About Me

Fort Bragg, NC, United States
I'm a stay at home dad raising four beautiful children. I am the proud spouse of an Army Lieutenant Colonel. I do my best to keep up with the kids and all of their activities. I enjoy playing the bass and the occasional bass guitar building project. You can follow me on twitter if you so desire...@ArmySpouse007.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Oh The Places You'll Go (And Sometimes Wish You Hadn't)

If there's been one constant in the 15 and a half years that I've been married to my wife, it's this: pretty soon we're going to move again. During her Army career we've moved to 8 different locations across the US. They have ranged in length from 3 years to 10 months. And in that time, I've had the opportunity to visit and live in some truly amazing places...and some that were truly NOT amazing.

It's been said that when you move to a new location, what you get out of it will be what you put into it. "It's what you make of it" has been a constant refrain from those who are trying to help. I had a pastor who once told me that such platitudes "preach by the mile, but live by the foot." In other words, they sound really great, but in normal, every day life, they don't mean much. Reality is so much more less inspiring.

As you probably are aware, we spent the last 2 years in San Angelo, TX where my wife commanded an Army battalion. When we first learned we were going there, my first reaction was simply to ask, "where is that?" Little did I know that my simple question would lead to a deeper sense of being lost. In fact, San Angelo is no where near anything. At all. It sits more than an hour south of i20 to the north, and more than an hour north of i10 to the south. The city fathers decided that all sorts of ills would accompany any kind of highway that might connect the city to the rest of the country. What you are left with is a city of nearly 100,000 people that is a nearly 4 hour drive from the nearest big city. Once you got out of town, winding 2 lanes roads become the norm.

Of all of the places that we've lived in, I'd have to say that I was most out of place in San Angelo. First, San Angelo is a cowboy town. Big trucks with deer guards and headache racks (never heard of them? neither had I until I moved there) are the norm. Cowboy hats, boots, and starched jeans are the preferred fashion for a large portion of its people. Understand, there's nothing wrong with that. It just isn't who I am.

In 2013, Tyler, TX was voted as the most cowboy city in Texas, narrowly beating out San Angelo. There was, understandably, many in the city who were upset by this. Why, I'll never know. Personally, I didn't feel this was a bad thing, but that's just me. For a city boy like me, being in West Texas cowboy territory felt like being on a different planet. Again, I'm not criticizing the people who live there. It was me who was out of place. You see, I don't do the cowboy thing. I don't do the country thing. I don't own boots and never will. And the only hat I'll ever wear is a baseball cap.

My point is this: there's nothing wrong with San Angelo if that's where you live and what you love. I didn't fit there. And it gets to what I'm trying to say in this blog, namely that each time we move, there is a chance that the place we are going to is going to have a culture that I don't adapt well to. As an East Coast city boy, I don't do well in Midwest rural settings. And I certainly don't do well in the heat, a topic I've touched on in this blog before.

Over the years we've been to a lot of places. Some I've enjoyed, some...not so much. We spent three (LONG) years in central Missouri, and when we finally moved away I couldn't pack our bags fast enough. 2 years were later spent at Fort Bragg, and I actually shed tears when we moved because I had grown so attached to it. There have been other places that I was less excited to be at, others that I loved. The list varies greatly in terms of locations, and my reaction to them.

When cadets we knew would graduate from West Point, my wife would give them a small gift, the Dr. Seuss book, "Oh The Places You'll Go" as a way of getting them excited about their upcoming Army
careers. While the book is intended to fill them with a sense of adventure, it leaves out the part about these places that no one likes to talk about. Some of these places you'll go will be places you simply can't wait to leave. Sure, you make the most of them, you do your best to settle into life while you're there. But deep inside you're counting down the days until the time comes to pack up and move on. When the time came close for us to move here in Northern Virginia, I had several residents of San Angelo who told me in no uncertain terms that they'd NEVER want to live in the DC area. Too crowded, too rushed, too big were constant themes I heard. And they're right. For them, they would feel just as out of place here as I felt there. There is something in all of us that either resonates with the place we live, or it clashes with it.

Yes, in the military you'll go many different places, see many different things, and experience many different cultures. When all is said and done and my wife takes off the uniform for the last time, we'll look back at the many places we went. Many of them we'll remember fondly, some not. I think the book title will, for me, move to the past tense. It'll read like this: "Oh The Places We Went (And Some We Wish We Wouldn't Have!).

