We danced all night

“Military life was very foreign to me. I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I’m a Jewish girl and my dad was a psychiatrist. I went to college on the East Coast to a women’s school called Bryn Mawr. There was no ROTC and no football team either.

I went to graduate school at Princeton and it was a very different world. I think the first military people I met were a few soldiers the Army sent to Princeton and they were kind of exotic and frightening to me. In 1994, I was working at the White House for President Clinton when I went to the Philippines to prepare for bilateral meetings between him and President Nikiti. I was there ahead of time, and I heard there was going to be a Marine Ball at the Embassy, and I wanted to go. I asked a friend of mine – Leo Mercado, the President’s Aide who carried the football – if he could get me tickets.

Not only did he get me tickets, he lined up three Marines to take me. One of them is now my husband. We danced all night. He was a helicopter pilot for Marine One and was there to plan the meetings at Corregidor Island, marking the 50th Anniversary of the United States retaking the island during World War II.

We dated long distance and then got engaged a year and a half later. We were married in 1997. I came back to D.C. after having left the White House to work in New York for the Revlon Foundation. I started working at the Pentagon on installations and industrial affairs. Housing prioritization was one of my bailiwicks.

We came home from the honeymoon and shortly thereafter I found out I was pregnant. He got orders to Okinawa. My life changed significantly in a short amount of time. I went from being the GS-15, step 10 employee, to living in Okinawa, unemployed with an infant. We didn’t live on base and it was a very difficult and alienating experience for me. I had so much identity from the work that I did. Suddenly, I was teaching one adjunct class and learning how to be the mom of an infant.

My sister graduated from college and she came over to live with me and that was a lifeline. Then we found this little synagogue in Kadena that became our community of military families. I had these moments of ‘who am I and what am I about,’ and instead of looking away from it, I had to grow. I think I’m a much better person for having to do that.

We moved back to San Diego, and I went to law school when I was 35 years old. My husband really pushed me to do it. I graduated when I was 39, and we moved to D.C. for seven months. We moved again and then again and ended up in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I wrote a book called AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service and How it Hurts Our Country. It was about who serves and who doesn’t in the military. I wrote it because the people I’d known in my former life – the news editors and lawmakers and the people with influence – only knew one person in the military, my husband, and only because they knew me. I’m glad I got the chance to write it, and it’s only because we were in North Carolina.

I started doing a lot of speaking about the issue of civil-military affairs. I love our country and I love democracy. I believe in the whole process of self-government and I see our military service as a key part of that. When people don’t understand that, when the leaders don’t understand it, when they don’t understand why we do what we do and what difference it makes, then we can’t have the country we are supposed to have.

We moved again to London and then to South Carolina, and I started meeting and talking with other military spouses who had ideas about how we could make life better for military spouses with policy changes. We had a group of us, all different services and even a caregiver spouse, that decided to create a platform to make a difference for military families. Blue Star Families was born.

Blue Star Families tries to make military life a good life for families. We want to enable military service by creating a better lifestyle by connecting our communities, informing policy makers, and bringing solutions that we want most for our lives.

That’s why our annual survey is so important. It’s the heart of what we do. Policy makers, think tanks, and many non-profits use our results. It’s important for people to take it so that we can use that information to impact change. We want people to consider it their civic duty – almost like jury duty – so that we can better understand our military families. All of us who work for Blue Star Families feel very lucky because we feel like we make a difference. Our partners like Whole Foods and Disney and Facebook want to help us, and we want everyone who reads this to know they have the power to make a difference by in taking the survey.”

The #BSFSurvey is open until May 25. Take the survey today: bluestarfam.us/BSFSurvey18

This post sponsored by Blue Star Families

This is what it means to show up

This is what it means to show up.

People ask us all the time what they can do to help during deployment. And sometimes we are too busy, too tired, too stressed to know what to say, when the answer is actually easy: we just need you to show up.

It’s a hug at the end of a tough news cycle.

It’s wine the night we say goodbye to our spouse for the better part of a year, and then on random Wednesdays after the kids go to sleep just because.

It’s food on our doorstep, or an invite to dinner, or an offer to order pizza when you’re also too busy to cook.

It’s a night out when we need a laugh.

It’s a shoulder when we need a cry.

