Sheila Casey on Finding Balance in the Military

Military spousePlease welcome guest blogger, veteran military spouse and BSF Advisory Board member, Sheila Casey.

I have been a military spouse for 39 years. During that time I have experienced all the same things each one of you have…raising a family, moving, deployments, reintegration, children changing schools, volunteering and making lifelong friendships. It has not always been easy but I would not change a moment of it. I say that now although there were days when I thought differently. When military life became difficult it was easy to think “enough” but then I would figure my way through it and get on with life.

What I realized is that I needed something that was mine. I could not live my life through my husband and I needed something in addition to the Army. I knew that one day my husband would retire and that the military part of my life would end. I needed something that would continue. The big question was what. Continue reading

You Are a Seller in a Buyer’s Market: A Resume Can Be a Viable Tool to Secure an Interview

soldBy Christine Brugman, MAOM
MSCCN European Applicant & Military Installations’ Liaison

A Résumé Can Be a Viable Marketing Tool to Secure an Interview

No one likes writing their résumé. It catalogs and records what we’ve done, how we’ve done it, and what the results were from doing it, not from a purely historical perspective but rather an indicator of what we can bring to a new employer. Sound easy? Not particularly, but it can viewed as the single most important vehicle to securing your next job interview, and as such, a great opportunity for you to sell or market yourself to potential employers. To do this successfully, attention to detail is imperative when drafting and assembling your résumé as well as focusing on writing for your audience and not for yourself.

The first quarter of the first page of your résumé is the most important space in the document. This is the area that attracts the reader’s initial eye contact and interest. An individual will spend 10‐20 seconds reading this section and will eventually make a premature decision as to whether the candidate is worthy of being scheduled for an interview. Therefore, it’s essential to make yourself visible to and win the additional attention from the reader by presenting your most powerful and unique parts while also covering what a recruiter is looking for in a candidate. Make your readers’ eyes stop by giving them something that catches their attention!

Your name is important. Don’t allot the same font size to your name as you do with your contact information. Some writers suggest that this may give a frail or feeble impression to the reader when they are looking for a sharp and powerful presentation of you. Making your name the most visible part of your résumé links your name with all of the accomplishments and achievements that follow.

“LadysMan75 ” is not considered a professional email user name. Use a variation of your full name to display on your résumé such as “Jane.Doe@email.com”. Most email servers provide the ability to have more than one email address. If you lack a professional email address, it would be wise to create one to present to a prospective employer.

Don’t just list your skills; get the reader interested by getting specific. Details ring true. Justify your skills mentioned in your powerful profile by providing specific achievements and elaborating on your skill sets within your Professional Experience or Employment areas. You have already listed your strengths in your profile, now you have to detail what the benefits of those strengths are while aiming to avoid clichés and overused phrases within your descriptions. Recruiters almost always count on candidates putting an enormous spin on their credentials to make themselves look good, so justify all.

Your work experience has to fulfill the expectations of the profile. Review the posted job description that you are applying for, find key qualifications, and then decide which of them most clearly resembles your strongest competencies. Key word use is vital especially when the organization uses talent management software to digitally scan applicant résumés. Using key words can increase the chances of your résumé being assigned the right level of desirability or even come to the attention of the right person.

Market your performance and professional achievements. You don’t have to be in a position of authority to achieve something in the workplace worth being proud of and discussed. This could incorporate an Employee of the Month status, exceeding your performance goals, diffusing an irate customer, saving the company money, or making a tough sale. Your achievements, in conjunction with your employment details, should also fulfill and incorporate the expectations of your profile.

Sell yourself with action words to show just how capable and qualified you are. Stay away from use of passive statements like “responsible for” or “duties included”. Action words can enhance an otherwise bland resume by vibrantly demonstrating your competencies and skill set. Steer clear of overusing these “action” words in your descriptions.

Before submitting your resume, review and make any necessary changes to deal‐breaker elements
such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation consistency. As this is a given to those seeking résumé assistance, it is also one of the most frequent deal breakers when it comes to the applicant’s demonstration of accuracy and attention to detail. Know the difference between “their”, “there”, and “they’re”; add periods to the end of each bullet point or don’t – just make sure it is consistent within the document; ensure tense agreement, and have someone else proofread it before you hit “send”. An extra pair of eyes doesn’t hurt.

Keep in mind that the recruiter is not looking at your resume to hire a professional résumé writer, so the résumé is not going to win you the position of your dreams… you are. Take the time to take active steps in finding the position that you are looking for ‐Network, make some phone calls, research prospective employers, ask questions, volunteer. These activities, along with using your résumé as a marketing tool, will open up new opportunities for you to find a company who will want you for exactly who you are and what you have to offer. Your task is to get out there and find it!

