Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

“Mom, I just picked a few basil leaves from my garden to add to the pasta frittata that I’m making for dinner tonight,” 12-year-old Maria Francesca tells her mother Sofia, who has just come back from the hospital where she received treatment for the cancer she was diagnosed with in 2019. The extra-virgin olive oil was slowly warming up in a pan on the stove, and the military preteen was in her element, busy whisking a few ingredients in a bowl: eggs, freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and a pinch of salt. 

“I love how humble this dish is,” explains Maria as she pours the mixture over spaghetti cooked al dente. “It was born in my mother’s hometown of Naples, southern Italy. People were poor back then, especially after the Second World War, and had to make do with what they had, so they would use leftover pasta and mix it with basic ingredients to make a rich meal — they didn’t waste anything and they often raised chickens and made their own cheese. I find that inspiring.” 

The comforting and ambrosial smell of lightly fried egg, melted cheese, and homemade tomato sauce engulfs the kitchen in their home in Prince George County, Va. A few minutes later, Maria skillfully flips the frittata to let the savory thin crust form on the other side. 

When ready, she gently turns it over on a large plate and places the vibrantly green basil leaves that add a fragrant smell to the dish. 

“Dinner’s ready!” she proudly proclaims, making sure to serve a big portion to her mother, whose appetite has been reduced by heavy medication. The genuine smile on Maria Francesca’s face conveys all the love she poured into this dinner in the hope that the flavorful meal would invite her mother to eat. And judging by Sofia’s empty plate and a hand on her tummy full from the rich meal, Maria has more than succeeded. 

“My passion for cooking started when I was about 4 years old,” she explains. “I used to carefully observe my mom as she prepared delicious meals and soon began to imitate her.” It didn’t take long for Maria to learn the secrets of the trade and to perfect her recipes and techniques. On birthdays and Christmases, she’d ask for new cooking utensils and recipe books. 

“Cooking also helped me improve my grades in school,” she recalls as she proudly shows her newest kitchen addition: Thermomix 6, which she had asked her parents for as her graduation gift. “In sixth grade, I had trouble with math and cooking helped me understand weights and measurements.”

Since her mother’s diagnosis, cooking has taken on a much more prominent role in Maria’s life, as she uses her culinary skills to channel her emotions while creating a safe and secure space that allows her to tune out talks about medical checkups, treatments and, more recently, statistics about an ever-growing pandemic. “Cooking takes away my sadness,” she admits. “Making delicious food that my loved ones can enjoy brings me joy.” 

For Maria, cooking and learning about food is a way of life. An avid and expert hunter—she shot and killed her first hog at the age of 7—a patient and skillful fisherwoman, and a loving gardener, this talented military kid can do it all and, even though she credits mostly her mother for showing her the ropes of homemade cooking, it is her active duty father who first taught her how to hunt and fish. 

Within a matter of years, the student has become the master. “I recently taught my mother how to make pesto,” Maria says with a soft giggle. And even though her savory dishes are exquisite, her desserts are legendary, which is why she is often asked to bake birthday cakes and sweet treats even for large gatherings at school. 

As for the future, this talented military kid with a gentle soul hopes to one day make it to “MasterChef Junior”. “I’ll be sure to use my secret ingredient,” she says. “Love.”

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“Making delicious food that my loved ones can enjoy brings me joy.”

– Maria Francesca

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

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5 little reasons why getting married on active duty sucks

When I was a young, motivated recruit at Parris Island, my drill instructor stood behind a stack of foot lockers assembled into a podium. “This is the most important period of instruction of your life,” he said with a thousand-yard stare. What were we talking about?

“Marriage.”

For an unknown amount of time, we sat there, listening to passionate warnings from our most-feared mentor. He recited romantic tragedies that gave Greek myths a run for their money. Afterwards, he gave the obligatory lesson on the administrative process of enrolling your new family for benefits.

Today, I pass those words of traumatic wisdom onto you, the young, love-struck recruit.


Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Happens in every branch. (Mark Baker)

1. Deployments don’t get easier, you get tougher

Marines are tough — and they need an equally tough spouse to weather the storm of deployments. We’re the tip of the spear, and you need to make sure that’s what your spouse bargained for.

Some deployments are shorter than others and they involve varying degrees of danger — but they don’t easier. You need someone that, when the going gets tough, they get tougher. But it’ll always suck.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
“But you said you wanted to travel, babe!” (Julie L. Negron)

 

2. You’re not getting out of work, you’re doing different work

Some troops use their marriage as a way to get out of work, and there’s nothing single troops can do but watch them put on those already-sharp skates and get out of dodge — but it’s not all free time and rainbows on the other side.

I had a master gunnery sergeant who referred to his wife as the ‘sergeant major’ of the house. When you’re single, can you just pack your stuff in your car and hit the road. Married Marines, however, have much more red tape to navigate.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
At least you don’t have to police call at 0530 now.
(Terminal Lance)

3. You’ll miss being a degenerate

Gone are the days of actionable intel from the Lance Corporal Underground, last-minute trips to a bar crawl, and the spontaneous brawls between Alpha company and Charlie company.

Sure, you might not miss the part where the Big Green Weenie conducts acts of terror. You won’t miss random formations, the duty needing something or drunk people breaking your stuff, but you will miss time with the boys.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

4. Everyone knows your secrets

Your spouse needs friends. Naturally, the spouses of your friends are the first round draft picks. They can keep each other informed on what your unit is doing, important dates and if you’re being delayed.

