“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.”
In most cases, the term “brat” is one of a put-down. But when it comes to military affiliation, it’s almost a term of endearment. Possibly an acronym dating back hundreds of years — short for British Regiment Attached Traveler — it’s a word that refers to military children and all that comes with it: frequent moves and a military lifestyle for much, if not all, of their childhood years.
Being a brat is often a badge of honor. Here are four benefits of growing up on the move:
Military kids are great with change
Moving? Making new friends? Adapting to a new climate and culture? Military kids can do it all. They might not like it, but they’re more than equipped to do so. Brats know how to settle in somewhere new, and how to ultimately fit in.
Kids (even adults) who have remained in one place their entire lives are lacking in these areas. Whether or not brats realize it at the time, frequent moves are creating important life skills in confidence, adaptability, social abilities, and more.
Military brats are more open-minded
If you’ve never lived anywhere new, it’s hard to understand how others think, let alone put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But when you’ve lived in different states, possibly even different countries, all before adulthood, that closed-mindedness simply doesn’t exist.
Because they grew up hearing different thoughts, trying new foods, and meeting new folks, military brats automatically learn to be more well-rounded individuals.
They don’t focus on “stuff”
Every decluttering program can rejoice in the lack of things that come from military moves. If you don’t need it, it’s got to go! This is a great way for kids to avoid becoming materialistic and instead, to focus on what’s important in life. With less focus on “stuff,” it frees up time to look at other things — activities, people, quality time with family, and more.
Brats are better communicators
Being a military brat means talking with grandma and grandpa through FaceTime. It means writing letters or sending gifts in the mail. It means learning how to talk with others from a distance. While it’s not ideal having family that’s so far away, one perk is that it teaches young kids to hold conversations and how to stay in touch, even from a young age.
Military brats can benefit from a lifestyle that keeps them moving. What’s the biggest benefit you’ve seen as a family?
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)
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)
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.
Exercise Patriot Warrior featured airmen, sailors, and soldiers practicing their cyber defense skills in highly challenging environments.
“We have to stay ready at all times to defend our networks at home and abroad,” said Air Force Senior Airmen Christopher Hillen, an exercise participant. “This exercise is so important, once we get deployed and experience different situations we’re going to lean on the training we received here and apply it to real world situations.”
One part of Patriot Warrior enabled Air Force and Army personnel to interact and train together in realistic scenarios providing both services with a unique perspective on the exercise and future missions.
Staff Sgt. Michael Bigee and Airman Steven Hilton, 265th Combat Communications Squadron cyber operations specialists, work on systems at Fort McCoy, Wis., June 12, 2015.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Salazar)
“These scenarios provide our soldiers and also the airmen with a very realistic outlook on what both entities could expect in the real world,” said Army Maj. Robert Bell, 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade operations and plans officer. “Everyone learns great lessons in trainings like this, it develops different skills that each other has learned and also builds confidence in our airmen and soldiers.
The exercise was comprised of joint forces from around the country to showcase deployment capabilities and was hosted here. The exercise hosted Army, Navy and Air Force personnel from 22 different bases.
“Working with other services is an invaluable experience for our Airmen and their development as cyber operators,” said Air Force Maj. Bennett Reid, director of operations.
Airmen and Soldiers gather during Exercise Patriot Warrior for cyber defense training on Aug. 8, 2018 at Fort McCoy, Wisc. Patriot Warrior is Air Force Reserve Command’s premier exercise, providing an opportunity for Reserve Citizen Airmen to train with joint partners in the combat support training exercise.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Xavier Lockley)
Cyber Combat Support Training
“With this being the first time that we’ve integrated with the Army in a cyber combat support training exercise, it allowed us to see areas in which we aren’t as strong and fix the issue as team,” Reid said. “We got to work with a network we’d never seen before, and we had to learn how to get plugged into our weapon system which we had to learn but it helped us understand how to operate other networks outside of our comfort zone.”
Exercises like Patriot Warrior provide critical contingency oriented skills for all members who participate, but there is also a bigger picture in mind.
“The way the fight is won nowadays is through cyberspace,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Christian Coleman, a reservist from the 911th Communications Squadron cyberspace operations controller and member of the Cyber Mission Defense Team.
