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

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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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Military Spouse Learns of Husband’s Death on Facebook

Ariell Taylor-Brown (Photo courtesy NBC4i.com)

It’s happening more often with the growth of social media – a military family learns of the death of a loved one before official notice.

This time it was Ariell Taylor-Brown who learned of the death of her husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher Brown, two hours before Army soldiers arrived at her home with the official notice according to Columbus, Ohio station NBC4:

“I was told via Facebook,” said Taylor-Brown. “It was a girl in his platoon. She wrote to me and told me to call her immediately,” Taylor-Brown said.

Taylor-Brown called her, and the soldier told her of the death. Taylor-Brown, who has two children and is pregnant with the couple’s third was at home alone with the kids.

She told me over the phone, right in front of my kids and I completely had a meltdown. She wasn’t supposed to but I guess she took it on her own power to do it,” she said.

Staff Sgt. Brown had been in Afghanistan just a week, starting his fourth deployment, when he  was killed. Brown, was killed April 3 in Afghanistan after he died of wounds suffered in an IED attack according to milblogging.com.

When a Military Spouse Blogger Reaches Out

Lori Volkman's bio photo from her blog: Witty Little Secret.

Lori Volkman, who writes the military spouse blog: Witty Little Secret, wrote an open letter to Kari Bales, the spouse of the Army staff sergeant charged with killing 17 Afghan civilians.

According to Milblogging.com, Volkman’s blog appears to have gone viral and gained her national media attention. But, maybe more important, her blog which strives to support military families, did so for Bales. The Army spouse responded to Volkman’s outreach and posted a response.

The Witty Little Secret post: “Open Letter to Kari Bales”. An excerpt:

“Dear Kari,

I can’t imagine the thud you felt in your heart and the ice that coursed in your veins when you heard a knock and saw a uniform standing at your front door. I can’t fully imagine the fear and the shock and the way that you couldn’t breathe as you thought about what this visit could possibly be about. Was probably about.

And then, the relief in your stomach that quickly turned to sickness when the shock wore off that your husband was alive, only to be told that something terrible had happened for which your husband was the primary suspect.

A portion of Kari Bales’ response posted on Witty Little Secret. An excerpt:

“When I read your letter I began shaking and crying. You had so eloquently summed up all of the questions and emotions that I had been feeling since my whole world had been turned upside down. I am not looking at the news very much these days. Instead I read your letter every night before I go to bed and let all of the supportive words and prayers sink in.

Check out Witty Little Secret for more on her journey as a military spouse, lawyer, mother and blogger who describes herself:

I cry sometimes, write sometimes, and I do a lot of stinking laundry at 10:30 pm. I’m an over-achieving sarcastic wordsmith with inappropriate thoughts and a desire to make sense of it all.

In this case, she has helped and given perspective to at least one military spouse, Kari Bales.

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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The National Guard Looking for 1 Million Facebook Fans

National Guard Photo: MG Maria Britt, commanding general, Georgia National Guard, looks through the sights of an M119A2 howitzer during a visit to the 1-118th Field Artillery Annual Training.

A nod to Milblogging.com for passing the word along. The National Guard is closing in on 1 million fans on its Facebook Page.

When the Marines were nearing 1 million, I posted it on this blog to encourage those so inclined to sign on and hit the Like button.

Now, here’s an opportunity to help the National Guard hit that magic mark. As of Sunday evening, the Guard’s Facebook page had more than 956,000 fans. Milblogging.com estimated it would take until September to hit 1 million. Obviously that will come sooner if you respond and get your friends, family, work colleagues and others to do the same.

“Always ready, always there” is the mission of this nation’s oldest military branch that serves states and the federal government. The Guard has played a key role in both Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered losses. Becoming a fan on their Facebook page is one small way to acknowledge their sacrifice.

You can follow the popularity of each military branch on Facebook Pages Leaderboard.

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