Helicopters, Milkids, and Parents

Sep 18 2014

Published by under lessons learned

I like to read news on the Internet. My Facebook page is set up to “like” a few periodicals. And I also have my home page set to Google News with some preselected news topics that give me the latest info on those topics (I still try to keep up with Okinawan issues, even though it makes me long to go back there).

Based on recent trends (for whatever reason), I’ve been seeing a few articles on helicopter parents. I agree with the concern, especially when I hear stories from other faculty about the moms of college kids calling the teacher to inquire about junior’s poor grade on his last paper. (I’m sure the mom took it personally since she probably wrote it: “Why was I graded, I mean why was junior graded so poorly?”)

However, I think the term is applied too broadly. In some cases, experts say things like “leave your kids alone during homework.” However, I have read, and believe, that having kids do well in school means taking an interest in their homework and schoolwork. This doesn’t mean actually doing the homework, of course. But, there are benefits in helping one’s kids study for a test, in looking over homework they struggle with, or asking about what they are studying. And, with schools posting grades on the school websites, it helps to keep track of grade trends before they get too far on the downward slope (and that is the only way I hear about grades anyway – my kids don’t share this info).

So, I’m going to keep helping my kids with their homework. I might also politely email a teacher about progress. But I won’t be doing what I see as true helicoptering around my kids’ school efforts. What does that encompass, you ask? Well, I’ll end here and provide you a link to a Top 5 of Helicopter Parent Stories. These are really funny!

Do you have a parenting tip or helicopter example to share?

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Still at War But Congress Sends Other Message with Proposed 1% Raise Cap

Sep 05 2014

Published by under military matters

I was browsing the MOAA Spouse Facebook page and came across a link to MOAA president Vice Adm. Norb Ryan’s column on the proposed 1% pay raise for our military.  Just like the proposed retirement changes, this pay cap has repercussions beyond solving budget troubles.

The 1% cap is .8% below the growth of the private sector, which the military raises are supposed to be tied to.  Yet, this is the second year in a row that we could see the 1% cap. This is not good for retention. The powers that be seem to think that the military members are happy and content with whatever Congress gives them – that members don’t worry about raises or promised retirement programs. What’s going to happen is Congress will find out they do care when they need the military at some point and find out they’re short of being ready.

And, Vice Adm. Ryan brings up a really good point about what this cap says to our military members. We have operations going on in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq (again), and other places. As Ryan says: “This is an extremely poor message to send to our men and women in uniform who are sacrificing the most for the remaining 99 percent of Americans.”

It would be one thing if the cap was proposed in peacetime, but we have men and women on the front lines.  And more likely to join them. Doesn’t Congress see the effect on morale here? With this cap, along with the talk of a lesser retirement program, the closing of commissaries, etc., at some point the members will get tired of the lack of appreciation and get out when their time is up. Then retention and readiness will become a big issue.

There are other ways to solve the budget without putting the brunt of the actions on the shoulders of those serving and who have served – and who will be serving.

Do you have a thought on this? Post it below or go to the MOAA Spouse Facebook page and get involved in the discussion.

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Back to School Days

Aug 28 2014

Published by under school is in session

Well, that time is upon us – the kids are getting ready for back to school. This year we have a 7th, 10th, and 12th grader.  The whole scenario of getting the kids ready made me think fondly of when I was their ages and my mom was getting me prepared for back to school. I sat there, thinking of similar moments for me – then I realized that there weren’t any. And it struck me too that we’ve hit another cultural transition from when our kids went to German public schools because American school is a lot different. Let’s take a look at a couple of things:

lockerLockers as a Budgeting Lesson?

Unlike when I went to school, or when our kids went to school in Germany, where you showed up on the first day, we were able to take Sam’s books to school a couple of days early and put them in his locker. Great, good change – I like that schools offer this opportunity. However, the next surprise was the locker decoration! Sam was easy, all he had were a couple of magnets to put on the inside of his locker door. But others! Oh my word – some girls and moms appeared to be decorating their college dorm room – wallpaper, stickers, fancy shelving, photos.

