Little Heroes

Courtney 1“While we try to teach our children all about life, in the end it is our children who teach us what life is all about.”-Angela Schwindt.

My wife, Courtney, and I became mothers at a younger age. Life handed us the opportunity to become moms through the element of surprise and so we embraced it. I am not sure anyone really stops growing or learning in a lifetime, even if they try; we are by our very nature, continuously evolving. When embracing parenthood, we also embraced a tremendous amount of growing up very quickly, and doing so right alongside of our son, Campbell, and daughter, Aubrey. As most parents, we have days where we find ourselves looking for our sanity, that must have disappeared as inexplicably as the thousandth sock that has joined the ranks of those lost in the “Bermuda Triangle,” otherwise known as the journey from washer to dryer to drawer. Overall, our lives as mothers have been so full of beautiful ups and downs, I cannot imagine life unfolding in any other way. As we celebrate the month of the military child, I salute my son and daughter, and all of our amazing milkids, as it truly is children who are teaching me, and maybe you too, what life is all about.

I recall the morning, my then fiancé Courtney, raised her right hand. I hadn’t seen her in a few days and had never been to a military entrance processing station (MEPS). My heart raced, I felt out of sorts and not sure who to make eye contact with. I also remember keeping very quiet the whole ride up while waiting to see Courtney again, which is a trait I typically do not possess, as I am sure my wife and children would vouch for. I knew life as I was comfortable with, was about to change dramatically, and I’ll admit, I was struggling with it. I was surprised by my behavior, I told myself to toughen up, as I am my father’s daughter, and I can do this. My father retired after twenty years of active duty service in the Air Force, however my time as a milkid was very limited, as I didn’t come along until the very end of his career. So maybe I had a lot more to learn than I had realized. In my moments of discomfort and uncertainty, I looked to Campbell and Aubrey who were also sitting in a sea of unfamiliar faces, just as uncomfortable and uncertain as their mother’s, in rows of chairs all facing a few televisions with news reports flashing on and off their screens.

My kids were not uncomfortable or uncertain. They were playing “ISPY”. Sayin, “I spy with my little eye, something….BLUE” and they’d laugh and accuse each other of cheating as just about everything in sight was blue. I found so much comfort in watching and listening to them, which was a welcome distraction from my racing thoughts, “distance, separation, deployments, her safety, how she will be treated, how will our family be received.” My then seven and five year old were able to soothe each other by playing a simple game. They didn’t need a board, dice, or directions (do kids still play board games? Ok, then, they didn’t need an outlet); they adapted to the situation with what they had available, and smiled throughout that day. I quickly snapped to a whole new thought process, “the love of my life gets to live her dream, AND be free from persecution for who she is, and the family she has, and I get to be the one that supports her.” I learned SO much about being a military spouse in that moment, and I learned it from my children. When Courtney took her oath of enlistment, Aubrey and Campbell stood and watched her in awe. Maybe it was because she was the only female in the group, maybe it was foreign to them to see their spirited, charismatic, playful, momma being so…official. Or maybe they were silently, metaphorically raising their right hand behind hers. I speculate to this day, the latter, because they serve in every way a milkid does from the moment Courtney was sworn into the Army.

Courtney 2What began that day, with the four of us, and her oath, soon saw us to that cold day in October. Her ship date was finally here and like most things in the military, felt like it came without enough warning after waiting what seemed like an eternity, a fun facet of the phenomenon service members, their spouses, and kids alike call “hurry up and wait.” We went through the events of the day; the moment we pulled out of the drive way, knowing she wouldn’t be home for months and months, arriving at the airport, checking Courtney in, obtaining escort passes, and making it to her gate felt like mindless movements in a dream. It was like some magnetic force pulling us forward, without our own will. That force was basic training and the moments were reality. I had by this time really felt I had grown after the experience at MEPS. I was about to be SUCH a great Army mom and spouse for my kids and for her. I was Courtney and my kids’ biggest cheerleader, and because of this I told myself, I had already “embraced {my part of} the suck.” I was ready to live without my other half and be strong doing so, because I knew it meant the whole world, and then some, for her to become a soldier, and my children deserve nothing less from me. I felt solid holding onto those thoughts. But what about the kids? My worries swirled around in my head the way a feather caught in a stream of air does. I wanted it to be a Band-Aid, ripped off as quickly as possible because I knew I couldn’t absorb the pain associated with its removal. I was worried for my babies and how they would deal with this. I wanted to blow a magical bubble around my precious children, because as parents we always want to soften the blow, even when it might not be what they need most. My father has always told me, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” His words rang true, my kids didn’t need a magic bubble, they needed the chance to learn and grow.

courtney 3My bright, spunky, smiley seven year old Campbell was, true to his usual form, the friendliest kid at the airport; he must’ve told twenty or so staff we encountered that his “momma was off to be in the Army.” He said it matter-of-factly to anyone who would listen, because he was endlessly proud, and he got to say all this and say it about his “momma”, all with a huge smile on his sweet face. He wore his very own pair of ACU’s, before mom got hers. He wanted to help carry things to the gate, stay right next to Courtney, and make sure Aubrey wasn’t far behind him. My compassionate, old soul, five year old, Aubrey, was also true to her usual form, curious and caretaking. She has this quiet way of knowing what someone needs before they display the need or ask for assistance. It’s as if her curiosity lets her take in all of her environment and she can put sunshine in the cloudiest moments. She was quiet and comforting with lots of hugs, and “let me help’s”. Aubrey, too, wanted to tell the world where her momma was going. When Campbell would waver, Aubrey would be at her strongest, when Aubrey’s clear blue eyes would brim with tears, Campbell had her back. My heart leaps recounting, watching them behave like such adults, in such little bodies.  After watching all this strength exude from my kids, that had never experienced their mother’s absence for any length of time, I knew everything I needed to know. They would absolutely get through this, and we would all love each other enough to never let one another fall. That, I believe, makes up the fibers of the very cloth that weaves together a military family, or any family, for that matter.