In a way, it’s convenient. Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to speak with your loved one, he or she knows why, and won’t worry. However, that’s not the only thing they’ll talk about. Assume nothing is sacred. Susie and Kelly know your secrets in and out of the bedroom. OPSEC or the whole unit will know your search history, too.

5. Contract marriages are, uh… flimsy

A contract marriage is when two people fall in love — for money. The Big Green Weenie and the law’s blue version will hold hands while they unceremoniously wreck your life. Not only is it illegal to marry someone for the increased pay and benefits, but your spouse will inevitably betray you.

Before your first deployment is over, your house will be sold, your truck will be gone, and they’ll upload a video wearing your favorite shirt that can’t be shown on YouTube.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

When Toni Gross stood at the entrance of the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen, she had no idea what to expect.

The previous hours were a blur, filled with grief and disbelief. It was July 2011, and she and her husband and daughter learned that Army Cpl. Frank Gross, their only son and brother, had been killed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan.


He was 25. And just like that, a mere few weeks into deployment, he was gone.

“We were just numb,” Toni Gross said.

The day after learning of Frank’s death, the Grosses traveled from Oldsmar, Florida to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, expecting to stay at “some place like a Hampton Inn” for the dignified transfer of Frank’s body. But instead, just across the street from the runway, they spent 24 hours at the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen — a house created by Fisher House Foundation specifically for loved ones of those who have fallen through combat.

“It was a wonderfully comforting experience, and everything we could possibly think of— all of our needs, food, everything — was taken care of,” Toni Gross said. “We were able to spend time focusing on why we were there: grieving the loss of our son.”

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

That’s exactly what the chairman and CEO of Fisher House wants to hear. Ken Fisher is a third-generation leader of one of America’s most successful family-owned real estate development and management companies, but he is also expressly passionate about honoring veterans while assisting their families.

The foundation offers several programs to support military families through critical times, like the Hero Miles program and a scholarship program for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans. In 2019 alone, more than 32,000 families were served, according to its website.

There are 87 Fisher Houses located on 25 military installations and 38 VA medical centers, with several more in the works. Run by the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., each Fisher House provides free lodging for military families whose loved ones are receiving medical treatment nearby.

The Fisher House at Dover, however, is special for many reasons, Fisher says, because “it was built to honor the ultimate sacrifices of those who wear the uniform.”

Those who stay there aren’t waiting for a recovery but a goodbye to their airman, soldier, Marine, sailor or Coastie.

“I think the Fisher House at Dover does more than just provide lodging,” Fisher said. “It’s important that these families who have made the ultimate sacrifice understand that there are Americans that are very grateful.”

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

The Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Photo Roland Balik.

Built in just a few months in 2010, the Fisher House at Dover is equipped with nine guest suites that have seen approximately 3,700 guests since its opening. The average length of stay is 24 to 48 hours, with a typical family consists of six to 10 members.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Johnson watches over each one. As house manager, it’s her job to make sure each guest has every need — and every want —taken care of.

One family with small children, for example, stayed at the house over Halloween. Staff members purchased costumes and took them trick-or-treating. Another time, they cooked a traditional holiday dinner for a family receiving their loved one’s body over Christmas.

“[These families] are experiencing a very difficult point in their lives, and grieving comes in different ways, so we make sure the Fisher House staff members takes care of those families,” Johnson said. “Giving them the care that they need and providing them with any comfort required.”

Toni Gross’ experience with staff members made such an impact that she now volunteers regularly at a Fisher House in Florida. Similarly, Ken Fisher, whose 87-year-old father served in the Korean War, calls the houses his “passion.”

“The House at Dover is particularly relevant as we approach Memorial Day, even while we’re in the grip of a pandemic,” he said. “In the end, we can never ever forget what has been done, what has been given to us, this freedom. That what we hold most dear above everything else — that came at a cost.”

And for families who have experienced that cost, like Toni Gross, it is “comforting” to have a place of refuge during such a difficult time.

“My family and I are grateful to the Fisher House Foundation for our stay at Dover Air Force Base. While it was a solemn time, it was comforting to know that the staff there all understood why we were there and were able to accommodate us during our darkest hours,” Gross said.

Visit https://fisherhouse.org/programs/houses/house-locations/delaware-fisher-house-for-families-of-the-fallen/ to learn more about Fisher House programs and services.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Pompeo warns Taliban against attacking U.S. troops

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held a video conference call with the Taliban during which the top U.S. diplomat warned the insurgents against attacking American troops in Afghanistan, the Department of State says.

A statement said Pompeo and the Taliban’s Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on June 29 discussed implementation of a February agreement between Washington and the militants.


Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

“The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Earlier, the Taliban said Baradar reaffirmed during the call the group’s commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated a pledge not to strike U.S. forces.

The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain his actions after being reportedly told that Russian spies last year had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.

The White House has said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified and were not deemed credible actionable intelligence.

U.S. – Taliban deal

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Taliban deal is at a critical stage at a time violence in Afghanistan has continued since a three-day cease-fire at the end of May. The Afghan National Security Council said June 30 that, since February, the Taliban had on average staged 44 attacks per day on Afghan security forces.

Under the accord, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July. If the rest of the deal goes through, all U.S. and other foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-2021.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops.

