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.”

__

“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.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How to avoid sending the tuna sandwich of deployment care packages

Does anyone else look at deployment box ideas online and instantly run to the nearest bottle of wine for courage? Why bother when there’s likely a subscription box for that? How does one avoid the ‘tuna sandwich’ of care packages, and pridefully send items they really care about? What if I have zero creative skills but want to wow my service member?


We chatted with Rachel McQuiston, Navy spouse and self-proclaimed care package enthusiast for her expert advice on nailing deployment packages like the pros with minimal stress.

“You can overwhelm yourself with the theme and miss out of the whole part of what makes a great care package- intentionality,” says McQuiston, who became deeply attached to this tradition when her husband deployed four times in the first four years of their marriage.

“This is how we keep him in our daily lives, by adding an item to my shopping list, by looking for a good deal, it feels like we’re connected.”

Budgets present a significant barrier for some spouses, and can lead to insecurities, the last feeling any spouse should have while they are enduring a deployment. McQuiston encourages others to make this (the packages) that thing you take your family and friends up on the offer when they ask how they can help during deployment.

Tips like buying in bulk and spreading certain items over multiple packages or adding a few items to a weekly shopping list are other great suggestions on keeping costs in check.

For those fortunate enough not to be financially burdened, taking on the needs of other service members within your significant other’s location is the way to keep everyone strong. “I’ll often send my husband extras of one item in his packages, and around the holidays I’ve even sent an entire box labeled ‘to share’ instead of his individual package,” says McQuiston, who realized that not everyone gets mail early on.

One misconception driving stress surrounding these packages is the thought that theme or even the contents are what makes a box exceptional.

“My husband tells me his favorite part of the boxes is always opening it up, because he can smell my perfume, a little reminder of home.”

Personal touches, like the service member’s own brand of toothpaste or the spritz of your perfume which creates an instantaneous connection to home from thousands of miles away. “You can send the sleekest or coolest looking box, but if it’s not what they want or what they actually need, it’s off the mark,” says McQuiston on why sending care packages is and will always be her first choice.

What are the top things a care package expert recommends? Her tested list is less glamourous and less themed than you might think.

  • Service member-specific toiletries or brands
  • Products with a high shelf life (granola bars or powdered drink mixes)
  • Photos

What service members can actually use on deployment may vary depending on their assignments. Command outposts and Forward Operating Bases are two completely different environments. Wool socks aren’t sexy, but they are warm. Beef jerky (again) may seem lame but is a highly coveted item where MRE’s are what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

What’s on her list of least recommended items? Things like chocolate, or any homemade food due to a high risk of spoiling in unpredictable climates or longer than anticipated shipping times. We can all rest easy not having to master the art of cupcakes in a jar.

Still feeling unsure or incapable? One piece of advice McQuiston feels vital to the overall experience is involving others in the process. “Throw a care package party where everyone pitches in on supplies, decorating, and feels comradery around what they’re doing,” she adds that beverages always make the party better.

McQuiston carries a foolproof guide to care packages on her website, Countdowns and Cupcakes, as well as inspirational pictures and ideas to help you feel confident.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 misconceptions boots have about an upcoming deployment

Any troop in today’s military will eventually, inevitably be deployed. Even before the announcement of the new, “deploy or get out” policy, you’d be hard-pressed to find an E-6 or above who doesn’t have a bit of time in the desert under their belt.

Everyone else is simply waiting for their time to come — and those in wait always have a few questions about their upcoming deployment. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to describe. You could be a commo guy in a signal unit, constantly dealing with threats up at your retrans site. Conversely, you could be an infantryman who spent years at the rifle range only to stay at a major base and train local forces on how to use their weapons. The fact is, you never know what it’ll actually be like until you’re there — and this is true regardless of rank, position, branch, or unit.

That being said, there are a few universal truths that stretch the spectrum of military service, for POGs, grunts, and special operators alike — and those truths are in direct conflict with what boots have on their mind.


On the bright side, that usually means PT is on your own schedule — but that doesn’t mean you can slack off. You’re probably still going to have to take regular PT tests.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ed Galo)

“I’ll have plenty of downtime”

Deployments seem like the perfect time to try and knock out some online college courses so you can get a leg up on your peers and have an easier time finding a job after your service — oh man, you are mistaken.

Your work schedule will shift from the standard of PT in the morning, work call during the day, and time off at night to something that looks more like work 24/7 with maybe a single day off. Sure, you’ll have a few hours here and there between missions, but those will usually get eaten up by catching up on sleep or relaxing with the squad.

Just imagine all the dumb crap that would fill these tents if people had access to wasting their money while deployed.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marie Cassetty)

“I’ll have so much money when I get back”

On paper, a deployment seems like the perfect way to get out of debt. You’re gone for somewhere between nine to eighteen months, you’ll have nothing to blow your money on, and you’ll get better pay — tax free. This could be just what you need to crawl out of debt. The operative words here are “could be.”

If you’ve got a family back home, that money is being spent on responsibilities. If you’ve got preexisting debt, that money you’re accumulating is going toward paying people back. You’ll be making more than you’re used to back stateside and you’re less likely to waste it on stupid crap, — that is if you can avoid blowing it all in one reckless weekend like so many have before you.

Also, with deployments shrinking down to nine months, units aren’t going to be required to give their troops RR, so… there’s that…

(U.S. Air Force)

“I’ll get R&R when I want to”

All the calculating in the world can’t help you outrun the reach of the Big Green Weenie. There’s no scheduled block leave when it comes to RR. If your deployment is around twelve months, you’re lucky if you’re able to take it somewhere near the mid-point.

