Wishes for a White (Toilet Paper) Christmas from Afghanistan

Dorie Griggs

Dorie Griggs

The following post is written by long-time contributor Dorie Griggs who started writing for Off the Base while her son was still a cadet at the Citadel. She’s a new Army mom and he’s now deployed.

By Dorie Griggs

Never again will I look at toilet paper the same way.

My son sent me a private message on Saturday morning. I had missed his Skype call the day before. He doesn’t contact me often so I wasn’t sure what was up. It turns out the toilet paper I ordered through Amazon.com arrived. I sent 96 rolls, enough for each member of his platoon to have a package. He told me the guys were treating it like gold. They received a number of boxes this past week, but the toilet paper was, “the hit of everything.”

I told my son to let his guys know I’ve got their a$$es covered. I am pretty sure he rolled his eyes when read my comment.

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4 Things You Can Do for Military Children this Month

Photo by Cpl. Theodore Ritchie (courtesy of Real Warriors campaign)

Children growing up in military families also serve by having a parent who could be deployed at any time and a family unit that likely has to move every few years to a new PCS (Permanent Change of Station).

So, the Real Warriors campaign, established by the Defense Centers of Excellence, has some suggestions on how you can acknowledge a Military Child you may know or all Military Children:

  1. Volunteer to write letters or do activities together – Flags Across the Nation brings military families together to write letters to deployed service members, make blankets for wounded warriors and create art using Flags Across the Nation’s free online coloring pages to send to warriors.
  2. Color in story books specially designed for military children – Download and print the coloring sheets Goodbyes are Hard [PDF 812KB], I Can Do That! [PDF 792KB] and Coloring Book Pages for Kids [PDF 2.2MB], or ask your family readiness group or military family life consultant how to find additional coloring books.
  3. Create and populate a family page – Military Families Near and Far encourages families to work together to develop a family page within the website. Families can create artwork, write stories or record messages and add them to the family scrapbook on your family page. The  Sesame Workshop online tool can help  family stay connected during deployment.
  4. Learn about a parent’s deployment – “Where are You Going?” on MilitaryKidsConnect.org helps children explore the country where a deployed parent is located and learn about cultural elements such as typical foods, traditional clothing and language. The interactive map can help families cope with separation.

More tips on how to honor and celebrate the Month of the Military Child are available HERE.

Military Spouse of the Year: Voting Closes Friday at Midnight

Military Spouse magazine holds an annual Military Spouse of the Year competition. Some examples of the 2012 Nominees:

There’s a Marine Corps wife who started a military moms running club called Stroller Warriors. A nominated Army wife is known for her leadership and starting a preschool children’s music and movement program, KinderJam, which became a business.

The 9-year-old daughter of an Air Force wife nominated her mother because of her mom’s volunteer work and how she cares for eveyone:

“When my Daddy was deployed this year, my Mommy moved our entire household into a bigger one, all by herself, just so my 8-year-old sister and I could have our own rooms. She makes sure that no other wives have to go through a deployment by themselves, and she has them over for dinner and offers to babysit their kids so they can have time to themself. She does all of that and never ever expects anything in return.”

A Marine veteran and mother of three is one of the Coast Guard spouse finalists she is also founder of the non-profit Coast Guard Family Organization blog.

There’s a self-described “Army brat turned Navy wife” who serves as is a trainer to Ombudsman and she volunteers with Navy Wives Clubs of America. And there’s the mother of two and wife of a National Guardsman who also serves as the president of the Family Readiness Group for her husband’s unit.

In all there are five finalists for each branch of service. You can view their names, profiles and videos by clicking on the links below. And then vote for your favorite. I’ll warn you, it’s tough making a choice:

Check out the spouses’ stories – if anything else – you can gain some insight into military life. The deadline to vote is MIDNIGHT FRIDAY.

Here’s a video of the 2011 winner accepting her award:

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.

Oprah, First Lady Focus on Military Families

Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey, courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

The number, 5, 892 deaths, and the longest war in American history: two facts Oprah opened her January 27th show with.  This show was aptly titled “The Bravest Families In America.”  Tom Brokaw started his portion of the show with a simple statement, if you don’t know someone fighting then you can’t care and you don’t think about the sacrifice these families are making.