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts on Command, Pt 2

As I wrote in my last blog entry my wife's time in command brought with it numerous changes and challenges to our lives. Chief among them was the feeling of responsibility that I had as the command spouse. It wasn't until late into the command that I began to understand that how much I chose to do (or not do) with the battalion was up to me, not some "traditional" role that was expected of me.

As I also mentioned in the last blog, the PreCommand Course that we attended left me with some expectations of what command would look like. I remember a spouses panel that I attended on the second day had 4 spouses who's husbands (yep, no males spouses there...a tragedy) had just come out of command. Many of them talked about how much they enjoyed their time as a command spouse. One in particular mentioned that she would miss their time in command. They all spoke of it being one of their best times as an Army family. None of them, however mentioned the impact that the responsibilities of command would have on our families.

The very first week of command quickly showed us that the next two years would not be generous to our family, especially in terms of our time together. That first week was filled with evenings and dinner times spent without my wife. In fact, I don't think she even came home prior to 7:30 any night. After the second week straight of these late nights, we finally sat down and had a come-to-Jesus talk about it. As you may or may not know, when you stay late the people who work for you (this is especially true in the Army) are more often than not unwilling to leave before you. My first concern was the tone that she was setting in the office for the other soldiers, especially those with families, about staying and working late. Fortunately for them (most of them anyway) she would send them home long before she left.

My other, more pressing, concern was what this sort of schedule was doing to our family. Leaving early for PT and then coming home late meant that my kids saw very little of their mother. And the mother/wife who was coming home was exhausted and barely able to hold her head up. She assured me that this was only because she was still learning command and that things would get better. They did get better as time went on, but not by much.

Something that no one prepares for when they take command is the propensity for people to do bad things and make bad choices. One of the worst villains when it came to stealing our family time was UCMJ (hence the picture above). Because of the nature of the command (being TRADOC), UCMJ hearings could only happen AFTER 5:30. And they always lasted at least an hour, sometimes much longer. And then there were the other "loose ends" and things that needed to be "knocked out" before she could come home. And even when she would finally get home the dreaded Blackberry would always do it's best to interrupt any time left in the evening we had.

Speaking of the Blackberry, between the constant emails and late night (and VERY early morning) phone calls it became an unwelcome new member of our family, one that was far more demanding of my wife's attention than any of us were. In fairness, it wasn't something that my wife enjoyed, just part of the job. Still, I'm glad to see it gone.

The point of these experiences is this: when your spouse takes on that new command/responsibility position, it's a job that they will love. It is extremely fulfilling to someone who is a leader. The job, though, comes with a high price. The cost is time spent together as a family. As we entered the last 6 months of command, the late nights (7:30 and beyond) became more of the rule and not the exception. And when she did finally come home, the above mentioned Blackberry still clamored for attention. True, in the two years that she was in command she never had to deploy. And yet, many nights it felt like she wasn't home, even though she was standing right in front of me. The responsibilities of command are such that they require more time, more attention, and more energy. Frequently the family loses out to those demands. Don't get me wrong...I know how to be a team player. I understand what is at stake. That said, it is definitely wearying trying to compete for her time with the mistress known as command.

Here's my advice for you, gentle reader: jealously guard the time together that you get. Set up rules for your family to help you manage the smaller blocks of time that you will get together once your husband/wife takes a command/responsibility position. Make a rule that there can be no Blackberry at the dinner table. Unless someone's life is in jeopardy (in which case the update/alert/notification for such an event will NEVER come in the form of an email), it can wait. And if there is a mountain of work to be done in the office, bring dinner to the office and eat it with your spouse, or ask them to come home for dinner and then go back if need be. Yes, that's harsh, and hard, but ask yourself this: is making sure all of those emails get answered more important than that little block of time with the family? We, as spouses, are asked to sacrifice much to support the military careers of our soldiers. But one sided sacrifices only lead to resentment and bitterness. It has to go both ways.

Battalion command/SGM responsibility is probably the high point in any military career, especially in the Army. It was a role that my wife had always dreamed and strived for. But it comes at a cost. And that cost is always borne by the family. Make no mistake about it: it is something that we willingly accepted. And I have no regrets about it. None. Still, it would've been very helpful to know what was coming prior to the assumption of command. So if this is still ahead for you, plan for it, know it's coming, and be ready. Don't let the demands of command/responsibility take you by surprise and knock you off your feet. I said it earlier, I'll say it again: jealously guard your time together. Don't let the mistress of command steal time away from your spouse and the kids. Go into it with eyes wide open and have a plan. Then, as much as you both are capable, stick to it. You'll find that the time you get together, though reduced at times, is much more rewarding. And you'll exit command with memories that will last forever.

