Friday, November 29, 2013

Five Small But Massive Lessons From Last Year

image via MS

It's hard to believe it's already been a year since we first started getting excited that our Daddy was coming home from Afghanistan for R and R. Amazing how quickly time flies by. I am already looking forward to saying goodbye to 2013 and welcoming 2014 with open arms.

So far 2013 has been probably the most difficult and challenging year ever for me. It has really stretched me in so many ways. But I have learned a few things along the way that are really crucial to my personal development and have made me a stronger woman.

Here are a few:

1) Patience: There is nothing like deployment and post-deployment stress to teach you patience. You can't have what you want all the time just because you want it. Learning to postpone gratification is a tricky lesson. I hope I'm getting a little better at this all the time. I find that in some ways I am more patient after deployment and in some ways I am a little less patient. Trying to find the middle ground.

2) Tolerance: Boy has this been a challenging issue. I don't know what my husband went through during deployment and I don't have control over him. I have to let him work through his process on his own. I can't make things be the way I want them to be and I have to accept him the way he is for now and just pray for him and try to be supportive.

3) Love: I love my little family even more than ever. Suffering deepens love. Missing them deepens love. Being reunited and seeing us all together deepens love.

4) Humility: I have had to swallow my pride a lot of times this year. I have had to apologize for losing my cool a lot of times this year. I have had to accept that I am dealing with a lot of things I don't know much about and that ways I've successfully managed things in the past won't always work for every situation or in the future. Humility sandwich for one please.

5) Courage: I don't know how many times in the past two years I have had to manage situations full of fear that I have no control over but it has been many, many, many! Learning to live in the present moment, let go of fear and trust God has been a massive undertaking. I do live in more courage now, but it doesn't mean I don't face fears nearly daily and have to keep working at it.

A short list but a massive one. I'm off to work on more goals today. I am looking forward to a new year and great things to come and knowing that I carry with me new skills to meet new challenges that will come.

How about you? What major lessons have you learned from your military life? Are there any of these that are particularly heavy in your life right now?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Military Today: Heroes or Dirtbags?

image via

We have had so much cheering and chanting for our military heroes over the past decade. I am proud to see America step up and support our military families. But I get a little twitchy, shall I say, when I consider the blanket statement that our military service members  are ALL heroes. Because you know what, there are a lot of dirt bags in the military. There is crime and corruption at every level. Here's an article titled When Officers Become Criminals that is pretty shocking.

There are arrogant, egotistical jackasses who like nothing better than to make life miserable for everyone around them, especially those who report to them. There are leaders who will throw a wrench in things just to be jerks. There are some who will do anything to hold other people back and promote their own agenda, their own promotions and their own retirement regardless of what is best for the military, other service members, or the country.

There are gang members in the military, full blow criminals who are there to learn the art of war to bring back to their gangs. There are scandals involving trading military secrets for whores for Pete's sake! And this is by military leaders! There are military "heroes" who have killed their spouses, who have affairs indiscriminately and destroy families at will. There are sex offenders, child porn dealers, and more. There is a reason why the military has a maximum security prison like Fort Leavenworth. Do we know how many JAG staffers spend their days investigating and prosecuting criminals within the U.S. military ranks?

If there is anyone doing damage to the high regard the military should engender it the the military service members themselves! This infuriates me. It all looks so glossy in the recruiting brochures. So noble in the change of command services. So lovely in the homecoming videos on YouTube.

But there is a dark and ugly side to our military world that needs more recognition, focus and correction. It cannot just be swept under the flag, behind medals and below the deployment homecoming headlines. As a military community we owe our country better and we owe it to ourselves to reflect that sense of sweet nobility that has been wrapped around us by our fellow countrymen since September 11, 2001.

