Dec 04 2014

Published by under military matters

Man, I am late to the party – I just learned about the #KeepYourPromise movement started by MOAA and other military related organizations. The hashtag movement came about in response to the Senate Armed Services Committee proposing tightening the Pentagon’s budget on the backs of service members and retirees (again).

You know the drill – proposals such as cutting housing allowances, increased Tricare fees, adjustments to the health plan. And I’m sure in there somewhere is the idea of changing the retirement plan into a 401K program similar to the private sector (never mind that civilian government employees, including our elected officials, enjoy a pension based retirement program or that the vast majority of 401K programs leave retirees woefully unprepared financially for retirement).

One result of the #KeepYourPromise campaign was a pretty funny picture of former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking members to do more but accept less – you can see it here.

MOAA is again working hard to stave off the cuts on members. And it appears to be working. The Hill has an article on milfams bombarding Congress on this issue.

And, the House, per MOAA President, retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, “helped blunt the blow to military families and retired beneficiaries.” The House apparently didn’t want to take the military for granted.  MOAA has a good article on this action here.

But, the proposed cuts aimed at individuals keep coming. Per the Military Times, Congress has decided to cut funding to the commissary by $100,000,000 next year. As a result:

“… the plan would shrink the commissary savings compared with average off-base grocery prices to about 10 percent from the current 30 percent, with shoppers having to cover the difference out of pocket.”

As MOAA Spouse asks on their Facebook page: Will you continue to shop the commissary? Will you? Go to their Facebook page and let them know (scroll down a bit for this item – but do peruse the other bits of info posted).

I’m a little baffled at these proposals because I side with MOAA on these types of actions. MOAA has pointed out in the past that these proposed cuts and attempts to make military job benefits the same as a civilian (even given the obvious differences) will just hurt recruitment and retainment.

Who knows though, maybe newly elected Congressmen like Seth Moulton will step up and speak for the service member and retiree. He’s a former Marine officer and a “veteran of four tours of duty in the Iraq war “ and has three degrees from Harvard (wow!). Seth says he wants “to shake up the system.” A good place to start is stop putting the cost burden on military members and families.

You can read about him here and here.

And with MOAA keeping up the good fight, we should be encouraged. But do go to the MOAA Spouse Facebook page and answer their question about your further commissary usage given the upcoming loss of savings.

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College Applications and Sage Advice

Nov 20 2014

Published by under school is in session

Sign_saying_Common_Application_MembershipThis article spurred me to write today’s column: Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Bets.

The article talks about how some seniors are shotgunning their applications to a lot of colleges in order to hedge their college admission bets. One student is applying to 29 colleges! One applied to 56!! And the record per Common App is 86!!!

And these apps cost money. One student interviewed said her app fees cost her parents $1,500.

In contrast to the above, my son approached me with his list of 12 and wanted to cut back because he thought I’d have to pay too much (what a kid!).

But, I find it interesting that the parents will allow this. I also find it interesting that the families don’t realize that colleges know that this is going on. That is why schools look for the IQ of an applicant – the Interest Quotient. This refers to if they have visited, met with faculty, done online chats, etc. (I think visiting 29 colleges will be kind of difficult.) It just isn’t common sense to send out this many applicationss – maybe it’s a feel-good thing for the parents to brag about at the club on Friday night.

But these are probably families from a wealthier socio-economic group who can afford it. Better yet though, maybe cut the number of schools down, and with the money saved pay for the apps of some deserving milkids who have the potential but can’t afford to apply to as many schools as they deserve.

Anyway, instead of completing a ginormous load of apps and essays, here is what seniors should be doing right now per college admissions counselor (and milspouse) Kerri Beckert, of Anchor Collegiate – She’s been successfully consulting with families for quite awhile and helped many kids get into selective colleges best suited for them, so she knows of what she speaks:

“As admissions season comes to an end, my biggest piece of advice is to prepare for rejection. It’s going to happen, it’s not personal, and it doesn’t change your life. Colleges reject thousands of qualified, well-qualified, and over qualified candidates each year. Very few students get into every college to which they apply. Chances are rejection will happen to every senior who applies.

Realizing that college is still in the plans, that your life will still continue, and you will succeed, is paramount. Let yourself be sad for a day, and then move on. And most importantly- KEEP IT OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.”

That piece of advice bodes well for Ms. I’m Applying to 55 Colleges My Parent’s Finances Be Damned.

