This article is a blog post

The holiday potluck – dreadful or dazzling

By Allison Perkins

Holiday potlucks in the breakroom are coming, are you ready?

I’ve learned there are two types. First, everyone brings a dish and the smorgasbord sits in the breakroom and is visited by one or two people at a time since everyone is so busy typing away to get done in time to leave for vacation.

Second, the entire office shuts down and gathers for fellowship around the food which can be a hoot at the right companies or uncomfortable at best.

So, whether you love or loathe mandatory company fun time, as it is called in the military, you need to find a way to play along.

First, don’t bring the weird food. You may absolutely love an exotic dish you discovered at your last overseas duty station and have mastered recreating it. That doesn’t mean everyone is willing to give it a try. The less complicated, the better.

Second, don’t feel pressured to cook. Most commissaries have a fabulous bakery and deli. Around the holidays they are flush with dessert trays and meat and cheese spreads. Save yourself the stress, just buy something. 

Third, try not to be a Grinch. It’s the holidays. It’s busy. Everyone is carrying an extra load to try to get done before the door is locked for the week. Try to take a few minutes to be social and make an appearance before you duck back into the cubicle.

And if you are the potluck planner, a few tips for you as well.

First, please, let people know early, not the night before or even a few days before. If you don’t know how hard it is to get to the grocery store for a single item, ask a military spouse whose husband is deployed. We’ve gone without milk at our house for a week simply because I didn’t feel like dragging all the kids into the store after hours to get it.

Second, don’t schedule the get-together the week of the holiday – you are simply asking for meltdowns at this point.

Finally, absolutely never ever make it mandatory – to bring a dish or participate in the festivities. The holidays can be a complicated ball of emotions for people at the holidays, especially military families. Give employees the space they need to deal with what is happening in their household without extra pressure to be merry and bright.

Happy potlucking!

Need a holiday job? Try a movie theater

Need a holiday job but the idea of dealing with the holiday shopping crowd makes you cringe?

Try applying at a movie theater instead.

The holiday season is one of the hottest seasons for blockbusters to hit theaters, which means crowds will increase and theaters will be hiring extra help.

Visit any online job search engine and you will find plentiful movie theater jobs in every state across the nation. Positions are available in ticket sales, concessions, cleaning crew and security.

Most national theater companies, such as Cinemark, list employee expectations and benefits on their individual websites. Many include perks such as free movies, discounts on concessions and advancement opportunities. Managers and assistant managers are often eligible for health and dental plans, paid time off and other benefit packages.

The downside? Movies run all day, and late into the night. Though many of the companies’ websites indicate flexible scheduling, during the holidays, hours may not be as negotiable.

And, theaters are open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day. As the newest employee on the roster you may not have your first choice of days off.

Still, while basic theater crew members generally make minimum wage, a quick review of many job openings shows that managers make upwards of $55,000 a year. A season of buckling down and working the extra hours could land you a permanent position, with better hours and better pay. 

Understanding your learning style smooths the road to success

By Amy Nielsen

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak this past week at a very small theater in our rural community. Hearing her speak has been on my bucket list since I first read one of her books in the mid-nineties in college. Reading her words was the first time I understood that people are allowed to think differently. I grew up thinking differently.

As a young girl I knew I couldn’t read the way other people did. I was an avid reader, but I rarely remembered the plot of the story. I could, however, tell you everything in the book after I reread the first paragraph. I am terrible at computational math – I still cannot add a simple string of numbers, but I adore doing conceptual math – geometric proofs and calculus functions were my favorites. Every bubble test I took, I scored off the charts in reading comprehension but well below average on math and spelling.

In college I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia. In subsequent years I have come to learn that I am not only dyslexic, but also dysgraphic and have trouble with dyscalculia. My high school math teacher regularly threw me out of class for arguing with him about a particular problem, once famously for asking why roots and squares were the same. It mattered to me. I needed to understand the theoretical principles, he needed me to get the answer four.

Once I learned that I was dyslexic, a whole lot of things suddenly made sense. Some things made perfect sense. Well, of course I can’t spell, sometimes it’s so bad even the great Google can’t figure it out. I trip up autocorrect pretty much every day with interesting consequences. Some were a bit more subtle, math is really hard when the numbers keep switching places.

