This article is a blog post

With No War, Who Will Care?

It’s happening.

Several years ago as the drawdown of American forces in Iraq became a reality, large non-profits began discussing the inevitable turn of public attention that would come with it. With no troops deployed to high profile locations, the donations, they feared, would dry up.

Leaders in the industries that help care for military families were right to be concerned. They knew that even though the deployment might be over, military families are far from over it, and in fact, may need more help than ever.

Now, the military itself is beginning to turn away and march on.

At the beginning of the Iraq War, the Army created hundreds of new civilian jobs as part of the family readiness support assistant program. These new hires were tasked with helping military units establish family readiness programs and provide support to volunteers, spouses and military members.

In some communities, these networks of support worked brilliantly. In others, they failed miserably.

Either way, by 2015, more than half of this support staff will be gone. Nearly 200 FRSAs will be pink-slipped by next year leaving one FRSA for every 1,000 FORSCOM soldiers, Northwest Military.com reported.

The reason is simple. Combat operations are drawing down. Thousands of soldiers too are being sent packing back to civilian life. The face of the Army is changing.

But the damage done by a decade of war has gone nowhere. In fact, many may argue, families are suffering more now than during any deployment.

And they may quickly find that there will be little help.

Major commands are rushing to train volunteers to fill the void left by paid FRSA staff members. Military families will be required to again rely only on each other in many situations.

When they look outside the gate for assistance, they may find none there either.

Private nonprofit groups that service military families exploded onto the scene in force between 2001 and 2012. Now nearly 7,800 organizations have registered with the federal government to help service members, reports The New York Times.

The effort is there, but the money is not. The Times reported that the non-profits cannot keep pace with the growing demands of caring for veterans and their families.

So, where will we go when the going gets tough? Who will help us in our darkest hours?

We will.

It’s time to take back our military neighborhoods, help, reach out, love each other and be present for all of our sisters in arms. Volunteer, take a younger spouse under your wing, sit and just listen.

The rest of the nation may have moved on, but we will forever have each other’s backs.

New to EFMP? So is Tiffany and her family. Join Her on Her Journey

By Tiffany Shedd

After I earned my graduate degree in 2004, my thoughts were on finding a job or getting into a Ph.D. program. Little did I know, I was only a few days away from meeting my future husband and having my world, and my idea of home, completely rocked. Ten years later, we’ve crisscrossed the country as we PCSed from Fort Campbell, KY to Fort Wainwright, AK and back to the east coast to Fort Bragg, NC.

Our latest PCS brought us to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD. This was our toughest move. It was our shortest PCS, distance-wise, so you’d think it would have been a breeze. But, we had one major difference this time. Our son was born a week before my husband was to report for duty. And we were closing on our first home, which needed a lot of work before we could bring a newborn into it.

Luckily, we had a lot of help, and things went as smoothly as they could.

I came to motherhood later in life than most of my friends and most of the spouses I’ve met during my time as an Army wife. We were usually the odd couple out, because we didn’t have kids. It seemed like this made it tougher to meet and make friends with each move. I thought that our son would be our instant friend finder. What I found was that I was just too tired to even care about finding friends for the first year we were here.

During my son’s first year of life, everything seemed to go smoothly. We felt lucky compared to some of the horror stories we’d heard. He spoiled us by sleeping through the night at a month old (I mean from 7 p.m. until almost 7 a.m. most nights). He did seem to turn into a little monster while teething, but luckily, that only lasted a couple of weeks at a time.

My little man and I settled into our routines in our new home. Everything went along smoothly for almost a year. Then, one day, he didn’t respond to me in the way he normally did. He seemed to be in a daze. It didn’t last long, but it was odd. I was worried, but didn’t know what was causing this. He did this several times over the next couple of weeks.

My husband went TDY for a few weeks in August, so my little man, who’d just turned 10-months-old, and I went to visit my family. We were getting ready for the day and little man was crawling around, and then all of a sudden, he wasn’t. It was as if he’d forgotten how to crawl. He started crying, but then he was just limp and unresponsive. I immediately picked him up and tried to get him to respond. He snapped out of it after about 30 seconds.

