Help Celebrate 250,000 Visitors Reading Your Stories

Off the Base creator, Bobbie O’Brien, at the controls of a C-17 Globemaster III, thanks to the generosity of the pilot, Maj. Gaulin, and the 621st Contingency Response Wing, based at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

On a Saturday afternoon in October 2010 – this blog was created as part of my Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism 2010-2011.

My deepest thank you to Mrs. Carter and to my many contributors and readers.

Off the Base has thrived and surpassed the milestone of 250,000 views – in just over two years.

Giving Thanks

The success is due to writing and photos from contributors such as Army spouse Jackie Dorr. Her first blog post: Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later.

Thanks to Dorie Griggs‘ insight and research – a lot more parents understand what their son is experiencing at the Citadel. One of Dorie’s biggest challenges now: A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army. Her son deploys soon.

Tracie Ciambotti shared so much of her heart as her son served multiple tours in Afghanistan and she got her daughter-in-law to contribute. Tracie wrote several entries and penned a book about her journey: Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms.

There are many more contributors including some I’ve yet to meet. But, a thanks is also due to Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple – for our joint radio series My Last Tour (the inspiration for this project) – and to his wife Liisa who helped me establish the blog and contributed: What I Wish I Had Known About Military Retirement.

What You Can Do

The mission was and continues – to give voice to veterans, active duty military and their families  and help civilians better understand military life and tradition.

Help celebrate your veterans and military – share your story with Off the Base. How do you recognize Veterans Day – will you:

  • visit a VA Hospital
  • stop by a military cemetery
  • send a thank you note to a veteran you know

Veterans what is the most memorable thing a civilian did to acknowledge you and your service? Send me your suggestions and stories at bobrien@wusf.org or write them in the comments section.

Thank you — your stories are being read and shared!

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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.

Military Families: In Their Words

Combat boots and a little girl's "Daddy Comes Home" shoes.

This marks the 600th entry to my blog Off the Base. The best way to note that milestone is to turn it over to some thoughts from military family members. The families – the grandparents, mothers, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, children – and veterans are the reason I created the blog. I wanted a place that gave them a voice and that could help civilians better understand the stresses and successes military families and veterans experience.

He’s My Brother – from Get Out of the Cube

“My little brother is a little less than half way through his first deployment to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. He and I have always been really close. He’s 8 years younger than me (he’s 31), and he was always my side-kick.

“For me personally right now, I would say the strongest feelings I have are 1) constant worry, 2) frustration that I can’t do anything to protect him, and 3) guilt.

“The guilt thing is strange. It’s like I don’t want to enjoy things, since it seems so unfair and selfish for me to be relaxing or laughing it up, when at the same moment he could be fighting for his life. Being optimistic is a challenge, especially given the sentiment there from recent events combined with what my brother’s role is. It’s no walk in the park. I can’t imagine how he feels. Putting on a positive public face is a daily challenge.”

Continue reading

Marine Mom First Deployment Ends & Other Homecomings

April and son Jared shortly after his completion of boot camp.

The Marine son of my colleague and friend, April Agle,  is beginning his journey home from his first deployment to Afghanistan. We’ll share news of his homecoming when it happens.

But, for those who need a piece of good news now – there’s the  website, Welcome Home. I introduced it on the blog about a year ago. It shares daily, heartwarming videos and stories from military families with many surprise homecomings. Here’s the most recent entry:

“After being gone for months performing route clearance missions in Afghanistan, I came home to surprise my Fiancée’, Katie, while she was having lunch at the Student Union on campus at Mississippi State University. My sister and brother-in-law were recording the video, and some friends at Event Services helped play our song, “God Gave me You,” over the speaker system in the food court. It is also the song I proposed to. She had no idea I was coming!”

-John G.

Military Moms and Wives Share Deployment Coping Skills

Many couples schedule pre-deployment photos to preserve their memories.

Tracie Ciambotti writes eloquently about the emotional cycles for a mom when a child deploys. Her words resonated with some military moms and spouses. Their comments follow:

Lynlee Darby – The fear at times becomes almost too much

Thank you for putting into words what is on our hearts. My son Chance is going for his second deployment soon and we are at the stage 1. I want to be with him every second I can…..and he has many people he wants to spend time with. Its one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried to make his time at home Christmas as special as possible. And to cherish each second I had with him. We have a large family and he has lots of friends. It is so hard to get everything in.

