Military Spouse of the Year: No Beauty Contest

IMG_20130202_194305[1]For the past five years Military Spouse Magazine has presented an annual award, the “Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year®.” Though it’s not officially sanctioned by the U.S. Military, it’s no beauty contest either. 2012’s award to Jeremy Hilton is proof of that.  I can personally verify that he would look terrible in a tiara.

The brainchild of Navy wife Babette Maxwell, the award was created to recognize leaders and reward volunteerism within the military spouse community in a cohesive branch-wide event. What happened, however, was a real “build it and they will come” environment that I have witnessed spreading like a controlled burn with a slow, steady breeze behind it. In addition to the obvious fact that everybody likes a little recognition now and again, the winners of this event end up with the kind of publicity that can make a profound difference. That means the winners’ causes get exactly the kind of boost they’ve been hoping for. It also means that instead of a sailor nominating their sweetie for being the “bestest wifey ever” the trend is for volunteers to be nominated for their efforts in the military community. That’s exactly the kind of legitimacy we need in the milspouse community.

In 2011 I was virtually introduced to Bianca Strzalkowski, a Marine Corps wife. She was serving then as 2011 Military Spouse of the Year® and it was the first time I had heard of the award, likely because it’s rarely mentioned in the reserve community. After spending just a few minutes with her in person (and laughing about my inability to pronounce her name), I understood why she had the support of so many: she had a mission to make sure military spouses were getting higher education, and this girl seemed unstoppable. In a single year she took her idea to the next level, creating a Military Spouse Education Initiative. Believing spouses can achieve educational goals despite the obstacles of military life, she met with Congressional leaders, attended meetings with Department of Defense officials, and worked with the American Council on Education to find ways to make this idea of hers a reality. She has now created the Military Spouse Education Foundation and is working on a new Military Service Grant for spouses who are excluded the from Department of Defense’s MyCAA program. Bianca took her expertise coupled with the responsibility of the award, and really put it to work for others.

Jeremy Hilton, an Air Force spouse and the first male spouse to win the award, experienced the same kind of lift for his platform in 2012. The care and treatment of the military’s special needs children affects a relatively small group within the military, so creating a voice for them may have been virtually impossible without the award. A recent article in Time Magazine and a spotlight on Fox News should be proof enough that he’s using his powers for good and not evil. But Jeremy doesn’t just look bad in a tiara; he has developed a national campaign for legislation, has spoken in front of the Congressional Family Caucus, and has raised his issue with the Congressional delegation to the Armed Services Committee.

I was recently named Naval Base San Diego’s Military Spouse of the Year by my peers and the weight of it is just hitting me. If you read this blog, I already owe you a thank you because it was your voting that allowed me to move to the next level of this process. I’m honored to represent San Diego, the Navy Reserve spouse community, and all of those spouses who have somehow managed to hold down both a career and an unending chain of moves. You can make me your voice at the national level by voting on Tuesday, February 5th.

However, I’d like to take some time to introduce you to some of the other spouses I’ve met, either virtually or in person, who have also been honored with nominations. I think it’s an amazing testament to the award. These are exactly the type of military spouses that make bikinis, baton twirling, and sequins obsolete. I’m pinching myself (and my non-bikini midriff) that I’m even within their company. I’m proud of the way they’ve supported each other too, some even casting votes for each other. It feels great to know that what we’re all stumping for in these last couple of days is not ourselves, but the idea of giving a voice to an entire segment of the military community that we’ve chosen to serve.

Rachel Preen - Rachel is a Marine Spouse, a family readiness advisor at Goodfellow AFB, and the writer of “Living on a Bootband Budget” who became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Born in New Zealand, Rachel had trouble as a brand new military wife coping with deployment, moves, and frequent separation even after her husband’s return. Instead of focusing on the negative she has made it her mission to help other new wives, taking on the mantra, “If not me, then who?” She is a great supporter of all the branches, and my hat is off to her for being one classy lady.

