Service Members Sing Star Spangled Banner for July 4th

The video is produced by SSG Joash Buenavista of the Armed Forces Network – Iraq using voices of more than 150 service members representing all branches: Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. Closing remarks are provided by Major General Jeffery Buchanan.

Happy Independence Day to all – a day and freedoms we’re all able to celebrate thanks to their service and sacrifice.

What Happened When the Music Stopped in Iraq

A fellow journalist shared the story below. According to Truth or, it is a true story that dates back to May 2007. The words are from Army Reserve Chaplain Jim Higgins written when he was deployed. It’s an apt entry for a Sunday.

(For  those who are unaware: At all military base  theaters, the National Anthem is played before  the movie begins.) As is the custom at all military bases, we stood at attention when it played befoe the main feature film began.

This is written by a  Chaplain in Iraq :

I recently attended a  showing of ‘Superman 3’ here at  LSA  Anaconda. We have a large auditorium that we use  for movies as well as memorial services and  other large gatherings.   

Now, what would happen if  this occurred with 1,000 18-to-22-year-olds  back in the States?  I imagine that there  would be hoots, catcalls, laughter, a few rude  comments, and everyone would sit down and yell  for the movie to begin. Of course, that is, only  if they had stood for The National Anthem  in the first place.

Here in Iraq  1,000 soldiers continued to stand at attention,  eyes fixed forward. The music started again, and  the soldiers continued to quietly stand at  attention.  Again, though, at the same  point, the music stopped. What would you expect  1,000 soldiers standing at attention to  do??  Frankly, I expected some laughter,  and everyone would eventually sit down and wait  for the movie to start.

No!!. . . You  could have heard a pin  drop while every  soldier continued to stand at  attention.

Suddenly, there was a lone  voice from the front of the auditorium. Then  a dozen voices, and soon the room was filled  with the voices of a thousand soldiers,  finishing where the recording left  off:

It was  the most inspiring moment I have had in Iraq ,  and I wanted you to know what kind of U.S.  Soldiers are serving you!  Remember them as  they fight for  us! 

Written by Chaplain  Jim Higgins, LSA Anaconda is at the Ballad  Airport in Iraq , north of Baghdad.

What I wish I had known about military retirement

Retiring from the military is a huge change – not just for the service member but also for the family. So many things are changing at once that the stress in the months preceding the retirement ceremony can be quite overwhelming. My husband SMSgt Rex Temple is getting ready to hang up his uniform after 28 years in the Air Force – watching him go through the process compels me to write a few words of encouragement and advice for other spouses who are getting ready to help their loved one go through this major transition.

Starting early …..  WAY EARLY

When your military member is encouraged to start the separation process early – they mean it. If you start the process 12 months before, it’s not soon enough. You need to make sure you’ve crossed all your T’s and dotted all your I’s by the time you serve the

This was a Naval Retirement Cake which was a very large 18x24 sheet-cake, about 60 servings. Made of Vanilla/Chocolate marble cake with butter-cream frosting. Photo by Jennifer Shockley of Shockley's Sweet Shoppe.

retirement cake. There are so many steps you have to take, so many classes you have to schedule to take, so many medical appointments you have to have, so many forms you have to fill out – you will need all that time to properly prepare. Can you do it in less time? Absolutely, but starting early will help minimize the stress and it will allow the service member to have time to react to unexpected problems that will come along when you least expect them. (Sometimes the computer program for military retirement will schedule appointments for you on a Sunday when the office for that particular part of the retirement process is not even open. And you will get “nasty-grams” via email from that same computer program for having missed your appointment …. It takes time to fix such bureaucratic stupidities.)

Medical records

Depending on where you serve and what military branch you serve with, getting your medical records copied for the transition to the VA system can take weeks or sometimes even months.  Remember that you want to make sure all those medical records have been updated to include all service related medical issues so that those will be covered under the VA system once your spouse makes the transition. This is where deployment related “aches and pains” that could be nothing or could be something significant are worth some extra “bitching.” Document everything – you never know whether things like being exposed to burn pits in Iraq or being in the vicinity of an IED blast will come back to haunt your loved one. So ask a lot of questions and help your service member go through his or her medical file to make sure everything has been properly included in the official record.

The dreaded resume

Start writing the resume for the post-military job search early. It takes days and days to translate military job descriptions into something that civilian employers understand and can appreciate. You have to be able to take out all the military jargon and also “translate” what you did in the military into functional skills that a civilian employer will understand and value.