As an example of how far this trend has come, stores now sell back to school locker decorating supplies: tiny rugs, disco balls (I hope these come with little disco dancers in white suits for display), chandeliers, and curtains.

Some people are spending over $100 to decorate little Suzy’s locker. And if you are wondering if it is the girls who are the market for this, go to the website LockerLookz (what is it with “z” as designating plural?) and tell me this trend isn’t marketed to girls. And LockerLookz slogan is: “Your locker. Your look.” “Now Available…Our 2014 Collection” – please, someone stop this madness!

Finally, you know it’s bad when you see articles on teaching kids about budgeting and it includes spending on locker decorations as an item to discuss.

Where is my Fonz Lunch box?

I recall lunch boxes and paper sacks. Sandwiches were PB&J or egg salad with Miracle Whip (I put my foot down on the egg salad though when a popular girl incredulously asked “what is that smell” when she walked by the closet with my lunch sack in it).

In Germany, it was just as simple as when I was a kid – paper sacks, and give the kids a euro for a stop at the bakery on the walk to school to pick up a snack (we won’t touch on them being able to walk to school).

Now it is bento boxes or monogrammed thermal lunch boxes and water bottles. And an allergy and health alert asking not to bring certain foods. Could the schools just require Whole Foods as a sole supplier of food?

Speaking of health, my kids’ middle school used to have donut day – kids in senate would walk around the classrooms selling donuts for a dollar. I found out it was cancelled because of health safety violations. I don’t know if safety refers to middle school kids handling food with bare hands; or if health refers to the sugar and chocolate products that were being sold (probably both).

The donuts were nothing compared to what the school kids in Germany buy at the bakeries on their way to school – both for the sweetness content and the 2 or 3 little bees flying around the food for sale.

Finally, I could go into school supplies, but talking about a list that ran more pages than the syllabus I hand to my college students is too much to tackle at the moment. Instead, I think I’ll finish this up, go put on some Bee Gees and make myself an egg salad sandwich with Miracle Whip (and not worry about the popular girl being annoyed with a troubling smell).

For a humorous comparison of going back to school today versus the 70s, go read this.

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More Attacks on Military Benefits

Aug 14 2014

Published by under the logistics train

It’s happening again – more arguments against military benefits to save money instead of looking at spending waste or spending decisions. Adm. Norb Ryan, CEO of MOAA, addressed this in a letter to the Washington Post in response to Walter Pincus’s column “Time to look at military personnel costs“.

Adm Ryan makes a strong counter that “those in uniform are not the problem,” and that there shouldn’t be a trade off between buying an F-16 squadron and continuing the promised benefits to military members (which is what Mr. Pincus claims). As Adm. Ryan states, this is a false choice. These benefits are part of the promises made to our military. These promises led to people agreeing to be deployed, move every couple of years, etc., in return for benefits that were different from civilian jobs that offered safety and stability.

But Mr. Pincus wants the 1% bump for retirees eliminated, along with implementing higher TRICARE fees and revamping the “ancient” retirement program so that it reflects “private industry” (why not the government’s civilian program I wonder) and doesn’t start at 20 years. Because, if we don’t do these things, we’ll be losing a squadron of F16s, or not adding troops, or not sending a fleet to the Mediterranean for 2 months.

I would like to end with the thought that if these changes are made, particularly to the retirement program, we’re not going to have enough pilots to fly those F-16s that are purchased or recruit those extra troops Mr. Pincus talks about.


An airman from the 113th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares an F-16 Fighting Falcon for flight, April 3, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. The 113th Wing provides air sovereignty forces to defend the nation’s capital, and also provides fighter, airlift and support forces capable of local, national and global employment. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.

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Milkids and In-State College Tuition

Aug 07 2014

Published by under school is in session

Thanks to a tweet from Kelli Beckert (a milspouse who provides college counseling for students and their families – you can find her here, I heard of a new bill that will help a lot of veterans save on their milkids’ college tuition.

