Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Military Family

We call the military "the family business"... and it goes back (and forward) generations. In my husband's family, it goes back to his grandfather (Navy Chief) his dad (Navy Academy Graduate). In mine, my maternal grandfather - German Army WWI and Luftwaffe WWII. My father, USCG WWII, my uncles were Army, and Army Air Corps WWII, and an Aunt was Army WWII. The acronym rich world of the military, reading uniforms (although, I have to say, Navy still baffles me), is second nature to me. I was brought up with a tan card, going to the PX, as a State Dept brat I was surrounded by Marines ( yeah.. the dress blues were the epitome of the well dressed man to me for years. ) My husband is Army, I walked down the aisle and he was in blues, he's still in the Army, done active, National Guard and now here we are Active Duty again. Our son and daughter in law are Army veterans of Iraq.

There's another big part of my military family - those friends of mine online, the milspouses I instant message with, catch up with on their blogs, chitchat with on Facebook and tweet at. My husband calls them my "imaginary friends" - and they have saved me through two deployments, kept me sane through two reintegrations, listened to me while we PCSed, and are encouraging me while I try to set up a business and change my career path. I've met some that I agree with politically, some that have political beliefs that I cannot fathom, and worked with both groups to get laws passed to help all milspouses. We are family, we fight, some of us will never willingly speak to each other again, but let something happen, and we pull together, we support each other through thick and thin. The civilian/military family divide - some hope that this division would be healed through more social media and the ease of connection, but I wonder if it doesn't keep us more isolated. We can stay in touch with each other so easily, we may not willingly reach out to non military families.

Blogging and other "social media" were just made for military spouses. I have "friends" in Monterey, Stuttgart, Yokosuka, Killeen, Fayetteville and it's as easy as checking the Blackberry to catch up with one of them. Recently my daughter in law had a friend with a question about moving to Japan, I reached out to my online friends and we were ready to help. Daily, on Facebook or on blogs, we see questions about something military, we see pain and the need for help from fellow milspouses, or from veterans, we find out which group needs more care packages, or find an old friend from years ago at another duty station. After an education program aimed at military spouses was arbitrarily and capriciously yanked away with no warning or explanation, Facebook pages sprang up and although we don't have the program back yet, we succeeded in waking up the DoD bureaucracy with letters from congressional offices, and an apology from the (now former) director of the program. The power of social media - in practice! Since many units' Family programs are exhausted from multiple deployments, we have started our own online support, after all, with online members all over the world, there usually is someone on line, no matter what time of day or night.. great chats happen at 2 am when the European time zone friends are awake, and the insomniac is on the couch with the laptop!

My military family - a pretty motley bunch - but they are MINE, and I'm proud as hell to say that I'm a member of a military family.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

a lousy lousy day

It's official, yesterday was a truly crappy day. Waking with a migraine - starts the whole day out wrong, and it went downhill from there. I had applied for the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship for the Accredited Financial Counselor® Program - and until I got turned down yesterday, I didn't realize how much I was counting on it. It was going to be the cornerstone of my counseling degree attempt - and with the continued "review" of the MyCAA program - It's time to regroup and redo. Chief is ready and willing to give me part of his GI Bill, but right now I'm just not good with that. It's his GI Bill, not mine.

What am I going to do? Haven't got the foggiest notion right now. Wallow a little, then get on with it.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

McChrystal and Rolling Stone - what WAS he thinking?

The McChrystal/Rolling Stone article debacle.

From Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen: their statements . Admiral Mullen said it best

... I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority.

We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform. We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed. We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.

I think it is vital for us to remember that if we lose their trust and confidence for any reason, it's time to go. The job we are called upon to do for the nation is too important, the lives we are sworn to protect too precious, to permit any doubt or uncertainty in that regard. General McChrystal did the right thing by offering to resign.


Since the country has been riveted to the coverage of the Rolling Stone article with General McChrystal, the military blogosphere and Facebook pages have been ablaze. I'm not going to spend much time with the silliness - the racial overtones in some posts was disturbing, disgusting, but not unexpected. The divide was the usual gap - those who support the current administration and those that think anything that comes out of the White House is suspect and scream "POTUS wants to wreck the military" or "he hates the military". I've seen ridiculous comments - that McChrystal should have removed POTUS was one that really stood out for me!

