United We Serve: My Mission (and an upcoming series)

Equality-signOne of the very first posts I wrote was on Military Equality. When I decided to start writing, I didn’t have a plan, or a checklist, or a preconceived idea of what I should write about. I wanted to just start writing about what was happening in my life, while it was happening, and hope that it could help someone.

Well, within a few days of starting my blog, the Military Spouse of the Year nomination process began and my life was changed (you can read about that here). Along with the nomination process, I was called to focus my energies and time on what they call a platform – the “thing” you want to stand for, the “thing” you want to represent, the “thing” you want to achieve during your role as military spouse of the year (base, branch, or national level).

That’s a lot to take it, a lot of things to think about, and both a great honor and a great responsibility. I spent a lot of time thinking about it – but it always circled back to what motivated me to begin writing in the beginning: military equality. As I stated in my original post, the definition for the armed forces includes the military, naval, AND air forces. Not “or,” but “and.” 

No single branch can do it on their own. They must work in unity, in oneness. To me, they are all equal. They serve the same nation. They serve the same people. They serve you. They serve me. And when inequality does occur, it can be hurtful, even when unintentional.

So, on my quest for military equality I will be having a “United We Serve” series, with guest bloggers that will address different aspects of the military. A guest blogger from each branch of the military will share about their specific branches’ unique challenges, misconceptions of their role as a military spouse, and lots, lots more! I have a pretty amazing group of guest bloggers lined up – and I can’t wait to start sharing what they have to say.

I hope that by listening to others, really listening, we can bridge the gap between all military branches. I firmly believe that we are one family, one united front. This is part of my mission: to bring awareness that each branch has their own set of unique challenges – none of which are better or worse than another branches’ challenges. They are just different – and we need to support everyone. Lift everyone up. Be a nation indivisible.

05-0045

No, I Don’t Have Time For You

Busy-I-Am-Too-300x3002And no, I’m not trying to be rude. There is no subliminal message, no ulterior motive, no big secret as to why I can’t attend this event. Or drive 30 minutes to your house. Or go out to dinner. Or even have you over for dinner. I’m so busy, I don’t even have time to explain to you why I’m so busy. So stop asking for my time, and stop making me repeat myself in a thousand different ways.

My spouse is deployed. Most days, I feel like I’m drowning in more ways that one. Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, you name it. It’s me, just me, and I have a beautiful, sensitive, energetic, and stubborn three year old to raise in her Daddy’s absence. I have to be both people not only for her, but for pretty much every aspect of our life. All responsibility is on me. My shoulders.

Yes, I know you offer to help. But most things you can’t help with. You can’t be her mom. Can’t pay my bills. Can’t run my business. Can’t do the accounting for my business, or run my rental property. Can’t write my papers or take my class. These are the things that consume my time, and only I can do them.

You can’t be my husband when I need comfort. Yes, you can provide comfort – but you’re not him and its just not the same. You can’t be my husband when I’m longing to be loved, touched, and held. You can’t be the person that I need or want to talk to when anything comes up. That’s my husband, and no one can replace him. And I miss him like crazy. Every day is painful without him.

If and when I need help, trust me, I’m asking for it. Don’t be surprised that it might not be you though, for no other reason then I spread out my requests and SOSs amongst all of the people in my life. Furthermore, if you make me feel guilty about asking for help, bail on me when I need you (and you said you’d be there), or betray my trust while helping, I’m most likely not going to ask for help from you again. Basically, if you make me feel “icky” in any way while helping, I’m not asking for help from you again.

1505177_450424281725457_138363339_nSure, maybe you could go grocery shopping for me. But, that would require me to make a shopping list, and I don’t have time for that. Sure, maybe you could clean my house. But, that would require me having cleaning supplies on hand, and I haven’t had time to go shopping to restock. Sure, maybe you could babysit, but whatever little time I do find I want to spend with my daughter. She needs me, and I need her.