Your unit must remain operational, however, and it can’t do that if everyone is gone — so they’re not sending everyone home at the half-way point. Your leave is more than likely going to fall somewhere between three and nine months in. Troops who are expecting the birth of kids get top priority, but it’s a free-for-all after that.

Do not get this twisted. Troops are still in harm’s way every day. The likelihood of an outright firefight, however, has dropped.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean A. Foley)

“I’ll get that Combat Action Badge (or equivalent) soon”

If there’s one prized medal within the military, it’s the one that comes after a troop has experienced combat first-hand. There’s an undeniable badassery that comes with the badge, ribbon, medal, etc., but they aren’t just handed out like candy anymore.

These days, fewer and fewer troops are seeing direct combat as America’s responsibilities in the War on Terror shift to more advisory roles with local militaries. Armed conflicts still occur in the Middle East, definitely, but the numbers are shrinking with each passing year. Even if your unit is one of the few that goes outside the FOB, you’ll likely not see combat right away.

Which leads us directly into the next myth about deployments…

The “hearts and minds” part of counter-insurgency truly is a better strategy for the overall well-being of the region. The sooner you adapt, the better time you’ll have outside the wire.

(DoD photo by 1st Lt. Becky Bort)

“My sole mission is to fight the bad guy”

From the moment you enter basic training, you’re fed one purpose. You’re being groomed to become the biggest, baddest motherf*cker Uncle Sam has ever seen. You will shoot, move, and communicate better than anyone else ever has. For the most part, however, that’s just not going to be the case.

If you do manage to get into a unit that will send you outside the wire, 98 percent of what you do are called “atmosphericals.” Basically, this means your unit rides through an area of operations, watching to see if anything goes down, being a show of force to both the civilians who need American aid and any potential threats watching from afar.

Case in point: There is a very specific reason I personally stopped mocking the French forces…

(ISAF photo by MC1 Michael E. Wagoner)

“My foreign counterparts are held to the same standards as me”

American troops are given very strict instruction on how to be professional and courteous while turning an area of operations “less hostile.” Our foreign counterparts do not have the same level of regimented training. Other NATO nations could be treating war like it’s a nine-to-five while the local military’s training curriculum probably doesn’t even cover “minor” things, like properly using a weapon.

But this misconception swings both ways. You might also be surprised to learn that certain allies don’t mess around — and train their “standard” infantry more like special operations.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

What I learned about my kids during lockdown, according to 17 dads

Coronavirus lockdown changed a lot — especially a parent’s relationship with their kids. The situation brought families together, asking them to be nimble in how they reacted to the new normal and how they relate to one another. This closeness allowed parents and children to get very cozy, and view one another from new vantage points. We all learned something new about one another.


So, what did parents learn about their kids during lockdown? That’s what we wanted to know. The 17 men who responded to our request spoke of both positives (they discovered hidden passions and quiet strengths) and negatives (a child’s penchant for the dramatics; signs of bullying). All of these realizations led the men to take a harder look at what they need to do to encourage the positive and offer better examples to deter the negative. All lessons contain power. Here’s what they learned.

I Learned to Play 

“I started playing Fortnite during quarantine. I feel like I didn’t have a choice, because we have two boys and it’s around all the time. So, I just gave it a whirl. I mean, I was a pretty big gamer growing up. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was my jam. I even won a tournament in college. So, I asked if I could try it out, and my kids were equally excited and embarrassed, I think. But, I picked it up pretty quickly, and I think that surprised them. It was actually really nice to learn they thought I was pretty good at it, not to brag, because as silly as it is, I get that it’s an important part of their lives.” – John, 38, Maryland

I Realized That My Kids Are TattleTales

“I didn’t realize my kids were such tattletales. They’re twins, both fourth graders going into fifth. A boy and a girl. And I’ve learned about each and every single marginally bad thing each of them has done for four months…from the other one. It’s annoying. It’s obnoxious. And, really, it’s upsetting. They play this weird power game as siblings where they try to bury each other in trouble to make themselves look good. So, my brain will fast forward 20 years and think, ‘Are they going to be like this when they have jobs? Are they going to be the scheming, backstabbing people I work with and loathe?’ Maybe I’m overreacting and it’s a normal kid thing. But it’s been a really negative eye-opener so far.” – Marty, 36, North Carolina

My Kids Are Risk Takers

“I think my kids and I have done more hiking and exploring in the past few months than we have in our entire lives. It’s been really, really great. We weren’t an inactive family, but we all could stand to get some exercise. And there are plenty of beautiful parks and preserves right near us that I’m ashamed to say we’ve never even been to. I’ve learned a lot about my kids through our adventures. They’re risk-takers, and animal lovers, and really respectful of nature. That was all a big part of my childhood, and I’ve definitely lost sight of how much fun it can be. I’m glad we’re able to do this together.” – Kirk, 36, Ohio

My Kids Have Lost Faith in My Parenting

“My kids are having a hard time believing that it’s unsafe to go outside. Of course they do, right? Two teenage girls who think they’re being ruled by the Iron Curtain. I try to explain to them that this is a serious situation, and that people are dying. But it’s really in one ear, and out the other. They see people on Facebook out and about, at the beach, at restaurants, and they whine and whine and whine about how we’re being unfair. They point to the loosened restrictions all over the country and say we’re just being mean. It’s the same conversation every day, and it’s exhausting.” – J.D., 42, New Jersey