It’s true. How could you possibly understand the sacrifice when you hear the statistics, less than 1 percent of our population is bearing 100 percent of the battle.  This number is astonishing to me. I suppose that may be because I have been surrounded with the 1 percent my entire life.

Corey and Jenny, courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

On the Oprah Show, we first meet Corey Briest and his beautiful family.  Corey was wounded by an IED and three of his fellow soldiers did not survive the attack.  This family is living every military family’s nightmare.  My tears flowed freely as Corey’s wife Jenny explained that Corey used to read to their daughter, but now she reads to him.  I imagined what if this were Brian and of course my tears flowed with even more force.   Jenny said, “This is the love of my life and I am going to do anything for him.”  With that one phrase, Jenny Briest summed up every military spouses’ feelings precisely.

Throughout the program my phone chimed several times, my fellow spouses texting me, asking if I was crying as hard as them. My friend Alaina saying, “They are ‘ARMY STRONG’ amazing.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  She is right. They are a great example of what our Army’s slogan represents.

Every few months Theresa visits her son's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

Then there was Theresa, who will never stop mourning the loss of her son Michael.  When she pulled “Corduroy” out to read to her son, my heart sank.  My mom read that book to me and I read it to my babies.  I will never again read my girls that book without think of the young fallen hero who rests in section 60 of Arlington, the saddest acre in America.

I was happy that Oprah finally called some attention to the things military families endure. However, why did it take Tom Brokaw coming to her to dig deeper?

In order to cover all the bases, the show also portrayed a blue star family, the Blackmore’s.  I was thankful they included this aspect, as I can relate deeply.  Carmen Blackmore is involved with her FRG (Family Readiness Group) and has moved  a good number of times.

The Blackmore family's home is any where the Army sends them.

When Carmen showed her “Home is where the Army sends us” sign I actually looked at my mom and told her how cute it was.   I felt for Carmen, when she said they want a third child but they are going to wait because her husband is deploying and if they got pregnant right now he would miss the first year.

My husband has missed the first year for both of our children.  This is our reality. With all of this said, this segment left me very frustrated.  They just scratched the surface of what blue star families endure.  I think Oprah could probably produce an entire mini series showing the ins and outs of military families’ daily lives and how we are one huge family helping each other through everything.

The show repeatedly pointed out how isolated military families are and how blind a majority of America is to our lifestyle. This is a start, but there is still so much more to tell. The producers didn’t show a pregnant wife’s pride, crying during the National Anthem,  because her husband is part of the 1 percent.  They didn’t show the little kids who think their parent is just at “work” while they are thousands of miles away.

Oprah neglected to show how the military community comes together to help each other with the kids, the house and just daily life.  There was only a passing mention of how much military families give back to the civilian community.

Much of the show focused on wounded warriors and gold star families, as well it should. However, blue star families make up the majority of the military.  And while they mentioned there are problems other than physical wounds and/or death, they could have gone deeper.

How do we cope with the anxiety of our soldier coming home?  How do we work through PTSD etc.  Michelle Obama said that while on the campaign trail she was made aware of such families, and we became her mission. But, why did it take two years to launch this initiative?

First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah are working to raise awareness of the sacrifices military families make for the country.

Oprah and Michelle Obama asked the rest of the country to think about what they can do to help military families. Michelle Obama actually said people don’t know we need help because we don’t ask. I suspect she meant that it was a point of pride for military families to be self suficient, but that’s not the way it came off sounding to me.

I thought, do we really need help?  Awareness yes, kind thoughts and generosity sure, but help?  I guess there is always room for improvement, ha, higher pay, aid to military members who own homes in other states, better jobs for spouses, child care that is affordable so the spouse can work etc. Michelle Obama said she is trying to get military spouses better employment options.

But when Oprah asked what can American’s do to help us, Michelle Obama’ suggested “a girls night out” and “manicures.” While this show touched me, made me cry and made my heart ache, I also had a few “What the heck Oprah?!” moments.

Anyone wishing to show support for military families can go to serve.gov to learn more.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

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