things are different here. The people you have met speak a foreign language with talk of TDYs and deployments, the FRG or the A&FRC. Your base may have an OSC and an ESC. Soon your eyes glaze over, and you stop engaging.

You want to go back to your hometown where people speak plain English, and you can live in your old bedroom with your parents around and go out at night with friends from high school or college, and life will be NORMAL again.

Don’t worry. Your new routine will develop quickly enough. When we first moved to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, we only had one car. We lived nine miles from base, so often, I was home by myself. After about two months of this lifestyle, Mrs. Tech Sergeant called and said she was worried about me.

“Mom,” she said. “You’ve been there for two months.  You don’t talk about things you’ve done with your friends or any friends at all. Are you okay?”

“Well, honey, I don’t get out of the house very often because we only have one car. But don’t worry. I’m going out to lunch tomorrow with some new people,” I said.

I was isolated, and it was starting to wear on me. I am an extreme extrovert, so for me, not making friends by that time was unusual.

When you are alone, it is way too easy to get into the trap of relying on social media to be your friend. It is a great tool, but for beating isolation I see two problems, for all spouses, not just new ones,

  • You stay too connected to the past. You use it to talk to all your old buddies. Which is fine, but can they understand what you are going through? Can they advise you on how to get out and make new friends? Which leads me to my second point.
  • You are less likely to go out into your new world when you can rely on your old pals for socialization.
  • It also makes you feel more isolated when you see pictures of your old gang at a party or a bar or a ballgame without you.

It is okay to use social media to stay connected to friends. I love it for seeing what high school, college, and military friends at different bases are doing. Just don’t use it instead of making new friends.

And making new friends will be easier once you know the rules. There are some rules because of the rank structure. While spouses don’t have any rules about fraternizing with people from other ranks, military members do. So, you may find making friends is more comfortable within your new social stratum, i.e., junior enlisted spouses tend to have more in common with other junior enlisted spouses. The senior officer corps are more likely to hang out with other senior officer corps spouses, etc. Again, let me stress this is NOT a rule for spouses. I have friends at all ranks that I hung out with during the Good Chaplain’s career. But age groups and similar experiences tend to be drawn to each other.

Your social circle may look different than you are used too.

Don’t be intimidated when you join a social circle with the commander’s spouse or spouses of those higher ranking than your spouse. I promise they don’t bite. They were once in your shoes, and, if nothing else, they are an excellent source to turn to when you have questions.

Please don’t stay isolated. Get out and find your group. Use social media to post interests and that you are even looking for friends. And enjoy the military life. It’s not a bad way to go.

Until next time,

Vicki

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Fear of the Unknown is Real for Military Spouses

Whether you marry someone already in the military or they join after you have been married a while, it can be daunting. Fear of the unknown is real, even for seasoned spouses moving to a new base or post.

My twin girls.

The Good Chaplain came on active duty after we’d been married 10 years and had two children. If someone said to me, “Well, you knew what you were getting into when you married him.” (That frequently happens, by the way.) I always answered I did not. When we married in 1982, the Good Chaplain was not a minister, let alone a military man. He was a salesman. Ministry and Air Force were not even on our radar.

Briefly, when our twin daughters were six weeks old, he felt the call to ministry. He attended seminary, where he met an Air Force chaplain recruiter and felt called to that as well. That’s how it came about. It turned out to be the right move for our family, but I still feared the future.

The fear of the unknown came to me in three areas.

Fear of moving to a new place

Moving-Happiness-Home-Sketch-NSM

Obviously, in the military, we move — a lot. While I looked forward to what the new place offered, I feared whether I would fit in or like the place. I’m talking about the base and the community. As soon as we found out where we were going, I would study the area to see what it was known for.

Our first move was Warner Robins Air Force Base. First, at this point, I knew nothing about the military, so my learning curve was high. But, also, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. What did I know about the Deep South? My knowledge was limited to it being hot and had lots of bugs.

With every move, I acclimated myself to the base first. Once I found the medical facilities, the commissary and Exchange, and the chapel, I broadened my horizons to explore other areas of the station. Then, I would move onto the community and what it had to offer. Joining groups like a lunch bunch or antiquing group help find places to go off the base.

Fear of meeting new people

New people

Whenever you are uprooted and move to a new place, even just across town, you leave friends and loved ones behind. You need to make new friends. And that can be downright scary. I felt lucky to be married to a chaplain because I felt like I had the congregation to rely on until I got my bearings. Hopefully, your spouses’ workplace is equally helpful and welcoming as the chapel is.

I found neighbors are always the right place to start. On most bases, neighbors will stop in to welcome you. If you have children, meeting neighbors is a snap as the children meet each other.