Jacqueline Goodrich – This Army wife and founder of “The General’s Kids,” a nonprofit to support the children of Wounded Warriors, knows first-hand about the sacrifices military families face. After her husband had his jaw severed and shrapnel embedded in his leg in an Afghanistan firefight, she has helped him through a year of rehab. The road ahead is still long and Jacqueline approaches it with an outward view. The most touching statement from Jacqueline about her new position as a Wounded Warrior Wife whose first accompanied duty station was Walter Reed Hospital? “This was meant to be part of our story and we were meant to be there for those going through it now.”

Angela Caban – the New Jersey representative for the Army National Guard, Angela is also the founder of Homefront United Newtork, an amazing resource for military families. She started the network after a 2008 deployment when she had to reach out to find the help she needed because she found herself without the support of a nearby installation. Ever since, she has been on the front edge of military family information. She’s young, beautiful, hysterically funny in real life, and ferociously loyal to her military community. I personally voted for Angela to become an installation winner in January. Her MSOY profile is here: Angela Caban.

Kristine Schellhaas – A Marine Corps wife and creator of USMC Life, this lady is doing it all for military spouses! She has created a base-by-base guide for all major Marine Corps bases as well as a website full of discounts, benefits from both government and private companies, and information and help for all military newcomers. She not only runs a blog made up of other USMC spouses, she is also co-host of Semper Feisty Radio, where she covers issues facing military families and life outside the Corps. Her MSOY profile is here: Kristine Schellhaas.

Jenelle Hatzung – Though I’ve just met Jen through the MSOY process, I can confirm she is an instantly likable and genuine person! The daughter of a Navy Master Chief and now a Navy wife herself, she works as a Social Media Manager for Blue Star Families and started the blog “Navy Wives Unite” to connect and empower Navy families. She has worked as a family life consultant for Fleet and Family Support, and her family was awarded the NMFA Navy Family of the Year award in 2011. Now at Naval Station Norfolk, Jen wants to help military families dealing with the struggles of infertility, after battling the issue herself and learning the ropes of military healthcare and infertility issues. Her MSOY profile is here: Jen Hartzung.

Janet McIntosh – In my favorite of the nomination letters sent in by this Army wife’s supporters, Janet’s father wrote “She uses her experience to help other spouses and she always goes above and beyond to help other military families across the branches.” And I would wholeheartedly agree! I can’t even begin to list all of her volunteer accomplishments, but Janet answers family questions at Army Wife Network, is the Books on Bases program manager for Blue Star Families, and helps new spouses through Army programs she herself develops and implements! She says if given the award, it’s her goal to help new spouses as they begin their military journey, by sharing her experiences and helping to educate and empower them. She is the BOMB on Headline News’ new show, “Raising America” which premiers February 4. Go Janet! Her MSOY profile is here: Janet McIntosh.

Alisa Johnson – Alisa is a Navy wife who represents NAS Corpus Christi, and is working hard to standardize military pet policies. She wants to bring accountability for those who dump animals on base and commit pet cruelty with no consequences. Her organization, Dogs on Deployment, reports that pets are tied up or left on base every day and all members have to say is “I gave it to a friend.” If given the opportunity to represent the U.S. Navy, her platform is all about raising the elevation of military pet issues, and to inspire meaningful action by those who have the power to make a change. Did I mention she’s also an active duty Marine training to become a pilot? Wowzers. Her MSOY profile is here: Alisa Johnson.

There are over 20 nominees vying for branch titles in every category. You can see the entire list at the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year ® homepage. Voting is one day only on Tuesday, February 5th.

Hero Chronicles: The Home of Clyde Kment

VeteransThis post is a part of the Hero Chronicles Series, highlighting U.S. military Veterans and their families served by the Home Depot Foundation’s “Celebration of Service.” Over 200 Veterans homes and facilities are being repaired and upgraded in the two-month campaign, which will conclude on Veterans Day.