You can follow me on Twitter if you so choose... @Armyspouse007

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thoughts on Command pt 1

Done. Finished. My time as a command spouse has finally come to an end. After two years of VERY infrequent posts (mostly due to the fact that my wife was in command), and with a heart full of things to share, I can now open up and talk about some of the things that my family and I experienced during the last two years.

When we arrived in San Angelo back in June of 2012 we came with high hopes and, perhaps unwisely, too many expectations. It's hard to come into a situation like that and not have certain expectations or preconceptions. Nevertheless, after attending the PreCommand Course at Fort Leavenworth, KS (which all battalion commanders go through with their spouses prior to taking command) I arrived with lots of ideas and plans. I came in with high hopes that I could build upon what the previous commander's spouse had achieved in her two years.

One of the first things that I found was the nature of how other spouses react when they first meet the new command spouse. I heard a lot of "Mr. Blake" and "sir" when getting to know them for the first time. Now, I've been an Army spouse for long enough (15 years and counting!) to know that there are far too many spouses who wear their husband/wife's rank. I've seen it numerous times and, frankly, I have no time or use for it. The first thing that I wanted to do was dispel any notion that I was anything more than a fellow spouse along with them. My philosophy has always been and will always be this: all spouses are equal. All spouses are important regardless of their husband's/wife's rank. I think that I was successful in my efforts to do that.

Command spouses, for generations, have hosted social engagements, like coffees and teas, sometimes on a weekly basis, sometimes on a monthly basis. When I arrived with my wife in 2012 I hoped to continue that in our unit. I was told that a very small percentage of spouses participated in those events. And, with the exception of one or two of the events that I hosted, I found this to be true. At best we had 20% attendance at our Spouses Night Out. Most of the time it was closer to 8-10%. I would send out multiple emails, I would speak personally to new spouses and invite them. We even got most of the events posted on the unit calendar. In the end, though, the group who came out to our events was always a small but committed minority. Whether this was a result of the fact that I was a dude hosting an event for battalion full of ladies (with only a handful of guys like myself) that made them feel uncomfortable, or perhaps because they simply wanted to be left alone, I never cracked that code. In the end, as the numbers got smaller so did my drive and resolve to continue to host those events.

I think, perhaps, that the expectations that I put on myself as a command spouse were unreasonable. As someone who is an introvert it is difficult for me to put myself out there and organize/host social events. I can only imagine that if I was uncomfortable, how must other spouses feel? The PreCommand Course did not come out and say that we would have "responsibilities" as a command spouse. They inferred it over and over again, though. We had classes on how to lead, how to train volunteers, how to host a coffee. Never was the most important truth presented: we are still spouses and civilians, and as such our involvement is always voluntary and never mandatory. Because I felt obligated to be deeply involved (again, as an introvert this is extremely uncomfortable), I expected others to feel the same way. At the end of the day, though, spouses should always feel free to be involved as much or as little as they choose. And this goes for command spouses as well. If I ever get the chance to be on a spouses panel at the PreCommand Course in the future, this will be something that I make sure they all understand. We are spouses, parents, civilians first and foremost. We have no chain of command. We have only one responsibility: support our active duty spouse. Anything more than that is completely voluntary and up to us. I think I lost sight of that important fact.

If you are someone who's spouse is preparing to take on a command or responsibility position, remember this: if you choose to be involved and active with other spouses and with the FRG, great. If you decide not to, that is OK as well. In the end, just be yourself, be who you are. Don't let the "expectations" of being a "senior" spouse weigh you down. Simply do this: be the best husband/wife you can be to your active duty spouse. Because, in the end, that must always come first.

You can follow me on Twitter if you so choose... @Armyspouse007

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Easy Betrayal

I've been writing this blog for the better part of 5 years now. In that time, I've never written about politics or government. It's something that I've tried very hard to stay away from due to the incendiary nature of political discussions. That will change today. With the passage of Budget Compromise and yesterday's House of Representatives passage of this year's spending plan, our government has done the unthinkable. It has reduced the retirement benefits of those who have raised their hands and volunteered to serve their country in the Armed Forces. The primary advocate of this cut in benefits is the hero of conservatives and Republicans alike, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan.

