Join BSF & NC Gov. Perdue in Fayetteville NC Sept. 10 for Books On Bases

We are thrilled to announce the national launch of

Books On Bases logo

Presented by

Blue Star Families

and our program partner

KIDS-Logo

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue will join us in presenting the healing power of books to military children.

At WT Brown Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC on September 10th at 1 pm, Blue Star Families, along with out program partner K.I.D.S. in Distress will launch the National Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces literacy program for military children.  We have reserved approximately 100 seats for Blue Star Families members.    Light refreshments will be served.  Please RSVP to programs@bluestarfam.org by September 7th.  Please include your name and phone number and note that you are a BSF member.  You will receive an email confirmation and your name will be on a list at the door.  Priority will be given to event volunteers.

North Carolina’s Governor Beverly Perdue will share a book with the children, and will join us in distributing books to the selected schools. A Nascar driver will also be on hand to bring a smile to our military children.

This event will include the distribution of approximately 4,000 children’s books to all 17 DODEA schools in the state of NC and 20 military impacted public schools in the local area.  Children with parents serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard will benefit from this significant donation to their schools and libraries.  Base libraries from Camp Lejeune, Pope Air Force Base, and Ft. Bragg will also be included.

The educational impact of library donation is far greater than direct donation of books to children.  These books will provide on-going support in the effort to promote literacy in America’s children, and provide the healing power of books to our smallest heroes.  We look forward to seeing you!

Where:

WT Brown Elementary

When:

Thursday, September 10th at 1pm

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Spouse Speak: Recently Deployed

This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2009 edition of The Flagship.

By Vivian Greentree

My husband recently deployed (I say recently because my donut of misery still has too much green on it to say anything else … still it feels like forever!) and I have been doing all the typical stuff for trying to keep my kids connected with their dad through our normal routines.

For instance, we are on a care package schedule now, wherein my oldest, MJ, practices his writing skills in telling dad what he’s done and the youngest, Walker, displays his ability to draw circles and color them in. There is always a golf magazine that my oldest saves from the mail with a reverence that is almost comical – “I get to be the one who puts it in the box,” he says. And, I think the only sacred box of cookies in the house, the only box that isn’t in danger of being raided by grubby little hands on the sly, is the one that has been earmarked for dad. Always Chips-Ahoy (not enough chocolate to melt but enough to make a good cookie). Oh, and his special hair gel. My military man knows how to look good even in the desert thank you very much!

So, thinking about what to put in our care packages has become a running point of interest with me and the boys – “NO! Daddy does not want you to send him that frog. NO! Not even if you put it in water on the way over!” We also read We Serve Too! (www.weservetoo.com) before bedtime a lot. I found that particular book when an organization I’m a part of, Blue Star Families, held a Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces program here in Virginia Beach for our local military families. The National Guard representative who came had a slew of books aimed at helping military children cope with the challenges of having a deployed parent. I have found it to be invaluable in starting conversations with MJ, who’s 5, about his feelings of missing his dad. And, it shows him that he and his brother are serving in their own way – as children in a military family – which allows him to replace some of that anger he has towards missing his dad with the pride of being a military child who is working hard in his own special way.

And now, I have just added another tactic for getting through this deployment (while retaining my sanity!) which has proven to be quite the hit in our house. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to an idea by a military spouse friend in Florida who told me she has a friend who has been carrying her deployed boyfriend’s picture around on a stick. I know, sounds odd. Like a warped version of a blow up doll date. However, she has been taking pictures of herself with her “flat Stanley” at all the fun places she goes and then puts them up on her blog for her friends and family, and most importantly, Stanley, to see. Flat Stanley has been to baseball games, a friend’s baby shower (probably glad he actually wasn’t there in person for that particular one!), out to dinner, and to the pool. I decided to try it out for myself. So, MJ and I picked a picture of my husband and enlarged it. Given my lack of craftiness (though surely I must be given points for ingenuity) we used what would otherwise be known as a barbecue skewer to tape his picture to. Oh yeah, and given our tendencies towards water play, we laminated it.

MJ calls it ‘dad on a stick.’ And, since his creation, DOAS has been biking with us, on a picnic, and to the pool. He’s peered over MJ’s shoulder while MJ was working on his letters, gone to Habachi with us, and he’s even tagged along to “George Washington DC” on our trip to the Smithsonian (he was the only one in the car who didn’t complain during the six hour trip home, when we got stuck in traffic).