A spry 71 year-old Clyde Kment looked as if he was ready to jump up and go for a jog. He sat on the edge of the bed in his Vancouver, Washington home wearing a sweat suit, and leaning casually on one arm. He was laughing as his wife Fuji, in broken Japanese-English, explained that he would weave quite a tale if only I stuck around long enough. With 20 years in the U.S. Army, six out of six brothers who joined the military, a father who served in both the Army Air Corps and the Infantry through World War II, and his own sweet tale of the beautiful Japanese girl he met during an overseas tour in the early 60’s, he had plenty of story to tell. “She was the only one who could beat me in ping-pong” he explained, as they both chuckled like fifty years together had passed in an instant. It was wonderful after traveling the country to interview Veterans for Home Depot to meet such a robust servicemember right here in my own hometown.

But Clyde’s tone changed when he got to 1968. After sending his wife and two daughters to live in Japan, he arrived in the Central Highlands of Vietnam just two days into the Tet Offensive. As a young man with very little military service behind him and no combat experience, he told me he saw more dead bodies in his first 48 hours than he saw the rest of his time in country. “I don’t talk much about my time there” he pointed out. “But I’ll tell you this much – I couldn’t stand violence after that. I couldn’t even go to a boxing match after I came home. It changed me.”

Clyde, who retired as a Master Sergeant, told me about how he spent most of his time after that as an Army recruiter based in the Pacific Northwest, and I could see how perfectly he was situated for the job. He explained that in those days the job was part public affairs, part compassion, and part story-telling. He clearly still had all those skills intact, despite his recent diagnosis.

A few short months ago Clyde was walking around his house, up and down the stairs, wondering why his back hurt. He was working out every day, running and even pumping iron for an hour at a time, but his muscles still felt as if they were weakening. He was an avid gardener with a manicured lawn and perfectly pruned trees heavy with buds, but he could no longer lift his arms high enough to tend them. After a barrage of tests, doctors finally identified the cause of his problems: ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease. In just four weeks time he had lost the ability to walk on his own. “I didn’t know it until I got the disease, but Veterans are actually twice as likely to get ALS,” he explained.

He couldn’t walk around his property to see the improvements being made by the Home Depot volunteers that day without the aid of the walker and leg brace sitting at the end of the bed. But that didn’t stop him. He ventured out to say thank you, to instruct volunteers about the quirks of starting his mower, and to explain how to transplant an enormous bamboo plant into the perfect pot. You got the feeling he’d rather be out there, working alongside them. Still, he didn’t want the spotlight to be on him. Kment maintained, as do most of the servicemembers I talk to, that there was nothing about him that made him a hero. “The real heroes are these guys here – the ones doing this work. This story is really about them.”

Flanked by his wife, Fuji, and the ALS of Oregon Director, Clyde Kment looks on in amazement at the progress made by volunteers at his Vancouver, Washington home.

On Wednesday over 150 Home Depot area employees were at the homes of four area Veterans, volunteering on their day off, as a part of their Foundation’s “Celebration of Service” campaign. At Kment’s home they would make his gardens immaculate, widen doorways so that he could get through them with a walker or wheelchair, add pavers to the gravel driveway, make his bathroom accessible, and construct a wheelchair ramp that would give him access to the main floor of his house. “It’s more than I could ever have imagined,” Kment said with overwhelming gratitude.

Area ALS Executive Director Lance Christian explained how quickly the disease strikes and how timely the Home Depot Foundation’s offer to make the home more accessible really was. “we’re so glad that Home Depot contacted the ALS Association for Oregon and Southwest Washington. We have so many Veterans that are in need, and  they’re often unable to get the services as quickly as they’re required.” According to the ALS website, the average patient lives only 2-5 years after diagnosis though some can live with the disease for much longer. For Clyde and Fuji, that makes every moment precious.

The couple lingered very near each other in the sunlight that afternoon, watching the sea of orange shirts transform their yard into its previous glory. “This is 99% about them, and only 1% about him,” Fuji said as she put a hand on her husband’s shoulder. He kept his gaze on the garden, not turning around in that moment, but quietly nodding in agreement.

I said my goodbyes and thanked the employees I met who would keep working long into the afternoon. I turned to look at the progress that had been made since my arrival, and like a flash from 1962 I saw a young infantryman and his beautiful Japanese bride, the house where they raised two girls, and a lifetime of service.

