“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.”
“Making delicious food that my loved ones can enjoy brings me joy.”
Quick: Name all the things you miss about active duty. (If you still are active duty, then list all the things that make your life bearable as well as all the things you most hate.) Well, Mat Best and Jarred Taylor want to take you on a quick nostalgia trip through those memories of PT belts, buddies marrying strippers, and policing brass at the range.
You might remember Mat Best from his T-shirt company. Or the coffee company. Or that epic rap battle. Now, he’s dropped a new, soulful music video about how much veterans find themselves missing even the crappy parts of active duty, from the hot portajohn sessions to the mortar attacks to the PT belts. Turn it up loud in whatever cubicle you’re in.
Their new single Can’t Believe We Miss This is all about, well, the things you can’t believe you miss after getting that coveted DD-214. A quick note before you hit play: It’s not safe for younger viewers and only safe for work if your boss is super cool. There’s not nudity or anything, but they both use some words picked up in the barracks.
Oh, and there are a few direct references to how crappy civilian jobs with suit and ties can be, so your boss might not like that either.
But, yeah, the song is like sitting in an ’80s bar sipping drinks with buddies from your old unit, swapping stories about funny stuff like getting stuck on base after someone lost their NVGs and the serious, painful stuff like dudes who got blown up by mortars and IEDs.
And if you think Mat Best and Jarred Taylor skimped on production, then you’ve never seen their epic rap battle. So, yes, there are plenty of drone shots, weapons, and big military hardware like the HMMWV, aka humveee. It’s got more lens flare than a J.J. Abrams marathon and more explosions than Michael Bay’s house on Fourth of July.
And speaking of Independence Day, they dropped the video just in time for you to annoy the crap out of your family and friends with it wherever you’re partying. If you really want to do that but might not have good YouTube access, you can also watch the video on Facebook or buy it on iTunes.
Chantae McMillian Langhorst is an Army spouse of two years, currently stationed in Georgia while her husband trains to be a helicopter pilot. She’s also a mama to one-year-old Otto, Olympic athlete and just won the coveted title of “Titan” for the central region on NBC’s the Titan Games, hosted by “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson.
She’s just a little busy.
Even before her husband decided to join the Army, Langhorst’s life was already deeply rooted in the military. Both of her parents were in the Army when they met, while stationed overseas in Germany. They would go on to serve and retire after 20 years each. Langhorst shared that she absolutely believes being a military kid helped her become more adaptable and independent. She knows those experiences served her well and helped mold her into the person and competitive athlete that she is today.
Langhorst graduated from Rolla High School in Missouri as a track and field athlete. She was also selected as a Nike All American. She received a scholarship to the University of Nebraska and began competing in the heptathlon. During her time in college, she received the coveted title of All-American five times while competing. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art, she was approached by a coach who suggested she continue competing.
This time, in the Olympics.
“One of the best times of my life was learning about myself, how hard I could work and being able to dig deep and figure things out,” said Langhorst. In 2011 while training to compete in the Olympics, she suffered a devastating injury to her patellar-tendon in her knee during a high jump. Although she would never want to go back to that time in her life, Langhorst believes pushing through to heal from that injury to qualify for the Olympics made her a stronger athlete in the end.
Despite that injury, she made the U.S. Olympic team. Although Langhorst didn’t medal, she credits making it to the London 2012 Summer Olympics was one of the greatest achievements of her life.
In 2014, she found herself in Ohio training for the 2016 Olympics. Langhorst became a track and field coach at the University of Dayton. She also met her future husband, who was a sports trainer at the time. In 2015, she was selected for ESPN’s famous body issue. Although she didn’t make it past the trials for the 2016 Olympics, she didn’t give up. Langhorst began exploring the winter Olympics but stopped once she was faced with a surprise.
She was pregnant with little Otto.
Langhorst’s husband had begun the process of joining the Army and knowing that little Otto was on the way, they were even more excited for their new journey. They married in 2018 and he went off to Army training in 2019. After his graduation, they were stationed in Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he began helicopter pilot training. Then, Langhorst received an interesting phone call.
The Titan Games wanted her to try out.
They flew her out to Los Angeles in January of 2020 for a combine. A few days later, she was told she made the cut and would need to get to Atlanta to start filming. For 20 straight days she was involved in competitions twice a day and filming 12 hours a day. Langhorst describes it as an amazing experience but also exhausting. She also shared that there wasn’t much food. “I look so shredded on TV because I was eating like a bird,” she said laughing.
Langhorst became a Titan, swiftly eliminating her competition in the first episode.
“I hope I can inspire people,” she shared. Langhorst said that she understands how easy it is to get lost in being a military spouse and putting the service member’s career before your own. She found herself doing it before that call from The Titan Games. “Spouses need to know that they can still achieve a lot – even with a kid,” she explained. Langhorst said that having Otto gave her more purpose and the fuel to work even harder to make him proud.
These days, Langhorst is training for the Olympics again with the goal of medaling. Even with her super athletic abilities and tunnel vision goals, she’s absolutely human. She loves donuts, although she doesn’t indulge often. Fun fact: She loves training barefoot. Langhorst is also an artist who loves to paint and still searches for four-leaf clovers, something she always did with her dad who passed a few years ago. Now when she finds one, she feels him with her.