I mentioned these episodes to his PCM on our next well baby visit. She did not seem too worried about them, but she did note them in her notes.

A month later, I was home alone again and my husband was TDY, again. Little man was crawling around, and all of a sudden, just flopped forward. He picked himself up but just flopped over again. I picked him up, thinking he was really ready for his nap. He had a thousand yard stare and stopped responding to my voice. His eyes got really wide and his muscles went rigid. Then, he started convulsing. His little body jerked violently and he stopped breathing. I have never felt more helpless in my entire life. I was not calm. I did not realize what I was witnessing. I just wanted my baby to be ok.

To make a very long and scary story short, after a rough couple of weeks and being admitted to the hospital several times, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy. With medication, we were able to get the seizures under control in about a month. Luckily, the medications work, and he has been seizure free for nearly seven months.

Once we had a diagnosis, our journey to getting our son into the Exceptional Family Member Program began. Funnily, my son’s PCM was one of the people responsible for getting the program started in the 1980s. She suggested that we get the process going, because sometimes it can take a while to get all of the paperwork filled out and processed. She also told us that the DD Form 2792, the official 13-page document you must fill out with your PCM, is a far cry from the original one page document.

I asked if we were required to enroll in the program and she said it is a mandatory enrollment program. If you’re like me, you may not like the feeling of being forced to participate in a program that you know little about. But with a little research and reassurance, I came to the conclusion that this was what was best for my son and our family.

According to the Army Medical Department, the EFMP is supposed to be a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-agency program that provides community support, housing, medical, educational and personnel services to military families with an EFM. Basically, this just means that if your spouse is given orders to some very remote post, without proper medical facilities within a reasonable distance, you and your child may not get the option of accompanying them. It’s a tough choice, but if you’re like me, you will do anything to make sure that your child receives the best and quickest medical attention possible.

We started this process in mid-April, and we’re still working on getting into the program. It takes time, and with budget cuts and understaffing issues, it takes more time. If your child needs to get enrolled, start early. Do not wait until a month before you need to PCS.

 I hope to be able to help some of you through this process as we try to get through it ourselves. I look forward to writing each month and helping other spouses by answering questions that you may not even know you had.

Change Is Good For the Soul?

So here we are again, and it’s time to say, ‘See you later,’ to another blog. My sweet readers, you have become some of my closest friends over the last couple of years. You have seen me through some of my best and worst times and I have been happy to share those times with you. I am a firm believer in that we are stronger together than we are apart. I hope that reading through my adventures has made you feel like you have a friend who knows what you are going through.

I have to admit to you that, for many reasons, this has been probably the toughest transition I have endured in my 12 years as an Army spouse. Some of those reasons, I have shared with you and some of them, I have not. But there have been some dark days. I wasn’t sure if I could get out of bed. I didn’t want to face anyone. But I found something (or three somethings) that got me out of bed and kept me fighting for my sanity.

My struggle is large and overwhelming sometimes to me, but it pales in comparison to soldiers transitioning out of the Army. Just recently, we discovered that a dear friend of ours decided that he couldn’t take any more of his transition. From all accounts, things were not going well, and he chose to end his life. My soldier and I were devastated by the news, and as we speak to others about it, we hear people say, “I could have helped him get a job”, “If I had known, I would have invited him over to talk.” The truth is that when a person gets to that point, they may not ask for help. Change is hard and we don’t know where that breaking point might be.

I don’t tell you all of this to bring you down. I tell you all of this so that as you see your brothers/sisters in arms, friends and family going through a big transition, you will be in tune to their needs. He or she may not be willing to share the minutia of their issues, but you don’t have to know the particulars to be an encouragement and a source of strength.

Don’t ask for details. Listen to what they will tell you. Give them the sense that it is ok to have a meltdown in your presence without fear of judgment.

Above all, be encouraging. Dollars to donuts, they don’t want you to solve their problems. They just need an ear. You may be the person that shows them that they should believe in themselves.

Thank you for following along on my crazy journey. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being my inspiration.

I will see you when I see you.

Much love and admiration . . . sby

She Posted What?

I don’t know anyone who owns a map. 

