An Army Wife's Life

Once upon a time I was a college student, then I was a teacher, and now I'm a mother. Technically, I'm currently a freelance writer... but really I am an ARMY WIFE. Expect to find... funny (at least to me) anecdotes, thoughts about la vida military, hopes, anxieties, dreams, commentaries on current events.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Army Needs to Reevaluate FRGs

I hope the military is still lurking on my blog (thanks for that temporary spike in traffic, BTW), because I have something to say.

You need to reevaluate the Family Readiness Groups.

Ultimately, when you rely purely on volunteers, you are going to get uneven results--which is disheartening and unfair to those who not getting the good results.

True, spouses are theoretically adults (although we have a few show up who are 16-19). Still, supporting the spouse supports the mission AND improves retention rates. You want that guy to re-up? Convince his wife first.

This is no longer the 1950s. Not all commanding officers are married. Those who are often have wives who do not have the time or interest to run an FRG. Not to mention some commanders are now women--and, sorry but its true, male spouses just do not get as involved with the FRG.

Technically, the FRG is the commander's responsibility. He is supposed to select someone to run the group. Assuming he is unmarried or his wife is not available/interested, though, who does he ask?

Obviously the 1st Sgt's wife, since he is your right hand man and he can update his wife on all of the necessary information from the Company side.

What if she is not available? Hit up the Lieutenant's and Platoon Sergeant's Spouses.

Okay, they aren't available either (or do not exist...most of the Lt's in our Battalion are fresh out of college).

So, what, you ask? After all, your husband's rank has nothing to do with you, right? Right. Except that the key information (especially during deployment) comes from the officers/senior NCOs and you get a lot better information out of someone if you are married to that person.

Also, the volunteers are doing this for the spouses and the warm fuzzy of helping people...but ultimately the FRG is the commander's responsibility. If the FRG leader is not your wife or the wife of a good friend, is harder to expect her to be accountable to you or even care if you look good or not.

So, now what?

Now you are put in a position where you need to locate a spouse who is (A) available; (B) mature; and (C) actually wants to do this (as opposed to is intimidated because of your status as his or her spouse's commander).

In case you haven't noticed, rare is the talented, educated go-getter today who does not have interests and obligations outside of his or her spouse's career. Such creatures exist, but you have to be lucky to find one in a random handful of people.

Not to mention, assuming you find a person who fits the bill, you will have a big responsibility to make sure the lines of communication are open. I cannot even count the times I've heard someone complain that their FRG has not contacted them. Well, it is hard for the FRG to contact the spouses if we are not given the spouses' contact information. Our FRG had to spy, bribe, and cajole to get that info. This is ridiculous. That information should automatically be updated for the FRG leader when new soldiers inprocess...

Okay, so you've located the right person for the job. You e-mail that person every week. This can work.

Except that person is now commiting a MINIMUM of 20 hours a month if you have good volunteers. BARE MINIMUM. Most FRG leaders probably spend about 40-50 hours a month, even with a co-leader helping out.

Now, let's think about other volunteer organizations. Other volunteer organizations (United Way, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) have a PAID STAFF that uses volunteers for specific tasks.

So, the military tested a program this year (at least at this post) with a paid assistant for every Brigade--a civilian. Unfortunately, they did not provide a list of what she could and could not do for us...despite our repeated requests. No doubt future funding will not be approved because the program was "under utilized."

So, here's what you need to do, if you are listening:

1. Assign a member of Rear D (not the commander, but preferably a junior officer or senior NCO) to be in charge of the FRG at the Battalion level. This soldier will be accountable to the commander and organize monthly meetings, publish and mail a monthly newsletter, manage the FRG account, and coordinate the volunteer efforts--volunteers can host socials, bring food to meetings, make carepackages, plan kids activities, write articles for the newsletter, fundraise, etc.

2. If a soldier submits paperwork in regards to having a spouse, that information needs to be automatically communicated to the FRG Battalion Liason. That person will make initial contact with each spouse. If that spouse would like FRG contact, that spouse's contact information will then be passed on to the spouses' group.

There. Problem Solved. Next!!!

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Dreaming of Wine...

I'm starting to dream about drinking glass after glass of wine. When I actually get to sleep that is.

This little girl better appreciate the good start I am trying to give her!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day

I hope you are enjoying the weekend with friends and family.

Please take a moment to think of the fallen heroes. Whether they fought for their families, or ideals of God and country, or simply because they were called and did not run, they were brave.

They deserve to have their too brief lives remembered.