Through it all, Clyde and Fuji remain optimistic and thankful. “What they’re doing here today is phenomenal,” said Kment, “Words cannot describe what I’m seeing!”

*

For more information about the Home Depot’s Celebration of Service, click here.

For more information about the ALS Association, click here.

To leave your comments of support for Clyde and Fuji, comment here.

I Sure Hope I Look Good in Orange

Two years ago my husband left for fifteen months. He went to military training, and then he went straight to the Middle East for a year. I understood when he left that it would be a journey we’d both have to take alone, but it wasn’t until he came home that I realized combat and deployment were experiences I would never really comprehend. There were many nights after he came home that we sat motionless in our own silence, even though we knew there was much to be said.

That’s the way it is for friends of mine whose spouses have civilian jobs. They can’t imagine the lives of military families: being away from loved ones for long periods of time, moving to strange places over and over, celebrating anniversaries alone, supporting their spouse’s decision to volunteer for dangerous jobs that take them in harm’s way, and doing it all over and over and over again. My friends say they don’t know how I do it. They say it’s something they’ll never fully grasp.

My husband survived his recent tour unscathed, with the exception of some separation wounds and a few missed holidays. But I look at the wounded warrior families I know and I wonder how they make sense out of the longevity of their condition, the unending doctors visits, the health challenges seen and unseen, the loneliness of their eventual separation from the military, and the loss of employment and self-worth that many face. I realize it’s something that can’t be understood unless it’s experienced. But because I am a storyteller, I wonder how I can help tell their stories, help others catch a glimpse of the sacrifice they’ve made.

In her speech to the Democratic National Convention this week, Michelle Obama remarked on the amazing American Spirit she has witnessed during her time in the White House. She said:

I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform and our proud military families … in wounded warriors who tell me they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons … in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said, simply, “I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”

When I heard the First Lady speak those words, it was so meaningful. Not only did I personally know the proud military families of whom she spoke, I realized that the blind swimmer she referred to was Brad Snyder, the warrior I recently wrote about. The quote was even the quote I used in my article. And though I can’t be sure whether it was my article she read, it still underscored for me how universally touching these stories are, how they resonate even at the highest levels, and how they impact people simply because they tell a story about someone who rose to meet what seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

It occurred to me, in that moment, that rising to meet a challenge is something we can all fundamentally understand.

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do just that, and this is the first article in a series that I’ll be writing to help raise awareness about the challenges veterans face and their continued importance to the community. Home Depot is sponsoring a “Celebration of Service” campaign once again this year, and I’ve been chosen to write about some of the families assisted by the program. I can’t possibly write about them all – in 2011 The Home Depot Foundation made a pledge to commit $30 million to veterans’ nonprofits, and they announced this morning that they plan to increase that pledge by another $50 million over the next three years.

“Celebration of Service” is a two month program running from now through Veterans Day that recruits Home Depot store associates to volunteer to build, repair, and remodel the homes of veterans and the facilities that serve them throughout the United States. They will make mobility modifications and help reduce utility costs by installing energy-efficient upgrades. I’ll be participating in a local service project for a family in the Northwest, and bringing you the stories of the Veterans and volunteers I meet along the way.

It’s true. Home Depot gets their name mentioned a few times in this blog and several others, and they will undoubtedly get national recognition and accolades for their generosity and dubious corporate responsibility. But really, I hope people realize that they don’t have to do any of this. It isn’t something that makes any sense at all to the bottom line on their balance sheet. It is the idea of giving to Veterans without the expectation of a quantified return that makes me want to participate.

So – I sure hope I look good in orange, because between now and Veterans Day I’m honored to bring you the stories of some of our Nation’s warriors on behalf of Home Depot, and the people who are taking steps to do what they can, it their own way, to say thank you for these sacrifices. You can follow my “Hero Chronicles” here at Witty Little Secret, and many others on the Home Depot Foundation’s Facebook page. I can’t wait to narrate a part of that amazing American Spirit Ms. Obama spoke about. I can’t wait to remember what it feels like to rise up and meet a challenge.