Subsequent reports by The New York Times and Washington Post reported several American soldiers may have died last year as a result of the bounties.

In particular, U.S. officials are investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

At the time of the attack, the Defense Department identified those killed as Marine Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman, Sergeant Benjamin Hines, and Corporal Robert Hendriks.

The Taliban and the Department of State did not specifically say whether Pompeo and Baradar spoke about the report.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a series of tweets that the two sides discussed “foreign troop withdrawal, prisoner release, start of intra-Afghan dialogue, and reduction in [military] operations.”

“We are committed to starting inter-Afghan talks, as we have said before, but delays in the release of prisoners have delayed inter-Afghan talks,” Shaheen tweeted, referring to a pledge by Afghan authorities to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition to start the negotiations.

Baradar “noted that according to the agreement, we will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the security of the United States and other countries,” he also wrote.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

A retired airman met her sister for the first time at the Warrior Games

She’s competing in track and field and indoor rowing, but medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Karah Behrend couldn’t concentrate on training for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

For the first time, Behrend was going to meet her 19-year-old biological sister, Crystal Boyd, who lives in Puyallup, Washington.

After training, Behrend anxiously waited until she was whisked off to the hotel for the meeting, which she said was surreal.

“I have been picturing this moment for a long time and for it to finally happen, I couldn’t be happier,” Behrend said. “We keep in touch through social media but we’re trying to make plans for me to meet our dad and have them meet my family.”


“I’ve been extremely excited but I knew it would happen sometime. I just didn’t know when,” Boyd said. “Throughout the time I’ve known her, she’s gone through so much and watching her overcome everything right in front of my eyes, in person here at the DoD Warrior Games, is an honor. She’s always had the strength and now she’s going out and doing what we all knew she could do. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Karah Behrend prepares to throw discus during the 2018 DoD Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 2, 2018. The sisters met for the first time in person at the games.
(DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

Boyd said she also can’t wait to meet Behrend’s family. “We’ve already talked about me visiting her and her family in Texas,” she said. “I’m excited to meet my nieces.”

Call to Service

Claiming Gilford, Connecticut, and Bradenton, Florida, as her hometowns, Behrend, 24, said she grew up moving around as a kid. She was adopted when she was four years old by an Army Ranger.


“My brother and I were adopted because when my biological dad got back from Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he wasn’t really the same person. So my mom spilt with him pretty rapidly to get us out of the situation,” she said. “As my mom told me about him, I was like, ‘I need to meet him. This is half of me. I don’t know who he is.’ We somehow got in contact with him. I think through his sister randomly. I talked to him for two hours that night and found out I had a sister.”

“Our dad told me about her and our brother while growing up, so I always knew about her. I just didn’t know her. She actually got in contact with me. I never knew how to find her so I just waited,” Boyd said.

Behrend said she’s tried to meet up with her sister a few times throughout the years, but it’s been difficult since she has been in the Air Force for the past six years.

Shared Service

Behrend said she joined the Air Force as a communications signals analyst because of her family’s military legacy. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “My grandfather served during the Vietnam era. My biological father was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My adopted dad was a Ranger down in Panama for the Panama crisis. It’s just something our family does.”

When Behrend reconnected with her biological dad, she said they had that military bond. “It was an immediate, talk about everything bond,” she said. “I can call him and say, ‘This is going on; what do I do?’ He tries; we’ve been working on rebuilding that relationship. He said he will always be thankful that someone was able to come in and step into our lives to make sure we’re OK.”

In 2015, Behrend had a surgical complication that resulted in reflex sympathetic dystrophy. She said the neurological disorder impacts her involuntary functions such as temperature control, blood pressure, heart rate, pain, inflammation, swelling and other functions that a person doesn’t actively control. When she runs, she said she feels like her leg will go out from under her.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Karah Behrend, right, and her sister Crystal Boyd pose for a photo at the 2018 Defense Department Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 2, 2018.
(DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

“It causes a lot of pain, instability and weakness in my right leg,” she said. “I also had a spinal injury from a car accident so it messes with my left one too.”

Her sister has epilepsy. Behrend said her disability is rare but since both of their disabilities are neurological, it’s an extra bond they can share and talk about.

Behrend has two little children as well as her sister to keep her motivated. “I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that if something happens, you just stop your entire life,” she said. “It’s not what life it about. Life it experiences. I don’t even see them as positive or negative anymore. Just experience it. It pushes me in one way or another but I grow.”

She encourages others to push themselves as well. “It doesn’t matter how early or late something happens or what he magnitude is. As long as you do it with all of your heart and you put everything you have into it, no matter what, it’s going to work,” she said passionately.

“Just because you have some kind of disability doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it,” Boyd said. “You can’t allow it to stop you from doing the things you want to do and the things you want to do. Even with obstacles, you can overcome whatever you truly put your mind to. Neither Karah nor I let our disorders define us. It’s a part of us, but it is not us.”

DoD Warrior Games

So far at these Warrior Games, Behrend has earned gold medals in her disability category in the women’s discus and shot put competitions. She broke a record in shot put in her category.

Boyd said she’s inspired not only by her sister but by the athletes at her first games.

“Watching everyone here inspires me,” she said. “These athletes decided to serve our nation, and even after they’ve been injured in some way they still continue to serve by inspiring everyone around them.”