courtney 4The moment came when we had to let Mom go. We said “see you laters”, hugs, kisses, one more “I love you’, fingers outstretched to meet one more time, and for the first time my little ones really fell apart. They grabbed at the window yelling, “Momma!!!” Tears fell down reddened cheeks until they had exhausted their ability to cry. I felt the “punch in the stomach” of it all. I had spent just about every day of the past years, all the way back to my own adolescence with the woman that just left for the better part of a year; but most importantly I could see, hear, and feel my children’s anguish and fear, their uncertainty and discomfort. My kids had already shown me how to soothe them, without their knowing, they had given me some very precious tools that I will use throughout my lifetime. So we adapted to the situation with what we had available, and smiled throughout the day. We love each other enough that we’ll never let one another fall. That day we left the airport, went home and played for hours in the woods behind our house, and we got through it. That day and every day since, we have tried, tested, and found these tools to be true. We have days where our defense mechanisms work better than others. We have days where we have to improvise. When my wife is called to train and leaves us for any length of time, or in the face of knowing she will receive deployment orders, we’ll adapt and we’ll hold onto that love. We have one another, and not one of us will fall, no matter what.

These are just pieces of what our milkids learn and grow from, and ways that we as parents can learn and grow from our milkids. If there are any children, toddlers through young adulthood, that have no use for that magic bubble, it’s our military kids. They learn that to survive, means to adapt, and they do so in the most profoundly inspiring ways, in the most difficult, trying, and varying of circumstances. Military kids define resilience and strength; and they do it all while witnessing our incredible service members at work, and many parts of our country’s history. Let the celebratory atmosphere of The Month of the Military Child stay present all the months of our years, as they are truly little heroes.

courtney 5

Labels Lie

Megan 1

When I got my very first guitar as a teenager I loved covering the hard-shell case in labels and stickers that represented different parts of my personality. Soon, my friends also began contributing labels that they thought represented me.  Eventually, the case disappeared under the eclectic collection of decals. I sometimes wondered what people assumed about me after looking at the case, but soon discovered that people were far less focused on the totality of the stickers, but rather honed in on the one or two labels that they themselves related to or liked. Normally, that simple discovery of a shared commonality would end up leading to some pretty cool conversations. 

I have always thought of that case as a metaphor for life. We all wear lots of different labels, some we assign to ourselves, some are given to us by employers, while others are given to us by those we just encounter in life. We make friendships with people based on a few shared interests, but seldom expect that a person is like every single label we wear. Most of us grant very few people in our lifetime access to see beyond the labels and look at what actually lies within. To me, this is a beautiful thing…unless someone starts messing with your stickers.

Megan 2When it recently came to light that I am in a same-sex relationship, it felt like somebody came along and ripped away every label I ever had and replaced it with one word- GAY. No matter how hard I tried to get people to still see me for the exact same person I was, the word “GAY” covered everything else up. I tried to keep my Christian label, but others took knives to it and tried to cut it off replacing it with “Gay”. I tried to keep my Chaplain title, but “Gay” changed how my peers saw me. I don’t think I really realized just how dangerous or painful labels were until I conducted my very last counseling session while still serving on active duty.  

A beautiful, young, soldier entered my office, visibly nervous, and asked if I had time to speak with her. I welcomed her in, motioned for her to take a seat and asked her what had brought her in. She began to tell me how she had just spent the last four weeks on the psychiatric ward at a local hospital for attempting, and almost completing, suicide. She fidgeted uneasily in her chair looking up at me only briefly before quickly returning her gaze to the comfort of the floor. When I asked her what her reasons were for wanting to die, she admitted that she only had one reason.    

She then said, “I am a Christian”. I nodded, and probably much like a confused dog, tilted my head as if to say, I don’t understand. She then took a deep breath, paused, and with a quivering voice said, “I already know what you think of me since you are a Chaplain, but I am at the end of my rope and just need someone to talk to today. You see, in addition to being a Christian…I am also gay.” The tears streamed down her cheeks as she then went on to say how she had been told that she simply couldn’t be both. She had to pick one label or the other. She loved Jesus, but didn’t know how to stop being gay, and that’s why she wanted to die. She had subjected herself to all types of “treatment” in attempts to cure her same-sex attraction, like trying to pray it away, an exorcism experience in her grandmother’s basement, and even reparative therapy with her pastor who kicked her out of the church and told her not to come back until she got “fixed”. The Soldier then explained how four weeks earlier, alone in her barracks room, she prayed for God to forgive her for being gay, before immediately attempting to end her life. She said she knew that dying in that moment would be the only way God would love and accept her.

My heart literally broke listening to her words because they simply were NOT true. Her religious community, family, and friends had told her that she was not good enough for God because she was trying to wear two seemingly opposing labels at once.   