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The pictures we take I send to Mike. It gives him a pictorial of what we are doing and allows him a window into our world. He says it is bittersweet – obviously it makes him wish it was he who was actually here helping MJ with his school work or even here being trapped in the car with us during horrible traffic instead of a paper version of himself. Still, he says he enjoys the whole process and seeing what we are doing, even telling me new places he wants DOAS to go (to a Pearl Jam concert is one that has been mentioned). And, MJ and Walker are all about finding outrageous new scenarios for DOAS to be involved with, especially as they try to show dad what they want to do with him when he gets home. Last week, when I had class, MJ asked our babysitter if DOAS could help make Mac and Cheese with them. Accordingly, in this most recent care package, there is a picture of MJ holding DOAS while he helps stir the macaroni with the carefully printed message of, “We’ll eat Mac and Cheese when you get home! You can use my Spiderman bowl!”

So, if you have a deployed spouse and are looking for a fun summer project to do with your kids, why not make a DOAS (or a MOAS)? While he doesn’t compare with his living, breathing counterpart, at least he’ll be able to invoke some of the comical, yet poignant moments that help get us through these long separations. Plus, unlike his real-life counterpart, my DOAS agrees with everything I say!

Vivian Greentree lives in Chesapeake, VA and is the Membership Director of Blue Star Families. She is also on the Governor’s Commission for Nation and Community Service. If you’d like to get involved with BSF, contact Vivian at vgreentree@bluestarfam.org.

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.

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.

Books on Bases Event in Wilmington, NC

Books on Bases, Blue Star FamiliesWelcome guest blogger, Gabrielle Lowe.

Last weekend we had the pleasure of being invited to Wilmington’s National Guard base to meet with guard families. I was joined by the Gabriel family and Claire Woodward, our BSF Executive Director. We passed out books from our “Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces” program to all the children in attendance.

We met with the spouses of guard members and told them about Blue Star Families. We put temporary tattoos on the kids, passed out books, and even got to dance to a live bluegrass band during lunch. I almost forgot, we even got to meet with the McGruff crime dog in the flesh …err fur?

While the children were there they also learned about what the Army National Guard is and what their parents do in the guard. There were mini classes given to each age group to explain what different jobs there are and to explain military life. We got the pleasure of meeting each child and give them a book from their age group. We also got a chance to talk to them and tell them a little about us and who we are.

Blue Star Families in conjunction K.I.D.S., United Concordia, and Lifetime Television’s Army Wives gives books to children of military parents. We also provide books to DoD schools, libraries, and public schools that have military children in attendance. We’re always looking for volunteers and we have many events coming soon. We encourage you to go to www.BlueStarFam.org to join us. It’s completely free and a great way to help better the lives of military families.

Cheers,

Gaby

In Praise of the Military Brat

My 4 year old tries on Daddy's cover.

My 4 year old tries on Daddy's cover.

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.  Like I don’t belong here with all the other Blue Star Families members.

You see, I’m not married to the military like so many of our volunteers.  I don’t have a good “story” to tell of deployments gone wrong, solo moves, and year long separations from my spouse.  I got involved in the Blue Star organization as my husband was retiring from the Navy Reserves.  His active duty years were long gone by the time I entered the picture.

While I’ve attended lots of “picnics” as a reservist’s wife, I’ve only sat through a pre-deployment meeting once in my life and I’ve never been forced to attend a Hail and Farewell. The only retirement ceremony I’ve attended was my husband’s, although I missed most of that because I was trying to keep my toddlers from climbing the giant bee (Seabee) out front!

I mean, yes, I’m the New Media Director for Blue Star Families.  I do a lot of unpaid work for BSF because I feel so strongly that military families need more support.  But the military doesn’t affect my daily life in any major way, aside from when my ID card expires and I can’t get on base to take my kids to their favorite beach at Little Creek.

I am, however, a military sister – my brother returned from deployment at the end of 2008.  Perhaps more importantly, I’m also a military brat.

My father spent 20 years in the Air Force and I grew up all over the world.  One of the most problematic questions you can ask me, or any military brat, is “Where are you from?”  Frequently I don’t know how to answer.  Sometimes I say I’m from Louisiana, where I was born and both of my parents are from.  Sometimes I say I’m from Nebraska, where I went to high school, met and married my husband, and my parents still live.  But most often I simply say, “I’m a military brat.”  People understand.