Boyd added, “Even though you have a disability, it doesn’t define you. With a good support system, anything is possible. As long as you put your mind to it, give some effort and trust those around you, things will start moving. Don’t forget things take time. Don’t stress if things don’t happen as fast as you want them to.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Elizabeth Dole Foundation competition proves ‘military kids have talent’

A virtual competition gave military kids the opportunity to show off their talents in the wake of ongoing closures and cancellations from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation hosted an inaugural talent contest that allowed military kids “a chance to have fun sharing their special talents,” Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, stated in a press release. Military kids from across the country submitted recordings of performances including solo and group vocal performances, dance performances, and comedy.

Organizers of the event say the idea came after sourcing input from caregivers.


“A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to survey our community of military caregivers to see what it was they needed during this time,” Austin Courtney, Director of Communications for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, said.

At the top of list of needs was personal protective equipment, but the foundation was surprised by what came next according to the survey results.

“We found our community was looking for ways to keep spirits up, to keep their families entertained; they said they needed something to look forward to,” Courtney said.

The foundation took that feedback and got to work, coming up with “Military Kids Have Talent” — a spin on the popular TV show.

“In the midst of COVID-19, so many special moments have been canceled — from dance recitals, school concerts and sporting events to graduation ceremonies, celebrations and other major milestones. Our kids have been going through an especially tough time, so we wanted to create this opportunity for them to share their talents virtually,” Courtney said.

The foundation began accepting video talent submissions earlier this year, receiving more than 200 videos from nearly all 50 states. And the talents featured in those videos were just about as diverse. In addition to singers, dancers and pianists, the group had wide variety of unique submissions.

“We had stand-up comedians, puppeteers, actors performing monologues, harmonica players, artists who created wonderful paintings on video, even a young chef showing off his cooking skills,” Courtney explained.

The foundation narrowed those submissions down to 36 amongst five age categories and produced a special episode featuring actor Jocko Sims as the host of the online event.

After the episode went live, friends, family and fans had two weeks to vote via text for their favorite talent. Voting Winners were selected in five age categories.

“It brought people together virtually in these times when we can’t be together in person,” Courtney said.

That was the case for Addyson Tabankin of Clifton Hills, New York. The 10-year-old pianist, who’s been playing for five years, won her age group.

“I like playing songs from movies and musicals,” Addyson said.

Addyson’s dad is deployed to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and has been away from home since January.

“Normally, during a deployment, we’re able to get out and do things to help make the time pass, but COVID-19 has made that tough,” Addyson’s mom, Jenn, said.

But because the talent competition was virtual, dad watched Addyson perform, despite being more than 6,000 miles from home.

“I think it’s really great that they took this opportunity to acknowledge the kids, and who are probably having a harder time than usual during this pandemic,” she added.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

Kormeri Sohui Jones, 8, of Enterprise, Ala., played the piano in the competition. (Military Families)

For Kormeri Sohui Jones, 8, of Enterprise, Alabama, much of the draw was the opportunity to compete.

Despite only playing the piano for eight months, Kormeri has already entered state and local piano competitions.

“She’s a competitor, she’s got that competitive spirit, and when I saw there was going to be a military kids talent contest, I thought it was fitting that she at least try it,” Kormeri’s dad, Willie, a retired Army military police officer said.

Kormeri admits she prefers performing and competing over practicing, and plans to enter the contest again.

“It was a stiff competition, and all I want to say is good luck next year!”

Additional age category winners included:

  • Wyatt, Shane, Luke, Heidi Winchester (6 and under) – Fayetteville, North Carolina (dance)
  • Raegan Lawson (12-14) – Greenwood, Indiana (singing)
  • Cameron Davis (15-18) – Jacksonville, North Carolina (singing)

While nothing is concrete, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation hopes this is the first of many future “Military Kids Have Talent” contests.

“The foundation will do everything it can to do this again next year. We saw how much joy it brought to these kids. And it brought so much joy to us, to be able to give kids a reason to smile right now,” Courtney said.

However, even if the world is in a place where gathering together is safe, an in-person talent competition still may not be practical.

“Military kids live all over the world, and we want as many kids as possible to participate, so we see this event remaining virtual.”

Follow the Elizabeth Dole Foundation on Facebook for information on resources and future events.

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


MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Space Force is heading on deployment – to the Arabian Desert

It’s easy to joke about the Space Force. From their ridiculous motto to their seal, it seems like the leadership for America’s newest military branch is just asking to be the butt of jokes. Space Force is the sixth branch of our military and the first new branch since the Air Force’s creation way back in 1947. At least the Air Force had a precursor (the Army Air Corps) and a definite need. With the Space Force, we’re not so sure.

We’re no closer to getting personnel on the moon than we were back in 1947, and it seems like everyone from Netflix to Star Trek is getting in on the jokes.


Now Space Force just made it a whole lot easier.

In September, a squadron of 20 airmen deployed for Space Force’s first foreign deployment – all the way to far off distant Dubai, UAE. The squad was sworn in as Space Force recruits at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, becoming the military’s newest first foreign deployed trips. What makes this swearing-in unique is that all 20 squad members were already searching overseas with the Air Force. The group of enlisted and commissioned Airmen assigned to the 16th Expeditionary Space Control Flight and the 609th Air Operations Center was deployed to Qatar. With their swearing-in comes a new uniform and a new place to call home for a while.