The bill will grant automatic in-state residence status for milkids so that they can pay the lower tuition at any state college and university around the country. You can read about it here.

The bill is on its way to the President’s desk and he has said he’ll sign it. Of course the lobbyists for public colleges and universities aren’t too happy, but it provides a great benefit for those families moving around and who have a milkid ready for college but haven’t met the sometimes stringent residency requirements for various states. A number of states already provide that status, but a significant number don’t (including California and New York).

One note of concern though. I’m not a professional reader of legislative bills (I tried on this one but fell asleep), but from the articles it appears the bill applies to all veterans, including retired. However, it is not clear from the articles whether the legislation only applies to veterans transferring their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their children. For instance, my wife retired a year too early to be able to transfer her GI Bill assistance to our kids. So, the big question for us is whether this legislation applies to milfams like us or only to those who have a GI Bill where the benefits can apply to the children. Perhaps the good folks at MOAA could help out here.

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More On the College Search Odyssey

Jul 31 2014

Published by under school is in session

I haven’t written on this topic in a bit, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t consuming my time. From visits to schools (California being the most recent) to researching for scholarships, this is a part time job for Joe as well as his mom and dad.

I’ve found though that the key to a successful college and scholarship search is sharing information with other parents who have already sent their kids off to schools. The best information gathered is what schools tend to provide the most merit aid (smaller private schools) and which don’t (out of state public universities and some big name private schools – because they don’t have to apparently).

Anyway, I thought I would share some information I have come across that might help other parents with high school kids:

Scholarship Searchingcapandgown_web

For scholarships, go to Fastweb. It seems to be the “go-to” scholarship search site most recommended (large database of scholarships and it’s free – NEVER pay for scholarship info or to apply). Then, based on the results of your search, start a spreadsheet with the name, website, amount, open date, is an essay required, etc. Next, email this to your kid and tell him or her: “Get started!”

However, be prepared to spend a lot of time sorting the results. And I mean A LOT of time. There are results galore (and the site emails you new updates everyday), but you have to sort out the results. For example, some are internships. Some are for persons of color. Some have income restrictions. Some are for children of deceased veterans. Some are for boys over 6’2” (yes, the Tall Persons’ Club offer a $1,000 scholarship). Finally, some just aren’t worth the time – e.g., the time taken to complete a 2,000 word essay for a $500 scholarship could be better spent on multiple other scholarships for more money.

Common App

If your son or daughter is a high school senior, get started on the Common App. It opens tomorrow.

Spread the Word

Thanks to MOAA (the best source out there), I came across Kerri Beckert’s blog: An Open Letter to College Admissions Offices from Anchor Collegiate. She’s a milspouse in Germany and makes a great case that milkids should be considered in college admissions diversity plans. I have made the same case in previous blogs, so I think it is an excellent idea. Think about it: what a great way to expose non-milkids to what milkids go through. Most non-milkids don’t have clue. Haven’t you seen that when you PCS and spend a little time with your non-military neighbors?

Additionally, milkids will bring a different perspective to a college campus (and in most cases a broader life experience) – and isn’t this the goal of college diversity plans?

And to take her theme one step further, it would be great if there were some milkid specific scholarships or grants out there from these schools so as to broaden the diversity of their student population. And I don’t mean income based, but funding opportunities for all milkids.

I could go on, but instead read Kerri’s column and tweet it, like it, Google+ it – but let’s do something to spread this idea.

Oh, I forgot one last thing: in the spirit of sharing college search information, please post below any tips you might have. Thanks!

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MilPay and AthletePay

Jul 17 2014

Published by under the logistics train

MOAA Spouse’s Facebook page had a link to an article on the Pentagon’s proposal to limit troops’ pay raises to 1%, and Congress’ approval of that limit (to go along with the decrease in housing allowances).

lebronjamesI came across this the same time my Internet news feed told me about LeBron James signing for $22,000,000 a year (guaranteed), as well as seeing an article in the Washington Post on a pawn broker who takes in the rings, trophies, and other mementos of current and former athletes who are down on their luck.