Today I am thinking of a song DH and some of his classmates sing. It was popular during World War I, but probably originated earlier. There are many different versions. Below is one I've cobbled together from DH and some other sources. There is also a lengthier version here.
Stand to Your Glasses

We meet ‘neath the sounding rafters,
The walls around us bare;
As they shout back our peals of laughter;
It seems the dead are there.

So, stand by your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies.
Here’s a health to the dead already;
And here's to the next man who dies.

Cut off from the land that bore us,
Betayed by the land we find,
The good men have gone before us
Only the dull left behind

So, stand by your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies.
Here’s a health to the dead already;
And here's to the next man who dies.

There's dew on the glass congealing,
'Tis the Hurricane's blasted breath.
It is thus that the warmth of feeling,
Grows cold in the grasp of death.

So, stand by your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies.
Here’s a health to the dead already;
And here's to the next man who dies.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ancient Hostess Trick

I've learned a little secret.

I've been frustrated here trying to host get togethers. Most do not RSVP. Those who do, frequently back out last minute due to exhaustion, unexpected schedule changes, etc.

This becomes worse once the men deploy. Somehow it is harder to motivate yourself to go out and be social when you don't have a partner to help get you out the door. Somehow leaving the house is scarier alone, I suppose.

Well, here's something that works--ask people to help!

Although I hate relying on others, I finally gave in and asked friends over to help me move heavy items out of the future nursery.

My selection of local, non-pregnant friends with healthy backs is limited...but I have a couple.

They all showed up, moved my stuff, and then we had pizza and salad and a nice visit.

So, here's my tip:

Next time you want to get good attendance at a get together--tell people you need some help with a little quick project. You can ask for their help with anything--from projects that require another pair of hands to something where you just want some more opinions.

That will appeal to the best in them and they'll be happy to help.

When people promise to help, they don't want to let you down and they will be sure to show up.

Then you can treat them to home cooked or take in dinner and drinks to thank them!

Everyone feels good and everyone wins.

Challenges of a Deployment Pregnancy

When DH and talked about trying for a baby before he deployed, we realized that there would be challenges if we were successful.

We knew that no amount of photographs and updates could ever make up for him actually attending ultrasounds and being able to feel the baby kick.

We knew that it would be a struggle for me to get the nursery together as my strength fades and restrictions on what I should and should not do expand.

We knew that the hormonal ups and downs might be exacerbated by the loneliness of deployment.

We knew that he would not be able to help me through the physical aches and pains of the pregnancy.

So far, we've actually done a good job with all of these things...

Don't laugh, one of the biggest challenges (beyond my habitual hypochondria) has actually been selecting a name for our little miracle.

Bandying names back and forth on e-mail just does not quite cut it!

Since we aren't sure DH will make it for the birth, we did not want to wait until we saw baby girl's beautiful face.

Once we got down to three choices, we considered allowing the cats to have input--after all, Calypso did a good job selecting her own name. I'm not sure that would have made as cute of a story though.

The cat chose her own name = cute.

We let the cat name the baby = weird.

Well, I think we have a name finally! I'll post it later next week.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Food and an Award--and STILL they won't show up

Tonight we had the Brigade Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony. Last thing I need is another certificate and pin, but I went to honor the other ladies in our Battery and Battalion.

Of course, hardly anyone in our Battalion showed up--just a handful of others who, like me, already have volunteer of the month and/or year awards from the Division, and just came to honor the others.

At least the ceremony was brief and I got a different pin this time. They gave us a heart add to the Battalion, Brigade, and Division pins. I need to get a gold-toned charm necklace so I can wear them all without feeling like a soldier (with my resume pinned to my chest).

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shakespeare, Mosquitos, and Service

Today began with tutoring (it is my last week!). I got to work with two young ladies on Julius Caesar. I was a theater major, so that was tons of fun. It made me sad that I didn't have a whole semester (or at least a couple of weeks) to get them into Shakespeare.

Then I went searching for a battery-powered mosquito zapper for DH--he says the bugs are eating him alive. No luck, so I am looking online now. I've found a few but I am open to other suggestions...any recommendations?

After that, I sent off a care package to DH and went grocery shopping.

Tonight I had the end of the year dinner for a women's service organization...and I got the Active of the Year award (basically we have three categories of membership: provisional, like a pledge year; active, when you are most involved; and sustainer, like going alumna).

This award goes to "an active member who exemplifies the league's mission through her words and actions and clearly went above and beyond the call of duty on many occasions during the year."

This year I was the Community Outreach person--planning monthly hands-on volunteer opportunities (Habitat, Ronald McDonald House, Angel Trees, Healthy Snacking Booth, etc.) for the membership.

