'Schoolhouse Rock!' and the policy wonk

Watching the machinations of our nation’s government — its actions or lack thereof — we may feel helpless, unable to affect the decisions that affect us as military families. But Reda Hicks, an Army wife, attorney and self-described “policy wonk,” is convinced that we can make a difference. Hicks has a fascination for the finer points of legislation and policy, particularly as it relates to military members and their families, but realizes that many people feel overwhelmed by these issues.

The basics are not out of reach. For an outline of how federal laws are made, Hicks says look no further than a childhood favorite, “I’m Just a Bill,” from “Schoolhouse Rock!” The musical cartoon segment, now decades old, shows the journey a bill takes through the branches of  the U.S. government to become a law.

Psychology yesterday

A friend gave me a clipping from an old magazine, an article supposedly about military families, which brought home to me how much more our way of life is studied, understood and appreciated by those outside our world than it used to be.

The story, from a 1986 issue of Psychology Today, presumed to explore and analyze military life. Unfortunately, at the time there was so little data available about military families that the author had to rely on anecdotes, generalizations and unsubstantiated theories. She admitted in her story that studies and surveys of military families in the mid-1980s were either outdated or questionable. As a result, much of the story was either laughable or offensive. Sometimes both.

Moving checklist

Life doesn’t stop for a relocation, whether across town or across an ocean. It just keeps coming. For military families, our lives are not just what happens in between moves, it’s what happens during those moves, too.

This is not a moving summer for my family, but thinking ahead to the next one I’ve been decluttering and cleaning out some boxes in our basement. I came across my to-do list from two moves ago. Perhaps the fact that I’m holding on to a 3-year-old list indicates how much cleaning out I need to do, but I’m a saver. I call it curating the history of our life on the move, and I had good reason to save this particular list.

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.