Langhorst has come a long way from the young girl who had her goals written on her bedroom ceiling. She hopes that her story of persistence and drive will encourage others to live their purpose. Langhorst has achieved so much in her life already, but she isn’t done yet. She’s just getting started.
To learn more about Langhorst, check out her website. You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook as she takes you on her journey to the Olympic trials.
Military vehicles in an underground facility at US Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, September 9, 2015. US Defense Department/Glenn Fawcett
A major Marine Corps force redesign is bringing big changes that could soon filter down to a secretive cave complex in Norway that the Corps has used since the Cold War.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said last year that the Corps needed to get rid of “big, heavy things” and build a more mobile force for naval expeditionary warfare in contested areas — namely the Asia-Pacific.
The Corps plans to cut its overall force 7% by 2030, shedding infantry battalions, eliminating helicopter squadrons, and getting rid of all of its tanks.
Marines in California have already said goodbye to their tanks, and more could leave soon, including those in a cave complex in Norway’s Trondheim region, where the Corps has stored weapons and other equipment for decades.
Entrances to the Bjugn Cave Facility in Norway with equipment outside to be taken to Estonia for a military exercise, June 30, 1997. US Defense Department
The Corps’ Force Design 2030 “is a worldwide program aimed to make our force posture around the globe even more strategic and effective. As such, it calls for a divestment of certain capabilities and increases in others,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for Marine Corps forces in Europe and Africa, said in an email.
The Marine Corps Prepositioning Program in Norway “will continue to support US Marine Corps forces for bilateral and multi-lateral exercises” in European and Africa, Rankine-Galloway said.
“We expect that Marine Corps prepositioned equipment will be updated to meet our service’s needs, with excess equipment to be removed and newer equipment to be added to the prepositioned facilities,” Rankine-Galloway added.
Rankine-Galloway didn’t say what equipment that might be, but in the Force Design 2030, Berger said the Corps is “over-invested in” weapons like “heavily armored ground combat systems (tanks) [and] towed cannon artillery” and had “shortfalls” in rocket artillery, air-defense systems, and long-range unmanned aircraft.
Marine Corps leaders say savings from those cuts will pay for high-tech gear needed to counter China, Russia, and others.
M1A1 Abrams tanks and other equipment during a modernization of equipment at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, August 13, 2014. US Marine Corps/Master Sgt. Chad McMeen
A changing strategic game
The Marines’ underground storage in Norway’s Trondheim region dates to 1982, when the US and Norway agreed to preposition supplies and equipment in six climate-controlled caves there, allowing the Corps to store equipment closer than the US East Coast and “minimize the time necessary to form for combat.”
Much of the equipment there was withdrawn for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A decade later, the Corps expanded its stocks, reportedly allowing tanks and other heavy vehicles to be stored there for the first time.
Changes to what the Marines store in Norway would come as the Corps alters its troop presence in the country.
US Marine Corps High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle stored at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, February 10, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh
Hundreds of Marines have been stationed in Norway on six-month rotations since 2017, but Norway’s military said earlier this month that the US would reduce that force.
Rankine-Galloway told several outlets the Corps wasn’t drawing down but rather adopting shorter, “episodic” deployments aligned with exercises — sometimes bringing more troops to the country than are there now — that allow it to balance Arctic warfare training with larger-scale training “as a naval expeditionary force.”
“We expect US Marine Corps forces deployed to the Nordic region to train and be prepared to fight in accordance with the Commandant’s vision for the force and that this transformation will make both US Marine Corps, allied, and partner forces more lethal and capable together,” Rankine-Galloway told Insider.
The Marines’ year-round presence in Norway angered Russia, whose border with Norway is near sensitive sites on the Kola Peninsula belonging to the powerful Northern Fleet, which oversees Russia’s nuclear ballistic-missile subs.
Russian missiles have changed “the strategic game” in the region, according to Thomas Nilsen, editor of Norway-based news outlet The Barents Observer.
“Living on the Norwegian side of the border, we don’t see a scenario of a Russian military invasion trying to capture” northern Norway, Nilsen said at an Atlantic Council event in February.
Weapons like the Kinzhal hypersonic missile could be launched from Russian fighter jets and within minutes strike airbases in those Scandinavian countries, Nilsen said.
Aircraft at those bases, like Norway’s F-35s, are “what Russia is afraid of,” Nilsen added. “Those capabilities on the Scandinavian side that might … disturb their deploying of the ballistic-missile submarines.”
When we envisioned our first publication for this blog, we never dreamed we would be interviewing one of our own founders for it. Or, that the topic would be her diagnosis and recovery of COVID-19. Despite the initial anxiety and concern over her positive test, she chose joy. Every day.
Samantha Gomolka is a Physician Assistant for a dermatology office in Buffalo, New York. Her state is arguably the hardest hit with COVID-19 and although schools and businesses were shut down, she continued to work and treat patients. “It was my biggest fear…. That if my family got sick, it would be because I brought it home. It was a heavy weight to carry,” she said.