Now, before we go on, the reasons behind the cut in benefits should be explained. The amount of money that the Defense Department spends every year on retiree benefits is huge. In 2012, the Pentagon spent just over $52B on retiree benefits. This amounted to about 10% of the nearly $530B budget for the year. There's no question that this is an enormous amount of money. The "fix" for this issue, however, amounts to a complete betrayal of those who have served for 20 years or more in our military. Mr. Ryan, and his counterpart (and co-conspirator) Senator Patty Murray of Washington, looked at reducing military pensions as a means to reduce costs. Reducing the cost of government is a noble and worthy cause. Making military retirees your primary target for cost reduction is a knife in the back of those who have served.

Now, to be fair, actual retirement benefits aren't being touched (yet). What is being reduced is the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) that is added every year. The COLA is given so that a pension means the same every year as inflation causes costs/prices to rise. When the COLA is reduced, the pension is worth less and less every year. And this is where the rub is. Reducing the COLA for military retirees tells them that the value of what they did for our country isn't worth making their pension hold its value year in, year out.

In an interview yesterday (January 15th) on Hugh Hewitt's daily radio program (give this a listen), Paul Ryan made two very strong statements that are very telling in terms of what his view of those who have served and retired from the Military. First, he said that "those in the military have not paid into their retirements." Mr. Ryan, aren't multiple deployments, missed family events like birthdays, anniversaries, BIRTHS, and such payment enough? Is being in harms way for a year at a time enough to earn being cared for by our country? Those who came back different from when they left, those who have seen things that most of us hope to NEVER see, haven't they given enough?

Second, Mr. Ryan made what I consider to be one of the most bewildering statements I've ever heard someone say in relation to those who serve. He said, "If we don't watch it, the military is going to become a government benefits agency that fights wars on the side." So, honoring your promise to those who have given 20 years of their lives, many having given years in immediate danger, takes you down a road to where they are just another entitlement group? How on Earth can you equate taking care of those who have given so much for the defense of our country, our freedoms, and the liberation of so many others to a simple government entitlement?

The one ray of hope in this utter betrayal is the fact that this cut won't go into effect for two years. There is time to see this repealed, to restore the faith in our veterans, our best and bravest who have given so much. In all of the years that I've been writing this blog, I've never asked anything of you, my faithful readers. So many of you have read, commented and supported my efforts to tell the story of military spouses and our struggles, trials, and lives. Today, however, I am asking something of you. Today, I'm asking you to go beyond just being a friend and a reader of this blog. I'm asking you to contact your representatives and your senators. I'm asking you to tell them that targeting our military retirees in order to cut spending is beyond wrong. Let them know that this provision in our recently passed budget cannot remain, that America must keep its promise to those who serve. Here's where you can find the contact information for your particular representative:


Tell them that reducing the National Debt cannot and must not come at the expense of those who put themselves in harms way for our nation.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The busy life of an Army family

The last several weeks have been non stop for our family. There have been trips, sports events, family visits, etc. It seems like there is a never ending stream of things to do and places to be. I find it hard to imagine a stretch of more than a few days where we have nothing planned. Take this week, for example. Yesterday, my oldest had a football game, while at the same time our battalion (for which I play) was in the championships of the base racquetball league. Somehow, my wife and I managed to cover down on both, all the while dragging three other kids along for the ride. Tonight is not much different. The battalion has its Halloween party while my oldest is again at a football event (this time playing in the band). Add to that our martial arts class (which I teach). I can envision my head hitting the pillow tonight and my eyes closing quickly afterwards. And this isn't the last of it this week. Friday night there is a school Fall Festival while one of the kids has to be out of town at a different school event. At least the price of gas is going down...
In our never ending quest to make sure that our children are well rounded we end up running ourselves ragged on a weekly basis. True, some weeks are worse than others. But, it's no wonder that, when Summer break arrives, both parents and kids alike are happy for the slowdown in activities. For bigger families like mine the future only holds more of the same as the other kids get older and become more involved in activities.

Understand, this post isn't a rant. Not at all. It's simply a view of what life is like. Now, I know that what we go through each week isn't unique to Army families. Many families have kids that are actively involved in extracurricular activities. Plenty of kids from civilian families play sports, take music lessons, do scouting, etc. What makes us a bit more unique, though, is the military aspect of it. You see, the Army doesn't really care what time my son's football game is this week. It cares about whether or not the mission is completed (and mission can mean a whole host of things, not just some soldiers going out on patrol!). If we had only one child, this wouldn't present any problems. When there are multiple kids, each with their own events/activities, it gets more complicated. Throw in a deployment (or a command!) on top of that, and things can get a lot more stressful.