Air Force Col. Todd Benson, director of Space Forces of US Air Forces CENTCOM, said that the group was making history as the 20 members officially switched branches from the Air Force to the Space Force. The ceremony officially transferred Space Operations and Airmen in core space career fields, including space operations and space system operations. In the future, ceremonies will induct professions in common career fields like acquisitions, intelligence, engineering fields, and cybersecurity.

According to a press release, the squad has been stationed in the UAE as part of support for combat operations.

During the swearing-in ceremony at Al Udeid, the newest Space Force personnel were flanked by American flags and massive satellites. Soon more will join the “core space operators” to help run satellites, track enemy maneuvers, and avoid conflicts that happen in space.

Benson reiterated that the missions aren’t new, and neither are the personnel. But what is new is the price tag. The force is expected to grow to at least 16,000 troops by 2021 and have a budget of 15.4 billion. Some leadership worries this entire project is a vanity push for President Trump ahead of next month’s election, though there’s no conclusive evidence to support that.

The growing concerns over the weaponization of outer space are conversations that senior military leaders have been having for decades. As outer space ownership becomes increasingly contested, many cite the need to have a space corps devoted specifically to American interests.

Of course, military presence in the Middle East is nothing new. We’ve been there in some capacity for generations.

But according to historians, the Middle East might just be where the first “space war” was actually fought – that is, if you’re willing to accept the use of a satellite-based GPS mission as a “space war.” During the 1991 Desert Storm operation, US troops used satellites to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, making military history in the process.

Since the 1991 use of satellites in combat, threats from global agitators have grown. In his briefing welcoming the newest personnel, Benson declined to name the “aggressive” nations the Space Force will monitor and track. Unsurprisingly, the decision to deploy the Space Force to the UAE comes just months after the ramp-up of tensions between the US and Iran.

The 16th Space Control Flight, part of the 21st Operations Group, was operational from 1967 until 1994. It was reactivated in 2007, and its mission is to protect critical satellite communication links to detect, characterize, and report sources of electromagnetic interference.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Former homeless spouse now aids others in same situation

An Army spouse has found her purpose after overcoming homelessness and creating her own organization that gives back.

When Marla Bautista was 18 years old, she was thrown out of her home by her abusive step-father with only a trash bag of clothes and a teddy bear that belonged to her deceased mother. For almost two years she lived a transient lifestyle staying in shelters, with friends and on the streets. It was the generosity of a local Catholic church that changed the trajectory of Bautista’s life.


“There were volunteers who handed out sandwich bags with hygiene items and they didn’t want anything from us. It was just ‘this is for you because you need it.’ And that was something that truly touched my heart. I promised myself that if I ever overcame that situation of homelessness that I would do the same,” she said.

Bautista and her husband, Staff Sgt. Ulisses Bautista, started serving their community as a family in 2011 and would later become The Bautista Project Inc. They began by using their own funds to distribute meals and hygiene bags for the homeless. Their nonprofit now provides basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, veterans services and community resources for reintegration.

The impact they’ve created near their assigned duty stations has fostered an environment where the homeless can feel like they belong. With this, PCS’ing affects the Bautistas differently.

“Every time we move, we feel like we are leaving a community behind,” she said. But due to the vast amount of homeless in the U.S., there is always a new part of the community to impact.

In the state of Florida alone there are over 28,000 homeless Americans, of which 1500 are local to Hillsborough County in Tampa where the Bautistas currently reside. Although homelessness in America has decreased by 12% since 2007, according to the National Society to End Homelessness, there are still over 567,000 homeless people in the US.

The Bautistas have served the homeless population in Germany, Colorado Springs, New York and now Tampa.

Within a week of PCS’ing to south Florida, they were volunteering in a shelter.

“We have to reintegrate ourselves in that new community,” she adds.

Consistency matters. Her entire family goes out twice a month with meals and care packages, and instead of giving and going, they sit and interact with the locals in need. They get to know them and eventually build friendships.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

In 2018 Bautista, with a desire to do more, began reaching out to her fellow military spouses and Facebook friends. With their help, her nonprofit has been able to provide winter jackets, gift a color printer to a shelter, create a small library of free books, raise funds to host a Christmas party at a homeless shelter getting what she calls “real gifts” for the attendees and shelter volunteers and distribute disposable masks. They also continue to collect uniforms to make belonging blankets for homeless youth in group homes or shelter setting.

The Army has been a vehicle allowing them to help in different parts of the world and Bautista’s husband shares her passion for giving to those in need, including homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that as of January 2019 there were 37,085 homeless veterans in the U.S.

Bautista doesn’t judge any of them. “We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It just looks different for everyone,” she said.

One simple thing that she says anyone can do to start giving back is to purchase four gift cards at an essentials store or fast-food restaurants.

“That’s just and you can hand those out,” she says, adding that something this small can provide a meal for a person and the act can change their life.

To donate to The Bautista Project Inc. visit www.thebautistaprojectinc.org. You can purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist or donate directly to their nonprofit.

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


Humor

6 awesome ways troops celebrate the holidays in Afghanistan

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are a few of the biggest holidays we collectively celebrate here in the states.


However, when you deploy to the front lines of Afghanistan, those special holidays can feel like a normal working day — but troops still find ways to celebrate.

Related: The top 8 ways to throw an epic barracks party

So check out six awesome ways troops celebrate the holidays in Afghanistan:

6. We hold gaming competitions

We may not have the latest X-box or Playstation, but we compete at whatever games we have laying around — even if we suck at them.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Soldiers playing Risk.