Disclosure: While I am being paid to write these stories, I’d honestly do it for free. (Don’t tell the Home Depot, though.) I’m not being told what to write, not being told to wear orange, not being asked to endorse any products or services, and will as always share my own opinions in my own words. All posts align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations. I have my own Home Depot stories to tell, but if you have a personal Home Depot experience, I’d much rather hear about that. Feel free to email me at wittylittlesecret at gmail dot com.

The Collective Military-Civilian Heartbeat

military civilian divide

“Chasm”

Yesterday’s announcement that a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Southern Afghanistan killed 11 people made my heart quicken and stutter, just like it always does. Even though my husband was piloting a commercial flight somewhere over Japan, I still lost a moment in the gap between irrational fear and reality. As I read the details, I wondered if that feeling would ever really go away.

I thought about the day in 2010 when a helicopter crash in the same region killed nine coalition troops just a few days after my husband left for the desert. My reaction that day, at the outset of our year-long deployment, was to make a pact with myself to avoid the news completely.

Then I recalled that day in 2011 almost one year later when a Chinook helicopter crash marked what is still the biggest single loss of U.S. Special Operations personnel in history. My husband was still deployed, and though my initial distress flicker was the same, my reaction was very different. I slammed my coffee cup on the kitchen counter just before being overtaken by a wave of helplessness that caused me to sob into my own sweaty hands.

But yesterday, after the sadness for the families sank in, I debated the ratio of what was asked as compared to what was gained, and found that it was too unbalanced for my liking. Perhaps the time since my husband returned dampened my patriotism for a moment. Maybe knowing he was is in a position of relative safety changed my intermittent perspective. Either way, I didn’t feel as grateful as I had been before, during the deployment. I felt lost and distant.

I tapped the virtual world for help. This war has dragged on so long that I wasn’t even sure where news like this stood, anymore. Americans have become numb to the repeat stories of maimed veterans and fatherless children and unemployed heroes. I knew people were passionate about Chick-fil-A, Paul Ryan’s ability to both polarize and motivate voters, and Prince Phillip’s bladder infection. But I wasn’t sure whether this horrible war news was even on the rest of the world’s radar. I wasn’t sure whether war was personal any more.

I chose to share that moment on Twitter, plinking out my thoughts in 180 characters. It was worthy of so many more, but I just wasn’t sure what to say about it. The only reply came from a member of the media I know and respect who covers military-related issues, and who knows the depth of military family struggle and sacrifice:

journalist twitter

 

There were no more messages after that – from anyone. I sat staring at my response for a while. I ran through scenarios in my mind. What other experiences might compare? Which situations cause that same constricting wheeze in my lungs, that same vein-gurgling pop and flush that surges through me whenever there is breaking war news? I wanted to find the non-military version. I wanted to give it a label or a feeling or an understanding. I wanted the gap between me and “the civilian world” to be infinitesimally smaller.

The problem with statements like “I don’t know how you do it” and “I can’t even imagine” and “those of us in the civilian world” is that they begin with the assumption that we are somehow intrinsically different. We aren’t. You’ve had this feeling that we talk about – fear of “the knock.” You’ve experienced it through a combination of events:

It’s partly the feeling you have in that moment that you’ve seen a human body damaged in an unnatural way. It’s partly the confusion you get when you first hear a serious diagnosis for someone very close. It’s partly the guilt of being thankful for your own child’s health when another is dying. It’s partly the moment of relief when a group of friends rally around you to help you dump a boyfriend or study for your hardest final or talk you through an upcoming biopsy. It’s all of these at once; a swirl of the uncomfortable and unpredictable that is completely out of your control together with an undampened human rationalization commonly labeled “hope.” And it involves life and death. It is such a strong imprint that once you feel it, similar news becomes the trigger for the same series of physical and emotional responses. The feeling doesn’t change just because you’ve anticipated it, or considered it, or talked about it. It’s new and yet familiar each time.

This time, I don’t want to cry or ignore the news or slam my coffee cup onto the counter. Instead, I want to do something; I want to say something. I want to find a way to make this news familiar and sticky, not slick and cold. I’m exhausted by what stands between those who say they could never understand and those who think their experiences are too unique to be understood. The so-called “military-civilian divide” is my responsibility. Not the media’s. Not Hollywood’s.