I was surprised and honored, but mostly pleased that this reflects a growing emphasis on hands-on service for our organization!


Monday, May 15, 2006

Sunday Felt Like Monday...

Okay, the "Monday Stinks" idea does not mean much to me since I freelance from home...but this Sunday felt like a classic Monday.

Saturday night the lightening was striking, the thunder was booming, the cats were chasing each other across the headboard, and the pain in my hips and back kept waking me up.

When the alarm rang to get ready for church, I felt like I was crippled. I couldn't move without sharp stabbing pain in my lower back (sciatica).

Although I knew I would feel worse not going to church, I decided to listen to my body.

When I checked e-mail, I found out that DH had been on a long mission. They spotted an IED and (luckily) defused it before anyone was hurt.

Then I spent the afternoon helping to paint the banner for the Battery. Three of us paint a design every month and all of the ladies and kids sign it or send us messages to write if they are unable to come to the FRG meeting.

I enjoy painting the banner, but it is a little hard on the old back.

However, the day started looking up! The FRG leader said she heard through her husband that the new leader is interested in taking over.

Between the changeover and the birth, this might prove a good opportunity to redefine my role and reduce my commitment a little.

Last night, I actually slept six hours straight...I had a little pain in the morning, but nothing too terrible.

Then, today, I got to Web Cam with DH. I love seeing him--he looks well, but very thin! When he takes leave, with the baby weight gain I will probably weigh as much as he does! Hopefully baby will remedy that shortly after he arrives though, by making her debut.

Also, one of my jobs FINALLY paid me, so I can pay bills this month without taking money from DH's account. That's been a point of pride for me, that I can support the household and my lifestyle back here on my freelance work. Now that we have a baby on the way, we have to keep saving up!

Hopefully this is the beginning of an upward trend for the week.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the military moms out there--whether you are the mother of a soldier or the mother of a military brat or a soldier with children:


Saturday I got a pre-Mother's Day pre-Mother call from DH. If your soldier spouse or child is deployed, I hope you are all able to hear from your loved one this weekend. If your soldier is near, I hope you get the celebration of your love that you deserve.

I was trying to come up with something witty, but I should probably finish writing all these baby shower thank you notes instead. Maybe after Church tomorrow the muse will hit.

In the meantime, visit the poetry section at Sgt. Mom's for all your rhyming maternal needs.

If you are more edgy, you might prefer the Mother's Day collection up at Post Secret.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Stossel had a report about how it is a "myth" that teachers are underpaid. I wrote into 20/20 with this response:

The report about teachers' pay is missing part of the story.

First, teacher pay relative to others of their (A) education and (B) experience is
declining. You have to compare apples with apples, not just teaching with
another field. Rather than look at averages, you have to compare the
salary of a teacher with a Master's Degree who has been teaching for ten years
with other workers who have similar qualifications.

You also mention, but barely, that many teachers work additional hours. While I was teaching, I worked 10 hour days, usually taking lunch at my desk to help more
students or plan classes. When I go home, I put in another 2+ hours on grading, preparation, and paperwork. Many weeks, I worked longer hours than my lawyer husband.

On a side note, teachers in upscale neighborhoods often cannot afford to live where they work.

Second, the pool of applicants in Boston vs. available jobs is a misleading statistic. The glut of teachers in one market does not mean there is a surplus in all markets. Also, not all applicants are of equal quality.

This leads to the third point. I am all for capitalism--but public education is a government, not a capitalist system. Schools are having difficulty recruiting bright young teachers--partially due to salaries, but also due to the lack of respect for
teachers in our society today. Market forces are NOT being allowed to work
here. Rather, schools are simply making due with inadequate teachers. Raise teacher salaries and you'll have more qualified applicants. It will take a while to get the already tenured out of the system, but competition will kick in for new hires. You'll have better teachers at the salaries they actually deserve.

Of course, salary is only part of the problem. Some highly educated, motivated people DO enter the profession fully aware of the sub par salaries--but retention is low. Lawsuits, legislation, and a cultural change mean that teachers spend hours in meetings, doing paperwork, and documenting various actions. Salaries have not rose to compensate us for this time.

I loved teaching, but I hated the nonsense that came with it. Now I volunteer in a classroom. I would rather teach for free a few hours a week than be underpaid for all of the annoyances that come with full time teaching.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

FRG Leadership Change Up

Last night I was about to post about how happy I was that although there would be a couple of changes of command this summer, my husband's commander would not be one of them.

Well, this afternoon I got a little surprise--the commander's talents have been requested (read ordered) elsewhere. A whole other unit, in fact!