When we lived off base in Oklahoma, we took it upon ourselves to go around and introduce ourselves to the neighbors. We brought them cookies. Often, people off base don’t get to know military families in their midst because they know we won’t be around longterm.

Other ways to meet and make new friends is to join a club or a group on the base such as the spouses’ club, a Bible study at the chapel, or other things that interest you. But do make an effort, because you never know when you will run into your bestie for life.

Fear of a new lifestyle

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When we moved to Georgia, my picture of southern women was straight out of “Gone With the Wind.” You know — genteel, unassuming, polite, and immaculately dressed at all times. I’m not like that. I’m gregarious, outgoing, respectful, and dress up infrequently.

Or moving to Alaska. As much as I want to think of myself as adventurous, I’m not a huge nature lover. I’m more of a sit indoors in the warmth or air conditioning kind of person. I don’t like bugs. And my idea of camping is our 27-foot travel trailer complete with a stove, refrigerator, microwave, bathroom and shower, and a queen-size bed. We used to joke that we were roughing it if we didn’t bring the television. This particular unit has two built-in TVs.

Not to say I didn’t hike, or fish, or cross-country ski, or other outdoor activities in various places. It’s just that I like my creature comforts.

The military itself is a different lifestyle with its ins and outs of protocol, expectations, and the reality that the mission comes first. My best advice to deal with the fear is to embrace it and make the most of where you are when you are there. And have fun.

Until next time,

Vicki

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Look Through the Windshield, Not the Rearview Mirror

Apparently, moving is on my mind. The Good Chaplain retired two years ago, and I must admit I miss the Air Force. Also, we should be moving right about now, so no wonder I am thinking about it. Not that, after 18 moves, I want to move again.

Anyway, I heard this quote the other day.

And the reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small is because what’s happened in your past is not near as important as what’s in your future.

Joel Osteen

So many of us, when we move, tend to dwell on the past, the last base we were at. Who hasn’t heard or said, “Well, at my last base we…” The previous post is always your favorite, isn’t it?

Rose colored glasses

And we tend to look at our last base through rose-colored glasses. Everything was perfect there. We don’t think about the person who was a real terror to us. Or the hard times we had adjusting to the new climate, surroundings, cultures, or whatever. We forget that when we got to the last base, we felt just as lost as we do at the new station.

While it is good to look at where you came from, it is much more important to look at the opportunities at your new base. I always looked forward to whatever new challenges the following base had in store for me. But, then, I am a positive person.

Not that we shouldn’t look back to learn from our mistakes and recognize the growth we’ve made in the past few years. We just shouldn’t dwell on it. As I look back at the 31 years of being a military spouse, I find something positive about each place I’ve been.

  • Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia — Spiritual growth
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — Trying new things
  • Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota — How to survive in a small house
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base, California — Creating a community
  • Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama — Amazing history
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — Finding great friends
  • Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma — Volunteering is fun
  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii — Great neighborhood
  • Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi — Hosting Thanksgiving
  • Joint Base Langley-Ft. Eustis, Virginia — Working with the Army

Those are just a few positive things I found at each base. Growth and soul-searching came from each place we lived in. And although I said I loved each station, and I did, I honestly can and will say Eielson will always be my favorite.

When it’s time to move for you, remember your last base with fondness, but please look forward to the new adventures your new base holds for you as well.

Until next time,

Vicki

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The Pros and Cons of an Overseas Move for the Military Spouse

Sometimes, military families get lucky and are assigned overseas – Europe or Asia. We weren’t that lucky, although Alaska and Hawaii count as overseas assignments. Moving abroad has pros and cons.

Arrangements for the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) usually take longer because you are moving across an ocean in most cases. First, you might be limited in what you can pack since housing sizes vary. Then, most moves require two shipments – hold baggage, which are the items you might need right away to set up house, and the second shipment of furniture. I know several people who received the second shipment first or both at the same time, so hold baggage doesn’t necessarily matter. Also, make sure to have several adapters since the electrical currents are not the same in Europe or Asia. Otherwise, you will have a house full of unusable electronics.

Moving abroad has many benefits for a family. Learning new cultural customs and meeting people from different lands is exciting. Imagine your children going to school in a small Italian town and immersing in the culture. And the history they will learn that is much older than the history of the United States. Our son-in-law, Staff Sergeant, lived in Europe during his formative years. He traveled an hour each way and crossed three borders to get to the International School he attended. And his son, Tony B., went to kindergarten and first grade at the same elementary school in England. How cool is that?

