Page 1



J U LY 2 0 1 2

JOINING FORCES A look at Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s initiative encouraging Americans to support and honor their many military families





I Serve, Too. Even though they aren’t “in” the military, kids serve in many ways, often taking on new responsibilities when situations change in their families. Learn how you can help families through ]VS\U[LLYPZTHK]VJHJ`HUKÄUHUJPHSZ\WWVY[ W W W . M I L I TA R Y F A M I LY . O R G

Letter from the editor According to Census data, there are currently more than 1.5 million active military members, with more than 20 million living veterans in the United States, many of whom have shared their inspiring and heroic stories. But this number does not account for the many stories that are rarely shared — the stories of their families. Homefront magazine has one goal: to be a supportive voice for military families across the nation. We recognize this kind of magazine is vital for families, and we strive to provide information and answers to them beyond the official line they receive. At Homefront, we’re sure about this — everyone has a story that should be told. And each story is unique. We want to share the story of the mother, shaken by her daughter’s decision to enlist in the Army. The child, who has moved a dozen times due to his father’s job in the Marines. And the soldier, struggling to readjust to life at home after deployment. All of these individuals are connected to one another in some way. Many of them have asked similar questions, confronted similar issues and overcome similar obstacles. Our objective is to unite these individuals, no matter the distance or their place in life. With every issue of our publication, we promise to provide answers, activities and stories, in hopes that we will enlighten, entertain and inspire each and every person in these special families. Our mission is to serve not just the family members of those actively serving in the military, but also those left behind — those on the homefront. Sincerely,

Maggie Cagney Editor

EDITORIAL STAFF Maggie Cagney, Editor Christina Cleveland Rachel Coleman Will Doran Jake Klein Jonathan Larowe DESIGN STAFF Catherine Sum, Art Director Rachelle Branca, Asst. Art Director Kevin Uhrmacher, iPad Editor Molly Sutherland Kaitlyn Cook Cece Pascual PHOTOGRAPHY Rebecca Yan Julia Wall Cameron Robinson SPECIAL THANKS Linda Brinson Terence Oliver Dana McMahan Susan King Nicole Yang Kelly McHugh Sierra Piland COVER U.S. Air Force Capt. Andy Rhodes, navigator for 9th Special Operations Squadron, hugs his wife, Tina, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. after returning from deployment in Iraq on Jan. 6, 2012. Photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Williams via

Table of contents


SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE MILITARY The do’s and don’ts of sharing for family members on the homefront

10 12

CARE PACKAGES What you can and can’t send to your service member

ASK UNCLE SAM Have questions? This month we answer some about military fitness, housing and education

14 16

INSIGHT: BOOKS AND MOVIES We take a look at Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men Are Gone and Listed Picture’s Lifted

MILITARY CELEBRITIES Find out who was in the military before they became famous

18 20

OPERATION: GET FIT Learn some military fitness tips and tricks

FINDING FUN WHILE AT THE FORT Things to do and see near some of North Carolina’s most popular bases


JOINING FORCES First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are encouraging Americans to step up to support and honor military families with their initiative

26 28

JILL BIDEN Q&A The Second Lady talks about Joining Forces

PROFILE: MEREDITH BROWN Snapshots from the life of a Marine combat correspondent

JULY 2012


THE ULTIMATE TEST Two Army Reserve families seek balance

38 44

THROUGH THEIR EYES For military children, the world is their hometown

REINTEGRATION Returning from deployment can often mean an unexpected readjustment period

50 58 64

THE BENEFITS START HERE A look into the resources offered at the Durham VA

POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE Service members choose some of their favorite travel experiences

66 68

WOUNDED IN ACTION Brain injuries to troops are being noticed more than ever before

LT. COL. MEGAN STALLINGS An Army officer and mom tells us about her extensive career

A DAY IN THE LIFE A look at a West Point cadet’s military education

72 74 76

MILITARY MIDWIFE Capt. Tiffany Johnson’s experiences delivering babies DECONSTRUCTING THE GI BILL How veterans can make the most of their benefits

ELECTION 2012: POLITICIANS AND THE MILITARY See what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have to say on a number of military issues

sSsocial ocia ociall media and


Military itary






or military families, using the Internet to connect with one another can lessen the anguish of being separated from a loved one. But because of its transparency, the Internet can be more harmful than it is helpful. Whether you are an active member of the military, a family member or a friend, it is important to use social media responsibly to protect the safety of our troops.

Graphics by Rachelle Branca


tips What Not To Post

Never reveal specific, sensitive information like schedules or locations. For the safety of your family, do not post when or if you are going on a vacation, or if you will leave the house vacant. In addition, do not post gossip or anything derogatory. Try to ensure that you are using social media in a respectful manner. The Army’s handbook offers some examples of how to make potentially harmful posts safer: “My soldier is in XYZ in ABC camp in ABC, Afghanistan” → “My soldier is deployed to Afghanistan” “My soldier will be leaving Kuwait and heading to Iraq in 3 days” → “My soldier deployed this week” “My soldier will be coming back to ABC on XYZ day” → “My soldier will be coming home this summer.”


Most social network profiles begin as public. Change your profile settings to “friends only,” and never add a friend whom you don’t know or haven’t met. Unknown friends could be potential threats or en-


emies of the troops. If you think you or your military family member is being impersonated on Facebook, you can report or block this person at: facebook. com/help On Twitter, report this account as spam or visit:

support. forums/impersonation

Helpful resources The 2011 U.S. Army Social Media Handbook provides helpful social media tips for soldiers and their friends and families. Many of these basic tips can be useful when applied to any military branch. Check out the handbook at: USArmySocialMedia/armysocial-media-handbook-2011

Don’t forget! The U.S. Army says it is important that troops constantly update their families about operations security and what can and cannot be posted online. Many military branches will block troops from certain websites if social media are used carelessly.

Photos and Videos Family members should not tag a location of where the troops are stationed or landing. Troops should remember, especially when they are deployed or deploying, to not give away location or specifics on their mission via their videos or photos. Avoid posting images that contain easily identifiable landmarks when the troops are there. For example, with deployed Navy ships, it is usually OK to post images after the ship has left a port, but not before or while it’s still there. Remember anyone can see online images, so closely review each photo or video before uploading. Think twice about posting photos or videos that could be shocking, inflammatory or offensive.

Blogging In case you didn’t know, there are several official military blogs maintained by each branch. These blogs allow you to become part of an online community full of our troops and their families. Check out and for some examples. There are also many unofficial blogs, run by active duty troops, veterans, family members, and friends, that are available to follow. For example, visit:

truemilitarywivesconfessions.ning. com and JULY 2012 | 9


Care Packages BY JAKE KLEIN

Not many things brighten the day of our men and women in uniform more than a carefully planned care package.

G ra


s by

K ait


Co o



The first step in putting together a care package is deciding, “What do I pack?” Greg Vaughn, a Marine formerly stationed in southern Iraq, says, “A good care package has a little bit of everything in it: food, supplies, entertainment. Being deployed can sometimes feel like being in prison. You miss your friends, your family, good food and good fun. If you can pack enough to make station feel like home for just a few days, you’ve done a good job.”

While you can’t ship drinks overseas, Vaughn and other sources agree that troops love getting packets of powdered drink mixes, especially Gatorade and coffee. In addition to food and drink, certain personal supplies that are difficult to come by while serving overseas can make our troops’ lives much easier. Vaughn says that hygiene products and tobacco products are passed around and help build camaraderie. “Most infantry guys use chewing tobacco, and it’s really hard to come by when deployed,” he says. “The guys you’re out there with are your brothers. If you have something they want or need, you’re glad to give it to them.” Those who have sent and received care packages in the past also suggest sending some miscellaneous items. Items that will give the recipient a laugh, such as a high bounce ball or some other kind of fun toy will often help lighten the mood. Stay away from large items, but small balls and items such as sock monkeys are known to brighten up a

Vaughn's packing suggestions

dull day. Once your package is ready to go, the next step is to write down everything in the box before you seal it up. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection require that you record every item in the package before mailing it. Instead of using plain cardboard boxes, consider using United States Postal Service flat rate boxes. As long as your items fit in the pre-paid box, the box ships no matter what the weight. You can pick these boxes up at the post office or order them online from, and the rates are similar for domestic and international shipping. Customs forms can be picked up at your local post office and should be filled out before you take your package to the post office. If the package is big, you might need more than one form. Remember that packages need at least two weeks to arrive at their overseas destination, so plan ahead!

FOOD: B eef jer ky Trail mix Protein bars Hot s auce S unfl owe r seeds Peanut s S eas oning salt Hard cand ies Homemad e cookies PERSONAL: Magazine s Ear pl ugs L ip bal m B aby w ipes S hampoo S oap S having l otion B at te r ie s

If you would like to send a care package to a service member but don’t have time to make one yourself, there are numerous organizations that will do it for you. Some organizations that are popular with military families include: Give2TheTroops AnySoldier Operation Shoebox If you would like to send a care package, but don’t personally know a service member, the United Service Organizations operates “Operation USO Care Package,” which takes a $25 donation and sends a care package and your personal note to a randomly selected deployed service member. Visit their website at:

This i

s an e


le of a


m s fo


JULY 2012 | 11

husband was recently assigned to a new military base. Q: My Should we buy a house or live on base when we move there?



son will be goQ: My ing to boot camp in a

few months. Is there anything he can do to prepare himself ?

training varies for A: Basic each branch of the mili-

tary, but they all require one thing: motivation. A lack of motivation will guarantee him a spot at the bottom. He will need to be able to run and do certain strength training exercises such as push-ups before he leaves, as physical training will start as soon as he arrives. He might want to practice going to bed and waking up earlier than he normally does. Recruiters will send him a list of what he can and cannot bring, so make sure he pays close attention to that list. He should bring extra socks, toothpaste and foot cream, because these are things he will be using frequently.


are a number of factors that go into this decision — A: There how long he’ll be stationed there, if you have children, how

much you receive in your basic allowance for housing (BAH) — but there are some things you should ask yourself before making a decision. Should I live on base? If you have a family, living on base is a great option because it’s free, and you will most likely be part of a strong community atmosphere. However, base housing is often available by waitlist only, and it’s likely that your living quarters won’t be as cozy as what you might be used to. Consider asking yourself how long you’re capable of waiting for available housing, and if you can handle living less comfortably than usual. Should I rent? Similar to living on base, renting a house or apartment can be an inexpensive option. Living below your BAH earnings will also allow you the opportunity to save money to buy a house in the future, if that is what you are thinking about. Before you decide to rent, find out if you will receive any tax advantages by renting; if the local economy is weak; or if there’s a chance that your military base may close due to Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). It is wise to look for a rental agreement that has a military clause allowing you to break your lease if you are reassigned. Should I buy a house? Buying a house is expensive, so make sure you’ve got a good idea of whether you’ll soon be moving again. Ask yourself if you have the money upfront to buy a house, if you could afford to manage your house as a rental in the future and if you’re going to be living there for more than four years.

difficult will it be for me to serve in the military and Q: How get my college degree at the same time? military wants all of its personnel to receive the educaA: The tion they desire. Though it will take extra work, completing

your degree while serving can be done. If you cannot physically attend a university, taking online courses is a valuable option, and most universities offer them. Military members can also get credit for courses by passing online tests through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). If you’re worried about money, the Tuition Assistance (TA), Federal Student Aid (FSA), and the GI Bill are all helpful in reducing the cost of your education.

Supporting those who have sacrificed for us

Find out how you can help at

INSIGHT You Know When the Men Are Gone BY MAGGIE CAGNEY


BOOKPICKS 1 2 3 4 5

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education Craig M. Mullaney Home Front Kristin Hannah Dear John Nicholas Sparks


Shooting the Moon PICK Frances O’Roark Dowell Military Life: Stories and Poems for Children KIDS PICK Various Authors


s the men of Fort Hood, a Texas Army base, are deployed to Iraq, we experience another battleground — a war at home, fought by the devoted wives who are struggling to live without their husbands. Siobhan Fallon’s book You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of loosely connected short stories of the spouses left behind, forced to manage life on their own. Fallon, who is also a military spouse, vividly paints a profound image of the dramatic shift when the men leave home: “The base shifted from a world dominated by camouflage uniforms to one of brightly colored baby carriages and diaper bags, Mommy & Me meetings at the First Cavalry Museum, women on pastel picnic blankets lounging on the parade field and sharing cinnamon rolls.” Although the book is fiction, many of the stories depict common issues military families are confronted with on the domestic frontline.

