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Job search blues

Felicia, an Air Force wife and veteran, knows a few things about the tough job market. She and her husband, Sal, have lived it. Sal retired in 2013 after 20-plus years in a specialized and skilled military career field. He was ready for the next adventure, but he didn’t know that adventure would be a job search. For a year and a half, he slogged through employment websites, job fairs and unresponsive potential employers. And that doesn’t count the nine months he spent searching while he was on active duty.

Eighteen months after leaving the military, Sal found a job. Felicia said they both gained hard-won insights into the job climate for veterans.

Unmerry birthdays

My daughter is a military child with a travel-season birthday, so she’s celebrated quite a few birthdays in hotel rooms and empty houses on one end of a move or the other. On her 13th birthday, three days after our arrival in Germany, we took her to a castle. She was not a happy princess, however. She pointed out that the castle was a ruin, appropriate for her birthday mood. We had just moved halfway around the world, leaving her closest friends behind in California.

Her golden birthday — when her age matched her birth date — was not golden to her. It was her 15th birthday on the 15th day of the month. We were stationed in Germany, but her birthday fell on the 15th day of a summerlong road trip visiting family in the States. That pretty much took the shine off the golden birthday thing.

Being there

Just a couple of weeks ago my mom called to tell me that her brother, my Uncle Cecil, had died. She told me the funeral date had not been set yet, and then added, “I know you can’t come. …”

She didn’t mean it to sting, but I felt it. In our military life, it seems we are often too far away at significant times. I know the strain of being distant when my family needs me closer, or when I need to be closer to them.

Invincible, not invisible

Jessica Allen doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind, and her mind is often on those who, like her, are caregivers for wounded warriors.

“They are totally neglected and totally ignored,” she said of caregivers. Allen’s husband, Chaz, lost both legs and his right elbow to a bomb in Afghanistan in 2011. Doctors were able to save his arm, but the bones of his elbow had to be fused, she explained. He was medically retired from the Army in 2013.

Small but mighty

When Christy Gilliland and her Air Force family moved to Scott AFB in Illinois, Christy began looking for ways to engage her children, then 7 and 10, in their new community. The family had come from Okinawa, where they had helped out regularly at nearby children’s homes.

“I’ve always had my children give back to the community since they were small,” she said.

Sounding off, rising up

In these days of threatened reductions in military benefits and mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, for some military spouses, phoning or writing their legislators to sound off about the issues is no longer good enough.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Call your congressman,’ military spouses are asking, ‘Why can’t I be my congressman?’ ” said Amanda Patterson Crowe, a Navy reservist and Navy wife. Crowe is also the executive director of In Gear Career for military spouses, which promotes professional development and education for military spouses.

It only takes a spark

How’s it going, guys?” I asked my husband and son, who were out in the garage trying to breathe life into our 1966 Ford Mustang. The car has been in storage during our past few assignments, so it requires tender loving mechanical care to bring it back to the land of the living.

Father and son have been spending some bonding time over the past few weeks tinkering with the car and making a lot of trips to the auto parts store. They’ve taken off the fuel tank, had it cleaned, put it back in, replaced the carburetor and the battery, among other things.

From war to peace

The place was quiet, beautiful and nearly deserted. A middle-aged couple farther up the beach soaked up the sun, while our family tried to absorb the significance. My children wandered quietly, one looking at seashells, one drawing in the sand with a stick, another taking pictures. I was surprised by the peacefulness, the blue sky and even bluer water lapping at the shore of Normandy.

I’m not sure what I expected from Omaha Beach so many decades after D-Day, but it wasn’t serenity. My ideas about this strip of coastline had been dominated by black and white film recorded 70 years ago. Choppy seas, rain and low clouds added to the gloom of photos from June 6, 1944, the day Allied forces landed and began the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s forces.

His Wife

Two words can say a lot about a military spouse. Especially when those words are on a gravestone.

On my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery, while walking through section 13, I noticed a row of very similar markers. Each of the gravestones facing me had a woman’s first name, a date and two words: “His Wife.”

Personal and patriotic mission

Elizabeth Dole — former U.S. senator and presidential cabinet member twice over — and her husband, Robert Dole — longtime veteran of both houses of Congress and two presidential tickets — could be called a Republican power couple.

However, their latest efforts bridge the gap between red and blue politics with a red, white and blue cause. The National Coalition for Military Caregivers was launched this year by Caring for Military Families: Elizabeth Dole Foundation.