Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Army Goodbyes. Ugh.

PHOTO:  My kids saying farewell to their good friends as they leave for Georgia from Fort Hood.

I love being an Army Family. I love the pride, patriotism, and sense of community that comes along with being a Soldier's wife. I love moving to new places, meeting new people, and learning new traditions in each new unit. But for all the things I love, there are just a few things that make me crazy ... one of these is the never-ending goodbyes either when you leave or when you stay and good friends leave you behind.

We said one such goodbye yesterday. We're staying; this wonderful family is leaving. This is a Family that we've gotten to know over the past four years. My oldest son is best friends with their oldest son ... they've been in the same classroom at school and in the same Cub Scout den for the past three years. My youngest is good friends with their youngest. They were in the same classroom this year and spent many Cub Scout meetings and family campouts playing together. Their middle child is a good friend to both of our kids and the five of them play together like a dream.

The wife in the family is a fabulous friend to me. She and I have attended (sometimes survived!) many a Cub Scout pack meeting, campout, and school event together. We have spent Spring Breaks together and helped each other through months of deployment.  She's fun, easy to talk to, and we trust each other implicitly.  We'd gladly keep each other's children ... I often tell her I'd adopt any one of hers ... and we enjoy being together.

For the past week, we've said a variety of goodbyes ... a dinner out at a local seafood restaurant, her husband's change of command ceremony, some time hanging out together, and a final stop at our house on their way out of town yesterday.  It's a beautiful thing to have friends such as these ... and such a sad occasion to have to say goodbye.  Fortunately, in the Army, goodbyes are not forever.  There are lots of ways to keep in touch, a good chance of being stationed together again one day, and the promise of more fun places to visit! 

So ... I wish our friends super-safe travel and Godspeed on their journey to Fort Benning.  They will make more great friends there and I look forward to hearing all about it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fabulous Hail and Farewell

The National Anthem playing before the game began.

First, for my civilian friends (whom I love!), a Hail and Farewell is a regularly scheduled social event that Army units host in order to say 'farewell' to Soldiers and Families that are leaving the unit and to 'hail' -- or welcome -- Soldiers and Families who have recently arrived in the unit.  They are hosted in a variety of places, but usually a meal is involved and restaurants tend to be popular venues.

Our battalion just hosted a Hail & Farewell at a Round Rock Express baseball game in conjunction with "Military Appreciation Night."  It was such a fun time and a wonderful way to spend time together as a unit.  At this particular venue, we were able to rent out the party area which included a pool, hot tub, and gazebo.  We had hamburgers and hot dogs, beer on tap, water, soda, and lemonade, and were able to swim throughout the game.  Another fun aspect of the night was that my hubby was able to throw out the ceremonial opening pitch!  [He's got this very cool XO who worked this all out.]

It was a very fun night and a great place to host an event ... and what's more American than a little summer baseball?  =)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Very Cool Change of Command

A friend of ours recently changed out of company command.  Before the ceremony started, the unit set up tables with all kinds of cool Army gear on them and Soldiers at each station to explain how the gear was used.  My kids had a total blast checking out diving gear, radios, and especially ... sniper gear!  My oldest dressed up and was thrilled to be "just like a real Soldier" as he aimed his rifle.  Yikes.  But it was a super-fun time and such a good idea for this event.  The Soldiers seemed to enjoy getting to talk about their daily jobs, the visitors -- kids and adults alike -- learned a lot, and it was a wonderful representation of our troops' hard work.  Love telling the Army story like this!  Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mock Deployment on Fort Hood

Fort Hood hosted a "Mock Deployment" for children last week, an event designed to educate our kids on a little of what our Soldiers encounter when they prepare to deploy.  I was interested right away and signed up my two boys -- ages ten and seven -- for the event.  The kids were encouraged to dress in their best Army or camoflauge summer clothes for the event.  Our boys immediately took out their battalion t-shirts and camo shorts and were ready for the day.  After a flurry of sunscreen and final preparation, we were on our way.

Upon arrival, the boys checked in at the registration desk for their deployment packet ... a backpack full of fun stuff: camo binoculars ("bi-nos" for our experienced kids), dog tags, water bottle, and lots of great booklets and information for them.  They were given new identities for the day:  PFC Cook, N. and PFC Cook, J.  After being assigned to "Echo Platoon," we headed outside so the boys could fall into their formation.  A military roll-call ensued followed by a few quick lessons on right-face, left-face, about-face, forward march, attention, and at ease.

