Army culture: Make room for recovery - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Army culture: Make room for recovery

From January 2018 to June 2020, I served in key development positions as a battalion operations officer, battalion executive officer, and brigade executive officer. My key development time was the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Fortunately, I had great teammates, worked for wonderful bosses, had the opportunity to coach and mentor junior officers and NCOs, and formed lifelong bonds I will cherish for the rest of my life. Despite being part of a great team, stress took its toll, and by the end I was something of a wreck; my personal life was strained, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and, to add insult to injury, I had also gained about ten pounds. 

Fortunately, my next assignment was one that advertised a much slower pace and exposure to parts of the Army I had never seen. Needless to say, I arrived excited. I would get to spend time with my family, refocus on my fitness, and get my life together while preparing for my future. However, myriad self-imposed expectations and a constant drive for excellence became destructive. I was still waking up at 0530 every day to go to the gym, do PT, and get to work early. Falling back on old habits, I once again found myself checking emails and responding to every single text or call at all hours of the day. 

Despite a desire to recover, I continued to run at the same pace I had for the last two and a half years. My drive never turned off. I continued to redline and found myself once again breaking down. I thought I had slowed down, but I never truly began the recovery process.

Merriam-Webster defines “recover” as “to bring back to normal position or condition,” and The American Psychology Association defines “recovery time” as “the time required for a physiological process to return to a baseline state after it has been altered by the response to a stimulus.”  The common element in each definition is a change in state. The drive for excellence during a demanding period is counterproductive, or even harmful, during recovery. We must give ourselves permission to power down, throttle back, and take time to heal. Not giving ourselves permission to slow down can impede recovery, multiply the damage incurred during a high demand period, and cause lasting negative impacts to our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being.  

In CADENCE!

“If the Soldier cannot recover properly from the acute training load…then the training load will accumulate and not be absorbed. The continued volume and intensity of the workload becomes chronic. This failure to properly progress the workload increases risk of underperformance…” FM 7-22, pg 4-7, “Physiology

In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson demonstrated an empirical relationship between stress and performance, known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. The law dictates that performance increases with physical and mental stress, but only to a point. When stress becomes too great, or endures for too long, performance begins to decrease. This relationship is often depicted by a bell curve:

While not explicitly mentioned, the Yerkes-Dodson Law can be found throughout the new FM 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. FM 7-22 mentions recovery, or some variant of, 623 times. Clearly, the Army recognizes recovery is a requirement, and not just for physical fitness. In addition to physical recovery, FM 7-22 explicitly mentions mental, spiritual, nutrition, and sleep dimensions. However, despite encapsulating a recovery requirement in the Holistic Health and Fitness program, the OPTEMPO within many BCTs remains unsustainably high, impeding any progress made with the publication of the new doctrine.

EXERCISE!

“Soldiers’ roles and jobs change, complicating the requirements for sustained character and psychological training across a Soldier’s lifecycle. …Therefore, commanders must consider this doctrine as providing best solutions and messaging for the collective mental health of the unit—procedures and tactics that allow Soldiers to prepare for, thrive in, and recover from the ordinary and extraordinary stressors that might degrade readiness.” FM 7-22, pg 9-1, “Mental Readiness”

FM 7-22 and other like programs are a much-needed step in the right direction, providing comprehensive doctrine and tangible steps individuals and leaders can take. However, they fail to address the cultural aspects at the root of the recovery problem. In my experience, some unit cultures, particularly divisional units, value work for the sake of work, not work for the sake of output. A Soldier who completes their assigned tasks on time, or even tasks beyond their assigned workload, but leaves at a reasonable hour is often seen as less committed or lazy. However, a Soldier who comes in early and stays late is seen as hard working and dedicated, despite producing little to no value for the organization.  

When leaders tie value to input instead of output, they risk creating a culture where how hard and how long one works is equally, and sometimes more, important than what one produces.  Worse, those cultures often also associate work length and effort to commitment and dedication to the organization. In these environments, it matters less what one does, as long as you do it for as long and as hard as you can. One of the most important things a person can do in these cultures is to be seen as “really getting after it”, regardless of what “it” is or whether “it” truly advances the organization or not.

This is not to say performance and output go unnoticed in these cases. Poor performers are eventually identified and rated accordingly. However, cultural norms allow average performers to “muscle through it” by putting in long hours, yet be viewed as equal to or more valued than the high performing individuals who complete their work on time while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

These cultural norms manifest themselves at both operational and institutional levels. Many commanders consider it acceptable to text, call, or email about non-emergent work at night, over weekends, and during leave periods. This naturally creates pressure for subordinates to respond, regardless of the time of day. It is routine for Soldiers to avoid behavioral counseling or therapy because they fear admitting they need help will harm their career.  Over my 15 year career, I have routinely observed Soldiers at all ranks lose leave because the high OPTEMPO consistently produces a pressing requirement.  Finally, there is the phenomenon of “waiting on the word”, where Soldiers will wait around for hours until the commander leaves, despite not having any assigned tasks to accomplish, just in case the boss needs something or has a question.  

At the institutional level, the issue manifests in how assignments are viewed and managed.  I’ve seen many raise an eyebrow when an individual seeks a job that isn’t viewed as “hard charging.” Instead, the expectation is that careerists who want to advance and eventually command must seek the hard jobs and “keep rowing.”   Human Resources Command considers these high pressure nominative or competitive broadening assignments career enhancing, meaning that they increase one’s chance for promotion or CSL selection.  

Based on this, why would someone who wants to promote and command select slower paced broadening jobs to round out the professional skill set and allow them and their family to recover when the Army has already told them that choice does not make them the most competitive?  As a result, many Soldiers, especially those on track for early promotion or with high potential for CSL selection, will move from serving two years in high stress, key development billets to equally high pressure nominative or competitive broadening billets to maximize promotion and selection chances.  

Ask yourself a question: when is the last time you took a four-day pass?  Why do so many leaders overvalue work for the sake of work or disparage those who require recovery?  Why do career managers often discourage people from picking  jobs where they can rehabilitate an injury, be home every night for dinner, and build memories with their families? Resting our muscles after lifting weights enables muscle tissue growth, in turn allowing us to lift more the next time. Similarly, resting our minds, bodies, and families after a hard push in a key development billet enables us, and our families, to push hard again in the next big job.  