It’s a card that says “I know you feel like you’re failing, but you’re actually doing pretty great.”

It’s an offer to fix all the things that are broken.

It’s a text on a Sunday saying, “I know Sundays are hard. You okay?”

It’s mowing the lawn or taking out the trash or closing the trunk of the car when you see it’s open (again).

And it’s this. It is so this. It’s your neighbor (your best friend’s husband) taking your little girl (wearing her daddy necklace) to the father daughter dance at school so she doesn’t have to miss out.

Military spouses (and children) are strong and brave and resilient and all those things… and we’re human, and we’re vulnerable, and there’s nothing that means more to us than you showing up.

A once in a lifetime love

It’s a love story for the ages. It was 1941 when George Bush met Barbara Pierce at a Christmas dance. The teenagers got engaged, and George shipped off to war – – at the time, he was the youngest Navy pilot to get his wings of gold.

It was World War II – long before FaceTime or emails – and the loving couple faithfully wrote letters, anxiously awaiting George’s return. In September 1944, his plane was shot down over the Pacific. The other eight “flyboys” were captured and brutally killed, but George evaded the enemy and survived. His once in a lifetime love welcomed him home shortly after, and he and Barbara were married January 6, 1945.

Seventy three years of marriage, six children (including Robin who tragically passed away as a toddler from leukemia), immeasurable heartaches, unbelievable triumphs, and countless laughs and memories later, Barbara passed away earlier today. According to granddaughter Jenna, George would say, ‘I love you, Barbie’ every night, even at 93 years old.

Rest In Peace, Barbara Bush. Thank you for showing us military spouses strength, grace, and what it means to wait for your once in a lifetime love.

I joined the Army to win the war in Vietnam

“I grew up on a farm in the little town of 800 people called Neola, Iowa. I was raised doing typical Iowa farm stuff. My dad was a farmer and my grandfather was a farmer. I graduated high school in 1969. I found myself unable to wrap my head around all that was high school – prom, pep rallies, football, girlfriends. At the time of the Tet Offensive and afterwards, I think we were tagging and bagging guys in Vietnam at a rate of around 500 a week. I was appalled at that. High school didn’t do a whole lot for me, and I made up my mind that as soon as I graduated I’d join the military.

As naïve as only someone from a town of 800 people in Iowa could be, I joined the Army in order to win the war in Vietnam. I joined in the delayed entry program, meaning I signed up in May and was supposed to report in September.

I showed up in Fort Polk, Louisiana, with a shorter haircut than they were giving – I was that gung-ho. I thought I was John Wayne. I went to Basic and then on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). My attitude changed considerably after 16 weeks in the military. I hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Frankly, I was tired of being screwed with. They were used to people not wanting to be there and everybody got painted with the same brush. But I did want to be there.

I made this friend in AIT from California – Steve McCauley. I’d been in the Army five days longer than him. After we finished AIT we got a short amount of leave before we headed to Vietnam. Steve flew home to California to marry his girlfriend, Joan, and after I went home to see my family, I jumped on a plane to go see some friends in Santa Monica, and see Steve and meet his new wife. We were supposed to fly out of the Oakland Terminal. I called Steve and said I wasn’t ready to get on the plane the next day, and he wasn’t ready to leave Joan, so we decided not to go. We took about a three week hiatus.

We were AWOL.

After three weeks, I called Steve and said, ‘We probably ought to go.’ We met up at the terminal in Oakland and flew back to check in. We didn’t really care that we were late – we had adopted this attitude of ‘What are they going to do, send us to Vietnam?’

We checked in and the guy looked at our orders and said, ‘You were supposed to be here three weeks ago. Where have you been?’ And we were honest. We told him we just didn’t feel like coming.

We got sent to this room and there must have been 20 guys in there shooting the breeze. Steve and I walk in, thinking we’re in really deep kimchi, and then we start talking to these guys who were two YEARS late. So Steve and I are looking at each other thinking, ‘We’re probably going to be alright.’ We got busted back to E-1s, but we didn’t care. A few days later we boarded a flight to Vietnam.

Vietnam was divided into Corps at the time. We flew into III Corps, and immediately got sorted and sent to where we’d be going. It seemed like everyone was being sent to 1st Cavalry division. I was sent to Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon. Steve was 2nd Platoon. Our MOS was the same: 1120 – infantryman.