Gomolka shared that she researched the signs and symptoms heavily, watching closely for fever or any shortness of breath. When she started with a cough and headache, she didn’t initially think it could be COVID-19. A few days later, the fever and body aches came. “In that moment, you are kind of stuck between the place of fear and disbelief,” she said. Gomolka said she just knew she had it. She quarantined herself in a guest bedroom, praying she wouldn’t pass it to anyone else in her family. A call to the public health department gave her the verbal instructions of self quarantine and presumption of COVID-19 based on symptoms, but there was no test available to her due to being considered low risk, and lack of other comorbid conditions.
Gomolka wouldn’t get one, until she ended up in the emergency room.
“Getting up from the bed to walk into the kitchen is not usually challenging. With this, there was an air hunger. It became a conscious effort to breathe in and out all day long. The feeling that I could never get enough air was making me live right under the threshold of panic,” she shared. Gomolka finally went to the emergency room when breathing became even more difficult and was placed on oxygen for hours. It was there she received her Chest X-ray, CT scan and COVID test, which revealed she did in fact have the virus. Then her husband, who had just returned from a long deployment overseas, started getting sick too.
Their family was quickly and officially served with mandated home quarantine paperwork by their local sheriff’s office, unable to leave their home at all. Contracting this virus and bringing it home to her family — her biggest fear — could have caused despair. Instead, she found the beauty in it.
“It comes down to perspective….. to find the opportunities for beauty. You have to choose joy,” she shared. Gomolka shared that having time slow down for her family was a blessing. Relationships were strengthened and hearts were lifted. What could have been a time of anxiousness was an opportunity to reconnect and spend time in a space of gratefulness.
Gomolka also shared that initially she hesitated in going public with their diagnosis, wondering if people would respond in a negative way. The result was completely opposite of that. “We had an entire community, local and virtual of people who just rallied around us and lifted my family up,” she said.
She shared stories of receiving aid from the Green Beret Foundation, needed medications on her doorstep, warm meals and groceries were provided, gift cards for expenses, activities for her children, and even coffee creamer. All of this during a time that could have easily slipped their family into a dark space, was nothing but light. Gomolka shared that her family feels like they could never repay the true value of these gifts. Instead, they plan to pay it forward.
“We are trying to figure out how we make that kind of difference in someone else’s life and come to their aid in a way that makes impactful change,” she said. One of the ways she’s going to do this, is to immediately go back to work treating patients with emergent conditions and skin cancer. She and her husband also signed up with the New York Blood Center, the American Red Cross, and Upstate University Hospital with the National Plasma Antibody project, hoping they can give their plasma for use in critically ill COVID19 patients. They also plan to try to complete errands and shopping for members of their community who are immunocompromised or elderly.
“We are always going to encounter challenges, but how do you respond to them? Find the good,” she said. She continued on saying that this experience has broadened her definition of what a hero is. “As a military family we tend to think of heroes as someone in a camouflage uniform, but that has changed for me,” she said. Gomolka explained that now, her version of a hero are the people who run towards danger while the rest of us “hunker down”. The grocery store workers, health care professionals, and deliverymen — to name a few.
When asked what she would tell those reading this article, she smiled and shared that although she knows her diagnosis and experience is not the same as others, she wants people to know that together we can make it through anything. She implored people to “pause, and take it all in and find the beauty”.
While the world is sorting out the new normal of social distancing, parents everywhere are also trying to do it with full-time jobs, and in many cases, no child care. For the first time in most of our lifetimes, schools have been shut down for extended periods, and no one really knows when it will end. Moms and dads are suddenly finding themselves wearing far too many hats: parent, employee, caregiver and teacher are just naming a few.
Stuck at home with canceled spring break plans, and summer vacations next on the chopping block, things might be looking pretty grim right now. No doubt, parents find themselves constantly looking for ways to entertain their kids 24/7, and with the quarantine well underway, many are at a loss for resources.
With everyone doing their part to curb the spread of Coronavirus, the usual haunts for children’s entertainment are now closed to the public. In their attempt to comply with social distancing directives, museums, zoos and amusement parks the world over have announced temporary closures; when they will reopen is anyone’s guess.
While these places have physically closed their doors, many have realized that the need for children’s entertainment is at an all-time high, and many have stepped up to offer just that. Parents can also find a wealth of resources for educational entertainment through Google Arts Culture, some of which are linked below as well.
While these resources are being shared all over the internet, finding the time to make heads or tails of them is another story.
We know parents, we know. Help is on the way.
Here’s a comprehensive list of some great virtual tours, zoo cams, and STEM activities (and we even threw in some doodling and celebrity readings), and it’s all free!
Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden Every weekday at 3 PM EDT, the Cincinnati Zoo will host a Home Safari Facebook Live that features a different animal each day. For those who don’t have social media, the zoo will post the safaris on both their website and YouTube.
The Smithsonian Museum offers virtual tours of their current and permanent exhibits, and viewers can even take a look at a few of the past exhibits. Users can easily navigate between adjoining rooms of the museum and click on the camera icons for a closer look.