“All branches continue to evolve as the battlefield changes and now the World Wide Web is where we have to maintain dominance,” Coleman added.
When, at a ceremony or event, an emcee asks that all active military, veterans, and spouses stand together to be recognized, there is not distinction between the groups.
They all stand. If the woman is a service member or veteran, they know that when everyone stands together the assumption will be they are a military spouse. And what about military spouses? How does this make them feel? They don’t quite fit into the category of service member since they are a spouse. Although they appreciate being recognized for their sacrifice, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
Situations like this especially aggravate an already existing complicated relationship between female service members and female military spouses. Women who serve in the military are constantly overlooked and their service is devalued. They often have to defend their service to the men who they either serve with or men who never served at all. Grouping their service with the service of non-veterans is very disingenuous.
Military spouses appreciate being recognized for the work they do to support the military because it is often an unseen and thankless job. But when everyone is pushed into one category, military spouses find themselves feeling awkward or uncomfortable. The very group they are trying to recognize doesn’t feel supported or appreciated.
Instead, they still feel like outsiders.
But treated differently
As both a veteran and a military spouse, I am in a unique position to see how military spouses and service members are treated in similar situations.
Military spouses are classified as dependents, and are often treated just like the title sounds. And while some rules are made to protect the military and the member, they often make life a lot harder to be a military spouse.
A basic task like getting an identification card renewed or having repairs done to your home when you live on base require the service member. In the civilian world, a spouse is not dependent on their husband or wife to get basic tasks done. But the same cannot be said for military spouses. When I was in the military, I was treated with respect and always had great customer service.
As a military spouse, if I go on base to get help without my husband, I have found myself leaving in tears, treated unprofessionally and feeling like no one even cares. While military spouses don’t hold rank, they should be treated with respect.
Instead of support for spouses, there seems to be an unwritten rule where people can say negative things about military spouses, but if you say anything negative about a service member you are being disrespectful. Even military spouses who are just trying to engage in conversation with female service members may feel the need to tread lightly based on past experiences when stating their opinion ended up in a situation where they were humiliated.
And then there is the “I serve too” issue
Military spouses and service members use the same words to describe different things or don’t understand the other side’s experience. When military spouses say, “I serve too,” this can ruffle all kinds of feathers on both sides. For the military service member, the word service is tied to signing up to join the military and being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
While military spouses don’t serve the military in that function that doesn’t mean they don’t serve the military. Military spouses make countless sacrifices to support their service member. Maybe they gave up their career to follow their service member to the next assignment. Maybe they are the one who constantly has to take time off work or bend their schedule to accommodate the deployments, training and endless temporary duty assignments. Being a military spouse is often a lonely, hard and thankless job.
Understanding our stories
The best way to bridge the gap between military spouses and service women is by getting to know the other’s story. Until you actually meet and get to know a military spouse the only thing you know are the stereotypes. And until you actually meet and get to know a female service member all you know are the stereotypes. Stereotypes that are not good. Stereotypes that are often expanded stories or perceived truths that are rarely factual.
Military spouses are not lazy, attempting to get a free ride. Military spouses are strong, determined and are willing to bend over backwards to make military life work while taking care of their family. Many military spouses are working in careers that don’t meet their qualifications, but they have a hard time finding and keeping a job with all the demands of the military.
Female service members are not sluts, using pregnancy as a means to get out of military obligations, or fooling around with married service members. Female service members are strong, determined and work hard to make it to the rank they have obtained.
They are professionals. And, if they stay in after marriage and kids, they have to make countless sacrifices while trying to find the balance of keeping a career and raising a family.
How many stories do you know about the women who have served our country? Or how many military spouses do you know and can talk to about their experience? The only way we can close the divide is to listen to the other side.
Want to share your story or thoughts on this topic or other important topics facing the military community? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
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
The holidays are great occasions to build family memories and connect with loved ones. The foods served often connect us to special memories from the past. But, did you know that people over 65, children, and pregnant women are at higher risk for food borne illness? To ensure that your holidays are merry, here are some tips to help prevent food borne illness from crashing your party:
Wash your hands prior to starting food preparation, making sure to wash all surfaces of the hands and nails for at least 20 seconds. Singing “Happy Birthday” is a good way to ensure you have washed long enough.