I don’t need more issues in my life. I don’t personally need it, my marriage doesn’t need it, my child doesn’t need it, my husband doesn’t need it. I don’t have time or the energy to add any additional negativity to my life. I don’t have time or the energy to respond to a million questions. I keep a pretty tight personal bubble these days – it’s a survival tool.

If I need space, please respect it. I’m trying to survive. Don’t add more pressure to me, don’t make me feel like how I’m handling things in the wrong way, don’t speak to me like its my job to appease you.

What do I have time for? For people to lift me up. Tell me you’re thinking of me, but don’t ask for my time, because I don’t have any to give. Tell me you’re praying for me, but don’t ask me questions you know I can’t answer. I wish I had answers too. Tell me you’re here for me, but do not expect me to “make something up” just so you can help me. And for goodness sake, don’t get mad at me when I don’t ask for help. Trust me, this isn’t about you.

And I don’t have time to explain myself. Again.

50bff48f11f940ecee9eae5f5e8b9138

2015 Military Spouse of the Year: How the Nomination Changed My Life

photoWhen I first started my blog, I had no idea the impact (if any) that it would have on my life, or on the life of anyone else. I just needed to write – to get things off my chest. To hopefully be heard, but most importantly, hopefully help someone else through my journey.

Only a few days into my new blog, I received an email from Military Spouse magazine. “What’s this?” I thought to myself. I then opened an email that would forever change my life.

This email was in regard to a nomination for the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year Award. I briefly touched on this in my Military Equality post: the dear friend that nominated me has a husband too, but through a series of IED blasts he had to be removed from the deployment. He worked through the pain for months. Stayed on deployment much longer than he should have, but he would not leave his fellow Soldiers. It got to the point where he could hardly walk. They couldn’t find answers. This was over four years ago. They still do not have answers, and they are still sacrificing.

And with all of that, she nominates me. Me? Somehow, someway, I made an impact on her life. But what I want her to know, is what an impact she and her husband have had in my life. When I need strength, I look to them. When I need patience, I look to them. When I need to remind myself what unconditional love within the military is, I look to them.

And when I think of my own struggles, I am reminded that I am not alone. I am reminded that each military family has their own struggles and challenges, regardless of branch, deployment status, MOS, etc.

You can ask my husband – I was pretty upset, bitter, angry, confused, and a whole bunch of other emotions when this deployment came into our life. I kept wanting to change our situation. He’s served before, now we have a young daughter, and I was left asking myself “why us, why now, why does he have to go…again?”

He would attempt to answer these questions: This is what he’s called to do, we’re not the only family making sacrifices, he would always regret it if he didn’t go, and the list goes on and on. Are all of these answers reasonable? Absolutely. But, in the moment, those aren’t necessarily the things we’re wanting to hear. Sometimes, we just want to have an adult version of a tantrum.

And honestly, that’s where I was at. For a long time, for a period of time longer than it should have been. Yes, this is a challenge for me – but its a daily challenge for 1,000’s of our military families across the world. And when that nomination email came to my inbox, the reality of the situation and the need for a change in my heart was all too apparent.

Maybe I’m the first spouse to feel this way (doubtful), or maybe I’m taking a leap of faith here in voicing my struggles. To acknowledge that yes, this is hard, really, really hard. I want other spouses and military significant others (or anyone – mother, sister, daughter, father, son, brother, etc.) to know that its okay to acknowledge the struggles and challenges of loving and supporting a US Service-member. It’s a rewarding vulnerability for sure – but one that is so, so worth it.

To my friend who took the time to submit a nomination for me: I love you. I cherish you. I honor you. I see you. I hear you. I will speak up for you. I want you to know how humbled I have been through this process, and that I take both the nomination and role of 2015 Oregon National Guard Military Spouse of the Year whole heartedly – and with a sense of motivation, drive, passion, and determination.