This book is about wives, missing the lives they shared with their husbands, who are now many miles away. It is also about them as mothers, struggling to keep a relationship with their children, while also dealing with their personal battles. Not only will the readers experience the distance between the women of Fort Hood and their absent husbands, but they will also see the detachment that occurs when the men return home — the feeling of betrayal as a husband finds out that his wife has moved on without him; the feeling of anxiety, as one man tries to balance his job with his wife’s recent cancer diagnosis; and the deep feeling of pain as a father misses his child’s first words, first steps and first birthday. Fallon depicts a vivid picture of a world many of us are not aware of but should be. This quick read is inspiring and motivational for military families. These short stories are not only about the pain of waiting, but they are also stories of bravery — bravery on the homefront.



here are few movies that accurately depict how war can affect military families as a whole. We often encounter how it affects the spouse, longing for the intimacy he or she shares with the missing partner. We have seen how it affects parents, worried for their child’s safety while fighting overseas. But rarely do we see depictions of how war can affect children. And more often than not, it is the most difficult for children to grasp the meaning of war — and the meaning of death. The 2010 movie Lifted stars a young boy named Henry Matthews (Uriah Shelton), who finds faith in music, as the rest of his world seems to fall apart. His reservist father, William (Dash Mihok), has been called to active service for the Marines in Afghanistan. Henry’s mother, Lisa (Nicki Aycox), is a recovering drug addict who fears that her husband’s departure will cause her to relapse. When William leaves for Afghanistan, he asks Henry to do one thing —

sing. And indeed he does. The boy knows how to hold a beat, as a talented R&B singer. Henry sends his father his latest music, bringing the two together despite the many miles that separate them. Although Henry’s story is unique, it is also similar to that of many children of those in the armed forces. It’s the story of finding a way to connect with a loved one while he or she is fighting overseas. It’s also about finding inspiration in the little things in order to escape the pain of a difficult world. Henry’s mother becomes desperate while her husband is away, and begins to use drugs again. Henry knows he can help his family by entering an Alabama singing contest, which has a $5,000 award. The drug content in Lifted may be inappropriate for younger viewers, but the story is an inspiring one for all ages. This “little man with a huge heart” learns how to take responsibility while his father is gone, facing conflicts not many of us come across in our adult life. Lifted is a unique movie that military parents should watch with their children. It’s a beautiful story of faith to raise your voice in a disconcerting world.

Ph o to s c

our tesy

of Listed

Pic ture

MOVIE PICKS 1 2 3 4 5 6

A Walk in My Shoes FAMIL Y John Kent Harrison OPTION Act of Valor Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh We Were Soldiers Randall Wallace Saving Private Ryan Steven Spielberg Jarhead Sam Mendes Army Wives (Lifetime TV) Katherine Fugate SERIES


JULY 2012 | 15

Famous faces in the military Many celebrities and politicians — like Audie Murphy, Dwight Eisenhower or Ernest Hemingway — are famous for their military service in addition to whatever they did after. But there are many more veterans whose service isn’t as famous, from comedians to rappers and even gourmet chefs. BY WILL DORAN




Famous for: bringing French cuisine to mainstream America

Famous for: his rap career and role as a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Military connection: was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA); spent the war doing top-secret research and communications, including making a shark repellent to keep the animals from swimming into anti-submarine explosives Noted: was rejected from the special women’s service groups for both the Army and Navy in World War II for being too tall (6 feet 2 inches)

Military connection: served four years in the Army Rangers Noted: said he was prepared for potential danger because of his previous experience in the Crips gang in south-central Los Angeles, telling The New York Times, “I ain’t afraid of combat”



Famous for: delivering babies as Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff ” Huxtable on The Cosby Show

Famous for: being governor of Minnesota, his professional wrestling career

Military connection: worked as a hospital corpsman for five years in the Navy and ran on the Navy track team (despite being a victim of racial segregation)

Military connection: served as a “frogman” on a Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) during the Vietnam War; after that, served in the Navy Reserve as part of SEAL Team One

Famous for: being the host of the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? and star of the aptly named The Drew Carey Show

Noted: used his Navy track experience to win a track scholarship to Temple University, where he studied physical education and played fullback on the football team

Noted: said he would be interested in running as Ron Paul’s vice presidential candidate should Paul run as a third party candidate in the 2012 general election

Military connection: served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve Noted: is a die-hard fan of all Cleveland sports and is also a minority owner of the Seattle Sounders FC Major League Soccer team

Graphics by Catherine Sum


JULY 2012 | 17




We here at Homefront RUNNING CORE STRENGTH have kindly combed the fitness What’s Required: What’s Required: requirements for each branch’s You should be able to run at a 5 or For most branches, the average set 6-minute mile pace for 2 or 3-mile to be competitive is about 100 sitspecial forces. And while we runs, and a 7 or 8-minute pace for ups in two minutes. can’t always help with the 5-mile runs. Where to start: emotional and psychological Where to start: If you don’t have someone to hold fortitude these roles require, we Try running just one mile a day your feet down, try hooking them uncan at least help you get a better for a week at that pace. During the der a bed, couch or other heavy object second week, run two miles at that idea of the physical training they pace every day, and then keep mov- that won’t move while exercising. meet and exceed for their jobs. ing up. BY WILL DORAN

SWIMMING What’s Required:

HIKING What’s Required: Each branch requires you to complete a long hike with a heavy pack.

Where to start: If you enjoy backpacking, this should be no trouble, but if you don’t have experience or motivation, buying a hiking pack and weights for it might be a little expensive.

Each branch requires you to swim at least several hundred yards in full uniform.

Where to start: You can do that at home by swimming in the clothes you own or normally wear. Or, swim 1,000 yards (in a bathing suit) in 22 or 24 minutes instead of 500 yards (uniformed) in 9 or 10 minutes like the SEALs require.


Push-ups and pull-ups are the meat and potatoes of these workouts. Some branches stress this muscle group more than others, but all want a lot.

Where to start: A recommended training exercise is to be able to do 100 push-ups in two minutes, as well as 100 pullups spaced over several repetitions of about 15 or 20 each time, with a short rest in between.

Don’t have a pool? Look below for swim exercise alternatives. Photos by Julia Wall


Flutter kicks are great for leg strength, and upper body exercises help your stroke. And remember — the more slowly you do the individual movements in these exercises, the more control and strength you will gain in each motion.




Aim to complete at least 50 flutter kicks. Remember to keep your abs engaged while moving legs up and down.

Do 40 push-ups and focus on your breathing. Inhale as you lower to the ground and exhale pushing up.

Begin with your maximum repetition of pull-ups. If you don’t have a pull-up bar, find a low wall to use. Start with straight arms and remember to breathe at the bottom. JULY 2012 | 19


7 A

MAY 2012

n u f g n i d n i F t r o f e h t t a while C









North Carolina is home to a large variety of military bases ranging from the Air Force to the Coast Guard, with everything in between. If you are a family that is looking to visit a loved one who is stationed at a base in North Carolina, you will need to find activities in the surrounding area that can liven up your visit. This list includes some of the most popular military bases in the state, and also provides entertainment options for you and your kids to enjoy while visiting your loved one.

FAY E T T E V I L L E Pope Field Air Force Base CAMEO Art House Theatre Preservation North Carolina recognizes Fayetteville’s alternative cinematic experience as the “coolest place downtown.” This is a wonderful family venue, exhibiting movies, live theater and special events.

Cape Fear Botanical Garden These botanical gardens feature more than 2,000 varieties of ornamental plants and several specialty gardens including Camellia, Daylily and Hosta gardens. The area also has a children’s garden, providing a unique and educational experience for the young ones. 20 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

p m a Cejeune L

ELIZABETH CITY Fort Bragg Army Base Airborne & Special Operations Museum This free-admission museum has several incredible exhibits, including a main gallery, a temporary gallery, a four-story-tall theater, a video theater and a motion simulator ride. Excitement for all ages!

USCG Air Station Elizabeth City Museum of the Albemarle Features the Madrin Gallery, a 6,200 square-foot exhibit that is a showcase of over 700 artifacts that depict the story of the Albemarle region’s watermen, farmers, lifesavers and soldiers.

Elizabeth City State Fascinate-U Children’s Museum University Planetarium This museum offers many fun activities, including shopping at the Gro-Right Grocery & Deli, responding to 911 calls at the Emergency Dispatch Center, giving the NC weather forecast at the WNUZ center, and more!

Experience night sky tours, star and laser shows, films and guided tours of the solar system under a starfilled dome at this planetarium.




s fr


or y,


ro e

om gs fr

sa nd

in Greet

aH om e

Home to the Seymouser Johnson Air Force Ba

p ne


to wn



GOLDSBORO Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Wayne County Museum

“The H

G ra p h

ics by

JACKSONVILLE Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Air Station New River

Ce ce P

arbor o



f Hosp itality”

H AV E LO C K Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

At this museum, you can find numerous objects illustrating the history, science and cultural heritage of Wayne County and central eastern North Carolina.

Lynnwood Park Zoo

Port City Pirates & Ghosts

This incredible zoo is home to over 80 animal exhibits, with species including reptiles, birds, mammals, and more.

Paramount Theatre

Equine Country USA

Learn how to sword fight, help load and fire a working cannon, and hear some of the area’s scariest ghost stories in a fun-filled tour inside an authentic, haunted historic building. moreheadcitypiratesghosts

The theater offers a vast array of performing arts including ballet, dramatic and musical theater, gymnastics and live concerts. This stateof-the-art facility hosts a 500-seat auditorium, giving the audience an intimate setting to enjoy all the theater has to offer.




LLnea i v n so oLi k r C a C a j th


eth Ci ty

Elizabeth City

Havelock Jacksonville


This horse facility offers boarding, riding lessons, wagon rides and trail rides — perfect for your young cowgirl or cowboy!

The History Place Research your full family tree at this museum and find out who might be a long-lost relative.

JULY 2012 | 21

Joining Forces


Photo by Lawrence Jackson

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are encouraging Americans to step up to support and honor military families.


Joining Forces aims to bridge the gap between military families and Americans, encouraging individuals outside of the military community to give back.

ast year on Thanksgiving, Army wife Jessica Allen received an unexpected call — a phone call from First Lady Michelle Obama. She was calling to thank Allen not only for her husband’s service to the country, but also for her own service as a military wife and mother. “You are amazing,” Obama said during the phone call. “You are the kind of example and the story we want to make sure that all of America hears and knows about, because in addition to managing your family, we understand that you are also a super support system to other military families, walking people through the emotional process,” she continued. On Jan. 22, 2011, while in the Zhari district of Afghanistan on a dismounted patrol, Allen’s husband, Staff Sergeant Chaz Allen, stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). He instantly lost both legs and broke his elbow. “An IED doesn’t just hurt one person, it hurts all of us,” Jessica Allen says. “But thank God for medical technology. Legs can be replaced. “It was only his legs — it could have been his life.” The phone call to Allen is just one example of the ways in which the national initiative Joining Forces is reaching military families across the country. On April 12, 2011, Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Michelle Obama

launched Joining Forces, an initiative that provides ways in which Americans can step up and lend a helping hand to military families who are challenged daily. “The initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society — citizens, communities, businesses, nonprofits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government — to ensure military families have the support they have earned,” according to Joining Forces’ website, Military families are confronted with challenges every day. It could be something as simple as finding a baby sitter while the stay-at-home military spouse goes to a doctor’s appointment. Or it could be more difficult, like having to switch jobs several times a year because of a partner’s deployment. Whatever the difficulty, Joining Forces aims to bridge the gap between military families and Americans, encouraging individuals outside of the military community to give back. After her husband’s injury, Allen became more involved in the military community, reaching out to men, women and children near and far. Her blog, “The War of a Wounded Warrior Wife,” has become a resource for many followers. Whether it be an inspirational post after her husband took his first steps on March 21, 2011, or an informative post on how to approach

a wounded warrior appropriately, she is always trying to find ways to encourage and enlighten those in the military community. “Through my blog, I have met and helped so many families,” Allen says. “I want other people to know they are not alone, whether it’s your husband or son being deployed, there are other people out there in the same boat, paddling along.” Which is exactly the mission of Joining Forces — to help members of military families know they have the support of the American public. A military life means living in increments — taking one day, one deployment, at a time. Members of the military are confronted with issues involving physical training, separation and more often than not, the threat of death. Yet the battle on the homefront can be just as painful. There is the constant worrying about a deployed spouse; the difficulty of being forced to relocate and start over again; and the distance a spouse may feel, not only when his or her partner is serving, but also when the partner returns. Joining Forces is not just about healing those wounds, whether physical or emotional. It’s also about providing some sense of normalcy for military families, helping them share many of the opportunities civilians have. And for that, Joining Forces recently created the Joining Forces Community Challenge, a call to action for community organizaJULY 2012 | 23

Dr. Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama greet volunteers at the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, Texas. The center helps care for the families of wounded service men and women. Photo by Chuck Kennedy

tions and citizens who recognize the needs of military families and provide programs and services to help ease the challenges and burdens many of these families face. The White House announced 20 finalists on Jan. 23, 2012. After public voting and additional judging, the White House announced on April 6 five winners of the challenge: Our Family for Families First Foundation, Armed Forces Service Center, Defending the Blue Line, Give an Hour, Project Sanctuary and the City of Richfield, Utah. One of the 20 finalists was, an organization in nearly 25 states across the country that helps families stay connected while their loved ones 24 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

are overseas. provides families with pictures of their spouse and children, taken by local professional photographers, says Elizabeth Bloch, director of media relations for the organization. “The photographs are printed on waterproof, bi-folded vinyl cards, which fit securely in soldiers’ uniform pockets,” Bloch says. “This is only a tiny thanks in the face of what these families not only endure every day, but endure with a smile and with a grateful heart.” Bloch says the program is completely free, and it includes a professional photo session, hair and makeup styling and a CD of the images. “There is no end to the project — just a commitment to continue to

serve our armed forces while they serve us.” The mission of Joining Forces is simple, as Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden described when the initiative was launched: “Everyone can do something.” Whether it be helping throw a baby shower for a military wife while her husband serves overseas, or taking the time to speak with a wounded warrior about his or her story, a small act of giving goes a long way. Members in the armed forces and their families are doing their part; It is now time for the American public to join together — to join forces — and support and honor them.

Joining Forces Community Challenge First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden created the Joining Forces Community Challenge in an effort to recognize citizens, communities, schools, nonprofits, faithbased institutions, philanthropic organizations, and local governments for their strong support of military families.