HALT!

“Recovery: The period of four to eight weeks when the Soldier begins to prepare for the primary mission. It is characterized by low workloads and general adaptation and recuperation.”, FM 7-22, pg Glossary-8

Recovery is a physiological necessity. This is an immutable fact that both high performers and the institutional Army recognize on an intellectual level. Still, both struggle with recovery, conceptually and in implementation. Fixing this problem requires action at the individual, unit, and Army levels; it also requires senior leaders to lead from the front in execution.

 We can take three steps to improve the recovery process. First, we must give ourselves PERMISSION to recover. We must acknowledge it is permissible to perform below peak output all the time, and throttling down is both healthy and necessary. Second, we must recognize  recovery is a process that takes TIME. These issues cannot be fixed over a long weekend. The length of the recovery period is tied to the length and intensity of the high demand period. Finally, we must be DELIBERATE about our recovery. We must budget time and resources for recovery the same as we would a training exercise. Like training, we must also avoid things that distract or pull us away from our recovery efforts.

At the cultural level we must shift how we view recovery. The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program is an amazing start and does a lot to cement recovery concepts into our doctrine. However, it requires leaders at every level to embrace it and put it into practice in tangible ways. First, effectively managing organizational capacity increases efficiency and enables routine working hours. Working late nights and weekends may be required to accomplish some missions, but those should be the exception, not the expectation.

Second, senior leaders at all levels must change their messaging and lead by example.  How can they expect subordinates to truly recover if they are not willing to stop sending emails on the weekend, leave the office on time, unplug and actually take leave, or see a doctor when sick or injured? If board guidance and selection continue to weight high pressure operational assignments over broad experience, then what incentive is there to change the mold? Senior leaders must live the reforms for them to take root. Leaders at all levels must make it clear that long work hours, lost leave, and weekend emails are not a badge of honor, nor will they be viewed in a positive light.  

In addition, we must embrace a concept of active recovery while in high stress, high demand jobs. When I was a battalion operations officer, my commander made a point to leave the office at 1730 each day. Even better, he chased everyone out, including myself, the command sergeant major, battalion executive officer, company commanders, and first sergeants. Making a habit to leave on time, being present for the little league game, or turning off the phone for date night are examples of “recovery in contact” that allow for some respite while enabling continued performance in a high demand job.

Finally, our culture must re-examine how it views assignments. Slower paced assignments should not be derogatively viewed as “taking a knee,” but rather rounding out areas in an individual’s professional development. Instead of pushing Soldiers from one high-pressure assignment to another, branch managers and senior leaders should encourage a greater diversity in assignments, not just in the operating force, but the generating force as well.  Not only does the slower pace allow the individual and the family to recover, but the breadth of experience will benefit the Soldier in their next critical assignment.

RECOVER!

Recovery can be uncomfortable. Over my 15-year career, the Army has trained and conditioned me to go farther, push harder, and move faster in everything I do. There was a metric for everything and if you didn’t perform better than before there was more work to do until you did. Trying to break this mindset is hard. In fact, forcing yourself to slow down and recover in many ways is more difficult than simply continuing to push the pace. However, we must remember one unalterable fact: what got you here, will not get you there. Maintaining the habits that made you successful in a high demand job will not make you successful while executing recovery.

Recovery is necessary. Recovery is a process. Recovery is healthy. While it may feel uncomfortable to power down, do less, and not push to our limits, we must realize this is a mental trap. Our personal growth happens as we consolidate gains, reflect, and rest during our recovery periods. By changing how we view recovery and taking a more deliberate approach in its execution, we can maximize our recovery, capitalize on our growth, and be ready to perform at our peak when called to do so.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How a US Air Force veteran went from life-altering disability to Gold Medal adaptive athlete

On Feb. 28, 2015, Staff Sgt. Sebastiana Lopez stepped out of her apartment on an early Saturday morning in Charleston, South Carolina. The humidity was low, making a good day for a motorcycle ride. As she went back into her apartment to swap her car keys for motorcycle keys, she didn’t know it was the first step toward a life-changing moment.

Lopez’s four older siblings served in the US military in different branches. She looked up to them, eventually joining the US Air Force. She served for seven years as a crew chief on C-17s. Lopez’s parents immigrated to the US illegally, and she felt that she owed her country for the new opportunities afforded to her. Joining the military was her way of saying thank you.


As Lopez was coming around a corner of the road on her motorcycle, an armadillo was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her motorcycle and the armadillo collided causing her to crash into the curb, ejecting her from the bike and directly into a tree. She remembers bear hugging a tree and her leg kicking her in the face, breaking the motorcycle helmet visor. She fell to the ground and a plume of dust erupted. She never lost consciousness.

Lopez was dazed but immediately started thinking about how to survive. She tried to do blood sweeps, but her arms wouldn’t move. She saw that her leg was positioned at an unnatural angle and thought, “Well, that sucks. I probably need to put a tourniquet or something on that.” No matter how she looked at it, she wasn’t able to self-administer aid due to the extent of her injuries.

Her lung was punctured by a broken rib, she had several broken bones, an amputated (above the knee) right leg, lacerated liver, ruptured spleen, and many other internal and external injuries. Lopez was losing blood fast, and every breath felt like a million stab wounds, but she maintained a goal.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Sebastiana with her family after her accident. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.

“So I kind of looked up at the sky, and I’m like, there’s nothing I can do about this except for — keep breathing,” Lopez said.

She focused on each breath, counting in her head while she held her breath to minimize the pain. Then panic crept into her mind: It was a Saturday morning, people were up partying the night before, and it’s unlikely anyone will be awake to find her. Lopez stayed calm but couldn’t help thinking that this might be the end.

“I was pretty happy with the life I had already lived — even though it was very short, 24 years old at the time,” Lopez said. She accomplished what she had always wanted to do, giving back to her country by joining the Air Force. As she settled into being okay with the fact that she was dying, a car drove past.

She said that the first thought that popped into her head was, “That’s a stupid-looking car.” Then she realized that the person driving that car might be her ticket out of there. Luckily, her motorcycle had come to a stop up the road. The bystander saw it and immediately threw his vehicle into reverse. He found Lopez lying next to the tree, and the fear on his face was evident. He panicked, and the first thing he asked her was, “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Side by side (right photo showing initial recovery, left showing extensive recovery) comparison showing just how much Sebastiana has recovered since her crash. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.