Those of us who have been in our sub world for a little longer realized that the disrespect and contempt shown for the civilian leadership of the country, the civilian "partners" that the general needed to work with, could only lead to the result we saw yesterday. The screeching of "freedom of speeeeeeeeeech" - may I just remind those folks of Article 88 of the UCMJ. As a friend said, Article 88, learn it, live it, make sure your subordinates do the same.

What I found so remarkable, personally, was the sheer lack of judgment, the utter foolishness of anyone allowing a reporter from Rolling Stone to hang out with them for weeks, listening to the (to us) usual testosterone slinging trash talk of men and women in uniform. Seriously, Rolling Stone??? If he's allowing anyone to sit around and see the frat brother antics, why not someone from one of the "friendlier" publications - Military Officer, or one of the military Times? They would have understood that this type of behaviour is often seen in that world and wouldn't have made much of it. But a publication that lives on scandal, that is notoriously unfriendly to the military - Really? One of the unspoken duties of the commanding general is to be an example to the rest of his command, and that example of a lack of respect, disdain and contempt openly expressed is not what a commanding general wants from his subordinates. Someone who said to me "oh it wasn't so bad" did have to admit that if she had openly shown this contempt for one of her superiors whilst in uniform, her career would have come to a halt in a matter of minutes. What you say in the privacy of your own home, with your friends, that's one thing, to say it in front of a member of the media - that's another.

The decision to put the other leg of the decision making chair, General Petraeus, in command, was the right one, in my opinion. He doesn't need to be brought up to speed, he's been steering the boat! Of course, that decision has caused some commenters to twist themselves into all sorts of knots, decrying the POTUS's decision to remove McChrystal but not able to criticize the replacement! Well - one did ask if this was a nefarious attempt to prevent General Petraeus running for President in 2012, which is so ridiculous it really did make me laugh.

Let's all wish the best to General Petraeus and his staff, their decisions are going to mean a great deal to those of us in the military community.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

FRG -[cue the scary music]

Xposted at LeftFace

Alright - Everyone with a horror story about FRGs, right hand up. Everyone with a story about the great stuff that happened in an FRG , left hand up. Wow, lots of “touchdown” hands there, folks!

All of us, and oh boy, am I including myself in this, have the horror story about the awful leader, or the catty spouses, or the lies spread to the guys downrange, the stupid meetings with the dumb games, the lack of anything to do for those with/without kids… there are as many of these stories as there are military spouses. No, I’m not asking y’all to share those with us right now… we’ll open a “get THIS one” page, ok?

BUT, there are as many of us who remember the good things from FRGs, great cookie baking/care package packing parties, with laughter and stories and a little vino maybe thrown in; or the chance meeting with someone who really needed to talk, or was there to listen; or the phone calls just checking on you during deployment [thanks, Mary]

So the latest incarnation of the uber rank conscious/rank pulling abusive FRG leader out of Fort Bragg has started this discussion, again. On Facebook, on various blogs – the questions are flying. What is the FRG for? Who should run it? Are FRSAs working out the way we were told they would? I’m not going to even try to answer these questions. I will say that, from what I’ve seen in both Guard and Active FRGs, it depends on the command. If Command cares, the FRG flourishes. If Command is just checking the box on the evaluation form, the FRG either becomes moribund or self destructs in a giant flurry of hurt feelings, tears, anger, recriminations and now – the news and Army Times.

Is this, maybe, the big scandal that will cause actual change to happen? Is airing our dirty laundry for all civilians to see as well, a wake up call for leadership? Is this what it takes to make the “powers that be” wake up and realize that FRGs, for all their great intentions, are being run by the volunteers who have gone through one deployment too many, funded by cupcakes sales to ourselves? Do we want either paid personnel, spouses of veterans who’ve “been there, done that”, or to keep relying on the volunteers who are sometimes eager and willing to take on the challenge? For some units, would it be better to have a leadership group, not just one person on whom it all ends up falling, and should we get away from the “commander’s spouse” exemplar.