The Soldiers Project

These citizens and organizations have helped ease and alleviate the emotional and mental stress on military members and their families. To learn more, visit: = Named a Community Challenge winner on April 6, 2012

Armed Forces Service Center

Richfield, Utah

Sacramento, Calif. One-on-one psychological treatment

Graphic by Kevin Uhrmacher

MSP Airport Food and shelter for traveling troops

Support for National Guard Community Covenant program

Rebuild Hope

Menlo Park, Calif. Financial support for veterans

Wilmington, N.C. Professional photography for military families

Canines for Veterans Canines for Service New Directions

Los Angeles, Calif. Program for homeless and addicted veterans

Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs

Clovis, Calif. Support for teenage girls with parents deployed overseas

Wilmington, N.C. Service dogs for veterans

Project Sanctuary Rocky Mountains, Colo. 6-day family retreat for military families

The Landings

Savannah, Ga. Military family relief fund

Nationwide programs Education


Tillman Military Scholars

Birdies for the Brave

Operation Homelink

Give an Hour

Our Family for Families First

Defending the Blue Line

Trees for Troops

Luke’s Wings

Operation Wedding Gown

GreenCare for Troops

Educational scholarships for military veterans and their spouses

Scholarships for members of military families

Outreach initiative in conjunction with the PGA Tour Hockey equipment, NHL tickets for military families

Free designer wedding gowns for military brides

Medical Technology to connect families with troops abroad

Free Christmas trees for military families

Coordinates free mental health services for wounded veterans Connects injured service members with their families

Free lawn and landscaping services for military families

JULY 2012 | 25


Second Lady

Jill Biden

Photo by Chuck Kennedy

D r. J i l l B id e n , w i f e o f V i ce Pres id en t J oe B id en , recog n izes th e ch a ll enges m i l i t a r y fa m i l i e s fa ce a n d h a s wor ked to ra is e a wa ren es s th roug h h er init iat ive w it h Fir s t La d y M ich elle O b a m a , J oin in g Forces. HOMEFRONT: What made you want to launch the Joining Forces campaign? JILL BIDEN: One of the best parts of being Second Lady is the opportunity to visit and meet with so many service men and women and their families. I am always inspired by their incredible service and sacrifice for our country. First Lady Michelle Obama and I launched Joining Forces as a way to encourage all Americans to recognize, honor 26 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

and take action to support military families. Americans are stepping up — individuals, community organizations, nonprofits and businesses — are all taking action to support and honor our military families. As a military mom, this is also personal for me. When my son Beau was deployed in Iraq as a captain in the Army National Guard, I saw how important the support from neighbors and friends was to his family. The small kindnesses — shoveling

the driveway in a snowstorm or bringing over dinner — can make a tremendous difference in lives of military families. That kind of support is exactly what Joining Forces is all about. HF: What have you learned about military families? JB: Military families are incredibly resilient. Whenever I visit with military families and veterans, I always walk away inspired by their commitment to service, their

strength and the many ways they support one another. Regardless of the challenges they face, they are proud of their service to our nation, and they almost never ask for help. That’s why it is so important that we help the rest of the country understand some of those challenges and let people know that we all have a role to play. HF: What do you believe is the prominent challenge many of these families are facing today? JB: This is a challenging time for many Americans — and military families are often facing those same challenges while a spouse is deployed. One parent is carrying the day-to-day challenges of raising a family, children are often transferring to new schools and spouses are faced with the challenges of finding new jobs and possibly dealing with professional licensing issues as they transfer bases or deal with deployments. They are making tremendous sacrifices, for which we owe them our deepest gratitude. When the First Lady and I visit with military families, two issues come up over and over. The first is education. After 10 years of continuous combat, the lives of many military children have been marked with parental separation and anxiety about a parent’s deployment. But military children also have a unique set of challenges even when both parents are at home. Military children on average attend six to nine different school systems. Through each transition, they are faced with leaving their friends and adjusting to new schools and new surroundings, all of which can affect a student’s opportunity to

achieve academic success. Another issue that the First Lady and I have heard about over and over again as we travel around the country and meet with military families is professional licensing for military spouses. Because military transfers often require spouses to move from state to state, this issue can be a real challenge. Military spouses move 10 times more than their civilian counterparts — and 35 percent of spouses in the workforce are in jobs that require a professional license. This means that there are currently 100,000 military spouses that are affected by a maze of credentialing and requirements that oftentimes hinder their careers and prevent them from advancing professionally. It’s happening to nurses, teachers, child care providers, accountants and social workers. That’s why the First Lady and I have made this a priority as part of Joining Forces and are urging all 50 states to pass legislation that addresses these licensing issues by 2014.

Americans are stepping up — individuals, community organizations, nonprofits and businesses — are all taking action to support and honor our military families.

HF: This magazine wants to make sure that the content we produce is beneficial to each and every member of these families. As the mother of a son in the military, what content would you find most helpful? JB: In addition to covering stories that military families can easily relate to, I think it is important to highlight the variety of resources that are available to them. Raising awareness through community organizations, job hiring fairs and schools are all important ways to reach military families. We also want to make sure our military families know there are places to turn if they recognize any of the warning signs of post-traumatic stress or other invisible wounds of these conflicts. We should encourage families to seek help, to talk about these issues and let them know there is help and support available. No family should face those challenges alone. HF: What future plans do you have for Joining Forces? JB: We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of Joining Forces and are looking forward to highlighting all the progress that has been made in the past year. As part of that, we are looking forward to recognizing finalists of the Joining Forces Community Challenge, an effort that is intended to recognize the many community-based projects that support military families across the country. Beyond the anniversary, we will continue to find ways to build on our progress and find more ways to support military families in our workplaces, our schools and our communities. JULY 2012 | 27


Meredith Brown knew from a young age that she wanted to join the service, but what she couldn’t predict was where her duties would take her. BY MAGGIE CAGNEY

t began with a handshake agreement to join the service between two fifth-grade pals. And what became of that young promise led one of those pals into the U.S. Marine Corps. Corporal Meredith Brown, 23, was one of those two fifth-graders who knew from a young age that she wanted to be in the military. Brown grew up in Germanton, N.C., a small town outside of Winston-Salem. She got her chance to experience the importance of service during her senior year of high school when she signed up for Marine Corps JROTC. “Once I was in the class, I knew it was for me,” says Brown. “I loved the discipline, determination and drive that the teachers could instill in kids from some of the worst backgrounds imaginable. “It gave them a sense of purpose and a future.” This sense of a future began for Brown on Nov. 13, 2007, when she enlisted in the Marines as a sophomore at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill without informing her parents. The other partner in the pact was already at the U.S. Naval Academy, preparing to be a Navy officer. “I talked with my parents about enlisting in the Marine Corps during my senior year [of high school], and they really wanted me to go to college,” says Brown.

“Neither of them are college graduates, so they were trying to set up the best future they could for me.” However, once Brown got to UNC-CH, she says she realized that if she wanted to pursue her dream as a Marine, she would have to do so at a young age, which meant giving up her education at that moment. “Once I was [in college], I didn’t really know why, other than to obtain a degree so I could get a good job, get married and continue on that path,” she says. “That was not what I wanted to do.” Besides the desire of her parents, an unforeseen injury also stood in Brown’s way, causing her to fail the first physical for boot camp. Brown underwent back surgery in 2008. While her parents thought that her dream of being a Marine was over, Brown had different plans. She went through physical rehab, took summer courses and prepared to take the physical exam a second time — and pass. In October 2008, Brown received clearance from her surgeon to go to boot camp. Although Brown’s parents may have had a different future in mind for their daughter, her father encouraged her to do what she wanted to do. “Like any parent who loves their children, I was concerned,” says Jeff Watts. “But there comes a

time when they leave the comfort of their home and make a life for themselves.” Her mother, Beth Watts, remembers an email she received when Brown told her about her decision to pursue her dream as a Marine. “All I could envision at the time was her being on the front lines,” she says. “My greatest fear was losing my child. I will always remember an email she sent me telling me that she believed that if this wasn’t God’s will for her that he would take this desire from her. “From that point on everything changed for me,” Beth says. After deciding to drop out of UNC-CH during the fall semester of her junior year, Brown began boot camp on Oct. 27, 2008, in Parris Island, S.C. After boot camp, Brown entered into the public affairs field in the Marines, where she was trained as a combat correspondent and broadcaster. When she graduated from boot camp in 2009, she had to attend Marine Combat Training (MCT) for a month of basic infantry skills training at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. She began her training as a combat correspondent at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) in Fort Meade, Md., where she took journalism and broadcasting classes, as well as on-the-job training. It wasn’t until graduating from JULY 2012 | 29

DINFOS that her real journey began — a journey of about 11,000 miles from her small-town home. On Feb. 6, 2010, Brown traveled to American Forces Network Okinawa (AFN) in Okinawa, Japan, where she served as a broadcaster, shooting video, editing video and doing voice packages for more than a year. Brown says AFN Okinawa services more than 75,000 troops in Okinawa with English-speaking news, television and radio. Brown also assisted as disc jockey for the radio station. Brown spent 14 months in Okinawa, a lengthy term that took a toll on her family back home. “Having a sister in the Marines can be difficult,” says Morgan Watts, 21, Brown’s sister. “Meredith has had to miss a lot of important events in my life: She wasn’t there for my high school

graduation; [she] has missed my last four birthdays; [she] wasn’t in the States when I got engaged; and Christmas sure isn’t the same when she is gone,” says Morgan. But Brown tries to keep in touch with her family in every way possible — phone calls, Facebook, email, Skype — whatever allows her to be constantly updated with life on the homefront. And with technology comes opportunities, says Brown’s husband, Gil Brown. “One of the coolest things we’ve done in terms of using Skype is that she actually got to watch and listen to my brother’s wedding,” says Gil. “We set up an iPad on the front pew of the church so she had a front row seat to a wedding in North Carolina.” Despite the miles that separate her from her family, Brown is there for them every chance she has,

MEREDITH's travels TRAVELS TIMELINE: Meredith's Enlists in t he Marines a s a sophom ore at the Unive rsit North Car y of olina a Chapel Hil t l

N OV.1 3,



Begins boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.

OCT. 27, 2008

something her sister agrees with. “I know she is always just an email, Skype call or phone call away,” Morgan says. “I don’t resent Meredith for missing all of these things — I know she hated missing them as much as I wanted her to be there. And if she could have been there, she would have. “I know she is living out her dream and making a difference, and that is what’s important to me.” In July 2010, while she was serving in Okinawa, Brown was granted permission for an important family event that she knew she could not miss — her wedding. Brown was given a few weeks to get fitted for her wedding dress, say “I do” and spend a few days on her honeymoon in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., before returning to Okinawa. The couple was married on July 10, 2010. “The time at home flew by,”

Graphic by Catherine Sum

s from Graduate nd pa boot cam ine ar attends M ing rain Combat T er in Geig at Camp , N.C. ille Jacksonv


Begins t rain as a com ing bat correspo nde at the De nt fen Informa se tion School

Brown says. “It was as if I was watching a two-hour movie on someone else’s life before it was time to get on the plane to head back to Okinawa.” Each day was packed with lastminute wedding details — dress fittings, bridal portraits, pre-wedding festivities and wedding rehearsals. Each event contributed to making Brown’s wedding as special as it could be. Brown’s parents, sister, husband and his family did much of the planning. They all helped organize the event, and Gil’s mother, grandmother and aunt made Brown’s wedding dress. “It took countless hours on their part,” Brown says. “I just showed up, tried it on and they made adjustments. In less than two days, I was doing bridal portraits.” Brown’s mother, Beth, says they had to pull together the wedding in

a matter of weeks. “We really planned her entire wedding in about seven weeks,” Beth says. “Although the time restraints made planning stressful, it really wasn’t difficult because Meredith is so easy to please.” Looking back on it now, Brown says the event was perfect. “Like I told [my family], regardless of how things went down, at the end of the day if I’m married then it was a success,” she says. “The love and support showed by all my family and friends was encouraging and greatly appreciated as [my husband and I] started this interesting, lifelong journey together.” Brown’s personal journey con-

ding Wed 010 0, 2 1 y Jul

Ph o t o

Amerio t s l e Trav ces Net can For nawa, ki work O serves she where dcaster, a as a bro /editing g shootin d doing n video a ckages a voice p


2 FEB. 6,

Marries Gil Brown in Germanton, N.C.

JULY 10, 2010

Arrives at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province after serving six months in Jacksonville, N.C.

s co u

r tes

e re y of M

dith B

row n

te Projected da l be Meredith wil arine out of the M gets Corps if she arly a 3-month e tart out; would s gust school in Au


JULY 26, 20

OCT. 2011 JULY 2012 | 31

Frequent flyer miles Meredith’s experiences have taken her all over the world. She’s traveled about 47,382 miles — that’s enough to circle the globe about 1.90 times. See how those distances stack up below.

90 mi


336 mi


330 mi


Graphic by Catherine Sum

371 mi


7677 mi


8007 mi


8007 mi


7976 mi


7290 mi


7298 mi



tinued as she returned to Okinawa two weeks after the event. As the months continued and Christmas approached, Brown received one of the best presents she could ask for — a holiday with her husband. “My parents paid for my husband to fly out to Okinawa so that we could spend our first Christmas together as a married couple,” she says. Brown commented on her holi32 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

day on her blog saying, “I’m not going to say it was a fairy tale Christmas, but it suited us just fine.” A fairy tale that helped her get through her final months in Okinawa. After spending a total of 14 months overseas, Brown had a permanent change of station to Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C., where she served as a military journalist.