Josh Gad is even doing his part to help parents deal with life in quarantine. Every night on Twitter, Josh Gad is doing ten-minute storytime. Josh has already read a few children’s classics like The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt; The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein and Hooray for Diffendoofer Da by Dr. Seuss. And it looks like he plans to do so for the foreseeable future. This one is not to miss, as he puts a little Josh Gad into it with voices and everything!
How About a Lunch Doodle? Mo Willems, beloved author of Waiting Is Not Easy! and The Pigeon HAS To Go To School! is hosting a Livestream Lunch Doodle. Every day at 1 PM EST, new episodes will be posted on the Mo Willems page on the Kennedy Center’s Website. Additionally, Willem is encouraging kids to send him questions at LUNCHDOODLES@kennedy-center.org, and he will attempt to answer those questions in his videos.
We all have to do our part to stem the outbreak of Coronavirus, but life in quarantine doesn’t have to be that bad. Every day, new resources are popping up to help us get through it. These virtual tours and online resources have a little something for kids of all ages. What a great opportunity to see the world from the comfort of your own couch!
As remote jobs become more popular and feasible among the masses, military spouses are finding ways to keep their careers mobile. With frequent moves, working in years prior meant staying behind or fighting one’s way to the top every few years. (With no tenure, it’s hard, if not impossible to ever reach seniority.)
However, with new technology and remote positions becoming more globally accepted, military spouses can keep a budding career, no matter how many times they PCS.
Get yourself interview ready
Before you start the hunt for a remote position, get yourself employer-friendly. Update your resume, take headshots, and scrub your social media profiles. This means going private or ensuring your visible posts are appropriate, and an overhaul on your LinkedIn. Fill in all the details and share what you’ve been up to in your professional world.
With more access to personal information, you want to make sure you’re showing yourself in a good light online. It’s one more way to land a great job and keep a career that moves right along with you.
Meanwhile, if you have a field of study and need to renew any licenses, now is the time to do so! Showing you’re work-ready can only help your chances.
Create a home office
It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to work! Set up a dedicated area where you can get away and focus. A desk, computer, paper/calendar, writing utensils, chargers, etc. are all smart additions. Best-case scenario: your office space is separate from the rest of your living space. However, this isn’t always possible. Work to make your space as secluded as possible so you won’t be distracted by the rest of your home.
Remember, you can also work from outside locations, too, for instance, libraries, coffee shops, or co-working spaces that offer desk rental memberships.
Now, it’s go time. Start applying for work-from-home positions on any number of sites. You can search on aggregators that post remote jobs from many companies, or search individually for businesses that offer home office options.
Remember, you don’t have to share that you’re a military spouse, but in some cases, it can actually help your chances. There are certain companies that exclusively hire military spouses (be prepared to share documents proving that status for their tax purposes). But don’t fret — this actually helps cut down the applicant pool. There are MANY places you can look for jobs, including paid subscriptions. However, there are plenty of free options. Look on military affiliated sites (like this one!), Military One Click, or even spouse social media pages for application resources.
Ready yourself for working from home
If you’ve never worked from home, know that it’s a different type of setup. It requires self-discipline and staying on task. (Think homework, but with a paycheck.) You’ll certainly get better at it, but there can be a learning curve if you aren’t prepped for at-home distractions.
Take regular breaks, leave the TV alone, and remember that chores can wait! (This is also why it’s important to keep a separate working space.)
Now it’s time to rock your new stance as a remote worker. Enjoy your freedom to work in your jammies, but even more so, celebrate your ability to keep a career longer than you can keep a house. No matter where you’re located (or in what timezone), you can keep a successful career as a milspouse remote employee.
Cheryl L. Mason understands the life of a military spouse — for more than 20 years, she lived it. Now, as Chairman of the VA Board of Veterans Appeals who oversees a staff of 1,200, Mason works to ensure that military spouses at the Board have the support they need to be successful. One of her many missions is to make it easier now than it was when she was a military spouse to find and maintain fulfilling positions and careers.
Military spouses are well-educated and highly qualified for a range of careers. But of the more than 600,000 military spouses worldwide who are actively seeking employment, 30% are unemployed and 56% are underemployed. One of the many challenges they face is the reluctance of employers to hire them due to their spouse’s service-related relocations, according to Mason.
In this interview, Mason shares her career path as a military spouse: how she rose to the top political position at the Board of Veterans Appeals where she oversees 850 lawyers, 102 Veterans Law Judges, and 200 operations and legal staff.
This post is part of a blog series VA Careers has developed along with other initiatives and activities to recruit and hire military spouses for careers at VA. At VA, we value the experience of military spouses and offer remote work options that accommodate the transient nature of military service.
What does a typical day look like for you at the VA Board of Veterans Appeals?
It depends on the day. I’m the CEO of the Board, so I set the vision and direction and provide overall leadership. The Board’s mission is to resolve appeals by holding hearings and issuing decisions on Veterans’ VA benefits and services. Each day, I have a series of internal meetings to discuss strategy, structure and procedures. I work closely and collaboratively with colleagues at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration, Office of Information and Technology, and Veterans Experience Office. Externally, I also work and collaborate with Veteran Service Organizations and other stakeholders. In addition, I serve as an ambassador to the PREVENTS [President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide] task force on suicide prevention.