5. Make an awesome cake from a combination of MRE goodies

Not bad, right? All of the ingredients come from what we collect from our MREs.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
We really know how to bake a cake on the front lines.

Just kidding! It looks more like this:

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Real MRE cake. It still looks as good, right?

We pretend that it’s gourmet, though.

4. We slaughter and eat goat meat with the Afghan Army guys

We’re not going to show you how we go about killing our holiday dinner, just know that it’s tasty. Sharing meals really does bring people together.

3. Chemical light raves

Pro-tip for all my forward-deployed friends: crack the capsule and wait until the light is at its brightest, then spin those suckers around to create a cool curtain of lights. It’s a solid way to celebrate and forget you’re far away from home.

It’s also totally tactical.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
Think about getting some for your next deployment party.

2. Playing improv musical instruments

It’s amazing how good a homemade guitar actually sounds.

thyago phyllip Melo, YouTubeNote: This isn’t an Afghan homemade guitar, but it’s close enough to get the point.

Also Read: These 5 military leaders knew how to win wars and party hardy

1. We gather around a laptop for movie-night.

We may not have tons of holiday movies to choose from, but we make it work.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

Merry Christmas from your friends at We Are The Mighty. And to everyone deployed, stay safe out there and come home soon.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Anticipating a global showdown with China, Esper announces historic Naval buildup

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced a sweeping buildup of America’s Navy to oppose the rising threat from China, calling for more ships as well as the adoption of new technologies and doctrines.

Speaking at the Rand Corp. on Wednesday, Esper called for the US Navy to increase its fleet size from today’s 293 ships to more than 355 by the year 2045 as part of a comprehensive modernization plan called “Future Forward.” This revamped naval force will comprise a bigger fleet of smaller ships, including surface ships and submarines that are unmanned, manned, and autonomous. The buildup will also comprise additional unmanned, carrier-based aircraft.


In addition to that quantitative increase, which will cost tens of billions of dollars, Esper is also calling for the Navy and Marine Corps to adopt new warfighting technologies and doctrines to counter novel threats from China.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper delivers remarks at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, California, Sept. 16, 2020. DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando, courtesy of DVIDS.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon published a report underscoring that China now wields the world’s largest navy with some 350 ships and submarines at its disposal. Beijing aims to complete its crash-course military modernization program by 2035, with plans to field a “world-class” military by 2049, Esper said. To that end, China is building new aircraft carriers, unmanned submarines, and missile systems and is expanding its nuclear arsenal.

“I want to make clear that China cannot match the United States when it comes to naval power. Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the [People’s Republic of China] years to close the gap when it comes to our capability on the high seas,” Esper said, adding: “Ship numbers are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.”

However, the secretary said the US needs to invest in new technologies — artificial intelligence, or AI, in particular — to maintain its qualitative edge over China’s growing military might.

“Today, we are at another inflection point, one where I believe unmanned technologies, AI, and long-range precision weapons will play an increasingly leading role. The US military, including the Navy, must lean into that future as the character of warfare changes,” Esper said.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

Royal Australian navy, Republic of Korea navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, and United States Navy warships sail in formation during the Pacific Vanguard 2020 exercise in the Pacific Ocean, Sept. 11, 2020. Official Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force photo by Lt. Mark Langford, courtesy of DVIDS.

Esper said that the US faces threats from both Russia and China. But the secretary also underscored that, in the long run, China was the bigger strategic threat to America’s global dominance, as well as an existential threat to the US homeland.

“Clearly when you look at Russia compared to China, China’s vast population, its resources, it’s this strength, the dynamism of its economy, we see that as a … much greater long-term challenge,” Esper said.

The Pentagon has created a Defense Policy office on China, and established a China Strategy Management Group. Esper said he had instructed the National Defense University to dedicate half of its coursework to China. And all military services have made China the overarching threat guiding the direction of their training and other educational programs.

“These are just a few of our efforts to focus attention on our priority theater, the Indo-Pacific,” Esper said. “Not only is this region important because it is a hub of global trade and commerce, it is also the epicenter of great power competition with China.”

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

An F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the Dambusters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 launches from the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) on the Philippine Sea, Sept. 12, 2020. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer, courtesy of DVIDS.

The Pentagon needs to reform its acquisitions program, tighten its budget, and build up its industrial base to sustain the long-term effort necessary to counter China’s rise. Such an endeavor will be difficult to justify, however, in the absence of a conflict, many experts say.

Nevertheless, earlier this year, the Navy awarded a 5 million contract to purchase the first ship of a new class of guided missile frigates — with an option to purchase nine more totaling nearly .6 billion.

“This is the first new major shipbuilding program the Navy has sought in more than a decade,” Esper said, adding that trials are ongoing on a 132-foot-long trimaran drone called the Sea Hunter, which can autonomously patrol for enemy submarines for more than two months at a time.

Esper’s quarter-century naval buildup, while ambitious, pales in comparison with what the US was able to accomplish during World War II.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the US into the war, the US Navy mustered 790 total ships. During the period from 1941 to 1945, US shipyards produced thousands of new vessels. Total US Navy ships numbered 6,768 by August of 1945, according to Pentagon records. That number dropped to 1,248 by June 1946.

To defeat the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan ordered a peacetime naval buildup from 530 to 597 ships in the period from 1980 to 1987.