The military offers lots of classes on resume preparation and on job searching techniques. These are open to spouses and we decided to go through them together so that I could help my husband with his job search. It helps when you have two sets of eyes and ears paying attention to the presentations and taking notes. Plus the courses also offer lots of advice for the spouses about job searching and how to fix your resume so that all those gaps you have in your resume because of frequent military moves are less obvious and don’t hurt your chances of being hired.

These classes offer you access to special books for free that will also help you and your service member write federal resumes (totally different from civilian). It took us at least two full weeks (working on weekends and at night) to make Rex’s federal resume.  There were tons of steps along the way and a steep learning curve – but thanks to the Family Readiness Center on base we got through it and now Rex has a great “base” resume to use as part of every application he submits online.

You really need to be realistic and keep these sobering numbers in mind. In January, the national unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans hit its highest level since the government began collecting the data in 2008 —15.2 percent, compared with 9 percent for the entire workforce. The veterans’ rate dropped to 12.5 percent in February as the overall rate also dropped, to 8.9 percent. So make sure your spouse takes advantage of all the free programs offered during the separation process – they are well worth the time.

Retirement ceremony

We started to prepare for Rex’s retirement ceremony about 8 weeks before the actual date. We did not really have a choice to start earlier but if you can start earlier, I highly recommend it. Just booking the venue, sending the invites and getting different people to commit to being part of the ceremony can take weeks. And since you are probably asking people to travel to the ceremony (family and close friends) they need time to book flights etc.

And sometimes military service will interfere and whoever you asked to officiate will get called away. So make sure you have your number 1, 2 and 3 choices for all the different roles that are in your ceremony. For our’s, we needed a narrator, someone to sing the National Anthem, someone to say the prayer, someone to actually officially retire Rex, and someone to be the guest speaker.  How many close friends do you have who can sing beautifully and are available in the middle of the workday to be part of your ceremony? (You can get more advice about retirement ceremony specifics here.)



Getting the shadow box done takes a long time. You need to find all the medals, ribbons and other memorabilia and have the shadow box made in time for the ceremony. Remember that it takes anywhere from 5 to 10 weeks to have a special flag flown above the U.S. Capitol.

Producing your photo montage

Most retirement ceremonies we’ve been to always include a photo montage of the service member’s career; this photo montage is often set to the favorite songs of the military member. And it appears that it’s quite often the spouse who gets asked to put this together in the last few days before the ceremony – and that can be a herculean task when you’re also juggling the food order, the RSVPs to the ceremony, picking up visitors from the airport and figuring out how all your civilian friends will access the base without military IDs.

The first step in producing the photo montage is simply to locate all the photos you want to use. The last few years will be easy since all the photos will be digital. However, you need to set aside time to go through old photo albums and carefully scan the images from the early years. We have about 20 years worth of photos that are not digital that we need to go through and scan so that we can edit them.

Then you need to figure out what music you want to use and what order the photos will be shown. But before you do that, check with the venue you booked for the ceremony. You need to know what format the finished montage needs to be in so that you can successfully play it at the ceremony. You don’t want to spend hours and hours editing this project on some software program that ultimately isn’t compatible with whatever playback method you have at the ceremony. Most places will be able to play a regular DVD (remember, no jump drives in military computers).

I would highly recommend you don’t plan to play it off the Internet because if you suddenly have no Internet access the day of the ceremony, then you obviously can’t play your photo montage. So having the montage on a DVD and having a back-up DVD in your purse is a good idea (what if the original gets scratched and at the last-minute you need the back-up?).

You can use common video editing software programs such as I-Movie or Windows Movie Maker to create the photo montage. Or you can hire a professional to put it together for you. If you hire a professional, make sure you hire someone reputable. Ask to see work samples and ask for references. Make sure the professional will agree to review the finished product with you and that you are allowed to have at least one round of changes before the project is considered final. This way you can make sure the photos are in the right chronological order and that you are happy with the final length of the photo presentation.  Who really wants to have a 30-minute photo montage set to “Eye of the Tiger” playing seven times back to back?

You can’t possibly cover all the advice for military retirement in one blog entry. Look for a Part 2 in the coming weeks.

“I love you the mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

Brian and Jackie as his R & R ends and he returns to a war zone May 2007.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base. To read her first entry, click here.

By Jackie Dorr

In my five years as an Army wife, it seems like I have a million stories filed in my memory. Several stand out as truly special.  One of my most memorable happened in May of 2007.

