What is the first thing you do when you/your spouse gets orders? RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!! I’m always looking at how far the BAH goes, what neighborhoods are the nicest, where the best schools are, what has the easiest commute, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place to visit that would give you all that information or at least a place to start looking?
That is exactly what I’m trying to build. But I’ve obviously not lived in every location. I wouldn’t even know what to say about Navy, Air Force, or Marine bases! That is where you all come in! I’ve created a super quick Google Form to start compiling all the info I would love to share with families. Legit, it only takes 2 minutes to complete and can make a huge difference! I don’t collect any personal information and will be doing all the leg work of finding addresses, phone numbers, etc of the recommended businesses.
It’s finally here. You’ve been waiting weeks, months or even a year for this night. Your spouse/child/ significant other is finally coming home after deployment. You’ve planned what their first meal will be, what you’re going to wear, how you’re going to decorate the house. You’ve spent 2x your typical grocery budget making sure the house is stocked with all their favorites from guilty pleasure snacks to scented bubble bath.
But what about the single soldier who won’t have anyone there to meet them off the plane? Who won’t have a witty sign demanding attention? These soldiers will more likely than not be spending their first night back in their dorm-like barracks bedroom. One that they haven’t seen in 3,6 or even 9 months. How can an FRG leader make this first night at home more enjoyable for these soldiers?
I think that the most important thing is to remember that you can’t do everything. Most of us want to. The idea of an 18-year-old coming home after a 9 month deployment to an empty dorm room breaks my heart. I’ve always wanted to go above and beyond for them, but it just simply isn’t always within our power to do so.
Food. Everyone loves and needs FOOD!!
So what should you do? I’ve always tried to ear mark some FRG funds for food. Typically I set out a few pizzas (depending on the size of the deployment, having each company FRG provide for their own) during the Redeployment Ceremony for family members that may be waiting around for extended periods of time. I then take pizzas and soda/Gatorade to the barracks to be waiting on each floor. I make sure my husband (aka the commander) knows where the pizzas are and can explain to the guys during his release brief that there is food for them available near their rooms. This saves them the hassle of going out to get food/ ordering food/ saves them a few bucks.
Stock Up! No One Wants to Go to Wal-Mart at 4am!
One thing that is common across the board is the trip to Wal-Mart. Inevitably, these soldiers will get back to their rooms and realize they have no shaving cream, no drinks, no soap etc and they can’t get through the next 24 hours without it. If your FRG has the funds I would definitely suggest trying to put together first night care packages. I’ve included toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, shave cream, disposable razors, a big bottle of Gatorade, deodorant, and shampoo/conditioner. Think trial sizes… you don’t need to set them up for a month, just keep them from needing to head to the store after an 18 hour flight in a jump seat.
Most FRGs do not have the funds to accomplish this project on their own. It can be a large financial obligation. Also, FRGs are not allowed to solicit donations. So how the heck do you get it done? Fundraisers are obvious options, but not always as lucrative as you would like. I’ve found that the best way to get donations WITHOUT SOLICITING for donations is to network with local business owners and let them know that the unit is redeploying soon. Then the ball is in their court. I’ve gone to the businesses letting them know about the redeployment and asking them to maybe put a sign in their window or on their letter board to welcome the soldiers home. 99% of businesses will happily do this in order to drum up business as a military friendly operation. Many of the owners/managers will then go above and beyond and donate items or services to the soldiers. By going this route, I once got a local pharmacy to donate toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. For EVERY SOLDIER! All I had to do was put a business card in every bag! A local sandwich shop gave me coupons for a free sub and soda with free delivery (for the evening of redeployment only). That was awesome because I then saved all the money I had set aside for pizzas and used it to stock the goodie bags! Keep in mind to try LOCAL businesses. Mom and Pops are easier to deal with in every way. You can typically speak to someone with decision-making power pretty quickly and they are dying to set themselves up for new business while competing with Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Subway! Also, make sure you do right by these businesses in return. If you’re going to order food for an FRG meeting, go with the guy who donated free food, etc. They will appreciate it and you’ll probably make them a patron of the unit for the foreseeable future.