How does your experience as a military spouse help you in your day-to-day duties at VA?
When you’re surrounded by military people as I was, you understand what active duty military and Veterans are going through or have gone through; you understand the culture. I’m able to navigate the military health care system, which is very important. Every time my son went to the doctor, I had to recite his medical history. Sometimes military members won’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to go through a five-minute recitation of their medical history every time or because they’re concerned that going to the doctor means they won’t be able to perform their duties. So when I see Veterans’ files, I’m able to identify gaps and read between the lines. I understand the situation because I lived it.
When we relocated to Germany, I had to leave my job in Washington, D.C., but was excited to be able to support my husband and the mission. I applied for 200 jobs and got none of them. While I was obviously a little discouraged, I had to get creative and, like a true military spouse, make the situation work. I initially went to work for Central Texas College running their paralegal program, which reached across several countries, and I taught paralegal studies to service members and family members. I eventually got a position as an executive assistant to an Air Force colonel who oversaw military contracts, information technology, budget and Air Force personnel for all of Europe.
I learned a lot of great lessons in Germany, such as how to lead, multitask and be agile. I’m grateful for my time there, and I don’t think I could have been as successful as I’ve been in my career, or in this position, had I not had that experience in Germany.
What appealed to you about a career at VA?
I’m the daughter of a World War II Veteran who died by suicide, so serving Veterans and VA’s mission are very important to me. My family and I received benefits from VA after my father died, which allowed me to go to college and law school. I know firsthand the difference VA benefits and services make in a person’s life.
I graduated college with a degree in psychology and political science and decided to go to law school. When I came to the Board and started writing decisions, I realized the work I was doing allowed me to use both my law and psychology degrees, because many of the appeals I was working on were related to mental health. I could really sink my teeth into the work. I went to law school to make a difference, and I found I could do that at VA. I could be the one making a difference for thousands of Veterans and their families every day and, hopefully, help them the way VA helped me.
Why is VA a good career move for military spouses?
Military spouses are incredibly unique. Many have put aside their own careers to support their service member and eventually transition with them to Veteran status. People forget that when a service member serves, their family serves with them. The choice to come to VA is a perfect transition for military spouses because we understand the mission and live with it every day.
Now, more than in the past, VA allows you to both have your career and move with your military member wherever duty calls. You can also support your military member as they transition into Veteran status. Military spouses have a spot in all career areas at VA because we bring a different perspective. For example, I’ve facilitated many nursing careers for military spouses because they bring such experience and talent to the job. Military spouses can make a difference in how VA operates, which is why VA needs them.
What advice would you give military spouses who are considering a career at VA?
Military spouses aren’t always valued the right way, either in government or the private sector. I usually tell military spouses not to sell themselves short or [not to] take no for an answer. I certainly didn’t, and I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today if I did. Military spouses are extremely resilient and talented — and can think on their feet because they have to. I tell them to use their [military and VA] networks because we have strong ones — and to look for the opportunities.
Work at VA today
Cheryl Mason’s experience as a military and Veteran spouse enriches her career serving Veterans and other military spouses. If you’re a military spouse, see if a VA career is right for you, too.
This may not go for everyone, but typical military life usually means being away for months at a time. Because of this unique schedule, members of the armed forces tend to move on different romantic timelines than the average Joe. Often, that equates to getting a lot more serious a lot more quickly.
Being in the military might run in the family.
There are plenty of young adults who opt to join the military all on their own. That said, it’s not uncommon for military life to be passed down through generations. Serving one’s country is a badge of pride in many families. What does that mean for you? If you decide to settle down with someone in the armed forces, be prepared for your own kids to follow a similar path.
They’ll love you, but they also love their country. A lot.
Even if military life is completely new to you (or even seems a little crazy), respecting their decision to serve their country is non-negotiable. They’re doing it to protect not just you, but everyone else, too. That’s a lot of love!
You might have to move, more than once.
The military brat title exists for a reason. It’s not uncommon for military families to have to hop from base to base over the years, so prepare yourself for that possibility.
They’ll be gone often.
This goes without saying, but their schedules won’t be predictable. They’ll be gone for major holidays and life events, and you won’t have a say. If you can’t roll with the punches, stay out of the military dating game.
Their squad will be their second family.
Seriously. Whether they’re in the Army, the Navy, the Marines, or the Air Force, they learn right off the bat to stand by their team. They have each other’s backs, for better or worse. They’re responsible for getting each other home safely. When your partner’s battle buddies (brothers and sisters, really), are around, embrace it and give them time to catch up.
They may keep a few secrets.
The harsh reality is that veterans have seen a lot more than most civilians can imagine. They’ve seen pain, made tough calls, and experienced a different kind of heartbreak. When they return, they may not want to talk about it. If they seem like a closed door, don’t take it personally. They probably don’t want to burden you with difficult memories, and they may not be ready to relive them. It can take time to open up! At the end of the day, some secrets might just stay secret…and you have to be okay with that.