It’s mine.

Act of Valor

Scott Waugh

Director of Act of Valor, telling me thank you and making me blush.

One of the most engaging people I met at the Military.com blogging conference in Washington D.C. last week was Scott Waugh, Director/Producer of the major motion picture Act of Valor. At first I was star struck talking to a movie producer. But as we chatted he became the guy in the room who makes you laugh by cussing like a sailor, and then almost makes you cry when he gets all sappy about something sentimental. I was lucky enough to meet him and his publicist in the hotel bar the night before he spoke at the conference. So in a departure from my regular writing, I’m publishing our conversation, interview style, for today’s post.

Lori:    So where did you get the idea to do a movie about the Navy SEALS?

Scott:  It actually came from one of the SEALS. I had been doing action movies and military commercials for the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army, and they apparently checked me out. It’s never comfortable when the SEALS are checking you out. But they must’ve thought I was OK, because they approached me to do the movie and I was like “Um, let me think … hell yeah!” Or I may have used a different word…

Lori:    The story is “based on real events.” There’s so much sensitive information when you’re dealing with Special Operations forces. How did the script get written?

Scott:  That’s a funny story. When they came to me with the idea I asked them about the story line they had in mind. They said they didn’t have one, they just liked the idea. So I spent time in Coronado with the SEALS, and I listened to their stories.

Lori:   Yeah, Coronado. Heard of it. (After which we discussed my graduation from Coronado High School and how I climbed on the SEAL obstacle course as a kid.)

Scott:  I spent time with their families, and I spent time just watching and interacting with them. That’s what led us to start the movie the way we did. If you notice, the entire first twenty minutes you won’t see a single uniform. We wanted you to identify with them as people – not military machines. So we took five real events and we weaved them into one story line. And that’s where the “true story” really emerged and we realized we couldn’t use actors. That’s when we asked the SEALS to consider actually being in the film. Of course, they all said no at first. But really, they are what make it so real.

Lori:    The reality is certainly reflected in every detail. For me personally, since I’m a military spouse, the goodbye scene was pretty poignant. How did you capture that moment so accurately?

Scott:  You know, I spent time with the spouses, too. For that scene I talked to a group of spouses, but I was especially moved by Rorke and his wife. In their case, she never goes to the hangar to see him off. They always do it at home, and so that’s where that scene came from where she slides down the back of the door. She talked about how you spouses hold it together, as long as you can, and then what it feels like the moment the door closes and the reality of what’s possible hits you. It really opened my eyes to the silent sacrifices the spouses make that we never really think about. I’m really happy with how that scene came out.

Lori:    Was there a moment where you realized working with real SEALS was a bigger challenge than you anticipated?

Act of ValorScott:  Ha, well I had worked with the SEALS filming a “Swick Boat” piece, so I knew what it was like working with these guys, and what a challenge it was using real equipment and technology. But I do remember one scene in particular where I remembered how badass they really are and that I’m damn glad they’re on our team.

It was the interrogation scene where the SEALS drop onto the Cristo character’s yacht. Senior Chief [Miller] called me the night before and told me he wanted to lock the actor up overnight. I was like, “Senior Chief, we can’t do that. He’s an actor, man. There are unions and things.” And he finally said, “Fine. Then I want the temperature turned up. I want it hot in there.” So we did, we cranked it way the hell up. When you watch the scene you can see how they’re both really sweating hard. We all were.

Anyway, we only had one day to shoot on that yacht so things were a little stressful. And I’m calling for action and Senior Chief isn’t coming in. I mean, I’ve got film rolling and he’s nowhere to be found. So I go out to check on him, and he’s just sitting there, waiting. And I’m like “What the hell, Chief?” And he calmly says, “Yeah. I heard you. I’m waiting. I wanna be in his head.”