I've found, like so many other military spouses, that the only way to really make it work is to get help. Carpooling is the key. Many times events line up between military families and the load can be shared by several. I have several neighborhood kids who take the martial arts classes that I teach. They help by bringing my kids along from the bus stop. When my wife was in Afghanistan, my folks would take one kid to football while I took the other one to TaeKwonDo.

Other times, you have to make some compromises and difficult choices. When we lived in Fort Bragg, my wife was still deployed to Afghanistan and then less than a year later deployed to Kuwait. I made the choice to restrict all of our activities down to just one: TKD. It was something that all of us could do together, all at the same time. My kids definitely had other interests, but this was the way it had to be. Were they any worse for the wear? Nope. Three of them have earned their black belts, and the last one is about a year away from his. Now that we are in a stable situation (at least for the next 8 months...) we've been able to expand what the kids do a bit. That may change with our next assignment, though.

There is something to be said for military kids, though, who have endured the constant moves and deployments. They become increasingly more adaptable and deal with change better and better. My oldest two kids have lived in 7 states so far in their lives. They know that wherever we land for each new assignment for my wife it'll be temporary. They make friends and become involved, but always with the understanding that we'll be moving on in a year or two. And they know that there are limits to how much we can do as a family, especially when mom is deployed.

The most important point, I think, is to not feel guilty over the things that the kids aren't able to be involved in. Sure, I'd love for my kids to do more. But there are limits. I could beat myself over the head and feel as though I've let them down when I have to tell them no for things like sleepovers, lock-ins, and parties. But at the end of the day you can only do what you can do. Letting yourself get down over what we consider to be failures in parenting doesn't help them or do us any good. When all is said and done what matters most is whether or not my kids are loved and know that they are loved. That, I know for sure, I can do. Beyond that, everything else is gravy.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

And now, for something completely different... Kittens!

As many of you know, I write this blog to talk and discuss things that affect our lives as military spouses. Some of my blogs have been humorous, some more serious. I always try to write things that I think will be relevant to what we as military spouses face on a day to day basis.

I felt, though, that this would be a great time to talk about something that our family has so far avoided: pets. Besides the fact that pets are an added strain on the budget and additional work added to the already hectic and busy days that we face, 3 of my 4 children are allergic to animals. Perhaps we could get used to the added responsibilities of having pets. But the allergy thing is a tough one to overcome. Hence our extreme reluctance to venture any further down the pet path than having fish.

That's not say we've never discussed it. We have. My oldest recently asked for a puppy for his birthday. Now, this is one of the most responsible kids I know. However, when my wife and I explained to him that if we were to get a dog he'd have a number of chores added to what he already does in order to take care of a dog...well...he balked at the idea and withdrew the request.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to my wife's visit to have an Xray on her shoulder. In a very simple and friendly conversation with the tech, the subject of our kids came up and he mentioned that he had a couple of kittens that he was looking to find a good home for. Now, what got into my wife to actually consider the idea is beyond me. She called me and broached the idea. I thought about it and threw caution to the wind, along with the allergies. Two days later, we had a pair of tiny, mostly black kittens. We surprised the kids on a Friday afternoon with them. They were beyond thrilled!

Why kittens? Good question. First, we decided that if we were going to have pets, we wanted them to be low maintenance. Cats certainly fit that description. They don't need to be walked or played with. In fact, most of the time they prefer that you don't play with them. Or touch them. Or interrupt them while they nap, eat, groom, or whatever else they may be doing. They prefer that you accept that your house belongs to them now and that you are simply a guest in their house. Secondly, if we were going to have pets, we needed pets that wouldn't encumber us when we decided to travel. I know lots of people who have dogs that require attention. "I'm sorry, we just can't travel right now, we have no one to watch our dogs" and "well, we just don't want to board them because they just don't do well in a kennel" are statements that we promised would never be said by us. With cats, this isn't a problem. Our cats have a self feeder. They have a water dispenser. They have a much used litter box (our kittens were 2 months old when we got them and were already litter box trained). We can feel free and confident to go away for two or three days and not worry about them.

Now, about those allergies we spoke of earlier. Funny thing about allergies: the more exposure that you have to an allergen, the more your body is able to begin developing a resistance to it. The first day we brought the kittens home, there were some stuffy noses and itchy eyes. As you can imagine, we immediately started the Zyrtec. Since then, however, nearly everyone's allergies, including mine, have died down. Only one kid is still on the allergy meds, and he's always been on them due to his asthma. So those worries have all but faded.

