Honoring our military “BRATs”

In honor of the month of the military child, we put together the following tribute for our military kiddos. They don’t choose this lifestyle, but they handle it with so much grace and courage. It’s an honor to know so many of these children. Turn up your volume — this sweet little 6 year old narrator is a military kid too. And I’m very proud to say she’s ours. 

My eyes well up just thinking about it

“Ed and I actually met in a bar, one night in San Diego. I learned he was in the military, we exchanged phone numbers, and not too long after that, he invited me to go to a Navy ball. My family is Indian and the culture is such that my parents wanted me to marry an engineer or a doctor. Their perception of the military was it was for people who didn’t succeed academically to advance to earn a 4 year degree. 

“I had no concept of military life. The night of the Navy ball, I decided I didn’t want to go and I told him I wasn’t really feeling well. I stayed home, he left the ball early and came over in his dress whites and brought soup and a movie. I knew in that moment that he was someone I didn’t want to let go. Randomly, my dad asked if I was dating anyone, and when I told him about my military man, he told me that really he just wanted me to be happy. They met him a few weeks later, and my dad told me about when he immigrated to the United States and he wrote letters to my mom, back in India. Her parents wanted her to marry someone more affluent, somebody rich and famous, but they were in love, and my dad saw that in my relationship, too.

“Ed deployed soon after and we had an email relationship. The more I learned about him, the more I liked him. He wanted me to know all about the military life. With all the acronyms and etiquette, he realized it was more of a culture than just a job, so he took me to pre-deployment briefs and gave me the 4-1-1 on life in the Navy. When he returned from deployment, we got engaged. We went to the church to speak with the pastor and got married a week later. It was one year, one month, one day after we had first met. We moved from San Diego to Monterey and then Rhode Island. We were married but I had just started graduate school, so he went to Rhode Island and I stayed in California. It was during that time that I first heard about United Through Reading. They’d given an emotional plea for volunteers and I loved the idea behind it — uniting families during deployment through the service member reading bedtime stories. United Through Reading would record the stories on video and would send the families a copy. It was before Skype, before FaceTime. It was such a special mission and I wanted to be a part of it. Even though we didn’t have children, I could imagine this as the ‘go to’ resource we would need when we had kids of our own.

“Ed deployed again when I was pregnant and came home just in time for the birth. We’d spent more time apart then we had together but we made it work! I finished grad school and I was looking for a new opportunity. I started as a program manager for a grant at a community college and I’ll be honest, I hated it. There was no camaraderie, no flexibility, and I wasn’t happy there. I wanted those things in a job. The Indian culture is such that your work becomes your lifestyle, with how you speak, your traditions, your passions. You see that in the military community, and I wanted to find a piece of it too, in my own career. 

“I contacted United Through Reading, as I saw all of the things I was looking for there, when I volunteered for them. They had an opening in data management and I couldn’t wait to get started. As times have changed, so too has my job, and now I serve as the Director of Campaigns and Initiatives. It’s an incredible place to work. We all work virtually, but definitely as a team. The work and the people have truly become a part of our family. Seeing these brave and courageous men and women reading a children’s book to their loved ones left behind … My eyes are welling up even talking about it! I cry every time I watch a video. To hear these kids react; to know the unbreakable emotional connection between parents and their children … it’s indescribable. Long distance is always hard, but programs like United Through Reading help keep our military families strong. To be a part of it all is both humbling and rewarding.”

To learn more about United Through Reading, visit www.unitedthroughreading.org

We are in this together

“I must say… I am always proud to be a military spouse, but there are some times that put the uniqueness of this group in full view. Right now, my husband, along with a lot of really amazing Naval Aviators, are being reviewed to determine if they will be selected for Command. The boards are meeting now. Results will be out in a matter of days.  

“But what amazes me is the group of spouses supporting these service members. These are women I am proud to call my friends. Some are pregnant and do not know if they will be forced to move with a new born, some are established business owners who may have to close up shop and begin again elsewhere. Some are in the middle of masters programs or their own careers. Some have small children who they will have to tell, yet again, ‘we are moving.’ They all have lives… that they will be forced to adjust, in some way or another, in a matter of days
“They will process the new reality (whether the results are the ones they hoped for or not). They will set plans in place to make quick and seamless changes in their lives, careers, children’s schools. They will prepare to leave a life behind and start anew. They will love their spouse and support them. They will reassure their spouse that they are in this together; good, bad or ugly. 

“They do this all with smiles on their faces and a tear on their cheek. They are strong, resilient, hard working women who plant roots quickly, make friends fast, dive in to new worlds head first and make it look easy. 

“So while we wait the news of our future (side note that I am really thankful that God is ultimately in charge here!) I am saying a prayer of thanks for the military spouses I call my friends. You will always bless and inspire me with your friendship and examples!”

