D is for Deployment Diversions and Making a Difference #atozchallenge

DMy first-born heads out for his first deployment today.

*sigh*

When he started his basic training at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the summer of 2011, I answered my friends’ concerned questions with, “Of course I worry about what’s going on in the world, but I’m proud he’s chosen to serve his country during a time of war. Plus, between school and military training, we have at least five years before he could possibly be sent somewhere. Surely we’ll bring our troops home by then.”

Now, that five-year mark has arrived. He’s graduated from West Point and completed his military training schools. He’s now a hard-working second lieutenant in the United States Army, which is still sending men and women to the Middle East on a regular basis. Add Islamic fundamentalists and unpredictable Russians to the mix, and the world could quite possibly be an even scarier place than it was back then.

The Older One tries to assuage my concern by telling me, “It’s just a training deployment, Momma. I’m only going to Germany.”

“Yes, my dear,” I respond patiently, “but the problem is, you say ‘Germany’, and I hear, ‘ISIS’.”

Such is the life of an Army Mom. I knew what I was signing up for when I encouraged him to play with GI Joe and fill out the West Point application. (Note: The first happened many years before the second.) As deployments go, I know six months in Europe is not the worst news an Army Mom (or any Military Mom) can hear.

I will be Army Strong. I will bake cookies and send care packages, and I will carry my phone with me every waking and non-waking moment until he comes home.

Which brings me to how I’m going to make a difference with a deployment diversion.

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Just one of many signs telling me to get a move on.

 

As many long-time readers know, I work for a company that is invested in my wellness. We have treadmill desks on every floor and signs on every wall encouraging us to move. We also have the 100 Day Dash—an annual challenge to walk as much as possible for 100 days straight.

The Dash kicked off yesterday with an added feature for the 2016 edition. The great minds behind the Dash have partnered with Charity Miles, a free iPhone and Android app that enables people to earn corporate sponsorships for charity while walking, running or biking. Just download the app, enable GPS and motion detection on your phone, select one of 30 charities and start moving. The sponsors of the app will donate up to $0.25 for each mile to the chosen charity.

It’s a great addition to an already fun program that lets me get fit, raise money for one of my favorite charities (The Crohn’s & Colits Foundation of America), and gives me a diversion for at least the first half of deployment.

My goal is to average at least 10,000 per day. It’s my goal any other day of the year too, but during the Dash, if I’m successful, I’ll be able to earn cool prizes like a shapeless t-shirt and a cute graphic to add to my email signature. Those are awesome for the moments when I just can’t help but brag about my physical prowess, but this year, meeting my goal also means I will have walked at least 500 miles, which equates to $125 for CCFA. That may not seem like a lot, but I’m optimistic enough to believe my $125 might mean my son’s children could one day have the cure I don’t have today.

The added bonus is that for this grand plan to work, I’ll have to carry my phone with me everywhere I go, which coincidentally, is rule number one in the Army Mom’s guide to surviving deployment. You can’t get a call from your soldier if you leave your phone on the kitchen counter when you go out to get the mail. I can’t log steps or earn donations if I do that either. Win. Win.

When the Dash is over in mid-July, I’ll be on the back side of deployment with only two more care packages to send and a homecoming to plan. Those diversions combined with lots of prayers and support from my Army Mom network will get me through deployment.

Please keep all of our soldiers in your thoughts and prayers. Their mommas will thank you for it.

I Give To You, My Son

Today, on Veteran’s Day and at almost the mid-point of National Military Family Month, I am reminded what a honor it is to share my oldest child with the people of the United States of America. The author of the poem below remains anonymous, but I am pretty sure she is a military mom, just like me….

I Give to You, My Son

I held him as an infant; I hugged him as a boy,
and through the years he has become my greatest pride and joy.

BDUsI love him more than I can say, his life more precious than my own,
but gone are the whims and notions of the little boy that I had known.

For the years have passed so quickly since the time it all began,
and now he stands before me with the conviction of a man.

He wants to serve his country, he states aloud with pride,
as I try to sort out the emotions that I’m feeling deep inside…

A union of the uncertain fear, which I cannot control,
and the allegiance which lies deep within my patriotic soul.

I trust that my years of guidance will serve as a strong foundation,
as he performs the duties requested from his beloved nation.

I give to you, my son.

I give to you, my son.

God, please guide him as he travels to the places our soldiers have bled,
and walk with him through pathways where those heroes’ feet have tread.

Oh Sweet Land of Liberty, humbly I give to you, my son,
praying you’ll return him safely home when his work for you is done.