Those of you with older barracks have a slightly easier job. The older barracks (I’m looking at you Schofield) have communal bathrooms. In this case, you don’t have to make a full goodie bag for each soldier. You can put a tube of toothpaste at each sink and a bottle of shampoo and conditioner in each shower stall. Yes, they will be full-sized instead of the travel sizes, but it will still be infinitely cheaper than 100 travel sized bottles of shampoo. Then you can put together a much smaller goodie bag of a toothbrush, a disposable razor a Gatorade, etc.
Don’t forget that there is always a way to do it more inexpensively. The toothpaste doesn’t need to be Colgate Optic White. You can skip the toothbrushes (they hopefully have one that they deployed with). Bar soap goes way farther than shower gel and loofah. Prioritize what you think is most important and go from there. And you will never make everyone happy. I’m sure after piloting a deployed FRG you know that by now… but don’t let it get you down. If someone needs Keratin Complex deep conditioner… they can get that at the store themselves.
What These Troops Need More Than Anything is to Feel Wanted and Welcome
That is the stressful stuff… now onto the fun stuff! Most of you will do a poster decorating party or a company area decorating party. Try adding time to do a barracks decorating party! Write the names of each room occupant on construction paper and give them to the kids to decorate. You can then stick them on the appropriate door in the barracks! Now every soldier has a welcome home poster! Try not to go too crazy, because inevitably someone has to clean it up and they won’t thank you if they are stuck cleaning up a mess, no matter how good your intentions were.
Most barracks have a rec room for the guys to hang out in. Go to redbox (or plug in your fire stick whatever works for you) and have a movie that was in theaters while they were gone. If they were deployed on a major FOB this won’t be that exciting to them, since they probably had access to all the newest movies anyway, so skip it. But the more remote the deployment, the more you can accomplish. Replay of the Super Bowl, Game 7 of the World Series. Big crowd pleasers, even if they do know how it ends.
So if you’re stuck for ideas on what to do for the barracks bound soldier after deployment, just remember this: They will essentially want whatever it is your soldier wants. A hot shower, a non DFAC meal, a good bit of TV and a soft bed. Check off any of those boxes for them so they don’t have to think about it and you’ve done something wonderful!!
Remember, your job is hard, it’s often thankless, but as long as you are doing right by the soldiers and families of the FRG, you can’t go wrong.
Have you ever helped an FRG with redeployment? What were some of the things that went over really well? What do you wish had been done, that wasn’t?
So we did it. We made it from Fort Campbell to Dallas. The moving truck came and went. The movers were not particularly confidence inspiring, but to be honest we have only had one set of movers that we believed in. Which of course leaves us with the same old question: To Claim or not To Claim?!
First: Make Sure You Have Realistic Expectations
Having my stuff boxed up is never that big a deal to me. I always set aside the super important stuff so that we can deal with that ourselves. Watching movers load and unload the truck is a whole different story. That sends my anxiety through the roof. The massive game of Tetris they play with my belongings makes me want to throw up.
There are some items that never make it through… Ever. Backyard Grill? HA! King Sized box spring, yea right! Then there are other things that you have to wonder if they were TRYING to mess it up… 1200 LB gun safe that’s rated to withstand the apocalypse?! Thompson Movers can dent it, Just give ’em a week!
Second: Remember that Just Because You Won’t Replace it Now Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Replace it Ever
When we first started this little military journey of ours, we only claimed major issues. Seriously damaged furniture, multiple broken dishes etc. Over time we realized that most of the time things don’t get seriously damaged. They get scuffed, nicked, rubbed or chipped. We weren’t necessarily going to run right out and replace everything, but if we continued down the path we were on we would find ourselves surrounded by shabby belongings without the monetary means to replace them. That’s when we started to claim damn. near. everything. If it cost us more than $20 dollars and it was damaged in any way, we claim it.
Third: Weigh The Effort and the Reward
At first it seemed insane. Do we really need to claim the cowboy hat that no one has worn in 7 years?! We had to research the brand and validate the cost we were requesting. Back in the day that was really all we had to do. Prove it cost as much as we said and send pictures that it was messed up. Now its a much longer process. They send someone out to the house to check on any larger items that you claim (furniture, tools, purses etc) to validate that they need to be replaced and not just repaired. You’ll still get compensated if a repair needs to be made, but they will research repair shops and only give you the amount it would cost to fix it. That whole process can take up to 2 months from the day you first complete the online claim form.