I Learned My Son’s Passion — And Learned With Him

“I know they teach coding in school now, but I never really understood what that meant. So, as my son was finishing up his school year, I took an interest in helping him with that subject. I’m not traditionally a very left-brained person, which it seems like you have to be to understand coding, so learning it at a 5th grade level actually helped. I’m not ready to build my own website yet, but the best part has been watching him teach me. Because he’s really into it. And I can see the passion and excitement when he’s like, ‘No, Dad, this is how you do it.'” – Thomas, 43, California

I Realized My Daughter Is a Master Manipulator

“My daughter is 14. I try to be aware of her social life, if not exactly active in it. Seeing how she interacts with some of her friends – especially some of the boys in her class – is kind of appalling. She plays them against each other. She talks about them behind their backs, and then lies to their faces. It’s really unsettling. I’ll admit, I’m not at my ‘Best Dad’ level right now, and I’m really struggling with how to proceed. Part of me thinks this is kind of normal, she’s a teenager, drama, and so on. But, I don’t want her to grow up thinking what she’s doing is a desired skill.” – Craig, 42, Connecticut

We Brought Back Old Traditions

“Movie nights are something we used to do when the kids were little. As they’ve grown, though, they’ve gotten interested in stuff that sort of gave movie nights a backseat. My oldest son is a freshman in college, so he’s just gone and out of the house. My younger son is in high school, so he’s just too cool for everything. I think our first quarantine movie night was about six or seven weeks ago, with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and we’ve been doing them ever since. It’s definitely not the same as when they were little, but it’s a new spin on one of my favorite traditions.” – Jack, 46, New York

I Found Out That My Son’s a Bully

“I overheard my son playing video games one night. I’m not sure who he was talking to — like if it was a friend, or someone random he was playing with online — but the shit coming out of his mouth? Man. He was calling the other kid a pussy, telling him he sucked, and telling him he was going to kick his ass. It was different than trash talk. I get trash talk. This was, like, venomous. And mean. I mentioned it to my wife, and we’re still trying to curb it. I didn’t want to lose my cool and flip out on him, because I figured that would just alienate us more. So it’s more subtle reminders about how not to be an asshole. My biggest worry, honestly, is that he’s going to get his ass kicked in real life if he keeps talking like this to the wrong person.” – Chad, 38, Rhode Island

Mask-Making Has Given My Son Purpose

“I learned that my son has fully embraced the new normal of mask wearing, so much that he even learned how to sew his own online. So, now it’s become kind of a family thing. The first thing we bonded over was me giving him a bunch of my old t-shirts to use for practice. And now, he’s like our family’s own custom tailor. We have to be careful shopping for fabric, but he’s really, really into it. Like he knows which fabric will be the most comfortable, most breathable, and all that. He’s made some for his friends. Seeing him become so fascinated with it, and skilled at it, has been really cool. And it’s given our whole family something small and fun to bond over during these crazy times.” – Jason, 37, Ohio

I Caught My Daughter Drinking

“It was so dumb. She’s 14. Before lockdown, I learned she was drinking at a party with her friends, and we had it out. But this time, during quarantine, she snuck into the fridge and grabbed two beers to drink while she was FaceTiming with her stupid boyfriend. The actual drinking part didn’t bug me so much. I probably started drinking around that age. It’s more the boneheadedness of one, doing it in the house, and two, doing it to impress her boyfriend. I thought the quarantine might actually be a good chance for her to reset and reevaluate some of her relationships and choices, but we’ve been here for more than three months, and it looks like we’re right back where we started.” – Aaron, 43, Ohio

My Kids Bonded With My Co-Workers

“My wife’s job is a little less flexible, and we can’t bring in a babysitter, so I have to keep the kids with me a lot during the workday. The people I work with have really embraced it. The kids will pop up on the screen to wave to everyone. All my coworkers ask them what they’re up to and how they’re doing. They’ve almost become unofficial mascots at this point. I’ve been taking screenshots and pictures of them talking to my colleagues, so I hope that they’ll get a good laugh out of it when they’re older. They’re really excited to be able to meet some of the people in person one day.” – Ken, 35, Arizona

We’ve Become Dog People

“We adopted a dog from our local rescue about two months into lockdown. She’s been an absolute blessing for the family. I remember the day pretty vividly. Our kids hadn’t been pestering us about getting a dog, but they all came up to me and my wife one day and asked if they could get a puppy. We figured there wouldn’t be a more perfect time than when we were all at home, able to watch it, train it, and care for it. So we went and adopted Sadie. She’s a handful but, after seeing the kids with her, I’ve learned that they’re all capable of handling the responsibilities, and that they all have incredibly big hearts.” – William, 34, Michigan

My Kids Are Dangerously Content

“I’m not saying I’m Mister Motivated all the time, but it’s really scared me to learn just how content my kids are with doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to…everything. I get it, the landscape of everything has changed. Especially school and education. But seeing how lazy my son and daughter have both become is unnerving. Like, even though we’re locked down, you can still do stuff. You can still seek to improve yourself, explore new hobbies, and figure out how to navigate a difficult situation. They’re not interested in any of that, and they keep blaming the pandemic. Maybe that’s why it’s so scary – I worry that this is going to be a hard habit to break once things go back to normal.” – Patrick, 39, Kentucky

I Realized How Creative My Kids Really Are

“I’ve learned that both of my kids love origami. I had absolutely no idea. They said they found a book in their school library, started making stuff, and just really got into it. They’ve shown me some of their creations, and I’m blown away by the precision and detail of everything. I talked to them about why they enjoy it so much, and I really think I got a better insight into how their minds work. They love the structure, the exactness, and the possibilities origami offers. It’s early to tell if this is just a phase, or something more long lasting, but maybe this discovery will help guide their interests in the future?” – Brian, 37, Pennsylvania