Then there were those that made no sense to anyone but those who work with folks with different minds, like I can take a two dimensional line drawing, pick it up in my head and rotate it three hundred and sixty degrees and know how it all goes together. I can’t, however, answer an incorrect question on a written test correctly the second time without changing how I input the information. My brain will always choose the answer I have already selected once.

What on Earth does this have to do with either higher education or career? I would argue absolutely everything. If you are aware of how you best receive information, it make it much easier to set yourself up for successfully completing tasks.

Ask a visual/pictorial learner to read a book on a subject and they will remember some of it. Ask that same person to watch a movie about it and they will remember much more of it. If you don’t understand something the first time, it might be that you need it in a different format. Easy to fix once you know which one suits you best.

Personally, as I am in school again after some decades away, I am learning much about how I learn and how best I provide information. I have two classes this term that couldn’t be a better example of how one fits my learning style and one absolutely does not.

My physiology class is a learning challenged student’s dream. My professor provides clear, concise well filmed video lectures. Those lectures incorporate a well laid out power point slide show. The web based resources are of various styles and placed in appropriate chapters within our module based system. The text book reading is more in depth but not so over my head that I get lost without extra explanation. The professor uses the - tell ‘em, show ‘em, make ‘em do it, test ‘em on it - strategy of teaching. He makes sure everything is covered in each of the three principle learning styles, reading, visual/pictorial, and auditory/heard.

My chemistry class is nothing more than molecules by firing squad. This professor prefers to have each piece of information hidden deep within three different locations, book, video, lecture – all the while regaling us with fantastical tidbits we will ostensibly need in later courses, but will not be used farther in this course, nor will they be on any quiz. Of course he tells us this after spending thirty minutes on a tangent that I have been furiously scribbling to comprehend. His most charming habit is to call a process by three different names in the materials then use a forth on the test.

Because I know how I learn best now, I know that I can spend less time in physiology as I know that the same information will be well covered in my preferred learning style. I can be less panicked that I will miss a crucial detail in those formats that I have a harder time with. Chemistry is another ball of wax all together and I find myself spending at minimum twice as long to make sure I have all of the steps in each process understood.

I wish it were routine for adults to have state of the art learning disability testing at least once in their mid-thirties to mid-forties. Heck, I think it should be part of school testing at least once in the elementary grades and once in high school to determine ones basic learning style and if there are any glaring difficulties. Most people if they are ever tested are only ever tested in childhood. With the advances in understanding in how people learn over the decades, it makes sense to get retested again in later years as your career is jumping off to make sure you have every tool in your box for the ultra-competitive job market. Take the time to learn how you learn. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can only help you be more successful.

Retiring? You have one year of free HHG storage, use it wisely

Moving is the one constant about military life. It’s something we all know will happen every two years or so, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later.


And when that time comes, the military tells us where to go. Sure, maybe we have a say in it, an option to pick the top two or three choices. But, most often, we don’t put much thought into it.


The military issues orders, packs us up and ships us off to the new place.


But what about retirement? Where will the military move you then? The short answer is simple – you can pretty much move anywhere you want.


According to the Joint Federal Travel Regulation – the DOD regulation that governs all military travel to include PCS moves - the military will move you anywhere in the United States you want to go, including Alaska and Hawaii. In some cases, DOD will even pay to move you outside the U.S.


Really. The choice is yours, and the military will pay for it.


There’s often a lot of confusion over the military regulations for a retirement PCS, in part because the rules are different for retirement than for a regular separation (for the purposes of this column, remember that we are talking only about retirement). One of the major points of misunderstanding lies in the terms “Home of Record,” or HOR, and “Home of Selection,” or HOS.


Your HOR is generally based on where the service member joined the military. It’s the place listed on military records. It may or may not be the same place you claim residency, but either way, HOR has little to do with retirement.


HOS is the important term to remember for retirement.