These last two articles seem to show a paradox in our society about who to be concerned with. I give LeBron James credit for going back to his home town, but let’s face it – he gets paid really, really well and also pulls in up to $80,000,000 a year in additional money from his marketing contracts. Yet there were a number of articles on how much he’d get paid and is he going to get what he deserves after taking a pay cut in prior years (only getting $19,000,000 must have meant cutting back on a lot of discretionary spending).

Then, the article on the pawn shop owner talked about the athletes being down on their luck, and the article generated more than a few reader comments sympathizing with these athletes. So, I was inspired to look up the average and minimum salaries for athletes to see how much they must have squandered. Let’s take a look:

Sport Average Salary – Minimum Salary

  • Basketball (NBA) $5.15 million – $474,000
  • Baseball (MLB) $3.31 million – $480,000
  • Hockey (NHL) $2.4 million – $525,000
  • Football (NFL) $1.9 million – $390,000

While I’m sympathetic to anyone down on their luck, looking at these numbers doesn’t make me feel as bad for them as I do for the lower ranks in our troops who have to deal with limited pay raises, smaller housing allowances, multiple moves, possible elimination of the current retirement system, the threat of deployment, and the threat of death on the job (keep this last item in mind next time you hear someone call an athlete a warrior by the way).

Yet, what I find interesting is that the only way I found out about the 1% raise was through a MOAA Spouse Facebook feed and link to a militarytimes.com article. If an article on a pawn shop owner pops up on my Internet news coverage, shouldn’t something like the Pentagon’s proposal to have their troops shoulder the burden to cut costs also be newsworthy (while the Pentagon does things like spend $34,000,000 on an unused base in Afghanistan)?

In any event, it’s good that we have MOAA to keep us informed on military-related issues. And, if you haven’t visited the MOAA Spouse Facebook page, do so and “like” it so you get their posts.

It is a great source for military news, tips, and information. It’s also a good place to post your own opinions and input on various military issues – in other words, a good way to let off steam – and to know someone is listening.

In fact, MOAA Spouse is asking readers at their post on the new pay raises: What will be the tipping point for your family? Go post your tipping point!

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Keith Allison from Kinston, USA.

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World Cup: MilKid Friendly

Jul 02 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

The World Cup is scheduled at a good time -we’re rooting for the national team and in a couple of days it is July 4. And what are great event the World Cup is for military families – 4 of the players on the U.S. team were milkids: born to American military dads and foreign moms.

Okay, we did lose today, but a milkid scored our only goal – and what an effort for a sport where we are still up and comers! As the British newspaper, The Guardian wrote:

“USA deserve immense credit for their contribution. They will be devastated, but can be very proud of themselves. Their energy levels, their desire, their dedication and their refusal to give up were simply astonishing.”

The World Cup has always been a fun time since we discovered the sport and the tournament while stationed in Germany. We’re Americans and we’ve visited or lived in a lot of the countries in the tournament. It’s always fun to peruse our milfriends’ Facebook pages and see who they are rooting for – it’s usually the U.S. first, and then the countries they were stationed in next. Or, they root against the country where they may not have had the best experience with the locals (bonjour?). For us, we’re pulling for Germany after the U.S., and then Belgium and the Netherlands since we had some great visits to those places.

Of course, there are always naysayers at World Cup time – people like the right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter who thinks soccer is decaying our country’s morals. Of course, she roots for American football where the moral standard is: if you’re good or winning, then it is okay that you murder, do drugs, drink and drive, beat up girlfriends, etc. But those players probably only speak English, so that will appease Ann.

Anyway, the World Cup is a great time for milfams to remember their times abroad and to appreciate their lives at home. Along these lines, there was a great essay by the spouse of a retiring Army officer in the Army Times: “Thank you, U.S. Army – from a grateful spouse.”