—Author unknown—

Picture It: Graduation

I’ve mentioned before that the past few months have been a little crazy. I’ve had a perfect storm of life events, and I feel like I’ve broken some kind of mom code by not blogging about the greatest accomplishments of the Older One’s 22 years. After all, over the span of just three short days in May, he went from being a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point to being a college graduate to becoming an officer in the United States Army.

How does any self-respecting mom, let alone one with a blog, not at least post a picture about all that? Maybe it’s because I can’t find just one picture that sums it all up.

It could be that moment after the graduation parade when all the Firstie families flooded the parade field to congratulate their favorite cadets for coming so far in four short years….

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It could have been later that night when he donned my favorite West Point uniform to escort his favorite people to the graduation gala….

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Then again, it could have been when he finally collected his diploma from the General….

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Or when his father and I clipped his new 2nd Lieutenant bars to his shoulders…

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But maybe it was a few minutes later when he raised his hand to be commissioned into the Army….

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Or a few minutes after that when he received his first salute from the enlisted soldier who also happened to be his mentor…

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But as I think about it now, I’m pretty sure, the one picture that says it all, is the one that makes my heart swell with pride and a smile break across my face. It’s the one that says he’s brave and strong and selfless. It’s the one that shows me the man of character he has become…an officer in the United States Army.

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Picture It Tuesday: Army Men

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…I love a man in uniform.

There is just something that moves me about how they stand brave and strong…Army Men 5

…how they persevere in the face of insurmountable odds…

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…and how they learn from the generations that came before them…Army Men 4

…how they rise up time and again to face the enemy…Army Men 3

…and charge forward into battle…Army Men 1

…and how their simplicity and timelessness appeals to young…

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…and to old…

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Congratulations little green Army men on your induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Well done, soldiers! Well done!

Picture It: Veteran’s Day

Today, our country celebrates the heroes who have served and continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces. These brave young men and women make sacrifices for our freedom every day. While one day is not nearly enough to express how thankful we are for their bravery, it is a perfect opportunity to take a moment to remember their efforts and let them know that someone appreciates them.

I stopped by the Hallmark store a few weeks ago to prepare for my appreciation. I think I read all the cards before settling on these four.

Veteran's Day CardsThe one on the top is obviously for the Hubs. He was ROTC at Penn State before being commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry.

He’s been a part of Corporate America for the past several years, but he continues to help his fellow veterans. He works for a Fortune 100 company that believes some of its strongest employees got their start in the US Military. The Hubs works on the corporate Veteran’s Network hiring initiative and other activities to support the health and well-being of our veterans when they enter the civilian workforce.

The next card, goes to this fine young man…

BDUsWho grew up to be this fine young man…

The Older One will graduate from the US Military Academy in May, and will discover in just a short 10 days in which branch of the Army he will serve.

A third card will go to a co-worker of mine. He is an Iraq War veteran with the scars and artificial knee to prove it. I’m not in the habit of playing paparazzi in the office, so I don’t have a picture of him to share.

I also don’t have a picture of the person who will receive my final card.

WWII Vet CardThis one will go to a WWII veteran whom I have not met. His story came to me from a fellow West Point Mom who issued a plea via Facebook a few weeks ago to make sure this man is shown the appreciation he deserves.

He stormed the beaches of Normandy and watched his friends fall beside him. Now, as he is growing older and his friends and family are passing on, he believes the sacrifices he made for his country are forgotten.

None of our veteran’s should feel this way. None of us would have the freedoms we enjoy if he hadn’t served his nation during a time of war. I want him to know he is not forgotten. He fought for his country. He made a difference, and I appreciate him.

I hope you’ll join me in thanking a veteran today.

My Hero Wears Camo

I never planned to be an Army wife, yet my husband wore dress blues in place of a tuxedo on our wedding day.

I said "I do" to the Hubs and to the Army.

I said “I do” to the Hubs and to the Army.

I never planned to be an Army mom, yet my son wears ACUs in his college classrooms as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

My favorite cadet on his way to class.

My favorite cadet on his way to class.

I never imagined the Star Spangled Banner would bring tears to my eyes or that I would be compelled to watch every homecoming video posted on my news feed…or shed tears for those joyous reunions that will never happen.

Since becoming a part of a military family, I feel my heart thump at the sight of an American flag flapping proudly in the breeze and a lump in my throat when it sails at half-mast.

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I found this flag on the beach last year.

I am humbled to know heroes fight for me every day. I see their pictures in my Facebook feed as my Army Mom network pledges to stay Army Strong. Some of the names I know and often the face is familiar as I read the pleas for prayers and support as a momma sends her child into harm’s way and asks for prayers for a safe return. But most days, the heroes who fight for me are strangers.