During the retirement process, every service member is asked for his or her HOS. This is where your household goods will be shipped, and the location to which the military will reimburse you for travel. HOS is the location that goes on what is the equivalent of PCS orders when you retire.


It’s important to note that you don’t have to choose an HOS right away. You have up to one year from retirement to do so (we’ll come back to why this is important later).


HOR only comes into play if the service member joined the military from outside the 50 U.S. states. For example, if a service member’s HOR is Puerto Rico, the military will pay for a move back to Puerto Rico upon retirement. In that case, the service member would choose Puerto Rico as his or her HOS.


A retiring service member can also choose to move outside the U.S. even if it’s not his or her HOR. Say you pick Costa Rica as your HOS. The military will pay a percentage of the cost, based on what it would have cost to move you within the U.S.


One of the key points to remember is this, as stated in the JFTR: “Once a location is selected, that selection is irrevocable if transportation-in-kind is furnished and used, or travel and transportation allowances are received after the travel is completed.”


In other words, if you accept delivery of HHG or turn in a travel voucher, that location is forever your HOS and all other entitlements/reimbursements are limited to the amount of money it would have cost to move or transport you there.


This is where the one-year timeline mentioned above comes into play. Upon retirement, every service member is entitled to one year of household goods storage. You don’t have to declare a HOS until that one year is up and you have your HHG delivered. This is important because it can give you time to job hunt and/or decide where to move. You can use that time to wait for job offers, travel to a few different places, stay with family, or rent a furnished apartment in the location you think you want to move to until you know for sure.


You can also choose to stay where you are rather than put your HHG in storage, and still have up to one year for the final PCS. Plus, if you live in military housing and must vacate quarters upon retirement, the military will move you within a short distance off base and that will not count as your HOS.


That year gives you a lot of flexibility. Use it wisely.


Here are some other helpful notes for planning the retirement PCS:


  • In some locations, retirees are allowed to rent military housing.
  • You can do a DITY move.
  • Your weight allowance is the same as an active-duty move, and pro gear is allowed.
  • As always, check with your local transportation office to get the most up-to-date information for your situation.
Job Fairs in November

There is much to be done at the holidays. Don’t let your job search fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

Sure, employers and employees alike are hustling at the holidays to finish in time to head home for family celebrations, but holidays are also when many employers need to hire extra help to fill in the gaps. Now is a great time to swoop in, work hard and show employers you have what it takes even in the busiest of seasons.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation continues to host military and military spouse only job fairs at several locations across the nation every month. Employers at each fair attend because they know the talent and skillset that military spouses can offer.

And yes, they know they may only have you around for a year or two. They hire military spouses because they know they are worth it, even if only for a short while.

In November, the foundation is hosting an unusual event, a legal networking reception for military attorneys and paralegals. The event is in Washington D.C. and hosted by the American Bar Association. It should be a great place to network with employers and fellow legal professionals.

The foundation should be releasing its 2018 hiring fair schedule in the coming weeks. Check their website often to get a jump on the newest events and register early.

As with every Hiring our Heroes event, be sure to click on the link below and register. Most events fill up.

Nov. 15

Washington D.C.

Networking Reception – Military Legal Professionals


Nov. 29

New Orleans

What Have I Done?

By Amy Nielsen

It is time to register for my second term of classes for my Masters degree already. I am a bit at a loss as to how I got here this fast. I feel like I just started this whirlwind journey last week.

On the student-run Facebook pages discussions are flying about which teacher is best, online vs on campus options, and how to tweak the plan of study to make the program all you need and want it to be. 

First let's discuss that my school works on trimester schedules. As a woman of childbearing years, this word makes me feels suspiciously nauseous, edgy on the verge of crying, and with a distinct need to re-organize the linen closet while eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's at 3 a.m.

I can't deal with that word association for the next some odd years, so I call them terms. Makes me feel less bloated. 

I started this journey with what I thought was at least a somewhat clear idea of what I want to do when I grow up. While I still want to do that, I think there might be a better path to get there. 

The degree program I am working through is a big part of the eventual position I want to hold. Since it is time to choose classes for next term, I decided to re-read the entire course catalog to make sure I know what the school really has to offer. I'm not sure I ever did that when I applied. Biggie mistake, as my favorite employee used to say. This school has so much more to it than I thought.  