I Found Out Just How Compassionate My Kids Are

“Kids don’t get enough credit for their capacity for empathy. I overheard my daughter – she’s 10 – talking to her friend on FaceTime, and her friend was saying how scared she was about all of this. My daughter kept reminding her that everything will be okay, and said that she understands. It really melted my heart. I told her I eavesdropped, and that I was proud of her. As parents, I think we underestimate our kids when it comes to those more ‘mature’ feelings. But, they can surprise us when we least expect it. And, especially during a time like this, I’m overjoyed to know that this is how my daughter is reacting.” – Nicholas, 39, Nevada

I Realized My Daughter Is Unpleasant to Be Around

“Before COVID, my wife and I both worked during the day. So, we were present in our daughter’s life, but definitely not to the extent that we’ve been for the past few months. Our daughter is 12, and I swear to God she acts like a fucking Real Housewife. She makes things about her, victimizes herself when something doesn’t go her way. It hurts my heart to say, but she’s pretty unpleasant to be around a lot of the time. Now that we’re seeing it day in, day out it’s clear what a problem she’s become. I don’t know how we’re going to get out in front of this one, honestly. Time will tell.” – Justin, 38, Indiana

I’ve Tried to Be as Understanding As Possible

“The hardest thing I’ve learned about my kids during lockdown is that they’re processing this whole situation in a way that just seems hopeless. And, to be honest, I empathize. Hope is really, really hard to find in the world right now. It pains me as a father to not be able to comfort them with at least some degree of certainty, and I really wonder if this is going to be the start of something more serious, like depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. That’s all unfamiliar territory for me and, like I said, I don’t blame them for feeling this way. Our relationship as a family has ebbed and flowed. Some days it’s been good, but many days it’s just drudging through each day trying to figure it out. It’s really scary.” – Michael, 40, California

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

5 activities for rainy days at home

When spending more time at home, especially with kids in tow, outside time can be essential to getting through the day. But when rain strikes — or the cold makes its way back into our supposed spring — weather throws an entire wrench into the mix. That means finding new and creative ways to stay busy all day long. From playing indoor games, to streaming movies from resources offering up free material during the pandemic, you can use these tips for a household that’s happily entertained.


Cooking

The best part about cooking is that once you’re done, you get to eat! Keep your kids — or just yourself — busy with cooking, baking or all of the above. Get creative with whatever ingredients are in the house (it’s weird times when it comes to groceries these days!), or opt for family faves that everyone will love, like desserts, dinner and more. This is no DFac experience, of course, so pull out all the stops and truly enjoy your time.

Grab an apron and put on a favorite song and spend a few hours in the kitchen to pass this rainy, dreary day!

Make a fort

Set up a tent inside the home, or even in the garage. Suddenly every activity is fun and overt, simply because you’re playing with toys in a tent! Parents looking to make real soldiers out of their kids can even encourage an outdoor tent to teach survivalist skills that can be used later in life. However, there’s a fine line between fun and ridiculous tasks, walk it lightly.

Either way, marshmallows are encouraged.

Science experiments

Make a tornado in a jar. Explore with sensory bins. Drop food coloring into different liquids, mix colors to make new colors, and more. Put your best Pinterest searching skills to work and find fun science experiments that can keep kids of all ages busy throughout the day.

Or, for the adults among us, see what cleaning supplies you can make from items in your house.

Stream free resources

Now more than ever you can find tons of free content online. Get your use out of your Internet subscription and take advantage of unique content you can’t normally watch!

For instance:

  • Frozen’s Josh Gad is reading bedtime stories
  • Trolls is Free for Download
  • The Metropolitan Opera is streaming past performances
  • Classic sporting events and documentaries can be streamed

Pick your poison! There’s so much free stuff to choose from right now, you can truly take in some new scenes, without ever leaving the comfort of your cozy living room.

Look at old photos

Who doesn’t like looking at days of the past? Pictures are a fun reminder of who and where you used to be. Previous duty stations, old friends and younger days abound. With kids, you can tell stories about each picture for a fun way to teach them about their past and yours, too.

How do you stay occupied on a rainy day inside?

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why your radio guy is always up at 0430

Communications troops don’t get nearly the amount of love that they deserve. Sure, the job description is very attractive to the more nerdy troops in formation and they’re far more likely to be in supporting roles than kicking in doors with the grunts, but they’re constantly working.

In Afghanistan, while everyone else is still asleep, the S-6 shop is up at 0430 doing radio work. This is just one of the many tasks the commo world is gifted with having.

Being appreciated is, however, not one of them.
(U.S. Army Photo)


The reason they’re up so early is because they need to change the communications security (or COMSEC) regularly. In order to ensure that no enemy force is able to hack their way into the military’s secure radio systems, the crypto-key that is encoded onto the radio is changed out.

Those keys are changed out at exactly the same moment everywhere around the world for all active radio systems. Because it would be impractical to set the time that COMSEC changes over at, the global time for radio systems is set in Zulu time, which is the current time in London’s GMT/UTC +0 time zone.

This is also why the good radio operators carry two watches u2014 one in current time and another in Zulu time.

For troops stationed in Korea or Japan, this gives them a pleasant 0900 to change the COMSEC. Troops on America’s west coast have 1600 (which is great because it’s right before closeout formation.) If they’re stationed in Afghanistan however, they get the unarguably terrible time of 0430.

As if being a deployed radio operator wasn’t sh*tty enough.

Each and every radio system that will be used needs to be refilled by the appropriate radio operator. When this is just before a patrol, the sole radio operator with the SKL (the device used to encrypt radios) will usually be jokingly heckled to move faster. The process usually takes a few minutes per radio, which could take a while.