The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) is a private sector designated 501(C)(3) public charity in good standing with the IRS. MSCCN specializes in creative employment solutions and vocational training for all military spouses, Veterans, War Wounded and primary Caregivers to War Wounded. MSCCN holds MOUs with the  Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. The MSCCN operates at no cost to military spouses, Veterans, War Wounded and Caregivers to War Wounded.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…REVAMP, REVAMP, REVAMP!

resumeby Cachet B. Prescott, MA, Applied Psychology, MA, Sociology, Adjunct Faculty Member, Park University and MSCCN Education Liaison.

From our friends at MSCCN.

For those in job search mode, the process can sometimes prove to be daunting and even downright disheartening at times. You send out what seems like a million cover letters and resumes for jobs that you know you are qualified to do but get no responses. Please realize that you are not alone. I’ve been in that place way more times than I can count, and it’s not fun.

If the job search is not going the way you hoped it would, it may be time to re-evaluate and see if there is something that may need to be tweaked on your end. Start with your cover letters and resumes. Though we put great effort into drafting these pieces, our information is not always as up to par as we may think it is. Speaking from personal experience, I have learned that you have to treat the cover letter and resume writing process as if they were research papers being submitted for a grade. I learned this lesson the hard way, and here’s my story…

Two years ago, there was an opening for a Director position at a university on the base where we were stationed. With my background in higher education, serving as an adjunct instructor for that school, and having learned about the job from the current Director herself (who was PCSing with her husband), I thought I was at least a shoo-in for an interview (if not the job itself). I quickly whipped up my resume, made a few applicable changes here and there, and submitted it to the contact person. Days went by, and I hadn’t heard a word. Normally, I would not have been too concerned but I knew the school was trying to fill the position immediately so I e-mailed the contact person to see where things were. I received a generic e-mail back saying that she had received my e-mail and if my qualifications matched what they were looking for, she would call me for an interview. I knew I was qualified so I waited. Well, after a few weeks had gone by, I found out that the new Director had been hired because she contacted adjunct instructors about our Fall courses. All I could think was, “How did I not even get an interview?!?!  I know I can do that job!”

A year later, the current Director informed me that she and her husband were PCSing, and her position would be vacant. I took the cover letter and resume that I had submitted before, made a few more changes and updates, and submitted my information for consideration once again. Just as before, they were trying to fill this position as soon as possible so I thought it would only be a matter of time before I was called for an interview. And just as before, I ended up e-mailing and then calling the contact person for the position. I received yet another generic e-mail and the run-of-the-mill response when I spoke with her:  we received your information and will call you if we’re interested. I never got that call.

After my second rejection, that very same position opened up for the third time in three years. The current Director told me about it, and the other staff members asked me if I was going to apply again. I gave them a resounding “No” and went about my business. I simply could not take the rejection again.

My family and I ended up PSCing two months later. When we arrived at our current base, I was on the job hunt once again. After almost two months of searching, a friend told me that the Director position at the same institution would be opening at this base. What are the odds? I figured I might as well apply; I had nothing to lose. This time, though, I handled the application process a bit differently. I researched cover letters and resumes for similar positions on the Internet. I followed my research with an “Extreme Makeover:  Cover Letter and Resume Edition” by doing a total overhaul on my information including changing the font, adding and eliminating information, switching to a more appropriate resume format, and shortening my cover letter to a great degree. After my revisions, I e-mailed it to a friend who was the last person to hold the Director position at the same institution at our last base. I figured that she landed the position before so she could give me helpful tips on what the contact person will be looking for in a cover letter and resume. I included her suggestions in my information, had her look over everything once more, and finally, applied for the job. I got an e-mail the very next day requesting an interview (from the very same person who did not give me a second thought the first two times I applied for the position) and started the job only five days later! The friend who told me about the job also applied for the other open position in the same office. I was able to help her by editing her resume and sharing my interview tips. Lo and behold, she also got the job and started six days after I did.

The bottom line is that no matter how much faith you have in your abilities to do a job, both your cover letter and resume must positively reflect what you’re bringing to the table. In my case, my cover letter was overrun with unnecessary information and probably served as a deterrent for consideration for the position. I was trying to put everything in it to show that I was qualified and did not allow it to simply serve as an intriguing preview to my resume (which is where my qualifications should show). Refreshing my resume made my information easier to read and showed why I was the right person for the job. Using my friendship network as a resource also proved extremely beneficial. If it weren’t for one friend, I would have never known about the opening, and using another friend as a second set of eyes allowed me to see things that I hadn’t considered. Though it may require more time on your part, doing these simple things can be the difference between hoping for an interview and actually getting one.

The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) is a private sector designated 501(C)(3) public charity in good standing with the IRS.  MSCCN specializes in creative employment solutions and vocational training for all military spouses, Veterans, War Wounded and primary Caregivers to War Wounded.  MSCCN holds MOUs with the  Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.  The MSCCN operates at no cost to military spouses, Veterans, War Wounded and Caregivers to War Wounded.

