7 Mother’s Day Tips from a Military Mom

Dorie Griggs with her son and daughter during Family Day at Ft. Stewart. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Dorie Griggs with her son and daughter during Family Day at Ft. Stewart. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I am the mom of a member of the U.S. Army. My son is deployed right now. Which means I experience a wide array of emotions any given day, sometimes within the span of a few minutes.

Mother’s Day is approaching quickly. Holidays have a way of bringing up the emotions we can hide the rest of the year. Having a child deployed this year I anticipate a few down moments as I approach that day.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions to readers who would like to show support for a military mom this Mother’s Day.

4 Ways to Help a Military Mom

Offer to send a care package to the deployed soldier. Knowing my son receives packages from a variety of friends makes me smile.

If you don’t have the time or money to send a package, offer to contribute to the postage costs, or supplies. Military families spend a lot on postage during the deployment.

Do let the mom of a deployed soldier know you appreciate their service.

Treat the mom of a deployed soldier to a lunch or dinner out, just to chat. Enjoying positive company is a great stress reliever.

3 Things to Avoid with a Military Mom

I love surprises, but not while my son is deployed. If you would like to visit the mom of a deployed soldier call first to let her know you are coming over. An unexpected knock on the door can bring visions of uniformed officers coming to let you know your soldier has been killed. Please don’t put the family of a deployed soldier through that scenario.

Having a deployed son or daughter is stressful. We get through it one day at a time. Making statements like, “I don’t know how you do it.” Is not helpful. We don’t know how we do it either.

Avoid overtly political discussions, unless the parent starts the conversation. Whether you agree or disagree with what is going on does not change the fact that my son is deployed and I worry.

I hope to spend this Mother’s Day with my husband and two children who are still home. Hearing from my deployed son would be a huge bonus.

An Army Family Prepares for Deployment

The Colors are Cased – a battalion ritual as soldiers prepare to deploy. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By Dorie Griggs

The last few weeks have been full of rituals and changes.

October 12-13 was Parents Weekend at The Citadel. My son graduated in 2011, but I am still in touch with quite a few families with cadets there. It is fun to relive the fun weekends through their stories and photographs. Since the first year cadets or knobs are promoted and the seniors receive their rings this weekend, it is a very happy time to visit the otherwise serious campus.

This year, I will admit to spending a bit more time looking at Facebook photos of this fun weekend. It was a great fun way to escape the ritual our family was about to begin. . . deployment.

Our oldest son is about to deploy to the Middle East. He was home in early October for his pre-deployment leave. He spent most of that time living it up with good friends. We saw him for a couple of meals and a going away party his father and step-mother threw for him. It was tough not having more time just to visit, but I was very happy to see him enjoying all his friends. Continue reading

Fourth of July Fireworks Not for All Veterans

English: fireworks seen across the at Washingt...

Fireworks seen across the river Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Wikipedia

I have always loved the Fourth of July holiday.  Growing up in a small town, it was a holiday filled with fun. Parades, swimming, picnics and ending with fireworks, all without the family anxiety and expectations of other holidays.

My views are changing now that I am an Army mom.

I am learning that for many of our military members and veterans the fireworks that top off the Fourth of July celebrations are not a fun ending to a carefree day. The booming sounds of the fireworks sound too much like the bombs and mortar fire of a war zone. The loud booms bring these warriors back to the war zone. Many will go to great lengths to be far from an area hosting a fireworks display.

So many of us with family members in the military have to make changes in the way we lead our lives. While not every soldier or veteran will have the same reaction, it is important for family members to be aware of potential triggers for our service member. The National Center for PTSD website lists helpful information for family members.

If your service member does have a traumatic stress diagnosis Gift From Within, a nonprofit offers help for the person with the diagnosis and the people who love them.

PTSD: An Army Mom Says “Above All Else, Do No Harm”

Photo courtesy of the VA.

One day last week, I was on Facebook and noticed a string of heated comments on the group site, Army Moms, about a Dr. Phil show titled Heroes or Monsters. I don’t watch Dr. Phil so I did a little checking. It turns out the show was about returning veterans with post traumatic stress and the difficult challenges for the veteran and their families.

The topic is an important one. We all need to learn more about the various physical and mental stresses our veterans can potentially come home with. But by using the title: Heroes or Monsters, the Dr. Phil show chose to sensationalize the topic and in the process upset scores of veterans and their families.

The show violated the maxim adhered to by the medical profession of Do No Harm.