“We must stay ahead; we must retain our overmatch; and we will keep building modern ships to ensure we remain the world’s greatest navy,” Esper said.

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

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

5 tips to teach your military kid about money

Teaching kids about money can be a daunting task. Here are five ways to teach your military kid about money and give your child a good financial foundation.


Start with financial literacy 

From understanding coin values to the finer points of investing, ensuring your kids are financially literate is a good starting point. Make discussions about money part of your routine, even with small children, and add children’s books about money into your bedtime reading to teach five concepts: earning, spending, saving, investing and generosity.

Personal finance guru Dave Ramsey offers practical tips to teach kids of every age, from putting young kids’ savings in a glass jar so they can watch it grow, to helping teens set a budget and open a bank account. For older children, the Council for Economic Education’s offers lesson plans that can be done at home. Generation Wealthy breaks down more complex topics for teenagers with videos and free resources for budgeting, bill paying and tracking spending.

Making choices with money 

Ramsey advocates teaching ‘opportunity cost’ starting in elementary school – the idea that you have a finite amount of money, and you must make choices about how to spend it.

With our young kids, we frame choices in ways they’ll understand. If we buy candy at the store now, it takes money away from a toy they’re hoping for later.

Having the discussion each time a choice comes up lets kids be part of money decisions, sometimes in unexpected ways. Our six-year-old son reminded us we had groceries at home one night my husband and I were exhausted and planned to order takeout, and we ended up making a pizza we had in our freezer instead of ordering a delivery.

Set family savings goals 

Once kids understand opportunity cost, set goals as a family for what you’d like to save toward, and include your kids in the planning and payoff. Each PCS is an opportunity for a fresh start to teach your military kid about money.

During our time stationed in Japan, many families with older kids worked together to save toward trips through Asia. Their kids handled budgeting, comparing prices on plane tickets and hotels to find deals, and came up with creative ways to earn and save to meet their goal. For our family’s next move to coastal Norfolk, Va., we’re saving as a team toward a paddleboard.

Make sure spending aligns with your values 

After your kids understand the basics of how money works, teach them to make wise choices with it.

If you donate to charity, make donation decisions as a family. As you change duty stations, find local ways to give so they can visit personally and see the difference their time and money can make.

Give kids a chance to learn 

From tried-and-true businesses like lemonade stands and summer lawn-care services, running a small business gives kids first-hand experience in the value of dollars and the hard work it takes to earn them.

Deployments are a great opportunity for teenagers to step up with babysitting and ‘parent helper’ services that keep younger kids occupied during the dreaded witching hours. If you live on base, check the rules about private businesses, and let your kids follow their interests – crafty kids might find great satisfaction in selling their handiwork on Etsy and talented bakers might earn extra cash from a birthday cake business.

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

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Heroes Linked connects veterans with jobs, resources

In this time of Covid, many veterans have been on the job hunt and have had to adapt to the changing job climate. Layoffs, restructuring, furloughs, pay cuts, and other corporate moves have made life a bit rough for many in the workforce. A lot of veterans, whether they have just separated or have been out for a while have been looking at ways to keep ahead of the economic downturn.

It’s not easy but there is a great resource you can use.


Heroes Linked is a site that gives veterans a chance to link up and get advice from mentors in the field they work in or want to work in. You can get advice on resumes, how to approach a job interview, what skills you need to work on or obtain, or just meet someone that will be your in for the job of your dreams.

We Are The Mighty talked to David Tenenbaum who is a Director and Advisor for Heroes Linked.

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking

David served as an Air Force Captain from 2001-2007. He joined before 9/11 and was an aviator who flew recon missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. “When I got out, I had a pilot’s license and master, but no transition plan and no idea where to go or what to do,” David told us. He started his own business during the recession. His business model wasn’t lucrative.

That led to him pulling up his pants and headed to LA. David worked for We Are the Mighty for a big as our Director of Business Development before going into digital publish and ad operations. He also learned a bit about veteran advocacy and got very involved in helping fellow veterans. Heroes Linked contacted him for help with media services, but his passion for helping veterans led him to become a Director and Advisor for the site.

So, what is all about? Heroes Linked is a non-profit that pairs a veteran with an advisor in that veteran’s field or prospective field. Are you thinking of going into insurance? Heroes Linked will pair you with an advisor that will be your north star when it comes to breaking into the insurance business. Thinking of starting your own company? You will get paired with an entrepreneur that will give you advice that comes from their own success. As David tells us, “The coolest thing is it connects two individuals where they have an environment to have candid conversations about their future”.

Now some of you are probably thinking, that’s great if you are just getting out but what about those of us who have been out for a while?

Well Heroes Linked is for you too. Have you been working in sales for 10 years and struggling to get a promotion? Have you been hating HR and want to move into IT? Heroes Linked will help you connect with the right people, so you have a great place to start, instead of starting your journey blindly. Many of us go to LinkedIn as a way to network. But how many of those connections, do you actually chat with. How many of them engage you and give you great advice?

What if you are a spouse or Gold Star Family member? Heroes Linked is for you too. You just register using id.me and then you unlock all the resources that they have for you.

Heroes Linked was started about six years ago. Folks who were concerned about veteran well beings started fundraisers to help the local veteran communities. After a while, those folks asked, “Instead of raising money for other Veteran Service Organizations, why don’t we help ourselves?” The idea to focus on career development took shape and off it went. Launched five years ago under the MVAT.org umbrella, it took two years for the site to get built. The last three years, it has been up and running and helping everyone from lance corporals to generals with career help.