It is a positive article from someone who took advantage of the benefits of a military life and is the better for it. For her, the benefits were living in foreign places and experiencing foreign cultures. So in the spirit of the many countries coming together for the World Cup, this is a good article to read. Ann Coulter may not appreciate it, but military families will be in the know.

Happy 4th of July!

Image via Flickr user United States Men’s National Team. Author: Erik Drost.

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U.S. Medical Systems Cup: Military vs. Private Sector

Jun 26 2014

Published by under lessons learned

50to64testsWhen my dad moved to Colorado Springs to be near us, he wisely decided to sell his car and not drive (he’s 93). Thus, I became the chauffeur. As such, I take him to all of his medical appointments. This week, we both had appointments – mine in the U.S. military medical system and his in the U.S. private sector system.

So, in the spirit of the World Cup, I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a World Cup of medical systems.

My dad and I both had appointments with our primary care providers and had referrals for an x-ray. I went to the clinic at the Air Force Academy and experienced a model of efficiency: called in before my appointment time; had a pleasant visit with my provider; and she typed in the referral and a prescription. I walked back into the clinic and over to x-ray – signed in, and was called in for my x-ray within 5 minutes. Finally, walked over to an already-waiting prescription.

My provider called me the next day with the x-ray results (mild arthritis in the left knee – I am now officially old). Oh, and no forms to complete.

Now for my dad’s experience: arrived at his doctor’s office and had the usual 15 – 20 minute wait past his appointment time (which is the norm for his various doctors). The doctor was pleasant as always (and told my dad he would live to 100!) and wrote out both a prescription and a referral for an x-ray.

Later that day my dad called in the prescription to his drugstore and called to make the x-ray appointment.

The next day, I drove to pick him up and we went to the pharmacy.

A week later I drove him to the imaging firm for his x-ray appointment. There we had 4 pages of forms to complete (with an assortment of repeated questions on each page – why is this so common with forms?). Then, we only had a 10 minute wait and he was off to be x-rayed.

It has been 2 days and we are awaiting word of the results.

So then for the results: the providers were both pleasant and very competent. However, in the military medical system, I was able to stay in one location for all of my needs, and technology was effectively used for the benefit of the patient.

Therefore, based on the wasted time in the private sector resulting from waiting, driving, and filling out repetitive forms, as well as their inefficient use of technology, the win goes to the military medical over the private sector!

On to the next round!

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Another MilFam Hits the RV Road

Jun 16 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

Talk about a small world. Not that many retiring military families go on an extended (year or longer) RV trip upon retirement (though more should). And, not that many kids are in my daughter’s high school class (75, there are only 300 total at the small Catholic high school my oldest two kids attend in Colorado Springs).

Well, who’d a thunk (I think that’s a Bugs Bunny quote) that the two would come together in our world? The Trechter family, whose oldest boy Joe is a classmate of my daughter, retired from the Air Force a week ago (well Joe the father did the actual retiring) and they just started this week on a year-long RV trip across the U.S. and Canada.

I’d like to say we had some influence in this trip, like a couple of others we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, but the Trechters have been planning this for a while. They’ll be on the road for a year before returning to their house here in Colorado Springs (and back to St. Mary’s high school for Joe the Younger).

We met them in their rolling house right before their start – they’ve got a great set up, and an adventurous plan. You can visit their newly created website here to read more about the journey: www.handsandfeettour.com. The website is in its early stages since they only just retired, got their house rented, and started the trip. But they’ll be posting more info and hopefully some shots of their 5th wheel – especially how they are accommodating a family of 8 in 41 feet of space! They are a great family, so I think you’ll enjoy their blog as they get into their travels.

I hope their story, and our prior adventures, might inspire more retiring milfams to take this journey. It is a great way to see the country and all of the great things the U.S. has to offer – from national parks and monuments, to whoopee pies in Maine, to the world’s largest ball of yarn in Kansas (that’s a short list). It takes a bit of planning, but it is doable.

20130604 Joe Lori Joseph Morgan Carlos William Michael Marian in front of trailer-cr2

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