Now I have to decide not only if I am in the right program, but also if I need to add an extra term to make sure I have all of the learning I think I will need to be successful in my career. In short, I want to do it right the first time and I have too many options. 

I am currently enrolled in the non-licensure track for my degree. I chose it originally because it sounded more like the policy and politics side of the program. I want to help change the culture of health and wellness in my community by integrating our abundant alternative and complementary care practitioners with our overtaxed and under-supported biomedical system. I had originally thought perhaps a more policy-oriented program would fit.  

I now think I should switch to the licensure track, which in this school has a complementary care concentration in a subject I already hold a certificate in. I wonder whether being a licensed practitioner in my regulation-heavy state might be a better place from which to begin to bring together people and organizations where ideology and terminology can often be insurmountable differences and squabbles over shrinking grants can be vicious. 

If I want to change to the license track, there are three options. Two still fall under my current department, the third is in a different program all together. The two are still Masters of Science programs and while still two-year programs, they require supervised clinical hours rather than a capstone project or thesis. The third is a Master of Arts which does not require supervised hours, but a does require a capstone project as well. 

With a little bit of sleuthing I discovered that there are at least three agencies in my county that do supervised hours for clinical students. All of them are run by people I already know through my recent foray into local community service volunteering.

Doing clinical hours in the organizations I want to integrate would afford me an understanding of the needs of both, a task not possible to do as a policy wonk. The clincher would be whether they can take clinical students who attend school, virtually, in another state. 

Creating and participating in a capstone project in my community would be a more difficult task. Finding a sponsor, creating and running the program then getting the sign off will be harder with the smaller resource pool our rural community draws from. However, I could use the project as the foundation or trial for a post-graduation collaboration. 

The other key to the decision hinges on the transfer of credits from my previous school. If I change to the MA program, I lose a whole lot of credits that I have to make up in an extra term. If I stay in the MS program I can switch my degree path and my concentration and still keep the credits. Which reminds me, I need to make sure I mark them off on my plan of study so I don't take ones I don't have to. More room for cool electives. This school has a lot of cool electives. 

My next step is to call my academic advisor and really spend some time talking through the degree options and my projected plan. With his help I am sure I will be able to come up with a suitable course that will cover all the bases to step me up for success when I graduate.  

Until I can set up the discussion, I will spend a few hours making sure that I pass my organic chemistry class. Because if I don't pass organic chemistry this first term, I'll be taking it again at the end. 


Have job, need childcare

For some military spouses, finding a job at a new duty station may be the easy part. It is finding reliable, safe childcare that causes stress, worry and even panic.

Military childcare facilities on base fill fast. Waiting lists can be months long. And unfortunately when federal budget cuts are made, childcare is often one of the first perks to be cut.

Outside the gate childcare rates can soar far above the cost of placing your child with a provider on base. Child Care Aware of America works with the Department of Defense to provide child care fee assistance to military families as part of the Military Child Care Act of 1989. The program is designed to help offset the cost of child care for families who are unable to receive care on base.

Child Care Aware has assisted more than 10 million families and has a network of more than 10,000 licensed providers across the U.S.

There are different requirements for each branch of the Department of Defense to qualify for the program. To see those requirements, visit here:

The Navy and Air Force program also provide respite care for families that are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member program. The Marines offers care for families of service members killed in action.

The eligibility requirements are included on the page for each service, as are the list of documents you will need to gather to apply. Fees are calculated on a sliding scale. Parents will be required to pay a portion of the cost and the remaining fee is paid through funds authorized by Congress.

The only other DOD agency that qualifies for the program is the Geospatial-Intelligence Agency whose employees can also apply for fee assistance. Currently no employees of the Department of Homeland Security, including Coast Guard members, are included in the program.

Instead, Coast Guard families may qualify for child care fee assistance under the U.S. Coast Guard Childcare Subsidy Program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eligibility requirements and application pages can be found here:

Need to know more? Call Child Care Aware before applying at 800-424-2246 (option 6).