Yes, you read that right. David told us about a general that signed up as an advisee. When David noticed this, he asked the retired general why he wasn’t an advisor. The general talked about his separation struggles and the need to look outside his own bubble for advice.

And who is giving the advice? Right now, Heroes Linked has about 450 advisors spread around the country. “There are no prerequisites”, David tells us, “We don’t place restrictions on who can be an advisor.” This is a process in shared interest and shared expertise. David explains, “We have CEOs, judges, lawyers, Green Berets, and generals. But we also have guys who got out as E-5s who are business owners who have a ton of experience.”

It’s a great concept that other organizations struggle with understanding. Someone who served as an E-5 in the Air Force might have great advice on how to get a job with a defense contractor that a 22-year Master Sergeant needs. Once a new enrollee signs up, they are matched via computer with their new advisor. There is also a directory where you can search by location, job title or area of expertise.

Advisors can also talk to each other and be advisees as well.

Heroes Linked also offers more than job help. The advice and talks expand to help the veteran with any issues he or she might have. As we all know, our transition and path isn’t just about our job. It is about getting support, having people to talk to, and having people who understand our walk so far. That is another great part about Heroes Linked. You can vent to your advisor about your career, life, finances, your struggle as a vet while getting someone who has walked in your shoes.

David tells us a great story about this. “We had an advisee who was a Marine Corps Major who was working at the State Department. He was looking into launching his own company but lacked confidence and certainty and it was impacting his career. We said, ‘Here are resources that will launch your business as an entrepreneur’ He was able to get advice he needed and start his business. He then shared his venture with the Heroes Linked community and was able to staff his company from the network of the site!”

So what’s next? There are big plans to update the site moving forward. “We are moving to resemble a linked in with a feed. There will be a search, place to upload your resume, and a job board,” David tells us. These changes should launch in the beginning of November. There is also a push to get more advisors. As the job market has changed due to Covid-19, there are a lot of veterans that will need help on finding a new career and navigating these times.

David emphasizes, “I see Heroes linked as this resource that veterans with a lifetime of career development and a platform for well-being.”

Talented military child finds purpose and resiliency through cooking
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Is COVID-19 the slow death of MilSpouse clubs?

Spouse clubs – you either love them or hate them, depending on your experience. Or, you try to stay so far away from them that you’ve yet to form an opinion. They’re ubiquitous with the military spouse experience in some form or fashion, and they’ve been around for a long, long time.

What started as clubs for officers or enlisted wives, spouse clubs were often segregated, rank-based and very snobby. They were the original mean-girls clubs. Despite the petty cattiness, spouse clubs did a lot for their military communities – from fundraisers to unit events and everything in between. But despite their good deeds, many in the military community shied away from spouse  clubs, specifically for their notorious history of vapidness. 

Of course, that wasn’t the spouse clubs’ intent when they first came on the scene. Most originated as a way for spouses to get information about their service member’s unit, like deployment status and information about redeployment. When a unit is deployed, the spouse club serves as a network of information, and before the digital age, that’s the only thing those spouses had.

Now, it’s so much different. Spouse clubs have morphed from being exclusive for officers or enlisted spouses to being inclusive clubs designed to encourage open friendship, communication, and, well, fun. And members of spouse clubs have been doing the real work to help transform these clubs’ public image into something that is more welcoming, less snobby and more familial. 

Over the last two decades that the country has been at war, spouse clubs have served as the heart of military communities, helping to connect spouses during long deployments and ensuring that everyone within a unit has what they need. Spouse clubs work together with units and installations to host large events, which encourages community involvement, which ultimately might help some spouses feel less alone. This is no truer than for spouses whose service member is on heavy rotations in the field or out to see or logging flight time. Now, more than ever, as the military continues to ask more of its personnel, spouse clubs serve as a way to feel connected, part of a larger community, a place to call home. 

At least, that was the direction things were heading until COVID-19 came in and crashed the party. 

The military hasn’t been immune to the cancellation of social events, and that’s no more evident than with social clubs. This spring, as the world ground to a halt, so too did all of the events planned out by milspouses – events designed to raise funds, do good works, and serve as a way to develop a wider sense of community. The remaining two months of the year don’t look any better for these clubs, and many are now looking to cancel all in-person events until at least next summer. That leaves their executive boards scrambling to find ways to keep the club interactive, fun, engaging and ultimately fulfill its mission.

The Capital Area Spouses Club (CAMS) has had to cancel all of its in-person events but is working with various outlets across the world to offer its members virtual tours. In place of its popular breakfasts, the club now offers a virtual coffee once a month where members can come together and “hang out.” CAMS has decided to nix its annual membership dues this year since none of the events will be held in person, though it’s still committed to providing the National Capital Region’s spouses with fun events. In October, the group attended a virtual Jack the Ripper tour in London, thanks in part to technology and the understanding from club members that this year is anything but typical. 

For CAMS and other clubs, the challenge will come not just in adapting to changing conditions but also finding ways to keep spouses engaged and excited about being a club member. But like military spouses, who themselves are resilient, adaptable and incredibly flexible, so too are milspouse clubs. Though the future might not look the same as the iterations of the past, it’s unlikely that the current pandemic conditions will completely nix the spouse club format – but like the rest of us, the format will definitely have to change. 

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