Celebrating Thanksgiving and Birthdays During Deployment (Part 2!)

August 17, 2011 · Filed Under Health, Relationships, This & That · Comment 

Thanksgiving and Birthdays!

In America Thanksgiving is a time of gathering with family and reflecting on all we have in our lives. Even though your soldier might not be able to be present for the celebration, you can include him and help you and your children feel connected to him during this holiday season.

Cornucopia of Blessings

Take an empty wicker or other decorative cornucopia, a symbol of overflowing bounty, and place it in a central location in the home. Several weeks before Thanksgiving, take time each day to write with your children one thing they are thankful for and place this note in the cornucopia. Use orange, yellow, and red pieces of paper, and fold them to give them depth before you place them in the cornucopia. By Thanksgiving you should have visible evidence of all of the wonderful things in your life. At dinner, read these aloud among whomever is there, then take them and create a scrapbook of thanks for your soldier and send the book as a wonderful reminder of the love waiting back home.

Turkey Cookies

You can’t easily send mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie in a box overseas, but you can still send some holiday treats to your soldier. Use your regular sugar cookie dough recipe, divided into two, and add just enough food coloring to each batch to make one yellow and the other orange. Roll out the dough and use turkey shaped cookie cutters. Have your kids help you decorate them with fall colored sprinkles, and then send a sweet treat to your soldier. If you have teens or tweens, consider letting them have a baking party where they can invite friends over to make and decorate the cookies, and have enough to share with neighbors or send to other soldiers.

Birthdays – Gotta Have ‘Em

For your soldier’s birthday, send a care package that the kids help create. You can include the usual birthday cards, but add in there some unique surprises such as trick candles, a roll of streamers, balloons, and a list of all the things you love about your soldier – the number should match the age the birthday brings. You could even opt to send a clue as to what the birthday gift waiting at home is, but keep the actual gift at home, creating anticipation your child can get excited about with this fun secret.

If your soldier is missing the birthday of your child and that is causing sadness, you can plan ahead and have your soldier pick a special gift to give your child. Have the gift wrapped and with a card from your soldier. It could even be the first gift of the day, or a special token left on a pillow just before bed time. Your soldier could record herself singing Happy Birthday and either send it to you online or on a flash drive to play for your child. Take two pieces of birthday cake, one each for your child and your soldier, and borrow a tradition from weddings and place the cake in the freezer to be shared when your soldier returns.

No matter what the holiday, celebration, or special event is, it is important to make sure you don’t put your lives on pause while your soldier is deployed. For children this matters even more. The younger they are the more their memories will be shadowed by emotions. Do what you can to make sure that those special times are celebrated when your soldier is deployed, but include your soldier in little ways to bring all of you closer.

For the first installment of this two part series, see Creative Ways to Celebrate Holidays During Your Soldier’s Deployment (Part 1!)

Photo credit: Adrian

The Company You Keep

July 16, 2011 · Filed Under Health, This & That · Comment 

Surround Yourself with Positive People Who See Their Glass as Half-full

Glass Half Full

A glass that is half-full is capable of sharing, providing, and giving. Optimism is not only something that can put smiles on faces, but it is something that can make families healthier and stronger. It is imperative that families surround themselves with others who have glasses full enough to give to others, and they will find themselves with lives that are overflowing with positive support.

When it comes to difficult times in our lives, such as when loved ones are deployed overseas, the company we keep at home can be extremely influential, and not always in a good way. No matter which path we find ourselves on as siblings, parents, or friends of soldiers, we need to make sure that we are bringing people into our lives who can lift us up with their words and actions, and to whom we can provide the same sort of positive energy.

How to Know if Someone is Spilling Your Glass of Optimism

Military families need all of the support they can get. The trick is to make sure that they type of support is positive and optimistic. It is all too easy when there is instant access through media to a tragedy overseas to assume the worst for loved ones. If we surround ourselves with friends who tend to let emotions run high and get worked up easily, we can fall into those traps as well. These situations can suck the energy and common sense right out of us.

Look for these signs of relationships that spill your glass:

1. The first reaction is likely negative.

2. The person tends to jump to conclusions easily.

3. If you are concerned and go to this person with your concerns, she builds on those with her own worries.

4. When you have a positive experience, such as a phone call from your soldier, this person diminishes your joy, perhaps by complaining she hasn’t received her own, instead of sharing in your joy.