Rinse fresh produce under running water prior to prepping these items.
Use separate cutting boards for produce, meat, shellfish and eggs to prevent cross-contamination. Wash cutting boards in warm soapy water after prepping each food item.
(Photo by Caroline Attwood)
When baking with little kitchen helpers, teach children not to eat batter or dough with raw eggs.
Reused sponges and towels are a harbor for harmful bacteria. When you have multiple hands in the kitchen, paper towels can be safer.
Avoid leaving food out on the counter to defrost. The only safe ways to defrost foods are in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately.
A thermometer is a great tool to make sure you fully cook hot items. Be careful not to place cooked meat on the same plate that previously held raw meat.
Avoid rinsing meat or poultry, as this can spread harmful bacteria.
Don’t stuff your bird! Instead, cook your stuffing separately. If you choose to stuff your bird, the stuffing must meet an internal temperature of 165°.
When sending family members home with leftovers, keep the following tips in mind:
Discard perishable food items that have been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Remember, you can’t tell if an item is bad by taste, smell, or appearance.
Use shallow containers to store leftovers to allow for quick cooling.
Reheat any leftovers to a minimum temperature of 165°.
For additional information check out the CDC’s information on food safety and this advice for holiday cooks. If you are interested in learning more about preparing healthy and safe holiday foods this season, contact your local VA to learn more about the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program, or to meet with a PACT dietitian to help adjust some of your family’s favorite recipes to meet your health goals.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
To support the ongoing efforts to reduce the number of non-deployable soldiers, Army leaders released a new directive designed to encourage soldiers to reach deployable standards outlined in the directive.
If standards are not met within six months, a soldier could face separation.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley prepared the directive, which took effect Oct. 1, 2018.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Calloway, director of military personnel management, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, presented the new directive Nov. 15, 2018, in a media briefing at the Pentagon.
The number of soldiers in non-deployable status has been reduced from 121,000 (roughly 15 percent of the total force) to less than 60,000 this past year. In October 2018 alone, the Army posted a reduction of 7,000 non-deployable members.
Calloway said the separated members came from across the force, including unsatisfactory soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard and some who were pending separation.
The effort followed the release of a new directive by Defense Secretary James Mattis February 2018 to raise standards for deployable troops across the four military branches, improving readiness and lethality.
The directive highlights two distinctions: for the first time, the Army defines deployability plainly in written form. And the directive marks a culture change that encourages greater accountability among soldiers to maintain readiness and empower commanders.
Deployers from Headquarters Company, 89th Military Police Brigade, unload their equipment into their temporary lodging quarters at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in support of Operation Faithful Patriot, Oct. 29, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Alexandra Minor)
“The culture change is particularly important,” Calloway said. “We’re not only defining the deployability and the directive, it’s the first time we’ve ever put on paper what constitutes deployability.”
The directive enables commanders to closely examine non-deployable soldiers on a case-by-case basis.
“The first actions that senior leaders are taking is to ensure commanders understand their authorities; how to use them and that they are supported by senior leadership,” said Diane Randon, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.
To be certified as deployable, Soldiers must be:
legally, administratively and medically cleared for employment in any environment;
able to operate in harsh environments or areas with extreme temperatures;
able to carry and employ an assigned weapon;
able to execute the Army’s warrior tasks;
able to operate their duties while donning protective equipment such as body armor, helmets, eye protection gloves and chemical or biological equipment.
Finally, soldiers must pass the physical fitness test or be able to meet the physical demands of a specific deployment.
Soldiers who do not meet the standards of the new criteria, or soldiers who become permanently non-deployable after the date of the new directive, will be considered unqualified to serve in any military branch. Soldiers who remain in non-deployable status because of administrative reasons have six months to meet the requirements or face separation.
Calloway noted that the new directive does not apply to all of the remaining 60,000, including those who remain in non-deployable status due to medical reasons. The general estimated about 70-80 percent of the 60,000 remain non-deployable for medical reasons, and another portion for legal reasons.
Wounded warriors who have continued active duty and those on certain types of medical profiles will not be subject to the new directive. Only commanders at the O-6 level and above in a soldier’s chain of command can waive one or more of the six requirements.