The timing of this whole process was nothing short of “perfect timing.” This process has allowed me to heal, renew my pursuit of military equality, and love my husband and this crazy life in new ways. To anyone who loves and supports a US service member – I love you. I cherish you. I honor you. I see you. I hear you. And I will speak up for you. see-hear-matter

2015 Military Spouse of the Year: Top 18 Update

Top 18Today Military Spouse magazine announced the Top 18 candidates for the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year. I was beyond humbled, honored, and surprised when I realized that I was amongst the Top 18! You can read about all 18 candidates here. The next round of voting will occur on ONE DAY – February 4th for the branch-level winners (one per branch). I encourage all of you to read about all of the candidates, and vote for EACH category (National Guard, Marines, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Air Force).

As mentioned in my 2015 Military Spouse of the Year: Round One Update post, I was named the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year for the Oregon National Guard. This is an honor and responsibility that I take whole heartedly, and I have big dreams and ambitions for what I can do within this role. Jeff Bezos said, “You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you.” This couldn’t be more true.

I have wanted to get involved with supporting and lifting up other military spouses for quite some time, a dream that started during my husband’s first deployment 4 years ago. When this second deployment reared its head in our life – I decided I couldn’t be silent anymore. What if I could help one person, just one person by sharing my story and voicing my opinions and dreams? I didn’t know how to start, but I knew that I just had to start, period. You can read more about my passion and reasons for being a MilSpouse blogger/writer here. Yellow Ribbon Image

Locally, I’m looking into the opportunity to speak on a panel at upcoming Yellow Ribbons events in some “spouse to spouse” sessions. I look forward to the opportunity to speak to and with other spouses about reintegration, the unique challenges we face as National Guard families, and be a resource and sounding board for those spouses who need emotional support. The first time my husband deployed, I quickly learned how easy it is to feel alone – and I am actively working to prevent that from happening to any other spouse.

I am also currently working on my first book (title to be released upon obtaining a publisher), with the focus of the unique challenges we face as National Guard spouses and families. It’s not a how-to book, there are no checklists or steps – it’s just me, talking about emotional survival, challenges, and the path to strengthen my own marriage by learning to understand my husband’s heart (no matter how difficult it makes our life). I’m about four chapters into my book, and I’m very excited to share it once it is complete! My dream is to have it handed out (for free obviously) at all Yellow Ribbon events.

In regard to Yellow Ribbon events themselves, I want to start working with my local state to hopefully be involved in the process to revamp how they are currently conducted. Feedback that I have heard from most people within the military disregard those events and brush them off – as they have not truly spoken to the hearts of those that attend. I want the events to be meaningful, purposeful, and one that spouses and their families want to attend.

The other big issue with these events is that they are usually spread out, and many families cannot attend due to the nature of the National Guard (families having no local base and being very spread out geographically). I want to create more online resources or a system to allow those spouses and families that can’t attend the events to have access to the same level of information. Make sure that the any and all information at the Yellow Ribbon event is accessible to ALL spouses and families (within OPSEC of course). I don’t want distance, life obligations, or any other circumstance to get in the way of providing the highest level of information and support.Pledge-Of-Allegiance-

Finally, I want to help bridge the gap between the various branches of the military. I firmly believe that we are one family, one united front. As stated in my Military Equality post: The Army cannot do it on their own. The Marines cannot do it on their own. The Air Force cannot do it on their own. The Navy cannot do it on their own. The Coast Guard cannot do it on their own. They must work in unity, in oneness.

Now yes, I understand each plays a different role, and each has a different set of ranks, military specialties, etc. That’s not my point. My point is, they serve the same nation. They serve the same people. They serve you. They serve me. In our Pledge of Allegiance, we pledge allegiance to who? The United States of America. What do we stand for? One nation, indivisible. How do we accomplish this? With liberty and justice FOR ALL.

This is part of my mission, and I’m working on a project to close the gap both in the civilian world and the military community. To bring awareness that each branch has their own set of unique challenges – none of which are better or worse than another branches’ challenges. They are just different – and we need to support everyone. Lift everyone up. Be a nation indivisible. Will you join me?