5. Your own sense of security, well-being, and peacefulness is not increased by this relationship.

Relationships that display these signs can make your efforts to lead a less stressful life while your soldier is serving overseas more difficult. These people can be in your life through personal contacts in your neighborhood, other family members, or even online forums. In order to combat the Negative Nelly in the crowd, keep your distance when there are extreme emotions, no matter if the emotions are sadness or elation. Seek the companionship of others who can help you find a positive balance and see things clearly for what they really are. When loved ones are serving overseas it can be too easy to jump on board with Negative Nelly when you are feeling down. Be careful to search for a more positive relationship so that you can keep afloat through turbulent times and rejoice in the good.

Photo credit: Kalyan

The Bonds That Tie

Over at PBS.org I have written a post about the meaningful bonds that are forged during military service… among soldiers… among wives… among parents…

Throughout the course of our lifetimes, we make and break bonds with people. Some bonds are formed in friendship: schoolmates, neighbors, fellow workers. I have close friends from each of those groups. I maintain, however, that the bonds forged in military service are perhaps the strongest of all bonds. Stronger than steel. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than time.

We all know the story of veterans sittin’ around and one says, “No shit!! There I was…” followed by a story of improbability or hilarity, typically punctuated with profanity, irreverent phrases and sordid images. It will end with much backslapping and hearty handshakes. The circle might contain members of a single unit or a single war, or it might contain an assortment of veterans from many of this nation’s conflicts. But they are bonded and tied to each other by the commonality of their service. Some are bonded by the mettle and the blood of battle. You need look no further than the Illiad or the St. Crispen’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V for evidence of the emotional connection these men share.


Some of my closest friends today are people I didn’t know before my son deployed. We met via military blogs (including my own) and private online Internet forums established by parents of soldiers — one by a Third Infantry Division parent, another established by military moms for military moms. These were places to share information, to share worry, to celebrate good news and to commiserate when the news was bad. These were places that let us share this bond, hammered and shaped by our worry for our sons and daughters.

These relationships are equal parts ethereal and practical; as much emotional as they are physical. It involves both the spiritual and the material worlds — prayers and novena candles as well as care packages and cookie recipes. It is an inclusive sisterhood for which we did not volunteer, but in which we are now forever members.

You can read it all at PBS/POV: Conversations on Coming Home

Stop Loss Payments Update

December 12, 2009 · Filed Under This & That · 1 Comment 

Dec 17 – Another Update:

A commenter below was asking about an error message he was getting when he got on the website. A PAO for the Department of the Army sent me this response

I understand your frustration. We’ve been having some problems with the Retro Stop Loss Pay website. And once we think we’ve got it fixed, thereis another issue. … So, we are frustrated too.

What it means when the message says your information couldn’t be verified, is that it couldn’t be verified automatically. It doesn’t mean that your claim is in dispute. A case manager will have to look at your
documents. Please allow 90 days for processing and payment. The backlog is quite large at this point, so we really will need the 90 days.

Hope this helps.


I couldn’t be on the “Stop Loss” call this time, but wanted to get you the information that I have. It’s the usual – computer glitches, bad program design and understaffing. BUT – hopefully it will now flow smoother. I’ll continue to monitor the situation and get back to you when I have more information.

American Forces Press Service

Program Manager Explains Delay in ‘Stop Loss’ Claims

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2009 – After an initial delay caused by software and manpower issues, the first retroactive payments will be disbursed next week to soldiers who were retained on active duty involuntarily under the so-called “Stop Loss” program.

Army Maj. Roy Whitley, program manager for the Army’s Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay program, acknowledged problems over the program’s first 50 days and said officials are working to reduce the current backlog for the thousands more who are expected to file their claims over the next year.

“We are going to plow through the backlog as quickly as we can,” said Whitley, who spoke with bloggers and online journalists yesterday during an Army bloggers roundtable.

“We lost time [by] improving the claims end early on,” he said. “For every day we spent working the claims, we knew we were losing a day on development and case management.

“We are building it out [and] improving software. [That is] the reason why you are seeing some delay.”

Parts of the initial Web-based claims program, launched Oct. 21, lacked complete functionality, and many of the claims were processed manually, Whitley said. However, he added, the case-management software is expected to be finalized this week, closing at least 1,000 cases. Those cases will then be forwarded to Defense Finance and Accounting Service for payment.

“The latest enhancement gives us the ability to close the cases,” Whitley said, and will allow Army claims managers to advise claimants on the status of their claims.

He added that he is working on adding more claims managers to his staff of 14. “We saw the volume coming forward,” he said, “and we knew we had to make some changes both on software and personnel.”

As soon as the software changes are tested and finalized, he added, his staff will be better able to ease the backlog.

“We are hoping this will knock down on the anxiety caused by our backlog and e-mails,” Whitley said. “We are really working through those and trying to focus exclusively on claims clearing.”

The deadline to submit Stop Loss pay claims is Oct. 21.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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