This is also why the radios themselves are set to Zulu time. If the radio is not programmed to Zulu time — or if it’s slightly off —it won’t read the encryption right and radio transmissions won’t be effective. This goes to the exact second.

So maybe cut your radio guy some slack. The only time they could be spending sleeping is used to program radios.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways to strengthen your military marriage this year

A healthy and strong military marriage is at the top of many people’s priority list, but accomplishing this takes effort.

Typically, tasks that aide this goal are not included on our to-do list. We do not think we need to add, “Daily say I love you”, but maybe we should. Reaching big goals, such as a successful relationship, is about taking little steps to get there. So, along with your task of weight-lifting Wednesdays for your hot bod, consider adding the following to-dos for your relationship.


1. Go for a walk.

There are numerous benefits to walking, but the point here is spending intentional time together away from the distractions of home. Walking is an extremely easy and effective way to get out of a communication rut. Change the scenery and see how the extra oxygen to your brain fuels creative conversations.

(Photo by Ben Rosett)

2. Make a bucket list.

This is not another list of tasks, but a fun way to dream together. Think big and dream crazy dreams. Have fun imagining what you can accomplish/see/experience together. (Just keep your dates flexible!!)

3. Arm wrestle.

This was my husband’s response to things we could do to strengthen our relationship. Anyone who compared our size would know how ridiculous this is, but I’ve added it to my list. I’m not saying determining who has the most arm strength will improve your relationship, but adding something your significant other is interested in (or something just plain funny) is a good start! Find your version of arm wrestling!

(Photo by Sandy Millar)

4. See a counselor.

There is a common misconception that going to marriage counseling is only for those in trouble. It is not. If you owned a business, you would evaluate its performance; if you want to stay healthy you do a yearly physical; if you want your car to run well, you have a maintenance check. Marriage is no different. Taking time to talk with a counselor, a mentor couple, or a real friend who will encourage and help you to grow together is an important part of keeping your relationship strong.

5. Build your calendar together.

It is extremely easy to get into a habit of living two completely separate lives. Even if you digitally share your calendar, take at least 15 minutes each week to do a rundown of what is happening each day. Verbally reviewing each other’s calendar allows you to be connected with each other’s events even when you are apart. It also provides background knowledge to ask questions more specific than, “How was your day?”

(Photo by Will O)

6. Cheer each other on.

Words matter, and at some point in our military marriages, they are all we have to stay connected.Find ways to talk highly about your significant other when he/she is not around. Make a specific reminder to write encouraging notes, send messages listing their strengths or rent a billboard to highlight their accomplishments (to include choosing you). Your words count for something, make them count for your relationship’s good.

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

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How to talk to aging parents about them moving in with you

The costs of coronavirus won’t be fully known for months, if not years. Loss of income is already clear. People over 55 years old have been especially hit. Their unemployment rate was 13.6 percent in April, a 10 percent jump from March. While the conversations might have likely taken place regardless, their situation increases the chance that grandparents will have to move in with their adult children.

This is an emotional realization for the whole family. Having grandma or grandpa move in isn’t a simple transition for all parties. It involves issues of space, money, privacy, freedom, and ego. There’s resentment with, “I didn’t ask for this,” and all opinions would be living under the same roof. And parents who want to start the discussion are in the middle, their folks on one side; their spouses on the other.


“It’s a tricky position, especially if there’s tension and conflict,” says Megan Dolbin-MacNab, associate professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech University.

It certainly is. Before you start feeling disloyal to anyone, remember that this isn’t an inevitable event. It’s just a possibility, one that requires assessing and playing the scenarios. Before you start reconfiguring the house, it starts with a conversation about having your parents move in. Well, two actually.

Talking to Your Spouse About Having Aging Parents Move In

When deciding whether or not grandparents should move into your home, the first conversation should be at home, with your partner. This needs mutual buy-in, regardless of how dire the situation might seem.

“It’s got to be a choice. There is a choice,” says Roberta Satow, psychoanalyst, professor emeritus at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, and author of Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even if They Didn’t Take Care of You.

When you start exploring the alternatives, you’ll see where moving in ranks and that can help make a decision. As you proceed, the main thing is to ask your spouse questions and listen — truly listen — to the answers, keeping in mind the essential fact that you’re making a big request, Satow says. Ask two fundamental questions. “How do you think this would work?” and “What would we expect from them?” This will get you thinking about everything from space allocations to sharing of bills to things you didn’t even consider.

You can’t nail down every detail, but you’ll get an outline and more comfort with the idea. You also want to ask your spouse, “What are your concerns?” Listen again without quickly reacting. You want your partner to be able to express reservations, even anger, and do so early in the process, because things won’t magically work out without intention.

“If you don’t talk about stuff, it festers and then it explodes,” Dolbin-MacNab says.

It’s important to also ask: “What can we do for us if this happens?” Kids already changed your relationship. Grandparents moving in will do it again, Satow says. You might not have any couple time now, but giving the two of you focus amid this discussion will again help with the consideration.

But don’t focus solely on concerns, by also examining, “What’s the upside?” There’s the potential for help with chores and childcare, maybe you two get a night out regularly, and there’s the chance for your folks and kids to deepen their relationship. Considering the positives gives a fuller picture.

Talking to Aging Parents About Moving Into Your Home

This issue may have never been broached before with your parents. If so, it’s not an easy topic to raise. If there’s the slightest opening, some show of worry, use it to start a conversation when you’re not all rushed and the kids are engaged with something else. Acknowledge the awkwardness, Dolbin-MacNab says, and approach it, like with your spouse, as not a done deal. This is not the time for foot-stamping declarations of “You’re moving in.”