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Army Mom Uses Websites, YouTube, Facebook to Learn

Graduation from the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Dorie Griggs with her son Nelson and family. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m on the steep learning curve on how to become the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After four years of being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, I thought I was pretty aware of the real military process.

I was wrong.

Over the years I have learned how to navigate various military related web sites. In my previous professional positions, I honed my Internet research skills. Those research skills and my drive to learn are coming in handy now.

The past few months, I’ve heard from other mothers of soldiers that they too are learning a lot. We learn more from our own research than from what our sons or daughters tell us directly.

I found great support from other mothers in particular about the various processes. Our children are busy starting their new careers. Many of them are in training that requires them to turn in their cell phones and don’t allow for computer access. It is during these periods, when we can’t hear directly from our own sons or daughters, that we as parents and spouses reach out to each other.

Armor school Basic Officer Leader Course graduating class. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The Army’s Family Readiness Groups (FRG) appears to be most helpful to spouses of military members. So far, I’ve not found them to be particularly helpful to family who do not live near the base. My son is scheduled to be deployed in the fall. I wonder if the FRG will be more helpful at that time.

I’ve found the base websites to be very helpful with back ground information.  During Armor BOLC both the website and the Facebook groups posted updates. The same was true when I researched Ranger School, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and Airborne School.

I found I could get lost in research on these sites. I also found answers to many of my questions on the various Facebook groups. To find more information on the particular training your soldier is going through, I have had  great success using the search window on the main base website. I used the search window to find the links to the various training pages and Facebook groups listed above.

Airborne soldiers during an exercise. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To find the Facebook group for my sons battalion and regiment, I put 3-69 Facebook in the search window on the main Fort Stewart website.

At Fort Stewart, they have an extensive website and also a variety of Facebook groups. Fort Benning does as well. Through these sites I’ve come to “meet” other parents and staffers who were more than willing to answer my questions.

If you want to find the group for your soldier, enter the base name in the Facebook search window. Once you find a site, you can also check the “Likes” section on the right side of the page to see what other related groups are listed.

YouTube is another source of information that I believe is under utilized by parents. I also know that sometimes you can have too much information. The videos in particular may not be very comforting if you are worried about the training your loved one is going through.

If you’d like find videos about the training or unit your soldier is in just enter the name in the search window of YouTube. I try to watch the videos posted by an official source like this one about the U.S. Army Basic Training.

Airborne graduation. Photo by Stanley Leary.

While my son was in college, he was involved in learning Modern Army Combatives. I found some training videos that helped me understand that discipline. One website gave me the background and another link showed a series of training videos. Now that he is active duty, the other videos I’ve found about the Rangers training, and the U.S. Army Special Forces are ones you need to be ready to watch. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone struggling to come to terms with this extremely challenging career choice.

The greatest gift I have received is the many new friendships, most virtual, that I have formed. Our children are on a path most of us haven’t traveled. The parents with military background help those of us without that experience.

The training we go through as family members isn’t physically grueling, but it is tough emotionally. We have peaks and valleys. The best you can hope for is that the peaks out weigh the valleys. Reaching out to others who understand this dynamic may not literally save your life, but the military family community can ease the stress.

The Citadel Ya-Yas become Military Moms

The Citadel Ya-Yas in March of 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

A year ago Monday, I wrote about the friends I made through the Citadel Family Association, The Citadel Ya Yas. We are a geographically diverse group of moms who met through our volunteer work and our mutual interest in supporting our children while they attended The Citadel. This group of friends continues to be a strong source of friendship, support and comfort. Between us we have children in the private sector, graduate school, and a few branches of the military. We are in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls when really important events pop up.

The summer my son attended Leader Development & Assessment Course (LDAC), I found a another group of friends. Most of us have never met, or even spoken on the phone.  We are family members of the cadets who went through LDAC the summer of 2010. We met via the LDAC 2010 Facebook group.  We formed our own Facebook group and now support each other as our children become officers and go through the various stages of training and active duty.

ABOLC graduation. Dorie Griggs, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, Taylor Lalli. Photo by Stanley Leary.

LDAC also maintains an excellent blog, Operation Warrior Forge, where they post photos and stories about the cadets at LDAC. I was able to watch the graduation in real-time via their live stream, WarriorForgeLive. The LDAC 2012 group should be up later this spring.

I am now on the steep learning curve now being the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I’ve learned about Fort Benning, the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), the Armor Branch traditions, Airborne School, Ranger school, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and am now learning about Fort Stewart and the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. Each one of these groups has a Facebook page or group as well. I wrote blog entries about our experience at the Armor BOLC graduation and included links to the sites where I learned about their traditions. I also wrote about the Airborne School first jump and graduation.