Now, I realize that we all come from very diverse religious backgrounds, but since it is Holy Week, I want to encourage those in the Christian faith to not lose hope in the loud sea of dissenting religious voices which say you can’t be both gay and a Christian. The loudest voices aren’t always right. In fact, many voices from within the gay Christian community have begun rising up and taking a stand against those who try to claim that there is only one “right” interpretation of Scripture. Please don’t throw out all of your faith because someone used a few misinterpreted Scriptures as weapons against you. Those people don’t speak for Jesus. In fact, if they really grasped the meaning of this week, they would understand that the compassion and sacrifice behind Christ’s death leveled the playing field, making us all equally in need of His grace. No one can earn it; it’s simply a free gift for anyone who chooses to accept it. Period. 

So, if you are trying to reconcile some labels in your life, especially the religious ones, perhaps this would be a good week to reengage your faith. There are numerous welcoming and affirming churches that accept you just the way you are. And, the good news in all of this is that God isn’t concerned with the labels on the outside anyway; He is concerned with the matters of the heart and what’s on the inside.


Megan is a former active duty Army Chaplain who recently transitioned into the Army Reserves. She is married to her wife, CW2 Desiree Browning and they are currently stationed at Fort Campbell, KY. Megan continues to be passionate about ensuring LGBT Soldiers and families are afforded the spiritual support they both deserve and desire.

Our Modern Military Kids

maria 1As a military spouse there are many unique challenges we face- adapting to constant change with little to no control over how our near future plays out; learning to be independent while our partner is away yet maintain a bond that can clear all of life’s other hurdles; learning to navigate all the military do’s and don’ts without losing your own identity and spunk.  With every new challenge I’ve been faced with, there is some level of comfort in knowing that I do it all to spend my life with the woman I love; that while PCSing and separations were just something that came with the package, I ultimately am living the life I chose because I have the freedom to choose my partner. As we prepare our family for our first PCS, I find myself feeling for our son, who had no choice at all in this. He will leave friends and family behind and adjust to another city just as we will, and even though I know it will be hard on him, I am comforted in knowing that there are so many things he is gaining from his experience as a military child.

I am a firm believer in challenge as a catalyst for growth. I am in many ways envious of the amount of challenge my son has seen and how mature he is because of it. When I met my wife, I realized what had been missing in my life and though parts of me wish I could have shielded him from the familial falling-outs and the cruelty of some people he’s come across, I know he is learning valuable life lessons from everything. Just as I have grown from the challenges so has he, and during the Month of the Military Child, I am especially aware of and grateful for the following gifts:

Our son will not be afraid to adapt. It amazes me that though we owe our success as a species largely to our ability to adapt, so many people are afraid of change. So many people underestimate themselves and others, and are afraid to challenge the status quo. I am no thrill seeker at all, and have largely passed that trait to my son, but through the many shake-ups military life has and will put us through we know that we can make the best of anything. Daniel will make new friends in places that may not at first accept our family, but he will adapt to his surroundings and hopefully help others adapt to a more open society. Our son knows he is part of a family that can withstand tough times and come out stronger and better in some way.

Our son will not be afraid to be himself. I spent so much of my childhood and early adulthood kind of uncomfortable in my own skin, afraid that anything that made me different also made me unacceptable to someone. I was eager to please and be a perfectionist, and it took me a long time to realize that I only need to stay true to myself. My son has seen people in our family turn their backs to us, he’s seen friends seek distance and he’s heard people say nasty things about our family, but he has learned that none of what those people are scared of has changed who we are a bit. He’s seen first-hand that what other people may think of you doesn’t define your worth, and he knows that some of what other people may think is bad about our family is what makes us happy and healthy and wonderful. Daniel has learned the amazing life lesson that the awful things other people do and say to him, say nothing at all about his worth, and say everything about that other person’s demons.

SAMSUNGOur son will be able to find the silver lining. This is one lesson I’ve learned from other military brats I’ve known, since I always counted myself lucky that I did very little moving around while my dad was in the Army. I got to go to most of elementary, and all of middle and high school in the same town. I never had to leave friends behind, and I never really had to be the new kid. I have recently realized though, that I’ve always heard kids from military families talk about all the places they “got to live,” not the places they had to live in. Even though our first PCS will be to a place not far from home, I look forward to Daniel seeing more of our country or the world than I got to. I want him to see that there is good in every situation so long as you are willing to see it. I want him to know that even people that are very different from us can be amazing and beautiful and can enrich our lives in one way or another.

Military children don’t choose the lives that bring them so many challenges, but they can certainly benefit. Children of same-sex couples have their own challenges as well, and when you put the two upbringings together, there is potential to develop some seriously bad-ass kids. Our modern military kids will see struggle and know hardship, but we are determined to have them be teaching and growing moments. These military kids are pioneers just as their parents’ are- doing the hard work so that others that come behind them will know a better military.

Maria is a work-from-home wife and mother; her wife, Amanda is a WO1 in the Army. Daniel is a spunky 12-year-old boy who many say has never met a stranger. They are currently stationed at Ft. Huachuca, AZ while Amanda completes a 1-year tour at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Daniel plays baseball, soccer and basketball, and when they’re not juggling overlapping sports seasons, he and Maria enjoy hanging out watching funny movies and spoiling their dinner with frozen Mini Snickers.

Month of the Military Child


Jackson is the son of SPC Scarlett Pryor and her wife Emily.

April is the Month of the Military Child. At the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), we are so proud of our military children, and April is the perfect opportunity to recognize and honor our milkids.