Of course, a big con to an overseas assignment is the distance from family. Tony B. was born in England the day the Good Chaplain reported to our base in Hawaii. I flew from Illinois to England, and four weeks later, I flew from England to Hawaii. Yikes! And the Good Chaplain didn’t get to meet his first grandchild until six months later.

Also, what we consider modern and state-of-the-art in the U.S. isn’t always the same in other countries. For instance, in England, Mrs. Staff Sergeant needed to get used to smaller appliances, and her oven temperature measured in Celcius instead of Fahrenheit. Due to the size and operation of the washer and dryer, it took about five hours to do a load of laundry. With a household of active males, laundry was always running at her house.

The book, “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse,” much of which applies to all military spouses, lists three adjustments to moving overseas.

  • Changes in climates and environments
  • Living in houses of all sizes, styles, and descriptions
  • Living in a variety of communities – small towns, big cities – where we are foreigners

Language is a significant barrier to moving to a foreign country. Even in Hawaii and Alaska, we needed to learn some local idioms and dialects to get along. I found through travel that locals appreciate it if you at least try to speak the basics of the language. I believe that after living in a community, you can’t help but pick up the native language.

Many of my friends who lived overseas lived in the community rather than on base. Some bases don’t have housing available, but choosing to live in a small town, helps get the feel of the culture and customs of an area. You most likely will feel awkward and out of place for a time until you adjust to your new surroundings and make friends with your civilian neighbors, but the experience of doing so can be incredible.

Creating personal relationships with your civilian neighbors, learning the language, shopping in the local community, and getting involved in local activities will go a long way to fitting in abroad.

Until next time,

Vicki

What was your biggest challenge moving overseas? Respond in the comments section below.

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Moving Time: Some Things for Military Spouses to Consider

It’s that time of year again when military families all over the world are moving, what we call a PCS or permanent change of station. Many moves were delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it appears that they are picking up steam now. After 18 moves in 35 years of marriage, I’m glad I am not one of those people packing up and moving on.

As much as I disliked the physical act of moving, a new place and seeing what God had in mind, always excited me. I wondered about our new house, our new neighbors and our new base and town. I was up for the adventure.

Only once was I upset about our house. When we moved to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, I cried. Our house was 900 square feet. My furniture would not fit in the living/dining room combo. And after unpacking boxes in the one set of kitchen cabinets, when I turned the corner into the dining room and found more cartons labeled kitchen, I lost it. I just sat down and cried.

But that was the worst house. I had the opposite problem in Mississippi, where the house was so large that I had to buy more furniture. It all works out in the end.

We started the Good Chaplain’s career moving every three years, but it soon morphed into every two years as he gained rank and responsibility. Most times, we lived on base, except for Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Sometimes we got the choice of two or three houses, but other times we were assigned a house. Except for Minot, the houses were at least adequate.

Before moving time arrives, military members and their families are asked to fill out a ”dream sheet.” This is the place to list the sites you dream about moving to. Or, as I say, the paper the powers-that-be look at and laugh about before they assign you to the base they were going to send you anyway.

Ironically, Minot is the only base we put down as the first choice that we got. The rest of the time, we selected Europe and got Alaska. Or the Good Chaplain would write we would go where God and the Air Force sent us.

Deciding what base to request depends on several factors, including the impact on your family. First, a job in the military member’s career field needs to be available. If you have school-age children, you need to take into consideration the nearby school districts. And that decision leads to whether you are going to live on base or not. It’s a lot to think about. Then, once your choices are made, the military has to agree with you.

The last decision to make is whether or not to have the military assign a moving company to pack up and move your household goods. You can choose to move everything yourself, move some of your stuff yourself, or let the movers move everything. No matter how I begged the Good Chaplain just to let the movers take everything, we ended up hauling some things ourselves. I didn’t want the stress of packing and moving myself, and he wanted to protect our valuables from any damage from the movers. Sometimes it felt like we moved the majority of the house.

Always look at all your options as it comes time to move and decide what is best for your family. Once you have orders, be sure to check out the website of the base you are moving to. You can gather quite a bit of information that way, including about the base housing, schools, and the nearby community. Also, ask friends and neighbors about that base for the real scoop on the base.

Until next time,

Vicki

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The Changing Expectations of the Military Spouse

Life in the military is always changing, but somehow staying the same as well. I was going through some items the other day and came across “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse.” The United States Air Force Chaplain School and several chaplains’ spouses published this little book in 1982. It came about to answer frequently asked questions chaplain spouses had during the orientation course. Wait! What? I never got to go to an orientation course at the Chaplain School. I feel cheated. I had to learn everything by experience, as many military spouses did.