We’ll turn the music up

“My dad had been on my case for months to sign up for a Catholic dating site. I finally gave in when one of my many ‘we met in a bar’ relationships ended. At the same time, a Navy pilot’s group of flight school buddies gave him the idea to sign up for Catholic Match, which ultimately ended up in 3 young helicopter pilots sifting through pages of girls, trying to find him a date. I found him first and quickly sent a super cheesy message saying, ‘Hey! You don’t see a cute Catholic boy every day!’ 

“Luckily for me he wasn’t totally turned off by my cheesy forwardness and just so happened to be driving up to D.C. to hang out with his best friend who lived 2 streets over from me. Eight months later we were married and expecting our first child! He deployed 2 months after our wedding but made it home in time for our son’s birth. Three months after he was born we found out we were expecting twins! I remember him smiling and laughing as the ultrasound tech told us the news. I had my hands over my face trying not to panic because I knew he was deploying again and would miss the birth. Major complications arose which landed me in the hospital for months. He was brought back to walk through a tough journey with me and line up child care for our 7 month old son. 

“As soon as the water settled he headed back out on deployment leaving me with 3 kids under 15 months. We finally reached shore duty and had 2 more babies and now have 5 under 5! My husband is quick to sing my praises to his peers about how well I’m doing at raising our ‘little’ big family, but most of the time I feel like I’m under water with a straw that’s giving me just enough air to survive. I truly believe every mother is maxed out where they are in the moment. I feel just as overwhelmed with 5 as I did with my first baby. I have days where I feel like I’m totally rocking this mom gig, and then my 3 year old decides to throws herself on the floor in Walmart because she wants every blessed piece of battery powered candy device that is conveniently located at child eye level in the checkout line. One kid or 10 kids…as long as you have some kids who are under the age of 3, then you my friends are in the mommy trenches…nice to meet you.

“During the year-long work up schedule and now beginning our 7 month deployment I’ve learned a few things: it’s okay to let the laundry pile PILE up, go to sleep with dishes in the sink, do fast food for lunch and dinner (chicken nuggets and pizza in one day never killed anybody), and to let people help, but to never take advantage. There will be a time when I truly need someone to watch my kids unexpectedly and I don’t want to have used up my offers on things that I could have scheduled a sitter for. My mom always reminds me that I set the tone for the family and that being a solo mom of 5 is going to be hard no doubt, but that there are 5 small people depending on me to set that tone…so, we’ll turn the music up because we have life to live and 7 months of happy memories to make until we can finally become a party of 7 again.”

I got this

  “We met in high school. He was a year ahead of me, and he enlisted in the Navy when he graduated. We wrote letters to keep in touch. He flew home for Thanksgiving and came to our home town parade in uniform. I was marching in the pom squad, and when I saw him, I was smitten. 

“We went on a date that Christmas — skiing. He spent the whole day skiing backwards, trying to teach me. On December 28, 2001, we made it official: we were a couple. We spent the next six and a half years dating long distance. He got orders to Guam right around the time I graduated from high school, and I didn’t even know where Guam was. Shortly after that, he put in an officer package and was accepted to the Naval Academy. He came home the day of my sister’s wedding, when I was in college. He proposed while we were skiing, while the sun was setting. He got down on one knee in his ski boots. It was two years to the day that we first started dating, and even though I was only 19 years old, I knew he was my soul mate. He is the love of my life, my best friend, and he knows me better than anyone else on earth.

“Nine years and two kids later, he left last week for his fourth deployment, our third with kids. The hardest part is watching our kids miss their dad, and making all of the big decisions on my own. It’s so hard to not have your spouse around to tell you that as a mom, you are are doing alright. Not having that affirmation is tough, but you get those glimmers of hope, those moments where you know you are doing just fine. Today is my birthday, and he was able to call, which was everything. It’s true the best gifts in life can’t be bought. My deployment mantra is, ‘I got this.’ I’m keeping a routine for my kids, I’ll keep relying on my faith, and our incredible friends and lots of prayers will get us through.  

“It’s funny, this military life. Your friendships become as dear as family. I never thought I’d be so close to people I’m not related to — you make amazing and heartbreaking friendships. I can’t imagine another situation where, by choice and by force, you’d be put with such remarkable and diverse people. You really feel your support during the hard times. 

“Last summer, there was a mishap in the helicopter my husband was flying. That phone call was the single most terrifying and miraculous news I’ve ever received. He, and the rest of the crew, walked away from it. But in that moment, you realize how precious life is, how special your marriage is, and just how truly incredible your village is. From the friend that watched the kids while her husband drove me to the hospital, to the friends that brought dinner that night, and the generous outpouring of love and prayers, it’s humbling. The hard times bring you so, so close. There is great power in laughing together, but sometimes it’s the grief that brings you closest. When I had my miscarriage, my best friend sat with me on the floor and cried with me when there were no words. She picked off the pieces of toilet paper that were stuck to my face when I ran out of Kleenex. You don’t know while you’re in those tough moments that you’ll get through, but when you come out on the other side, you see just how strong you are. And so I keep repeating, ‘I got this.’ And I know I do.”