This month lets take the time to appreciate our wonderful military children and celebrate with them their accomplishments from the past year.  Whether it’s as small as a goal in their favorite sport or earning great grades after another PCS move, it’s important to praise our children to encourage them through this military lifestyle they did not choose.

So let’s take a moment and celebrate with, and acknowledge, these wonderful military children, as well as talk a little bit about this month to those that may not know. The Month of the Military Child was first designated in 1986 by Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to honor and celebrate military families and their children.  All branches of the Armed Forces have special days and events to help celebrate. Please check in with your closest installation to find out more information on activities and programs planned specifically with you and your child in mind.

Another great resource is the DoD-Live website.  There you’ll find multiple opportunities to celebrate with your children.  Whether it’s through sports, like seeing a San Diego Padres baseball game or getting your child involved in extracurricular activities, like day camps and Armed Services YMCA camps, there is plenty to do to help you celebrate with your children.


Jacob is the son of SPC Jessica Egan-Long and her wife Sarah.

Throughout the month, AMPA will be highlighting some of our very own modern milkids and their families, so be on the look out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and show your support by liking their photo, commenting, and sharing.

We applaud our modern military children for all that they have accomplished in the past year, and for their wonderful parents for being the family and support system they need. Military service is not easy on anyone in the family, but we can help ease the stress and anxieties of our children by helping them get involved and meet other children just like them. [Read more...]

Blessed are the Flexible

AdaireTo say “military family life is tough” is akin to announcing “the sky is blue” or “Hey, I have a belly button!” It is such a well known fact, we tend to use it either as a survival badge of honor to have one up on our co-worker Judy who is pining away at her desk because her husband is away “All weekend!”, or to justify eating 4 frozen pizzas and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching an entire season of Scandal on Netflix. (Not that I have any firsthand knowledge of this.)

The point being, we acknowledge readily that being a military spouse stretches us beyond anything we may have encountered before; but it doesn’t “break us”.  We have a choice to make each day, to either find that sweet spot of evolutionary adaptation, or to go through our spouse’s deployment, years of service, or PCS fighting every step of the way.

There will be “off days” or “off weeks”. Appliances that were running as smooth as silken undies will break down or go on strike as soon as your service member gets on that plane or ship for deployment. Your back seems to lie dormant for that opportune moment to throw itself out of whack where you wake up in the morning feeling that you have been doing the limbo all night long over a bed of rabid Chihuahuas.

Two months before my wife left for her overseas short trip (6 weeks) the nerves in my neck decided they were going to single handedly stage a coup for control over the left side of my body. We tried massage, a new fancy ergonomic pillow (to the tune of $100), heating pad, ice, pressure, scream therapy; nothing worked. I noticed I was getting surlier each week. The more agitated I became, the tighter I became, and the less I was able to find any position that didn’t hurt.

After she left, I was a wreck. We had been through many deployments before, and even a year in Korea, and while I wouldn’t throw around the term “with flying colors”, we did in fact do pretty good. I didn’t understand why this particular one was getting on my last nerve, literally.

BlessedI started a month of chiropractic, where the pain transferred to bolts of lightning shooting down my neck and left arm. It was then my chiropractor began to talk to me about mindfulness. Mindfulness is noticing your breath, your body, the way you hold your body in the present moment. He began to ask me questions about my stress level, which at that time felt like Medusa at a honey badger convention. Talking about it made me realize that there were some much deeper anxieties and worries that had a sharp hold of me.

I believe I had been in a knot for years over the one circumstance that impacted us the most in our anomaly of a military family: My wife doesn’t share the same house as my daughter and I. We are separated into two places, 2 hours apart. Due to a joint custody arrangement I chose with my ex before Kim and I met, when my wife leaves for her next naval base, we will not be able to go. The thought of living another 6 years apart is a repeating loop in my head that never ends; a painful puzzle I can’t solve yet.

I had become so “inflexible”, so convinced that our situation was not mutable, my body responded by locking up entirely. It was time for a re-adjustment of my attitude, and flexibility was thy name!

Circumstances about our living situation, or our daughter’s grades, or my under employment needed to be re-examined with the mindful approach that all I can truly control is this present moment. I must remain flexible and open to the fact that we don’t know what the future holds and worrying about it isn’t going to change or assist our family in any way. Like my Dad likes to say, “Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want; they usually turn out better.”

Remaining open and flexible allows us a peek through windows where we had seen only walls. Military family life is tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough remain flexible. “Blessed are the Flexible, for they won’t be bent out of shape.”

We Work as a Team

Iwo JimaThree weeks ago, I personally celebrated (in my own mind at least) the anniversary of the raising of the U.S. Flag atop Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima.  The event took place on February 23, 1945, approximately six months before the closing of the war with Japan and the official end of World War II.  So many words have been uttered and written about that event and about that photograph.  “Iconic” would be my favorite one, though nowadays “iconic” gets uttered by the media so carelessly for things and people that are irrelevant that it starts to lose its meaning. I think I’ll save the greater discussion of why this photograph is “iconic” for my next blog around Memorial Day later this year.  But for now, one reason why this photograph inspires me so much is the depiction of teamwork. The U.S. flag in the photo was raised by five United States Marines and one Navy Corpsman.  The photo shows all six of them moving in the same direction, which from their perspective is none other than forward, as they work together to stake that flag pole into the ground to bring the flag itself forward and up.