Military brats are a feisty bunch and yes, we have a reputation.  We’ve moved a lot.  We make friends easily.  We stop and stand at attention whenever we hear our national anthem.  And yes, we love our country and its military, often fervently.  We tend to join the military at higher rates than civilian children and, despite spending our childhoods swearing we would not, we tend to marry the military as well.

Although I’ve never made a military move by myself, when my husband moved out to D.C. a month before I did to start a new job, I moved our household from Nebraska to D.C. by myself.  And I didn’t bat an eye.  You see, I’ve watched my mother do it so many times.

When I start a new job, or join a new organization, I walk up to everyone and introduce myself, even though I’m an introvert by nature.  You see, I’ve done it so many times when starting a new school.

When a friend or acquaintance needs support in trying times, I give it without being asked.  You see, I remember the faces of my fellow military school mates when rumors of a mid-air jet collision raced through the school like wildfire and a friend disappeared from school.

When something needs to be organized, when mountains need to be moved, I volunteer.  Because that’s what I saw and knew while growing up in the military.

A lot is said in praise of the military spouse and his or her amazing ability to get things done.  But here’s a little reminder: we military brats can give them a run for their money.

So, heck yeah!  I’m a military brat!

You just wish you’d been one too.

The Gentleman from Virginia

Senator_Warner_w_BSF_DSC_5734On Wednesday evening of this week,  nine members of Blue Star Families gathered at the Russell Senate Office Building and waited (some of us more nervous than others) to meet with Senator  Mark Warner of Virginia.  The former Governor asked to meet with military spouses.  An  advisor knew one of the BSF members – so there we were!

His aide and an advisor came in first, we chatted about what we wanted to discuss.. then with a rush (fresh from the Senate floor from a vote) – he was there.  Senator Warner asked us to go around the table and introduce ourselves and talk about what issues we thought were impacting the military families.  So round we went, Navy Wives, Marine Wives, Navy Husband, Army Wife, Navy Child.  We talked about the problems we had seen, the need for psychological counseling (this was only 2 days after the deaths at Camp Liberty) for the service members, and for the families.

Senator Warner was surprised by the BSF  survey result – showing that 94% of respondent military families felt disconnected from and by the rest of the country; we discussed deployments/dwell time; we mentioned the problems of finding jobs while moving as often as we do.   The National Guard/Reserve, dear to the heart of the former Commander of the Virginia Guard,  wasn’t left out – their particular problems of jobs for returning soldiers was a big topic!  But, this wasn’t a negative meeting, in any way!

We talked about the joys as well as the sadness.   We didn’t just bring up problems – we started throwing out ideas for solutions!  Those solutions that we can help with – helping military families and non military families get together – helping get those citizens who want to help together with a deployed family who could use a hand.  How can we use all that brainpower living on post, the lawyers, therapists, teachers, paralegals, writers, organizers, cooks  – those who can’t find a job or have to wait for licenses in each state?

Some would say we shouldn’t talk about the problems in our community, that we should be stoic and not let “others” see that all is not perfect and rosy. But without the light, how do we get things fixed? As one of the senator’s advisors said – remember military housing 5 years ago?  It was awful, and when these conditions were brought into the open, the solutions began!  if Ft. Belvoir is an indicator, on post housing has improved dramatically.  More recently – the Walter Reed affair shed a spotlight on conditions that had been quietly complained about for a long time.

A point was made, we don’t want pity, we don’t need it. We are very proud of who we are, that we are proud to be military spouses (and the military child with us echoed that sentiment!).  We did make a choice, and we are coping and flourishing as best we can.  But everyone needs an assist sometimes!

After a while, an aide stuck his head in.. and again… and again.  The Senator started giving out the assignments – Get some ideas together, get me some questions to ask when I head to certain areas, let’s figure out how we work TOGETHER – military, civilians, military families, legislators, employers.   The Senator is a very energetic man, and had us all energized, so much so that when the aide again gently reminded him he’d have a family problem of his own if he didn’t leave….. it was 7 ish – we kept talking – kept coming up with ideas.

Alright – so here’s YOUR assignment.  In the comments – tell us what you think is a problem and a solution to it.   If you don’t know a solution – let’s try to find one.  Who knows, someone out there may have already “been there, done that, got the coffee cup!”

You can also read about this on Senator Warner’s Blog.