Complete strangers will take over your lives.
In a way, the government will dictate where you live. Where your kids go to school. When you can take that family vacation. People you’ve never met will decide whether your partner is home for the holidays. Flexibility is a must, as is loyalty. Starting a life with someone in the military means that you, too, will live a military lifestyle. Before you take that leap, make sure you can handle it!
Being a military spouse is scary.
When your partner is deployed, nothing is guaranteed. You can pray they are safe, but you can’t always be sure. It’s scary, but it also makes their return home so much sweeter. You really learn to cherish every moment together.
Written on the flag that commemorates U.S. service members that are being held as prisoners of war or have gone missing in action is a promise: You are not forgotten.
Unfortunately, those who aren’t directly affected by a loved one or military coworker who is a POW or MIA likely only actively remember these service members at important functions, with the setting of the POW/MIA table. That being said, there is a less well-known moment to take time to remember those who served and have not yet — or may never — make it home.
In 1979, Congress and President Jimmy Carter passed a resolution declaring the third Friday in September to be the date in which we, as a nation, remember those whose fates remain unknown.
The remembrance day is not just to honor those who have been lost fighting for the United States, it’s also to assure current and future service men and women that the people of the United States and its military will do everything they can to find those who were captured or went missing. And we will bring them home.
The following is an accounting of all those who’ve been captured or have gone missing since World War II.
American airmen held in a Nazi Stalag Luft POW Camp during World War II.
World War II
As of 2005, Congress reported 130,201 service members were imprisoned during World War II, 14,072 of which died. There are approximately 73,014 from World War II who are still missing, but those numbers are incomplete at best due to limited information from the time period.
Americans captured by Communist forces in the Korean War.
Of the 7,140 service members who were imprisoned during the Korean War, 2,701 of them died as a result of their captivity. There are still 7,729 missing in action.
In 2016, the DPAA accounted for 61 missing from the Korean War. Recently, President Trump’s efforts to repatriate remains from North Korea yielded the return of 55 sets, two of which have been identified.
Americans held by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War were marched through the streets of Hanoi.
Roughly 64 prisoners of war held by the enemy during the Vietnam War died as a result of being held captive out of a total 725 held prisoner. An estimated 1,603 are still unaccounted for from the conflict in Southeast Asia.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch (left) was captured by Iraqi forces after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Her friend, Pvt. Lori Ann Piestewa (right), was killed in that action.
Conflicts Since 1991
Since 1991, a further 37 servicemen and women have been captured by the enemy during various conflicts, including the most recent in Iraq and Afghanistan. None are still in captivity, but six are still missing from those conflicts.
This brings the total number of American missing from conflicts since World War II to a whopping 82,478. A full three-fourths are believed to be lost in the Asia-Pacific region of the world, with 41,000 presumed lost at sea.
Having a cough has never been more nerve wracking than during the current pandemic. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a cough. Needing to go to the doctor for any reason can send a quick thought of panic, due to current protocols. Needing something as simple as a prescription refill suddenly got complicated.
But fear not, military families! There is an easier way. Thanks to ongoing efforts to increase the logistics of telemedicine and over-the-phone appointments, Tricare beneficiaries can video chat with their doctors to receive a quick fix to many questions or prescription needs.
This includes video calls, but will not include phone calls or texts.
If you or a family member is in need of a non-urgent appointment, you can call your normal doctor’s number and ask what their options are for telehealth appointments.
If you or a family member has an upcoming appointment scheduled, you’re likely to be contacted about rescheduling or moving the appointment to your phone. Services covered include:
Mental health services (individual psychotherapy, psychiatric diagnosis interviews/exams, and medication management)
In addition, from March 31 through May 31, Tricare has announced they will also cover telehealth services for “applied behavior analysis (ABA) parent or caregiver guidance services under the Autism Care Demonstration.”
Don’t skimp on important healthcare appointments just because you can’t be seen in person. These distancing appointments allow Tricare patients to get the care they need, without risking germs. Additional distancing measures have been put into place on military bases, such as drive-through pharmacies, or in-vehicle triage.
Talk to your healthcare team to see if telehealth is available at your base.
Noah Song did not enroll at the Naval Academy to become a professional baseball player.
First and foremost, he was focused on his education and becoming an officer. Improving his pitching repertoire was nice but not the primary goal. Like all Midshipmen, a military commitment awaited him upon graduation. Being drafted in the fourth round by the Boston Red Sox in 2019 altered that timeline only slightly.
From ballplayer to Marine
“It was supposed to be four years and done with baseball,” Song said. “Everything after graduation has really just been a plus.”
Song, 23, reported to flight school in Pensacola in June, leaving behind an abbreviated stint last season for the Red Sox’s Class A short-season, minor-league affiliate in Lowell, Massachusetts. Song put away his glove without complaint, not surprising considering his family’s priorities.
His younger brother, Elijah, recently completed the Marines’ Officer Candidates School in Virginia and is one year from graduating from Cal Maritime. Song’s father, Bill, and older brother, Daniel, work for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and his sister, Faith, is a nurse.