War’s Silent Stress: The Family at Home

depressionWar’s Silent Stress: The Family at Home originally appeared on the Opinion page of the Virginian Pilot on August 9, 2009.

MUCH LIKE the news of servicemen killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, last month’s news of the death of a military spouse at Ft. Bragg made only local headlines.

A 40-year-old Army wife, who was four months pregnant, was found dead of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The woman had called 911 with threats of hurting herself, but the police arrived too late. Her husband is an Army sergeant who worked in Civil Affairs and had been deployed multiple times.

When the news broke, there was a short burst of e-mail traffic among the leadership of Blue Star Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of military spouses working to promote awareness of the myriad issues facing today’s military families.

“I don’t know why I find this so surprising but the story says she was 40,” wrote the wife of a Special Forces NCO. “I guess I assumed that someone in that state of despair would be younger — like maybe she’d have better coping skills at 40.”

The majority of the Blue Star Families members are veterans of three, four and five deployments, and at least one member has endured eight deployments in the past seven years. Often these deployments last well beyond a year, as anniversaries, holidays, births and birthdays tick by, never to be celebrated together.

My husband, a recently retired Marine Corps officer, deployed only once in the five years we have been married. A difficult seven months, but it was, after all, only one deployment.

Post-conflict disorder and depression are being addressed by our military for the service members who return from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the effects of these deployments on spouses and families are just beginning to get some attention. While statistics on depression and mental illness among military spouses are not available, some Blue Star members are openly surprised that suicide among the spouses of deployed troops is not more prevalent. In fact, the stereotypical overwhelmed military spouse is 19 to 22 years old, the wife of a junior enlisted service member, whose ranks make up almost 44 percent of our active duty military. Many of these spouses have very young children, are far removed from extended family, are on a limited and usually single income — approximately $1,500 per month for a family of four — and few have the coping skills that come with age and experience. But mental health experts remind us that depression knows no boundaries — not age, income level or military rank.

Sadly, last month’s tragedy was not an isolated incident, though news stories about suicides can be hard to find because many media outlets honor an old journalism standard of not reporting suicides. On Nov. 28, 2006, police in Fayetteville, N.C., discovered a 39-year-old mother and her two children dead inside the family car. The mother had killed herself and her two young children with carbon monoxide poisoning. Although no one knows what went through her mind when she climbed inside the vehicle and strapped her two children into their car seats, the military wife had a history of postpartum depression. Nonetheless, she was described as a positive and upbeat woman who mostly kept to herself. Her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, had been deployed to Iraq just two months before, just after the birth of the couple’s daughter.

A few members of Blue Star Families’ leadership have admitted to being treated for depression. One member said that the combination of her husband’s three recent heavy-combat tours to the dangerous Helmand Province of Afghanistan and the stress of taking care of two young children led her to deep despair, thoughts of suicide and hopelessness and, eventually, to a depression diagnosis and a prescription for Wellbutrin.

She described how military spouses get addicted to news reports during deployments, despite knowing the information will make them miserable. The Internet allows the family to catch every bit of reporting on the area where their soldier, Marine, airman or sailor is deployed. This has the effect of almost putting the spouse into combat with them. “There is nothing as intense as doing a Google search to find out if the love of your life, the father of your children, is dead or alive,” she said. While the family member can be literally paralyzed with worry, she also must raise kids, work, pay bills and deal with the sometimes infuriating and insensitive comments of civilians around her.

Officers and senior NCO’s are trained to detect Combat Stress Disorder in their men and women serving in combat. Often a precursor to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a crippling mental state, the men or women who show signs of combat stress are given rest, a good hot meal, a DVD or book and a strong verbal reminder that they are going back into the fight after their short break. Unlike the military, their spouses are not trained to detect symptoms of depression, burn-out or what another generation called “combat fatigue” — in themselves or each other.

Thankfully, much already is being done to help military families. There is a push for more mental health counselors on bases. Teams of Military Family Life Consultants funded by the Department of Defense are available to all services. They provide counseling to service members and their families, and there is no chain of command notification and no paperwork. Nonetheless, many spouses — even in the Blue Star leadership — have never heard of these services.

In addition, studies are beginning to surface about Secondary PTSD — a mental health issue that has been lurking around in this country since at least the Vietnam War. Secondary PTSD has shown up when the spouse and/or family respond to their changed environment with anger, substance abuse or violence, replacing a peaceful and loving home life. Repeatedly, Blue Star Families have found with so many of the good programs out there, the challenge is letting families know what is available.

Now more than ever, communication is key. As media reports query the long range effects of multiple deployments on children, and with the increased awareness for detecting and treating PTSD in our military, it is time to close the loop on mental health and our military families and begin talking about the potentially harmful effects of repeated longterm deployments on the spouses of our service members.