I’ve got a lot of questions, but I will agree with Sue Hoppin; let’s not forget that for all their faults, there have been great FRGs, great FRG leaders (yes, Mary, that’s you) who care about the spouses and families that are part of the unit, and who work tirelessly for those families, within the bureaucracy that has overburdened them with rules, regs and requirements. If you are an FRG leader, a Key Volunteer, ombudsman, stand up, take a bow. We appreciate you! BUT – if you see that you are uncomfortably close to being the Col’s wife in the Ft. Bragg story or Lenore in ArmyWives, step back, step aside. Let the FRG be lead by the person who wants to help, no matter his or her spouse’s rank or leadership in the unit; not to enhance his or her own ego or “assist” the servicemember they are married to.

Right – there’s my take on this latest kerfuffle – what do you think? Any solutions, suggestions?


Saturday, June 12, 2010

so - what's up?

Hey - what's up with everyone? around here... it's all ok, for the most part. After quitting the job with the law firm, I started working at a non profit doing data entry. The people are great, I'm just still in shock when I see my pay cheque - a whole lot less.... and of course I wonder sometimes, what the HELL did you do? you were a Senior Paralegal at a good firm - you were making some decent bucks! then I remember the tension, the frustration, the exhaustion, the "I cannot stand one more day" feeling.. yeah, that's why, you wanted to try to have a life without all that, without the migraines. Now, to be fair, the migraines aren't totally gone, I cannot control the weather, which is a big trigger for me, and the occipital neuralgia is still lurking. BUT, I think I'm more relaxed.

Now, the new business - I'm sending out resumes to lawfirms all over the area. So far, no nibbles. I'm also setting up my new website - learning WordPress the hard way - trial and error. It's different, and sometimes so frustrating. I know what I want it to look like, but I haven't figured out how to yet! well.. I'll learn! I've signed up for various agencies - there's ELance and ODesk etc, and uploading, resumes and tweaking this, that, and t'other thing. I'm ambivalent about getting certified - are they just a money maker for the group/person who set up the certifications? - anyone out there want to give me their take on that? A friend who set up National Military Spouse Network has been a great source for me, she also told me that I should put Beta tester on my resume, I found a link that wasn't working properly and was able to help the designer figure out which link was broken. what do you think?

We also have a new critter at the house. We are fostering a cat from the shelter, she's been in the cages since January, and getting depressed. She's in quarantine, as we recommend, for at least a week, she's in the guest bathroom and starting to want to get out. Ms. M (her shelter name is Monique - which is so so not her) and JJcat have hissed at each other through the door, I am hoping they can co-exist in the house. Ms. M also needs to lose some weight, so as soon as we can let her out of the bathroom, she will need some intensive exercising - and less food. If the two cats can get along, she might stay - if not she will at least get a break from the cages, lose some weight and get back to being a happier cat.

Writing - I'm afraid I spent my time on Left Face last week, need to get with doing some writing that I might be able to get to get paid for. but we DID get linked to by Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy, which set off a new series we call "entitled?" my take is below, my co authors have been weighing in as well - go over and take a look.

One thing I have to say - when I go to work, I walk from the train station down to Pennsylvania Ave, through various gardens and across the Mall - what a walk! glorious, from the grandeur of the Capitol on one side and the Washington Monument on the other, to the Butterfly garden and the sculpture gardens. There's another benefit to working in DC - even though right now it's populated with thousands of tourists wandering about in the various stages of exhaustion and in the case of the littlest ones, crankiness! But when I walk to work in the morning, they are still sleeping in their hotels, and I only have to dodge the runners, and it's a lot more peaceful, I have time to enjoy the flowers and say hello to the gardeners.

Enjoy your weekend, Happy Birthday Army - I'll report after the Army Ball tonight. Trace Adkins - yeah... it'll be fun!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Entitled - or Quit yer Bitchin'

I posted this on Left Face - as a response to what I'm reading from civilians and members of the military alike

Oh, quit whining. What do you military families want anyway? You knew what you were getting into when you married him. Suck it up. MY wife can do this with no help, so why can’t you. You shouldn’t have married the guy if you didn’t think you could take it. Why are you expecting so much. You are being so exclusionary. Don’t be so aggressive about asking for/demanding something. There are those who “have greatest disdain” for the “special attention” being paid to anyone in the current military, especially the National Guard…

Just a few responses to posts on military family issues I’ve seen lately. Some were in response to the post concerning the family waiting for the flight home for their son’s funeral – the comments were on Tom Ricks’ blog which linked to LeftFace. Some were from Military Officer magazine we get from MOAA – a letter to the editor regarding counseling and understanding for children whose parent is deployed. What do many of these statements have in common? They are from members of the military – either retired or active duty. Not, interestingly, from their spouses!