The ambulance arrived, and even though Lopez couldn’t see him, she recognized the voice of one of the responders. He was an Air Force reserve pilot she had flown with during an operation in Malaysia when they were designated as a backup C-17 for the president while he toured that area of the world. Hearing a familiar voice, especially someone she knew from the military, immediately put her mind at ease. I might make it through this, she thought.

Despite the massive amount of blood loss, Lopez can recall up until the point when the hospital staff wheeled her into the OR. Her heart stopped not long after her arrival at the hospital, but they managed to get her back. She woke up a month later surrounded by her family, and she felt like she might have been in purgatory. A priest was close by and had been waiting to give Lopez her last rites in coordination with her Catholic beliefs.

“They knew telling me the news that, hey, you don’t have a leg anymore, was going to just tear me apart,” Lopez said. “To be quite honest, it didn’t. At least initially because I was just happy to wake up. It didn’t really hit me until a few months later that life was going to get pretty shitty and pretty hard, especially when I lost my hand function in both hands.”

My story

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Shortly after waking up from the coma, Lopez sustained a stroke and lost her speech. Her family added a degree of frustration when they unknowingly talked slowly and loudly to her, thinking she had lost the ability to process information as well. This was one more blow, but it didn’t shake Lopez — it was just another speed bump.

“I was like, Motherfuckers, I understand what y’all are saying — I just can’t verbalize my answer or write it even,” she said, adding that she felt trapped, much like when she was lying on the ground after her crash.

Lopez loves sports, and the driving force to compete again kept her internal fire blazing. As she completed her speech therapy and regained the ability to speak, she started to feel better about herself. Her first steps with her prosthetic leg brought even more confidence.

Even while Lopez completed speech therapy and physical rehabilitation, another battle loomed under the surface. One of the first movements she had to do was rolling from side to side, and whenever she did, the incision from her abdominal surgery would start bleeding. The hospital staff was growing concerned and asked her if she wanted to stop.

“I was like, ‘Hell no, I need to start moving!'” she said.

She recovered to an extent while staying at the Medical University of South Carolina hospital. She described it as similar to a scene out of Kill Bill when Uma Thurman’s character wills herself out of paralysis by saying, “Wiggle your big toe.”

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Sebastiana competing in the Invictus Games. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.

Lopez aggressively pursued her exercises while running a consistent temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. From rolling side to side to putting on her socks by herself, she was making progress. But then she started losing energy again and didn’t feel well. Her recovery was coming along, but she lost function in her right arm. She was scheduled to be transferred to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a higher level of physical rehabilitation.

Her new doctors ran tests and found out that Lopez was septic, which is a widespread, serious infection within the body that can have lethal consequences. She was transferred directly into the ICU.

Once recovered, Walter Reed brought on even harder rehabilitation training — and the results were even better. Lopez worked hard and rep after rep moved closer to her goal of competing again.

She spent hours every day sending signals to her hands and any other part of her body that wouldn’t readily move with her internal instructions. She eventually regained some command over the movement of her fingers.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Sebastiana Lopez Arellano powers a hand cycle during the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando. May 9, 2016. DoD News photo by EJ Hersom, courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.

After her incident, the Air Force enrolled Lopez in what’s called the Casualty Care Program and the Recovery Care Program. She was assigned a Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC). Lopez transferred to outpatient physical rehab, and one day while she was working on different exercises, her RCC walked up to her. She asked Lopez what she thought about doing an adaptive sports camp.

“No, I’m not ready. I’m still rehabbing my hand — I want to be able to wipe my butt first before I go compete or learn a sport,” Lopez responded. Her RCC told her a white lie: “You’re still in the US Air Force, you kind of have to.”

Lopez later found out that wasn’t the case, but she felt that the RCC knew she needed a little push. The RCC signed up Lopez, unbeknownst to her, for a beginner’s adaptive sports camp through the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.

What her RCC said was a beginners camp was actually the tryouts for the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior Games team. Lopez found out once she arrived at the “camp,” but with her no-quit spirit, she persevered and made it onto the team.

WOD 1

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Within a year of her accident, Lopez competed in the Wounded Warrior Games and earned five gold medals for two-hand cycling races, shot put, discus, and sitting volleyball.

“The funny thing about the 2016 Warrior Games, I broke my arm the first day we got there,” she said, laughing. “So I competed the entire week with a broken arm.”

From that first Warrior Games to her most recent competition performance in the 2019 Team USA Parapan American Games, Lopez has achieved her goal of competing again — and then some. In addition to the medals from the 2016 Warrior Games, she went on to medal over 19 times in different events over the course of the next few years, and she even established a world record in discus.

Lopez has defied the physical disabilities that the armadillo caused that fateful Saturday morning in February 2015.

“I might still pursue [Team USA] in the future, between school and everything else — I’m kind of looking into starting a family soon, and I want to focus on that,” Lopez said. “I’m not saying that’s the end of the world for me. I probably will try to pursue it, but maybe 2024 for me.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

6 quick tips sergeants wished their new troops knew

Ah, the new soldier. A blessing for the command and an absolute nightmare for the first-line supervisor. You don’t know if they’re about to blow a few paychecks worth of money on strippers, salvia, or an overpriced Camaro. Worse, they could be the kind to hit on local girls and accidentally stumble into the first sergeant’s daughter. Here’s what the sergeant wishes the new kids would know before they even showed up:


Army culture: Make room for recovery

It’s a Mustang. Try to look at it without buying one. At least for the duration of the article.

(Installation Management Command, Mr. Stephen Baack)

Seriously, don’t buy the car

OMG, you have a bonus check, and a few paychecks and so many people want to loan you money against your guaranteed government paycheck (unless you are in the Coast Guard, and then it’s mostly guaranteed but not totally, right?).

But you can Uber for a week or two and wait to buy a car you actually like at a decent price instead of getting the first Camaro you can see on the lot.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Don’t care if you’re on Tinder or Grindr, just please do like, a day of due diligence before hopping in the sheets with ’em.

(U.S. Army Amy Walker)

Really, you don’t need to get laid right away

Yeah, it’s been a long time since you got some. Unless, of course, you were one of the folks hooking up with randos behind the port-a-potties at basic training during blue phase which, ew, gross. You need to get checked out.