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Veterans Day Planning Guide (Follow the Discounts)

Nov 06 2014

Published by under military matters

VeteransDay_WEBWe have Veterans Day coming up Tuesday, November 11. It’s a good time for all, including milfams, to think about and thank the veterans who have served (thank you! by the way). Both of our kids’ schools will have special Veterans Day assemblies, which is a fun time to see the WWII vets who show up (usually grandparents) and are honored and applauded by the kids.

Along the lines of honoring people who served, many businesses and groups will be offering discounts and special offers on Veterans Day. MOAA has organized these for readers online.

It’s nice to see such an assortment of groups offering something special for vets. If you’re hungry, Applebee’s has free “Thank You Meals,” while Golden Corral offers a free meal and a drink (that would be a non-alcoholic beverage). Denny’s meanwhile is providing a free “Build Your Own Grand Slam.” And, Hooters is providing a free entree (and some “famous Hooters Girl hospitality” – I thought that was all they offered. Hooters has food?).

But if you want something a little more high end than eating wings with scantily clad servers, check out a local McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood and Steaks – they are offering a free meal.

So, you might realize after lunch at Hooters that those “famous Hooters Girls” just weren’t giving you the attention you deserved (isn’t that always the case, those are the times I’d like to take back my 5% tip). Well, maybe you need to step into 2014 and update that look of yours. Take advantage of the free hair cut offer at Great Clips for a new look (step out of that mullet). And then get home and order a new vintage shirt discounted online at Buckles to replace the flannel look.

Now you’re set to head back to those “famous Hooters Girls” – but you know what, you’re looking so good you may as we’ll treat yourself to McCormick & Schmick’s.

Go check out the full range of discounts MOAA rounded up for you and plan your day. Also, here’s a website that has military discounts being offered year round: http://gruntroll.com/home.

So, enjoy Veterans Day, but just remember to bring your military ID.

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A MilKids Gets Senioritis

Oct 30 2014

ET0511My senior in high school (Joe) is up to his neck in college apps, scholarship apps, essays, and ROTC apps – all due either very soon, as soon as possible, or yesterday. But, other than a time management habit that I would take issue with (such as: why didn’t we do this at the end of summer?!), he is doing a great job combining his usual 3-4 hours of nightly homework with writing and rewriting essays, completing tedious applications, etc. Oh, and studying for the SAT Subject Tests.

And even though some might see my actions as hovering, I’m trying to help. Mind you I don’t write anything for him (I want him to get accepted after all), but I am there with him to help where I can in order to see that he achieves his goals and is as competitive as possible for his top college choices. In this economy and in these times, a good college education is really important. And it is a big step in one’s life – what he does in the next year will have a 30 or 40 year impact on him. Plus, as a dad, you want your kids to fulfill their wishes.

One of the things I’ve had to do is fill out the CSS profile for potential college aid. Along with the SAT and ACT, this form is like pulling teeth – it. is. so. tedious. (Did those periods add emphasis or what?) And the SAT and ACTs, as a person in the industry said: these people can suck eggs. I’m all for more colleges going to only apps and essays.

As Joe is combining homework and college application efforts, I’m worried about his grades and how important it is to avoid senioritis. So I went to the milfams’ resident college entry strategist, Kerry Beckert of Anchor Collegiate, for advice. You might remember her from past columns. She is a proud Army spouse based in Germany who is a college admission consultant. You can visit her website here to see the extent of services that a college consultant can offer: www.anchorcollegiate.com

Anyway, she offered the following advice for we milparents of high school seniors, and I thought I’d share those pearls of wisdom:

“I think the most important thing seniors should be doing right now is finishing up their applications by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. WHY? Because just like winter in the Game of Thrones, EXAMS ARE COMING. And what colleges are looking for are good grades in rigorous courses. This means that your final term grades are important factors in admissions decisions. Why not finish your applications before you have to study for exams? A win-win. And, sending applications in ahead of time frees up time to study for exams and gives the student a few weeks to correct any issues with recommendations or transcripts before the deadline!”

I better go chat with Joe. And I may have to check out Games of Thrones. Is that a new heavy metal group?

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Eating Overseas as a MilFam

Oct 24 2014

A great benefit to being a milfam is that we were able to live overseas and experience many different countries and cultures. For us, it was important to take advantage of being in a foreign country and to assimilate our kids into their cultures (Japan and Germany).

So, we put our kids in the local public schools (we lived in Bann, just outside of Landstuhl), signed them up to play sports for the village teams, and tried to visit as many festivals as we could. Little did I know that there was a term for how we were living – living those countries through the backdoor, as the travel author Rick Steves calls it (on an aside, he writes the best travel books by far: readable, affordable, and directs people to the non-touristy path).