As the new troops stood in formation behind their platoon guidon, the Army Community Service (ACS) coordinators welcomed the troops and the III Corps Command Sergeant Major gave a brief overview of the day then taught the kids how to shout out a proper "HOOAH."  The formations then all marched into our first briefing of the day.  The introduction brief was all about what it's really like during deployment, complete with a slide show.  From there, the kids moved through several fun stations.

A first step in the process was getting throug the Medical station.  The kids all received 'shots' ("Thank goodness THOSE were fake," says one of the boys.) from medical personnel then moved through dental (receiving new toothbrushes and toothpaste) then taking an eye exam where their vision was deemed fit to deploy.  The next few stations were definitely among the most fun of the day.  First, all participants were face painted in camo then allowed to try on a variety of real Army gear with Soldiers standing by to assist.  The kids could try on:  kevlars, bullet-proof vests, protective masks, gloves, boots, and more.

Just like in a real preparation for deployment, the kids participated in several briefings throughout the day.  They heard the In-Country brief where they learned about the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan, some "dos" and "don'ts" of dealing with the people of those countries, and saw lots of photos of what the area would look like when they got there.  The participants also talked about all the things they needed to do before they left the country, including age-appropriate descriptions of Powers of Attorney, financial requirements, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  They even participated in the Family Readiness Group (FRG) brief where they talked about things like "What is an FRG anyway?"  Next, the troops moved outside for a mini-road march complete with cadences then a training obstacle course.  The course contained tires to step through, a water grenade qualification range, low crawls, and a zig-zag speed course.  My boys had a blast doing this!

Water Grenade Qualification Range

Low Crawl

The Final Run

After the obstacle course, the military police from Fort Hood demonstrated their amazing working canines.  We watched some of their training techniques and enjoyed the dogs showing off their skills.  Once that was complete, each participant was given a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE, certificate of completion, and said farewell in a final formation.  After the event was over, we went back to the static displays of various Army vehicles and equipment.  Our unit had some Soldiers there showing participants through a Howitzer.  It was a huge hit with the kids and my own boys spent a good amount of time crawling in and out and asking a million questions.  All of the participating Soldiers were fabulouse ... informative, friendly, and eager to show off their prize equipment.  It was a great time.

Here, the boys spend lots of time quizzing Soldiers about the Howitzer.

Later that evening, my Soldier demonstrated the finer points of preparing MREs to the boys.  They opened up their packages and were eager to eat "just like Daddy does in the field."  We brought home Chicken & Dumplings and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.  The boys were very good sports, trying all of the different items.  My favorite quotes of the night?  "Daddy, is this a chicken or a dumpling?" and, in response to me telling them that Daddy had eaten lots of MREs throughout his years in the Army, "Poor Daddy."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Puppy Boxer is Growing Up!

Our boxer puppy is our first foray into the world of larger dogs.  I had several types of terriers growing up ... my husband's family had dachshunds and a beagle in his growing up years.  Our first dog as a married couple -- who is still with us -- is a Cairn Terrier (like Toto on the "Wizard of Oz," only blonde, not black).  So ... the world of big dogs is a new one for us.

First, I am amazed at the rate of growth!  I think sometimes Leo has grown during a single nap!  He is still a wonderful pet, mild-tempered, obedient, and sweet as pie ... but BIG ... and growing!

Leo (7 months) and Shadow (15 years) posing for the camera.

Leo is fabulous with our boys.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Birthday Dinner at Joe's Crab Shack

One of our family traditions is to let our kids choose a special place for dinner on their "actual" birthday ... since their parties are generally not on their date of birth. My little seven-year-old chose Joe's Crab Shack in Austin for his big dinner (after an extensive talk with Mom about why it might be a better choice than all the local pizza/arcade restaurants) and it was a ton of fun.

We invited our local cousins to dine with us since they live in the area and we had a really great time. We sat on the outdoor porch and were pleasantly surprised at how nice and cool it was that night. Shade and fans were a definite plus and it was a nice evening outside. The wait staff would occasionally break into simple line dance routines during certain songs -- a huge hit with my nieces who would often jump up and join in!

Some of the kids were adventurous in their meal choices ... my oldest ordered crab legs -- which he loved -- but there were good food choices for everyone. Hubby and I shared a pot of seafood and had plenty to go around. The kids also enjoyed the enormous plastic bibs tied on to everyone who ordered seafood ... dads included!