I am not sure how to describe how I feel! How do you describe so much pride and belief in your child at the same time your heart is aching knowing he will miss meals, be cold, be in danger, not sleep in comfort and be away from everyone he loves. And the fear at times becomes almost too much. I try really hard to keep in the front of my heart and mind that God has a plan for him. And He can keep him better than I can (which is hard to admit since he’s my baby!)

I know a lot of parents are facing deployment of a child right now and I hurt for them also. Just like I hurt for the girlfriends and wives and children of those who are deployed. I wish there was some way to ease the pain and fear, just one day at a time and a constant reminder that God is ever-present.

Tracie with her son Josh prior to his deployment.

Gerry Overbo – I am trying to be very strong

Thank you so much, my son deploys out at the end of this month. His first and as a mother this is very emotional, as I sit here reading tears are streaming down.

I am trying to be very strong because I don’t want him to worry about the home-front. As a single parent, he always was my rock … what I need to do as a military mom is make this as easy on my solder as possible.

Deployment day at Fort Carson.

Laurie Hammerschmidt – We are so much stronger today

This is my husband second deployment. I believe that these stages of deployment are different for Moms vs. Spouses, New Spouses vs. Seasoned Spouses, and then there are spouses with children, young and old. Deployment affects many in many different ways. My husband and I believe that these deployments will either make or break your marriage. We have been fortunate as we feel we are sooo much stronger today, together than we were at the beginning of the first one.

I give you credit for trying to put into words what its like., but really there is no describing the absence of your spouse in your life for a year out of a time, not having your dad there for all the special things in your life. I have dealt with natural disasters alone, college life and expenses alone, broken down cars, sickly, near death family members, illnesses, broken bones in our children, car accidents, broken down appliances, boy friend issues, holidays, some deaths, snow removal….and many other things to numerous to mention….

But my husband is a proud soldier, a good soldier, a good husband and father. He loves his country and what he does. He is respected by his superiors as well as his charges. No matter how hard it has been for me, I will always be here for him and support him, because I know this is just as hard, if not harder, on him.

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.

A Military Mom: Don’t Take the Small Things for Granted

Here’s a second contribution from Momma B – also known as Elaine Brye. She has four children and writes a blog: 4 star military mom. All are serving in the military – one in each branch – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Elaine Brye's four children who are rarely home at the same time.

BY ELAINE BRYE

As a military mom it is not only the big things that get to you-it can be the every day things that most take for granted. For example getting all four of mine in one place at the same time is quite a challenge. As I sit on our hilltop farm and look out on a holiday I can see clusters of families gathering together-not my kids. I may be lucky to get a double or a triple but very seldom do I get a home run of everyone together.

It’s funny – when they were home all the time –  I think they got the basics of hand-to-hand combat completed in my living room. I would head to town and war would break out. The battles raged, casualties abounded including lampshades and then the phone would ring. ” Kids, I am on the way home, anything else we need?”

Immediately they sprang into action just like Thing1 and Thing 2 (out of Dr. Seuss) – in this case – also Thing 3 and Thing 4 – and all worked together to put things back in order.  A few days later I might ask, “What happened to this lamp shade? ” to be met by silence. Of course all of this has only recently been disclosed now that the statute of limitations has run out.

They work hard to see each other when they can, but that little thing of normal life together is a thing of the past.

When they were home, I knew their friends,their comings and goings, and supported them in their activities. I sat on so many bleachers  that I developed bleacher bottom – an increase in girth directly attributed to hours sitting in the car or the bleachers.

Now, the questions remain unanswered – what did you do at work today, where are you, when will you be home? OPSEC (Operational Security) reigns supreme and I find myself reading the news to figure out if my kid might be there. The not knowing – and being less a part of their lives because of it – those are little things I took for granted in years gone by.

Momma B's first grandchild.

I have to say the one thing that really has upped the ante when I think of the little things is my grandchildren. During my sons’ first deployments they were newlyweds. Their wives stepped it up and bravely held down the home front. They dealt with all the things that can go wrong.

As it says in Mrs. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will happen when he is out of town-or on deployment.

But this time around – well – it is different. There is a little girl left behind. Six months old when Daddy left and she will be a year old when he comes home. The first tooth, the first steps – no amount of technology can replace missing those milestones. When we talk about personal sacrifice,  it can be the little things that mean so much.

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