I got assigned to my unit, to a forward fire base in Song Be. I remember having a meeting with the 2nd LT, Jack Signor, and he told us, ‘The goal here is to stay alive.’ That started processing my thinking that nobody was there to win the war. We were just there to do our job. The war was lost from a political standpoint – Walter Cronkite had already been on the news and said we’d lost the hearts and minds of America and the war.

It was spring of 1970, when I started patrolling. I was carrying something like 75 high explosives in my pack. I was a walking bomb. Plus we were carrying claymores, plus shovels, plus meals and 15 quarts of water, plus poncho, plus personal gear … literally you couldn’t get up with your own packs, that’s how heavy they were. This guy, Michael Brown, first helped me figure out how to put my pack on. He was just one of those helpful guys.

There were about 110 of us in a company. Contrary to what you see in the movies, the dummies didn’t walk point. The experienced guys walked point. As we walked through the jungle, we’d walk in two columns; the columns about 10 meters apart, with about 5 meters between you and the guy in front of you, and the guy behind you. You can picture this: 100 guys walking five meters apart, two columns deep. You can imagine how long that strings out. At night you’d dig in; you’d circle the wagons, putting out claymore mines and trip wires in front of that, and that’s how you’d set up every night. That was our night defensive position.

A little over a week after I got there, we were on patrol one morning. The first platoon started out, and I was in third, so it was about 30 minutes before we were ready to start. It was just about our turn – we’re putting our packs on – and 1st Platoon starts getting shot at. Somebody called in the artillery, and they got the coordinates mixed up and started dropping on us. Luckily for me, I was still in my night defensive position, and as soon as the shooting started I made a beeline for the foxhole I’d slept in. Artillery rounds started falling all around us, and fillings literally fell out of my teeth. When they finally called it off, we got out of the foxholes and the medics started scrambling. Our squad leader was the first guy I saw. He was on his back and the medic was over him. He took a direct hit. The medic had tied shoelaces around his thighs. The sergeant’s legs were totally gone.

Michael Brown had taken some shrapnel, about the size of a fist that went through his back and came out through his front. The medic, who was a really good friend of his, was giving him CPR. I’ll never forget the sound. It sounded like when a kid is blowing up a balloon with a hole in it. His lungs had been shredded, and he was already gone.

That was April 27, 1970. It was my 19th birthday.

It was a fairly short firefight but we had all these wounded people. We were in the jungle and we found a few clearings. We had to get medevacs in there, and I was told that we needed to make a clearing. I grabbed a machete and there were people helping me and we cleared a spot for the helos to land. I got put in for an Army Commendation Medal for that. I thought it was ridiculous. What’s heroic about clearing bamboo? It wouldn’t even register for me that you wouldn’t do that.

It’s said sometimes – and correctly so – that being an infantryman is mostly boredom. I’d agree. It’s sheer boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

On April 30th, three days later, much to my mother’s horror back in Iowa, Nixon informed the United States that he was sending the 1st Calvary Division to Cambodia. This insurgence into Cambodia was only supposed to last 60 days. A helicopter came and dropped maps and we packed up. That’s when it really got fun. It was pretty crazy. When I first got to my platoon, I was the newest guy there. Three months later, I was the third oldest. That gives you an idea of what was going on. We found the largest cache of weapons ever recovered. We hauled stuff out of there for two weeks. It was just crazy.

In the course of this, the Army had a new problem. It was mostly big city kids from Chicago and North Philly who had said, ‘I’m not going to Cambodia. I said I’d do Vietnam, but not Cambodia.’ So the Army’s response was to send anybody not willing to go to Cambodia to jail.

This went on for a while and they meant it. I was too naïve (maybe too afraid) so I didn’t push back. I didn’t join the Army to go to jail for not obeying orders. But it became a huge problem, so the Army said to everyone, ‘Okay, you don’t want to be in the field anymore? We’ll tear up your existing contracts and we’ll write you a new contract for any job you can be trained for in Vietnam for three years.’ As long as you had been in the Army for eight months, you were eligible. It was a good deal. Special services needed somebody, which was stuff like escorting USO tours, showing movies to troops, handing out baseball bats and balls — and that was definitely the job for me.