Exemptions to the requirements include ex-prisoners of war who were deferred from serving in a country where they were held captive, trainees or cadets who have not completed initial entry training, and Soldiers who are temporarily non-deployable because they received a compassionate reassignment or stabilization to move them closer to an ill family member.
To help soldiers meet deployability standards, Calloway said, the service already has measures in place to reduce non-deployables and injured soldiers beginning in basic training.
U.S. Army recruits practice patrol tactics while marching during U.S. Army basic training at Fort Jackson.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
Soldiers must meet physical and psychological standards based on their desired career fields. The Army has also began to implement holistic health and fitness measures in its training.
“You can never get 100 percent on [reducing the number of non-deployables],” Calloway said. “But the goal is … to get it as low as possible.”
In the past, Calloway said Army leaders used a conservative approach to reporting non-deployables. By upholding stricter standards and holding Soldiers accountable to maintain qualifications for deployability will not only change culture but raise morale and enthusiasm to uphold standards.
In recent selection boards for officers competing to be battalion and brigade commanders, candidates were required to certify that they are deployable and had to pass a physical fitness test. Randon hopes soldiers will see the increased standards at those levels of command as motivation.
“It really is a mindset of inspiring and motivating soldiers to be accountable and to be classified as deployable,” she said.
School. Streets. Military. In 1996, Curtez Riggs graduated high school and those were his options in Flint, Michigan. By that time, the auto industry that built “Buick City” had moved away. As a kid, Curtez picked up bottles, turned in cans and always had a side gig to bring in extra money. When it came time to make the decision, Curtez figured the Army was the best way to start his future.
His entrepreneurship did not stop when he joined the Army. Curtez continuously started businesses outside of his day job as a career recruiter. In this episode, you will hear how Curtez prepared for his military transition – years before he ended his active service.
Currently, Curtez is the CEO of the Military Influencer Conference (MIC). Started in 2016, the conference is a community of entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. Curtez said he sees the conference as a mentorship and connection hub for future and current military veterans looking to make the military transition with an entrepreneurial mindset. This year’s conference is in Washington, D.C., Sept. 8-10, 2019. Starting in 2020, the conference will be placed in a different region each year.
The conference has certain tracks attendees can follow:
“Going Live” – Podcasters and Video
Founders and Innovators
Empower – Milspouse Track
#BtBattle Veteran of the Week: Air Force and Army veteran Erin McLyman.
President Donald Trump signed legislation Saturday that will broaden options for troubled veterans in the legal system and expand a home renovations grant program for disabled and blind veterans.
The new Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act directs the Justice Department to support the development and establishment of veterans treatment courts at the state, local and tribal levels.
At more than 400 veterans treatment courts across the U.S., vets with substance abuse issues or mental health conditions who commit nonviolent crimes may enter court-supervised medical treatment and get access to veteran-centric services and benefits in lieu of going to jail.
The law will encourage the development of a grant program to expand these courts across all 50 states.
“We’ve wanted this for a long time. They’ve been trying to get it for a long time, and now we have it,” Trump said after signing the bill, proposed in the House by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and in the Senate by Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
“With this new law, thousands more veterans across the country facing the criminal justice system will have an alternative to jail time, ensuring they get the treatment they need,” Crist said in a statement following the signing ceremony.
“These courts have turned veterans’ lives around in Arizona, and now they will be able to do the same for veterans across our nation,” McSally said, also in a prepared statement.
The first veterans treatment court was established in early 2008 in Buffalo, New York. After noticing an increase in the number of veterans appearing in the city’s drug and mental health treatment legal programs, Judge Robert Russell brought in veterans and Department of Veterans Affairs advisers to help create the specialty court.
Since 2011, the Justice Department has supported the development of veterans treatment courts, providing more than million to states and localities.
Trump on Saturday also signed a law that will give more veterans access to VA grants to renovate their homes to accommodate their disabilities.
The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Act of 2019 expands the program to include blind veterans and raise the maximum funding veterans can receive from ,000 to ,000. The bill also will let eligible veterans access the funds six times, instead of three, and gives them access to the full amount every 10 years — a provision that will let them change residences as their needs change.