Now, there are some health hazards that go with having kittens. There is always the threat of attack and bodily harm. Kittens attack everything. And I do mean everything. I have watched them walk right up to a blank wall and attack it. When we brought them home, I warned the kids while we were still in the car that they would be scratched and bitten constantly and not to freak out about it. They have since found out just what I was talking about. They really don't hurt when they attack, but the surprise of having a pair of sharp teeth and sharp claws going into your leg while you are at the dinner table can certainly be unsettling!

This last picture is our kittens, in their sleep mode. You see, kittens have two modes: attack and sleep. There is no middle ground. To commemorate this wondrous discovery, I've written a psalm that I'd like to share:

The Kitten Psalm
by Tim Blake

1. These are my kittens, they shall attack.
2. They attack green pastures, they attack still waters, and anything else that may or may not move.
3. They are trying to my soul. When I am on the path of righteousness, they attack me.
4. When I am in the valley of the shadow of death, they attack me. The rod and the staff, they attack those as well.
5. They attack the table prepared in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows because they attacked it and made it spill. Thou cannot anoint my head with oil because they are busy attacking my hair.
6. Goodness and mercy are too frightened to follow me on any of the days of my life for fear of being attacked by the kittens.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

The power of I'm Sorry (Drama part 1)

Every day we hear terms like "stand up for yourself" and "fight for your rights" but we seldom hear any talk of making an apology. As I look back on my nearly 15 years as a military spouse, I've had the unfortunate "privilege" to watch many friendships end and to see people who were acquaintances become enemies.

The causes of these rifts are as diverse as the people involved in them. Often, the issues are minor. At other times, there are serious concerns. Ask yourself this: have you ever been a part of a fight or argument that simmered for days, weeks, even years? I know that I have. I also know that I was the cause of many, if not most, of those problems. And in every case, I had to make a decision as to whether or not I would be the one to ask for forgiveness.

My wife and I are well acquainted with the words "I'm sorry". That's because we are constantly reinforcing it in our children. When one of my kids gets in trouble for doing something out of line to one of his/her siblings we require them to tell the other that they are sorry. Further, the kid who was hurt is expected to forgive. The most fascinating part of watching these interactions play out is that when the they forgive their brother or sister, they don't just say the words; they truly move on. They don't look back a day or so later and say "remember what you did to me yesterday?" They have this natural ability to let it go and move on.

The truth is, though, we aren't kids. The hurts that we experience at the hands of others are real, they are painful, and they have lasting effects. What's more, our actions that we feel are justified can have far reaching consequences and affect the lives of others much more deeply than we imagined. And while we love to quote the old saying that there are "always two sides to an argument," we forget that there really is another side to the argument that we are involved in. It's a sobering realization that comes when we realize that we've wounded another person in an effort to prove that we are right.

This is where the power of I'M SORRY comes in. A heartfelt apology can take the sting out of a wound that we've inflicted. It's like drawing out the poison in a snake bite, except that we were the snake that did the biting. It is a demonstration to the other person that we realize what we've done, or may have done, and we're sorry for it. Saying we're sorry is one of the hardest things that we can do. It means we have to swallow down our pride and ask someone to forgive us. It means that whether or not we were right or wrong no longer matters. It means we value the feelings and friendship of another person more highly than we value being right.

It is easy to expect someone else to make the first move. It relieves us of the burden of being vulnerable and asking for another's forgiveness. Too many people in this world feel that to apologize would show weakness. In point of fact, it shows inner strength, maturity, and wisdom. It has the power to heal, to make amends, to put things right between you and another. We need to ask ourselves what is more important: our egos or our relationships. You see, at the end of the day, our egos don't get us anywhere and don't do anything for us. Friendships, however, can last forever.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Silly things that matter

My wife has now been home from deployment for a year and a half. We haven't had any separations lasting more than a week or two since December of 2011. You'd think that many of the things that helped me get through those too-frequent separations would be things of the past now that she's been home for so long. And yet, I still find that some very inconsequential (at least as far as my life is concerned) and silly (in terms of their impact on my life) things are still special to me. They have a connection that harkens back to how the kids and I not only coped with the deployments, but OWNED them!

This time of year saw my wife deployed twice in a row. When she was gone the first time, we made visits to the pool a part of our ironclad, set-in-stone daily routine for the Summer. We went to the pool whether we wanted to or not. Of course, all of us were deeply tanned by the end of Summer! And now, here we are, 3 years removed from that first Summer all by ourselves, and we are still doing the same thing. Why? I'm not totally sure. Getting the kids outside and getting them some exercise in the blazing heat doesn't leave many options. That said, it just seems like going to the pool every day is what we are supposed to be doing, that if we didn't go, we'd somehow be doing things wrong.