Heck, I’m starting to think I don’t know anyone who owns a GPS that isn’t embedded in their car or their cell phone.

I’m not sure people read travel magazines anymore and I’ve never been in a visitor’s center along a highway chock full of people looking for brochures on what to do, where to eat and how long to drive til the next landmark.

And now, when you move to a new town, you don’t go to community meetings or the city’s welcome center looking for a new church, new take-out Chinese place or new pre-school for your kids. 

You ask on Facebook.

When we moved here just three years ago, I tentatively joined a Facebook group for wives married to sailors stationed at this tiny base and in this tiny town. I never posted, but lots of other people did.

They asked about everything under the sun: commissary hours; rates for drop-in childcare at the base daycare; what military housing was like for officers.

People made friends and got tips on that site all day long.

And here we are, three years later, and that Facebook group is still going strong.  Except it’s been joined by at least eight other groups, all for wives married to sailors stationed at this tiny base and in this tiny town.

In three years alone, the importance of Facebook – and its use as the main way military spouses get their information about, well, everything – has grown.

And so, sometimes, if you frequent those pages, you’ll see something rather odd come across your screen.

Like yesterday, when someone asked what they should do about their husband, who just after he was promoted, revealed to his wife that he was a cross-dresser.

I think I re-read the post 40 times to make sure that I was reading it correctly. And verify that this wasn’t some horrible joke.

But no. There it was plain as day. With her full name and photo attached to it. 

There’s been a big mess as of late that Facebook has overstepped privacy bounds; that they’ve gone too far with an app for cellular devices; that it’s dangerous how much information they put out there about Facebook users.

But what happens when the Facebook users put too much out there themselves?

Especially when it could affect their husbands’ careers? Their own credibility? Their public safety or the safety of those serving around them?

Social media makes it very easy to cross the line between personable and personal.  In fact, it seems we have created a chronic environment of over-sharing.

But for military spouses, it isn’t just a matter of embarrassing yourself.

It’s startling enough that it can set off a chain reaction that could alter personal and operational security.

And yet, the rest of the world is doing it.

But should we?
 

Back to School – One Army Wife’s Story

Editor’s Note: Salute to Spouses’ writer Samantha Carroll graduated college once - and went back years later to earn a second degree in nursing. Her return to campus was exhausting, thrilling and worth every moment. Please enjoy her personal story about going back to school and starting a brand new career.

Four years ago when I went back to school, I hurried to class, like many students each morning. But instead of rolling out of bed to get there in the nick of time after a long night of either studying or being with friends, I packed a diaper bag and left early in order to get my toddler to the babysitter’s on time. When I settled into my classroom, I reached into my shiny new book bag to retrieve my class materials and I discovered a Dora the Explorer doll and a random pacifier amongst my pens and folders. At age 34, I sat in a Psychology 101 class with students who were ten years younger than me and who were in college for the first time.

After eleven years of sales and marketing work, where I loosely used my journalism degree, I was bitten by the “nursing bug” and decided to return to school for a degree in nursing. That decision was easy. As the wife of a soldier, with a baby, maneuvering the decision to stop working full-time to return to class was the tricky part. Then, a move to Savannah and my husband’s very first deployment lit the proverbial fire underneath me and I learned to register for classes online, which I didn’t have to do the first time. I quickly became used to being an older, non-traditional student, as there were quite a few “second timers” like me, especially in the nursing program.

My husband was either deployed or away training for over half of my second college career. I credit Army family childcare, pre-school and my dear friends for helping me during my quasi-single parenting days, so that I could not only go to class but also study. I am not a person who can stay up late and do schoolwork once everyone is in bed. I never have been and I certainly applaud those who can do it. Once my daughter began kindergarten, I was in the home stretch. In addition to regular class time, tests and projects, I  had clinical time in the hospital that required me to leave my house before the crack of dawn, and once again, when my husband was away, my friends were nice enough to accept an additional kid at 5:45 a.m. to dress and drive to school along with their own children.