What most Americans don’t know is that that tight group of men in the photo is not just a group of entirely Marines; there is a person in there that people outside of the Marine Corps don’t immediately acknowledge, and it is the one Sailor, the Corpsman.  The Marine Corps does not have any medical personnel that call themselves Marines, but rather relies on Sailors of the United States Navy to provide medical services in the field.  They are mostly enlisted personnel that are plucked from the ranks of the U.S. Navy Medical Corps (hence the name “Corpsmen”) and attached to all Marine Corps units.  They fight alongside Marines and sweat it out in the field with them during training and in real combat.  Their medical services provide critical lifesaving measures to Marines when bullets are flying all around them in a time of conflict. In return, those Marines would risk their own lives to keep the “doc” alive.  Thus, providing medical services to the Marines is part of the unbreakable contract between the Navy and the Marine Corps.

I’m quite amused when I think about this mutual agreement between the two military services.  I laugh because in my own personal life, I am a United States Marine who is married to a former United States Navy Corpsman.  We have been together almost ten years and still going strong. We work as a team. There is an unbreakable contract between the two of us that says, “When one is struggling, the other must aid and lift him along until he gets better.” This has certainly been true in the last nine years of our relationship.

jay and rommJay has been there for me through the worst of times. When I received orders to Twentynine Palms, a desert oasis in California, he joined me. Oh I’m sorry, I meant “deserted oasis”.   There were very little prospects in 29 Palms for a Sailor who had just finished his enlistment. He could have fled and left me for good, but he stayed with me. We weren’t married, and we were still in the earliest stages of our relationship, so he had every chance to flee.

Actually, Jay did flee Twentynine Palms for a while. When the opportunity to attend culinary school presented itself, Jay took it without hesitation. I wasn’t upset or surprised. You see, the opportunity to go to culinary school wasn’t just any opportunity: the school was the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, just two and half hours away from Twentynine Palms. Le Cordon Bleu originated in Paris, and is the same academy that gave Julia Child her culinary degree. You mean I am forced to visit Las Vegas every single weekend and see Jay? And he gets to earn a culinary degree from a prestigious school? Where do I sign? I wasn’t going to stop him from going to Las Vegas to pursue his dream. The only thing I could do was to promise him that I will support him morally and, if he needed it, financially. And we weren’t even married yet.

One of my proudest moments was seeing Jay walk across the stage to receive his associate degree from Le Cordon Bleu.

Now that I have a bona fide chef in my life, I am slowly learning the art of cooking. Yes, I will readily admit that the kitchen had always been a source of anxiety for me. I actually feared the kitchen because I knew nothing about cooking. Big bad Marine scared of the kitchen, and yes that was me. But not anymore. Jay works odd hours, and lately he has been coming home to home cooked meals made by me after a long tiring day at work. When I retire from the Marine Corps this summer, I plan on taking more time to get to know the kitchen a little bit more, thanks to Jay.

wedding cake topperThere are so many more examples of this. And so of course, last year in July, when it came time to find a topper for our wedding cake, I smiled when I found the perfect one that illustrated our teamwork.

Lifting each other up is what we do.

And finally, two days ago we celebrated the fact that Jay is now only one easy class away from earning his bachelors degree.  According to him, this is the next biggest milestone of his life. And I will be here for him to the end of that journey.

And I couldn’t be any more proud.

Romm NoH8Romm Gatongay is an air command and control Marine officer stationed in Quantico, Virginia. He originally hails from Torrance, California, a place that is considered a melting pot of many races and where he learned to accept others for their diverse backgrounds. Romm is happy to lend his time to AMPA, which he admires and considers a viable resource of knowledge and support for the spouses and significant others of gay and lesbian service members. His opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent the United States Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Hurry up and…

“After over six months of review on changes that can be made following the Supreme Court’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the VA and the Justice Department have yet to announce a decision on veterans benefits. Unlike the Department of Defense, the VA looks to the state of residence rather than the place of marriage to determine eligibility. This means our legally married service members and veterans stationed or living in non-marriage equality states are still being denied some of the benefits they earned. Contact your Senators today and tell them to support the efforts of Senator Mark Udall and Senator Jeanne Shaheen in making sure all veterans, regardless of the gender of their spouse or the state they live in, receive the support and benefits they earned.” -from the AMPA March 2014 Newsletter

Reading the news from AMPA earlier in March I was, at once, heartened and dismayed.  I was happy to learn that some senators are taking action to compel the VA to honor all veterans no matter where we live.  While it seems that the federal government should, as a whole, comply with the SCOTUS decision on DOMA, I know from experience that there is no such thing as ‘the federal government.’ Far from being a unified entity, “the federal government” is more a bundle of multiple, vague and conflicting rules, ideas and laws.

My dismay arose upon reading that

“…VA looks to the state of residence rather than the place of marriage to determine eligibility. This means our legally married service members and veterans stationed or living in non-marriage equality states are still being denied some of the benefits they earned.”

Few are the issues that compel me to respond to general news emails, but this statement needed to be addressed.  My family was living proof of the untruth VA was portraying.

I have lived in Washington State since the mid-nineteen-nineties.  I chose the Evergreen State over Oregon when I moved to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school in Portland.  Even then I could see the advantages of the quietly progressive atmosphere in Washington.  From land-use planning to education, health care to social issues, Washington always seemed a step ahead of its more vocal neighbor to the south.  Where Oregon debated change, Washington took action.