Civilian or military, the first step to help for depression is talking about it.

Rosemary Freitas Williams is a director of communications for Alexandria-based Blue Star Families, whose members on 70 military bases work to educate those who make decisions about military life and its unique challenges.

A Peace Sign

IMG_6831Welcome, Allison Buckholtz, author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War.  She lives in the Washington, DC suburbs with her two young children; her husband is currently serving a 12-month deployment in the Middle East. (Originally published at Alison’s Deployment Diary on Double X.)

“What are you drawing?” I asked my son Ethan, as he swirled paint on paper one quiet afternoon at our house.

“A welcome home sign,” he answered.

“For who?”

“For Daddy.”

Ethan is 6 years old, and though he has a sly sense of humor, he doesn’t yet appreciate irony. So I couldn’t laugh, even though my husband Scott, an active-duty Navy pilot, left for a year-long assignment in Iraq just two days ago. With training and travel, Scott will be away close to 14 months, so Ethan’s welcome home sign comes about 410 days too early. I didn’t tell him that, of course. If he can find solace through art, or anything constructive, I’m thrilled. It’s better than crying for four hours straight, as he did the night Scott left.

There are, of course, many well-developed, crafty strategies for military kids to count down to a parent’s homecoming from deployment. In my circle of moms, the paper chain is popular: Basically, you and your kid cut out one colorful strip for every day of the servicemember’s absence, tape each into a link, then connect all the links together and string them across the room. You remove one link every morning to mark the approaching homecoming hug.

My husband got home barely a year ago, and his last stint lasted seven months. Before that deployment, the idea of a 216-link paper chain horrified me; the last thing I wanted to do was enumerate the endless number of days. I felt strongly that my kids’ emotional health rested on precisely the fact that they didn’t know exactly how long they’d be apart from Daddy.

I did briefly consider the jar of chocolate kisses, a new tactic for getting through deployment that’s making the rounds among military wives. You buy several bags of Hershey’s kisses, count out one for each day of the deployment, and place them in a jar. Every morning when you and the children wake up, start your day with a kiss, as if your deployed loved one was there to greet you.

But even that one seemed suspect to me. Ours is the kind of house in which Halloween candy doesn’t last ‘til breakfast the next day. I didn’t doubt my capacity to devour 400 kisses on a lonely night, so I did myself a favor and discarded this feels-a-little-too-good strategy before I ended up like a Cathy cartoon.

Since I’m a writer, I thought that perhaps Ethan might discover an outlet for his feelings by putting them on paper. I tried this during my husband’s last deployment, when Ethan, then 4 and a half, was in the throes of classic dad’s-on-deployment symptoms: depressed, angry and withdrawn, a mockery of his best self. As I wrote in my memoir, Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War, I asked him to draw his feelings, and he tore the pencil through the paper, ripping it to shreds. One morning, I told him that I would write a letter to Daddy from him if he told me what to say. Here’s what he dictated:

Dear Daddy,

I wish you were home right now. I really miss you. I’m crying right this second and I’m holding my shirt over my face. I wish you were home right now. I really really love you. Please tell the driver of the aircraft carrier to stop the boat.

My dream was about you leaving home. You were in bed and other people rang the doorbell and took you away and me and Esther [my daughter] were pulling you back and you had to drive away and we followed you but couldn’t find you and I cried and cried and cried.

That is all done.

love,

Ethan

Multiple military studies detail the experiences of military children with deployed parents, and the way that parents’ stress levels affect their children. Although one Army-sponsored study concludes that “military children and adolescents exhibit levels of psychopathology on par with children of civilian families,” it acknowledges that military children face “significant life challenges” not shared by their civilian peers. Boys with a war-deployed father may suffer especially frequent “emotional, behavioral, sex-role, and health problems,” according to one particularly influential Army study.

I wasn’t a military kid, and both of my parents were deeply involved and ever-present in nearly every aspect of my childhood, so it’s daunting for me to put myself in my son’s place. I know he misses his father, and I know he’s in pain, but at his age, he doesn’t articulate the details. Instead, I just have to watch him closely for the changes in his behavior. Like amateur sleuths, we military moms constantly scan our kids for clues to their state of mind. Is he acting up? Throwing food? Saying odd things? If we suspect deployment is the source, we start calling therapists, or carving out more one-on-one time, or searching for appropriate books to read. These strategies work for some people, but I haven’t yet found the foolproof one.

This welcome home business is coming entirely too early. So how do I break it to my kid, fresh blue paint splattered on his cheek, that our countdown hasn’t even reached the one-year mark yet?

Turns out I didn’t have to worry.

Ethan was quiet for a moment as he surveyed his swirls, which had morphed into something considerably more abstract than a homecoming banner. I wondered, as I so often do, what he was thinking.