Brown says the transition from Okinawa to North Carolina was a difficult one, and it was challenging for her to remember everything she had been taught as a print journalist instead of as a broadcaster. But dealing with the difference in fields wouldn’t last long. After serving in Jacksonville for six months, Brown volunteered to serve as combat correspondent

at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan. She arrived in Afghanistan in October 2011, where she was confronted with new challenges as a Marine. One challenge she discovered immediately was the difficulty in communicating with loved ones back home. In Okinawa and Jacksonville, she had access to Internet connection and was able to call, email and Skype. But in Afghanistan, her ability to communicate with family and friends was limited. Brown says the Internet connection was unreliable, causing her to have to email home whenever she got the chance. She was able to call her husband once every two weeks and her parents once

A fg h a n is t a


October 20 11

every month and a half. “Meredith and I have become very talented at playing things by ear and just taking it day by day,” Gil says. “I think that is the best way to deal with being tied to the Marine Corps.” Gil, 24, says he has known Meredith since middle school, but the two began dating in 2007. While she was in Afghanistan, he was finishing graduate school at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Gil says being in graduate school made the infrequent communication easier, as well as their personality types. While for many this may seem unimaginable — to go weeks without communicating with loved ones — many military families must deal with this struggle on a daily basis. But Brown’s family found alternate ways to constantly keep updated with her routine. “Because Meredith is a journalist, I search her name to learn of news stories she had covered and figure out where she had been,” says Jeff. And the occasional conversation always brings her family joy. “Every once in a while there has been that wonderful phone call when you actually get to hear her voice that is priceless,” says Beth. But for most military families, nothing can compare to the moment of being reunited with a loved


one when he or she returns from deployment — something Brown experienced again in March 2012 when she returned to New River, N.C. After several months in Afghanistan, Meredith returned to the homefront, where she began a new chapter in her life. “I am going to actually try to take the three-month early out so that I can return to college and get my degree as a history and economics high school teacher,” she says. “That would mean I would get out of the Marine Corps July 26, 2012, and go to school in August.” The life of a young Marine is always challenging. From the constant globe roaming, to the feeling of helplessness when missing birthdays, graduations and engagements of loved ones back home, the journey can be tiring. Yet for Brown, pride in service always remained. “The truth is, I have never been more proud to call my sister ‘my sister,’ ” says Morgan. “I know what she is doing is making an impact in so many different ways.” And as Brown noted in her first blog post in January 2010 as she began her journey, the impact she is making will never cease: “I have decided that my journey through life is probably worth noting.” JULY 2012 | 33

G ra p h


ics by


lle Bra

n ca


Two Army Reserve families seek balance on the homefront normal life is something that many soldiers desire but hardly ever get to experience. After completing their service in the U.S. Army, normalcy is typically what they look forward to most on their arrival back home. Upon return, many soldiers are forced to cope with the unenviable task of putting the pieces of their home lives back together again. But in the case of some veterans, even though they have served the mandatory time, they feel that their service is not yet complete. They still yearn to be a part of the military. For these soldiers, the Army Reserve is waiting for them. Jeff Schwartz was one of those soldiers. Schwartz was an active member of the military for five years, but upon his return to Waco, Texas, in 1985, after the culmination of his active tour of duty, he felt that it was not the time to end his affiliation with the Army. “I got involved basically right after coming off active duty as part

of the process of perpetuating my involvement in public service,” Schwartz says. After managing to secure a job with a Reserve unit in Waco, Schwartz had to learn how to balance his dual life of aspiring lawyer against that of an Army reservist. One weekend out of every month, he was called to take part in monthly drills, which were made to emulate real-life scenarios that the soldiers could be faced with in combat. It is basically a month’s worth of work in two days, Schwartz describes. Aside from the monthly drills, two weeks out of every year, reservists must join together to take part in annual training. Annual training involves the entire unit meeting once a year to practice carrying weapons, wearing uniforms, fighting in defensive positions and any other situation that could present itself in combat. After serving in Waco for three years, Schwartz moved to northern Virginia in 1988 with his wife, Belinda. He wanted to continue his Army

Reserve service and, fortunately, was able to find a job on Fort Belvoir. Schwartz worked as a reservist on Fort Belvoir for four years before being promoted to work for a unit in Norfolk. During his time at Belvoir, his wife had their first child in 1990. Unfortunately, the birth of his son was occurring at the same time that the U.S. began increasing its involvement in the Gulf War. Schwartz knew that if his name was called, he had to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. “I wasn’t looking forward to being separated from my family, but it is just part of the deal,” he says. “I think anyone in the military internalizes that there may be times when you are going to be separated from your family, but that is just part of what service is about.” When the U.S. began to deploy troops to Iraq, Schwartz readied himself for the realistic possibility that he would have to leave his newborn son under the care of just one parent. JULY 2012 | 35

Doug Dinon being promoted to colonel in February 2004 at his Division Headquarters in Fort Totten, New York. He is surrounded by his wife Mary and their three children. Photo courtesy of Doug Dinon

“I know there was some anxiety on Belinda’s part because she had just moved from Texas to Virginia, and here I was, working as a reservist and there is this new war starting,” he says. “She was pregnant, getting ready to have our first child, and we knew that there was a possibility that I would have to go to the desert for some time. While I didn’t necessarily think I would be going, I was also packing my bags,” he says. In addition to having a bag packed at all times, Schwartz also had to prepare each day for the possibility that at any time, he could be called into active duty. He made sure to stay in the best shape possible. Aside from the fitness tests that were administered during his monthly drills at Fort Belvoir, Schwartz worked out every day to meet the strict requirements for reservists about 36 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

maintaining a certain level of physical endurance. In addition to staying in shape, he also had to make sure that all his finances were in order. “We had to make sure there was a will in place,” he says. “You need to have all of your financial ducks in a row. There is a certain amount of administrative things that the Reserve do on an annual basis to make sure everything is in order in case you have to leave.” But he admits that he was lucky. His wife was an accountant and was fully capable of handling all the bills and taxes in the event of his departure. He was also confident that she could take care of their newborn son until he returned. But he never had to test her abilities as a single parent — Schwartz was never deployed as reservist. However, there are members of

the Reserve who are called into active duty amidst living a normal life. While Schwartz was never called into active duty in his 18 years as a member of the Army Reserve, Douglas Dinon was. Dinon finished his active duty military service in September 1987, and upon his arrival, he immediately decided to join the Army Reserve. He found a job at Fort Benning in Georgia working as part of a garrison support unit. After September 11, Dinon knew that there would be a strong likelihood that he would be called into active duty. As a member of a garrison support unit, Dinon had the responsibility of standing up first to get the mobilization station prepared for battle. “As soon as 9/11 happened, our unit immediately thought that it would be literally any day at that time that we would receive orders to go to Fort Dix into full-time status to stand the mobilization station up,” Dinon says. And sure enough, Dinon was sent to Fort Dix, located in New Jersey, where he served from October 2001 to October 2002. At the time of his departure, Dinon was already married with three children. His children were in kindergarten and first grade at the time. But Dinon was not worried about his wife’s ability to survive without him. He was already married when he was serving on active duty, so she was accustomed to the military lifestyle. Dinon says that her previous experience with his military schedule helped to prepare her for the possibility of his absence. “My wife experienced four to five years of active Army time when we were just recently married,” Dinon

says. “She was prepared to take on the mission in the case of me being deployed. To go away was not really anything different, but going away permanently was new. We always prepared for it, but to actually activate that plan was a little surreal.” The plan was for Dinon’s wife, Mary, to take over as the head of the household while Dinon was stationed at Fort Dix. While Dinon was away, she assumed many of his responsibilities. “I had two 6-year-olds and one 7-year-old, so that was a major hardship,” Mary Dinon says. “It was hard for me to be everything to the three of them, but once we got into a routine, we were OK. The hard part for some wives is having Little League and events like that. You aren’t used to pitching the ball to your sons and that used to bother me, but overall I think we were OK.” Dinon returned in October 2002 after one year away from his family. He had the option to extend his tour of duty for another year, but he chose not to because he did not want to spend an additional year away from his family while his kids were still young. Dinon admits that the process of reintegrating himself into his work life was much easier for him than reintegrating into his family life. “With me being gone for 12 months, it is not like I can walk back through the door and be in charge again,” he says. “At home, my wife

was so used to running things that I had to constantly remind myself to let her continue in that capacity. I have technically never really been back in charge at the house, and that is the truth.” But the reintegration process was not just difficult for Dinon. His wife admits that it was hard for her and the kids to adjust to having him back in the house because they were so used to the routine they followed when he was away. “That was hell on everybody,” Mary Dinon says. “He came from an existence where when he speaks, no one else does, but the kids don’t act like that. The kids were small enough that when he came back, they would come to me when they needed anything and they would take their direction from me. That did not make him too happy, because he was used to giving the orders “It took a good long time, almost six or seven months, to actually start to feel like he was Dad again or be a real husband again.” Dinon was again mobilized on April 2006 and he was on active duty until August 2007. The family had to undergo the same process as before,

and Dinon admits that reintegration after 15 months was even harder than the first time. To help with the process, he planned a backpacking trip in Europe for the whole family. “We flew on a cargo plane from McGuire Air Force Base to Germany,” he says. “It was a great adventure for the kids, and I think it really helped with the transition.” Dinon left the Army Reserve in June 2010 after completing 30 full years of military service. As both Dinon and Schwartz can attest to, joining the Army Reserve is not for the faint of heart. It is hard on the reservist, not knowing if or when he or she might have to relocate, but it is even more challenging for the family. The tension is enough take a toll on anyone, but for reservists like Schwartz, that uncertainty never came to fruition. But many other families are not quite so lucky. Doug Dinon had to leave his family twice to fulfill his duty to the military. But he knew what he signed up for and, although it was hard on his family at times, Dinon would not give that back for anything.

JULY 2012 | 37


For military children, the world is their hometown. Here’s a look at how constant moves have provided them with an experience that few others will know. BY CHRISTINA CLEVELAND Photos by Cameron Robinson


n the early hours of most weekdays, while many of her

peers are sleeping from hours of studying, Alyssa Gray is up participating in physical training with Army ROTC.

Gray’s 5-foot-something frame may seem meek, but be-

hind her perfectly coiffed hair and coordinating clothes is

a soldier. Coincidentally, the uniform of a soldier attracted

her to military life.

“I wanted to be in the Army in the eighth grade,” she says. “I

thought the uniforms were so cute, and this was when they were still wearing the uniforms in green.”

She joined JROTC that year, and by 12th grade was awarded

an Army ROTC scholarship to the University of South Carolina. The 21-year-old is now a senior finishing her undergraduate

degree in international studies. After her May graduation, she will commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. She is leaving

JULY 2012 | 39

South Carolina for training at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., where she will be a signal corps officer working with communications and satellites. She says her parents, especially her mother, love the fact that she knows what she will be doing after college, and she is waiting for her sister and brother to come around. “Most people out of college don’t know what they’re going to do but I have a job; my mom loves that,” she says, smiling. Gray is not only a member of the military, but also a product of it. She is a part of one of its best known subcultures: the “military brat.” Call them brats, world citizens or proficient travelers, the children of the military have had vast, and sometimes fascinating, experiences that many kids don’t have growing up. These experiences can be negative or positive. Either way, they are often challenging. This is because military brats’ experiences highlight one of the biggest strains on military families: maintaining stability. Gray’s father, Carl, joined the Navy in 1968 at age 17, and worked as engine mechanic on a ship. In the 1980s, he retired from the Navy to later join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he works today. Since serving in the corps he has been deployed on several occasions, moving the family and Gray across the States and the world. “He was very strict and harsh,” she says about her father. “I couldn’t date until I was 16; I had only been to a few sleepovers. If he didn’t


know where I was, I couldn’t go. It was always school, work and home for me.” Despite his restrictions, Gray says she enjoyed her childhood, even though she failed to realize at the time the toll the incessant moving had on her. “As a kid, you don’t know why you have to leave so often,” she says. “You’re always thinking: ‘Why are we leaving? We just got here.’ ” Gray’s family now lives in Woodbridge, Va. — the last stop on the wide array of places she moved to throughout her childhood. She has lived in four states and one foreign country. She was born in Charleston, S.C., but at the age of 2 moved to Amarillo, Texas. At 7, Gray moved to Little Rock, Ark., and in seventh grade she was off to Seoul, South Korea. When her parents made their last move to Virginia in 2008 after she

had graduated from high school, she left again for Columbia, S.C., to begin college. Gray spent six years in Seoul, South Korea, on Yongsan base, and graduated from high school at Seoul American High School. The transition to the densely populated foreign city took her aback at first. “It was so huge and crowded,” she says. “People stared because they had never seen a black person before. They always wanted to touch your skin and hair.” But despite the initial culture shock for both her and the native population, Gray says Seoul was one of the best places she has lived. “I really loved it,” she says. “I hope I go back one day.” Gray also loves the military way of life, especially its structure and

Seoul, South Korea

Woodbridge, VA Amarillo, TX

Little Rock, AK Charleston, SC

Well-traveled Alyssa has lived in Asia and various parts of the US, moving five times since the age of 2. Check out the Homefront iPad app for an interactive map and additional photos from our shoot!