During the MyCAA debacle, I read this from some civilians, “why were we expecting a free ride?” The country is in a depression, we should be grateful that our spouses have jobs. After all, we get free healthcare, we get free housing (now THAT one made me laugh out loud) and why is our spouse’s pay tax free when they are deployed (well, maybe being in a war zone, getting mortared, living in filthy conditions is worth a couple bucks to the country that sent them there?). The “Free Ride” was a program set up by DoD, a promise to help military spouses with training in “portable careers”. (that’s another posting, and we’ve discussed this here)

We knew what we were getting into? When I married my husband quite a few years ago, I didn’t expect back to back TDYs followed by a 22 month deployment, one year home and then another deployment! And how does anyone really know, until they have gone through a deployment – until they have gone through that level or worrying, that feeling of being on edge 24/7, that fear of a knock on the door…

What did I want to say to the servicemembers who said those things? Exclusionary? Oh please, sir, the last BBQ I went to, the Rangers stood over there bumping tabs, the ring knockers were all cloistered together over in another corner, the senior spouses clustered in the other. Ever heard the Fobbit trash talk, the “Seals are the ONLY warriors” etc.?? The military puts us into little slots – Officer, Enlisted, and there are still restrictions on fraternization, is that exclusionary too?

Yes, we DO think we are different, we are different! We are members of the One Percent who have any connection with the wars currently being fought. We try to stay close with our civilian friends and acquaintances, but they aren’t comfortable with us anymore. They don’t understand how we feel, and they don’t want to hang out with us because we scare them, they don’t want these wars shoved in their face by looking at us, making them uncomfortable. We get sick of having our concerns disregarded by our civilian sisters, having deployments of 6, 8, 12 months compared to weekend camping trips (when Bambi gets mortars, talk to me…) We are tired of hearing “if you need anything, call me” and when we do swallow our pride and ask for help, we hear nothing but excuses, or silence. How do you answer the questions they ask – “how do you DO it?” “has he killed anyone” “is he coming home for [pick a holiday]” “but he just got back, why does he have to go again”. It’s safer, it’s easier to talk to our friends who are also military, for whom we don’t have to translate the acronyms, who understand that we do not have much control over where/how we live or much of anything else.

The country waves flags at us, commanding officers tell us they are there for us, they tell us that we are the reason our spouses can serve, our spouses are told “we are there for your family, go deploy, we’ll take care of them.” But when we ask for the help we are told is there for us… we are told ; it’ll be a couple months until you can talk to someone about your depression; child care – no sorry, all full up; job training – sorry, had to yank that without notice, sorry for putting you in debt again. The FRG? - oh no, you can’t have a phone tree (opsec) you can’t have a vFRG (opsec), we meet during the day… you work, oh well, can’t have names, all the activities are during the week – for some of us, the FRG is a disaster, although I have heard of some that have been fantastic.

When MyCAA was being touted to enlisting service personnel or to those considering whether to re enlist, or not to resign their commission – see, here’s something for your spouse too – and then arbitrarily yanked away, we quite rightly objected. If you are going to promise something, keep your promise! That’s not being spoiled, that’s not demanding, or saying we are entitled… that’s expecting that a promise made will be honoured. Telling us not to give in to depression, to ask for help when we need it, and then telling us that after the few free appointments on the phone we can finagle from MilitaryOneSource or Give an Hour (a great group) that there aren’t any counselors available, or if you are OCONUS, the counselor has so many PTS patients, he can’t see any family members, that’s another promise broken. Don’t tell us to go get help, when TriCare won’t cover it and the few counseling groups that will take TriCare are not accepting patients.

Those bitching about the little things, the PX not carrying something, the ones who wear their husband’s rank embroidered on their bra straps – those have given us all a bad name. The spouses who hold the families together and keep it all going, should be allowed to expect the promises made to be kept. If they choose to feel safe, and happy, and secure with their military spouse friends – they shouldn’t be told they are “exclusionary”. It’s called a comfort zone. Let us have that, which you are downrange, ok?


Friday, June 04, 2010

Reprehensible Conduct.

