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Why We Celebrate: Three Americans to Remember

4 Jul

This is my husband’s platoon during their deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.

On this very special 4th of July in 2012, I think of the ladies of the 3/1 whose Soldiers were serving in Afghanistan this time last year.  It is for them, that I write this blog.  Even for those whose Soldier did not return, yet gave the ultimate sacrifice.  And also for Megan, whose dear Ollie came home with two mangled legs and a heart in need of mending.

For all of you, I share these three “whys”, which always seems to be the unspoken question in time of hardship.

Why do we celebrate?

“Why?” is for Ms. Lou who came from Korea as a refugee by way of a raft from the Philippines, where she said people chose not to marry or have children hoping for a better chance of being selected for a space (to the states) that was “won by lotto”.  She wanted a better life for her children and her children’s children.  Ms. Lou came to the United States of America with nothing but hope for the future.  Today, Ms. Lou is a U.S. citizen, with two beautiful children who have gone on to establish and distinguish themselves as educated professionals with families of their own.  She and her husband own a home, working hard, and living the American dream in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Ms. Lou is the first of three generations of Americans, and one answer to the question “why do we celebrate?”

Why do we serve?

“Why?” is for Ms. Kay, who arrived in the United States in 1976 from India, speaking no English, with a mere $8 to her name.  Ms. Kay worked for cash cleaning hotel rooms, pursuing opportunity and the American dream.  Now nearing her 60th birthday, she and her husband own one of the top-rated hotels in Albuquerque, NM.  She says, “In America everyone has opportunity if they are willing to work hard”.

Ms. Kay is a first generation American citizen, whose two children have gone on to careers in engineering and medicine.   They are one answer to the question “why do we serve?”

Why do we sacrifice?

“Why?” is also for an unnamed spouse, whose sweet young husband was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the 3/1, and the two children he left behind.  Because these two boys have the opportunity to grow up in Lou and Kay’s America!  To be whoever and whatever they want to be in this great land of opportunity!

This spouse and her children are one more answer to the question “why do we sacrifice?”

And we are grateful.

Why do we celebrate our nation’s independence?  Why do we serve our country?  Why do we sacrifice for this, our nation?   Because here lies HOPE!

Happy Independence Day!

Jill Bozeman is a committed, 17 year Army Wife, and the founder and dirctor of Operation Faithful Support, Inc, a grassroots, pro-marriage educational support program for the spouses of deployed service members.  She and her husband, SFC Wade Bozeman, and their two children are stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  For more information about OFS, please visit www.operationfaithfulsupport.com.

The Flip Side of “His” Deployment

3 Jul

Melissa Bennet, Army Wife, and blogger is pictured here with her Soldier and their two beautiful children.

There is no disputing that what Soldiers do on the front lines is hard. Depending on the situation, they may literally be dealing with life and death. I have yet to hear anyone say “being at war isn’t really a big deal”, but I have however, heard people refer to the home front side of deployment as a “vacation.”

I think my OFS (Operation Faithful Support) group facilitator, Jill Bozeman, put it best when she told us to imagine deployment as a coin. There are two sides that make up the coin, just as there are two unique parts of a deployment; downrange and home front. She reiterates that neither is better, but both are necessary. Instead of thinking of my situation as waiting for my husband to get back from deployment I started viewing it as a sort of deployment itself.

My experience will never be the same as his downrange experience. It just won’t. In most ways, I cannot relate to my husband’s experience from the past year at all, but in the same way he cannot relate to my home front experience. So of course the rational thing to do is put my experience in army terms.
Our house may just look like a house to him, but to me, this is where I survived and did what I had to in order to keep things running smoothly. This is my bunker. My troops are my kids. They look to me for guidance to lead them through the confusion of having daddy gone. They look for my steady gaze and my “everything is alright” smile.  We have systems in place to keep the “troops” in line. Above all, I must never lose my head or panic. We have morale boosters in the form of a few select dance songs. We go on missions to the playground and the grocery store. Sometimes they are uneventful, but sometimes we need to call in some backup in the form of a lollipop, band-aid, and an extra shot of espresso. His nights freezing on the mountaintop are my nights with a screaming toddler in the ER. He gets jolted awake by explosions nearby, my heart jumps awake with the hellish scream from my two year old having a nightmare. I have my giant diaper bag with me everywhere (whether I will need it or not), and he carries his gun.

