Tagged: military families

Blue Star Families to Host Military Family Financial Summit, 8 September in Norfolk, VA

Posted by Debi Teter

Blue Star FamiliesBlue Star Families – an education and advocacy network to benefit the families of deployed servicemembers and veterans, is organizing a workshop for military veterans and their families. The workshop, which will take place at Old Dominion University on Saturday, September 8th, 2012, will feature a variety of workshops on various financial topics of interest to military families.

Workshop topics will include the following:

  —Children’s Financial Literacy

  —Post-Military Career Planning

  —Military Spouse Portable Entrepreneurship

  —Homeownership and Property Management

  —Savings, Investments, and Retirement

  —Managing Credit and Dancing Around Debt

  —College Planning

The keynote speaker will be Keynote Speaker: Neale Godfrey, the CEO and chairperson of the children’s Financial Network. Godfrey has authored many books on financial literacy and child-rearing, including the New York Times bestseller Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children.

Additional speakers include:

  • Admiral Craig Quigley, USNR, the executive director of Hampton Roads Military & Civilian Federal Alliance
  • Dr. Vivian Greentree, Director of Research and Policy at Blue Star Families
  • Veronica Jorden, a member of the board of directors at the Military Spouse Business Association.

 

Price

The price of admission is perfect: Free! Also, child care for children ages 3-12 will be provided on-site, also free of charge.

The event will take place at the Webb University Center on the Old Dominion University Campus, 1515 Hampton Blvd, Norfolk, Virginia, 23508. Registration and breakfast will commence at 8 a.m., and workshops will begin at 9 a.m. and continue to 4 p.m.

Interested participants can register online.

Your Military ID is Your Passport to Summer Fun

Posted by Debi Teter

family vacationSummer is winding down and that means many families are gearing up for a final vacation or weekend trip before school routines set in. Below are a few tips to make your vacation budget stretch even farther by using your military ID.

Military lodges, temporary housing or recreation centers:

Rather than spend your budget on $100/night hotel room, check nearby military installations to find out if they have rooms available. Most of the rooms have convenient kitchen and recreation facilities.

Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC) are affordable joint service hotels/resorts in Hawaii, Florida, Germany and Korea. They’re managed by the U.S. Army to provide vacation opportunities to service members and their families. For information, visit www.armymwr.com/portal/travel/recreationcenters.

Each service branch maintains local recreation areas for military personnel. You can find information on your installation website or ITT office.

ITT (Information, Tickets and Tours) office

Before you pay full price for tickets to local zoos, museums, concerts, movies or amusement parks, pay a visit to the ITT office on your installation. They are usually located near the exchange or recreation center. You’ll find discounts on admission tickets to local attractions and events. You’ll also be able to check the calendar for military appreciation days or special days for deep discounts that are only offered to military.

Space-A travel

Space-A stands for “Space Available,” and it’s a very inexpensive way to travel for certain military personnel and family. The catch is that you have to be flexible on your travel dates, which is challenging for many, and you have to be comfortable on military aircraft. For information on Space-A travel, visit the Air Mobility Command’s website or get a copy of Military Living’s Military Space-A Air Travel Guide.

Armed Forces Vacation Club

This group arranges low military-only rates worldwide. They have negotiated these rates at more than 3,500 hotels, resorts and campgrounds; five cruise lines; airfare and rental cars. Visit its website at www.afvclub.com.

Have you ever traveled Space-A? Where’s your favorite AFRC? Tell us about it below.

Armed Forces Recreation Centers

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

military recreation centersThirty days of leave per year: sounds great in comparison to the civilian world of two weeks.

However, it doesn’t take into account two things:

  • This includes sick pay, and
  • You’re usually stationed far away from your family.

I don’t know about you, but although it’s great to visit back home, running around to see everyone you possibly can does not a vacation make.

On top of it all, vacations are expensive. With approximately 26% of all military spouses unemployed, not counting the large percentage that are underemployed, cost is even more of a factor than for civilians. So what’s a family to do? Take advantage of the military resorts.