Airborne School graduation, November 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

When my son went to Airborne school, I corresponded with other family members through the  US Army Airborne School, Fort Benning Facebook group. Some of us met at the Fryar Drop Zone or at graduation. We shared photos from the jumps we attended and even checked on each others’ soldiers. A few of us are now Facebook friends. The experience last fall helped me see the bond the families of active duty military members share.

I am finding that as the mother of a single soldier some information is harder to track down. The Family Readiness Groups seem to be geared more toward the married soldiers who have spouses with them on base to attend meetings and events. At least, this is my experience with a soldier who is not deployed. I was visiting the Fort Stewart site recently and saw a post about their redesign. I plan on sending in a few suggestions.

One of the stated goals of their new design from the feedback page: “We are aiming to be a model example for all other military websites to be based upon.” If you are the family member of a single soldier and have ideas to share, scroll to the bottom of this page and send in your suggestion.

Military Mom Goes Airborne, to First Jump and Graduation

The first of jumpers for Airborne leave the plane over the Drop Zone. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Hurry up and wait.  At this point in my son’s career with the U.S. Army, that is how we feel. He completed his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC) in early October.  He gave up his spot in Ranger school, but was to begin Resilience and Surveillance Leader Course. When he and a few ABOLC friends reported, it turned out the course was over booked. For about 48 hours, it was unclear what would be next. He sent a text a few days later to tell me he was going to Airborne School.

My son’s time at Airborne School was an interesting experience for me. I didn’t hear much from our son since he was kept very busy with his training.  I found the web site for Airborne School through the main Fort Benning website and a Facebook group titled, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, that was very helpful.  Through the group, I met a number of other parents, spouses and girlfriends of members of Bravo Company.

A Soldier floats to the Drop Zone during the First Jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Airborne school begins with Ground Week. The second week is called Tower Week. The third and final week is called Jump Week.

A friend and veteran of the Army told me about that family could attend the jumps made during Jump Week.  The website also gave instructions on how to get to the Drop Zone (DZ) and Facebook group posted maps in their photos. I suggest calling the number listed on the Jump Week page prior to your trip to get information about your soldiers “drop week”.  They can tell you about the weather conditions and the scheduled jump times.

Since our son’s Jump Week was right before Thanksgiving the first two jumps were scheduled for Sunday, then two on Monday with the third and final jump on Tuesday. We made the two-hour trip to Fort Benning on Sunday to watch the first jump. I let my virtual friends on the Facebook group know we would be there Sunday and I’d try to post updates and photos.

The Drop Zone is on the Alabama side of Fort Benning, just south of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery off of Alabama Highway 165. We stayed at a hotel in Phenix City, AL to be closer to the entrance to Fort Mitchell where the DZ is located. It was still about a 25 minute drive.  Once there, you will see bleachers and a concrete block rest room building. Be sure to pack drinks and snacks. If the winds pick up and are stronger than 12 knots the drops will be delayed.  You could wait quite a while.

2LT Nelson Lalli runs by the observation area with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The day we arrived the winds were low and the sky was pretty clear. A few other family members and friends were waiting as well. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about their soldiers.

The first jump was scheduled for 9:00 AM. They were delayed by the brief increase in wind speed.  Once they did begin, it was quite a sight. On the ground we could see several white trucks scattered on the Drop Zone. One young lieutenant who was waiting with us explained they are out there to monitor the landings and help if anyone needs it.  They also release smoke to help the jumpers know the wind direction.

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An Army Mom Learns about the Cavalry, “Ironman” Award

Before Graduation in front of the Maneuver Center of Excellence building. L-R: Taylor Lalli, Chelle Leary, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Dorie Griggs, Stanley Leary. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Last Thursday, I entered a base of the U.S. Army for the first time as a military parent. We spent the day at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia.  Our second lieutenant graduated from his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC).

As we approached the entrance of Ft. Benning, the signs pointed visitors to a gate on the left. The guard at the gate asked for the drivers licenses for everyone over 18 in the car. Our 20-year-old son had left his wallet at home. The guard informed us, he is a former drill sergeant and asked our son if he is in the Army. Taylor answered “No sir.” After he  told our son never to leave the house without ID, he let us through. Taylor breathed a little easier as we left the entrance gate.