Remember my friend Steve I told you about? He took the deal too. But I’d been in five days longer, so he had to stay five extra days in the field. And it sounds like a movie … but in those five days he got killed. They were out, they got ambushed, he went running and hit a tripwire for a B-40 rocket that was booby trapped in a tree. He was sprayed with shrapnel, and it perforated his lungs.

It was a very survivable injury, but it just so happened to be one of those monsoon afternoons, and they couldn’t medevac him. He died at two in the morning. I wrote his wife, Joan, and the Army gave me 30 days of leave to fly back to see her. I stopped in Iowa to see my family on my return, and then I flew back to Vietnam for another two years.

I made a deal when I got back to Vietnam that I would extend an extra six months if they’d put me on duty as a lifeguard at one of the pools. They did, and I stayed until my time was up.

When I got home, I found and married this wonderful girl, Lindy – a social worker – from South Dakota.

For our honeymoon we rode a motorcycle from Omaha, Nebraska to just south of Mexico City. This spring we will have been married for 42 years. That’s the girl I married – a girl who would get on the back of a motorcycle. She’s always been a partner. We moved to Alaska and raised our kids there. We lived there for almost 30 years. We eventually got tired of the cold and moved to Mexico, to a spot we found on our honeymoon.

People make this quintessential caricature of Vietnam Veterans as someone who is a drain on society and we should pity him. By and large, that’s not us. The typical Vietnam Vet is me. A kid from a family whose attitude was, ‘Get up every day and if you do nothing else, don’t be a part of the problem.’ We aren’t poor loss souls. We are successful businessmen, we are dads, and we are proud of our service.”

Steve McCauley

I was hoping you’d forgive me

“My phone rang last night at 0130 which was very confusing. Then it was a call from my husband (who is out on the boat with no cell service), so that was extra confusing. I answered and he said, ‘Hi Sweetie can you open the front door for me?’

So I did. He said, ‘I know coming home early and surprising you is strictly forbidden but I was hoping you’d forgive me since it’s our anniversary. I also decided to call you instead of breaking in and risking getting shot!’

We’ve made a million little memories but I think 15 is my favorite Anniversary story yet!”

He was my little spit and vinegar boy

“Cody is my favorite thing to talk about.

He was my first baby. We had quite a time getting pregnant. We went to the University of Iowa and had some help there. Cody was wanted before he was even born; both of my boys were. Cody was very outgoing and was not scared of anything. He was my little spit and vinegar boy. He did not like school

and didn’t really like authority, which is very odd given that he went into the military. He liked to do the opposite just to see what would happen. He really was a spark of energy.

My boys are four years apart. Cody would go to church and pray for a baby brother. He loved to hold him and take care of him. Even as they got older, Cody was very protective of Colton.

He told us when he was 18 that he was going to go into the military. He was a senior in high school and he came home and announced that he was ready to go. I wasn’t surprised; I knew deep down all along that he would do that. My dad was in the Marines and he had such a big influence on Cody. My husband and I were both very supportive, but I told him it was a big decision and that he really needed to think about it – he could die. He responded, ‘Mom, Grandpa was in Vietnam and got killed on a motorcycle going back and forth to work. If it’s my time, it’s my time.’

Thinking about that talk has helped me so much. Cody had been deployed on an MEU and I know they went to Djibouti, Kuwait, Dubai and some other places. He enjoyed seeing different parts of the world and made a lot of close friends. They got back in May and I went out there to surprise Cody when he got home from deployment. I didn’t tell him I was coming. Something was broken on the ship when they arrived back, so they were sitting just off the shore of Camp Pendleton. He texted me and said, ‘It’s a good thing you aren’t here… you’d be sitting around doing nothing.’ I texted him back that I was there and couldn’t wait to see him. And then I sent him a picture of the sign I had – it was a hot pink billboard and it said, ‘Cody Haley come hug your

mom!’ And he texted me back and said, ‘Mom, please don’t carry that, please don’t… why don’t you go wait by the car.’ Ha! So I said okay, but absolutely not! I was there hoopin’ and hollerin’ with everyone else. We had the best time. It was so nice – it was just him and me. I stayed for three days … we had so

much fun together.