If you can get some on your first week at a new duty base, congrats. If you happened to get some back home during leave, good work, but don’t jump through a bunch of stupid hoops to get a new notch in your belt here the first week. Feel free to take a couple of weeks to get the lay of the land, find out who’s likely healthy and who is or isn’t a good idea for a partner.

Stumbling into the first dark room you can find is a good way to trigger IEDs, not a good way to enjoy yourself.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Please don’t let that be a mug of vodka. I mean, I know the dude in the photo is a sergeant and is experienced enough to handle it, but still. (For the record, it’s a water guy holding a mug of water.)

(U.S. Army Spc. Aaron Goode)

Drink in moderation

Yeah! You can finally drink again! Time to —!

No. Just no. Go get a couple of beers and sip on them. New soldiers drinking until they asphyxiate on their own vomit is the stupidest of cliches. Get drunk. Enjoy it. Get tipsy. Fall over once or twice.

Just don’t drive, and don’t keep drinking until you fall over a balcony. Please. Your NCO support channel has their own stuff to do this weekend that doesn’t include talking to the MPs about your untimely demise.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Yeah, we weren’t gonna go out and take photos of signs outside the nearest base, so here’s a photo of a soldier who still carries coins in her pocket for some reason.

(U.S. Army Spc. Samuel Keenan)

Avoid literally any place that advertises to you

Don’t care if it says “We accept junior enlisted,” “Finance E-1 and up,” “All ranks welcome” — if it advertises to the military, you shouldn’t be there. Those signs are basically the equivalent of a “Free Candy” sign on the side of a van, and you’re the unsuspecting child.

Please, don’t get in the van.

If (s)he has a military dependent ID, (s)he’s not for you

It does not matter how many times he or she bats their eyes at you, flexes their pecks, or makes obscene gestures with their mouth while pointing at your belt, you are not to engage with them if there is a single sign that they might be the child of a military member or married to one (especially married to one).

Just go find a local hottie…or maybe set up an online dating account.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Doesn’t even matter if your form isn’t perfect. Just do some d*mn sit-ups.

(U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell)

Do like, four sit-ups every day

Yeah, you’re out of basic and AIT. Congratulations. But when your physical training drops to just the morning formations, there’s a chance that you’re going to start sucking every time you squeeze yourself into some overly tight PT shorts. So, please, for the love of all physical training regulations and military readiness, just do a couple of sit-ups every night before you nuzzle up to your PlayStation controller.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These 6 VA careers are perfect for transitioning veterans

From diagnosing and treating patients in high-pressure situations to working with complex medical technology, former military healthcare workers are uniquely equipped to care for others. While these skills make an incredible asset to the civilian medical field, at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it takes on even more meaning. VA has careers, tied to specialized skill sets, where former military healthcare workers can heal and care for fellow veterans.

People trained in the healthcare field are in high demand all across the country. But VA understands veterans perhaps better than any other employer. It’s why VA goes beyond offering premium-paid health insurance and robust retirement plans. Veterans employed by VA enjoy education support through veteran-focused scholarships, professional development opportunities and special accommodations to make the workplace fully accessible.

These six VA healthcare jobs are perfect for former military members.


1. Intermediate Care Technician

After active duty, it may be difficult to find a civilian healthcare position that allows you to apply military training without additional licenses and credentials. But through VA’s ICT program, former military medics and corpsmen can work as healthcare providers at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and continue their medical training, skills and career.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Intermediate Care Technician Paul Singleton, a former Army medic who now works in the JJP Bronx VA emergency room, is known for his ability to put his patients at ease.

Although emergency room positions are highest in demand, ICTs are also needed in mental health, geriatrics, primary care and surgical services.

2. Health Technician

Professionals working as Health Technicians at VA provide diagnostic support duties and medical assistance to VAMCs and specialty clinics. In an emergency setting, many of the duties performed by this role mirror that of a paramedic and align closely with the experiences of military corpsmen.

3. Nursing Assistant

Nurses play a crucial role at VA. They work across disciplines and treatment settings with a medical team to provide integrated care for veterans under their watch. Day in and day out, they make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families through their patience, empathy, and care.

Nurses can start a post-military career at VA as a Nursing Assistant and take advantage of the special education support programs VA offers to earn the degrees and certifications necessary to become a Licensed Practical Nurse or a Registered Nurse.

4. Physician Assistant

Physician assistants provide primary care and preventative care as part of a medical team that includes nurses, physicians and surgeons. A physician assistant examines patients, offers diagnoses of conditions and provides treatment for veterans at VA under the supervision of a physician.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Dr. Angel Colón-Molero, Orlando VA Medical Center Deputy Chief of Staff, discusses procedures with VA Physician Assistants Aji Kurian and Mario Cordova at the VA’s Lake Baldwin campus.

5. Physician

With access to cutting-edge technology and pioneering research opportunities, physicians at VA lead the charge in veteran care. Their work includes primary care services and specialty medicine. Physicians at VA are given great latitude to develop solutions that improve patient outcomes. Physicians have special insight into VA’s patients and can thrive in this environment.

6. Physical Therapist

At VA, physical therapists make a huge impact in veterans’ quality of life. They increase mobility, reduce pain and restore independence through physical rehabilitation, wellness plans and fitness programs. Physical therapists help veterans understand their injuries so they can enjoy mobility benefits, long-term health and a high quality of life.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These images of U.S. troops in tight spaces will make you sweat

A space is confined if it has a limited or restricted entry or exit point.

“Confined spaces include, but are not limited to, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, manholes, tunnels, equipment housings, ductwork, pipelines, etc.,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

And the US military trains for all different kinds of scenarios in such spaces.

Here’s what they do.


Army culture: Make room for recovery

Air Force Joseph Chavez from the 120th Airlift Wing, Montana Air National Guard performs a confined space rescue on Feb. 13, 2017.

(US Air Force photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Senior Airman Jada Lutsky, a fuel system specialist with Pennsylvania Air National Guard, dons a respirator during a confined spaces rescue exercise on Feb. 24, 2018.

(US Air Force photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Members of the 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company enter a manhole and extract simulated patients during a training exercise on Aug. 1, 2018.