One of the outcomes of our military life overseas was being able to eat a lot of local cuisine. We had a favorite izakaya we frequented in Okinawa (Toki’s) and a neighborhood gausthaus in Bann we went to on a weekly basis (Schneider’s). It was great to have friendly owners serving delicious, fresh, and reasonably priced food – which, I’m sorry to say, we don’t find in the U.S.

Here, if the food is fresh, the restaurant is expensive. If the restaurant is affordable, the food is frozen and reheated. One of the joys of our German gausthaus was listening to the pork cutlets being pounded in the kitchen while my beer was being poured at the prescribed time of 7 minutes for a proper beer (or so the owner’s wife told me).

horse_sushiSometimes, we did pull an Anthony Bourdain and Parts Unknown, and experienced some odd foods. In Okinawa, we had fish eyes, sea urchin, horse sushi (with a slice of lard, of course – what’s horse sushi without a good slice of lard), and chicken – chicken liver, chicken hearts, chicken raw skin, and chicken “all over” (the only way our waitress could explain what we just put in our mouths). In Germany, we had fewer exotic foods, but blood sausage made up for the lack of choices. I shudder as I write that.

As we, as Americans, would look askew at some foreign foods, I would wonder what American foods foreigners would see as strange. It seems like American food is so non-exotic that who could complain. Well, my question has been answered. The website trove.com has listed 17 “All American’ foods that disgust foreigners“.

I have to say, I do agree with some of the choices. But others…well, compared to the offerings overseas, I don’t quite see how their choices can be seen as disgusting. For instance, grits. I don’t like them, but they’re pretty tame. And American bacon? Come on – I’ve had bacon overseas and nothing comes close to our bacon. Oh, and meatloaf! I don’t think people who eat blood sausage have a leg to stand on complaining about meatloaf.

Other items include cereal, sno-cones, Hershey’s chocolate (okay, after eating chocolate across Europe, I do see where foreigners are coming from with this choice), and bread (which, after eating bread in Europe, I will concede). But bacon?! I hate to bring it up again, and I’m not a bacon-is-good-in-anything type of guy, but how can anyone not like good ole U.S. of A bacon?

Anyway, go the link and see what you think? Do you agree with any of the foreigners’ disgusts? Or, have you had some disgusting food overseas?


Photo credit: “Horse-meat” by IgorbergerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Fun Mil News Roundup

Oct 16 2014

Published by under roadside adventures

This week, how about some fun military related news:

Battle with the Koreans
Well, not physical, but with drums (playing, not throwing). Watch this video as the III Marine Expeditionary Force band battles a Korean military band. We’ll rate it a tie for diplomatic reasons.

Army leaders ARE supporting milfams
Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler are all fighting budget and sequestration cuts. Good for them!

Can we hear the same confirmation from the other services’ leaders? Maybe they would speak at a MOAA forum. Perhaps these leaders can read this from MOAA.

MilKid singing on NBC’s The Voice
How about this Army officer’s daughter making it on The Voice! Her father is stationed at Scott Air Force Base. Seventeen years old and she sings like she’s a seasoned pro.

Air Force Milkid nominated for Grammy as Best New Artist with Top 10 Chartbuster – Throwback Thursday
Not to take anything away from Gwen, but let’s recall another famous (Air Force) milkid who was a great singer. As opposed to getting a start via national TV, Katrina Leskanich had to get earn her stripes playing in bars and O’Clubs while her Air Force officer dad was stationed in England. You might remember her band: Katrina and the Waves, and their song Walking on Sunshine. (Did I mention she was an Air Force milkid?)

One of my favorite songs and video: fun, lots of energy, and love the sneakers.

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Weighing In On Halloween

Oct 14 2014

Halloween is fast approaching. That means it’s time for the annual update on Halloween and our culture.

So, as you’re wondering what to dress as (maybe an iPhone 6 or an Energizer Bunny perhaps), consider that for a poor or recovering economy there’s a lot of money being spent on Halloween. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $2.8 billion on Halloween costumes. Here’s the breakdown:

  • file000768461509$1 billion on kids’ costumes
  • $1.4 billion on adult costumes (so much money on so little costume)
  • $350 million on pet costumes (doesn’t Fido look cute as a hot dog?)

Taking into account all Halloween spending (decor, candy, etc.), the amount goes to $7.4 billion, with the average person spending $77.52 on these items. What happened to recycling old costumes and decor?

How about how costumes reflect our culture? Well, we have kids’ costumes such as Phat Pimp Child Costume, Baby Cigarette, Major Flirt, Police Officer (not a bad idea, but why does it need to come with fishnet stockings), or Sexy Ho. All I can ask is: why? You can see these at today.com.