The military top brass have a responsibility to clean ranks and set a tone and standard worthy of the highest  ethics of our country. It's time to speak it out loud and expect more from our military. This is especially deserved by all the wonderful, noble Americans who join the military with good intent and real desire to serve and who do uphold the highest moral code even when they don't see it from above and suffer the consequences of refusing to bend to pressure to give up their high standards to fit in.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reintegration: A Life Change, Not A Timeframe

image via mca

This week I read a question from another military spouse. It was "I'm worried about reintegration. How long do I give him to readjust?" I smiled. A few months into reintegration, it's a question that will make a military spouse smile. It helped me to solidify in my mind what reintegration is not.

1) Reintegration is not a time frame. There is no magic time frame where everything will be settled and "normal." It's different for every service member and their family. You cannot say "In 90 days we stop reintegrating and it will be over" or "I'm giving my spouse two months to get reintegrated." There is not going to be one day where you will say, "We are reintegrated!" It's dangerous think about how long you will expect it to take or how long you are willing to give your partner to "get" reintegrated. You can't know what's to come or how everyone will handle it.

2) Reintegration is not a singular process. There is no step-by-step path to reintegration. Every family will experience some wildly different paths in their reintegration experience. Some will experience physical health crises, others financial crises, some mental health crises. Life does not stop moving while we reintegrate. There is no simple directional map. We each struggle to find our own way.

3) Reintegration is not a short-term experience, it's a life change. There is no point in reintegration where everything goes back to the way it used to be. Everything gets redefined. Everyone has changed, life is different. The way a marriage and family face things has to change to accommodate those changes. 

4) Reintegration is not a time of rest and recovery. I think it's easy to imagine that somehow life is going to slow down so we can catch our breath after a deployment ends. If anything it becomes more stressful as we all try to fit into new routines & get settled into the world we used to live in. Our reintegration period has been rocked by sequestration, changes in unit leadership and the government shutdown. That has not made it easier by any stretch of the imagination. Add financial concerns, serious health problems, legal issues and my husband being gone a lot and you can imagine it hasn't been a period of celebratory downtime.

5) Reintegration is not always in our control. While we can prepare ourselves and have a positive attitude we cannot control our service member or our family members and how they deal with reintegration. That can be exhausting and discouraging. Just because we believe therapy would help our service member does not mean they will be willing. Just because we'd like our homes to be tidy with no military garb cluttering entry ways or the middle of our living room does not make it so. We cannot make our children behave themselves when they need to act our their own stresses about deployment and reintegration. Acceptance, patience and persistence are vital.

6) Reintegration is not the time to put ourselves second. While we focus on the health and well-being of our service member and families, we cannot help them if we haven't taken care of ourselves. Having down time, appropriate rest, time for self, a calm environment to retreat to and the right people to talk to is invaluable to a military spouse going through reintegration. It's easy to think it's about our spouse and not about us, but everything they do affects us and how we manage all that has long term effects on our health, well-being and the survival rate of our relationships. We take all our own personal baggage into reintegration too and there are often painful realizations, changes we need to make in ourselves and healing we must do as we continue to learn and grow. It's important to take care of self so we can sustain ourselves and then others.

7) Reintegration is not the time to be together constantly. It's good to have some time apart during reintegration. I'm not saying leave for a week, I'm just saying don't spend every minute of every day together. You are accustomed to being apart, don't overload your systems and shut off your connection with the life you grew and the individuality you developed while apart. Help yourselves keep things in perspective by spending time with friends, alone or with extended family. It's amazing how a few hours away can help one see the good and minimize fears. I'm always surprised how just being away from home for even a couple of hours recharges my batteries and makes me excited to come back.

8) Reintegration is not the time to be rigid about expectations. It's easy to get defensive and start trying to make everything a fight or complaint. Pick your battles and let a lot of stuff go. It's not worth the fight much of the time. You can't bring up every little annoyance and bother. Focus on the important stuff and don't get caught up in petty arguments. Go with the flow of the changing life process rather than fighting it. But of course, make sure you're life individually and together is headed in a direction you are comfortable going in overall.