“I changed my mind,” my boy finally said. “It’s not a welcome home sign. It’s a peace sign.”

Photograph of Ethan courtesy of the author.

Pennsylvania BSF Meets with Shinseki and Sestak

SestakPlease welcome guest blogger, BSF, Veterans Co-Coordinator, Jim White.

There are over 6,000 Penna guard members returning home from long tours in the Middle East.  Today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, BSF had the opportunity to discuss the health care available to our Active Duty, Pa. National Guard and Reserve members with the Secretary of the VA., General Shinseki, and Congressman Joe Sestak.

It’s clear to this advocate their dedication to these matters are most important.   Gen. Shinseki asked BSF to send him a copy of BSF’s national survey of military families to review with his committees. And I will send it out to his office and Congressman Sestak’s office today.

ShinsekiRep. Sestak’s office handled over 2,000 cases this year alone from family members of military service members, three times the national average. Both Rep. Sestak and Gen. Shinseki leaders are in tune with the needs of family members and both want to hear from us. I believe this as both looked me direct in the eyes and made it a point to let me know I should connect with them if BSF ever needs assistance in Pennsylvania, or across the nation.

Jim WhiteBSF family also assisted with the second annual veterans transition stand down this past Saturday. Assisting over 200 plus transitions of veterans, Guard and Reserves. Pictured is the wing commander and Sr. Jag officer at the 911 air wing outside Pittsburgh who volunteered on this 90 degree day. Already today I got call from the Base MWR officer wanting to know how they can help with our Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces in Western Pa.

Building bridges, and sharing the pride of service in the BSF traditions in Pa.,

I remain, VR. Jim white-BSF-Pittsburgh, Pa.

My Visit with Senator Warner

ASYMCA posterPlease welcome guest poster and BSF daughter, Sophie. Sophie attended our meeting with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia in D.C. earlier this year. Sophie is a proud Marine Daughter and about to enter 6th grade.

Sophie drew the award winning piece to the left and it was displayed in the U.S. Capitol building earlier this year.

On May 13, 2009, my mother and I visited Senator Warner. We were there with about 8 other people. The reason for our presence was because we were part of a group called Blue Star Families. We were talking to Senator Warner because he was going to visit troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and wanted to talk to military families first to learn about our issues.

I was very excited (as you can guess) to be meeting a Senator. When we got there we waited for Senator Warner and other members of our group. When he came I was surprised for I didn’t expect a Senator to be so energetic and full of sympathy.   He kept saying he couldn’t believe how people haven’t done more to help military families all ready. Then we started talking.

We went around the table and everybody shared their experiences. There were stories about how the children thought that their dads lived on the training field, and stories about how Blue Star Families helped one of the ladies whose husband was in the reserves, and didn’t know any other military families before she joined it.  I told a story about how my little brother, when he was three years old and my dad was deployed would go searching around the house at night for my dad.  But the thing that helped him the most was the candy –people would send us letters and candy in the mail.

Senator_Warner_w_BSF_DSC_5734Warner was extremely supportive and was a very good listener.  He added bits in every now and then of sympathy or to encourage us.  I told my mom that one day it would be nice to see him again.

I got to see Senator Warner by coincidence.  I happened to be in town because I won a contest that the Armed Services YMCA held for military children.  I made a poster of my family, and it won!  I got to go to a lunch at Congress and I won a $500 savings bond.  I know there are hard things about being a military child (like moving a lot – I’m going to go to my 7th school next year, and I’m going into 6th grade).  But there are good things too, like contests you can enter, and interesting people who will talk to you.  My mom is part of Blue Star Families, so when we heard that Senator Warner wanted to meet some Blue Star Family members in DC, and we would be in DC the same time, I was lucky and was able to go.

A Day to Remember: I Met the First Lady!

michelle and michelle 2After a long hot afternoon at the base pool with my Mom and my three kids, the whole crew staggered in the door tired, hungry, dripping, whining and dragging wet towels. As much as I would have liked to just collapse on the couch – on a towel of course – there was much to do: rinsing, changing, dinner to prepare, dog to walk, and a blinking answering machine to check. My sunscreen haze cleared as soon as I heard the insistent tone of the Naval station public affairs officer asking to call her back immediately. From her wording I could tell it was an opportunity and not an emergency but I also knew it was urgent from the multitude of potential numbers I was given to return her call.

I’ve gotten several incredible invitations since I was chosen as the 2009 Heroes at Home Military Spouse of the Year in May but what the PAO had to tell me iced the cake.

The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, was coming to town and, if I was available, would I like to meet her at the Naval Station? Ummm, let me check my schedule … OF COURSE I’m available and would like to meet her! It was to be confidential, I was told, and to wear church or business attire. That was all I knew – I didn’t know if it was a big group of spouses or just a few; I hadn’t a clue if it was a round-table discussion on military spouse issues or a handshake in passing; and most importantly, I had no idea what I was going to wear.