Cody had 10 days of leave post-deployment. He came home to our little town of Eldora, Iowa, at the end of June and went back to California on the 4th of July. We dropped him off at the airport in Des Moines, and that was the last time we saw him.

I’d rented a cabin in September at Big Bear Lake in California and we were all looking forward to that, but the accident happened on August 4th .

It was like any other day. I always thought I would know if my whole world shattered. But I went the whole day without knowing. Colton had a football practice – and not just any practice. It was a family day. My husband was working nights, so I said, ‘Why don’t you and I ride up together and then I’ll find a

ride home or just walk.’ It’s only about a mile.

I was football mom. I was trying to get people lined up for fundraisers and food and this and that. And I was sitting there eating when our neighbor lady said, ‘Kim,’ Katie (her daughter) says there’s a van at your house and there’s some people there in uniform … brown uniforms.’ And I said, ‘Oh God…oh God… oh God… are they there for me?’

She said she didn’t know, and I told her to tell Katie to go find out! Go see if they’re there for me. Katie was scared to go talk to them, and I said, ‘Oh for Pete’s sake, stay on the phone and go find out!’ So she did and they said yes, yes, they were looking for Kim Haley. That’s me.

And I knew.

I knew.

I needed a ride home. My phone was almost dead, but I texted Cody and said, ‘Are you okay?’ but I never got a response.

We pulled up and there was a van with government plates. I got out and ran up, and said, ‘I’m Kim Haley. Are you looking for me? Tell me what’s wrong.’

And then they told me. Cody had been killed in an accident during training.

Everything is just a blur after that. My husband, Jeff, didn’t have phone reception because of where he worked. Everybody at the football game knew that there were men in uniform looking for me, so everybody at the game knew what was going on. They were trying to be helpful… but there were people that knew before Jeff. Jeff drove home, and the Casualty Officer and the Chaplain and somebody else were at the house. Colton was still at football and we didn’t know if Colton knew at that point or not.

One of the dads brought him home and we told him – he hadn’t heard yet, thank goodness. And then it was just a whirlwind from there.

We were told that there was a bunch of Marines that wanted to come out for the funeral and they were trying to do a Go Fund Me page, but it got shut down because apparently it’s against the law for an active duty Marine to solicit money. So I went down to the bank and got an account right away and they

made it really easy for people to donate. Marine Parents shared it, and we raised $37,000 in two days, so that all of those boys could fly back and stay in hotels and charter a bus to the services. I felt like if those boys wanted to come here, then let’s get them here. They have been so sweet to us. I’ve adopted

them all. The town of Eldora went all out for us. You don’t know how many people wanted to put those boys up in their homes. They got fed supper and people donated food.

We had his visitation on a Friday, and it happened to be Colton’s first football game. So we had the visitation and then supper and then we all went to Colton’s football game. Colton wore his brother’s number, #10. Eldora is a town of 3000 people and we had almost 50 Marines in the stands. It was a sight. I called it Cody’s homecoming game. It was the only game they won all year. And then we came back to our house and had a big bonfire.

I hate the circumstances. I hate them. But the support we have had makes it so much better. Making the funeral arrangements helped keep me busy. I didn’t want it sad. I wanted it to be a celebration. Three of the boys got up and told stories, and it was just perfect. One of the guys talked about how Cody was such a picky eater. They called him Main Meal because they had to practically make him eat his MREs… all he wanted to do was eat skittles and M&Ms. We laughed, and we needed to. And so did they. After the funeral, we drove him to Rockford, where he wanted to be, and buried him.

Rockford is about 60 miles from Eldora, and all the way to Rockford people came out in the towns to honor Cody. It was overwhelmingly beautiful … Tragically beautiful. It was like a parade route; people with flags. They called Cody Eldora’s fallen son. It was incredible to see our community pull together.

There were so many people. It’s like you get this fog. I can’t tell you what they said to me when they handed the flag… I just bawled and bawled and bawled.

It’s been six months. I was doing little random acts of kindness and it just made me feel better. I decided that was what I was going to do. I go up about once every other week to where Cody is buried. My emotional shield comes down there. I go by myself. I don’t want anybody else around me. I want to cry and scream

and curse and beat the steering wheel and I want to go alone. And then I’ll pick back up.