Ask your parents, “What are you feeling and what do you want?” It’s their decision as well. As the conversation moves forward, you want to be clear with concerns and expectations, and that honesty might be a new dynamic for all of you, and just setting that standard might be the biggest component, Dolbin-MacNab says.

Ask them, “What do you expect?” as it relates to childcare, bills, household chores and time together. Let them give a sense of how it would look, then give them the picture of your day and your approach to parenting – awake by 6 a.m., no snacks after 5 p.m., we try not to compare the kids to others – and ask, “Do you think you could fit into that?”

Remember: If you’re asking them for something, you need to offer them room to make it their own, and that requires prioritizing what really matters and not caring so much about the rest, Dolbin-MacNab says.

But there’s no need to address every potential conflict. They’ll happen and are best handled in the moment. You’ve set the overall framework and the precedent of talking. Let them know that will continue where everyone can share how it’s working and what needs addressing, Dolbin-MacNab says.

And ask them, “What do you see as the benefits?” It’s a hard time for them. This may be a loss of everything from social networks to furniture and they may feel embarrassed, but getting them to consider the upsides might reduce the sadness and bring in the idea that something different is also something new.

Even when it’s just a potential, it’s easy for you and your spouse to see it as a burden and undue stress. But it’s not what anyone drew up. As much as it’s possible, try to approach it like a team by finding consensus, looking for solutions, and where.

As Dolbin-MacNab says, “We’re all working toward the same goal and we could make our lives easier.”

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Living (and loving) in a soberly-divided marriage

Marriage can feel like a roller coaster, full of unforeseen ups and downs. But a marriage that becomes divided by sobriety levels up the ride, adding sharp turns, twists and loops that will make any head spin.

From the moment my husband and I met in 2007 — at a bar on a Monday night — alcohol has played a significant role between us. We bonded and drank our way through every phase: courting, engagement and newlywed. We drank through good times and bad, for good reasons and not.


When we entered the new-parent phase, there was a shift. My husband, whose sole goal in life was to be a dad, started to slow down his drinking. I boldly amped it up, increasing with each of the three children we brought into the world.

When my heavy weekend drinking trickled into weekdays, my husband expressed concern. When I drank excessively while he was on missions, he gave me ultimatums to not drink.

When my few solo travels resulted in reckless drinking, we both agreed I should stop altogether. Twice I attempted to break up with alcohol for my kids and marriage — once for 100 days, the other for eight months.

Yet, I knew I’d drink again because that’s what my husband and I did. We drank. A lot. Together.

By the beginning of 2017, my drinking was at an all-time high, and I was at an all-time low. My soul felt beyond broken. I was living life on alcohol’s terms rather than my own.

I was in single-mom-mode with our kids and on day four of an uncontrollable bender. I heard a very distant voice. It was my own, deep inside, and it said, enough. In that moment I knew I was ready to get sober — not for my kids, not for my marriage, but for me.

Fast forward to today, more than three years later, and I’m still gratefully sober.

The years have gifted me heaps of self-growth, such as how to honor my feelings, to stay present and to live authentically. I’ve found my voice and my calling in a new career. I’ve also done a complete 180 on how I perceive alcohol and the alcohol industry.

When people ask about the hardest part of recovery my answer has been and remains my marriage.

At first, it was not only the elephant in the room, but an elephant between us. To remove the elephant, we’ve attempted a dry house, which resulted in resentment from both parties.

We’ve tried a normal routine of my husband drinking as he pleases, which has also resulted in resentment and rejection from both parties.

We’ve talked. We’ve fought. We’ve cried, and we’ve loved each other so hard through it all.

(Military Families Magazine)

So how then do you live in a soberly divided marriage?

For us, there is no black-and-white answer, but I can attest to what we’ve learned over the years.

Honest communication is a must.

If I’m triggered or having an off day, it’s best to own it and say it aloud. Otherwise, my husband may have no understanding as to my bitterness or emotional distance. Plus, he’s able to better support me in the future, and vice versa if he struggles on his side of the journey.

Establish and honor boundaries.

Being around my husband when he drinks usually doesn’t bother me because, oddly enough, I like his tipsy, talkative lighter side. But my boundary is set at two nights in a row of his drinking. Beyond that and he knows he’ll find me elsewhere, doing my own thing. He honors my choice and space, but more times than not, he’ll not risk losing my company for a drink.

Respect the differences.

He’s a science guy. I’m a believer in Jesus. In all our time, we’ve respected our differences in faith. Similar respect is now applied to our opposing relationships with alcohol. We agree to disagree, and we do so respectfully.

Time and patience do wonders.

Despite the infinite ups and downs outside that come with being soberly divided, it’s clear with every passing sober day, we grow stronger in our marriage. We also grow stronger as individuals. But we must practice patience when the sober journey feels tough.

Practice empathy daily.

Lastly, without empathy, we may have fallen apart years ago. With empathy, we see through each other’s eyes more clearly. We’re better equipped to practice the “Golden Rule.” We’re forever reminded that at the end of the day, we’re two imperfect people doing our best to love each other through the sober journey’s good, bad and in-betweens.

Visit https://www.instagram.com/teetotallyfit/ to follow Alison Evans’ journey with sobriety and fitness.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 reasons the holidays are the best time to be a first responder

Being a first responder can suck. In fact, it often does suck… Yes, there are some clear benefits to being a part of the first responder family, but it’s grueling work that never stops. You’ve gotta be a special kind of person to put yourself on the line like that, day in, day out.