At the start of the president’s press conference Saturday, Trump sowed some confusion about which bills he had just signed, referencing two he often mentions in stump speeches: the VA Mission Act, which he consistently refers to as “VA Choice,” and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which became law in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
“Before we begin, I’ve just signed two bills that are great for our vets. Our vets are special. We passed Choice, as you know — Veterans Choice — and Veterans Accountability,” Trump said before extolling the benefits of those laws.
“We passed Choice … they’ve been trying to get that passed for decades and decades and decades, and no president has ever been able to do it. And we got it done so veterans have Choice,” he said. “And now you have accountability — that if you don’t love your vets, if you’re in the VA and you don’t love the vets or take care of the vets, you can actually get fired if you don’t do your job.”
The president then went on to talk about the treatment courts and adaptive housing laws before moving on to other subjects.
Trump consistently refers to the VA Mission Act as VA Choice — the program established in 2014 by President Barack Obama to widen veterans’ access to health care treatment from non-VA providers.
The legislation, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, was created in response to a nationwide scandal over delays veterans encountered when making medical appointments — for months and sometimes years — and secret waiting lists kept by some VA facilities to hide the scope of the problem.
The VA Mission Act, signed by Trump in 2018, replaced the Veterans Choice Program and gave more veterans access to private health care paid for by the VA.
The legislation also broadened the VA’s caregiver program to include disabled veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001 — an expansion that will begin in October — and ordered the department to inventory its 1,100 facilities with an eye to closing or selling outdated or excess buildings.
At the end of Saturday’s press conference, a reporter asked why Trump “keeps saying [he] passed ‘Veterans Choice,'” when it was “passed in 2014.”
Trump told the reporter she was “finished,” and he abruptly ended the press conference.
Major Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, was presented the Bronze Star Medal at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019, for his meritorious achievement while at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Since Dec. 6, 1941, men and women who served in any capacity in or with the U.S. military, have been awarded the Bronze Star Medal by distinguishing themselves through heroic or meritorious achievement or service in a combat zone.
From March 3, 2018, to March 2, 2019, Darty served as the operations officer and maintenance advisor for the 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. During this time, he operated outside of a coalition-controlled airfield, where he endured 29 indirect fire rocket attacks and was exposed to a persistent threat of insider attacks.
Even with all of the challenges, Darty was able to help execute more than 10,000 sorties during his year in Afghanistan, and he also helped set up a UH-60 Black Hawk maintenance training program, which allowed for the host nation members to become more familiar with this technology.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, poses for a photo at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)
“This was an outstanding opportunity for me and I learned so much about my job as well as myself,” Darty said. “I was able to work alongside great U.S. military members as well as extraordinary Afghan National Army counterparts who all shared the same common goal.”
Before arriving to RAF Mildenhall, Darty finished the 365-day deployment which brought its share of obstacles.
“Communication was the toughest obstacle we faced,” Darty said. “We received training in Dari, which is one of the primary languages in Afghanistan, and we worked alongside some of the bravest interpreters and people I’ve ever met in some of the most hostile conditions, and patience was my guide.”
Learning patience and understanding of other cultures was a major factor in Darty and members of his team being awarded the Bronze Star.
“Some things I was the lead for and some I did on my own, but this award is really for the 40-plus other people in the squadron who did the heavy lifting,” Darty said. “Our team consisted of Romanian, Swedish and U.S. service members from different branches – it was a truly joint, coalition organization.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Weme, 100th Maintenance Group commander, presents Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)
Master Sgt. William Smith, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron production superintendent at Kadena Air Base, Japan, worked alongside Darty in Afghanistan and attests to his ability to lead a team with a common goal.
“It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with a person of his caliber in a hostile and foreign environment,” Smith remarked. “Major Darty has an uncanny ability to bring everybody around him up, even in unknown situations. He was always calm in numerous high-stress situations where our number one priority was keeping our people safe and out of harm’s way.
Coming together as a team to execute the mission is, according to Darty, part of his vision for the airmen he works with here.
“My advice to them is always rely on the people next to you,” Darty expressed. “This was something I learned while deployed which I never learned anywhere else. We were our own security and even though we may not be getting shot at everyday here, you have to always trust the person by your side.”