Beyond the daily pool visits, my connection with things that shouldn't matter but do get's even more strange. Take Wimbledon, for example. I like tennis, but I've never been an avid watcher or much of a fan of it. But back in 2010, still a month or two out from our reunion with my wife, the kids and I were cleaning house. Between vacuuming rooms, I would stop and watch a bit of ESPN. Wimbledon was on. I remember being fascinated by the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut that lasted more than 11 hours over 2 days. The kids and I watched it off an on over those two days, just to see what would happen (Isner defeated Mahut 70-68 in the 5th set!). We then got drawn into Wimbledon over the next week and enjoyed it. Three years later, here I am feeling that pull to watch it again, savoring that feeling of the nearing end of a deployment. As I said, Wimbledon had never really mattered to me before 2010. Now, though, there's a connection, and in a small way, it matters.

June and July of 2010 saw us settled into our new home at Fort Bragg. My wife wouldn't be home until the end of July. Up to that point, we'd been living in Savannah, GA with my parents. But once Summer arrived, we moved on and got settled. For the first time, it was just us. Many of those nights we would stay up and watch a movie, like a Pixar flick. At least two of my kids would fall asleep on the floor of our living room, but that didn't matter. We were "breaking the rules" by staying up late and watching a movie, something their mommy probably wouldn't approve of. But since it was just us, and since we had nowhere to be the next day (except, of course, the pool!), I couldn't see a reason not to do it. Once again, here we are 3 years later in the Summer and the kids and I find ourselves starting movies around 9 pm (with the same two still falling asleep on the floor...). Once again, it just feels like this is something that we should be doing, something that just feels right. Even though my wife never joins us in the late night adventures (she has to get up EARLY for PT), she allows us this guilty pleasure!

These three examples, plus many more I'm sure, are part of the nostalgia that I feel for those days when we discovered that going through a deployment didn't mean we had to suffer or "just make it". We learned that we could thrive and grow during that time. Those little things, however inconsequential they may be, still matter. They are a testament of a family that refused to be beaten during a deployment. We learned so much about ourselves during those times; Summer pool days, Wimbledon, and late night movies form a connection back to those discoveries. They are reminders that no matter what lies ahead, we can face it and rise above it. So I embrace a tennis tournament that I'm not at all interested in but feel drawn to watch. We go to the pool every day and remember what it meant to us during those lonely days of 2010 and 2011. And we stay up late and watch movies together even though it's no longer "just us" because we still forge and sharpen those deep bonds that were formed during those deployments. In the end, things likely mean very little to anyone else. But to us, they are prized memories and traditions that will last for many years to come.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What are you waiting for?

This past weekend, our family had the opportunity to attend an Army Strong Bonds retreat. This wasn't our first time going, but it was definitely our favorite of all of them. If you've never been to one, then please read on and let me tell you about them.

The Army Strong Bonds program is designed to help military families remain strong and resilient in the face of deployments and pressures that we have faced over the last decade. They are usually held at a resort type hotel. And while they are run by the Army's Chaplains Corps, it really doesn't have any kind of religious flavor to it. Families are encouraged to bring their children and child care is always offered. Typically, you arrive on a Friday evening for a 2 hour session with your spouse. For every retreat we've been on, the child care has a separate room with plenty of workers; you check your kids in and then go to your class. Depending on the size of the retreat, there can be anywhere from 20 to 40 families. Most of your meals for the weekend are covered. There is always free time and usually there is child care offered during part of that free time so that you can spend some time alone with your spouse.

For our trip this past weekend, we were at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX (adjacent to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport). To me, it is the perfect setting. I mean, who doesn't want to spend a weekend at a hotel with a giant indoor water park and have nearly all of your expenses covered??? We had plenty of time over the weekend to play in the park along with the sessions that we attended. The meals were great and we had absolutely no complaints.

Usually, the sessions that you attend are focused on ways to strengthen your family. And while there are several different curriculums that are taught, the one we had was called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Military Families. Activities throughout the session are designed to show you ways of dealing with the ups and downs of being a military family. Of all of the curriculums that we've used over the years, this was definitely the best. It was very practical and extremely useful.