Brian had come home for his R & R (Rest and Recuperation). We were stationed at Ft. Gordon, GA at the time. He had flown through Jackson Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.  His layover was something like five hours, yet it was only a two hour drive from Augusta. So naturally, I drove down to gather up my husband and his belongings. Neither one of us could bare to wait three more hours!

Since I had picked him up from Hartsfield, 15 days later I had to bring him back there to catch his flight back to the desert. Our two hour return drive felt like 10 hours. We both were dreading what lay ahead.

Countless kisses are part of the couple's goodbye ritual.

Once we got there, we had to find our way over to the designated area for returning soldiers.  I was the only spouse there since Atlanta is really just a layover for most soldiers. As Brian and I waited in line to go through security, I remember thinking how humorous. All of these soldiers are going to war and yet they still must participate in the tedious security rituals.

We were then escorted to the USO after completing all the security measures where we were to wait. The USO representatives lined up the hundreds of soldiers on the upper level of the airport’s atrium. The line almost completed a full circle.

My stomach was in knots. I had just gotten Brian back and already I was sending him away again.  I had just said goodbye six months ago. So, this should be easier. It wasn’t. It hurt much more because I knew what to expect.

The line began to move and as we marched in parade like formation through the airport – all of the passengers stood and clapped as these soldiers began their journey back overseas.

I still don’t know how I made it through that walk without balling, but I did.  I avoided eye contact with the onlookers, but I felt their pity. I think if I had looked at them, I would have lost what little composure I had.

I kept thinking to myself, angrily, these people are going on vacations or business trips. When they get to where they are going, they will call someone to share the story of this amazing site, as if it was a novelty.

Jackie and Brian have been married five years and gone through four deployments together.

They had no idea how much my heart was hurting. I squeezed Brian’s hand three times, as we often do. It’s our way to let each other know “I love you”.  He squeezed back four times, “I love you more,” and with that I took a deep breath and kept walking.

We made it to the gate, looked for a quiet spot. Every seat was occupied by a soldier wearing his or her ACU (Army Combat Uniform).  All of the soldiers there, with the exception of Brian, had already said their goodbyes, this was just a pit stop. Brian and I sat in a far corner trying to soak in every moment we had with each other.

We huddled together. Brian had his arm around me and my head rested on his shoulder.  We weren’t discussing today or the future that was too heartbreaking.  Instead we talked about what we had done on this R & R. We had our vows renewed just ten days prior then had an amazing “honeymoon” in Dafauskie Island.

As we waited, a passenger from another flight started singing the national anthem. Brian jumped up arms to his side, legs straight and tall like a broom stick. In an instant, every soldier for that flight stood at attention. The civilians stopped to watch, held their hands over their hearts. The soldiers all faced the woman singing while all the civilians stood facing the troops.

It was an amazing site. The many civilian passengers and hundreds of men and women ready to go back to their war time mission’s standing at attention for the “Star Spangled Banner”.  As I looked around I could see some f the civilians with their cameras and cell phones out, undoubtedly capturing pictures and video of such a memorable site.

I have seen Brian stand at attention a million times, everyday at 1630 to be precise, but that day was different. It was a day I would never forget. Since that day, no matter where I am, when I hear the National Anthem, I get a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms and legs.

It will be eight months before Brian can kiss is wife again as he prepares to return to a war zone in May 2007.

Boarding time came much quicker than I anticipated, of course.  They let Brian board last, so that we had every single second we could together. Brian held my face in his hands and kissed me all over – my cheeks and then my nose.

Before I could tell him I loved him he said “I love you more Jackie.”  I giggled, replying with “I love you the mostest.” He smiled at me with his huge goofy grin “I love you the mostest time infinity.”

We do this every time he leaves. We both know how much we love each other, but surely our love is so intense that the other can’t love that much haha. After what seemed like a million goodbye kisses, I watched the back of his head walk onto the plane.  As I walked away, I could feel the eyes of the onlookers. Some looked like they wanted to talk to me, but I walk with a fast stride. Once on the tram and back to the car, I let it out.

I sank into the seat of Brian’s car. My stomach felt like it had been punched and my heart felt twisted and pinched and pulled.  For a second, I was convinced I wouldn’t survive the next eight months (the deployment extension had just been approved). I thought there wasn’t a single person that could possibly understand how much I missed my husband already, again. I cried my entire drive back to Augusta and I began my countdown, again.

The woman who sang probably doesn’t realize the impact she had on me, but she made that moment more than just a sad goodbye.

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