But there’s a silver lining to first responder life. One of the most underrated benefits of being a first responder is the special holiday treatment. It’s hard to describe and really has to be experienced to be appreciated, but you’re here already, so we’ll do our best.


The holiday season is the one time when being a first responder might be the best job to have.

This is what the average Security Forces gate shack looks like by noon, Christmas Day.

(The Japan Times)

The food

This one is actually specifically for my Security Forces/Master of Arms/Military Police family. Our firefighter brothers and our siblings in the ambulances don’t typically face the same struggles in getting a simple lunch. Day in and day out, the constant nature of our work makes a daily lunch uncertain (to say the least).

Having that experience really makes the flood of holiday food that much easier to appreciate. It’s almost as if the other 11 months of being overworked and under-appreciated are a fair price to pay for all the love we get during this wonderful time of the year.

Something about having the higher-ups serve you gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.

People are actually nice to you

It may seem like respect is always on the menu when dealing with first responders — and that’s true, to a degree. But we’re also often treated as though we’re invisible. First responders deal with the outside world in the worst of times. If you’ve dialed 911 and had responders show up at your location, chances are you were having at least a marginally bad day. So, it’s easy to see us first responders as inanimate objects — as tools of rescue. Save for a few occasions, we might as well be made of glass.

During the holidays, all of that changes. People understand that having to work on those days is a particular kind of suck that somehow stands out from the rest. This is the one time of the year when everyone sees you. Everyone tries to make you feel better, or, at the very least, expresses genuine care for your well-being.

Believe it or not, the schedule

There’s no denying that having to work on these special days is tough. No matter how great you’re treated or fed, it isn’t an easy undertaking. It messes with you, at least those first few times.

Conversely, working on those days often means some form of holiday schedule. This means about a week straight of work, either followed or preceded by a week of time off. Many of us use that time in conjunction with some leave and end up with a solid lump of time either to ourselves or with our loved ones.

Your work family will be going through the suck alongside you.

(Department of Defense)

Camaraderie

Brotherhood is a standing and well-recognized benefit of being a first responder. During the holidays, first responders have a way of coming together and really being a family.

There are few better bonding moments than sharing some holiday goodies with your work-family over a 12-hour shift.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

This is how Jack Daniel’s and the ASYMCA help troops go home for the holidays

For the seventh year, the Jack Daniel Distillery and the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) have kicked off their “Operation Ride Home” campaign that provides financial assistance to active duty junior-enlisted military and their families to travel from their place of military service to “home” for the holidays.


Since Operation Ride Home began, 2,669 junior enlisted single service members and those with families – for a total of 5,767 people – have travelled from their bases to homes around the country for the holidays. Men and women from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard have been assisted with travel to 47 of the 50 states.

The ASYMCA works with the various military commands in specific areas co-located with ASYMCA branches to identify and prioritize junior-enlisted service members and families most in financial need. Plane tickets and pre-paid debit cards are given to assist those traveling.

For every purchase made from Heritage Made Hero, a donation will be made to Operation Ride Home.

Jack Daniel’s has once again donated $100,000 to kick off the campaign that this year will exceed more than one million dollars in total donations over the life of ORH. The famed distillery is asking friends to visit their website to make a contribution to help more service members spend the holidays at home. All donations are 100 percent tax deductible.

“Words can’t describe what it means for us to be able to give back and help these heroes and their families make it home for the holidays,” said Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller. “We can’t thank our friends enough for their support of Operation Ride Home over the years, and hope they will once again do what they can as we try to get as many families home as possible. The sacrifice shown daily by our men and women in uniform and their families is simply incredible. They are there for us, and we need to be there for them.”

“Our junior-enlisted service members are often young, new to the military, and struggle to get home during the holidays,” said William French, ASYMCA President and CEO. “We are proud to work alongside Jack Daniel’s for Operation Ride Home and hope others will join us in sending these service members home to their loved ones this holiday season.”

Operation Ride Home is open to active duty E-4 and below, both single and married, who might not otherwise financially be able to travel home for the holidays. The option to drive or fly is an individual decision. Plane ticket vouchers are limited to $400 per person flying and for those choosing to drive, the pre-paid debit cards are $100 per family member for gas, lodging and food. Click here for additional information on eligibility and to view participating installations that qualify for travel assistance.

Celebrate Joyfully. Drink Responsibly.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Feed the Rangers: America’s elite left without enough food

Feed the Rangers.

It’s hard to imagine that one of the U.S. military’s premier Special Operations units would fail to sufficiently feed its troops during an extraordinary time. And yet that’s exactly what is been happening in the 1st Battalion, 75th Regiment, which is based at Fort Steward, Georgia.


Last week, approximately 300 Rangers were notified by their leadership that they would be moving to another barracks and undergo a two-week quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The barracks that they relocated to, however, wasn’t prepared to receive them. The main issue with the new housing arrangement was that it didn’t have an adequate Dining Facilities Administration Center (DFAC) that could properly feed the Rangers.

SOFREP understands that in the first days the quarantined troops, several of which have tested positive for the Coronavirus, were being fed twice a day with extremely low quantities and quality of food. The following pictures speak for themselves.

To alleviate the quarantined Rangers’ predicament, a support group was set up in order to supplement their nutrition. Word quickly spread via social media, and in just a few days, the support group has managed to raise over ,000 and deliver food to the troops in need.

One of the quarantined troops reached out to those organizing the Ranger version of the Berlin airlift and said, “I’m one of the guys who unfortunately tested positive [for COVID-19] from 1/75, just wanted to reach out and personally say we all appreciate what you guys have done for us. . . before y’all showed up, we would all just get the scraps of whatever came through for food, but now man, that is definitely not the case anymore. We all really do appreciate it!”