(Department of Defense photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Army Spc. Ridwan Salaudeen, 758th Firefighter Detachment, climbs through a confined space at Fort McCoy, Wis. on Aug. 9, 2017.

(US Army photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

An Army Reserve soldier navigates his way through a building collapse simulator at Fort McCoy, Wis. on Aug. 13, 2018.

(US Army photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Marine Cpl. Seth White, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) defense specialist, crawls through an underground tunnel while wearing a Level-C hazmat suit on Oct. 3, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Army Reserve Spc. Alex Thompson, 376th Engineer Firefighter Detachment, crawls through a tube for training at Fort McCoy, Wis. on Aug. 13, 2018.

(US Army photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Army Reserve Brett Lehmann, 376th Engineer Firefighter Detachment, crawls through a tube for confined space familiarization training at Fort McCoy, Wis. on Aug. 13, 2018.

(US Army photo)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Army Reserve Pvt. Kenneth Collins, 376th Engineer Firefighter Detachment, pulls himself from a confined space familiarization tube at Fort McCoy, Wis. on Aug. 13, 2018.

(US Army photo)

And the whole thing seems pretty grueling.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

My husband’s mistress is an F-16

Rachel is an Air Force spouse and Texas native whose husband flies as an F-16 pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

It was October 2015 and Hurricane Joaquin was headed right for us. I stared out the back patio at the darkening skies as my husband, an F-16 pilot, packed his bags.


To say I am the mistress in my own marriage is to admit that there are times my wishes and well-being have come second to that of the Fighting Falcon, and it bruises my pride to say it. I’d like to think I’m the #1 lady in his life, but there have been times that just wasn’t the case. Some people have the gall to say, “Well, that’s what you signed up for.” To hell with them.

All the same, he will always take the call. Apparently, I missed the part of my wedding vows that included “to honor, love and protect each other (*once the safety of the F-16 is ensured) from this day and for the rest of your life.”

We were stationed in South Carolina at Shaw AFB, in the path of a storm which the state would come to call a “1-in-1,000 year event.” News of the destruction from Hurricane Joaquin traveled north from the Bahamas as the Southeast prepared for the worst. Sandbags were laid out, generators were gassed up for the inevitable power loss, and grocery stores were cleared out of bread, water, and beer. Pro tip—beer keeps, bread goes bad.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Before the storm of the century, I had imagined a romantic evening of boarding up the house by candlelight together, but the Air Force had a different idea. Turns out fighter jets don’t float too good.

Two days before the hurricane was projected to hit, Shaw called in its pilots and maintainers to move the jets inland to a base a few states away. This was what’s known as a HUREVAC. That’s short for HURricane EVACuation. Get it? The Department of Acronyms was working overtime that day. Civilians of South Carolina planned and prayed as Hurricane Joaquin drew closer, while families of the F-16 said goodbye to their airmen. We watched them fly away to safety, staying behind to literally weather the storm alone.

I’m from Texas. If you told me a tornado was coming, I’d throw some blankets in the bathtub and get ready to hunker down with our cat, Bonanza. However, a hurricane was a different beast altogether. We did not have drills for that in Dallas ISD. The buzz around Columbia, SC grew to a clamor as people asked each other in a mild panic what they were going to do. Some folks left town. Me? I spent the day converting my beer cooler into a kitty life raft and beer cooler.

Hurricane Joaquin never traveled directly over the States, but it created a storm that wreaked havoc on South Carolina for days. Nineteen deaths were attributed to the flooding in the state. First responders found one of those bodies at a corner near our neighborhood.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

The aftermath of the storm.

(Photo courtesy of Rachel Napolitano)

I watched the brown water creep up, over the retaining wall, consuming our backyard and getting closer to the house. I couldn’t help but wonder at what point it would be too late to pipe Bonanza aboard the S.S. Miller Lite, abandon the house to its fate, and head for higher ground. Didn’t matter. Turns out all the roads in the neighborhood were flooded anyway.

Meanwhile, the jets landed safely in… Louisiana? Immediately after landing the pilots checked in in accordance with Tech Orders: on Facetime, beer in hand. Is it the first or fifth? Only the Flight Doc can say, and he looks pretty buzzed.

Eventually, the raining stopped. Everyone came back safely, though in the midst of the storm many families suffered damage to their property. One couple lost their home and everything in it. Thankfully the water never came into our house, but irreparable damage had been done to the city and my ego.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love watches on as your husband leaves you behind in a hurricane to take off with that minxy fighter jet to Louisiana. Welcome to the life of the pilot spouse.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You love watching military reunions. We wish you could see the goodbyes.

On Tuesday night, the nation watched as President Trump praised a military spouse for her sacrifices and efforts, and then surprised her and her children. “I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer!” The woman looked genuinely surprised.

She gathered her two young children close and they watched as her husband, handsome in his dress uniform, walked down the stairs toward them, as members of Congress and millions of television viewers cheered.

But some of us in military families saw something different.


As pleased as we were for that family, and we were very pleased, we were also cringing. We knew more, much more, was happening under the surface, and would be happening for many days to come. I’ve been married to a soldier for 17 years, and he has deployed nearly every year of our marriage. I know this subject well.

Some of us call these public homecomings “reunion porn” because they’re shared for the entertainment of the spectators, not for the health of the family. Surprise public reunions are such a part of our culture now, after 18 years of war have overlapped with 15 years of YouTube, that in the later weeks of a deployment, well-meaning friends and family members will start asking us what our plans are for the reunion. They look on expectantly, hoping for details of jumbotrons — like we’re supposed to be organizing a flash mob on top of taking care of absolutely everything else. For them, these are grand milestones that should be celebrated en masse, like over-the-top engagements and increasingly complex gender reveals.

But a deployment reunion does not have the unfettered joy of an engagement or a birth announcement. It’s a complicated stew. There is joy, undoubtedly, but there is also trauma. There is survivor’s guilt, and resentment, and weeks of awful reintegration that loom, in sleepless nights after endless fights. On some level, I wish that every reunion video was paired with a deployment video, bookends of the war experience, and that you didn’t get to celebrate the hello until you had agonized through the goodbye. I wish people saw that many months before that child was surprised by a smiling, uniformed parent in an elementary school classroom, he had to be peeled and pulled off that deploying soldier by the parent who was staying home. I wish people saw that service member gulp, blink back tears, and force him or herself to turn and walk away. Not out of indifference or cruelty, but out of duty.