I go to church every Sunday and I work in an office every day, but somehow my closet and I didn’t seem prepared for such an exciting (and photographed) meeting. Two stressful hours at the mall with my hungry, cranky three children and I had the perfect dress. Read: one that would disguise all my body image issues and be one I could stand to look at in a picture frame for years to come.

By the time I was trying to think of a way to tell my boss I needed the day off without being able to tell her why, the visit had been announced briefly in the news and that hurdle was cleared. My husband also took time off to accompany me and was due home to change into his whites after morning PT. He came home late and limping after a “combat soccer” game but he brushed off my concern and we were soon on our way.

We met several other Navy spouses and their service members and mingled while waiting for instructions and a bus. Some were ombudsmen, some were senior officer spouses and a few were command master chief wives and they represented many of the Navy’s communities – surface, air, submarine, etc.

We boarded a bus for the short drive to Pennsylvania House, a scaled down replica of Independence Hall built in 1907 for the Jamestown Exposition, and after being screened by security, were ushered into the historic building to wait. Mrs. Obama arrived and went upstairs to meet with admirals and hear a brief on Fleet and Family Support services. I still didn’t know what to expect during the actual meeting but a Secret Service agent ushered us into another room with a backdrop, flags and masking tape “X’s” on the floor and said to sign in so our photos could be mailed to us.

I hoped it would be more than just a photo opportunity and suddenly the First Lady walked in, trailed by her photographer and staff, and said, “Hi, I guess we’re taking pictures,” and positioned herself on one of the X’s. I was toward the back of the line and we were all juggling each other’s cameras to take pictures of our own so we’d have them to email and post on our Facebook pages.

Michelle and MichelleI was pleasantly surprised to watch Mrs. Obama take the time to greet each of the wives, shake hands, and ask a question or two before the Secret Service returned their purses and ushered them out the door. This was not a political show, there was no media present. I panicked briefly, trying to think of something meaningful I could say in the time between shaking hands and saying “cheese.”

I needn’t have worried. The Secret Service agent announced my name and recent award to the First Lady and before I could even put out my hand, she’d enveloped me in a hug and a flurry of congratulations and conversation. She was very gracious and asked about our children, my husband’s recent deployments and joked about bringing her husband to mine’s command for a boat ride. A few photos later it was all over and we were back on the bus, but it was well worth the shopping, the worrying and the waiting.

We were all invited to hear the First Lady’s speech in honor of the Hospital Ship Comfort and Eisenhower Carrier Group homecoming. Our bus barely beat the motorcade and despite by husband’s injured ankle, struggled to keep up with him sprinting down the length of the pier in my heels. We joined the small crowd of media and sailors standing at attention for the National Anthem and Mrs. Obama’s remarks.

Politics aside, I think her efforts to raise awareness for the challenges of military life and encourage the country to continue to support our families can only be positive. Whatever the motivation or whether or not we voted for husband is irrelevant if the lives of military families can be improved and more families can be served. It was an honor to meet Michelle Obama and the morning was so special.

Epilogue: The rosy glow soon wore off though, and real life as a regular military family kicked back in when I changed out of my carefully selected dress and pearls and into shorts and flip flops to join the rest of the payday crowd at the commissary. My husband headed to the hospital to get his ankle checked out and returned home unable to help me unload the groceries – he was in a cast and on crutches.

Michelle Galvez is a Navy spouse, ombudsman and mother. She resides with her family in Hampton Roads, Virginia. A writer, volunteer and administrative coordinator for FOCUS (www.focusproject.org), Michelle is a proud member of Blue Star Families.

Negativity in the Work Place

Business womanBy Deb Kloeppel, CEO, MSCCN

As a nonprofit CEO and keynote speaker, I travel nationwide to military installations performing workshops and seminars on topics that include creative career solutions and career management. As impressive as those subjects are, I’m always surprised to discover what military spouses truly WANT to talk about, especially those who are currently employed or were previously employed.

Several spouses have asked me about how to deal with bullies in the workplace, how to maintain professional etiquette, how to resolve conflicts on a team or in an office, how to cope with difficult clients and aggressive coworkers, and how to avoid office politics.

Do you notice a resounding theme here? Military spouses want to know how to resolve, mediate, handle, and control conflict and difficulty.  Employers seek this type of worker to lead projects and teams…believe me.

Why is the ability to resolve conflict so important in the workplace? Professional bullies and passive-aggressive coworkers or team members become liabilities and de-motivators, demeaning the value of the heart-and-soul dedication most workers value and display. Whether the product involves a financial audit or a widget that’s sold on HSN – a bully in YOUR work environment zaps ALL of the joy and enthusiasm you’ve earned when your task is completed.