Sponsored by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division of the U.S. Army, the four Armed Forces Recreation Centers are set in the United States (2), Germany (1), and South Korea (1). The U.S. Naval Joint Services Activities sponsors one in Japan. All five locations are much less expensive than the stereotypical resort/hotel but don’t skimp whatsoever on the amenities. In order to provide vacation opportunities across the entire military, room rates are adjusted by rank; an E-3 will pay much less than an O-3 for the same room.

Florida — Shades of Green supplies golf, swimming, and restaurants under the Orlando, Florida sunshine. The resort sells a variety of amusement park tickets at a discount (Walt Disney World Resorts, Universal Studios and Sea World are just a few), saving you even more money! A complementary shuttle takes you to any of the Walt Disney World Parks. Military rates are available at the two golf courses that surround the resort. Summer 2012 rates start at $95. Hello Mickey!

Hawaii — The Hale Koa Hotel on the beach at Waikiki can’t be beat. Hawaii has an excellent transportation system known as TheBus, which you can hop on right outside of the hotel and explore the rest of the island of O’ahu. Relax on the beach, take surfing lessons, or eat traditional Hawaiian food at the daily luau! Summer 2012 rates start at $91. Toes in sand, frilly umbrella-laden drink in hand…

Japan — The New Sanno Hotel offers restaurants, shops, a pool, hot tub, and sauna smack dab in the middle of downtown Tokyo for very reasonable rates; even more a bonus since Tokyo is the most expensive city in the entire world! It is minutes away from Tokyo’s extensive subway system, linking you to a multitude of cultural and tourist attractions. Summer 2012 rates start at $50. Banzai!

Germany — The Edelweiss Lodge and Resort provides in house luxuries such as a spa, salon, pool, hot tub, and multiple restaurants. Located in the Bavarian Alps of southern Germany, sports opportunities abound; skiing, hiking, and kayaking are just a few to get you started. Those who are more interested in “roughing it” can camp in cabins or pitch a tent. Being so centrally located, the Lodge provides guided tours of not just places of interest in Germany but also Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. Summer 2012 rates start at $86. Sehr gut!

South Korea — Sightseeing in Seoul (South Korea’s capital) is a breeze when you stay at the Dragon Hill Lodge. Centrally located, the hotel helps you discover South Korea in all its aspects. Go on a food stall tour; visit the Demilitarized Zone; participate in the Boryeong Mud Festival and fling dirt like a local! When you’re done for the day, take advantage of the pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Summer 2012 rates begin at $64. Yeo-haeng jal da-neo-o-se-yo!

All five resorts occasionally offer specials and packages; sign up to be notified and updated by email. Many local merchants and restaurants, dependent on the military dollar and word-of-mouth referral, will offer a discount if you ask; speak up and take advantage of it! You’ve worked hard protecting our country and/or keeping the home fire lit for your military spouse; relax and enjoy the vacation you have earned and deserved, while saving money at the same time.

Operation Purple

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

Operation Purple creates memorable experiences in a traditional summer camp setting for children of service members. Dubbed “purple” for its joint-operations commitment (any member of any branch of the military are eligible, as well employees of the Coast Guard, U.S Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), kids can experience the outdoors with peers who are in many of the same familial situations as they are. Operating since 2004, Operation has served over 45,000 children and their families.

Operation Purple camps last approximately one week and are geared toward children from ages 7 to 17 (age and time are dependent on the camp location). Camps are located across the United States and are free; there is a $25 deposit check that is taken to hold your camper’s spot, but that check is returned to you once camp starts.

First priority in registration is given to children who have a deployed parent. Next priority is for children whose parent has been or will soon be deployed; then registration is open to all military children, regardless of parent location. Registration fills up quickly. There are always many more campers applying than spots available.

Operation Purple Healing Adventures provides Wounded Warriors and their families the opportunity to heal, relax, and have fun. Working with the USO, Operation Purple is able to offer three camps in the summer of 2012. Families must have an active duty or medically retired service member who sustained injuries, trauma, or illness during Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

Operation Purple also sponsors family retreats in conjunction with FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress). These four-day camps held in National Parks and Forests across the country are for families who have experienced a recent deployment (within the past 15 months). Developed to help assist with family reintegration, outdoor activities are balanced with independent family time. This program is free and also provides a $200 stipend to assist in travel costs to the outing location.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has hit Operation Purple hard; its Summer 2012 program had to be scaled down because of resources, even though demand (seen through registration applications) is as high as ever. Donations can be made here at National Military Family Association, OP’s organizational founder.