One Nation

Constantly Committed Amongst Constant Chaos

chaos3The title might be a mouthful, but it describes my life. Describes our life. Describes the everyday life during deployment. When your significant other is away (whether drill, or training, or work, or deployment), all of the responsibility is left to you. Deployments or long trainings make this extra challenging, as there is no reprieve for a long time.

No matter what your life circumstances are: significant other with or without kids or spouse with or without kids – the reality is that you’re maxed out. Over committed. And your life is probably chaos (both on the inside and the outside). Here’s a little bit about my chaos:

My husband is deployed (this maximizes the chaos of the following items). We have a three year old daughter (trying to raise her with patience, obedience, love, understanding, compassion, and everything else on minimal energy). We have a 6-year old yellow lab that still acts like he’s 6 months old. We are blessed to own our home – but I’m also blessed with all of the maintenance that comes along with it. We have a rental property for me to manage.

I run my own business. I’m taking one college course to further my knowledge in my career (already have my bachelor’s degree). I’m writing what is the equivalent of my career’s thesis paper (I’ve spent over 100 hours on it, and I’m not even close to being 1/4 of the way done).  Oh, and I’m trying to write my first book to help other National Guard and Reservist Spouses survive their deployments and the civilian world. That’s just the big stuff.

Then there is the other everything else items: cooking, cleaning, laundry (including dreaming of actually putting them away), dishes, take out the trash, feed the kid, clean the kid, feed the dog, water the dog, clean the dog, gas up the car, go grocery shopping, clean the car (or…..not), pay the bills, answer calls/texts/emails, and the list goes on and on. Don’t forget to add nurture relationships in there too.

Even if there is a down moment, my mind is filled with what needs to happen next. I feel like I’m on a spinning gerbil wheel and I can’t get off. Even if I’m not figuring out my next step in life, I’m thinking about him: Is he okay? Is he safe? When will I hear from him? Will we have a good conversation? My mind never shuts off.

I also need to send care packages to my husband. Email him. Send him letters. Speak his love language. I enjoy all these things – but I often find myself feeling guilty for not doing enough or feeling that I’m not being enough for him. Why? Because I’m constantly bombarded with the everyday responsibilities that consume my time.

Yes, some of these items above are by choice. But, it doesn’t help when someone points that out. Plus, I can’t say no. I can’t just stop being a parent. I can’t just stop being a wife. I can’t just stop paying the bills, or stop doing the laundry. I could stop my class or stop my demonstration report for my career…but these are things I had planned well before the deployment was thrown into my life. Our life. By saying no to the things for me, I feel that I’d be losing myself.

My husband didn’t say no. He chose to stand up, raise his hand, and say “send me. I’ll go.” Why did he say yes? Because this is what he feels called to do.

There was a point where he was willing to say no, for me. To stay home, for me. But I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. He would always regret it if he didn’t answer the call. (This is for another post). I’m blessed to be married to a man that wants me to pursue my callings too.

I too would regret if I didn’tanswer the call answer my calling: to reach out to other part time military spouses and be an emotional sounding board so they know they are not alone. It’s a calling that I’ve had for a number of years, but life kept getting in the way. I don’t know how I’m going to do it – I’m just going to write, and keep writing. And pray that I help someone. Be a resource for those that feel there is no resource.

So, here we are: constantly committed amongst constant chaos. And that’s okay. At least it helps pass the time!

Heavy Rains, Heavy Heart

Final Rain

Heavy rains, heavy heart.
It’s no secret I hate it when we’re apart.

The pressure is building in the air,
It feels, at time, more than I can bare.

At my weakest, lightening will strike.
The rivers will flood and breach the dike.

The rain pours on, and so do my tears.
Too much uncertainty, too many fears.

The wind is strong, the gusts won’t stop.
I feel like I’m drowning, reaching for the top.