Andrew Coleman, left, and his brother, Chase Coleman, celebrate a North Carolina Thanksgiving in 2011 with their new puppy. Photo courtesy of Andrew Coleman

focus on respect. She credits it and her college experience for springing her into adulthood. Six hours away from where she is doing morning pushups and situps lives Andrew Coleman — a college senior who experienced frequent moves as a military child, as Gray did. His father is a retired Navy SEAL captain, who served for 26½ years. Coleman now calls Virginia home, as well, and has one sibling — an older brother who is a lieutenant in the Navy. His grandfather also served three years in the Army Air Corps after he was drafted during World War II. Andrew Coleman might follow family footsteps; he’s considering joining the military if he doesn’t go to law school. But first, he’s finishing his studies in St. Augustine, Fla., at Flagler College. The senior political science major remembers his father’s multiple de-

ployments, and the ensuing change of schools and switching friends. “You don’t make any long-term connections; I don’t stay around people for too long,” Coleman says about his teenage relationships. “You know the longest you’re going to be there is two years. You always know you’re going to leave in two years — you don’t really get attached.” His father, George Coleman, describes his son (Hunter to his family) as outgoing, talkative and witty. He believes these traits, along with his athletic abilities, allowed his son to adapt and meet friends. “I coached many of the athletic teams that he played on in our various locations, and we have a close family that I think is very supportive,” George Coleman says. Andrew Coleman, a wrestler and swimmer, moved mostly in his adolescent years. He spent a year in Rhode Island during elementary

school, but mostly moved back and forth from Virginia Beach to Alexandria, Va. He lived in Tampa, Fla., for two years during eighth and ninth grade; and then moved to Alexandria, Va.; and for his final year of high school, he moved back to Virginia Beach. Coleman attended three high schools in four years. He did play sports and attended junior prom, but admits that he missed out on some typical high school traditions. Coleman says by his senior year, when he moved back to Virginia Beach, he simply put his head down to get ready to graduate and prepare for college. However, he acknowledges that being in college has changed his outlook. “You put up roots, make more connections, easier connections that is, and better relationships,” he says. “It’s different; you can’t escape every two years, but I definitely en-

JULY 2012 | 41

FLEXIBLE, RESPECTABLE AND INDEPENDENT — Alyssa Gray is preparing to commission as a second lieutenant, becoming a full-fledged member of a lifestyle she grew up in. After years of transitioning, many military families have learned to adapt to and embrace the challenges they face daily. Photo by Cameron Robinson

joyed college. I don’t find anything wrong with living in the same place for a while.” Now 22, he’s grateful for the experience of being a military brat. Coleman says he’s glad he moved around, and that it’s not as hard as some may think. He says the strength of his parents, especially his mother, Jennifer, helped the family manage the incessant moves. Coleman’s father admits that the constant separation unfairly stressed his wife. Over his years of service, he completed eight deployments, each about six months in duration. For each one he had to train in advance, which in some cases could last a year, with half of that time spent out of town. “Over the course of 26 years, I


was not home for eight whole years while the boys were growing up,” he says. He genuinely believes his wife deserves an abundance of acknowledgment for those times. “I think that all of us have become very independent and flexible, as well as being able to plan things out better than most people,” George Coleman says. Flexibility, the Rev. Charles McGathy agrees, is one of many benefits of being a child of the military. McGathy, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Madison, N.C., served 22½ years in the Navy, during which time he raised five children. “You have to be flexible with the punches that life throws your way and be able to make changes

quickly and successfully,” McGathy says. “Independence is key. Everything about the military is about standing up.” McGathy’s children all have had varying experiences. His two oldest children, Michael and Erin, experienced the most change. Erin was born in Japan with dual citizenship, and Michael was born at the Naval Hospital in Twentynine Palms, Calif., near the Mojave Desert. “We call him the desert rat,” McGathy says, laughing. The two were not able to graduate from the high schools of their choice because of their father’s constant deployments to different states and Europe, which was troubling for him. “Personally, I always felt a little bad that I couldn’t provide that for

them,” he says about their lack of geographic stability. “But at the same time they got other benefits from it, and I think both Erin and Michael are very appreciative of those.” He always knew a support system was available to him and other military families — especially since he spent much of his career as a part of that system. McGathy worked as a chaplain for the Marines and Navy, where his job was to provide ministry to families who needed counseling and help with adjustment. “It’s always some type of adjustment; change is the one thing you always encounter in the military,” McGathy says. “It’s hard to imagine when you don’t live in it, that every day it only takes a single email, a single telephone call, a ‘Hey can I see you in my office for a moment,’ for your entire life to change.” After his first wife, Susan, died in 2000, he remarried a year later, and helped raise his current wife’s three children from a previous marriage. Shortly after the marriage, McGathy and his family moved from San Diego, Calif., to Spain for his final tour of duty, with the children still in elementary school. Later, the family settled back in the States and moved to rural North Carolina. McGathy says the three youngest children, Liam, Kevin and Noel, still live at home and have adjusted well to North Carolina. The pastor believes commanding officers have a difficult task making sure that their men and women do their best when they’re

not happy at home. That’s where he stepped in, providing guidance and assistance. He says that sustaining military families is no easy task, but that it can be done. “The families who do adjust to that and do learn those things do fabulously well and really find the military to be a wonderful way of life,” he says. “But for many, many families it is a really difficult way of life.” This rings true for George Coleman, who thinks that although a military parent does often miss life’s little moments, there are many posi-

Marine Corps for 21 years and was deployed several times, even serving two tours in Iraq. But Ross’ mother wouldn’t move. She was comfortable and did not want her four children to face the transitions. “It does make it easier growing up in a military town than always moving,” he says. But Ross says even though he lived in one location, it was still hard adjusting at times. His closest friends are a part of military families because it is easier for him to relate to them. To him, military kids, understand things in a differ-

My children have seen all different types of geography, have met all kinds of different people. They learn about the world from a whole different viewpoint. — Rev. Charles McGathy tive things about it that those who haven’t lived it wouldn’t understand. Those moments were far too precious for Thomas Ross’ mother to sacrifice. Ross, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a member of Navy ROTC and lived on Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., most of his life. “When people ask who’s a military brat and I raise my hand, they say, ‘Well how many places have you been?’ and when I say none they’re shocked,” Ross says. His father, Brian, served in the

ent way from civilians. And McGathy would agree. He says military children have a perspective and other opportunities that prove to be advantageous. “It causes one to view the world in an entirely different fashion than if one lived in a rather isolated society where you only kind of go and hang out with people just like you,” he says. “My children have seen all different types of geography, have met all kinds of different people. They learn about the world from a whole different viewpoint.”

JULY 2012 | 43

Returning from deployment: Easing the stress of reintegration and getting back into civilian life BY RACHEL COLEMAN Photo courtesy of Chase Coleman 44 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE


oin the Navy and see the world!” Lieutenant Chase Coleman heard this from countless recruiters before he decided to join the Navy. The chances to travel the world, visit exotic places and live away from home all draw thousands of Americans to join the armed forces every year. Coleman was no different. “When you join the Navy, you expect to be deployed, and that’s what I signed up for,” says Coleman, a naval officer who was stationed in Spain and the Persian Gulf for eight months in 2011. But what happens after eight months of deployment, where troops are exposed to fighting, death, near-constant exhaustion and an overall new way of living? For some, readjusting to everyday civilian life is extremely difficult. Aside from post-traumatic stress disorder, common side effects after deployment can include anger,


Cut along the dashed line

JULY 2012 | 45

insomnia, anxiety, physical injuries, dependence on drugs or alcohol, and a general strain on relationships. The Injury Prevention journal published a study that says U.S. Army suicides rose 80 percent during the five years after troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a rate that many are trying to slow. “The recent increase in suicide rates may be viewed as the tip of the ‘mental health iceberg,’ signaling more prevalent underlying mental health problems,” the study’s authors wrote. And while many service members face these side effects, not all members of the military experience the same thing. “Personally, it was easy for me to adjust back to civilian life,” says Sergeant Jonathan Motilall, an Army Infantry Team Leader from the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, who served two terms in Iraq and is now deployed in Afghanistan. “After basically seeing the chaos that is Iraq, I felt sorry for its people and realized, ‘Wow, I’m a lucky person, and so is every American,’ ” Motilall says. Regardless of you or your loved one’s position, it’s important not to ignore the changes that will occur after deployment. Pay attention to symptoms, and if you do find you or someone else having a hard time dealing with reintegration, seek help.


Make time for yourself

Whether you’ve been living at sea or in another state or country, you’ve probably grown accustomed to being surrounded by people at all times. “When you’re deployed, you’re sharing everything with 20 other guys — from the bedroom to the bathroom, nothing is truly yours,” Coleman says. Returning service members often consider privacy a difficult concept to come back to. The Real Warriors Campaign, an initiative launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), recommends setting aside time to rest before you rush back into everyday life. “Initially, one of the hardest things to get used to was solitude,” Coleman says. “On a Naval destroyer, you are almost never truly alone, so it was a little eerie to spend a few nights by myself in my own room.” Specialists at the National Military Family Association recommend looking into ways to manage your personal stress, whether through diet or exercise, as well as remembering to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. “After I got back and had more free time, one of the hardest things for me was to keep running and exercising every day,” Motilall says. “It takes effort, but keeping this

kind of stamina will help both your mind and body stay in shape.” Also, keep in mind that when a service member is returning from deployment, it’s not uncommon that the entire family will want to come visit and tell their military family member how much they’ve missed him or her. But no one who has spent the last year in war is going to want to play host to many family members, so take it slow. Start by reconnecting with your spouse or parents, then move on to friends and extended family.

Maintain relationships with your loved ones

When you return home and are faced with your family, spouse and friends for the first time in months, it’s hard to know how to act. Military members say that communication is key after returning from deployment. “The best advice ever given to me is to talk about your experiences with someone,” Motilall says. “A family member or friend who is there to support you will know the true you better than most, so it’s helpful to let them understand any of the problems you’re having.” If you’re married, tell your spouse how you feel, and listen to him or her in return, advises the National Military Family Association. You’ve probably both grown more independent while away from one another,

so personal space is important in keeping your relationship strong. “Listen to your partner’s experience. Learn how he or she has been living while you were gone. Let go of your expectations of how your partner should have behaved while you were away, and accept reality,” the DCoE recommends. Bonding with children can also be a struggle. Whether you have an infant, a teen or an older child, it’s impossible not to feel guilty for missing out on part of your child’s life. Conflicts may also arise between the service member and the spouse, who has been raising the child while the other parent was away. “My dad was deployed numerous times when I was a kid, and when he was home, he and my mom shared the workload, but he always seemed to be the ultimate authority between my brother and I,” Coleman says. “But when he left, he put the responsibility entirely on my mom. He may have been getting shot at, but she had to control two young children and manage a home.” If you’re single, some service members say you will have an easier time readjusting to your life after returning from deployment. “For a single guy, I didn’t have much problem readjusting back to my old life,” Coleman says. “Driving a car was definitely a little weird at first, and it took a day or two to get back to my old, daily routine, but

overall it was relatively easy.” Coleman says the only big difficulty came when he was reunited with his friends, who he said had no idea what he had gone through for the past eight months. “There may have been some slight awkwardness for a couple minutes when I first saw my friends, because I don’t think they knew how to act around me,” he says. “But after breaking the ice, we were laughing and joking like normal in no time.”

Get help if you need it

The hardest part of reintegration is admitting that you or your loved one might need help. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a military veteran will die by suicide every 80 minutes. And now that many veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq have returned home, it’s important to focus on getting them the help they need. Service members have many options to choose from if they need help, from VA Medical Centers to social workers on base. In this day and age, men and women in the armed forces can even get help online. In 2008, the National Center for Telehealth & Technology launched, making it possible for anyone to take online assessments that will recommend whether they need help treating certain problems

Quick facts Common side effects after deployment can include: - Anger - Insomnia - Anxiety - Dependence on drugs and alcohol - General strain on relationships Returning service members may often consider privacy a difficult concept to readjust to, says the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one military veteran will die by suicide every 80 minutes In one study, the Injury Prevention journal said that U.S. Army suicides have risen 80 percent in the five years after troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan

JULY 2012 | 47

such as depression or anxiety. Sherrie Lovely, the mother of Michael Lovely, a 20-year-old Army private first class who committed suicide in 2011, is doing her part in making sure others get the help they need. Lovely donated $25,000 of the amount she got from the military after her son’s death to the Michael Lovely Scholarship, which will help students suffering from depression at the Goshen Crossing Educational Center in Elkhart, Ind. And Mary Corkhill Kirkland, who lost her 23-year-old son Derrick to suicide after his deployments, said in an interview with KOMO News in 2011 that her son should have received more help. “My son did not want to die. He wanted help,” Kirkland told reporters. “He was crying out for help.” Admitting that you or someone you know needs help is the best thing you can do to make the reintegration process easier. “If you, your spouse or other family members are feeling signs of stress, physical or emotional, it’s


important to seek expert help, and the earlier the better,” the DCoE recommends.

Readjustment doesn’t happen overnight

Everyone around you might feel like a stranger when you first get back from deployment. Maybe you’ve been gone for so long that your family and friends have had life-changing experiences that you knew nothing about, like having a baby or getting married. Take time to get back into the swing of things, and remember that your loved ones are glad to have you back, even if they don’t constantly show it. “For the sailor, a deployment is like a pause in time — six months may as well be one day,” Coleman says. In 2010, Linda Franklin, creator of “The Real Cougar Woman” blog, founded Shining Service Worldwide, a support group for women in the military. Its popular “Power of 10” program helps women successfully reintegrate back into civilian life after deployment.

“Too often our females in service fall through the cracks and don’t get the attention they deserve, or more importantly, they need,” Franklin says on the Shining Service Worldwide website. “We want to help provide those resources for them.” Coleman says members of the military can sometimes feel unneeded or confused as to what they should be doing when they return from deployment, which can often create tension in the household. “When a deployed officer steps off the ship on the shores of his homeland, he expects things to be exactly the way they were when he left, and he may be even more perturbed to find he doesn’t have quite the same authority and power he had before,” Coleman says. “And his wife, who had ultimate power for the past six months, may not like it if her husband comes in and tries to take over again. You can imagine the tension this might cause if a family isn’t ready for it, which is why it’s important to talk to people who can teach you how to cope with these issues.”