Oregon assesses income tax on our earnings in their state, yet they offer us no part of a vote in how that money is spent. When domestic partnerships were codified in each state, Oregon chose not to recognize out-of-state partnerships while Washington honored all comers.  By the time marriage equality was ratified in Washington, Oregonians had lived with their state constitutional ban on marriage for nearly a decade.

Like many households in Southwest Washington, our family deals daily with Oregon politics, laws, and taxes.  My wife works in Portland.  The nearest VA hospital is in Portland.  My VA claim was processed and is housed in Oregon.

It was that last bit that got the wheels turning for my response to AMPA’s news release. Our bi-state life had run into another civil rights wall.

Next weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of my marriage to Jessica.  We met in 1999 through one of the last ‘analog’ personal ads published in JustOut, a Portland-based queer newspaper.  We moved in together a couple years later.  (yes: years!)

AGF photo 4In 2007, we registered our domestic partnership in state Offices of Corporations at Olympia, Washington (tres romantic!) where we were issued a card to prove the legitimacy of our relationship.   We were told to show it to any hospital or other organization that needed proof of our commitment. Washington extended state education benefits to Jessica along with a constellation of other goods afforded all veteran-centric families.

Time marched on.  Jessica continued to work in the Beaver State and pay taxes there.  We paid for our insurance on post-tax dollars and resigned ourselves to the fact that our civil partnership provided neither tax relief, nor any social protection whenever we crossed the Columbia River into Oregon.

When the Supreme Court handed down the Windsor decision we were happy to know that at last we would be recognized as a family by our federal agencies.  We did not anticipate that the crazy quilt of state regulation would be allowed to intrude on our married rights.

This year we must file our taxes as married persons; the IRS wasted no time in their rule making.  I am still working to understand our status for Oregon taxation.

In August 2013 I applied online for marriage benefits with the VA.  Hearing nothing, not even an acknowledgment of the application, I applied again in December of 2013.  Since, there is no notice on the claim site that affirms a successful process, I again waited.

Any real action is always tempered with a patience factor.  This is most true when dealing with the VA.  I felt I was being kind, not pushy.  I was taking the delay in stride because surely the VA had other more deserving vets with whom to deal.

In March 2014, I called the ODVA office to ask about my claim status.  I was informed that I would need to find a different Veteran Service Officer because I no longer had a relationship with Oregon since graduating school.  The very kind and helpful VSO let me know that VA had not made a determination about my claim, likely because my spouse was my same gender.  I was advised that I might want to move my claim to Washington.

I called the general VA 800 number to inquire about my claim status and was offered some information from the customer service representative in the Phoenix, Arizona call center.  He read a script about how the VA has not yet decided how to comply with the SCOTUS decision, told me I had two open applications for the same marriage claim and that I should not expect any correspondence about my claim “indefinitely.”

When I asked if the hold up was based on the fact that my claim was housed in Oregon, a marriage non-equality state and whether it would be wise to move it to Washington the rep accused me of “politicizing” my inquiry and that because of that he would move on to the next call.  I asked how questioning where the claim was housed was political since benefits were seemingly allocated based on state law.  Laws themselves are not political after codification, right? He hung up.

So the upshot was that after 38 minutes on hold I had talked to a rep that chose to hang up rather than help me understand how to take care of myself, and my family.  He had more rights as a VA employee than I did as a vet.  I was dumbfounded.

AGF photo7I posted a note about my experience on my Facebook.  Friends and fellow vets sympathized but none of us had any other ideas about how to ‘get right.’  I had never before called the VA 800 number and I had never run to post on Facebook after an interaction with any agency; firsts all around.

Then another first occurred.  An unrecognized 888 number rang my phone.  I was ‘in a mood’ and decided to see who was calling.  It was the VA call rep’s supervisor asking if I could talk for a moment. She had listened to the entire exchange with her subordinate.  She found his demeanor and handling of my questions substandard.  The time between when he hung up and her call back had been used to retrain him about sensitivity, compassion and keeping his opinions out of the VA workplace.

Wow. Props to whoever hired her!  She really put a better face on the VA for me that day.

However, no change is forthcoming about my claim or about the claims of others who are married and waiting for the VA to comply with Windsor.  No correspondence acknowledgement of my claim has been made.  No denial; simply no action whatever.

So we wait.

I write this today so that other families who wait and wonder about their legitimate claims will know that they are not alone.  I write to dispel the myth that if your state of residence is progressive and compassionate that you now get full VA benefits.  I write, because it is important to let other Washingtonians know that even though they voted and worked to honor my service and my family, our federal government actively denies efforts for fulfillment.

Activists are quick to point out locales that discriminate. I wanted to publicly thank and promote my state for trying to do the right thing.

Now back to the VA regulated process of hurry up and wait…

A.G. Flynn is a veteran living in Vancouver, Washington.  Active with school reading programs, elder respite care, the local fire corps and the Mount Saint Helens Institute, A.G. enjoys days volunteering in the Southwest Washington community.  When not out and about with those activities A.G. can be found cooking something up over an open fire.

Banish the Post-PCS Job Hunting Blues: Become an Entrepreneur


In 2010 I was a successful project manager on the path to being a “Big Wig” in an exponentially growing tech company.

I had a path to climb. 9 to 5.  Healthcare.  Vacation days. Then I met Evie, and within six months of starting our life together, I quit my cushy job to go on a ‘grand adventure’ to Georgia.  I had the choice, she didn’t. 