I read this one thing through TAPS that stuck with me… it was ‘You’re not the woman that raised me.’ It was about how I have a choice. I can keep being the person I want to be and keep honoring Cody and his memory, and make him proud, or I can curl up in a ball and not be the mom that I was for Cody and that I need to be for Colton.

I’m choosing joy.

I had always thought about what I would do if I lost one of my kids. I thought I’d die, too. But I have to go on. We all do. And Cody would want us to.

He was my little spit and vinegar boy. And I miss him terribly.”

Rest in Peace, Lance Corporal Cody Haley. Never forgotten.

He took my breath away

“Our mothers have been best friends since elementary school. Nicholas and I grew up hearing about one another, talking every now and then, and occasionally getting together when the other’s family visited. The last time I saw Nicholas prior to the start of our relationship in summer 2015 was when we were teenagers, but we had kept in touch over the years off and on.

“Nicholas was a Navy Submariner stationed at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. My family vacationed on Maui regularly and Nicholas asked if I would like to fly over to see him. I said yes, of course! I was waiting for my checked luggage in the Honolulu Airport baggage claim when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and Nicholas was standing there in uniform with a bouquet of flowers. He looked so handsome and the unexpected, thoughtful gesture took my breath away! We immediately hit it off. Nicholas was good-humored, humble, and easy-going. I knew right away in the years we spent apart we had become a good match.

“After Nicholas came home from deployment the following year he asked me to be his wife. We were married on a farm in Colorado in October 2016.

“I am so thankful for Nick’s service to our country and family. He has filled all my days with love and laughter. Around him I feel cherished, confident, and respected. I am so blessed to have him as my husband! On shore or at sea you will always be mine! Happy Valentine’s Day, love!”

I need your help

When I started Humans on the Homefront in May 2016, I did it with one goal in mind: To share the stories of our men and women in uniform, and the people who love them.

In the last year and a half, we have told and shared hundreds of stories. We’ve seen through the eyes of a child what it’s like to lose a dad, through the eyes of wives what it’s like to lose a spouse, and through the eyes of parents what it’s like to lose a son.

We’ve talked to veterans who fought their battles decades ago, and a military spouse fighting for her life at home.

We’ve interviewed helicopter pilots who have survived crashes, we’ve highlighted military spouses who have conquered deployments and job searches and instability and moves, and so many truly remarkable things. And let’s not forget the milspouse who dressed up like a t-rex to pick her husband up from homecoming…

The stories, while all unique, have a common thread: They have been nothing shy of incredible – because that’s what our military families are.

Together, we’ve been able to help raise over $100,000 for military families in need. We were able to showcase over 100 veteran and military spouse owned businesses in our holiday gift giving guide. We’ve shared stories, laughs, and plenty of tears. I am so, so proud of what our little community has done, together.

And now I need your help.

I’ve been nominated for Military Spouse of the Year, and the incredible MSOY platform would allow your – our – stories to be heard by so many more people. If you enjoy HotH, please click the link below to vote.

Thank you sweet readers. It’s an honor telling your stories.

❤️❤️❤️

Love,

T. T.

click here to vote: https://msoy.militaryspouse.com/contestants/t-t-robinson/

I thought being a Military Spouse would help my career…

After being asked, “What brought you to Guam,” I had no problem telling the interviewer it was because my husband was in the Navy. I was proud of his service. I thought if anything, being a military spouse would give me a leg up on the competition — after all, it showed my loyalty, flexibility, resilience — right?

Wrong.

He couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. “We’ll let you know,” he told me.  And I didn’t hear from him again.  This happens ALL.THE.TIME. in the military spouse community.

It’s why I was so honored yesterday to stand up with Senator Tim Kaine and speak about my experience as a military spouse as he introduced the Military Spouse Employment Act.  Hiring our heroes – and the ones who stand beside them, often at the cost of their own career – should be a no-brainer, and it’s a something, as a bi-partisan issue we can all get behind. This act is an important step in helping military spouses throughout the world find, and keep, meaningful employment. Contact your congressional leadership today and urge them to support Senator Kaine’s Military Spouse Employment Act when he introduces it this week.