If you or a loved one is having difficulty readjusting to life after deployment, don’t ignore it. These organizations can help: Your local VA office ( Defense Centers of Excellence ( National Military Family Association (


{From our family to yours, thank you for all that you do.}







PostTraumatic Stress Disorder



Tens of thousands of troops have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and brain injuries are being noticed more than ever before. Added to the physical difficulties of rehabilitation is a backlogged Veterans Affairs system and an inefficient bureaucracy that sometimes keeps injured veterans from getting the best help.

Wounded Action BY WILL DORAN


hen shrapnel ripped through the left side of Chris Ray’s body while he led a patrol in Afghanistan, he considered himself lucky. Lucky he was alive, despite the wounds covering his body. Lucky he managed to roll into a ditch, escaping the small arms fire pouring in from the ambushing Taliban fighters. But, he says, mainly just

lucky that he was the only one in his squad who was hurt. That concern for those around him is a trait that Ray, a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, says is one of his most important. It’s what allowed him to make it through months of combat, leading soldiers who were sometimes no more than 20 years old. It’s one of the things he prides himself on as a leader. JULY 2012 | 51

But it’s also a trait that disturbed him as he recovered from his injuries in various hospitals around the world, mainly at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, while his squad continued patrolling. “I felt guilty for going back home,” he says. “It wasn’t too fun being back in Lejeune when your guys are back in Afghanistan.” As more and more men and women like Ray come back from their military service injured, many will undoubtedly experience similar emotions. And while dealing with those emotions takes time and care, those veterans will all also have pressing medical issues that local Veterans Health Administration hospitals will have to deal with on levels not seen since the Vietnam War. And sometimes those hospitals can’t keep up.

Inefficiencies and worse

In 2007, The Washington Post began releasing a series of articles and photos documenting neglect of patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Patients were often kept in decrepit, moldy rooms full of dead bugs and mouse droppings after being discharged from the hospital but waiting interminably on the military bureaucracy to process them through the system. Interviews with both those receiving care and those giving it out reflect the general view that medical care for veterans was topnotch. But the administrative side of it was ruining many recoveries.


There’s just something about the VA… I don’t have many good things to say about it. — Chris Ray, U.S. Marine Corps Ray says that picture, of good medical care but poor administration, is accurate. He stayed at Walter Reed for a short time before it closed in 2011 and has been to several other VA hospitals — mainly the one in Durham, N.C., where he is from. “Every time I go [to a VA hospital], it’s so inefficient,” he says. “But the Durham VA is actually one of the best,” which he attributes to help from Duke University and its acclaimed medical school. Ray says the care he receives in his monthly visits is stellar, but that the administration on local and national levels lags far behind, frustrating him to no end. His main frustration, one echoed by veterans all over the country, is the wait time for the military to determine just how injured he actually is so he can start receiving disability pay. Ray has been waiting more than a year, and that’s not too much longer than the typical wait time. “Active duty guys, they get taken care of all right, but once you get out, that’s where you could see some improvements,” he says. “There’s something about the VA… I don’t have many good things to say about them.” Susan Watkins, the program manager for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at the Durham VA, says backlog and wait time are problematic but

can’t be blamed purely on VA administrators. “That is a valid concern, and I wouldn’t say it has been completely made over,” she says. “But it has improved.” She says that some soldiers come to the VA without having already started the process with the military, which is the first step. She also says the nature — and especially amount — of claims is rising, due in large part to increased awareness and medical advances. “Claims are more complex than in the past,” she says, adding: “The workload is busy. But that means we’ve been doing our job well to do outreach.”

Thrown into the mix

Neither Ray nor Watkins says the system is perfect. Ray is more outwardly frustrated, but to comprehend his frustration, it’s important to understand more about his psyche, which probably isn’t much different from that of any other young man who has been designated to lead and protect his fellow soldiers. It’s a mindset of intense care for others combined with a will to get things done well and efficiently. Ray demonstrated the first part when he was simply glad he was the only one injured the day he got hit, and he demonstrated the second part barely moments after setting foot in Afghanistan for the

Right: Ray’s squadron, “Badger 1-2,” before heading out on patrol in Marjah, a rural area in the Nad Ali District of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Below: Corporal Austin Godwin (L), Ray (center), Sergeant Shane Burge (R) resting behind an embankment. Photos courtesy of Chris Ray

first time: He was told he would become his squadron’s leader and that they would be going on patrol in the morning. Ray was on his first combat tour and, as an enlisted man who was barely 21 years old, he had never held a command position before. He still laughs almost nervously recounting the experience of being

thrown into the ultimate on-thejob training experience. But he shouldered his responsibility and grew because of it. On day two in Afghanistan, while he was leading his very first patrol, his men got into a firefight. The squad didn’t sustain any casualties that day, but their luck would never continue, especially

with the amount of violence they faced. In just four months in Afghanistan, Ray says he was in nearly 60 firefights — a rate of about one every other day. But despite the ever-present threat (and reality) of violence, or perhaps because of it, Ray says the lessons he learned from those four months make up an integral part of his character now. “The responsibility that comes with that is amazing,” he says. “It was probably the greatest experience of my life… It was tough, but at the same time, it was the most rewarding thing.” Ray’s time carrying out his newfound responsibility was cut short though, on Oct. 14, 2010. Taking the point with his patrol, he noticed an old oil barrel on the side of the road with wires sticking out. Ray thought it looked too obvious to be a legitimate improvised explosive device, or IED, but protocol and safety JULY 2012 | 53

dictated he check it out anyway. The barrel was a fake, but it served a purpose. It was a ploy, intended to lead soldiers like Ray into the path of a nearby hidden directed IED. Smaller than a traditional IED, a directed IED is buried underground and filled with metal and explosives, and intended for troops instead of vehicles. Ray likens the device to a subterranean shotgun in a can. 54 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

His sunglasses barely saved his left eye, and the shock of the blast broke his left shoulder. He also suffered massive nerve damage in his left ear. He says the only reason he lived at all was that the device wasn’t aimed properly. But he had no time to think about his brush with death — immediately after the explosion, Taliban fighters ambushed his squad. He had enough of his wits about

him to roll into a ditch and escape the bullets whizzing past, and once his men fought the enemy off, they got him medical help. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, then to two others in Afghanistan, one in Germany, and finally several in the U.S. in the ensuing month. After a short time back in Durham, N.C., with his family and some light physical therapy, he was

sent to Camp Lejeune, where he says his only task was to do rehab every day for six months.

Guilt, tedium and perspective

When Ray finally settled down in Camp Lejeune, he had already exacerbated his broken shoulder rushing through rehab at a hospital in Afghanistan under the false hope that he might get sent back to his base if he recovered quickly.

Doctors also diagnosed him with Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, which many refer to as the “signature wound” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the large percentage of casualties from explosive blasts. Watkins, of the Durham VA, says TBI has only recently come to the forefront of health care. “The treatment didn’t use to exist, but now it does, and it’s here,” she

says. “And it’s exciting.” In a 2006 summit held by the Navy, brain trauma took center stage, signaling an important recognition of the effect it can have on veterans. “Very few injuries… can have such devastating long-term consequences as undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries,” Commander James Dunne, lead trauma surgeon at the National JULY 2012 | 55

the Benefits Start Here Michael Redic, the transition patient advocate for the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, believes the programs and services provided by the Durham VA makes an important difference in the lives of returning service members. And Redic knows firsthand — as a retired member of the Army, Redic describes helping veterans as “a calling.” Through Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom, Redic and his team help veterans take advantage of benefits that range from health care to education. While the obvious adjustments involved in returning home include rehabilitation of mental and physical injuries suffered in combat, the adjustments regarding long-term health care, education, finances and employment after service can cause just as much stress and can be time consuming. As transition patient advocate, Redic is there to relieve that burden, helping direct veterans to the services they need. “We do everything that any other hospital would do for the veterans, with the exception that we go a step further,” says Redic. “We apply a military approach to care and it makes a great difference.” Read more about the Durham VA on page 58 56 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

Naval Medical Center, ‘cause I should be grateful,” he said at the summit. “These says. “I can still do what I could do individuals may appear fine before this.” but have problems with Ray’s doctors finally declared him relationships, holding down jobs fit in June 2011, and he went into and integrating back into society the inactive Reserves. Two months as a whole.” later, he enrolled at The University With that in mind, Ray says he of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is thankful for the new emphasis North Carolina’s flagship university, on brain injuries, especially since he for the start of his freshman year. already had four or five concussions Ray, now 23, says he has the playing high school sports. desire — and experience — for a But rehabilitating his brain wasn’t career in foreign policy. his only concern: He couldn’t walk “We have a bunch of politicians on his own when he first arrived who’ve never seen combat sending on base, having to rely on nurses even to help him out of bed. He used a cane I feel guilty when I feel guilty for the first ‘cause I should be grateful. two months — Chris Ray and wasn’t able to jog on a treadmill until these kids off to fight, and [those nearly five months had passed. kids are] coming back with missing He also had to exercise his limbs,” he says. “They don’t care, shoulder constantly or risk losing though.” its mobility, and since the blast He was able to play intramural damaged balance-aiding nerves flag football and pickup soccer in his ear, he had to relearn how during his spring semester, for to walk straight and stand on one which he considers himself lucky. foot. The most frustrating part of his life Throughout the process, guilt isn’t coping with injuries, but the nagged at Ray for not being with associated bureaucracy. There are his squad. He says they called many contributing problems, from him weekly to give him updates, lazy administrators to overworked but that didn’t shake his feelings ones, as well as the red tape created of guilt until he heard of another by insurance and the federal member of his squad who was government. injured. Ray says the process needs to The young Marine lost both legs change, mainly because of the and several fingers to a 7-pound incoming flood of younger veterans explosive. When Ray compared in need of treatment. that to the 25-pound device that “There’s this entire new generation he had survived mostly intact, he of young combat vets that they’re developed a new perspective. “I feel guilty when I feel guilty going to have to deal with.”

Graphics by Molly Sutherland

It’s unique for us in that there are no two veterans that are alike. We take one resource at a time to help them move on. — Michael Redic, transition patient advocate at the Durham VA



Benefits Start Here A look into the resources offered at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center BY JAKE KLEIN


ne of the most difficult parts of being a U.S. military member is readjusting to life at home. There are physical, mental and financial hurdles that need to be conquered before veterans can properly move on with their lives. At times, the paperwork and assimilation involved with returning home can be overwhelming. In North Carolina, the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides guidance at every turn to help the transition back to life at home run smoothly. The Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom wing of the Durham VA bustles with activity. Every day, Michael Redic, a transition patient advocate, and his colleagues, guide veterans toward the benefits they need to move on with life after service. “It all starts with the veteran and what he or she needs,” says Redic. “It’s unique for us in that there are no two veterans that are alike. We take one resource at a time to help them move on.”

JULY 2012 | 59

Faces of the Durham VA

Michael Redic

Transition Patient Advocate

Pete Tillman Public Affairs Officer

Photos by Rebecca Yan

On an average day, Redic and his team help veterans take advantage of benefits that range from health care to education. He and his colleagues also provide information on vocational aid and readjustment assistance. Redic’s primary function is to help as many veterans as possible take advantage of the Durham VA’s health care network. Redic says that the health care provided by the Durham VA makes an important difference in the lives of returning service members. Without the help of the Durham VA, Redic says he believes that many veterans would have a difficult time obtaining expensive health and dental care. Nearly everyone who has served in combat after November 1998 has the option of receiving health care through Veterans Affairs free of cost for five years. Redic says that


the Durham VA uses this incentive as a way to open up new doors for returning service members. “The fact that they won’t get any kind of a bill for five years is what we use to get them into the building,” Redic says. He says that once he is able to have a conversation with the veteran, the veteran usually begins to show interest in other available benefits. In addition to the five years of free medical care, veterans may qualify for outpatient dental care or free dental procedures. This is a program that Redic hopes to make veterans more aware of. He says that the military focus of the hospital makes veterans’ lives easier. “We do everything that any other hospital would do for the veterans with the exception that we go a step further,” says Redic. “We apply a military approach to care,

and it makes a great difference.” Pete Tillman, public affairs officer for the Durham VA, says that once a veteran asks to receive care, the information and benefit distribution really begins. In addition to providing a comfortable environment where beneficiaries can receive a variety of medical assistance, the Durham VA offers group meetings and information about job fairs, rallies and other services. Redic says that the hospital is especially good at offering care and access to information because the doctors and staff “understand how the military affects illness and injury.” When it comes to the actual medical assistance, patients receive a broad range of care. Redic says that veterans are treated for acute illness and chronic diseases, as well as provided with preventive medicine and health maintenance. The

North Carolina Veterans Affairs Locations Elizabeth City Winston-Salem Greensboro

Durham Raleigh


Hickory Rutherfordton





Fayetteville Hamlet Pembroke

What is Veterans Affairs?