During my time in school, I was fortunate enough to not have to work. I had quite a few classmates who not only worked almost full-time but had families too. Again, my hat goes off to these amazing people. Right before my final year of nursing school, however, I acquired a part-time job at one of the local hospitals. The title was Student Patient Care Technician and I was hired based on having completed a minimal amount of nursing courses and the fact that I was still enrolled in a nursing program. The job consisted of entry level, non-licensed patient care like: bed baths, checking vital signs, changing beds and helping feed patients if necessary. It was a very flexible schedule. So flexible, I could choose my own hours and work as much or as little as I wanted. There were a minimal amount of shifts to work in a given time period, so I only worked the minimum. I took this position not only to better familiarize myself with the clinical setting but also to use as a networking tool. This particular hospital is always hiring new nursing graduates and the more areas I could work in, and the more people I could meet, the better the job prospects.

One day, about three months before graduation, I was assigned to work in the Orthopedic Trauma unit. It was extremely busy and the staff were all very nice and helpful and I felt an instant synergy with them. At my shift’s end, they asked me to come back the next time I worked, and when it came time for my final semester of nursing school when we chose an area to work with for ten shifts with a nurse preceptor, to my delight, I was able to do my clinical hours in that unit. Not long into my program, the nurse manager asked if I was interested in receiving an early job offer. Of course I was and I accepted. I later found out that my work as a student tech was what inspired that early offer.

After graduation, and two grueling weeks of studying for the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Exam,) I passed and began my nurse residency program. I had not worked full-time in a while and the first two weeks was harder to get used to than I thought. I was exhausted at the end of each day. But, in that program, I was surrounded by 87 newly licensed nurses just like me. It was great to be go through the information overload and anticipation of what’s to come with others. I’ve recently begun my 12-hour shifts with a nurse preceptor and I got the night shift rotation first. Since I’m not a night person, this has proven to be particularly challenging for me and I’m certainly glad it’s only for four weeks. And, big surprise, my husband is out of town for a month.

 My personality type somehow thrives upon challenge. I am, after all, an Army wife. It’s funny, I never set out to be an orthopedic nurse. I was content letting my nurse specialty find me once I knew I wanted to set out on this journey. In spite of the kid drop offs, diapers and books, the stress of simultaneously studying for tests and preparing for deployments and homecomings, I feel as though I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. And when I think back to the afternoons when I opened my psychology book and found a Dora flashcard on page 163, and even now when I’m exhausted but have to make myself sleep during the day and my daughter is with a friend and my husband is on the other side of the country, I stop and ask myself, “Was it all worth it?”

You bet it was!

Study what you love, but...

My son is only in sixth grade, but he’s deeply embroiled in the “what to do when I grow up” debate. It’s no surprise to us that the boy who devours biographies of world leaders, prefers History Channel documentaries to cartoons and owns thousands of historically accurate tin soldiers is leaning toward studying military history or archeology.

We want him to excel in a field that he loves. We want him to be able to find a job that fuels his passion, not just his checkbook. But, he also is going to have to buy his own food someday. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how many history buffs the economy really has jobs waiting for.

So, quietly, I have been checking out the job market for history buffs like my son. So far, it’s not exactly pretty.

Which led me to another search, what should students be studying to secure their place in the workforce? Where exactly are the jobs?

U.S. News and World Report has ranked the 100 best jobs based on hiring demand, potential growth in demand over the next 10 years, salary, stress level and work-life balance.

Sadly, historian is nowhere on that list. But a lot of other jobs are. Including house painter at number 100 and software developer at number 1. In between there are a lot of jobs, including a majority in the healthcare and engineering fields.

So, are you walking through those classroom doors next month with undecided checked next to your major? You may want to check this list out. It may help you find the perfect job that gives you, and kids like my son, plenty of time to tend to your hobbies and earn a paycheck.

 

Help and Ask for Help!

One thing I have continuously been working at as a military spouse has been asking for help. Since I have had children, I have had to own that fact that I cannot do it all. And sometimes, it’s ok to ask for help.

I used to try to schedule appointments around my husband’s work schedule. But I am sure you all understand how not easy that is; Trainings change, schedules are always shifting, trips pop up or get canceled last minute.