The guys who are organizing and running the support service are clear that what they are doing is only to supplement the nutrition of the quarantined Rangers. They don’t have an issue with the leadership.

The whole issue signals a breakdown in communications. Broken down, the core duties of a leader are to achieve the mission and take care of his troops. You can easily discern good officers and non-commissioned officers from their actions. Are they last to eat or sleep while in the field? Do they help clean up after a long day at the range? If yes, then that’s a sign that they put their troops before their welfare and comfort. Good and timely communication is also important. You can honestly care about your troops but if you don’t communicate it or, reversely, encourage productive feedback, then your good intentions will fall short.

Furthermore, the situation suggests that the Army is still having trouble in addressing COVID-19 and potential quarantines. It seems like units just hope it won’t reach them rather be proactive about it and sufficiently prepare. As a consequence, they are forced to such hodgepodge reactions that result in troops not being fed enough.

The 75th Ranger Regiment is the premier direct action Special Operations unit of the U.S. military. It is comprised of three infantry battalions (1/75, 2/75, 3/75), a special troops battalion, and a military intelligence battalion.

This event is sure to produce second-order effects. With such poor treatment during a time of need, several Rangers will be looking to either move to other Special Operations units, such as the Special Forces Regiment or Delta Force, or leave the force altogether.

The quarantine is expected to last for approximately ten more days.

You can help out by visiting the GoFundMe page that has been set up by the members of the community.

It was Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist that said “Please, Sir, I want some more,” but it’s the quarantined Rangers who are living it.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

China threatens family members at home to control people abroad

Anastasia Lin may never see her family in China again.

Shortly after winning the Miss World Canada title in 2015, Beijing deemed China-born Lin “persona non grata” — a powerful diplomatic term that effectively banned her from the country — because she was speaking out on the country’s human-rights issues.

But more problematic than Lin’s ability to enter China, is the difficulty her family have had trying to leave, which is being used as leverage to pressure the Chinese-Canadian actress and activist.


While in Australia in early 2018, Lin told Business Insider how her uncles and even elderly grandparents had their visas to Hong Kong revoked in 2016 in an attempt by authorities to silence Lin and punish her Hunan-based family.

“The day before I left, my mother told me that the police went into my grandparents home and took away their visa, their Hong Kong visa. These are 70 year-olds, and they took it away. They intercepted my uncle in the airport on his way to Macau, to Hong Kong,” Lin said.

Anastasia Lin speaks at the National Press Club on Dec. 18, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

“My grandmother told me … they took away the Hong Kong visa and they said very explicitly that it was because of my activities overseas and influence,” she said. “Since then, my grandparents have been getting routine police visits.”

Lin’s great-grandfather was executed in public during the Cultural Revolution “to warn the rest,” according to Lin, and the fear from that time has returned for her grandparents who are now subject to regular house calls by authorities.

“Later on my grandmother told me that the visits sometimes are with fruit and flowers but it was for the purpose of persuading them to persuade me to do less, to not do anything, and to convince me to be on the opposite side,” she said.

These weren’t the first threats and police visits Lin’s family received. Within weeks of winning her crown, security agents started threatening her father telling him that his daughter “cannot talk” about Chinese human-rights issues.

“My father sent me text message saying that they have contacted him telling him that if I continue to speak up, my family would be persecuted like in the Cultural Revolution. My father’s generation grew up in the middle of Cultural Revolution, so for him it’s the biggest threat you can make. It means you die, you get publicly persecuted,” Lin said, adding that her father “begged” her for a way for the family to survive in China.

Lin said it’s been a long time since she spoke to her father because their calls are monitored, but she learned recently his passport was rejected for renewal.

Lin is just one of many Chinese expats and exiles whose mainland relatives are used as leverage to try and control China’s reputation abroad.

Chinese President Xi Jingping.

Business Insider has previously reported on how relatives are contacted to try and control what their adult children are posting on social media while they study at foreign universities. And ethnic minority Uighurs, Tibetans, and other human-rights activists who have faced persecution have frequently said their family members are used as leverage to try and control their actions and speech overseas, with some even being blackmailed into spying for the state.

Family members of five Radio Free Asia journalists, including two US citizens , were recently detained in an attempt to stop their reporting on human-rights abuses against Uighurs in the Xinjiang region. One of those journalists is Gulchehra Hoja, who had more than 20 relatives disappear all in one day, in early 2018.

“When I heard my brother was detained, I [initially] chose not to speak up because my mother asked me, ‘Please I already lost you, I don’t want to lose my son too,” Hoja told a congressional hearing in July 2018. “We don’t want to put them in further danger because of our acts or any word against China.”

“My family haven’t been able to be reunited in 17 years,” she added.

The fear of this happening is also an effective enough tool to self-censor criticism, even if family members aren’t being directly threatened.

Square engineer Jackie Luo explained on Twitter what happened when the Chinese government closed down one of her mother’s WeChat groups here people in China and abroad would send hundreds of messages a day talking about social issues.

“They asked the person who started the WeChat group to restart it. He lives in the US now. But he won’t; he’s afraid. He has relatives in China, and if the government is monitoring him, then it may well be unsafe. They understand. This social group of 136 people — it’s dead now,” Luo wrote.

But when people choose to speak out, it can be harder for those still in China to understand.

“My grandpa [is] like, ‘Well why don’t you just give up, then you can come back?'” Lin said. “They think it’s that easy because the Chinese Communist Party promised them that if I don’t speak up, I will get to go back, but I know that’s not the case. I know usually if you don’t speak up you don’t have any leverage. They will just kill your voice completely.”

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