I wish people could hear the screams – the actual screams – military teens and tweens make when they are told their parent is deploying. Again. I wish the cheering crowds knew what it feels like to give birth alone, in a town where you know no one, and to take that baby back to an empty home without a clue of what to do, but having to do it anyway.

I wish they knew what it feels like for a service member to meet his own child on Skype, and not get to hold her in his arms until the baby is already crawling. Or to not be at the bedside when their child goes into surgery. Or to miss a graduation, and every game, recital and play.

I wish they saw me, sitting in a patio chair in the July heat, trying to hear my husband over a spotty satellite phone connection, with gunshots and mortar rounds perforating the conversation. Then hanging up and putting on a brave face to go back inside the house, because it was time to give my dad more pain medicine so that he wouldn’t feel the cancer that killed him.

I wish they heard the three volleys. I wish they watched the flag being crisply folded. I wish they hugged strangers at military funerals because it was obvious those strangers needed hugs. I wish they pushed the wheelchairs and suffered through the night terrors and witnessed the humiliation of a brain-injured warrior trying to remember his own address.

But, of course, I don’t actually wish everyone could see all of these raw moments. No one should have the worst days of their lives televised. I suppose what I really wish is that the same good-hearted, well-intentioned people who are sincerely happy to see our military families reunited would pay more attention to the war. I wish they knew where our service members were deploying to, and why.

I wish they knew our lives, even when the scenes aren’t pretty or heartwarming, so it wouldn’t feel like we were carrying these burdens alone.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Coastie receives medal for off-duty rescue

A Coast Guard member became the second woman in its history to receive the Silver Lifesaving Medal.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Sector Mobile, received the medal for saving two swimmers off the coast of Long Island Sound, New York.


Army culture: Make room for recovery

Vanderhaden received the medal in July. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“It was 2018 and I had just moved to New York and was trying to hit every beach in the area. I hadn’t been to Fire Island yet but heard the sunset there was amazing. I have the surf report app on my phone and it said it was going to be six feet. There were people and beach deer everywhere. … But I saw two guys pretty far out in the water and it was like a washing machine out there [with the waves],” Vanderhaden said.

She says she slowly grew more alarmed as she watched and heard someone on the shore yelling “ayúdenme.” Although she couldn’t understand the Spanish word, Vanderhaden sensed something was wrong. Turning to the couple next to her, she asked if they knew what that word meant. They did: Help me.

Turning to the couple next to her, she asked if they knew what that word meant. They did: Help me.

Vanderhaden immediately headed to the water, instructing people to call the police and the nearby Coast Guard station. She took off her shoes, sweater and started swimming. The rip current was so strong, it pulled her to the first man pretty quickly. Since the other man in the water was in more trouble being further out, she let the first know she’d be back for him and to try to stay afloat.

“When I got to the next guy, he was freaking out and climbing on me a lot. I was propping him up on my knee, holding him and telling him it was going to be okay. I don’t even know if he could understand me. Finally, he calmed down and I started swimming with him, pulling and pushing him. Then, we got to the second guy and that’s when things got hard,” Vanderhaden said.

When she reached the second man in the water, he began grabbing at her in obvious terror. Managing him while also keeping the other man and herself above water was a struggle. It took about 10 minutes just to calm them down.

“I started pushing one and pulling the other. I couldn’t see the beach because it had gotten dark and the waves were so high. We finally made it to shore and then the guys were hugging me and thanking me,” Vanderhaden said.

She found out later they were in the water almost 45 minutes.

Once she finished giving her statement to the police, she called her senior chief who was the OIC of her assigned duty station. Vanderhaden just briefly told them she had to talk to police but didn’t go into detail of what happened.

The police thought she was assigned to Coast Guard Station Fire Island but she was actually part of Coast Guard Station Eatons Neck. For about a week, they couldn’t figure out who she was and the sector jokingly started referring to her as the “Ghost Coastie.” It wasn’t until her mom happened to overhear some of the story that the dots finally got connected back to Vanderhaden.

“It was about a week before anyone knew it was me,” Vanderhaden said with a laugh.

Roughly two years later, she received the Silver Lifesaving Medal, with the presenting officer being a familiar face: her father. Vanderhaden’s father, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason M. Vanderhaden, is the top senior enlisted leader for the Coast Guard. Her brother currently serves too.

“For me, the other military branches making fun of us is one thing but I feel people [the public] think we are just police officers on the water. But it’s so much more than that,” she said.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden with her parents. Courtesy photo.

Vanderhaden’s father has served since 1988, making the culture of the Coast Guard all she’s ever known. She was asked if she thinks she would have jumped in to rescue the men if she hadn’t been a coastie.

“That’s a difficult question, because I don’t know anything but the Coast Guard. In my world and for all of people I live with and work around — all of us would do the same thing,” she said.

Then she added a recent conversation she had with a retired Coast Guard master chief who told her that some people think and some people do. He then said, the people who join the Coast Guard do.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Navy vet goes from fighting in Iraq to fighting fires

Navy veteran Tyler Welch used to patrol the streets of Iraq as a corpsman. Now, he’s fighting a new battle against fires.

Welch is part of the Veterans Fire Corps crewmember program, run through the Southeast Conservation Corps. SECC is an AmeriCorps-affiliated non profit that engages recent-era veterans, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service Southeast Region. SECC started the Veterans Fire Corps program in 2018. The 10-month intensive training program engages recent-era military veterans up to age 35 in fuels reduction, fuels management, and wildland firefighting.

For veterans like Welch, the program is a perfect fit for his transition.


“Wildland firefighting had been an idea in the back of my head for a few years as a job to looking into when I got out of the military,” Welch said. “The program that SECC is running piqued my interest because it is a veteran program and is a lengthy training program allowing me to see several parts of the wildland world.”

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.

Welch served tours in Hadditha, Iraq, with Marines as the senior corpsman; and in Basra, Iraq, and Kuwait as a search and rescue medical technician. Stateside, he served at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and at Naval Hospital Whidbey Island, Washington. Seeking a new challenge, he sought something that could use his military service.

“The biggest skills I’ve carried over from the military that have helped with the program are team work and leadership,” he said. “Additionally, just being able to grind and get the work done on the hard day. It’s not always easy or fun, but at the end of the day you look back and see what you accomplished.”