The night is now silent, but the weather is loud.
Another storm looms in the cloud.

The flooding might end, but we’re just at the start,
Of the storm of deployment that consumes my heart.

Unpublished work © 2014 Ashley Ella

Military Equality

All BranchesNo, this post isn’t about race, religion, or relationship equality in the military (although all of those are important topics and most of the following could apply). This is about military equality. Equality within the military. Let’s start with some basic definitions from dictionary.com:

Military is defined as: the military establishment of a nation; the armed forces.

Armed Forces is defined as: military, naval, and air forces, especially of a nation.

Nation is defined as: a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own.

Unity is defined as: the state of being one; oneness.

Equality is defined as: the state or quality of being equal.

Equal is defined as: as great as; the same as.

Please note that the definition above for the armed forces is military, naval, AND air forces. Not “or,” but “and.” Furthermore, we are the United States of America. We are a large body of people associated with a particular territory, and our armed forces serve and protect this country in unity to seek and possess a government that is our own. To protect your freedom. To protect my freedom.

Here’s the big shocker: The Army cannot do it on their own. The Marines cannot do it on their own. The Air Force cannot do it on their own. The Navy cannot do it on their own. The Coast Guard cannot do it on their own.

They must work in unity, in oneness. Here is a summary of the armed forces in the United States Military (in no particular order):

United States Army

  • United States Army Reserve
  • Army National Guard

United States Marine Corps

  • United States Marine Corps Reserve

United States Navy

  • United States Navy Reserve

United States Air Force

  • Air Force Reserve Command
  • Air National Guard

United States Coast Guard

  • United States Coast Guard Reserve
  • United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

To me, they are all equal. What does equal mean again? That means that one branch is just as great as another. They are the same.

Now yes, I understand each plays a different role, and each has a different set of ranks, military specialties, etc. That’s not my point. My point is, they serve the same nation. They serve the same people. They serve you. They serve me.

However, so many times I see them not being treated equal. Even amongst themselves, each branch pits against each other. Sometimes this is all in good fun and leads to a healthy level of competition. But, speaking as a spouse of National Guard soldier – I can tell you firsthand that the inequality can be hurtful, even when unintentional.

See, us Army National Guard families, and other part-time military families, are often the “forgotten” ones. We’re looked at just as the “weekend warriors.” Did you see that list above? The one of the armed forces of the United States? The one where National Guard is listed? We’re just as much a part of serving this nation as any other branch.

Let me reiterate: The Army cannot do it on their own. The Marines cannot do it on their own. The Air Force cannot do it on their own. The Navy cannot do it on their own. The Coast Guard cannot do it on their own. They must work in unity, in oneness. They are equal.

My husband has been in the Army National Guard for about eight years. He’s currently serving his second tour in an active war area. He left behind a career, a wife, a daughter. He left behind his whole life to serve and sacrifice for this country, again. And I sacrifice along with him, again. I live in the civilian world and in a community that is far, far removed from the realities of war. That’s for another post, another day.

Right now I want to address how we are treated even within our own military community. How we are compared to the other branches in the military. *Disclaimer – I don’t feel there should be any comparing. We are all on the same team.

A dear friend, a fellow military spouse that “served” with me on my husband’s first deployment, recently nominated me for the Military Spouse of the Year Award (MSOY). Huge honor. I am humbled. What is this award? According to nomination email that I received:

Military Spouse magazine founded the Military Spouse of the Year Award in 2008 to honor the important contributions and unwavering commitment of the 1.1 million military spouses from all branches of service as they support and maintain our home front.”

Wow, that sounds amazing. What’s amazing?

  1. The recognition that military spouses provide important contributions and unwavering commitment. 
  2. That there are an estimated 1.1 million military spouses (that’s a LOT of support for our troops). 
  3. That it’s for ALL branches of services as they support and maintain our home front.