Suicide after retirement – a stark reality

If your recently retired service member makes it past the five year mark, he has made it past the years he will most likely commit suicide.

This was a jarring line our blogger included in her entry this week. She recalled it as something another well-meaning spouse told her the day of her husband’s retirement ceremony.

Shocking. Terrifying. Heartbreaking. True.

 Suicide rates in the Army peaked in 2012 and were more than twice the rate of the civilian population. Since then, that service is experiencing nearly 120 suicides per year, the most of any of the armed services. Experts, reports the Washington Post and a number of other news organizations, have found that the bulk of suicides are committed by soldiers who have never deployed to a war zone.

Now, veteran suicide rates have skyrocketed and continue to rise. And unfortunately, my fellow blogger’s well-meaning friend was wrong about the 5-year-mark. If only it was that easy. If only we had to be vigilant for five years and then live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Veterans Administration reported this year that approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died by suicide were age 50 and older.  The VA examined 55 million service records from 1979 to 2014 to compile data to be used to build suicide prevention program.

Other conclusions:

  • Findings show there is variability across the nation in the rates and numbers of deaths by suicide among Veterans. Overall, the Veteran rates mirror those of the general population in the geographic region, with the highest rates in Western states. While we see higher rates of suicide in some states with smaller populations, most Veteran suicides are still in the heaviest populated areas.
  • After adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adults. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 19 percent higher among male Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult men. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult women.

What does this mean for spouses? Vigilance never ends. Not after one year. Not after five years. Recent changes to federal laws also mean veterans who were barred from owning a firearm due to mental health reasons now must have a judicial finding of incompetency to be barred from owning a gun. That means more guns in the hands of people doctors have already said should not own them.

For military spouses who have a service member living on the brink, it means we again are on our own to protect and care for our struggling service member.

Start by briefing yourself on the VA’s suicide prevention campaign, visit for information and support.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255.



Military milestones give spouse time to breathe

By Amy Nielsen

My husband and I marked two important rites in our path together this week - our 10-year wedding anniversary and his five-year retirement from the Navy. Both are milestones we both thought we would not make it to – for lots of various reasons.

We married after living together for two years, less than one week before he was to deploy on a nine-month sea tour, and days after his extremely contentious divorce was finalized.

He immediately called to schedule an appointment for us to get married. There would be no dress, no party, no family, just us - if they even had a date available.

We were in luck. The ceremony would be held at the court house at 10:30 in the morning, the only available timeslot, on October 31- ironic for a couple of hippy, practicing pagan, pregnant, military, late-thirties somethings that we were. It was absolutely perfect.

Only one friend could make the date. She arrived the next morning and we spent the day rifling through my rapidly shrinking wardrobe for something that would be fancy enough but not show off my growing baby bump too much. There was certainly no time and I was in no shape for a wedding dress. We decided that he would not wear his uniform, but instead the trusted khakis and white linen button down with loafers. Men – they have it so easy.

Upon arriving at the court house we encountered a huge media frenzy. We had no idea that the local

county official was having the opening arguments to his corruption trial the same morning. We were sort of focused on a few other things at that point. After making it through the extra metal detectors, we were going to be late.

We picked up the finalized divorce decree that had been keeping us from getting married from one

office and rushed through the building to the other wing. There we delivered the freshly stamped

documents to the nice clerk who helped us fill out our license. It took a few minutes to make sure all of

the boxes were filled out correctly as his divorce had become final so recently.

We waded somewhat more frantically back through the throngs of reporters, fellow lost court house

visitors, and local news junkies who seem to show up in the background of all live news reports. Arriving

in front of the judge’s door, we took a moment to breathe. I think it was the only moment we took for

the next 10 years.

I remember that breath we took so specifically. Just us. Breathing together, forehead, palms, toes.

The ceremony took all of 15 minutes. The judge said his bit, we followed along on the thrice copied pages he handed us after checking out our paperwork. We stood. He had a picture of Officers Obe and Eddie from Alice’s Restaurant behind his desk. His hand shook when he signed our license.