We can all keep serving

“Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so our family placed a large emphasis on education and service. My uncle was a Naval aircrew member who was lost in the Pacific theater during World War II. My father was an Army infantryman with the 78th Division and walked across Europe in that same war. My family believed that service to country was very important. I determined in the 7th grade that I was going to go to West Point. When I didn’t receive a Congressional appointment to West Point, my football coach helped me get into the Virginia Military Institute. I went there from 1963 until 1965 when VMI submitted my name to the Air Force Academy as an Honor Military School nominee. The Academy accepted me and I attended USAFA from 1965 until my commissioning in 1969.  

“I went to pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Our graduating class had only one fighter in our selection block and that went to the number one graduate. I chose to fly the C-130 because I knew it was the fastest way to get to Vietnam. There was a war on, and I wanted to go. I was eventually assigned to AC-130 Gunships at Ubon, Thailand. My tour coincided with the draw down in South East Asia and Secretary Kissinger was negotiating the peace terms at that time. I remember one evening on the runway ready to take off for a mission and having to taxi back to the revetments because we were told that things were happening back in Washington. It was very frustrating; all we wanted to do was our job and help the troops on the ground.

“I served in the Air Force for 24 years and got to travel extensively and see the rest of the world. I had many great assignments – enjoyed the many hours of flying, was in a command billet, served in AF Legislative Liaison, was a Presidential Advance Agent, served on the Air Staff, and served as Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee for the first Clinton inauguration. All of these experiences confirmed my belief that the USA is the best country on the face of this earth.  

“An interesting story was one that occurred when I was Secretary Kissinger’s Military Aide during the first Reagan inaugural. We were traveling in a car one evening and he asked me what had been the most frustrating thing about being over in South East Asia. I told him about being on the runway and having to abort our mission and that it was a Washington decision. He laughed and said, ‘That was you?’ and I looked back at him incredulously and said, ‘Sir, that was YOU?!’ He is a very intelligent man with a great sense of humor and an unbelievable way of understanding people. He taught me that we don’t have all of the answers, and most importantly, the United States cannot impose our morals and ethics on cultures that do not understand them and have no interest in living under the same limitations and acquired freedoms. He also strengthened something my father always told me, and that was, ‘I never learned anything while I was talking.’

“I was lucky to fly C-130s all over the world, and doing really important work. But I’m not special. Like my football coach and coach Belichick say: ‘Do your job.’ And I did. I have friends in Texas, California, Maine, and Florida – all over the country. And whether it’s been 1 day or 10 years, when we get together it feels like the separation has only been seconds.    

“I miss the people in the Air Force, and of course, the flying. Flying with those whom I respected the most is so memorable. But now I spend time volunteering and serving on the Board of Directors of the Warrior Foundation/Freedom Station, an organization totally dedicated to our soldiers who are severely wounded and suffer from conditions such as PTSD. The Warrior Foundation is a great organization that represented the US Navy and won the 2015 Spirit of Hope Award, named after the entertainer, Bob Hope. Every dollar we receive goes right back to these incredible men and women who need it. We are an all-volunteer organization where no volunteer accepts reimbursement. The founder, Ms. Sandy Lehmkuhler, is a Navy wife who started the efforts by asking for enough money to buy five electric shavers for returning veterans. It is now an organization with more than $4 million in assets. Giving back to those veterans… well it’s been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. Here I sit with no physical deformities and they have wounds they’ll have to work through for the rest of their lives. Serving our country in the United States Air Force is one of my proudest achievements, but we can all keep serving, long after we hang up the uniform.”

To learn more about the Warrior Foundation, please visit www.warriorfoundation.org

  

He is the only thing I’m certain about 

“In 2012 I flew to Hawaii to spend Christmas break with my best friend while her husband was deployed. Her husband’s roommate in Afghanistan came home a week earlier than her husband and the two of them thought it would be fun to set us up on a date. 

“We fell in love over the last three days of my vacation. Throughout the next year we traveled back and forth between Florida and Hawaii, falling more in love during each trip. That August he took me to our favorite place on Oahu (Ka’ena Point) and proposed. 

“I graduated from nursing school 4 months later on December 12th and we were married 8 days after at a small ceremony in Texas, almost a year after the day we first met.

I told my best friend that I was going to marry him just a week after we met. ‘When you know, you know,’ as they say. 

He is the only thing in this world I am certain about. 4+ years later and I am more in love with him with every passing day.”