Military Families Ministry’s Co-Founder Receives Award

Tracie Ciambotti is co-founder of the Military Families Ministry.

Paula Parker, staff assistant in the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute, is the 2012 recipient of the Barash Award for Human Service.

Created in 1975 by the family of the late Sy Barash, the award honors a full-time member of the faculty or staff or student body on the University Park campus who, apart from his or her regular duties, has contributed the most to human causes, public service activities and organizations, or the welfare of fellow humans.

Parker is being recognized for her work as co-founder and director of the Military Families Ministry, (MFM) which provides support to members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. In 2009, when her oldest daughter deployed to Iraq with the Marine Corps, Parker and local Army mom Tracie Ciambotti launched the Military Families Ministry at the State College Alliance Church. Six months later, Ciambotti moved to Colorado, where she started a similar group, and Parker took on sole leadership in State College.

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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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Army Mom Shares Her Story: Boot Camp for Military Moms

“It is a mother’s instinct to protect her children.  From the moment we feel the first movement as they grow inside us; we take on the role of protector…

                …What happens to our basic instinct to protect our child when he or she is ordered to one of the most dangerous places in the world?  The one thing that comes so naturally to us, which we have done with ease for 18 years, is suddenly beyond our grasp.  Oh, we still feel the need, but we are no longer able to protect our children!  Worse than that, we cannot know exactly where they are, what they are doing, or if they are safe, injured or even alive.  What now?  How do we get through the day?  How do we survive?”  (Quote from Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms )

I started journaling the day my son left for his second deployment to Iraq in 2008.  What began as an exercise for my own sanity is now Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms.  I realized that I was not the only mother of a service member who was struggling with the emotional trauma of her child’s deployment and I became passionate about helping others.

In Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms, I share my personal experiences and challenges with the emotional side of deployment and offer a training guide to help other moms and family members cope with a loved one’s deployment.

In addition to writing about my experience, I co-founded Military Families Ministry (MFM) with another military mom, Paula Parker.  MFM is focused on supporting the entire military family through the establishment of ministry and support groups in churches and communities.  We unite military families who support each other while working on service projects to support our deployed troops, wounded warriors, and veterans.

Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms is a reminder that our nation’s freedom is not free.  Military families pay a very real price for that freedom.  I want to create awareness of the sacrifices made by our service members and their entire family. My goal is to inspire individuals, churches, and community groups to support the military families in their midst.  Visit Battles of the Heart on Facebook.

Army Wives and Army Moms Have a Bond All Their Own

The Army Wives at dinner.

In mid-December, I spent a week with my daughter-in-law, Alison, and some of her friends who are also Army wives.  A surprise announcement came that our deployment, which was to continue until June of 2012, was ending early for one company and approximately 500 soldiers were scheduled to return to Fort Carson in time for Christmas.

These particular wives had all left Colorado Springs when their husbands deployed in June of 2011 to spend the deployment with their families.  It was up to them to find a place to live and get everything ready for their soldier’s return.  They searched online for apartments or townhouses to rent, arranged for moving trucks and helpers, coordinated their moving dates, signed leases, and made arrangements for utilities.

The bracelets made by an Army wife for the others wives with husbands in the same platoon.

If you have ever moved across country, think for a moment about all that is involved with this transition.  These Army wives do it all—alone.    Once everything was in place, they began their journeys back to Colorado, some with small children and one with a new baby.

This experience was remarkable to me in that it was much more than renting an apartment and moving furniture. It was not about getting a house, but rather, making a home for their husbands.  They went together and purchased live Christmas trees and then each went to the others’ homes to help get the trees up and decorated.  I was amazed at how they just get it done.  Things that I would put on my “honey-do-list” and hand off to my husband, they just did because there were no husbands there to hand things off to.

Tracie (left) bonding with another Army Mom at the dinner.

The experienced wives, seasoned from prior deployments, helped the first-timers.  They laughed together and talked, with anticipation, about their husbands coming home.

They arranged a dinner for the platoon’s wives to reconnect with one another.  One of the wives made bracelets for the others with their last name—the name their men answer to in the Army.  I attended this dinner with Alison and had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Army mom whose son is in my son’s platoon.

There is a special bond between soldiers created by the harsh realities of their service; a bond which is incomprehensible to the civilian world.  Like their men—Army wives have a bond all their own.