They are anonymous men and women who have raised their hands, and with words ringing of commitment and allegiance, they have entered the most honorable of professions. They leave their wives, their husbands, their children and their parents. They put their country above all else, and sometimes they make the greatest of sacrifices.

These are my heroes. They wear digitized camo. They have boots on the ground and courage in their hearts.

In return for their selflessness, I pray…keep them safe…keep them brave…bring them home.

Do you have a hero serving in the military? Give them a shout-out in the comments.

Five Minute Friday***This post was brought to you today by the Five Minute Friday and the word “Hero”. Join us for some frenzied blogging on Lisa-Jo Baker’s site every Friday.

Army Football Highlights 2013

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I love a man in uniform, even one in a football uniform. The Hubs played once upon at time at our Alma Mater Penn State. Now it is the Older One’s turn as an offensive tackle for the Army Black Knights. 2013 may not have been the greatest season for our gridiron warriors, but I never miss an opportunity to talk about my oldest and all the great things he does. So, take a look at the 2013 Army Football highlights, and keep an eye out for #57. I’m extremely biased, but he’s my favorite!

Welcome, Coach Monken. 2014 is our year. Go Army! Beat Navy!

Vows for Then, Now and Forever

As I started my walk down the aisle, I heard my dad whisper in my ear, “Are you okay?” I must have said “yes” because we kept walking in time to Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major.

Later, I asked him why he was worried about me. He chuckled and said, “You were shaking like a leaf.” Twenty years later, I’m still not sure why I might have been so nervous. After all, waiting at the other end of the aisle, decked out in his dress uniform, was my soldier…my soul mate…my best friend.

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The happy couple.

When we were finally standing together before our family and friends, he smiled at me, surely enamored with my dazzling appearance in a beaded, lace gown topped with a little pouf of a veil. I grinned right back, realizing once more that a man in uniform is truly a marvelous sight to behold.

We giggled through the sermon. I don’t recall what the minister said that set us off, but at that moment, we were in our own world–two young people with shiny new college diplomas getting ready to start our lives together. In two days, we were packing up our meager belongings and driving from our hometowns in western PA to Fort Benning, GA where my new husband would start his career as an Army Infantry officer, and I would begin to learn how to gather the mysterious strength of an Army wife.

A week earlier, I had declared that we would write our own vows. This, I decided, would be my stamp of originality on our special day. The minister, having seen too many couples succumb to the pressure of the day and forget their own names, let alone entire paragraphs of text, insisted that we tape our original content to the inside of a pretty white book. I agreed to the scotch taped crib notes, but I never once looked away from my soon-to-be hubby as I recited the words I knew by heart…in my heart.

“When you asked me to become your wife, the only thought in my mind was ‘yes.’  The thought of sharing a life with you–the good times and the bad–filled my heart with joy, and today before God, our family and friends, as we begin that new life together, there are so many things I want to say–so many promises I want to make.

First, I promise to always have a smile for you. I want to laugh with you when you’re happy and comfort you when you’re down.

I promise to be supportive of your decisions, your goals and your ambitions. And I will not be jealous of your time away from me.

I promise to be strong for you and our family. I will be supportive of the changes that may come our way, and I will be open to new possibilities.

I promise to listen to your opinions, and I will not try to change you in any way. I want to love you for who you are, and I want to know you as deeply as one person can know another.

I promise to always hold you deep in my heart whether I kiss you good night and wake up in your arms, or whether I close my eyes and blow a kiss to you in whatever far off land you are. For the rest of my life, you will always be the first thing I think of when I wake up.

Today, I promise you the best of everything I have to give–my heart, my soul, and most of all my love.”

Knowing what I know now, 20 years after reciting those words, I would have answered my father’s question at the top of the aisle with an enthusiastic, “Yes! I’m excited, and I’m shaking with anticipation of the adventure that starts right now!”

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Cruisin’ the Dunes in Cabo San Lucas.

It has been an amazing journey so far. From PA, we headed to Georgia then on to Fort Hood, TX, where our incredible son entered the world and joined us for the next leg of the journey. After our stay in Texas, we joined corporate America and returned to PA, then on to Massachusetts and finally the Bluegrass State of Kentucky.

Along the way, we’ve made several memorable side trips. We’ve ridden ATVs in Cabo San Lucas, MX and climbed aboard camels in Tangiers, Africa. We’ve lounged on the sands of the Virgin Islands and gambled in the casinos of Monte Carlo. We’ve walked the beaches of Normandy, France and strolled the Champs Elysees in Paris. And finally, we’ve traveled to Russia’s unforgiving Siberia to find our daughter and bring her home to our family.