“It seems like all the kids are gravitating to public service and servicing the country,” Bill Song said. “They’ve really fulfilled everything that I would want from a child.”
Elijah, 20, decided to become a Marine as a college freshman. He was interested in the military before Noah chose Navy but was impressed by watching how his brother matured there.
“To see him go through his transformation, just from a normal kid in high school to this refined military officer, … it made me tell myself, ‘Man, I want to be that squared away, that professional,”’ Elijah said.
Baseball wasn’t always on this Navy grad’s mind
Noah was not always that squared away, especially on the baseball field.
Navy was his only offer to play baseball after he graduated from high school in Claremont, California, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Scouts started paying attention during his junior year at Navy, and then Song blossomed as a senior, going 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 94 innings.
He was among four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top amateur baseball player in the United States.
“I never really thought about [getting drafted] so much, because the mindset was just on becoming an officer,” Noah said. “I completely agree with that. That’s the complete reason we’re there, so [the attention was] kind of weird.”
While awaiting his flight-school orders, Noah was allowed to begin his professional career last summer. In seven games for Lowell, he allowed two earned runs in 17 innings for a 1.06 ERA.
“When he first got here, I don’t think he was overly confident in who he was,” Navy baseball coach Paul Kostacopoulos said. “He went from this kind of nervous, internal person to being a confident man, so to speak. It’s always great to see.”
Elijah was different.
He played golf in high school but was not that interested in sports. He enjoyed tinkering, once learning to load ammunition by researching it online and watching videos.
But mainly he loved flying. Aboard a Cessna 150, Elijah sat in the pilot’s seat for the first time as a high school junior.
“Feeling the pedals and feeling the yoke and feeling the plane actually move from my control, that was just a life-changing experience,” Elijah said.
Noah, whose future in baseball is uncertain, cherishes that view from the air as well.
He said his relationship with Elijah was tight-knit as children, but they were typical brothers. They argued. They fought. They made up.
“Looking back, it’s all just fond memories,” Noah said. “This military experience has definitely brought us a little bit closer than we used to be, just because we share a bond. We get to have that commonality between us, which is pretty cool.”
Should we send our kids back to school this fall? It’s a question that’s on every parent’s mind, regardless of which schools are re-opening. The big issue is one of children’s safety and COVID-19. But this poses many smaller questions to consider. How will the health of students and teachers be monitored? Are schools well ventilated and capable of proper sanitizing? Are school nurses prepared? How will they rearrange classrooms? Will masks be provided for students and teachers? What about some sort three-days-off, three-days-on hybrid of remote and in-person learning? Are buses and drivers ready for social distancing? Will schools help students who don’t have access to strong internet meet the requirements for remote learning?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions. The variables are too numerous; so are the unknowns. Yes, school districts across the country are working hard to create reopening plans and contingency plans should they not be able to. But, as we’ve learned over the past six months, COVID doesn’t really care about plans.
So, considering all this, what are parents thinking? We spoke to a dozen fathers about whether or not they’ll be sending their kids back to school in the fall. Some think that schools will meet standards and plan on sending their kids; others lack the confidence of the school and other families and plan on keeping their kids at home. There is no right or wrong decision here. Instead, there’s merely a long list of pros and cons that are allowing parents to make their best decisions as of right now. And, of course, those decisions could change tomorrow, or in a week, or on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year. The only certainty right now is uncertainty.
Yes. The Schools Been Doing Everything Properly, So Far
“My son’s school — a private Catholic school — ran a summer camp during all of this, and I’ve been very impressed with the precautions they’ve taken to make sure everyone is safe. The kids, teachers and counselors all wash and sanitize every 10 or 15 minutes, and there’s not a surface in sight that isn’t wiped down or disinfected. All of the staff wears masks, and it’s clear that everyone is taking things seriously. If the camp is any indication of how a school day would run, I wouldn’t have any problem trusting them with my kids. They’ve shown me that health and safety are a top priority, which is more than I can say for a lot of other schools in the area.” – Chris, 34, Ohio
No. I Don’t Feel Confident At All.
“If I could reply to this question with that meme of Randy Jackson saying, ‘That’s gonna be a no from me, dawg’, I would. There are just too many variables in play to make me feel safe or confident. Even if all of the teachers wear masks, and sanitize everything, it literally only takes one negligent or selfish person to spread COVID to someone else, who can then bring it into the school. From there, it’d just be a catastrophe. I think that’s why I’d say no. I know most of the parents of kids in my daughter’s class, and I don’t trust them to take this all seriously.” – Josh, 35, Pennsylvania
I’ll Send My Kids Back If They Staff Up and Shrink Class Sizes
“I’ll send my kids back if the plan to shrink class sizes actually happens. That’s the only way I’ll feel safe. Right now, there are 25 kids in my daughter’s kindergarten class. Even without a pandemic, that’s more than enough sneezes, coughs, and booger wipes to spread germs across the entire room. There have been talks of splitting the class in half, which I’d be okay with. It seems manageable, and I feel like the school would take the sanitization and cleaning seriously. So, if they can staff up and find the space to make that plan happen, I’m good with it.” – Nathan, 29, Connecticut
I Don’t Think We’re There Yet
“I don’t think I can. If the school board is having virtual meetings to decide whether or not school is safe to open, instead of meeting in person, what does that say about the safety of opening a school? It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence knowing that the people in charge won’t risk going to a facility, but expect kids and teachers to do it. At the beginning of summer, I was hopeful that things would get worked out by the time school started, but I don’t think we’re there yet. At least not where I feel safe about sending my kids back.” – Patrick, 30, New Hampshire
We Will Send Him Back. He’s Lost So Much Progress.