When the FRG Leader made the announcement at the FRG meeting tonight, one of the ladies turned to me and said, "Does that mean you are taking over?"


Well, the new commander is married, but his wife has not shown any prior interest in FRG activities. So, one of the following will happen:

1. She will suddenly decide to be active now that it is her husband's responsibility.

2. Our current FRG leader will stay on. If her husband were just moving to staff within the same unit, that would be more likely. With her husband in a different unit (though still in the division), I am not sure she'll want to do it.

3. No one else will want to do it...which always for some reason means I do it.

How on earth I will manage if #3 is the case, I do not know. I'm really not sure I can with the baby coming shortly on the heels of the command change, plus having a rather intense placement for the League next year.

On the one hand, I am already doing a lot, and at half capacity I would still be better than no one at all. I suppose anything is better than nothing. Besides, it would not be for very long before the men returned...and then the job would be easier.

On the other hand, I can never force myself to do anything half-way.

I am getting ahead of myself, though. There are two other possibilities ahead of this option.

I will cross this bridge when, and if, I come to it.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Writing Letters/E-mails

On my Google News Alerts I saw an article that made me want to send a little piece of advice to those friends, families, and well-meaning others who are sending letters and e-mails to our troops.

Here's the article:

NCOs Note Differences Between What They See and What They Hear [EXCERPT]

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, May 10, 2006 – It's the e-mails and calls from home that gave the soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division their first clue that something is becoming different about the will of the American people.

"All this time I thought we were winning," said a sergeant first class sarcastically. "Seems folks back home have already run up the white flag."

Some 4th Infantry Division noncommissioned officers were discussing the flood of e-mails they receive from family members and friends about the constant danger they are facing in Iraq.

I agree that the media focuses on the bad news--whether that is bias or just what the media does or some combination thereof, I'm not sure.

I do not know if we are winning or losing.

I do not know if NCOs, or any other troops for that matter, are in a better position to judge how the war is going from their own little piece of it.

What I do know is this:

If you object to the war, if you think we are losing, if you think it is a waste of money, keep it to yourself when you write to the troops. Now is not the time to share your fears or your politics.

If the soldiers wish to share with you, great. Please be as open to that as you can.

Otherwise, tell them about your day, a book you just read, something funny the pets did...anything besides what you heard on television about the war.

My Cousin's Passing

One of my cousins was born with severe physical and mental disabilities. She was given very low odds for survival, but she lived for fifteen years.

My uncle, who is fifteen years younger than my father, and aunt had four other children after her.

Caring for my cousin was no doubt very complicated. She had many needs.

Still, her joy was a ray of love for many in the family. She was an angel who taught us a lot about the value of human life.

My cousin required many operations as her body grew. During this last operation there were complications. She was in the hospital for weeks, battling an infection. We thought she was getting better and would be able to go home soon, but a few days ago she passed away.

My uncle is devestated.

I had twelve cousins and now I have eleven living cousins.

That's really all I can say about this right now, but I wanted to share.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Proof There is Something to do in Killeen least in Temple (about 20 minutes away).

After a rough start to the day (I ran into Labor and Delivery because a friend was having regular contractions at 28 weeks and her husband is in another state right now) and some work stress (basically one of my clients wants something RIGHT NOW even though that was never agreed upon and the only reason it is not done is because of my editors, not me), I got to listen to some amazing classical music.

Two friends and I went to Beethoven, Barbecue, and Blue Jeans, with the Temple Symphony Orchestra.

When we called, we found out that the Orchestra even gives FREE admission to military and families.

Not only is the orchestra high quality...they had an excellent soloist from the Netherlands who has even studied with Itzhak Perlman.

They played Weber's Overture to Der Freischutz, Tchaikovsky's Violin concerto in D Major, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

Baby Girl (who is getting closer to having a name) seemed to enjoy as well...she was kicking and wiggling all over the place!

I will have to make point attend more of their concerts next year.

Well, I just finished my warm (caffeine free) I am off to bed. Have a blessed Sunday.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Town Hall

Interesting day today...

After volunteering at the high school and doing some work, I volunteered for the phone bank at the Fort Hood TV Town Hall.

Basically, I take down questions an forward them to someone who either puts the caller on the air with a group of generals and colonels or gets back to them with an answer from the experts.

A lot of people who called really just wanted someone to talk to. One guy was a vet who had clearly fallen on hard times. He told me all about his discharge, his felony drug conviction, and how he really wishes he could serve his country again in some capacity. He did not really have a question; I think he just needed to talk to someone. Maybe they should have a chaplain standing by. Anyway, this guy called at the beginning and they actually put him on!