I had to remind him again that this guy was just an actor, but you know, he was really taking it seriously. Because that whole yacht scene, it was loosely scripted. I really wanted Senior Chief to do it the way he really would, make it realistic. That part where he clears the table with one swipe of his hand, that scared the shit out of us. And at one point we had to take a break, and I had to lean down and ask Alex [the Christo actor] if he was okay, because I could see he was really unnerved. It made us all appreciate that we would not ever want to be interrogated by Senior Chief. Ever.

Lori:    Wow. Me neither. Given the unprecedented access you had to the SEALS, how was the process of getting a DoD buy-off on this kind of a film?

Scott:  We developed the script with the SEALS, so you know from the beginning we knew that we were being both accurate and not violating any national security or anything. But when we sent the whole thing to the DoD, they just couldn’t wrap their arms around the idea that it was a full-on feature film because it used real SEALS and nobody had done that before. They kept referring to it as a documentary, which I tried to explain, but they didn’t quite understand. Then the commercials came out on Superbowl Sunday and I got a call from somebody surprised that it was an actual movie, not a documentary, and I was like, “hey guys, I have it in writing … you already approved this. The movie’s done.” They basically got a copy of the film and after an objection period passed it was okayed. But it was a hard concept for everyone to grasp.

Lori:    What’s next for you and Bandito Brothers Productions?

Scott:  Well right now we’re gearing up for the DVD and Blu-Ray release on June 5th, right before Father’s Day, which is really cool. I was involved in the editing of the movie, and there were lots of really great scenes we had to cut. But the DVD release gives us a chance to show people those extra scenes. There are interviews with the SEALS on there too which I really like, and you can see how we filmed with the real equipment. Because we didn’t use special effects for those scenes and it’s an amazing process to see. We decided this was a good chance to do something great for the military community, so we’ve decided that a portion of the proceeds are going to Operation Homefront for every DVD or Blu-Ray sale. We’re looking for our next action film but we don’t have anything in writing yet. I don’t like to jinx myself until the project is underway.

Lori:    Fair enough. Well good luck with that. And thanks for all you did to bring this movie to American audiences. It’s really a testament to the warriors and their families. My Husband worked with some of these guys last year, and he was frankly amazed at some of the stuff you showed. He thought it was great.

Scott:  That’s so great. I hope so. It was a privilege to make. And really, one of the things that surprised me most was to watch the silent sacrifice you guys, the wives and families, make year after year. So let me personally say thanks. I don’t think people realize.

***

There was a lot of this kind of sentiment in Washington D.C. because it was military spouse appreciation week, but I blushed when Scott said this, because he was a civilian, and he really meant it. I could tell. The next day at the military blogging conference, Scott spoke with Military.com editor Ward Carroll, and was asked again about the sacrifices military spouses make. Scott elaborated on this in a pretty moving way, and I think it’s worth posting here. If you scroll to minute 35 on this video, he discusses the military spouse sacrifice in a way that I think shocked even him:

Scott Waugh

Listen, I’ve only promoted one other film here at WLS, but if you didn’t get a chance to see this blockbuster when it came out in February, you should do it now with the DVD release. If you’ve got a Blu-Ray, you’ve gotta see it in super high definition because of all the action scenes.  It’s gripping to see these guys in action, but it’s also such an emotionally charged film to watch. There probably won’t be another one like it. I’ll personally be buying a copy on June 5th.

Also, do I have to say this out loud? SEALS aren’t hard to look at. I mean, it’s almost Father’s Day. Don’t you think Husband would like to get a movie for Father’s Day? Ahem.

When Reality TV Calls …

Take it Back

Lori VolkmanLast weekend I escaped from the pelting rain and drury skies of the Northwest and enjoyed some sun in 29 Palms. I was there to talk to a group of military spouses about a tough topic: Reintegration. The theme of the SpouseBUZZ event was “Take Back Your Story.” As organizer Jacey Eckhart pointed out, dramatic television coverage of military life showcases the ups and downs, the romance, and the tragedy. We, the spouses, are revered and admired like toughened modern pioneer women on the one hand, and yet portrayed as fragile drama stripper-queens on the other. Okay, so that might be my own paraphrasing. But if you’re a milspouse you know you snicker and secretly wish you had the guts to wear that t-shirt you’ve seen: “Military Wife: Sexually Deprived for your Freedom.”