X posted at Left Face

Today, on Facebook, I clicked on a link to this story. The story of a family, at the worst time of their life, witnessing the true callousness of the American traveling public. The story of the family of Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson, who had flown to the East Coast to welcome the body of their loved one at Dover. The story of the family who were trying to get home, to bury that 24 year old, a newly wed, who had been killed in Afghanistan. The story of the truly reprehensible conduct of a group of travelers, who sat in silence when asked to give up their seats so they could get home. The story of the ground crew that had to beg, with tears in their voices, for 3 more people to give up their seats so the 6 members of the family, standing in front of them all with their grief apparent, could get home.

I should, I suppose, be used to this by now. Eight years into two wars, with reports of "compassion fatigue", with comments to letters to the editor, or articles in magazines, that tell military families to just shut up, suck it up, quit whining, stop expecting everything for free, I should expect that the "others" won't do the right thing in that situation. After all, I just read a retired military officer in a respected military group publication, say just that!

But this. This horrified me, and I don't understand the people that could sit in silence and actually LOOK at the grieving family, who had to endure the stares and sliding sideways glances. HOW? HOW do Americans NOT stand up en masse and volunteer? The author, Colleen Getz, tried to excuse the other passengers, saying they were caught off guard. Off Guard? Do Americans need to be prepared to do the right thing? Are we so consumed with our own lives, so inured to the pain going on in front of us, that we just refuse to react to it?

I talked to my husband about it, and he gave me that look, and said "they don't WANT to know. They don't want to see it, they don't care anymore."

I guess the flag waving is over, the "support the troops" yellow ribbons on the backs of cars have faded into pale cream with unreadable faint letters, the flags on the houses have become tatty and shredded and been replaced with butterfly banners - at least for them. The them that could sit and stare at that family, stone faced, and refuse to give up their seats; the them that get angry when another funeral procession ties up traffic; the them that want to know why so much money is being spent on military health care, or get angry about subsidized child care. But we , the One Percenters, WE understand. We are tired too, but I know that each and every one of us would have given up our seats. Right? I sure hope I'm right.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - cont'd

X posted from LeftFace

The DADT repeal dialogue continues, on both sides of the issue. A friend to many of us, Lily Burana, who wrote a wonderful book "I love a Man in Uniform" and who is a tireless advocate for military spouses, wrote an op ed in the LA Times. Lily brings it to "our" side of the military, to the spouses, the ones who host the lunches, who run the FRGs, who try to support each other during the deployments. A blogger she quotes in the piece, who quips that acceptance will be final when the domestic partners are welcomed by a bunch of "snobby officers' wives" may not be all wrong! Lily jokes about that timeworn attitude...

But we aren't entirely what this man suggests, blinkered domestic biddies clutching our pearls and our outmoded mannerisms, possessed of no greater largesse or intellectual sophistication than what we leech from our husbands: Inclusiveness? If you say so, dear.

We don't have to ask, and we will (one hopes) not tell, but in our little world, being gay isn't exactly a secret. We all know the "confirmed bachelor" the "haven't found the right guy/girl yet" who has a room mate, or close friend, that no one is allowed to acknowledge as being so much more than that. I, for one, cannot imagine not being allowed to acknowledge a person who is so integral to my life.

Lily also said something that rang - like a very clear bell - in my mind, while discussing the opposition from those affectionately called "The Pachyderms", the senior brass we revere for their past service, but whose opinions sometimes show their disconnect from the present day Army. (emphasis added)

Yet as much as I acknowledge their right to their position, I won't refrain from voicing my opposition. My conscience — as a wife, as a patriot, as a freedom-loving American — demands it.

I understand that the repeal is a top-down decision, but until the administration and the brass figure out how best to proceed, I will do what the good Lt. Gen. Mixon suggested and what the DOD requested: I will share my opinion — that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is less about what we military family members do or don't want than about what is right. And what is best, in the long run, for our nation's military.

As for me, LAW, I'll respect anyone's right to an opinion, even if I think its wrong, it's daft, it's not grounded in anything I recognize as fact; and yes, I'll be pretty dismissive of the "facts" as seen by those whom I personally feel are not really worried about facts, but have a deep seated, illogical (to me) prejudice for anyone who is not "the same". BUT I will NOT stop advocating for the repeal, I will NOT stop letting my voice be heard; because MY conscience demands it too.