Here's the thing: there are tons of stressors on our military families these days. We're being told that deployments are going to slow down, but with our changing world, there's no real guarantee that will happen. Add to that the long hours that our soldiers work and the stress that they are under each day, and you can imagine the strain that our families can come under.

The Army finally began to realize what was happening to our families 7 or 8 years ago. It began to realize that in order to have an effective, stable fighting force it needed to have strong, stable families behind those soldiers. Soldiers don't reenlist and stay in if their families aren't happy. Strong Bonds is part of that effort. There have been some tough times during the deployments we've faced over the last 4-5 years. But I've never felt like the Army didn't care about us during those times. Sure, there was a time when the mentality of "the Army didn't issue you a wife and children" held sway. Those days, however, are gone. The truth is, our senior leadership actually does care about the overall health of our military families.

The Army isn't alone in this effort. The Navy and Marines have what's called CREDO, and the Air Force, while not having an over arching service wide program, provides services and retreats put on by individual bases that are very similar in nature to Strong Bonds. With all of these resources being offered to our military families, there's no reason why any military family shouldn't take advantage of one of these retreats. So here's the question: what are you waiting for?

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Friday, January 11, 2013

The challenge of the military spouse

If there's one thing that's certain about life as a military spouse, it's the fact that nothing is for certain. Think about it: those of you who are military spouses...how many times before have your active duty spouses come home and told you that your family was moving to a given location only to have that change? Has there ever been a time when something on the calendar that had been there for months was discarded at the last moment due to the "chain of command"? Ever been told he/she was going to be home for a while only to deploy a few weeks later? As military spouses, we are adaptable by nature simply because we have to be. Nothing is ever really set in stone when it comes to our lives. We learn to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.
This is especially true when it comes to getting involved in a new place after we've moved. Military spouses are faced with the challenge of finding a place to belong, if only for a short period of time. We make friends with other military spouses quite easily because we have a common frame of reference. But what about the people in a given area who are permanent? The truth is finding close friends becomes a lot harder. We have to ask ourselves if we want to allow our emotions to take us from having several acquaintances to calling several people friends. We ask because we know, in the end, we'll be leaving. We are only here for a short period of time. In essence, we're temporary.

This doesn't just pertain to us. People have to decide whether or not they want to invest in us. They know, just as we do, that the time is coming soon when we won't be here any more. Sure, they'll get to know you. But, more times than not, they simply choose not to go too deeply with you because of the possibility of pain that is attached to a goodbye. It is easier to keep a relationship superficial and hold us at arms length rather than to get too close and experience loss.

Living in San Angelo, I know that my time here will come to a definite end at some point in the very near future. Keeping that in mind, I have to ask my self if really going deep with someone in a friendship is worth the pain of loss involved when we move again. I've been privileged to get to know so many people who weren't associated with the military in the 14 years I've been a military spouse. That said, the number of those people that I've met that I would consider deep personal friends is tiny. Finding someone who is willing to risk hurt along with you is, frankly, exceedingly rare.

If there's one thing that I've learned over these past 14 years it's that folks in any given location are happy to get to know you but will nearly always invest in someone who isn't going away in a few years instead of us. Sometimes it comes as a disappointment, other times it comes as no surprise. It's probably the number one reason that military spouses list other military spouses as their closest friends. As I said above, we have a common frame of reference. We understand the each other. We already have so much in common that developing real friendships comes naturally. We rely on each other to get through.
I remember when my wife was deployed to Afghanistan and I lived in Savannah with my folks. I was the only military spouse within miles of where we lived. There was no one around who had a clue what it was like to go through a year long deployment, one where your soldier spouse is in a combat zone and in real danger each and ever day. For 10 months I dealt with the fears and worries of that deployment alone, with no one who could relate. Then, with 2 months to go, we moved back to Fort Bragg into a house on post. I found myself surrounded by no less than 4 spouses who were going through EXACTLY the same thing. We immediately bonded, and even though we've all moved on to other duty stations, I still look at them as not just people I know, but as friends for life.

Each time we move we once again face the challenge of meeting new people and trying to get involved. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we give up and just bide our time until the next PCS comes around. We live a bit of a nomadic existence, and yet, it's a life that few of us would trade. Given the chance to do it over again, I wouldn't trade any of it. I bought into this life when we got married and I'm here to stay. Yes, we face challenges wherever we go in terms of finding a "home". Truthfully, I've yet to find a place where I could say "yep, this is HOME." That said, my life is richer from the process. I think of all I would have missed if I'd never made this my life. Sure, there are challenges. But the rewards are always better.

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