“Our son will go back. He has autism, and the daily social interactions and academic instruction are essential to his development. It terrifies me how much progress we may have lost thanks to the schools shutting down last year. The virtual learning was fine, but he thrives when he can see his friends, and be in an actual classroom. I think the schools will take things seriously, and prioritize safety, so I have no problem sending him back if they reopen.” – Will, 29, Florida
It’s Too Hard to Say Right Now.
“We’re undecided. Everything changes day-to-day. Not just with the school situation, but with the whole pandemic in general. There aren’t any straight, definitive answers. One day it’s calming down, the next day it’s the biggest spike we’ve seen since it started. So, for us, it’s just impossible to make a decision. Obviously, we’d love to plan ahead and say that we definitely will or won’t send our kids back to school. But, how can we realistically do that when there’s just so much uncertainty?” – John, 34, New York
Absolutely Not. I Need A Lot More Reassurance
“No fucking way. That’s how strongly I feel about not sending our kids back to school. There’s absolutely nothing that the local, state, or federal government has done to make me think, ‘Yeah, it seems perfectly safe to send my kids into a building full of a hundred other kids, whose parents I don’t know.’ If I could say, without any shadow of doubt, that I knew every student’s parents were wearing masks, sanitizing, and generally taking this seriously, I’d be first in line when school reopened. But, there’s no way that’s possible. So, I’m going to need a lot more reassurance than some hand sanitizer pumps and bleach wipes in each classroom to take that risk.” – Reed, 34, Ohio
No Way. I Don’t Trust the Other Parents At All.
“Nope. And you know why? I’m Facebook friends with a lot of my son’s classmates’ parents, and I’ve seen plenty of posts that make me realize they’re all idiots. One mom posted a selfie out at a crowded bar. A lot of them are anti-mask. There was one parent who even said something like, ‘I hope my kid gets it, so that he’ll get the antibodies and get it over with!’ And I’m supposed to feel comfortable sending my son to school with these morons’ kids? No way. I’ll be looking for a tutor instead.” – J.C., 33, North Carolina
Yes. But Only Because My Daughter Attends a Small, Private School.
“I think we’ll send our son and daughter back to school if it resumes in the fall. It’s a small, private school – that’s the main reason. Their classes aren’t larger than ten kids, and the teachers have all been very communicative about measures they plan to take should the school year begin on time. I think that’s all a parent can ask in this situation – honesty and the prioritization of safety. If they went to a bigger school, with more students, and more parents we didn’t know, it’d be a different story. But, as far as the school community goes, I think we’re all on the same page regarding what needs to happen when the kids go back.” – Camden, 32, Indiana
I Want to. My Wife Doesn’t. We Still Need to Figure It Out.
“My wife and I disagree about the whole situation. I think it will be fine, honestly. But she’s a catastrophic thinker, and is terrified of one of our daughter’s classmates showing up like the monkey from Outbreak and hacking COVID all over everyone. I know a lot of teachers in our district. I went to high school with a few of them. And they all seem to think that schools will inevitably reopen. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine everyone involved not taking every single precaution to prevent anything from happening. Maybe I’m naive about it. Maybe my wife is overreacting. Hopefully we can figure it out when the time comes.” – Greg, 39, Oregon
If There’s Some Sort of Hybrid School Model, Then Yes.
“If there’s a hybrid virtual/in-person learning model in place, I think we’ll send our daughter back to school. We were very impressed with how the school handled the early closing by transitioning everything to online learning. So, we know it’s a possible, viable option. But, we also know that sitting in front of a computer isn’t the same as being in a classroom with your friends, learning how to play and interact. There’s been talk of three days in class, two days learning from home, which I think would be a good way to go. At least to see what happened. I think a lot of schools and parents are looking at this as an either/or situation. We send them back full time, or we don’t. But, it doesn’t have to be like that, and we think this would be a safe, effective compromise.” – Alan, 38, South Carolina
I Know It’s Risky, But They’ll Be Going Back.
“Even though I know it’s risky, I think the face-to-face element of school needs to be there, especially at such a young age. My son actually loved the online learning he did at the end of last school year. I think that’s because it was a novelty. It was like FaceTiming your friends all at once, which was fun, and cool, and a great substitute for in-person learning. Mentally, I think the kids need to be around other kids. They truly have no idea what’s going on right now, and these are incredibly formative years for elementary school children. I think that taking the proper precautions, combined with a vigilant attitude, will allow schools to resume effectively. And I trust them to do that.” – Steve, 37, Georgia