In Georgia, I managed to weasel my way into teaching at a local university in the business school due to my education and experience.    After a year and a half of hustle, and worrying about how many courses I would get to teach each semester, I was offered a full-time gig.  So there I was, 28 years old and a full-time college professor. 

Career two in the bag.  Stability.  Ease.  Flow.

Then there was the elephant in the room.  We knew that at some point or another, our time at our station in Georgia would come to an end.  Either she’d have to leave the military or I’d have to quit career number 2.             

The PCS notice came, almost a year earlier than we thought it would.  Her commitment wasn’t over.  So I closed another career door and made the move with her.  Just like that, I was back at square one.  Hustle didn’t matter, that job offer didn’t matter, I had to move to a new city and start a new hustle. 

Sound familiar? 

makeve_gettingready-82Before Evie and I married, I spoke with dozens of spouses–men, women, gay, straight– I asked them what careers a military spouse should consider.  Stay at home mom was the single most common.  The choir kept saying “You both want kids.  So have some kids now, get them out of the way early, and then when she retires at the tender age of 42 and you’ll be just rounding 40, you can have your dream career.” 

That wasn’t going to work.  We knew that.  I wasn’t ready for ‘kids’ and our income wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be to have them. 

Some other spouses suggested I start teaching, get a teaching certification.  Others suggested nursing.  Others said ‘find a remote job.’  Turns out that is easier said than done.

I have a secret for you.  There is a way out.  There is a way to build a career and be a military spouse.  And it doesn’t require crazy amounts of training, or any specialized skills that take years to learn. 

Whatever skills you have now, with some honing, can be leveraged online.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the landscape.  Entrepreneurship is the new 9 to 5.  Check out articles here, here, and here.  Google entrepreneurship.  Google “starting an online business”.  You’ll see rather quickly that everyone seems to be hyping the awesome potential of being an entrepreneur.

People are jumping ship and creating their own dreams online everyday.  Baristas are starting blogs about coffee culture, business owners are starting business academies that teach others how to replicate what they have done, marketing executives are starting online consulting companies, crafters are opening wildly successful etsy shops. 

Entrepreneurship can be your way out of the career hopping doldrums that often come with being a military spouse.   

When I started thinking about creating a mobile, flexible business I had zero ideas.  Nada.  Then I realized I had skills.  I listed all of them on a piece of paper, and started to see a theme.  I kept coming back to knowing a lot about communication, especially in business.  I looked at online businesses and saw that there were business coaches out there with nada business experience other than coaching. 

So, I got a coaching education.  And since I have been able to leverage my decade worth of business and marketing knowledge AND utilize the teaching skills I had practiced while being a professor, I launched my business in September of 2013.  I teach online courses in healthy living, repurpose some of my university curriculum too, and coach creative folks on helping them leverage THEIR skills into a business and life they love.

The result?  I am now my own boss, I work my own hours and I escaped the grind.  When my wife comes home I can spend time with her despite her incredibly demanding bizarre hours (well…most days).  I am responsible for my own domain.  And in the meantime, I also get to change some lives.

And you know what?  The next time we PCS I won’t be terrified about ‘where the next job will come from’ or ‘will I find a job?’ No matter where we go, my job comes with me.  And the best part is that I get to continue being a military wife, and my wife gets to continue being a military officer. (Pending separation ;) )

There is freedom in entrepreneurship.  Don’t believe me?  Give it a try.  And if you don’t know where to start, start reading blogs of business owners.  Join a mastermind group.  Or think about applying for the military/spouse scholarship for Marie Forleo’s Bschool, she offers spots just for people like us–Spouses with lives that could be dramatically altered by entrepreneurship. 


photoMakenna Johnston is a business and creativity coach/consultant and spends most of her days writing, coaching, and scheming creative entrepreneurs from her office in her bungalow.  She is married to a Captain in the US Air Force, and resides in San Antonio, TX sharing an off-base bungalow with four other non-human creatures.  Someday, Makenna will happily embrace being a stay at home mother, but for now she’s thrilled that she found her dream career, and all it took was a laptop and some hustle.  You can find out more about her over thisaways.

Authentic and True

Margerate WeissI spend far more time on Facebook than I really should. On one hand, this is a tool that helps me keep in contact with people I would not otherwise speak with, and have not, for a long time. On the other hand, it is a “time suck” and I suddenly find myself wrapped up in other people’s drama. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social media, its role in my life, and the role I would like to have it play in the future.

A few weeks ago I clicked on a link that would show me my past ten years on Facebook – a visual illustration of the good and bad times that have occurred. The video was pretty cool, and reminded me of some of the biggest things that have happened in the last decade of my life. But, to be honest, it really only showed the pieces I had chosen to share in the first place.

I had already weeded through pictures of me with my ex, photos that I didn’t like, and postings on my wall which were inappropriate or unhelpful. So, the video was not really an accurate portrayal – it was a recap of the moments I chose to share about myself.

This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t true – it just wasn’t the whole truth.

Almost two years ago (wow, has it really been that long?), my wife Susan deployed to Afghanistan. I would frequently update my status on Facebook when I received good news about how she was doing, and when she was coming home. These posts made an appearance in my Facebook video. But the posts about the nights I stayed up crying, worried for her safety, did not. The posts about the struggles of spending our first wedding anniversary apart weren’t in there either. And this is because I didn’t post about those moments on Facebook. I chose not to put those moments on display.

Social media can be a way for people to connect with one another in ways that they would not normally connect. But that connection requires us to be authentic and true.