VA provides a wide range of benefits including, disability, education and training, vocational rehabilitation and employment, home loan guarantee, dependent and survivor benefits, medical treatment, life insurance and burial benefits. You may be eligible for VA benefits if you are a: Veteran, veteran’s dependent Surviving spouse, child or parent of a deceased veteran Uniformed service member Present or former reservist or National Guard member

hospital also has a distinct program for women, ready to cater to their specific needs. Patients are even able to take advantage of treatment for alcohol, tobacco and other substance abuse. “The needs of our returning service members are broad, and we offer equally broad types of care here,” says Tillman. Redic says that once the five years of cost-free care end, veterans are often at an important crossroad. Redic reaches out to veterans to make sure they are aware that the Durham VA offers recipients need-based, low-cost health care services that are available on a co-pay system. Redic then helps direct patients to the proper level of care based on their income. That system lasts for life. Redic says that the Durham VA focuses intently


on making sure that veterans are provided low-cost health care for as long as possible. “We get some veterans that come in that aren’t necessarily in need of anything immediately,” says Redic. “A lot of times what I tell the veteran is to take information home and when they do need it, to give us a call. If they want the care, it’s always available.” Once the immediate needs of health and safety are taken care of, Tillman says returning service members are concerned with their education and employment. The Durham VA provides numerous avenues for assistance in helping these men and women get back in school and find stable employment. One of the most sought after benefits that Tillman handles is information about the Post-9/11

Morehead City Jacksonville

Community Based Outpatient Clinic


VA Medical Center There are four major, full-serviced centers

Smaller, specialized clinics associated with one of the four VA Medical Centers

Vet Center Community-based counseling clinics Graphic by Molly Sutherland

GI Bill, which Tillman describes as “revolutionary.” The bill allows men and women to pursue their dreams of a higher education and a better future. Every veteran who served active duty for at least 90 days is eligible to receive substantial aid to put toward graduate and undergraduate degrees, as well as vocational and technical training. “The Post-9/11 GI Bill really took things to a whole new level with the education benefits,” says Tillman. “Each person has a particular interest in using the benefit, and we help refer each individual to the right place.” Redic works hard to make sure veterans understand specifically what they are eligible for. Tillman says that most service members who have served active duty since 9/11 are aware that they are eligible

JULY 2012 | 61

are given the highest level of attention in regard to job finding and job training. More Information Finding a job in today’s economy visit: is difficult enough. Finding one contact: Michael Redic at (919) 286-5952 with no assistance after returning from active duty can be next to impossible. The avenues of assistance all civilians looking for work, Redic that the Durham VA provides help to receive payment for full tuition is encouraged by adjustments that and fees, but many are not aware returning service members lead that they are also eligible for a employers are making regarding the fuller, more stable lives. monthly housing payment, as well hiring of veterans. Stress is unavoidable. Health, as an annual $1,000 a year stipend “One of the most difficult things family, money and work weigh for books and supplies. right now is the area of employon people daily. Combining those Tillman says the intricacies of ment,” Redic says. “But the jobs daily stresses with the stress of rethe GI Bill are issue is not unique to Veterans adjusting to life after service can be endless, and the Affairs. One thing I will say is a difficult. Military members should Curious about the GI Bill? officials at the lot more organizations are getting know that there is help available. Learn more on page 74 Durham VA help on board with being willing to hire People like Michael Redic and make veterans veterans, and we help veterans find Pete Tillman, as well as organizaaware of how to use them all. He such employers.” tions like the Durham VA Medical says that one of the newest, most Tillman says that the Durham VA Center, help those in need stay on exciting benefits of the bill is that is currently attempting to add veterans their feet. “education benefits can be transto its number of employees as well. They act on their belief that every ferred to veterans’ children if they For those veterans who decide service member deserves to be recdon’t use it personally.” that they no longer wish to work in ognized for his or her sacrifices. For those veterans who have a service-related field, there are also “We don’t have situations here already obtained a degree, or feel many opportunities. The Durham where a veteran comes and knocks more comfortable returning directly VA and its counselors have directed on the door and we say we can’t to the workplace, the Durham VA many of those in search of employ- help you,” says Redic. offers avenues to help find employ- ment to the U.S. Department of “We all go by the motto, ‘There is ment. Though times are tough for no wrong door here.’ ” Labor. Returning service members


More content. Interactive articles.

Check out Homefront magazine for iPad at on June 1.

PARADISE Maui, Hawaii

Photo by Steven Hill

U.S. Marine Steven Hill was hired by the Navy to teach college classes aboard the USS Pinckney in 2006. In this photo, Hill was on land in Maui, Hawaii, while the USS Pinckney sailed in the distance.

“ Norfolk, Virginia Traveling is definitely one of the most exciting parts of being in the military. You get to see so many places that you’d never think about visiting.

Photo by Linda Brinson

After not seeing his loved ones for months, Ensign Samuel Brinson took his family on a Navy Tiger Cruise, where family members join the ship’s crew for a few days. Brinson and his family sailed on the USS Mesa Verde from Morehead City, N.C., to Norfolk, Va. This is the view from the bridge of the ship as it docked at Naval Station Norfolk after a 10 1/2-month deployment. 64 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE




Members of the military agree that one of the biggest appeals of serving is traveling the world. We asked some of our readers to share photos of their favorite travel experiences, from sailing the Persian Gulf to celebrating a reunion with their family members in Norfolk, Va.

mallorca, spain

Photo by Chase Coleman

While stationed at sea in the Persian Gulf, Navy Lieutenant Chase Coleman traveled to Mallorca, Spain.

This was taken in Valldemossa, a small village in Mallorca with architecture and lifestyle fairly typical of the Balearic Islands. Michael Douglas used to live there, so it’s become a bit more touristy than most towns, but it’s still very quaint, and I’d love to go back.

Seychelles Islands

Photo by Steven Hill

Hill took this photo of the Seychelles Islands while on his second teaching mission in 2008.

In 2008, I was onboard the USS Momsen, another destroyer. We sailed around the Horn of Africa, off the coast of Somalia (yes, pirate waters), up the Red Sea and through the Suez.


ephesus, turkey

When Samuel Brinson found out he had a few days of rest to spend in Italy, his parents Linda and Lloyd Brinson quickly traveled there to meet him.

Photo by Chase Coleman

Photo by Linda Brinson

This is in the Puglia region of Italy in August while the Mesa Verde was in port at Taranto. [The photo] shows fishermen repairing their nets at the historic town of Gallipoli, Italy, on the Ionian Sea, not far from Taranto. Graphics by Rachelle Branca

Coleman also traveled to Turkey while at sea, and the boat made a stop at Ephesus, an ancient Roman city rebuilt by the Turkish government.

This is the Library of Celsius, which I had studied and seen pictures of in college, but it was so awesome to finally see it in real life.

JULY 2012 | 65

Q&A HOMEFRONT: Why did you choose to join the Army? MEGAN STALLINGS: I was 17, and I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference. I certainly had a lot of encouragement from my family to join the military. My brother was at West Point at the time. But, it wasn’t like I’d always grown up wanting to be in the Army or the military. I was just looking for a direction to go, and at that time, I didn’t have my own. I knew that one: The Army would give me one; and two: I’d be making a difference and serving our country at the same time.

The Long Run

The extensive career of an Army officer and mother BY CHRISTINA CLEVELAND

Lieutenant Colonel Megan Stallings just returned to the U.S. from a second tour in Afghanistan. She deployed to Kandahar from her most recent position at Fort Campbell, Ky., in the 101st Airborne Division. Last April, she left Fort Campbell and moved to North Carolina, where she started work in the Army ROTC program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The 38-year-old has served in the


Army for more than 17 years, working as an adjutant general’s corps officer, which is a human resources officer. Fun fact: Her husband has the same position she currently holds at a neighboring college — Duke University. “We have an internal little rivalry going on there,” she says, laughing. She and her husband have three kids, ages 14, 11, and 18 months.

HF: When did you realize this was the job you wanted to do? MS: When I was at Fort Steward, Ga. My first job as a second lieutenant is what’s called a strength manager. Basically it’s the person who, when new soldiers and officers come to Fort Steward, they establish their assignments and what job they’re going to do and what slots they’re going to fill. I actually felt like I was assisting people. I think that’s what I really love about my branch’s job is in the Army, it is all about customer service and making sure the individual soldier is taken care of. I’ve continued to enjoy it even though I’ve actually gotten a break from that work. That’s the thing I like about the Army: things change. There’s

always something new to learn, so I can grow as a person. HF: What is it like being a mom in the military? MS: Being a mom in the Army is hard. I don’t think there’s a single person, a single female, who would say that it’s easy. I think it’s the same for the fathers who are very involved with their kids. When I left my son when he was 5 months old — that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life… (She tears up.) But you learn to deal with it, because I took an oath that said I would serve my country. Being in the military is not just a job — it’s a profession. It’s your way of life. So, you juggle all of those things. I’m lucky and blessed to have a husband who is helpful. HF: Out of all of the assignments and jobs you have had, do you have a favorite? MS: They’re all different and rewarding in their own way. I would say the most enlightening job, the one that I’ve learned the most about myself, about the Army, about other people, was my last assignment when I was at Fort Campbell. It was my first job there, and it was also my first deployment overseas. When we deployed to Afghanistan, it was a joint unit, so it wasn’t just Army anymore. I now had Air Force, Navy, Marines, contractors and DOD (Department of Defense) civilians. It was so professionally rewarding because of the depth and breadth of my job description. I was working with officers from France, Australia and Britain. I had a much clearer

picture of the military as a whole. I was in charge of policies and programming for more than 60,000 soldiers, so it was the largest responsibility I had had in the Army.

For more information on Lt. Col. Stallings’ career visit:

HF: What is most important about military education? MS: The main focus is teaching leadership. We teach the cadets here in our school basic-level infantry tactics so that we have a mechanism to measure them and their leadership skills. The role of ROTC is to commission officers in the U.S. Army that can be leaders of our young soldiers who are in the Army. The majority of what the curriculum focuses on here is developing leadership attributes and understanding what it means to make good, sound decisions. And being a leader whether it’s in the military, community or your family.

Photos courtesy of Megan Stallings Graphics by Kaitlyn Cook

JULY 2012 | 67

Cadets frequently present work in front of their class, allowing for immediate feedback from teachers and peers. Photo courtesy of Philip Tonseth


Ain theday life of a

West Point

military cadet By Jake Klein


t 6 a.m., most college students across the United States are still sleeping. Not Philip Tonseth, a firstyear student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Tonseth is awake every day by 6 a.m., and by 7 a.m., Tonseth and his fellow cadets are in formation, ready for inspection and prepared to take on a day filled with intense academic and physical activities.


JULY 2012 | 69

Unlike at other colleges, Tonseth is not referred to as a “freshman.” Rather, he is informally known as a plebe. Cadets at West Point are organized into a military-style brigade. As cadets progress through their four years, they assume more leadership responsibility each year. Plebes are cadet privates. Tonseth’s education began in the summer of 2011, when he learned the discipline necessary to survive at West Point. He was required to attend cadet basic training before the fall of his plebe year. He says the 6½ week training period was one of the most difficult experiences he ever faced. “Beast [the informal term for cadet basic training] was definitely difficult,” says Tonseth. “Going

from civilian life one day to waking up at 5:30 every morning and living such a structured life is not easy.” Now, ready for his second year, Tonseth describes his days and weeks as “patterns.” Once morning hygiene is taken care of, Tonseth must make sure to maintain his quarters and his gear. Quarters must be dust-free, and boots must be polished to a high shine. Inspections can occur at any time, and if a cadet’s personal belongings are not deemed clean, the cadet receives demerits. Punishments can range from cleaning the campus to guard duty in full uniform. As demerits mount, punishment gets more severe. After eating breakfast, Tonseth is consumed by schoolwork until

Tonseth has a nasal pharangel slid down his nose. All cadets practice this exercise during basic training as a form of first-aid training. Photo courtesy by Philip Tonseth


midafternoon. While most freshmen attending colleges and universities around the country take 15 credit hours during their beginning semesters and avoid morning classes at all costs, Tonseth has averaged 18 hours his first year, and all of his classes begin before 2 p.m. “The academics at West Point are one of the reasons I wanted to come here,” says Tonseth. “Classes are challenging. But when I was growing up, a good education was always stressed by my family. West Point is one of the top universities in the country, and I’m proud to be receiving an education here.” After completing a core of arts and science classes as plebes and second-years, cadets select a major that they pursue for the rest of their career at the academy. Cadets graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the field of their choice and upon graduation are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. A sister academy at Annapolis, Md., the U.S. Naval Academy, prepares officers for the Navy and the Marine Corps. The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., trains Air Force officers. Tuition to West Point is paid for in exchange for five years of active duty service and three years of reserve status upon graduation. All cadets receive a military education, which enables them to become competent officers, in addition to a civilian education. Tonseth says he plans to pursue a degree in American politics, with a minor in sys-

Going from civilian life one day to waking up at 5:30 every morning and living such a structured life is not easy. — Cadet Philip Tonseth

daily patterns 06:30



tems engineering. “It’s a difficult degree, but there is plenty of help available if you need it,” says Tonseth. “The teachers and team leaders are here to make our lives easier.” Team leaders are second-year mentors, and Tonseth says that communication with them is an essential part of learning how to succeed at West Point. Cutting class is not permitted at West Point. If a cadet misses class, they accumulate more demerits. Classes usually end about 4 p.m., at which point cadets participate in something with their company, such as intramural sports, personal exercise time or tutoring. Tonseth, an avid baseball fan, chooses to spend his afternoons performing the duties of head manager of the varsity baseball team. “I’ve always loved baseball, so becoming the team manager was a no-brainer for me,” says Tonseth. “I set up the practice, travel with the team to away games and take care of the video during games. I also get to enjoy the facilities, which are much nicer than our

close-quarter dorms.” After practice, it’s back to the dorms for homework and relaxation. Cadets cannot leave campus unless granted permission. On the few weekends when plebes are allowed to leave campus, Tonseth says most of them travel home. Otherwise, cadets use free time on weekends to catch up on work, relax and exercise. Parties are strictly prohibited on campus, so cadets spend their evenings on campus reading, watching movies and sleeping. Tonseth says that while he misses some things a civilian college would offer, the relationships he is developing at West Point make the hardships worthwhile. “Most people would never consider going to school here,” says Tonseth. “Those people don’t understand that you wouldn’t develop the same closeness and camaraderie at any other school. “People shouldn’t look at [West Point] like a prison — we know how to have a good time, too. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