COL Johnson Case: The Fallout for Military Spouses

Posted by Debi Teter

The current prosecution of COL James Johnson on a variety of charges, including fraud, bigamy and conduct unbecoming an officer is highlighting problems with the way the government dispenses justice to career military officers and NCOs convicted of wrong doing. 

First, an overview of the case: COL Johnson was well on his way up the stairway to the stars. He received command of the prestigious 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy – long considered the plum assignment for combat arms officers headed for flag rank. But in March of 2011, he was relieved of command, after evidence surfaced that he had committed a series of crimes. Among the allegations:

  • COL Johnson, who was married at the time, had arranged government travel, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to facilitate meeting an Iraqi mistress in the Netherlands.
  • He provided a government cell phone to his mistress and her family, which racked up $80,000 in usage charges. 
  • Improperly steering a lucrative military contract to his mistress’s father, hiring him as a “cultural advisor.”
  • Falsifying at least 18 travel vouchers, and receiving payment for them.
  • “Marrying” his Iraqi mistress while he was still married to his spouse, Kris Johnson. 
  • Forging a government document (1 count).
  • Four specifications of adultery – a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • Six specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer.

Johnson pled guilty to 15 out of a total of 27 counts. A number of other counts were thrown out yesterday, leaving only two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for the jury of five colonels to consider.

If convicted, Johnson could face up to 54 years in jail. He could also be stripped of his retirement benefits – and therein lies the rub: The government cannot strip COL Johnson of his retirement pay without also stripping his wife, Kris Johnson – who by all accounts is blameless, of her share of Johnson’s military pension.

Normally, even if a military couple divorces, the spouse is entitled to half of the servicemember’s retirement pay in recognition of 20+ years of service and sacrifice (subject to some caveats under individual state law). Indeed, military spouses do forgo untold professional and educational opportunities while they engage in repeated PCS moves with their sponsors – and unemployment among military spouses is over 3 times the national average, at 26 percent.

Further, to underscore the sacrifice involved, many of those military spouses who are working are working lower-wage jobs than they may otherwise be earning had they not become members of the military family.

The problem: Kris Johnson, who has committed no wrong and has been cooperative with the investigation, faces the loss of over a million dollars in pension benefits, if her husband loses his military retirement pay.

This is a problem, because it creates a powerful disincentive for military spouses to report wrongdoing. The current whistleblower protections normally afforded to employees do not apply to them. Any spouse who becomes aware that her husband (or his wife) is committing serious official misconduct, and reports it, must face the prospect of becoming impoverished in her golden years, if the retirement benefit is stripped away.

“I know spouses are told, if they know their husbands are having an affair, ‘Just keep your mouth shut,’” Kris Johnson said, according to the Fay Observer. “If he gets thrown out or dismissed, he’ll lose his retirement. Let him quietly retire so you can get your half.’ That’s tolerating unethical behavior,” she said.

The Department of Defense should create a process whereby innocent spouses receive some protection against having their economic futures devastated by the loss of this pension benefit, through no fault of their own. It is doubly important to provide this protection to military spouses who blow the whistle on official misconduct, allowing the military to purge corrupt leaders from its ranks (and make room for better leadership in these senior billets.)

There are a number of parallels in the civilian world:

First, the Internal Revenue Service does make allowances for innocent spouses, and provides for relief from penalties for unpaid taxes and unfiled returns where the evidence indicates that the spouse committed no wrongdoing or was herself deceived.

Second, pensions in the private sector are generally exempt against civil judgments and bankruptcies. While you might get sued and lose, resulting in a judgment against you for, say, $1 million, no creditor can go to your employer’s pension fund or 401(k) and force that fund to release a lump sum. They may get a charging order against the income from that pension that accrues to you, but they would have no claim against an innocent spouse.

There are a lot of military spouses watching this case closely. If Kris Johnson is hung out to dry, the government should not expect much in the way of cooperation from them in other cases, going forward. The incentives for military spouses will overwhelmingly be to look the other way and keep their mouths shut.

