Former First Lady Carter: Make Military Families A Priority

Pres. and Mrs. Carter hold their annual "conversation" with the public Tuesday at the Carter Center, Atlanta.

Those familiar with this blog know it came into existence as part of my yearlong fellowship with the Rosalynn Carter Center for Mental Health Journalism. I am winding up three days at the Carter Center in Atlanta that mark  the end of my fellowship, but not the end to this blog. We have only begun to delve into the issues and there are many more voices to be heard.

Outgoing and incoming Rosalynn Carter Fellows have spent the past two days learning about new research, discussing mental health stigma and exchanging ideas about our projects all focused on improving the public’s understanding of mental health whether it be anxiety and depression or Post Traumatic Stress and suicide.

What I think many may not know is that Mrs. Carter is involved directly. She sits in on all the sessions and participates. I had the privilege today to present the stories of veterans, military families and active duty members who I’ve interviewed over the year. The former first lady listened to the voices of blog contributors Cheyenne Forsythe and Colleen Krepstekies. She read the blog entries of Jackie Dorr and Tracie Ciambotti.

And she heard directly from blog contributor Dorie Griggs, who lives in Roswell, and was able to attend today’s session. Dorie did a great job explaining her journey of becoming a military mom. Tonight, Mrs. Carter and President Jimmy Carter held their annual “conversation” with the public. They talked about The Carter Center’s projects curing disease in Africa, conflict resolution and election monitoring. Mrs. Carter talked about her fellowship program which is in its 15th year and has supported and educated more than 100 journalists including me.

During her talk tonight, she mentioned hearing the voices of veterans and told a packed audience that military families – especially those with the Reserves and National Guard – need support. It is one of many stories I and others will pursue.

So for those of you who are military – Mrs. Carter has your “six” – and for civilians such as myself – her marching orders are to build support for those families in your communities.

Pres. Jimmy Carter Asks ‘What Is Your Definition of Peace?’

A retired Marine Lt. General told me last week that the members of the military are the first ones to want peace because they have seen war and paid the price. His words reverberated in my mind when I read an email from The Carter Center today.

I share  the item with you and encourage you to add your thoughts.

Palestinian elections photo from the Carter Center.

“Peace is more than the absence of war. There is an inner peace that comes from personal security and personal freedom. Peace also includes the sense of a mother and father that their children will live, that they’ll have food for them to eat, and that they won’t be subject to a lifetime of suffering that could have been prevented.”Jimmy Carter
The Carter Center’s Peace Programs strengthen freedom and democracy in nations worldwide, securing for people the political and civil rights that are the foundation of just and peaceful societies.

Although “Peace” means something different to each person, each community, each nation, there is a common dream that binds our hopes.  What does “Peace” mean to you? Click HERE to share your definition.

One final point for full disclosure. If you’ve not read the “about” page, you will not know that I am a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow for 2010-2011. There are no “strings attached” with the fellowship, in fact that is part of its beauty. This blog is part of the project I proposed to win the fellowship, yet there are no requirements to link to the Carter Center or carry its message. I do it because of the message is to work on building a world of peace – exactly what my retired Marine Lt. General is hoping to do.

Ad Campaign Aims at Helping Blue Star Families

Multiple deployments and Permanent Change of Station (PCS) are two of many stresses unique to military families. There’s a Public Service Ad Campaign aimed at letting the Blue Star Families know they are not alone.

For help, military members and family members can call 800-273-8255.

As an aside, two contributors to Off the Base who are Blue Star Mothers are part of a Blue Star Mothers event Saturday hosted by the White House. Congratulations to Dorie Griggs and Tracie Ciambotti both excellent examples of supportive and proactive military moms.

Growing Up Military Overseas Meant Certain Change

I’m pleased to introduce a former WUSF colleague who grew up in a military family with three sisters and both parents serving as officers. I asked her to reflect on growing up overseas.

By Natasha Samreny

In 2001, my dad retired from the Air Force, and CENTCOM activated my mom around 9/11. We stayed in Tampa, and any dreams of returning to life overseas faded more every year.

My mom dressed us up in coordinating outfits for every major out-of-country flight. We were easier to spot in case we got separated.

I liked moving. We PCS’d (Permanent Change of Station) when one or both of my military parents were assigned or offered new jobs in another location. They decided based on their professional goals, our family’s input, and of course where the government said they were needed. But for my sisters and me, the moves ensured change and growth: traveling, making new friends and adventures in another country.

I never thought of the U.S. as home, I was young when we left for Panama. Happiness meant playing with my sisters in the tropical rains. Our tan bodies and sun-bleached hair thrived on mangos and pineapple juice. Germany was colder, and “home” changed from a two-story house-on-stilts to a modest apartment converted from old Army barracks. But we adjusted because that’s what we knew.

Two major factors eased the moves: my parents, and base living.

My mom immigrated from Ecuador as a child, learning English on the fly. My dad grew up in Pittsburgh’s mixed Hill District, where Saturday morning bakery and sandwich-shop aromas carried countries through the streets. Both educated dreamers from loving families, when they sat us down to talk about our next trip, challenges became “opportunities”. We spent holidays trekking through Europe, catching our fondest memories.  Bases overseas offer ready-made community living for American families relocating to foreign countries. We all came from somewhere else. Like kids at summer camp, our time was short, so we made the most of it.

When we returned to the States, a decade passed before I called it home. I felt like I was betraying everything I knew; if I accepted this final destination, I accepted the suffocating thought that I didn’t know how to change or start again without relocating. This was the normal I had come to expect and need from life.

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