(When looking for a kids’ costume, I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything prefaced by “sexy” or “naughty” – Nurse, General, Waitress, Priest, Legislator, Kennedy, and even Ho.)

Finally: a topic I’ve seen in blogs is when is someone too old to trick or treat? Now, I do think there is an age where teens move from being cute and adorable to being seen as begging, extortionists, threatening, etc. At this point, if they want to dress up they can go to a haunted house, start handing out candy at home, chaperone little ones, or even, just a thought now so bear with me, do homework!

But, some cities are setting age limits, usually 12. Twelve does seems young. I think around the time a kid is a sophomore or junior in high school is about when he or she should start transitioning out of trick or treating. However, if they do go out at that age or older: dress up with some thought and effort.

Wearing street clothes and claiming “I’m a ho” (that happened at our door one year), or wearing a baseball hat and cap to be a ball player just doesn’t cut it at 16 or 17. I read of one parent who gives ramen noodles, shampoo samples, or teabags to these type of trick or treaters. That seems appropriate for the level of effort put out. I’d be too scared of the eggs later in the evening though.

On the other end, there should be the question of whether the kids are too young to trick or treat. A couple of rules of thumb here might be can the kid can actually say “trick or treat,” or, can the kid can actually walk up to the door?

While I’m being a curmudgeon on this, let’s also throw our a rule for parents: stop driving kids door to door to trick or treat. Or even block to block. Let the kids get some exercise. Seeing idling vans and SUVs at every other house just takes away from the spirit of the night.

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College Admissions for MilKids

Oct 09 2014

Published by under school is in session

I read where a pair of Derek Jeter’s used socks, yes used, were put on sale. Mr. Jeter retired this year after a career with the New York Yankees. So, the $2.5 billion New York Yankees apparently need a few more bucks for their coffee fund because they are selling 19 pairs of the used socks at $409.99 each.

I don’t know what is worse: the Yankees getting every last drop of blood out of their fans (they possibly could have given these to a charity and let the charity sell the socks); or, the people who will put up $409.99 for a pair of used socks (by the way, what survey showed the Yanks that a $410 price point would drive away buyers).

So, along the lines of purchases to consider, let’s tie in the topic of college prepping and college searches for milkids. As readers know from past columns, and your own personal experience, getting your milkid set up to apply for and get into colleges is a lot of work. One route to take is to do your own leg work (which I can tell you is very tiring): you research the web; talk to parents whose kids have been through the process; read columns on the topic; talk to school counselors; etc.

Another option for parents though is to work with a college counselor. These counselors work with families to help them navigate the college application and admission process. And, depending when you start with the counselor (9th grade, 10th grade, etc.), he or she can help you in a numbers of ways: developing the right academic plan for your milkid; charting activities and volunteer work; riting the write essay (did you catch that?); finding the right college fit for your milkid; prepping for the SAT and ACT; filling out the required financial forms like FAFSA to determine the parent’s expected family contribution (known as the EFC – yes, there is excessive acronym usage outside of the military); and many other areas.

Heck, there’s even one counselor who will guarantee your kid a spot at an Ivy or Top 100 school – for a price. He’s charging $600,000 to get your child into an Ivy of their choice (money back guarantee). Read about him here. It’s an interesting article.

But counselors should be certified (organizations such as NACAC, OACAC, or IECA – what did I tell you about the acronym usage). And they charge varying prices obviously. But be careful if they start offering financial advice, such as stashing assets into an annuity to shelter assets from the school’s financial review (I’m not referring to college savings programs, such as 529s).

Since we’re part of the millife, there is a milspouse who provides college counseling, and focusses on milfams (so she would understand the unique qualities a millife that can be an asset for milkid applying to colleges). That’s a lot of milwords, isn’t it?

Her name is Kerri Beckert, and she is an Army spouse (isn’t that cool?). She has posted on here and at the MOAA Spouse page before. Her company is called Anchor Collegiate and you can visit her website to see the extent of services college counselors offer.

Sometimes I wish I had employed this strategy, because there is a lot to the college admission process, and I’m sure I’m missing something. Right now, I’m trying to help my oldest finish up his essay detailing his journey from Okinawa, to Germany, to RVing for 18 months, to now, as he faces his college choice. And I am tired.

Also, help in getting into a good college is more important now than when I was looking (and wondering which school had the best kegs – aka, beer party). In the current economy, with so many grads un- or under-employed, the contacts one makes at a chosen college and the reputation of that college can be a big help to a milkid in his or her career.

Wow, I actually covered two pertinent topics: milkids and college admission AND milspouses keeping a career while on the move.