Yes, it takes a long time. Yes, the government websites including Move.Mil are incredibly frustrating, but it doesn’t really take much effort. Once you file your initial claim and submit your substantiated documentation (receipts, current cost at retailer etc) there is really no effort on your end. It can mean the difference between hundreds (or THOUSANDS) of dollars in your pocket.
And just like that… I’ve accomplished one of my New Year’s Resolutions! I’ve been wanting to add another class to my weekly calendar of Zumba instruction.
This past Wednesday I had an audition at Austin Peay State University’s Foy Recreation Center. This was the longest demo I have ever had to do. Traditionally, a facility will bring you in to one of their current classes and have you lead 2-3 songs in the middle of the class. This allows them to see how you lead an established class and also lets the current instructors get a feel for how you teach. Not at APSU! They put me on the schedule for my own class! Granted it was during winter break and only 2 people attended, but still. I liked it! I wish I had been fully aware of how it was going to work. I would have put my social media prowess to work and gotten some more people in attendance. That way I could prove that I could not only lead a class, but drum up business also! I love that I learn something new at every audition!
The two people in attendance were the group fitness athletic director and her assistant. It’s a little more stressful when the person judging your technique is actually a participant. They are going to feel whether or not i was good or not. It wasn’t just about if it looks good. Lucky for me, they were both super warm, inviting people and I was completely comfortable with them before class even started.
Then the beat dropped! And I just grooved my tush off! I am by no means the best Zumba instructor. Not even close! But I think I get better everyday and I think that I am pretty darn good with people. In a fitness format like Zumba, your ability to engage students is just as important as your ability to lead a class.
Long story short…. the audition went well and I got offered not one, but TWO weekly classes. How’s that for crushing a goal?! I’m so excited!!
I’m a seasoned military spouse looking to show independent women that they can flourish while navigating the military community.
You’re a new military spouse, recently graduated and married to your high school/ college sweetheart. You’re in a new town without your friends or family. You’ve left your job that you loved (or at least liked) and now you’re struggling to find a job, any job, that will help you provide for your family that also works with your husband’s schedule. Your best friend (let’s face it, your only friend) is your husband and he is working ridiculous hours. At best, he’s working 12 hour days, at worst you haven’t seen him since June. You are in desperate need of some semblance of normalcy or even a friend. But how do you find one of those? Do you have to figure out what you even like in a friend? What about what you like in you?
I get it. Oh man, do I get it. This was my life story 10 years ago. And thanks to the military life cycle, sometimes it still is my life.
I have been navigating the military community as a spouse for the last 10 years. I’ve been through 7 homes during that time period. My husband has deployed 4 times and I count myself lucky that it hasn’t been more. I have several degrees and am a stay at home mom. That decision wasn’t easy… and sometimes it’s been downright costly. Every few years (or 18 months) I find myself in a new house, in a new city with no friends. I have to figure out how to participate within social groups within my husband’s unit, how to do things I like, how to be a decent mother, and how to do it all while it feels like the power isn’t entirely in my own hands. Thanks Uncle Sam!
Every week you will find posts related to how I’ve managed to survive military life. This will NOT be a spouse’s handbook. These are my thoughts and opinions on everything I encounter. From dressing for a military ball to joining the FRG to befriending non-milspouses. But most of all, about being a person completely formed and well-rounded, independent from the military while carrying the knowledge that I have a Dependent ID.
Currently my family lives on post at a Fort Campbell. I am 32 years old and I have two children, ages 3 and 9 months. I am momming so fricken’ hard right now. Between my threenager and trying to detach the baby from my hip, my days are FULL. While many of my hobbies have fallen to the wayside, what I have not lost and plan on never losing is ZUMBA!! Man, I love to shake my tail feather. I even got licensed to instruct recently!! The idea of leading my own Zumba dance party is terrifying and I’m sure I’m going to fall flat on my face, but I can’t wait to get going!! I’ll admit that the decision to become licensed greatly focused on my desperate need to have something that was just mine. Becoming a milspouse took away so much of my sense of self. Mumming robbed me of what was left. Volunteering, Zumba, and even this blog, are all my ways of reconstructing the badass that I used to be!