When I said my vows 20 years ago, I really did not know what was in store for me, but I knew it had to be wonderful. How could it not be? With my husband at my side, I can travel any road before us and I am looking forward to all the adventures yet to come.

I love you, my dear hubby…then, now, forever.

Happy Anniversary!

Stiletto Momma

For the Love of Camo and Sparkles

The balance of power has shifted in my home. With the Older One now taking up residence at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Hubs and the Dog are on their own against myself, my daughter and my MIL, who tipped the scales to the female side when she moved in four months ago.   I have waited many years for an extra jolt of estrogen to make my family complete, and while the Hubs may not be thrilled to be in the minority, I am finding most days to be a new and frilly adventure.

That is not to say that I don’t miss my son like crazy.  His absence is a very noticeable hole in the fabric of our family.   I miss him every day and am constantly reminded that the special relationship between a mother and her son is every bit as strong as the father/daughter one we hear so much about.

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Camo Kid - My son wearing Daddy's uniform!

When he was young though, I would get so frustrated while shopping for his clothes.  I was forced to wade my way through row after row of pretty pink shoes and rack after rack of frilly and sparkly clothes to get to the solitary line of boy shoes and the one lonely rack of gray and brown utilitarian boy’s clothes.  Apparently shopping for boys is not meant to be fun!

When he would play, it was with trucks.  I would watch him digging in the sand for hours, wondering how he could stand to have all that dirt under his nails, in his hair, between his toes.  I cringe just thinking about it, but he could not have been happier.

Later it was G.I. Joe and any toy that could cause imaginary destruction.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the fascination with lining up those little green Army men, just to knock them down!  Given the path he has ultimately chosen for himself, I guess he knew exactly what he was doing.

Then came the athletics.  At first it was t-ball, then karate and soccer and basketball.  By the time we hit youth football, the testosterone that invaded my house was, at times, overwhelming.  The Hubs bought me “Football for Dummies” just so I could follow the dinner conversation. Here again, my son knew exactly what he wanted, as he now proudly holds a position on the defensive line for the Army Black Knights football team. (Go Army! Beat Navy!)

My daughter, on the other hand, is all girl. On the soccer field, she is usually not the one running for the ball.  She is the one spinning in circles and admiring her manicure as the ball rolls past.  She’s more in her element during her Saturday morning gymnastics class where her favorite part of the weekly session is comparing the bling on her leotard to the sparkles on her friends’ clothes.

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Princess Sparkles makes a grand entrance.

And speaking of sparkles, her closet practically glimmers when we turn on the lights. There is no gray or brown to be seen, and the choices in the stores are endless.  Even her toys have an element of glitter, and she would never even dream of playing with them in the dirt.  In fact, dirt is the enemy. There is no sandbox in the backyard for my four-year-old girl as there was for my boy at that age.  Dirt is now “yucky” and “gross” and cause for tears, where 14 years ago it was cause for celebration.  She would, however, love to play with her brother’s G.I. Joes if I would let her.  Their only role in her make-believe world, though, would be to drive the convertible for Barbie.

For all their differences, however, they are so amazingly similar.  The Beanie Babies that entertained the Older One, now snuggle close to the Young One at bedtime.  This morning during gymnastics class, I watched her sprint down a trampoline runway and launch herself into a pile of foam blocks.  As she laughed, I turned to the Hubs and said, “The Older One would have loved that too!”  Somewhere in the future I suppose, she will prefer football to soccer as well. The football team, after all, has a corresponding cheerleading squad that wears skirts and does cartwheels.

Tonight, after baking cookies and donning Minnie Mouse pajamas, the Young One will peruse her bookshelf, searching for the perfect bedtime story.  Chances are high that she will choose the same one she has picked every night for the last two weeks–a well-worn copy of a Richard Scarry popup book that lived on that same shelf 14 years ago.

I will turn the pages.  She will pull the tabs with fascination, and we will both shake our heads sadly when she gets to that last popup and says, “My brother ripped that one.”  She will be momentarily saddened that she will never pull that last tab, but my heart will warm with the memory of a little boy whose hands held the same cherished book and smiled with delight when his little fingers made the pictures come alive.

Yes, the balance of power has shifted…, but not much has changed.  I still pick up scattered Beanie Babies and read bedtime stories.  I still chauffeur a child to sports practice, and I still love two children.  One is just a little further away than the other and prefers to wear digitized camo instead of sparkles.

Stiletto Momma