Best feature of the restaurant? In addition to sitting outdoors, the Joe's Crab Shack has a fenced-in play area with a small playground and lots (and lots and lots) of sand. The kids had a marvelous time digging, playing, building, climbing, running, and sliding. We weren't sitting close enough to allow them to play without an adult with them, but it was neat to be there for the fun.

Another favorite was a really cool dessert menu. The kids could choose between a Rice Krispie treat or an ice cream sandwich, both of which were served on an artists' palette! Chocolate syrup, caramel, and strawberry sauce were served with a paintbrush so the kids could decorate their desserts. So fun!

When our waitress discovered that we were celebrating a birthday, she made sure he was recognized for his special day. She brought out a cowboy hat and wooden stick horse and asked Joshua to show off his riding skills while the staff sang to him. He took off and 'rode' around the patio area at full-speed while we all sang. It was hilarious to watch and he thought he was IT after that. Very cute.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Baby Turns Seven

My baby turned seven years old and had one of the easiest, most unusual, and most FUN parties we've hosted to date. We discovered this wonderful little spot near Lampasas, Texas called "Tyson's Corners Ranch." They host a variety of parties, team-building events, and marriage retreats and have a herd of therapy horses on the job.

The birthday boy chose a medieval theme complete with dragons, knights, and princesses. The kids were able to meet the staff at the ranch, get a few safety rules, then proceeded to decorate their horses! They actually painted on the horse and added various decor to make two war stallions and a princess pony! The girls gravitated toward the white princess horse while the boys made warriors of their horses. Everyone had a great time and the horses were perfect, even seeming to enjoy all the attention.

When the horses were fully decked-out, they were saddled up, and the kids were all able to take a ride. After horse rides, the kids enjoyed playing with (foam) swords and large bubble wands. Horses were treated to carrots and apples for their participation in the party. The last event had the knights and princesses entering the castle for goblets of juice and cake, singing to the birthday boy, and the royal opening of the gifts. The staff was fabulous throughout the entire party and the children had a marvelous time.

If you're in the central Texas area and need a place for a fun event or are interested in a retreat, Tyson's Corners is a super suggestion.

Boys enjoy decorating the warhorse!

The girls get started on the princess pony.

War Horses!

The Princess Pony

A Little Sword Play

Princesses and Knights Take a Rest

Joshua and his friend Will, ready to open gifts.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Unneccessary Use of "Quotation" Marks

Love this new blog I recently found ... the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marksAs a grammar junkie, I thought the idea of this blog was hilarious and really enjoyed the numerous examples of quotation craziness in our society today.

So ... when our family was in a local store the other day, I saw this cap and had to snap a "photo."

Your favorite examples?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts on a New Role in the Army Family

Yikes!  It's really been almost a month since I blogged here.  Life has been a true whirlwind in the past few weeks.  I have been welcomed into a wonderful group of Army Families on Fort Hood and spent some significant time figuring out how to be a "commander's wife."  I didn't realize the extent of the expectations held by so many of this new role ... so let me just say upfront: I will do my best ... and ... I will mess this up.

I will do my best because ... I adore Army Soldiers and their Families.  I am constantly amazed by their independence, resourcefulness, resilience, courage, and strength.  I love the Army because of the people in it and I have always wanted to do my very best to be helpful in some way, however I could.  In this role, I simply want to do the same. 

I will mess this up because ... I am just one person.  I am human, possibly more prone to error than average, but always with my heart in the right place.  I have no choice but to bring all of my traits into this role; the good, the bad, and the ugly ... and just hope that the good outweighs the rest.  I can promise that I will always do my best but also realize that I won't always get it right.

So ... if you're reading this and you happen to be in the unit I just joined ... I promise to do my best for you.  Please forgive me for my faults and know that I am extraordinarily excited to be a part of this group.  Please share your ideas and know that you are always welcome at unit events.  I want our time together to be fun, informative, and productive.  I believe that we are a unit Family and want us to take care of each other just like a good family would.

If you're reading this and are in another military unit ... I would encourage you to give your unit a chance.  Units are made of humans ... and humans always have faults.  If you've had a bad experience or aren't happy with how things are going, give those leaders the benefit of the doubt.  With few exceptions, most in leadership positions really are just trying to do their best.  They may mess it up but seldom do that on purpose.  Find your niche and volunteer to help.  Be a part of the solution and help make your unit better ... perhaps even "Be All You Can Be!"  Okay, too cheesy, I know, but you get my point.

Finally, if you're reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about, just disregard and say a special prayer for our military commanders, their Families, and the units they lead.  All kind words, thoughts, and prayers are always appreciated!