Reading this, you may be thinking “how in the world does a mission through enemy territory compare to a trip to the grocery store?” Well, it doesn’t really. But this is my reality. These are my trials and sometimes I really feel like I might not make it out alive (or my kids for that matter). Having my keys in the correct pocket of the diaper bag is as important to me as the ammo being in the correct spot for him. I learned about the keys from accidentally locking my two kids in the car in a strange city in the middle of a road trip, because, you guessed it, I forgot to put the keys in the diaper bag.  The panic I felt at that moment still gives me nightmares. It may just be a key put it a particular place, but for the past year, the keys being in that spot has saved me time and time again. It has become a necessity in a time where I couldn’t count on much and didn’t know what problems I may have to go through alone. So, “why do the keys have to go there?” They go there because if they don’t, I will lose my mind and you will lose your balls. OKIE?

To an outsider, it may just be a brand of coffee, or a pair of shoes, or a key pocket, but you never know what those little things mean to a deployed-at-home spouse. Still don’t get it? Guys?

What would happen if instead of him coming home at the end of deployment, I went to Afghanistan? Would he let me near the equipment? How much training would I need to go through? What would happen if I tried to change his system? What would he do if I asked “Why do you have to bring your gun with you everywhere”, or tried to convince him to leave it behind? What if I decided to “help out” and re-organize the supplies? It’s no laughing matter. It’s not something you can just walk into and take over. There is serious stuff going on. It is very much the same when the Soldier comes home.

We can value both sides of the deployment coin without making our experiences a competition.  The home front role is also deserving of respect while the Soldiers are away. We are not sliding down rainbows and picking daisies. This is real. This is terrifying. This is surviving.

Melissa Bennett is a talented, and extremely busy Army wife of three years, as well as being a mother of two extraordinary children, ages 1 and 3.   She and her family are currently headed to Vilseck, Germany, after a tough deployment with the 3/1 IBCT of Fort Knox, Ky.  For more about Melissa, visit her blog at www.infantryhomefront.blogspot.com .

Building a foundation of support, even from planks of uncertainty

2 Jul

Jill Bozeman, Founder and Director of Operation Faithful Support, Inc.

I’m going to try to hit as hard as I can to get your attention, without over-dramatizing the home front battle.  Firstly, I’d like you to look over your life and think of all the unexpected hardships you’ve faced, as a child or as an adult.  Then I want you to ask yourself if there was a way you could have planned for any of those hardships in advance?  More than likely the answer is no, because for the most part, you couldn’t have seen them coming.

So now, I want you to imagine those same hardships coming unexpectedly during a deployment, when your main line of support, your partner, is in a combat zone.

If you had nothing to do but take care of your daily duties and responsibilities on the home front, the continued stress of concern for your Solider is enough to make you weak in the knees.  Add to that even one single additional hardship and you have a cocktail for emotional exhaustion.

What happens when Mama is exhausted?

What happens when Mama is depressed?

OFS (Operation Faithful Support) welcomed home an Infantry Brigade last January.   Some of those we sent did not return.  And of those that returned, some did not return the same.  At least one Soldier returned as a single parent due to a home front suicide.  Yes, this Brigade lost a spouse.

She had friends that loved her and supported her, but the truth is that she needed more than what one or two friends who were in the same boat could offer her.   She needed an entire framework of support, because we can’t foresee the struggles and joys the deployment year may hold.  We need a whole community.

I believe a spouse’s number one resource is her (or his) FRG (Family Readiness Group).  I’ve heard enough negative commentary about FRGs  to write a gossip column, but my first-hand experience literally changed my life.  It was so supportive and so empowering that I was inspired to do my part; I started OFS (Operation Faithful Support, Inc.) which as a program, has now supported three unit deployments since, earning lifelong friends and contacts all over the world.

All I had to do was reach back to the hands that were reaching out to me.  Even though the outcome was uncertain, and the rumors about FRGs were compelling, when the hand was extended, I took it!   And I thank God!

For the spouses and families serving on the home front, don’t throw those pamphlets and flyers away.   Don’t delete the emails without engaging the sender.  Answer the phone when you see it is your “Key Caller”, as she is a lifeline extended to you for contact and resources.  Behind the acronyms are real people who live to help, support, and love those belonging to our military communities.  Many times they are spouses, or former service members who are working for those programs, services, and non-profits.  If anyone knows the burden of deployment, it is them.

The only thing that is certain before, during or after deployment is that you are loved, and you will need that love to make it through.