For those looking for a challenge, Welch had three pieces of advice. The first is to keep fit, as days are long. The second is carryover advice from military service: get a good pair of boots. The third is to go camp and get used to being in the woods, living out of a tent and campground.

VFC crews

VFC crewmembers can earn certifications related to fuels management. This includes courses on firefighting, wildland fires, chainsaws, incident management, first aid and CPR. Southeast National Forests use VFC, which facilitates opportunities for crew members to work across a variety of districts and landscapes while simultaneously assisting forests with a myriad of fuels related needs.

“This program is designed to engage veterans in a truly hands-on experience,” said SECC Director Brenna Kelly. “Through rigorous and repeated trainings as well as field-based project work, veterans will earn necessary certifications and practical experience needed to compete for career positions related to fire and natural resource management.”

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.

Home base for VFC crews is the Conasauga Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia. The crew roves throughout the Southeastern United States for the duration of the program.

Some projects require members to work five days at a time with two days off. Other projects require camping and living on project locations for 8-14 days, with a set amount of days off. Members cannot use drugs or alcohol during work related travel at any time.

In addition to a stipend, members receive paid trainings and certifications and an education award upon program completion. Members also receive food and accommodations during overnight travel and transportation to and from work sites.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Buck Thanksgiving tradition with cold-brew marinated steak

Nothing says Thanksgiving like football in the backyard, family gathered around the table, and, of course, a nice hunk of meat. For many of us, this means turkey or chicken, but if you’re seeking a good, old-fashioned red meat this holiday season (or just looking to change things up), consider a cold-brew marinated steak.


This meal may seem jarring if you think coffee is only for drinking. But for those of us who have experimented with coffee rubs during grilling season, we know it can infuse a rich nutty flavor and make the meat super tender. This is due to the coffee’s high acidity levels, which help break down tough proteins in the meat. Allowing meat to marinate in a coffee brine for a few hours further assists the softening process, leaving the meat tender and with a smoky flavor.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

This cold-brew marinated ribeye is a great way to shake things up for Thanksgiving dinner.

(Photo by Lacey Whitehouse/Coffee or Die)

We’ll be using cold-brew coffee as the base for our marinade. This is a great opportunity to finish up the last batch of concentrate you brewed — or make some fresh to use in other seasonal beverages during the holidays.

It’s important to note that cold brew is not simply iced coffee — it’s a completely different process. While iced coffee is brewed hot and brought to room temperature before being served over ice, cold brew utilizes room temperature water and coffee grounds to create a concentrate. Typically, the coffee is ground coarsely and left to brew in temperate water for six to 12 hours. The result is a smooth concentrate that is three times stronger than traditionally brewed coffee and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Photo by Lacey Whitehouse/Coffee or Die)

To mitigate the risk of the meat hardening, we’ll be combining the cold brew with other acid-rich ingredients to make the juiciest possible steak. For our marinade, we’ll be using cold brew, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic cloves, onion powder, parsley, dried oregano, salt, and molasses. The apple cider vinegar cuts the fats and natural sweetness of the steak to help round out its overall flavor. Combined with molasses, we’ll achieve a wonderfully delicate balance between the savoriness of the meat and the tang of the marinade.

The holiday season is a time to show your love, and there’s no better way to do that than with a good cut of meat. Enjoy your steak with fries or your favorite holiday sides.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Recipe by Brittany Ramjattan/Coffee or Die.

(Photo by Lacey Whitehouse/Coffee or Die. Graphic by Erik Campbell/Coffee or Die.)

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

LRC develops future leaders by using hands-on practice in tackling both leader and follower roles

After the Second World War, the Air Force established their version of a LRC, Project X, which would be used as one of the four means to evaluate students of the Squadron Officers Course at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.


“What we are trying to replicate for the students is being under stress and how you manage people under stress with limited resources, limited time and trying to solve a complex problem with a group of people with different personalities, different ways of leading and ways they want to be followed,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership.

The primary purposes of the course are to improve the students’ leadership ability by affording the student an opportunity to apply the lessons learned in formal leadership instruction. Secondly, to assess the students by measuring the degree to which certain leadership traits and behaviors are possessed. It’s also used to provide the students with a means of making a self-evaluation to determine more accurately their leadership ability and to provide the opportunity to observe the effects of strengths and weaknesses of others during a team operation.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Most importantly, the LRC is used to develop diverse individuals as future leaders in the Air Force.

Stress plays an important part in the evaluation of each leader as it is through stress the critical leader processes and skills will be observed by the evaluator. To produce a stressful environment for the working team, certain limitations are placed on them.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Officer trainees work together to overcome an obstacle at the Project X leadership reaction course. The course is designed to improve leadership traits to Air-men attending Squadron Officer School, Officer Training School, Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy and other schools on Maxwell AFB.

(Air Force photo by Donna L. Burnett/Released)

According to the LRC standard of operations, the course operation is designed so that each individual will be a leader for a task-one time and serve as a team member or observer the remainder of the time. For each task there is a working team and an observing team. The working team is responsible for completing the mission while the observing team acts as safety personnel, overwatch elements, support elements, or competition.

The tasks themselves vary. For example, one task may be to get personnel and equipment across a simulated land mine without touching the ground by building a makeshift bridge from supplies. Another task may incorporate fear and more physical endurance by getting a team and gear over a high wall. Each task has a time limit and unique problems to solve the mission.

Although completing the mission isn’t the goal of the LRC.

“As a leader, you have to recognize some of these people may be scared to do this task or to move across this task with me. So, how do you motivate those people? Do you have the emotional intelligence to understand that you may be able to get through this task on your own, but other people may be scared to do it, so how do you understand that? How do you communicate to your people, motivate them, lead them by example, inspire them to follow you and get through the task? These tasks are designed to cause that stress and to make you apply the leadership skills you learned in the classroom,” Clayton said.

The whole concept is getting students to identify what type of leader they are as well as understand and identifying leadership traits in others.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Annual event encourages healing and support for veterans

The seventh annual Gathering of Warriors Veterans Summit hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Native Wellness Institute, and VA Office of Tribal Government Relations, held July 11-12, 2019, brought together hundreds of individuals from different communities at the Uyxat Powwow Grounds in Grande Ronde, Oregon.