Second Lieutenant Nelson Lalli receives the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To get to the new Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) building, we drove a few miles passing lots of construction. Ft. Benning is going through a  huge expansion since the Armor branch was moved there from Ft. Knox as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). I knew the base was big, but driving along I realized just how big the base really is. My son told me it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island where his paternal grandmother lives.

We passed a golf course, a school, housing units and a gas station. Our daughter who had never been on a military base was surprised to see it is like it’s own city. We approached the new Maneuver Center of Excellence building and could see training towers in the distance. I was told to look for a “massive tank” by a Staff Sergeant who sent me directions. The tank was right in front of the new building. We saw plenty of second lieutenants in their dress uniforms, complete with Stetson covers, arriving in the parking lot.

2011 graduates of The Citadel, 2LT’s Nelson Lalli and Evan Minshew have some fun after the graduation. Minshew is holding Lalli’s “Ironman” award. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Our officer was waiting for us in front of the building with his father and step-mother who had arrived a little earlier. Wow! Did he look handsome in his new uniform. Of course we all started snapping photos, much to Nelson’s dismay. We told him he just had to deal with it today.

The Facebook group for the 2-16  Cavalry “Saber Squadron”//Armor Basic Officer Leader Course posted a press release the day before graduation stating that Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia would speak at graduation. This is the first ABOLC graduating class at Fort Benning, so the local press also turned out in force to cover the ceremony.

We took our seats in the auditorium.  Nelson told my husband, photographer Stanley Leary, he could move forward to take photos when he walked across the stage. Nelson was given the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” for having the highest physical fitness score in Lightening Troop

As we waited for the graduation to start, I had fun watching the various family members, officers and staff file in. It struck me how many of these young officers were married with very small children.

Chelle and Dorie present the recent ABOLC graduate with his “Iron Man’ gifts. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It was a very nice ceremony.  Governor Deal gave a nice speech and the presentation of awards began. It was such a thrill to see our second lieutenant walk across the stage to shake the hands of the Governor, the Commander and other officers. When the ceremony ended we had to all take turns getting our photo taken with the award winning officer, much to his chagrin. He did clown around a bit with one of his fellow graduates of The Citadel and ABOLC grad, Evan Minshew. You can see the pride on all the faces in those photos.

Before we went in to the restaurant for a late lunch, Chelle and I presented Nelson with our graduation gift, a comic book, “Iron Man Is Born” and the two Iron Man DVD’s. I knew he appreciated the humor.

Our second lieutenant gave up his spot in Ranger School.  He is now waiting to hear where he will go next. As for me, I’m reading up on the history of the Armor branch, and learning why they wear Stetsons and the traditions around who wears the gold or silver spurs. I’ve also read up on Garryowen and learned why we stood up and clapped to the song as it was played at the end of the ceremony.

A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army Ranger

Bravo Seniors display their rings Friday afternoon outside the barracks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

One week from today, my son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). In two weeks, parents of cadets at The Citadel will descend on Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  It is also Ring weekend, the time all cadets look forward to their senior year.

This year is the first year, in the past four, that we will not be in Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  We are creating new rituals as the family of a graduate and new second lieutenant. I will miss the rhythm of the college school year.  Fortunately, I’ve made some wonderful friends and know we will go to Charleston for visits but our time won’t be spent following the official schedule of events for cadets.

Bravo Company Cadre lead the first year knobs in a set of push-ups at the promotion ceremony. Parents’ Weekend the knobs are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m already missing the regular information posts of The Citadel.  As the mom of a second lieutenant, I have to rely on calls, emails, or text messages from my son to fill me in on what type of training he is going through.  The Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning does have a lot of information posted, but much of it is geared toward the spouses of soldiers, not family members who are not in the area of the base. To learn the location, time and directions to the graduation next week took a phone call and a few email messages.

The next phase is Ranger School.  My son will report at the end of October. The website for Ranger School is very helpful.  I’ve also read Facebook posts of his classmates who are in the Ranger School class immediately ahead of him. They all know just how challenging this training is.  A few 2011 graduates of The Citadel have mentioned that their schedule in the real Army is tougher than knob (freshman) year.  That is saying a LOT.

Lightening Troop Class 11-005 Recon Mounted STX. Photo courtesy of the class' Facebook page.

In some ways, I feel like the mom of a knob. I get little information from my son.  He is putting in long hours and getting little rest. And he still appreciates care packages of protein based foods.

Unlike knob year, I don’t have the comfort of regular photos being posted to a web site, or parent volunteers to call with questions. In that regard, I am like any other parent of a recent college graduate living away from home and working at a new job . . . until he is deployed.

A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

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