Thanksgiving (the undisputed #1 holiday) is finally upon us. The only day of the year where your aunt’s cooking ability is worth tolerating her 30-minute story about “her church friend meeting Patti LaBelle in 1998.” The only day we brave bumper to bumper highways, chaotic airports, snot-nosed grandkids, and Detroit Lions football. The only day where you see that one cousin who you always forget the name of, but you’re pretty sure it’s Brett (it’s Ted).
It’s all in the spoon-bending, mouth-watering, wrist-quivering name of food. But which Thanksgiving foods are the best? Everybody has an opinion, and here’s ours. Don’t like it? Grab a plastic chair and plop your ass down at the kids’ table.
Corn on the cob
Our list starts off with a classic. However, that’s corn’s Achilles Heel—it’s too classic. We eat corn constantly throughout the year. Thanksgiving is essentially marketed around eating food that you wouldn’t eat outside of special occasions or trips to Boston Market.
Also, corn is fine. It’s not bad. Its complacency is numbing.
Green bean casserole
Green bean casserole is a wild ride through culinary mayhem. Look at it from a structural standpoint: the entire point of the dish is to then hide it’s main ingredient (the worst vegetable on God’s green earth) in a slop that is, essentially, heated-up cream of mushroom soup. It’s then capped off with yet another polarizing vegetable (onions) that have been fried and breaded beyond recognition, probably for the better…
And yet sometimes, it truly hits the spot. It just has such a low floor. When it’s bad, it is BAD. It’s a casseroller-coaster (sorry).
Mac n cheese
Mac and cheese suffers from the same contextual affliction as corn on the cob—we simply see it too much during the year. However, mac and cheese gets the slight nod here because of the bells and whistles that come along with Thanksgiving. Is it going to have Panko crumbs on the top? Does it have big fat noodles? Is it going to use 4 different cheeses? These modifications all factor into how good mac and cheese is.
Dinner rolls end up on everyone’s plate, even your sister’s new boyfriend, who claimed to be “gluten intolerant” earlier. It complements every dish. I personally like to squish them into flat space saucers and use them as an edible mashed potato shovel. They’re commonly used to mop up excess gravy. They are a valuable food/tool.
Cornbread gets the nod over the dinner roll for an obvious reason: it’s better. Legend has it that the sweet crumby goodness of cornbread is so pervasive that it was confined into perfect squares to try and retain their buttery deliciousness from ascending physical form.
Turkey sits, perfectly, in the middle of our list at #5. Turkey brought everyone to the party. It’s the glue that holds the holiday together and needs to be respected as such. Sure, it’s dry, and it makes you fall asleep, but so does Jeopardy, and it’s been on TV for 34 seasons. That’s part of the appeal. It is the very thing that Thanksgiving aims for: the warm safe feeling that comes from comfortable homestyle hygge.
Canned Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce, the dark horse of the race, brings the tart sweetness you need. It’s loud. It’s bright. It doesn’t give a damn if you know that it came from a can, it wears its rings upon its body like a tattoo of unabashed confidence. Go ahead, slather it all over your turkey, cranberry sauce don’t care. You need cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce doesn’t need you.
Mashed potatoes are always the first food to run-out, and for good reason. We always underestimate how much we really want it.
It’s a tale as old as time… You scoop out two spoonfuls on the edge of your plate, pile on the rest of your food into a mound and sit down. You munch through your food, parsing out bits of mashed potatoes and gravy on each bite. 30% of the way through your meal, you realize you need more mashed potatoes to continue your breakneck pace. You ask for your uncle to pass it to you. He’s too drunk. He’s singing the praises of Amazon Prime to your grandpa. So you ask your momma. She does so, but not after making a parallel realization and scooping 3 for herself before passing it down the line towards you. Her act of self-preservation sparks a cascading domino effect: every person that touches the bowl takes a couple more scoops on the way to you. Your uncle takes 7. By the time it gets to you, it’s a shadow of a side dish. Your spoon sings the humbling song of metal against porcelain as you scrape what final bits you can find on the walls of the bowl. You make it work. You are jealous of your uncle’s drunkenness, as the earth continues to turn in cold black space, inching ever-closer towards entropy.