The event honored those who served and gave veterans, families, and community members the opportunity to connect with one another and learn about veteran-related resources and programs.

Guest speaker Johnathan Courtney, Army combat veteran, shared his story of healing and how he struggled to find himself when he came home from the Iraq War. He said that if it wasn’t for the help of his wife Emily, he wouldn’t be where he is today. With her help and support he was able to connect with caring providers within VA and a support network with community organizations.


“It starts with vets helping vets and family care,” said Courtney, now Chairman of the Health and Wellness Committee for the State of Oregon Veterans of Foreign Wars and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. He hopes that by sharing his story of healing with fellow veterans that it will encourage them or someone they know to reach out for help if they need it and learn about resources available. “Many veterans don’t reach out for support and we are trying to change that here,” he said.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Veterans of all eras were recognized and honored for their service to the nation during the opening ceremony on July 11, 2019.

Other guest speakers, representing different tribes and organizations, shared their stories of healing over the two-day period, including Gold Star families who were given a special honor at the event. Gold Star families are relatives of service members who have fallen during a conflict.

VA staff members participated in a panel discussion to help answer questions and share information about VA services. VA Portland Health Care System panelist members included Sarah Suniga, Women Veterans Program Manager, Ph.D., and Valdez Bravo, Administrative Director for Primary Care Division. Other panelist members included Kurtis Harris, Assistant Coach Public Contact Team for the VA Portland Regional Office; Jeffrey Applegate, Assistant Director of Willamette National Cemetery; and Kelly Fitzpatrick, Oregon State Department of Veterans Affairs Director.

Additionally, VA Portland Health Care System staff from the My HealtheVet Program and Suicide Prevention team tabled at the event.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

The seventh annual Gathering of Warriors Veterans Summit hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Native Wellness Institute, and VA Office of Tribal Government Relations held July 11-12, 2019 brought together hundreds of individuals from different communities at the Uyxat Powwow Grounds in Grande Ronde, Oregon.

“It’s a great honor to connect with veterans in this community,” said Terry Bentley, Tribal Government Relations Specialist for VA Office of Tribal Relations and member of the Karuk Tribe of California. Bentley has participated in this event since it first started seven years ago. She said she feels privileged to partner with tribal and community organizations to make it all come together and encourages anyone who served in the military or who knows someone who served in the military to participate next year.

“This event is about helping our veterans and encouraging them to come forward to see what’s available,” said Reyn Leno, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, member of Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and past chairman of the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairs Advisory Committee. “Even if we help just one veteran during this event I think that in itself is a success.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Thoughts on how to be a badass military spouse

Being in the military is hard. I served in the military for 13 long years, and I know how demanding and exhausting that job is. But, do you guys want to know what’s hard too?

Being a military spouse.

Being a military spouse comes without a title, without a rank, without the specialized training, and most of all, without the brotherhood that accompanies the life of an armed forces member and that, my friends, is not easy. Out of all the jobs that I have done in my life, and believe me when I say that I have had my share of challenging and insanely stressful jobs, being a military spouse has been, by far, the most difficult one.


I still remember when I became a military spouse 21 years ago. By the time I became Mrs. Morales, I was already a hard-core soldier. A soldier that had been trained to go to war, trained to kill, trained to survive in the most difficult situations, but also trained to save lives. Yes, I was trained to be a combat medic in the Army, a job that I enjoyed doing with all my heart, but one thing the Army never trained me for was becoming a military spouse, which I became when I was just a 20 year old kid.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

U.S. Army Spc. Leo Leroy gets a kiss from Regina Leroy and a bow-wow welcome from dogs Yoshi and Bruiser at a homecoming ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 28, 2009.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sharla Lewis)

My friend, the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, asked me once how it felt to be a military spouse, especially during war time. When she asked me that, I realized that, as much as I wanted to tell her how it felt, I didn’t have the words to express all I wanted to say, so I froze, and after a while, she changed the topic and I never got the chance to give her an answer to her difficult question. But, now that I think about it, I do have an answer.

Military spouses come from all backgrounds, and all of us characterize ourselves as strong individuals who are not only capable of running a household by ourselves, but who are also experts at making miracles out of nothing. I’m sure that most military spouses out there will agree with me. But, those of you who are not military spouses may be thinking, what’s wrong with that? Well, let me tell you.

Have you ever been in a position where being strong is the only choice you have even when your entire world is collapsing on top of you? Well, that’s what military spouses do every single day, and the difference between our service members and us is that, we don’t get trained for such challenging job. We are just expected to perform the job and move on.

As a soldier, I had many great and challenging experiences, but nothing could ever compare to living at home as a military spouse. There were many times when my husband was overseas when I questioned my commitment to the military, and no, I don’t mean my commitment as a soldier, I questioned my commitment as a military spouse.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Capt. Lucas Frokjer, officer in charge of the flightline for Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, reunites with his family after returning from a seven-month deployment with HMH-463.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Jacob Barber)

I still remember the time when my husband was sent to West Africa for 18 months. Those 18 months were the longest 18 months of my life. At that time, I was not only serving in the military myself, but I immediately became the sole caregiver of three children, who needed my full attention and my full support, but three children who also used to go to bed, every single day, crying because they didn’t know when or if their father was going to come home again.

How did I survive those 18 months under those circumstances, you may ask? Well, let me tell you; I became a functional zombie. A zombie who was able to keep three children alive, keep a household running while serving in the military herself, but most important of all, able to stay strong amid all the challenges that came into her life during those 18 months. Challenges that I had zero control over them, but that I knew I had to overcome not only for the well-being of my children, but also for the sake of my marriage. And again, that’s a job I was never trained for.

The bottom-line is, Marielys the soldier was a very strong individual, but Marielys the military spouse had to be even stronger. I wasn’t trained for this job, but I did it proudly so that my husband could go and serve his country without having to worry about anything other than the mission he was assigned to do. And for that, I can proudly say that I am not only an Army veteran, but I was also A Badass Military Spouse.

Marielys Camacho-Reyes formerly served for 13 years in the US Army, first as a Combat Medic and later on as a Human Resources Manager. She also served in the US Army for 21 years as a Badass Army Wife. She is currently a stay home mom and a member of the Vet Voices Program in Central FL.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

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