But it’s time, she said, that we take responsibility. It’s time, she said, to let our real stories be heard. It’s time, she said, to take back our story!  We cheered and puffed like the underdog team at half time listening to the rally cry of their inspirational coach. She even used a colorful personal vignette to drive the point home. She spurned us on with her story about the time she had a chance to tell her story on national TV, for hours and hours. And she described her shock and disappointment when the program aired and it was about the other young mother they interviewed. It was about the wife who cried on camera. The one who was falling apart. They didn’t want Jacey – the strong independent woman slinging a baby on her hip tending the garden and fryin’ up the bacon. They wanted the waif who tugged at everyone’s heartstrings when she bawled her ever-lovin’ eyes out.

“But that’s not us! No! We’re takin’ back our story!” I says to myself. “We’re changin’ the game,” I declare. And so we told our stories in 29 Palms. We took it back. We had fun. But at the end of the day, we only took it back from ourselves. Don’t get me wrong – I felt empowered. But as I sat in the airport waiting for my flight home, I was left wondering how that would translate for me, personally, down the road.

“Down the Road” Arrives

As luck would have it, “down the road” arrived the very next morning. That happens to me a lot. Gah. I opened my email and found this:

Dear Lori,

I came upon Witty Little Secret while I was researching military families and wanted to reach out to you with a request. I work for a prominent production company that creates original programming for a national TV network and we’re creating a new series featuring relationship expert Iyanla Vanzant.  For a new program in the series we’re featuring three couples who are on the brink of divorce.  We’d like to include a military family because there are so many unique challenges presented in these marriages. I’m wondering if you’re amenable to soliciting marriage stories from couples who are interested in starting the healing process and being featured in our program?

I knew I wasn’t the only one getting this email, but it intrigued me. I thought immediately about what kind of story, what kind of real-life couple could pull it off. It seemed so many of us had felt “on the brink” of something terrible at some point during reintegration.

I had.

It seemed that sharing it might actually help someone else. But it was a big BIG scary monster. So I asked a group of bloggers I trust for some thick-skinned criticism, and I was surprised that most of the responses were negative:

“I have a feeling it will show the world that military marriages are doomed … I don’t like it when the media makes military families look bad … Why don’t they ever want the marriages going 20+ years strong despite the military? … Why do they want to show the worst in us? … I worry about how the inner workings and unique struggles of military marriages will be portrayed … We have a unique lifestyle and it plays a big roll in why the divorce rate is so high … Civilians tend to not understand.”

Exactly. We have to be the ones to tell them, I thought. Show them. Take back the story. And then I stepped aside and pushed my girlfriends out in front of me and said, “so yeah – you go first! Go for it, girl! Right behind ya.”

They all keyed on the same thing that triggered me when I first read the email: It all sounded so risky. Really, really risky.

Reality TV is Scarier Than War

So what does this mean? We can send our husbands off to war, give birth to and raise children on our own, build things and pay things and fix things and decide things on our own, even sit with a friend who is waiting for a phone call after we’ve all heard a chopper went down … but we can’t handle a little reality television? We are the bravest people we know (aside from our servicemembers) but we can’t discuss how we deal with the realities of rekindling a long-distance marriage? We can detail our health and even our mental health struggles (and usually even our kids’ weird pooping habits) on the very public internet, but we can’t even look an interviewer in the eye and explain what it feels like when our husbands come home and we realize that homecoming isn’t the magic pill that cures deployment?

So far the answer is “nuh-uh.”

But we can still talk about reintegration. It’s time we were respectful and brave and real about it. And funny about it. Because it’s really funny at times, too. We take ourselves way too seriously. All of us do.

If you’d like to see the official media query, or even if you’d like to answer it, go here.

Or you can always stay here a while. If you’ve ever been lonely, ever banged your head against a wall trying to figure out where to go next, ever tried molding something that was out of your control, well, hang out here.  And we’ll get through it together, like we always do.

Now. Ummm. Like I said. Go ahead. You first.

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