Ask a friend to attend an FRG meeting with you.  And if you don’t have a friend, call your FRG leader and tell her the truth….that you are nervous about coming.  I believe, before you hang up you’ll have found a friend.

Jill Bozeman is a committed, 17 year Army Wife, and the founder and dirctor of Operation Faithful Support, Inc, a grassroots, pro-marriage educational support program for the spouses of deployed service members.  She and her husband, SFC Wade Bozeman, and their two children are stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  For more information about OFS, please visit  www.operationfaithfulsupport.com.

“Our relationship was not built on separation, so why am I going to throw in the towel?”

31 Jan

I am surrounded by newly integrating families…

But behind that façade of supreme happiness, I see sadness, frustration, and sometimes even anger. I recognize these emotions because I’ve experienced them. I know the turmoil that potentially lies in the wake of reintegration.

My advice is to avoid ridiculous love songs, well-meaning family members, and your “in-denial” neighbor:  love is hard and reintegration can be even harder.

But, I am here to tell you that it is worth it.

I’ve spent years wondering if this was the right life for me,… for us. It’s his job, yes, but am I really meant to be his spouse? These are plaguing thoughts for a spouse whose husband is deployed.

After our last deployment, we experienced a rough reintegration.  I spent 2 years seeking to reconnect on an emotional level from which we could grow.  We had exactly 3 weeks of bliss before he was whisked away, again. Oh well, it’s still worth it.

You see, our relationship was not built on frustration, so that’s not going to be what breaks us.  Our relationship was not built on separation, so why am I going to throw in the towel?  Our relationship was built on love, understanding, friendship and a little bit of teenage rebellion.  Those are each important things for which we can remind ourselves as we face the difficult process of reestablishing, or  maintaining our emotional connection as a couple. Each marriage is different, but usually there is something that intuitively and initially attracted you to your spouse.  Something pivotal that you may lean against in times of trouble.

If you are having a tough time, try to find or remember those things.  Finding common ground may help.  What is your “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (for all of you ‘90’s children)?

The growth we made as a couple during the year we were reintegrating will enable us to grow during our current separation.  Like most things, relationships are a process. Whether apart or together, all relationships ebb and flow.  Careful not to think your current “ebb” is permanent!

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the process, especially during the chaos we call “reintegration”. Each of you has experienced unique challenges during your year apart. I am here to tell you, again, that it is worth it.  Every frustrating episode, each tear shed, even the grumpy moods, they are all worth it in the end.

What reintegration experiences have surprised you, and which have been “a breeze”?  Please share your comments and experiences with Moriah in the comment section below.   

Moriah Horn, Army Spouse, mother, student, and OFS facilitator for the 3/1 IBCT spouses, will be married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, 9 years March of 2012.  They are the parents of two amazing children, River and Ember, plus one crazy cat, and three dogs.  Two of their three dogs participate in various pet therapy programs, welcome home ceremonies and wounded warrior therapy events.  Moriah was part of the original OFS group during Josh’s most recent deployment with the 502nd from Fort Knox, Ky, in 2009-10, and has been an integral part of the program’s development and longterm success! 

Welcome to Operation Faithful Support!

8 Sep
As an all-volunteer military endures the brunt of an nine-year war on two fronts, we are seeing a pattern of brokenness in the family unit that amounts to a nothing less than a war on the home front.  It is not “business as usual” for military families under these strenuous circumstances.
While the Department of Defense has come a long way in providing resources and tools to help families, it lacks the personal relationship that is required to reach into the everyday lives of the hurting spouses to bring help and healing.
Operation Faithful Support is a unique spouses program centered on building relationships.  The dynamics of each group is far-reaching, from the spouse of a Private enduring her first deployment, to the seasoned senior spouse who knows the ins and outs, and then some.  Each individual comes with unique experiences of survival, and accomplishment, ready to give and take from the group, whose focus is on strengthening marriage during what others may say are impossible times.
Ideally, Operation Faithful Support  consists of 15-18 monthly sessions, beginning immediately after the servicemembers deploy, with the topic “Staying Emotionally Connected”, and will continue meeting once a month with a “target topic” and an open discussion facilitated by the group leader.  Topics include such subjects as “What to Expect During R&R”, and “Redeployment 101”.  Each session also employs an  “action assignment” to keep the spouses focused on their goal throughout the month.  These sessions will continue throughout deployment and into reintegration.
Stay tuned for more topics and posts to come!