Military Moms Most Memorable Moments in 2011

Chelle and Nelson in Charleston, September 2007.

A Sister, a Mom, a Family Prepares for Military Life” – Dorie Griggs.

It’s hard to believe in just over a month my oldest son will graduate from The Citadel. The time, for me at least, has flown by. Looking through photos from his college career, I’m forced to believe the time really has gone by.

Our daughter, Chelle, is the measuring stick. She was a little girl in 3rd grade when Nelson started his knob year (freshman).  She is now a young lady in 6th grade and about 12 inches taller. The photos tell the story best. During the 2007-08 school year she always brought a treasured stuffed animal on our visits to The Citadel. Now she brings a book.

Dorie Griggs knew little of military life until her son joined ROTC in high school. That’s when her education began and has not stopped since. She’s cheered him through four years and graduation at the Citadel and watched as he made his First Jump at the U.S.  Army Airborne School. Through her writing and photos by her husband Stanley Leary, Dorie has taken us along as she travels the unknown road as a military mom.

Tracie Ciambotti and her son, Joshua Nearhoof, Army Sergeant out of Fort Carson, September 2010.

An Army Mom Connects Military Families and Churches” – Tracie Ciambotti.

My son enlisted in the Army two days after graduating high school in June of 2005—five months later he was in Baghdad in the middle of a war.  He received the best training in the world for his new job as an Army infantryman; I however, did not receive any information or training for my new role as the mother of a soldier.  Families that have a loved one in the Armed Forces sacrifice and serve with their enlisted and they need support. 

I could not find one support group in the community or county where I lived in Pennsylvania at the time.  Most communities in this country have support groups for all kinds of things; alcoholism and drug addictions; cancer and many other diseases; crime victims; and many more. 

When Tracie Ciambotti couldn’t find a support group for military moms and families near her Pennsylvania home, she co-founded Military Families Ministry. She has generously contributed to Off the Base – writing about her experience as an Army Mom detailing the emotions of deployment but also the drive to provide soldiers and their families prayer and support.

Jared Agle's official US Marine Corps photo.

A Marine Mom Lets Go a Week Early” – April Agle.

… the Marines made their presence known in our lives. It became very clear that things were going to be different from now on.  Jared called me at work on Thursday, August 5th.  He had just received a call from his Marine recruiter that his departure date for boot camp had been moved up a week early to Sunday, August 9th.  Jared was asked if he could leave a week early.  As Jared said to me, “ I can’t say no mom.  I need to call him back and tell him okay”.  

I was proud of myself.  I told him to go ahead and call the Recruiter back and tell him that he would be ready to go.  I hung up with Jared. My heart was pounding so fast. I was in a panic.  My eyes teared up. I called Roger at work and told him.  I hung up with Roger and cried a bit.  I knew it was coming – I knew this day was coming.  I thought to myself, “the stupid military is already messing with my plans”. 

I thought I was ready for this and was finding that it was not true.  I knew I had to be strong.  I remember thinking that it is only boot camp, it’s not like he is going to war – At least not yet.

April Agle works in the business office at WUSF Public Broadcasting, where I work. She’s not only a colleague, she’s a friend. Her 17-year-old son, Jared, convinced her to sign the papers for the Marine Corps Delayed Enlistment Program while he was still in high school. I convinced April to write about the experience. I also had the privilege of interviewing Jared before and after boot camp in 2010. He’s now serving in Afghanistan.

Momma B tries out a flight simulator - three of her children are aviators in military service.

A Mom, 4 Kids, 4 Services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines” – Momma B.

My mom radar was definitely on the blink. As an aviator’s mom (make that triple aviator’s mom ) I scan the news daily for any mention of a mishap that might remotely involve my boys or any of their compadres. And when a news crawl or Google alert pops up I am on the phone, if possible, checking  to make sure my kid is safely on the ground.

Such is the life of a military pilot’s mom. It doesn’t matter if they are deployed or not. Every day, they do battle with physics. My Marine in his F/18 defies gravity and the speed of sound, flying way too close to another airplane to make a mom comfortable. My P/3 NFO is up for hours in OLD airplanes-thankfully soon to be replaced. And my Army ROTC cadet in helicopters-those things fly way too close to the ground, don’t you think?

This Off the Base contributor goes by the nom de plume of Momma B on her blog: 4starmilitarymom. She’s mother to four children – all are in the military.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Nankervis.