I hate to admit it, but I just don’t take my husband’s schedule into account most of the time. I remember being sad during my son’s first year of life because he couldn’t come with us to all the monthly appointments like other dads. But, I learned to tackle the questions and soothe the vaccination cries by myself. I quickly mastered the art of taking two kids to the doctors even though it was stressful and left all three of us in tears sometimes. Friends offered to help I hated accepting their offers.

So, getting back to asking people for help - with no family here, friends become your family and as much as I hate having to ask, sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it.

Like I did, last week.

Even though my husband was home, I had to step outside my comfort zone and ask for help because I did not have a choice. I was in a minor car accident with my children (don’t worry we are all fine!). But as military luck would have it, my husband was in a building where he could not bring his cell phone and I did not know that at the time. This was my first emergency as a parent and even though my Marine was home, I could not reach him.

As I stood on the side of the road, holding my 2-year-old who wanted to run into traffic, I tried to search my phone for a number of someone who works with my husband who could get in contact with him. Surely, I had to have someone’s number. I made a note to save an office number the last time he traveled out of the country but it was nowhere to be found.

I think this is where a little panic set it once I realized everyone was ok.  In my mind, I knew I could call my husband and he would answer and come save us and we would be fine! And even though my children and I were okay (my car was a different story) my emotions started to build.

My car was not drivable and we were 20 minutes from our home. The police and the mechanic from the tow truck company asked where they should take the car and how we would get home.

I guess this would be a good place to admit that I have trouble making decisions. The tow truck needed to know where to tow the car. I have never been in an accident before. Doesn’t this kind of stuff fall under the husband category? I cook, clean and raise children. I wasn’t prepared for this situation.  

During a deployment, sure this could probably happen. But he is home and I did not have my solo mom game face on. The police officers offered to take us to the station where we could wait until we could get a ride home, but I wasn’t prepared for a day stranded at the police station. I had no idea when I would finally reach my husband. And who could I call to pick us up? My friends all had kids of their own and couldn’t possibly fit us in their cars with them. How do I manage this?

Move Out. Adjust. Draw Fire

So I got a job. I am the digital media specialist for a local sportswear company. It sounds really fancy, doesn't it?

I haven't had a real, full-time, 40-hour work week job in over 11 years. When I began the interview process, I thought through (at least I thought I did) what it would take to make all of this work. One child can stay by himself. The other two have to go to afterschool care. They all have karate. Soldier may or may not be able to help with shuttling kids back and forth. I can do this. I can make this work.

Day two of my job and I get a frantic message on my cell phone from sweet boy. He has broken his key off in the front door. He is panicked and can't get into the house. Luckily, soldier was on his way home to save the day.

As for me, I sat at my desk and cried. I hope all moms go through this when they go back to work after so long. For a split second, I felt so selfish for wanting to go back to work and have something that is uniquely mine. My children still need me. My job is to shuttle them from place to place and make sure that they are organized and ready to roll.

Then I realized it was time to do what I have heard soldier say, "Move out. Adjust. Draw fire."

Simply put, I need to stay on my course. Make adjustments to the plans and schedules as needed. Then take the heat rounds as they come. I can do this. I'm an Army Wife?

May the moving gods smile upon you and may only the junk that you don't like get broken . . . sby

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Oh, I can smell them in the air – freshly sharpened pencils, paper just out of the package, fresh-cut hair on the kiddos. Yes, it’s back to school.

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of summer. No, I crave routine, structure, predictability. Summer is, well, anything but that. We’ve had an insane little summer full of writer’s conferences, hockey camp, visiting family and Army Kid Camp, all while juggling visitations for our foster daughter and planning our upcoming PCS.

But it’s coming – crisp fall mornings warmed by coffee, the kiss of an eager child out the door for his first day. So are the after-school hugs, when the boys are excited to see each other after being separated all day. The dinner conversations that bounce between them like a ball, the animated hands as they tell each other, and us, how each of their days went. There’s nothing more precious to me than those moments, when they show their individuality, the moments they exist outside this house. It’s when they’re separate that we get to see who they really are.