The residual effects and lasting feeling of day-to-day dread when forced to deal with a slacker, bully, passive-aggressive coworker, or a difficult boss can lead to health problems, depression, and lack of joy.

Notice, I placed slackers in the same category as bullies. A slacker can cause irreparable damage to an employer’s bottom line. Overt bullies and covert slackers are both negative influences.

As an employer, I’d rather reign in an over-enthusiastic staff member than have to “motivate” a slacker every day of the week.

Slackers, in my opinion, are the WORSE type of bully in the workplace. Slackers are normally the “nicest” person on the team and yet possess the ability to slow the workflow down to a halt. How are they able to do this?

Studies have shown that slackers are often master manipulators who utilize a passive–aggressive approach on a team. They’re sugar-sweet to the boss and at the same time malign their boss to coworkers to throw off the workflow of the team. It is a classic case of misery loves company.

In short, slackers create personal drama on a team and within a project rather than face the fact they’re in over their heads professionally.

There are sure fire ways to deal with slackers, or bullies, or passive-aggressive coworkers, or difficult bosses. In the coming weeks I’ll provide proven tips and methods to keep you motivated and educated enough to weed this type of negative energy from your work environment so that you’re able to continue your peak performance at work and at home.

For now, here’s step one to rid yourself of negative energy created by people and coworkers in your life. Understand what passive–aggressive behavior is and how it effects YOU personally.

Determine what you can and cannot tolerate from passive–aggressive people, especially if this type of person has any type of influence over your work and home life.

Passive–aggressive behavior:

Passive-aggressive behavior is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. It is a defense mechanism, and (more often than not) only partly conscious. For example a worker when asked to organize a meeting might seemingly happily agree to do so, but will then take so long on each task in the process – offering excuses such as calls not being returned, or that the computer is too slow, or that things aren’t ready when the meeting is due to start – that a colleague is forced to hurriedly complete the task, lest the meeting be postponed.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Some common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder include:

  • Acting sullen
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Being inefficient on purpose
  • Blaming others
  • Complaining
  • Feeling resentment
  • Having a fear of authority
  • Having unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Procrastinating
  • Resisting other people’s suggestions

A person with this disorder may appear to comply with another’s wishes and may even demonstrate enthusiasm for those wishes. However, they:

  • Perform the requested action too late to be helpful
  • Perform it in a way that is useless
  • Sabotage the action to show anger that they cannot express in words

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000943.htm

As an employer, I’ve learned the hard way that NOTHING changes this type of behavior from a legal standpoint. Termination of the staff member’s contract is my only recourse. My first duty is to protect the rest of my team from this type of negativity.

What’s insidious about passive–aggressive bullying is the fact that workers who utilize this type of behavior are ALWAYS nice and sugar sweet to their coworkers. Departure of the “nice” person upsets the rest of the team at first. However, team members notice within a week or two that productivity levels shoot WAY up again and harmony is restored to the team once again.  That’s the hidden liability I talk about…..you truly never KNOW the amount of damage  passive–aggressive people can do within your work environment UNTIL they’re gone and/or removed from you personally and professionally.

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Detect a Passive–Aggressive Worker

Look for the 3 “Ps”

  1. Pout
  2. Procrastinate
  3. Practice Purposeful Inefficiency

Worker Passive-Aggression:

Attacks on the boss or other coworkers are not open, but hidden, and usually only noticed after some time of its happening. This delayed quality makes this kind of aggression difficult to spot, and more difficult to prevent. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse, which can take the form of:

  • Inability to complete work on-time or to quality goals;
  • Sloppy customer care, by applying irony, hostility or contempt;
  • Hoarding necessary information; isolating other co-workers;
  • Negative framing; gossiping; excessive complaining; verbal abuse;
  • Lack of accountability; sabotaging other people’s tasks; absenteeism

“Passive Aggressive in Workplace” by Knol Company

I am not alone in my belief to fire workers on the basis of their passive–aggressive manipulation of other team members. Bottom line for me – when a problem exists on any work team that prevents a mission or product to move forward due to the behavior of a staff member who’s negatively affecting other staff members….rid the team of the problem immediately.

How can coworkers deal with a bully of any type?

  1. Document, document, document! Write EVERY abuse down daily
  2. Learn what you’re company’s Conflict Resolution Policy is and utilize it fully
  3. If your company does not have a Conflict Resolution Policy – ask for alone time with your boss to discuss your written report.

If your bully is your boss and there isn’t anyone higher on the food chain in your professional life, find another job – truly. As difficult as it is for me to recommend, you have only two choices when dealing with a bully at the top: go to court or find another job. To protect your mental and physical health, look for another job.

If you discover that you are the one displaying negative behaviors in your workplace, ask for professional help. Your problem may not be true passive-aggression, but too much stress or a poor job-fit. DO NOT be a liability to others. You might find that changing jobs is better for you and the ones you leave behind.