Ham goes so hard. Honeybaked ham? Get the f*ck out, it’s amazing. Little bit of brown sugar on ham? Tastes like that pig was proud to die for every bite. It tastes like turkey thinks it tastes. And it doesn’t stop there. It’s the gift that keeps on (i’m so sorry) thanks-giving: it’s the ultimate black Friday sandwich ingredient. If you’re lucky, your grandma will sneak you a gallon ziploc bag of the savory, salty, goodness. Slap it on a warmed up dinner roll with some mayo and cheese for a leftover that rivals the initial product.
God knew what he was doing when he made yams. The ancient Egyptians knew what they were doing when they created marshmallows. The crazy bastard who put em in the oven together had no idea what he was doing. He/She spawned a dish that is equal parts: dessert, side, and angel. If my significant other was dangling off a cliff and candied yams were dangling off a cliff, and I could only save one—then you catch me at my significant other’s funeral with a warm pyrex dish and a big ass spoon.
I’ll bet some of you sick freaks are wondering “where was stuffing on the list?!” The answer is, it is so so so far low on the list, that it is literally below anything has ever been consumed on Thanksgiving since Columbus showed up and committed humanitarian atrocities. How people have convinced themselves that mashed soggy bread would be better if it was stuck in the ass of a bird is beyond me. Then, somewhere along the darkest timeline in history, somebody decided they would dice up celery (a stalk of tasteless future teeth-stuck green string) and toss it in for literally no reason. It is the worst thing that you could eat that starts in the stomach of a turkey and exits from its anus. It is an abomination. I’m embarrassed to exist at the same time as stuffing.
Gold Star Spouses Day has its origins way back to World War I. The families of servicemen would fly banners and hang them in their windows. These banners had a blue star to represent a service member in uniform. But, if their loved one was killed in action, the color of the star was changed from blue to gold, thus notifying the community the ultimate price that family had paid for their country.
1. The Gold Star lapel pin was created in 1947
Following the popularity of the banners, in 1947, Congress approved the design for the official Gold Star lapel pin/button. This was introduced to represent service members who had died in combat. The pin takes the form of a gold star on a purple background.
2. The military bestows the Gold Star upon families
During the funeral service of the fallen military member, senior officers present the Gold Star Pin in addition to the national colors to the spouse or next of kin as a mark of respect for their sacrifice.
3. Gold Star Wives/Spouses Day began in 2010
In 2010, the first Gold Star Wives Day was observed. Two years later the Senate passed a resolution that codified Gold Star Wives Day, which was set to be observed April 5th each year. To make it more inclusive this was changed later and renamed Gold Star Spouses Day.
4. Gold Star Spouses Day raises awareness
Gold Star Spouses Day brings awareness of the sacrifices and grief these spouses have faced in the name of their country. However, possibly more importantly, it brings awareness for the Gold Star survivors themselves of the large network of resources and assistance that is available to them. A few examples of the resources available to these spouses are: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), scholarship resources which include the Pat Tillman Scholarship and the Fisher House Foundation Scholarship for Military Children, in addition to the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services (SOS).
5. Gold Star Spouses Day is observed in many ways
While Gold Star Spouses Day is not a national holiday, there are many installations that have their own programs to observe this day. Many of the installation observances focus on the military fitness and lifestyle. For instance, there are quite a few remembrance 5Ks which are run on April 5. There are also remembrance efforts seen online and on social media. One such effort is the Facebook campaign which urges Gold Star families to share photos and memories of their fallen loved ones.
While Gold Star Spouses Day is one day set aside each April to acknowledge the sacrifices of these military family members, their grief and loss is something that should be remembered each and every day. These special families have lost a loved one in the name of freedom, in the name of the United States. Their family member willingly fought, served and gave that ultimate sacrifice. This is something that should never be overlooked or forgotten, rather is something that should be acknowledged every day. Without these tragic losses, Americans would not have the freedoms they hold so dear, nor would America be the proud country that it has always been. It is only through the willingness to give everything that Americans have the ability to hold onto the patriotic pride that is so important.
This Gold Star Spouses Day, and every day, take the time to remember these families that have given so much. Never take for granted the freedoms America has been given and fought for. Keep these sacrifices in mind each day, and be grateful for the men and women who are so willing to pay that ultimate price for their country. Whether you take to social media or see one at your local military installation, thank a Gold Star Spouse today.