Margerate Weiss 2When Susan deployed, I found the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) and connected with the group via Facebook. This was an amazing opportunity for me to connect with other same-sex military spouses. It was especially helpful to me as the wife of a Reservist, who does not live on or near a military installation. AMPA was a window into a new community of supportive people who were struggling with some of the same issues I was. But, again, I was not always fully open and honest in those conversations. I felt pressure to keep my life in order and present it as “together” and “stable.” I did not speak in the group forums about my authentic experience.

Deployments are hard. Life is hard. We know this. So why aren’t we better about sharing that burden with one another?

I am a person who loves groups, but prefers more close-knit friendships with people. Through AMPA I met some amazing people – in person, face-to-face. One of those people is Lauren Lamoly, who some of you know. Lauren and I shared a lot about the difficulties and celebrations of being military partners. We spoke about deployments and our experiences of them, and we built a strong and lasting friendship – a friendship that would not have started if it were not for Facebook or AMPA. I am thankful for this.

I am also thankful that when my wife returned from her deployment and went TDY, she was able to attend a pool party hosted by AMPA members. She had dinner with Ashley Broadway-Mack and Heather Mack, and started a friendship with them. These are friendships and connections that would not have happened if it weren’t for Facebook or AMPA.

There is tremendous potential in AMPA and through social media to build lasting and intentional friendships and connections. There is an opportunity for us to share our experiences, in their entirety, in a way that is meaningful and purposeful. But this potential and opportunity requires us to be authentic and true about our lives. I’m not suggesting that we all air our dirty laundry for the whole world to see, but I am suggesting that we don’t have to censor the things that are difficult and hard.

If I am going to spend too much time on Facebook, or any social media outlet, I want it to be time well spent. I want to know if you’re having a hard time, and I want you to know when I am. Because, inevitably, we will all have bad days. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone “there” when we do? I think so.

How To Save Money Without Actually Saving Money

moneyI can’t tell you how many times clients or friends have tried to tell me that they don’t make enough money to save. I truly understand what they mean: their budgets are tight and they are having problems finding extra cash to set aside for a rainy day. But what if I told you that there are ways you can save money that really don’t have much to do with what you’re spending your money on but rather how you’re spending your money?

Mind blown, right?!

Let’s look at a common why and how behind a spending category, like food.

Here’s the why: Ya gotta eat.

Here’s the how: I go to the grocery store when I need food.  I don’t really use a list.  I don’t meal plan.  And I go to the store every two weeks.  Oh, and did I mention I go on an empty stomach?

The result? Overspending.

Don’t get me wrong, the why of how you spend is very important; for many people it’s the why that gets them into real lasting trouble by shopping to fill a void or seeing ones personal value in the acquisition of stuff (read: materialism).  But the how of spending is such an easy thing to address that we’d be remiss not to look at how changing our spending hows can impact budget’s bottom line.

Why don’t we look at a few more situations where you can save money on by changing the how behind what  you’re doing!

Grocery shopping

There are so many ways to save money on grocery shopping that have absolutely nothing to do with coupons (Seriously, I suck at coupons.  I even wrote about it on my blog). The money saving rules of grocery shopping are simple.  Make a menu, make a list from that menu, eat before you go to the store, and stick to the list.

I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved by just incorporating menu planning into my budget.  It keeps me from overspending on random grocery items vis-a-vis grocery shopping induced ADD (Ooh! Brownie mix is on sale!) and from overbuying on produce that inevitably goes bad because I have no idea what to do with it or due to the fact that I forgot about said produce.

Going out for a night on the town with friends

The rule of saving that comes with this one is simple: Do not open a tab on your card.  DO NOT.  Going out for drinks with friends can get pricey and let’s get real, the more bevies you consume, the more friendly you get, and the looser with your money you become.  Stick to a cash budget for your girls’ or guys’ night out and you won’t find yourself hungover- well at least your budget won’t be!

Headed out on a date?  Don’t knock the day date.  The last time I checked, lunch is cheaper than dinner and matinees are cheaper than evening shows.  Got kids? Find friends you don’t mind swapping kids with and save on sitters (Thank goodness Amanda Crowe of In Gear Career for Military Spouses lives nearby.  We’re saving between $40-80 a month on sitters…EACH!)

Buying clothing

Let’s be honest.  Most of us have enough clothing in our closets to dress a small country.  Before you buy, shop in your closet first.  Chances are you’ve got a several pieces you forgot about!  If you really need some new duds, don’t knock clothing swaps with like-style friends or take a note out of Macklemore’s book and hit the thrift shop. I’m not ashamed to say that my latest pair of new-to-me pants were $15 at my fave  consignment shop.

See?  Saving money isn’t only about emergency and retirement savings.  It’s really as simple as changing how you do things!


lupher-familyAdrianna Domingos-Lupher co-founded MSB New Media and launched the first global Military Spouse Bloggers network with Carmen Grant in June 2012. She is the creator of Military Money Chica and currently serves as the editor of NextGen MilSpouse. Adrianna believes that social media has transformed the military spouse experience and that it’s time for brands to pay attention to this largely untapped resource of motivated and eager military spouse social media professionals. When she’s not wrangling her two munchkins or taking over the world from behind the screens, she’s sitting on the couch with a giant mug of coffee trying to figure out what she ought to be doing other than sitting on the couch. Oh, and she secretly loves to fold laundry because it affords her guiltless tv time.