Seven Is Too Young to Join the Army” – Lynn Nankervis.

Today I sat in an Army recruiter’s office while a camouflage-wearing, big-muscled, tough-talking soldier insisted my 7-year-old son was ready to serve his country by enlisting in the military.

Not really.

Sam is actually 17 years old, entering his senior year in high school and considering joining the Army under the Delayed Entry Program, essentially meaning he signs the papers now but doesn’t report to boot camp until after high school graduation next June.

But as I sat with my son in that office listening to the recruiter proclaim all the benefits of a military career, my mind flashed back to a front-toothless Sam at 7 asking me to take him to “McDongals” for a “mikswake.”

This is my baby, my first-born son. How is it possible he is old enough to be thinking about the military? He’s supposed to be playing cowboys and Indians, not defending his country. You can read the full blog entry HERE.

Lynn Nankervis originally wrote this for the Bloomingdale Patch. Her writing was so clear and insightful, I contacted Lynn for permission to re-use her column.  She also writes The Brady Bunch Plus One blog.

Heroes Among Us: Military Spouses

Army wives at Fort Carson on deployment day, June 11, 2011. Photo courtesy of Tracie Ciambotti

How do you define a hero?  I immediately think of those in uniform—the men and women serving in the Armed Forces or the first responders who protect us in our communities.  Heroes, however, don’t always wear uniforms and carry guns; they live among us in most neighborhoods in this country.

My husband, Jeff, and I have been living 2000 miles apart since the middle of July when I came to Pennsylvania for a summer visit with my family.  My plan to return to Colorado mid-August changed due to a medical situation with my daughter.  Jeff and I have been learning how to manage our relationship, two households, and the myriad of other things that couples encounter—from separate locations.

The U.S. Army soldiers walking into the gymnasium on deployment day at Ft. Carson.

The challenges that Jeff and I have faced over the past months, as difficult as some have been, seem minor in comparison to what military couples endure.  I call him anytime I have a question or just need to talk, he can come here and visit me whenever he wants, and he is not in a dangerous war zone.

This experience has given me fresh perspective and deep appreciation for the courage it takes to be a military spouse, particularly during deployments.  They can’t call their spouse; they must wait for calls to come to them.  They don’t have the luxury of arranging a visit whenever they want and they awake every morning to the reality that the love of their life is fighting a war.

Tracie's daughter-in-law, Alison, and son, Josh, prior to deployment.

Despite how they feel or what they are going through personally, they make themselves available to help and support another military spouse when a need arises.  The bond they have is unbreakable and many say their combined strength is what gets them through.

I have watched my daughter-in-law, Alison, grow into a courageous and admirable Army wife over the past several years and I applaud the way she has become a mentor to new wives.

I think back to deployment day, this past June, as I stood beside real Army wives watching their husbands disappear into the gymnasium; the soldiers heading to war were not the only heroes at Fort Carson that day.

Military Families Ministry’s “Stockings for the Troops”

Tracie Ciambotti is co-founder of the Military Families Ministry.

Military Families Ministry (MFM) has launched their 2011 Christmas project:  “Stockings for the Troops“.

Please join us in sending stockings to our deployed troops who will not spend this special holiday with their families. This is a great family project to reinforce the importance of giving to others–particularly those who sacrifice so much for us.

How can you help?

Make or buy a stocking (max 18 inches) and stuff it with items from this suggested list:

  • candy canes
  • Hard candy (no chocolate)
  • hand & foot warmers (small packets)
  • lip balms
  • tooth-brush and small tooth paste
  • hand lotion  (small – unscented)
  • hot chocolate packets
  • individually wrapped cookies
  • (no homemade cookies – they won’t survive the shipping)
  • beef slim jims
  • Ramen soup packets
  • Small packets of trail mix or pretzels
  • Christmas card (home-made or bought ) with a personal message from you

Then, spread the word;  ask everyone you know to make one stocking, get groups or clubs involved,  talk to your local schools and community organizations (they are looking for projects this time of year).  Download our flyer HERE and pass it around.

Stockings must be shipped by November  23rd to ensure Christmas delivery for our troops.

Drop off locations available for our CO and PA MFM groups, otherwise email tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com with the number of stockings you have collected and we will provide you with an address to ship directly to the troops.  Those outside our local MFM groups will be responsible for paying their own shipping costs.

Questions: Email Tracie Ciambotti at tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com

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