The start of school feels more like a new year to me than New Year’s day. It feels fresh with possibility. As the kids embrace their new challenges, we do too. My husband is headed to Advanced Course, and then he’ll complete the rest of his college classes to finish his bachelor’s degree. I’m tinkering with the idea of heading back for my master’s degree, well, if there were another four hours in the day. But with the start of school, opens up a few more of those kid-free hours, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to that a little bit.

With a few short hours, I can work on a new novel, edit an existing one, heck, go for a much-needed run. I have more time to dedicate to our little gal, and hey, when I clean the kitchen after breakfast, it might actually stay clean until after school! Yes, I love my kids. I love being a mom. I love board games and playdough. But I also have to love myself so I can be the best mom possible. Those precious hours where there’s just the two of us girls in this house give me time to relish quiet so I can enjoy the loud later. They let me get my work done so I don’t have to say, “One more minute,” to my precious, tiny humans.

PCS’ing mid-school year is a wee bit tricky, but these hours they’re away help me prep for that too, so I can give them the smoothest transition possible, when and if we clear up our foster-daughter’s future.

Sure, the mornings are early, the lunches are pre-planned, and the pace can be grueling. After all, with the start of school comes a new hockey season and a new year of Boy Scouts. But there’s something about the fall that inspires me and brings organization to the forefront of my cluttered brain. I miss my kids during the day. I wonder what they’re doing, how they’re acting, what they’re up to. But those hugs I get when they run back through our doors? Those are precious. Hearing them tell me about what they learned, the friends they’ve made, seeing them thrive - that’s what the new school year is about to me.

So welcome back to the alarm clock, the automatic brew on the coffee. Welcome back hoodies and turning leaves. Welcome back to yellow busses, new backpacks and school supplies.

We’re going to rock this school year.  

Hiring Trends for 2014 and 2015 Graduates

Good news abounds for the job market. In a recent weekly address, President Obama announced, “Our businesses have now added nearly ten million jobs over the past 52 months. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008 – the fastest one-year drop in nearly 30 years.”

In the Current Employment Statistics Survey Summary, July, 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, “Over the past three months, employment has increased by an average of 245,000 jobs per month.” (http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ceshighlights.pdf)

“Furthermore,” the White House states, “this is the first time since September, 1999 – January, 2000 we have seen a total job growth above 200,000 for five straight months.”

But how are college graduates doing?

According to a June, 2014 student survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 30.1 percent of the class of 2014 had jobs at graduation. This figure shows a slight improvement from the Class of 2012’s 29.8 percent and 2011’s 29.3 percent. If the economy continues to improve, the class of 2015 could benefit even more.

Which graduates do best in the job market?

Traditionally, finance, accounting, computer science and engineering degree recipients fare best, and that is still the case. There is improvement though, for liberal arts, history, math, and education (K through 12) graduates. Interestingly, the computer science field has been underserved by graduates for the past few years.

“There's not enough graduates to meet the demands in the computer science field. The skill sets are very demanding and the new grads may not be the most competitive for those jobs,” said Edwin Koc, director of research, public policy, and legislative affairs for NACE. “Bachelor’s degrees are no longer adequate, and one-third to one-half of the Master’s and Ph.D. level graduates in this field are not U.S. citizens and are challenged by the difficult Visa laws.”

So, in a job market that appears to be promising, how does one stand out in the sea of applicants?

“There is no magic bullet,” Koc said. “Job seekers have to follow the same time-tested job search methods they have already heard.”

Are you a new graduate looking for a job? Follow these steps:

Work your network: Getting a job is harder than working. You have to research opportunities. Find networking contacts for the inside jobs.

Use college career centers to gain a lot of information and helpful advice.

Refine your resume: the most attractive resumes highlight the skill sets, courses, experience, internships and co-ops that match the jobs for which you apply.

Don’t be narrow-minded: Be open to the possibilities of different jobs and career fields. Use O*Net Online (www.onetonline.org) to find jobs and careers that are related to the ones you think you want.

Treat your job search like a job: “When you are unemployed you need to work 10 to 12 hours a day at finding a job,” Koc said. “Be persistent. The harder you work, the more likely you'll be successful. And, when you do land a job, you will already be used to working hard.”

 

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