07:30-12:00 CLASSES

12:10 LUNCH


13:55-14:00 CLASSES



18:30-19:30 DINNER


20:00 LIGHTS OUT JULY 2012 | 71




hile war often presents the inevitable threat of death, new life is also brought into this world — and Captain Tiffany Johnson is on the front line. Johnson, 33, is a certified nurse and midwife at the Womack Army Medical Center’s Obstetrics/ Gynecology at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. Johnson began her career at Fort Bragg in August 2006 as a labor and delivery nurse, knowing that she wanted to be a midwife. She spent two years at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., training in the midwifery program. “After graduating [from the program], I was in the hands of the military,” says Johnson. “I requested to go somewhere booming that had a lot of babies, and so I was excited that they placed me back at Fort Bragg.” She works with women from the beginning of their pregnancy, sees them through their delivery and cares for them postpartum. “I have a strong continuity with my patients,” says Johnson. “I love watching them and seeing how their bellies grow.” Womack’s OB/GYN strives to provide that continuity and closeness for all its patients, whether it be an



life active duty service woman or the wife of a soldier. Johnson says they recently created a new program run by the midwives, called Centering, which aims to provide a sense of intimacy while patients go through their pregnancy. Women are placed into groups of 10 based on their due dates. They have the opportunity to receive checkups, as well as discuss with those in their group the progress of their pregnancy. “Through this program, they find friends and learn a lot,” says Johnson. “Because of the closeness of their due dates, they eventually schedule play dates for their children.” Johnson says many of the women she sees move to Fort Bragg from all over the country, often after their service member experiences a change in station. It can be especially difficult for pregnant wives to find the resources and information they need. Womack’s OB/GYN provides more than that — it provides these women with a strong support system. Johnson has worked as a midwife at Womack’s OB/GYN for almost one year, delivering more babies into the world than she can keep track of. “Everyone tells me I should keep track, but you deliver so many,” she says. “I swear when I go home at night, I think I’m still hearing

Tiffany Johnson with her patient’s newborn, whom she delivered on Nov. 29, 2011. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson

babies,” she laughs. Which is just one reason why she loves her job — the beauty of life. “With any job, you know your passion,” she says. “But after you begin to do it, you ask yourself, ‘Is this really it?’ ” But Johnson experienced a moment during her time as a midwife at Womack’s OB/GYN — a moment when she knew she had found her calling.

midwifery by the numbers

3,midwives 000 -practicing 4,000 in the U.S. midwife-attended births

2006 2007 2008 2009

She had volunteered to deliver an Army wife’s child. After the baby was delivered, the mother began to bleed out because of complications with the mother’s body and the pregnancy. But by a miracle, both the mother and the baby survived. Johnson says this wasn’t the only miracle she witnessed that day — she found out that the father had been in an accident in Iraq, and the couple had been told that he could never father children. “When the baby came out, the dad was crying,” she recalls. “Between the complications with the mom as well as the dad, I knew that child was meant to be here. “That’s why I do what I do — even when science says there’s no way, a way is created. It was a miracle.” Johnson describes the military families she has worked with in one word: strong. “Military families are a different breed,” she says. “They are so strong, not only the soldier, but also the wife, taking care of everything at home so the dad doesn’t have to worry.” But the strongest ones, she says, are the children. “I think it teaches them resiliency,” she says. “I know it because I have one of my own who is 14. They are truly very special.” War presents many challenges for military families, whether it is the constant moving from base to base, or the waiting for a loved one to return. But it is the little things that hold military families together — the miracle of a newborn baby, a small support group on base — helping them to cope and allowing them to live each day with hope.

1975 and 2002,

midwife -attended births

335,303 305,665 29,553 338,338 310,044 25,833 340,754 314,864 28,231 336,347 311,364 29,553


total in hospitals elsewhere

increased from less than 1% to 8.1%

states with highest and lowest midwife attendance

Greatest % of midwife -attended births smallest % of midwife -attended births

Graphic by Rachelle Branca

JULY 2012 | 73



When the Great Depression hit the country in 1929, many World War I veterans found themselves struggling to make ends meet. To provide some much-needed aid, Congress decided to pass the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924. This allowed for a bonus for the veterans based on the amount of time that they served, but unfortunately, most veterans would not receive a penny for 20 years.

History of the GI Bill 74 | HOMEFRONT MAGAZINE

January 10, 1944


o y for

Harry W. Colmery, a former Republican National Chairman and national commander of the American Legion, drew up the first draft of the GI Bill. After it was introduced, both the House of Representatives and the Senate created their own versions of the bill to debate together.


fter serving time in the military, many veterans find it difficult to assimilate back into their former lifestyle. Some veterans want to go to school, while others desire to start their own business. But for every service member, there is the GI Bill. As far back as World War II, veterans have relied on the GI Bill to provide them with financial assistance. After the bill was signed into law on June 22, 1944, returning veterans were able to receive a vast array of benefits that were not available to them in the past. One of the major benefits that was included in the original 1944 GI Bill was tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education. The benefits were available to any veteran who had been on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days.

June 22, 1944

Maki n

t g

i l B l I w G e or h


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law after it was finally approved by Congress. The law, commonly referred to as the GI Bill of Rights, only narrowly passed after members of Congress endlessly fought over provisions in the bill.

a soldier’s family as well. Guard to include time served on Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Title 32, or in the full-time Active veterans can transfer the benefits Guard and Reserve. The law went that they receive onto their chilinto effect on Oct. 1, 2011. dren. For instance, a returning vetThe GI Bill is meant to serve the eran who has already been through countless number of veterans who school can save the money received have risked their lives defending from the bill until his or her this country. Whether it is a service children are ready to member looking to attend attend college. college, or a parent The GI Bill was trying to transfer revised again benefits to his Apply for GI Bill benefits at in 2011 when or her children, Congress the bill is an Meet the School Certifying passed the important Official in the Veterans Office Post-9/11 Vetresource for Take the College Level erans Educaour troops. The Examination Placement exams tion Assistance GI Bill is just Get involved with a Veterans Improvements one example of group or start your own Act of 2010. This the many ways in new law, which is which our country often referred to as the recognizes and appreGI Bill 2.0, expands eligibilciates the dedication that is ity for members of the National shown by our troops.

Going b


In 1984, former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. Montgomery took part in an overhaul of the GI Bill. In the new bill, known as the “Montgomery GI Bill,” veterans would now receive money to pay for college. Montgomery believed that the country should provide educational benefits to its veterans because a college degree would make service members more valuable to the country.


The Veterans’ Readjustment Act of 1952 was signed into law on July 16, 1952. The law provided benefits to veterans of the Korean War that served for more than 90 days and received an honorable discharge. One upgrade that Korean War veterans saw over World War II veterans was that they could receive both state and federal benefits.


o ca k t

In 2008, the GI Bill was updated again to include service members who served on or after September 11, 2001. The revisions, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, were proposed by Senator Jim Webb. The expanded benefits included the full cost of any public college in their state, a housing allowance and $1,000 a year stipend for books.


Years later, Senator Jim Webb deemed it necessary to add on to the GI Bill to cover veterans who served on or after September 11. Webb’s bill, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, was passed on Aug. 1, 2008. Any soldier who served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 11 would be eligible. The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers several education assistance benefits that were not covered in the original GI Bill. The three major benefits include up to 100 percent paid tuition, no matter what education level you are seeking, a monthly housing stipend, and a stipend of up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies. This added financial assistance can be extremely helpful for a young soldier who is returning home from the war and looking to start his or her life. But the Post-9/11 GI Bill can also be an excellent resource for

Graphics by Molly Sutherland

JULY 2012 | 75

election 2012: what are politicians saying about the military? BY WILL DORAN Photos by the White House, Gage Skidmore

It ’s a t i m e o f cha ng e a nd b e l t t i g hteni ng i n A merica n mi li ta r y p la nni ng. Congres s recen tly pa s s e d, w i t h b i p a r ti s a n s u p p o r t, t he B udget Control Ac t, whic h could c ut defens e s pen d in g by bi l l i o n s, i f no t tr i l l i o ns, o f do l l a rs over s evera l yea rs. U. S. troop s a re out of Ira q. Th e war in Afgh a n i s t a n i s w i ndi ng down. B u t des p i te thes e downwa rd trends, the nex t a dm in istra tion — w h e t h e r i t ’s he a de d by B a ra ck O ba ma or by p res uma b l e Rep ub li ca n nominee Mitt Romn ey — mu s t s t i l l ta ckl e s o m e i m p o r ta nt a nd di vi s i ve i s s ues on forei gn p ol ic y a nd the militar y. We h a ve co l le c te d the i r p u b l i c v i e w s on s ome of thos e is s ues.

issues AFGHAN ISTAN The longest war in Am e ri c an h i s tor y h as c l ai m e d n e arl y 2,000 l i ve s an d wound ed tens o f thousa nds more — an d th at ’s j u s t on th e Am e ri c an s i de. A re ce nt n ati on al p o l l s howed nea rly 70 percent of Am e ri c an s s u ppor t a w i th drawal f rom Af gh an i s tan , an d t he p res umable candidates g e n e ral l y agre e. Th e y di f f e r, h owe ve r, on th e de tai l s. IR AN The countr y has be e n i n th e n e w s i n re ce nt ye ars pri m ari l y f or i ts bu ddi n g nuc l ea r p ro gra m, althou gh its l e ade rs an d s c i e nti s ts s ay th e y h ave on l y pe ace f u l i nte nt i o ns o f us i ng nu clea r materia ls an d te c h n ol ogy dom e s ti c al l y f or e n e rgy. Is rae l an d th e U. S . d i s a g ree, and Isra el has ind i c ate d a m i l i tar y s tri ke cou l d com e s oon . Th e n ex t U.S . pre s i d ent w i l l decide ou r role. FOR EIGN IN TER VE N T IO N For decades, Ameri c an pre s i de nts h ave as s e r te d th e cou ntr y ’s rol e as th e “ Wo r l d ’s p o lice.” That mindse t h as be e n c h al l e n ge d s i n ce i t be gan , bu t re ce ntl y prote s to r s i n t he Arab Spring have brou ght i t to l i ght agai n , s ay i n g th e y wou l d rath e r f i ght fo r c ha ng e without America n h e l p th an w i th i t. Th e U.S . h as troops i n 148 cou ntri e s wo r l d w i d e, with at lea st 6 62 bas e s. How m i ght a f u tu re pre s i de nt h an dl e ou r gl obal pre s ence?

WATER B OAR DIN G D espite the prac ti ce be i n g proh i bi te d i n th e U.S . Army Fi e l d M an u al an d de fi ned a s tor tu re by the U.N ., th e de bate ove r wate rboardi n g h as re s u r f ace d agai n i n R ep ub l i c a n debates. How a fu tu re pre s i de nt wou l d h an dl e tor tu re i s i m por tant to th os e w ho s ee i t as indefensible, th os e w h o s e e i t as a gi ve n i n war ti m e, an d th os e w h o f al l i n b et ween.



Ba r a c k Obam a Cu rren t p re side nt of t he Unite d St a te s D em o c ra t

Mi t t Ro mney For mer g over n or of Ma s s achus et t s R ep ub l i can

stances Is c ur re ntly working with NATO and Af g han forces to move U. S. troops to a sup p o r ting role by 20 13 and to pu ll ou t by 2014.

S ay s h e doe s n’t agre e w i th Obam a’s t i me tabl e pl an f or w i th drawal, bu t h e ha s n’t de tai l e d a s e parate pl an or s ai d whet her h e wou l d conti n u e th e c u rre nt pol i c y o r n ot i f h e i s e l e c te d.

S ay s a peaceful Irania n nu clea r program o nly f o r energy is accepta ble. He ha s pu t stro ng sanc tions on Iran and ha s said a m il itar y option is viable if evidence of a b o mb sur faces.

Would hold naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, continue sanctions and consider a militar y option. Has promised Iran will make a bomb if Obama is reelected, but polic y obser vers point out Obama has already done ever ything Romney proposes.

Has taken a strong stance in favor of inte r ve ntion, saying in his most recent St ate o f the Union address, “America re mains the one indispensa ble nation i n wo r l d affairs – a nd a s long as I’m pre s i d e nt, I intend to keep it that way.” He f avo r s aid over militar y a c tion.

Is ve r y m u c h i n f avor of expan di n g de f e n s e s pe n di n g i n a pu s h to i n crea s e Am e ri c a’s m i l i tar y pre s e n ce ove rs e a s. He f avors c u tti n g h u m an i tari an ai d.

S ay s th at waterboa rding is tor ture a n d sh o uld never be used in any circ umstance. He barred its u se on his second d ay in office, althou gh the CIA repor te d l y h as n’t used it since 2 00 3.

Has said tor ture is unacceptable, but he has not publicly said whether he believes waterboarding is tor ture or not. Aides have said he doesn’t think it is, in line with his stance in the 2007 Republican primar y.

JULY 2012 | 77


Homefront magazine. Download the free Homefront iPad app at the info link below.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you