Role Expectations

Expectations of the the chaplain’s spouse haven’t changed much over the years. For instance, the primary role is still to support the chaplain and his/her career. What that support looks like has changed in the past several years.

One young wife asked me what I expected of her, since the Good Chaplain was the new senior chaplain of the base. She had a two-year-old, so I told her I expected her to support her husband and take care of her child. I was shocked to learn later that she did not attend the base chapel, even when her husband was preaching. To me, attending chapel and chapel functions counted as supporting my spouse. But I found out that many chapel spouses did not attend the chapel, but went to churches off-base because they offered programs for the children. The population of chapels was trending more toward retirees. But the argument that it did not have programming for children didn’t sit well with me. If they would bring their children to the chapel, the powers that be could justify having children’s programming. It was a “which came first…” situation.

It also seemed to say to other people on base that the chapel wasn’t even good enough for the chaplains’ families so why should others attend it as well?

So I see the role of the chaplain spouse as attending chapel and getting involved in some sort of chapel program, such as Bible study.

Some wives in the book were concerned about how their actions could influence their husband’s careers. This concern was real at one time. Even in 1992, when the Good Chaplain came on active duty, it was understood that the military member was responsible for the actions of his family.

The book answered this question by saying,

A positive attitude and support is invaluable and can enhance your spouse’s performance. Adversely, total lack of interest or support may also affect your spouse’s performance or attitude. –Page 35, A Practical Handbook

Page 35, A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse

No one can tell a spouse that they have to belong to any base group or attend any base functions. But I found involvement on base was helpful to myself and the Good Chaplain. Joining in is a great way to make friends. Often I shared things, without breaking confidences, which the Good Chaplain needed to know to help out a military member. Together, we covered most of the base and made a good team in building relationships.

Next time, I will reveal more goodies I found in this practical handbook.

Till then,

Vicki

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.

Helpful Pre-Deployment Guidance for Every Military Spouse

Oh no! The dreaded deployment assignment just came through. That means your spouse is going to leave you for six months, a year, or maybe even longer. What do you do now?

Well, the first thing is to cry, then pick yourself up, and go to the mandatory pre-deployment briefing. You will learn some valuable tips at the briefing, like who you can call if you need something (hint: it’s not the wing commander) and what benefits you might get as a deployed spouse.

An invaluable phone number to have is the Family Resources Center on your base or post. They usually have lots of programming for families of deployed members. The last time the Good Chaplain deployed (way back in 2010), the Family Resources Center, called the Airmen and Family Readiness Center in the Air Force, sponsored such programs as:

  • Hearts Apart: Activities to get families out of the house and meet families of other deployed members.
  • Give Parents a Break: Run in conjunction with the Child Development Center is a night for the parent at home to do something without children in tow.
  • Car Care Because We Care: This program used to provide free oil changes for spouses of deployed members
  • Morale calls: I’m not sure if morale calls are necessary now. We were allowed one 15-minute call a week at the beginning of the Good Chaplain’s career. Now, I know Tech Sergeant called Mrs. Tech Sergeant on FaceTime a couple of times a day.
  • Military OneSource: The site for everything military. When in doubt, check with this group.

Your wills and any powers-of-attorney are drawn up before your spouse leaves, as well. This task is probably on your spouse’s checklist, and I’m sure it is brought up at the pre-deployment briefing too.

The base lawyer’s office can draw up these documents for free. It would be best if you had at least a general power-of-attorney, but you might need special ones, too. Ask the lawyer. Once, when the Good Chaplain deployed, I received a check in his name from our insurance company. But I could not deposit it in our joint savings account, even with a power-of-attorney. I was stunned because I could buy a house or a car or any number of costly things with the document. But God forbid I try to deposit money with it.

Take the time before your spouse leaves to make memories as a family. Go on special outings, take a short trip if time allows, do something the kids want to do. Don’t be like me. Anytime the Good Chaplain prepared to deploy, I pulled away from him. I was trying to lessen the hurt of his actual leaving, but it had the opposite effect. Just when he wanted to spend more time with me, I wanted less time with him. I guess I thought if I withdrew before he left, I wouldn’t miss him so much. Not quite logical, but who said feelings and emotions are logical? I didn’t realize I was doing that until the Good Chaplain pointed it out to me. Spend as much time as you can together.

Attendees at a pre-deployment retreat in Oklahoma

In that vein, many bases and/or chapels sponsor pre-deployment retreats for families and couples to help them create some memories. They are worth a try.

Next time I will discuss how to handle the actual deployment.

Until then,

Vicki

How do you act before your spouse leaves for deployment? Answer in the reply section below.

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