Again, I am so humbled. Yes, it was just a nomination, but to know that someone who has been where I’ve been thinks so highly of me made me speechless. Well, I was speechless, until I read the list of qualifications to accept the nomination:

“In order to be considered for the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year Award, a nominee must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an ID card carrying spouse of a current member of the U.S. Armed Forces (U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, or U.S. National Guard)
  • National Guard spouses are eligible if their service member has been activated for at least 180 days on or before the MSOY nominations deadline.
  • Reserve military spouses are eligible if their service member has been activated for at least 180 days on or before the MSOY nominations deadline.”

Wait, what? Why wasn’t the first bullet point enough? National Guard IS part of the U.S. National Guard – so why the extra requirement of having to be activated for at least 180 days on or before the MSOY nominations deadline? Do the National Guard and Reserve families and spouses only count when they are activated (for a certain length, by a certain date)?

Well, my husband is currently deployed for up to a year. But, not for “at least 180 days on or before” the required date. My husband has deployed before. For a year. And I served along with him. And so did my friend who nominated me

You see, this fellow military spouse has a husband too. My husband was blessed to come home physically unharmed. Her husband was not so fortunate. Through a serious of IED blasts, he had to be removed from the deployment. He worked through the pain for months. Stayed on deployment much longer than he should have, but he would not leave his fellow soldiers. It got to the point where he could hardly walk. They couldn’t find answers. This was over four years ago. They still do not have answers, and they are still sacrificing. Them not finding answers and the lack of good care for our veterans is another topic I look forward to writing about (or have her write about as a guest blogger). 

Back to my point: just because a National Guard or Reservists deployment is over, or they haven’t been gone “long enough,” they are still serving. And their families are serving with them.  Every day they serve, we serve. Even if only serving on “the weekends,” they are always ready for the call. The motto of the National Guard is even “Always Ready, Always There.”

Military Spouse magazine also says: “During that time (nomination period), Military Spouse magazine encourages both the military community as well as all Americans to consider nominating their military spouse friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues for this prestigious honor.”

I have served alongside my husband for eight years, including two deployments (one currently on-going). I’m a military spouse and serve the role as a friend, relative, neighbor, and colleague. My role as a military spouse affects each and every role, differently, each and every day. However, I do not qualify to accept my nomination. I am baffled.

I am now thinking to myself: how many other spouses have not qualified due to this additional requirement? How many were elated, humbled, and honored to be nominated, but then felt to be shamed and discounted because their service “wasn’t enough.” Please know that your sacrifices ARE enough and that you are not alone.

So, Military Spouse magazine: while I cannot accept my nomination due to your additional requirements for National Guard spouses, I want to publicly take this moment to nominate every National Guard and Reservist spouse to be the winner of the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year Award for their “branch”- regardless of your rules.

In fact, I nominate every single military spouse, of every single branch, for every single year (past, current, and future). If you need clarification as to what the United States Military is, please see above. Why do I nominate every single military spouse?

Because the sacrifice does not end with deployment. Sacrifice in the military is not defined by a deployment. We do not quit being a military spouse, even when our spouses are no longer in the service. And, National Guard members are just as much a part of serving this nation as any other branch. We sacrifice too.

We are all on the same team – the United States Armed Forces.

Please know that I think that the purpose and mission of Military Spouse magazine is an amazing one. I want to personally thank your entire organization. Thank you for supporting and loving my fellow military spouses. Each and every one of us can benefit from your resources. Thank you for recognizing those spouses that go above and beyond to serve here on the home front. They deserve recognition for their contributions to the armed forces community. I do not discount your award in any way, shape, or form.

However, I call on Military Spouse magazine to re-evaluate their nominations requirements and remove the additional stipulation for Guard and Reservist families. And no, this has nothing with me accepting my nomination. This has everything to do with Military Equality.http://www.pagecovers.com/user_cover/128224/always_a_military_spouse.html

Please read the update in this post. I have heard back from Military Spouse magazine, and some pretty amazing things are happening!