Afterward, we snapped a picture in the parking lot holding the document that would mean our daughter

would have prenatal care, housing, access to information about her Papa, and as I would find out,

Aunties and Navy Fairy God Mothers who would hold us in so much grace when I had no idea what to do

or where to turn in our very rocky first year.

As it happed, being Halloween, we tripped over a couple dressed as giant lattes outside a popular coffee

shop at lunch. We snapped another picture and now every year we find a franchise of

that coffee shop and make sure to have our latte. We hoped being lunch time that some place would be

able to accommodate the three of us for a fancyish celebration. Luckily our favorite date night place had

a spot outside on the oceanfront patio.

It was October - the beach was deserted, the waves were rolling hard and the wind was washing sand in

sheets across the expanse. It was cold. Lunch was silly and everything we wanted. We went out to the

boardwalk after and took one more picture next to the statue of Neptune. It is the only other picture we

have from our wedding day. I wore a green sundress with brown heels and my friend’s sweater when I

got cold at lunch.

Five days later, at some stupid hour in the fog and drip of a dreary November night, I delivered my brand

new husband to the Navy, the mistress that would carry him away from me and our soon to be born daughter for 8 months. The tour would finally stretch to nine and a half before he was finally home. We were never again a couple. He came home to a new baby girl.

The night he left was the last time we were just us. We took

one last breath. Just us. She kicked, the ship shifted, the steam vent whistled. He was gone.

Five years and a few days apart later, we celebrated the culmination of his 20 years of military

service in an equally strangely twisted and slightly off kilter day. On that day, while dressing our two

young children for the ceremony, I received a phone call from a well-meaning seasoned spouse

reminding me that while this was a very special day – it was the beginning of the 5 years until he

would be safe from the threat of post military suicide.

“Your job is to keep him alive for the next five years. Then you will be safe,” she said.

So this year, being special anniversaries of those strange and wonderful days, we decided to get some

professional pictures done and take that honeymoon/babymoon/post deployment moon/retirement

vacation we never were able to. It feels a bit like we took 10 years to get to the threshold of our real


I bought the big, white, poofy dress, busted out his dinner dress whites and the fancy kilt, and

took the pictures. Later this week we head out on a vacation just the two of us, for the first time since

we took that last breath on the pier 10 years ago.

It’s time to finally exhale.

About-face: Preparing for life after the military

Some of us plan military retirement from the very beginning, with our goals firmly set from day

one of the start of our military lives.

Others wait until 20 years later, when the last day of active duty is staring us straight in the


No matter what path takes you there, retirement is a lot to digest. Among those thoughts that

might keep you up at night: Where will we live? How will we get jobs? Will we have enough

money? What about life insurance, health insurance and investments? How quickly will we

adapt to life in the civilian world?

Some would say never to that last question, and that’s one reason this column is here. To help

you, as a military spouse, plan for and navigate retirement, whether you’re two decades or two

days from that milestone.

Every other week we’ll dispel a lot of the many myths (or just downright misinformation)

floating around out there about military retirement. We’ll talk about things like the different

types of retirement, VA benefits, life insurance, the Spouse Benefit Plan, education benefits,

PCS entitlements and healthcare – just to name a few.

We’ll also look at what you can do to prepare yourself now for a career after military life, and

how you can jump start your plans no matter how far from – or how close to – retirement your

servicemember is.

To put things in perspective, here’s a snapshot of military retirees as of 2016, according to the

most recent annual Department of Defense Statistical Report on Military Retirees:

- Roughly two million current military retirees are drawing some sort of pay from DOD.

- Another 52,000 are eligible to retire this year.

- Nearly all live in the U.S., although when it comes to foreign countries Germany is the

most popular.

- More military retirees - 209,000 to be exact - live in Texas than any other state. Florida is

the next most popular state for retirees, followed closely by California and Virginia.

- Officers retire at an age of 49.6 years, enlisted personnel at 44.9.

- Most officers retire at the rank of O5 (not including medical retirements), while E7 is the

most common rank at retirement for enlisted personnel.

Feedback is always welcome. Feel free to comment with your questions, topics you’d like to

know more about or see addressed in the future, or your own personal experiences. You can also

email Jan Childs at


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