9) Reintegration is not a cheerless time. There is lots to be happy about during reintegration. You have so much to be thankful for -- your loved one came home! You are making new memories, laughing together, having time together. Do what you can to bring happiness into every day. Go on new adventures, talk about your dreams for the future, play and have fun. Be sure to see the good in every day. Be grateful when you hear your husband and kids giggling in the next room, when he walks up behind you in the kitchen and tickles you, when you have great moments of intimacy together.

10) Reintegration is not without help and support. There is a lot of reintegration support available for individuals, couples and families. Look for it! Check out the FOCUS program in your area, contact your local Vet Center,, or military family services center on base. There are lots of people willing to help you through reintegration. There are a lot of people who've been in your shoes and understand.

Another great support group is available online. Check out military spouse blogs, big ones and small ones. Connect with other military spouses online or in your area. There is a lot of support out there. Don't you dare suffer in silence or watch your happiness slip through your fingers without reaching out for some help.

Reintegration is always going to be a bit hard. Life is hard. But along with challenges there is a lot of joy to be had in reintegration and life in general. Don't miss all that good stuff by getting too bogged down with the challenges. We learn and grow through both the challenges and the joys. Don't miss the good stuff. Make your goal your life and don't get too caught up in what reintegration "should" to look like, how long it "should" last or how it went for anyone else. You just can't compare life experiences, challenges or blessings.

The best thing you can do to thrive through reintegration is to promise yourself you will take care of yourself and then do your best by your service member and family. Patience, love and kindness go a long way and experiences like reintegration are the perfect petri dish for growing more of all of those good things. Just like pre-deployment and deployment you will see yourself come through reintegration a wiser, stronger, braver person. Let it be the growing time that it is.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You Veterans!

It's Veteran's Day and the one day of the year, if not every day, that we pause to thank our veterans for their service! First I want to thank my husband for his service and all those you nobly served with him this past year in Afghanistan. Then all our OEF/OIF veterans. I heard this group now numbers over 1 million. Thanks to you all!

Next I thank my two father-in-laws who were both career military. Love them both dearly and am so grateful for their commitment, sense of honor and duty. Then my extended family and all those in my family who have served, clear back to one of my great-great...grandfathers who served at General George Washington's side in the revolutionary war.

Thank you to all the men and women who have served to protect our country, our constitution, to preserve freedom around the world and for being a part of what makes America great. We honor you and recognize your sacrifices in every way we can possibly understand and with understanding that we can never totally comprehend the price you've paid for us!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thanks For Coming Home In One Piece

DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Michael L. Casteel, U.S. Army

It's been a challenging few weeks to say the least.. I never quite realized what a let down it would be for a deployed service member to dream about coming home to their families for a year and then to come home and realize life is full of mundane pains in the ass like bills, broken down cars, driving kids around town in traffic, leaking pipes, buying groceries, paying for insurance, dealing with financial institutions,  going to the doctor and so many other things that can suck the joy right out of adult life. It is definitely a let down. I don't blame them for feeling this way but it can be hard on a family.

In other news, wanted to share an experience we had the other day. We were cleaning up the dining room and he picked up a box I didn't recognize. It was about the half the width of a deck of cards and maybe twice as thick. He mumbled something about it, I looked up, didn't recognize it and continued on. Moments later I realized it was a piece of military gear.

"What was that," I asked. He said the name of it again and I didn't quite hear it or maybe just didn't understand his "military-ese." "It's a strobe locator. It flashes up to 20-25 miles away. I it got so that if we went down in the mountains..." He didn't finish his sentence. "Hey," I said, as tears started welling up in my eyes. "Hey, look at me," I said. He had his head down then looked up. "Thank you for coming home," I said. He nodded and turned away to finish up the task he was on.

That was all that needed to be said. It was yet another painful reminder of where he was a year ago, the constant danger he lived in and the constant fear for his safety that I lived with. It was good to be reminded to be grateful he is here, despite the challenges of reintegration. Those problems seemed to minimize when I was reminded of where he was and all we have to be grateful for.