Time for lunch then. Please post any questions or college admission tips below!

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Milkids & High School Senior Year Prep for College Applications

Oct 06 2014

Published by under school is in session

studentsFor those of you with seniors in high school, it is a busy time trying to sort out the college search and application process. So, I am continuing my topic of milkids and the college search with some tips on what you and the student should be doing at this stage in preparation for college applications:

These should be being worked on. And, the final list of schools to apply to should be completed. The list should have some schools that are a reach, some safe bets, and some that are hopefuls but not a complete stretch for admission.

And, are any of the schools going to be an early decision (if the milkid is accepted by the school, he or she accepts the offer)? What is the deadline for that? Actually, it is a good idea to make a list of all schools and all deadlines.

Treat this like a part-time job and keep searching. Websites such as fastweb.com are great places to search. Also, look for local scholarships (clubs such as Rotary, Lion’s, VFW, Spouses’ Clubs, etc.)

Common App
This should be completed. If your student is stuck on what to include in the various sections (i.e. Additional Information, Honors, Activities, etc.), then Google the questions – it is easy to find resources on the web.

Double check the list of schools to see if any require completing their own app.

There will be one for the Common App – it should have been started and revisions being worked on  (even pass it by the milkid’s teacher or counselor for a review). Then let the people who are writing Letters of Recommendation have a copy so that their letter will be more complete.

As for essay content, milkids should think back about the millife experiences they had that will demonstrate dealing with adversity and adjustment. Milkids have great backstories for schools to know about.

Check the schools being applied to and see if they require supplemental apps.

Letters of Recommendation
Who will be approached? Get the request to them – the more time they have to complete the letter, the better.

Finally, keep a timeline and a file of the schools, deadlines, requirements, etc. It will help the process.

If anyone has additional tips, please share them.  Getting our milkid into college is a tough job, but if we can help each other then all the better!

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TRICARE for Milkids

Sep 26 2014

Published by under the logistics train

I read an article in the Military Times titled “Tricare ‘meeting the needs’ of children, with some caveats.” It is an interesting article, although the title is a bit misleading. As the article starts out: “A recent Defense Department report finds that the military health system is meeting the needs of its youngest beneficiaries…” and, later:

“[The military health system] is meeting the needs of the children in its care, including those with special needs,” wrote members of the DoD working group that compiled the report. “The data confirm that the MHS provides comprehensive and high-quality health benefit programs for all children.”

doctor_visitHowever, the group behind the study did identify “several issues — including DoD’s lack of a centralized health data system — that make it difficult to draw direct, complete comparisons between care across the services or in military hospitals or clinics versus private care.”

I don’t know what the caveats are other than the lack of a centralized health data system. I would be curious to know. Obviously, the centralized system would be nice, but it seems normal that the services would only have a data system for their own members.

Now, this could lead to another caveat – have the medical services under one roof to improve service. Then there would be one data system, as well as a lot of money saved through such things as one surgeon general, one surgeon general’s staff, etc. I don’t know why Congress doesn’t focus on this option when discussing the budget as opposed to finding ways to have servicemembers shoulder the crisis through caps on raises or cutting back the retirement program.

Back to the military health care system and milkids; personally, we have had great experiences – from Japan, to D.C., to Germany. Currently, all of our kids see providers at the Air Force Academy clinic and our positive experiences continue. I like the mil system for a number of reasons: appointments are easily made; the TRICARE appointment reps are very friendly and helpful; the providers are very good; appointments run on a timely basis; all of the records are online; and, needed referrals (x-rays, pharmacy, etc.) are steps away from the provider’s office. Oh, and we never feel rushed at appointments.

I contrast this with my medical appointments off-base and the appointments I take my 92 year-old dad to once a month or so. Too many times the provider rushes through the appointment. And, after filling out 3 to 4 pages of information (most of it repeated on each page, and don’t get me started on the outdated requests for full social security numbers – I try to tell them that TRICARE is more advanced than their office is but the staffs don’t listen), we typically have 15 to 30 minute waiting times.

But the off-base providers sometimes sneak around this wait time – they call you in for vitals at the appointed time, making you think things are progressing – however you then sit on the treatment table for the usual wait time (why is this called a “table” by the way?) with a stack of out of date magazines from a publisher who writes about their advertisers.

Anyway, what are your experiences? We’d like to hear. MOAA Spouse is asking at their Facebook page. So go vent or compliment.

And, while at their page, you can post a question about why are they showing an adult military sniper at a Facebook post on care for kids. Maybe the guy is a bad shot and he is hunting with his kids. But he doesn’t look like Dick Cheney.

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