Another woman called in and announced on air that her husband had post-partum depression. I am assuming that she meant post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sadly, there were actually a lot of calls about PTSD --a couple of soldiers, but mostly their wives calling in about services and whatnot.

Really very fascinating stuff. There was one call asking about couples that are dual military and one is deploying immediately after the other. Would they have some time together? An excellent question.

Some questions were serious, others just rambling and hysterical.

At moments, I didn't know how those officers could keep a straight face.

Anyway, I think it is a very useful program the television station and the post offer.

The Name Game, Part II

Thanks to all who address some of your input and comments.

The middle name will most likely be after my Grandma who passed when I was young...either Margaret or Marjorie.

For the first name we had a great list--I think we've thought of every name in existence!

We narrowed down to 200, then to about 20, then to 10, and now to 3.

Don't worry...we are looking for unusual, not weird. We eliminated anything where the pronounciation or spelling would be a major issue (although everyone spells my name differently and I still love it)!

We want names that you've heard of before, and are feminine, but that you don't hear often. Mostly I am looking at names that were popular 1890-1910, but nothing that screams "old lady" (at least not to me and DH).

Getting down to our top three was easy. Choosing one from the three is tough.

We have one that is very lovely but has been used recently by a famous couple and I am worried it will become too popular in the next year. DH is leaning towards this one, as is the godfather.

Another sounds elegant and is a nice literary reference--but DH is starting to worry it sounds pretentious. This is the favorite of the godmother and is really calling out to me.

Finally, we have a biblical contender that has a lyrical rhythm but is a little alliterative with our last name. This is the top choice among the grandparents.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Name Game

DH and I are trying to name baby girl--no easy matter long distance. It is hard not being able to stare into his eyes and hear his voice as he says the names.

I am also worried that all the compromising will result in a name neither of us loves.

One of the names we both like seems poised to become very popular...which I would like to avoid.

We both like old-fashioned, feminine names, but I think I am leaning towards the more unusual whereas DH seems to favor the more well-known.

I'm trying not to drive DH too nuts, but I would like to pick a name that we both love. I really like my own name, and I would like to give that gift to my daughter, too!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Compensation for the Sacrifices We Make

At one of our FRG steering meetings, another FRG leader expressed frustration with a wife who was insisting that someone come mow her lawn.

"If her husband were here, he'd do it," the wife argued.

Since he was not here because he was defending the country, the government should do it (or pay for it).

A bit nutty--but I can empathize. Being pregnant, I should probably not mow the lawn, either, and I just found out that the lawn care service we use raised their prices by over 30% this year.

When a member of the household is not available, all sorts of time, energy, and money must be spent to make up for the chores they normally complete.

However, the military does actually pay for these sorts of things, after a fashion. It is called Family Separation Allowance.

Not to mention the Per Diem that recognizes the additional costs the soldier pays being away from home, the Hardship Pay acknowledges that some assignments are particularly undesireable, and the Hostile Fire Pay gives a bit more for zones where troops face fire.

Of course, some of these could be a bit higher to reflect the reality of the financial costs and emotional burdens and no amount of money makes up for not having your loved one around.

However, The decision to join the military was one my husband (and hers, and all the other men in the Battalion) made freely...knowing full well that deployment was likely.

Ultimately, enlistment is a free choice and the government does recognize the burden deployment places on the families. The system is not perfect, but I would say it is fair.

Good News in Iraq: Clean Drinking Water for Villages

Time to play, "Will the MSM pick this one up?"

Let me know if you see a MSM article on this good news:

Space-Age Drinking Water System Tested

DAHUK, Iraq, May 2, 2006 — U.S. soldiers assigned to the 401st Civil Affairs Battalion in Dahuk, Iraq, have found an alternative way for residents to drink clean water in the village of Bendaway. [...]

“There are chemicals that run into it, pesticides, fertilizers; everything is in this water.”

“This village lost 10 children in June 2003[...]because there was no other water,” Anderson [from the NGO, Concern for Kids] said.

[They are] testing a space-age portable water filtering and purification system that was originally designed for NASA, and is modeled after the space shuttle water recycling system.

[...] the portable water system being tested costs just under $10,000 ...

“There are about 300 villages in northern Iraq that don’t have potable drinking water,” Hayden said.

Water is such a basic need. Villages need to take better care of their resources, but, in the meantime, children shouldn't have to die for lack of clean water.

This will also help with security--especially if the media in various countries reports further on these efforts.

Has anyone told Bill and Melinda Gates that they can save children in an entire village for just under $10,000 per village?