I’ve quit a job due to a top dog bully – and I have to admit that I felt empowered leaving that job for my sanity’s sake.  Court cases are arduous, financially draining, and energy zapping. Leaving that bully boss helped me create my parameters of what I will and will not tolerate in the workplace and why I’ll never “work” for anyone else again. I do quite well on my own terms.

MSCCN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the employment, job placement  and vocational training needs of military spouses. To learn more about MSCCN please visit their website at http://www.msccn.org.

Duty on the Homefront

This essay by BSF Director of Programs, Casey Spurr, originally appeared in the May 29, 2009, issue of The Flagship.

momSome days I feel like I should be a better wife. Other days I believe I’m a completely inadequate mother. There are even times when I think I’m not very good at either. I know I’ve complained too often about not wanting my husband to leave yet again. I’ve put my son to bed a little too early just so I can cozy up on the couch for the latest episode of American Idol, admittedly a guilty pleasure. And I’ve quietly (okay, sometimes not so quietly) envied my husband for an occasional night out on the town with his squadron mates when he’s away simply because I don’t have the time or energy to do the same, forgetting that he would much rather be in my position – at home with our family.

I sometimes struggle to maintain our family schedule and all of the responsibilities that come with managing our home as my husband comes and goes. There are certainly days when I’m at the top of my game and I surprise even myself, but other days I simply just muddle through. I don’t always remember to pull the trash to the curb on Friday. We eat takeout far more often than I’d like. My 2-year-old has seen every episode of Curious George that PBS Kids has to offer, even though I’ve read enough to know he shouldn’t be watching television at all. And I keep meaning to get to that clean load of laundry that needs folding. I just can’t seem to move it to the top of my list of priorities. It might mean I’d have to skip my shower today, and frankly, those fifteen minutes of daily solitude have become a personal luxury that is simply nonnegotiable in my mind. Pulling an outfit from the clean load of laundry seems like a reasonable alternative to me.

But the reality is, for all of my shortcomings, I’m doing the best I can. I’ve never promised to be perfect, but I have promised to give it my all. I want nothing more in life than to be the best wife and mother I can possibly be. Perhaps that’s a bit old-fashioned, but it’s really all I want. Sure, I have dreams separate from my family – I’d love to write a book, complete that graduate degree I’ve been talking about for far too long, travel more internationally – but ultimately, I will feel the most successful if I am a good wife and mother. And I’m trying. I really am. I may not always get it right, but it isn’t for lack of effort.

What I’ve learned is that as military spouses, we can’t do it all – and no one expects us to (except ourselves, of course). When we stop chiding ourselves for the dishes we didn’t do or the fact that we got our kids to school a few minutes late, we can learn to accept that we’re doing the best we can. Perhaps then we can remember that making time for ourselves is important, too. We must accept that we simply can’t do everything and still maintain our sanity. And that’s okay.

I was on the phone with a dear friend this week as she simultaneously discovered she had a week-old container of yogurt in her purse and had forgotten to throw away a dirty diaper she had changed in the car that morning. I could hear the frustration in her voice as she disposed of both and desperately tried to clear the foul odor from her car. Given that her husband is set to deploy to Iraq for a year, I’d say she’s doing quite well. Moldy yogurt and a smelly diaper are certainly just the beginning of the many things that will slip past her in the next year, and I hope she won’t be disappointed in herself as each new blunder outdoes the last. It’s to be expected in this unique life we lead.

Life as a military wife isn’t always easy, and I’m not ashamed to say so. In fact, I think I owe it to other military spouses not to pretend it’s effortless. The role we take in life is most assuredly a tremendous honor, but it is also an incredible challenge. Nothing could bring me a greater sense of pride than to know that my husband is part of arguably the most honorable profession in the world, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he loves what he’s doing. Being a supportive military spouse, however, comes with a certain set of challenges that only those who do it could ever really understand. I’ve heard on more than one occasion from well-meaning outsiders, “You knew this is the way it would be when you married into the military.” It’s true that I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew it would be worth it. Having the knowledge in advance of the challenges ahead of me, however, doesn’t do much to lighten the load. What it does do is remind me that my commitment to providing a stable environment for our family is the only motivation I need to get through even the most challenging of days. And it reminds me that I have an important role in our military, too.

The truth is, while I sometimes secretly wish my husband worked a more traditional schedule and our family wasn’t faced with the obstacles of a military family, I wouldn’t change a thing. He loves what he does, and for all its idiosyncrasies, I love what I do, too.

Casey Spurr is a Navy spouse and lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and 2-year-old son. She is also the Director of Programs for Blue Star Families. To find out more about Blue Star Families or to become a member, please visit www.bluestarfam.org.

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