The Justice system may yet strip Mrs. Johnson of her retirement benefits. But since she is blameless in the whole affair, that would not be justice, by any standard.

 

What do you think a military spouse should do in this situation? Tell us in the comments.

Military Families Get Free Access to All National Parks for One Year

Posted by Debi Teter

2012 Annual Parks PassGot some leave saved up? Got a hankering for travel? This year is possibly the best year ever for military families to explore the beauty of our National Park System.

Normally, a year-long family pass would cost at least $80. But under an intiative announced by the National Park Service in May, the Department is granting access to any of America’s 58 national parks for free to military members and their dependents until May 16, 2014.

How It Works
The National Park Service sells an annual pass, the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass, for $80. The passes allow the holder and a carload of passengers to pass through to any of the $2,000 sites that charge on a per-vehicle basis. If you go to a park or site that charges per person, the pass allows the servicemember in with three other adults age 16 or over.

Spouse deployed, or otherwise unavailable? Good news: The servicemember sponsor doesn’t have to be present. The program is available to military spouses traveling separately. The program applies to “activated” members of the Guard and Reserves. However, you can’t get in under this particular program as a retiree or veteran. These groups have other opportunities for free or reduced admission, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who sites the National Park System’s Access Pass, a free lifetime pass for disabled citizens or U.S. residents. There are also special programs for seniors age 62 and over.

How To Get the Passes
Just show up. With your military ID of course, and IDs for all your dependents, in case you get separated. You can obtain the pass at any National Park Service attraction that charges a fee for entry. The passes will be accepted by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and at U.S. Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.

Historical Connection
In a press conference at the Yorktown Battlefield National Park, the site of the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, Jarvis delineated a deep tradition, connecting military veterans and families and the National Parks. The Park Service preserves and protects a number of historic battlefields, including Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Jarvis mentioned that many parks were closed to all but active duty military during World War Two, and that the parks underwent extensive upgrades and investments in order to prepare for a flood of returning service members and their families when the war came to an end.

The parks themselves are located throughout the United States, and there are even national parks in American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. The Dry Tortugas Park, home of Fort Jefferson, the country’s largest masonry structure, is located off the Florida Keys. Don’t try to drive there: It’s accessible only by boat or plane.


The Focus Project: Help When a Military Family Member Deploys

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

It’s part and parcel with the package; you are a military family. Deployment is part of the job. In these troubled times, deployment (for active duty) and mobilization (for reservists) is almost inevitable. Fortunately, the armed services are providing more and better support for not only their service members but for those left behind; their spouses and children.

The FOCUS Project, Families OverComing Under Stress, is a family wellness program accessible to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps (it is currently unavailable to the Coast Guard). Available at approximately 20 bases in six states, three bases in Japan, and attached to multiple Wounded Warrior Regiments, this program is designed to incorporate the whole family; service member, spouse, and child(ren) all take an active part in developing effective and positive coping mechanisms in order to enhance family strength and prepare them for the myriad of challenges that comes with deployment.

FOCUS: Family Resiliency Training™ for Military Families speaks to issues unique to military families through education, counseling, workshops, and intervention. They do so by addressing what they call Five Key Skills; emotional regulation, communication, problem-solving, goal setting, and managing deployment reminders. Each family member (service member, spouse, and child) learns not only how to deal with their own concerns and anxieties but how to empathize, listen, and work together to come through whole and healthy on the other side of deployment. Skills building and maintaining family integrity are central to the FOCUS Project mission.

It also discusses what it calls the Deployment Spiral, breaking down deployment into five stages of emotional responses, much like the Kuebler-Ross five stages of grief that many people are familiar with. Like the Kuebler-Ross model, simply by having the knowledge that what you are experiencing is normal can be half the battle. By understanding these stages, which includes reintegration, the FOCUS Project hopes to alleviate many of the stressors that families like yours go through on a regular basis.

Visit the FOCUS Project Contact page to see if this program is available at your duty station. FOCUS headquarters can be reached by email at info@focusproject.org or via phone at 310-794-2482. FOCUS World provides on-line training and assistance for families unable to participate in person.