Compelling Reasons: Why Veterans Make Good Franchisees

By guest contributor Chris Coleman

 

If you’ve ever done any research into the franchising environment, you may have noticed that many franchise companies offer Veterans a discount on their initial investment. Why is that? Well, there are a couple reasons why. First, this is a way for many franchisors to say ‘thank you’ for serving. Many of us feel you’ve gone above and beyond to protect our country and secure our freedoms. Second, there’s a general consensus that Veterans typically make great franchisees! Franchisors find that Veterans, with their leadership and teamwork skills and propensity for following a system, make ideal business owners in the franchise space. Let’s take a quick look at some of the reasons why Veterans are so sought after by franchise companies.

You can’t investigate this without first establishing a key finding. For many, that key finding would be the similarities that exist between franchise operations and the order and structure built into military service. We in the franchising industry know that a franchise is successful because the bedrock of its operation depends upon a defined set of principles and procedures that, when replicated, have a high chance of success. Our friends in the military community know that having a defined mission is essential to success; a successful mission, in turn, can usually be replicated, mitigating risk in future operations.

One example of those similarities is training. One of the key advantages of franchising is the amount of training and support that goes into the development of franchisees and their respective franchises. In the military, many of you began with basic training. In a franchise system, you may be required to attend their version of basic training, alongside other new franchise owners. Both are examples of an accelerated learning atmosphere where you’ll ramp up your knowledge of processes and procedures quickly. And we all know that the training doesn’t stop once you graduate from your basic course. The same goes for franchise support systems, all of which make ongoing education, training, and support a key ideological framework.

No discussion about Veterans and franchising would be complete without a reference to teamwork. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “teamwork makes the dream work,” keep in mind that it applies to franchise operations as well as military training and execution. Much of our military organizational framework is built around groups and teams of men and women – troops, squads, platoons, regiments, divisions, and so on. Franchises rely on the same framework, the same type of top-down leadership as the military, to ensure the success of their operations.

The remaining similarities are no less obvious. The ability to thrive under pressure is a suitable quality in both a Veteran and a franchise owner…neither are strangers to long hours, hard work, and a payoff for effort at the end of the day. Lastly, discipline will always win the day…the military and our Veterans depend upon it and strong franchise brands demand it. In some sense, we can actually tie teamwork and discipline together – successful teams tend to have some sort of accountability structure in place and good franchise companies facilitate accountability groups throughout their system to encourage franchise owners to be all that they can be.

There are plenty of statistics that speak volumes about Veterans and small business ownership. From 2012 U.S. Census Bureau and Small Business Administration information, data suggests that approximately 2.5 million businesses – nearly 9.1% – were Veteran-owned. Within the small business ‘space’, franchising itself is a successful business platform for many Armed Forces Personnel – Veterans, Family members, National Guard & Reserve, and even Service Members on active duty. Many reports detail that approximately one in seven U.S. franchises is owned by Veterans. Did you catch that? One in seven franchises is owned by a Veteran! There must be a compelling reason for that statistic…

While there are a lot of synergies between franchises and the military, researching the nearly 3,600 franchise concepts can be tricky. If you or someone you know is a member of the military community looking to establish a business foothold in civilian life, I recommend connecting with a local franchise consultant to help navigate those waters. And don’t forget what they say – ‘teamwork makes the dream work’…

 

Chris Coleman is a second-generation franchise consultant & a franchise owner with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. He and his team provide no-cost consultations to individuals seeking business ownership opportunities. Chris currently owns franchise territory in 4 states, sits on the Board of Directors for FranNet, and serves as Vice-Chair of FranNet’s Franchise Advisory Council.  Connect with Chris on LinkedIn here or visit FranNet.com for more information on franchising.

Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, email Kris@militaryconnection.com and tell us your story…

Six Tips to a Top-Shelf Business Plan

By guest contributor Will Katz

 

It has been my honor and pleasure to work with many veterans who have started small businesses. Over the years, I’ve noticed that people with military experience tend to be excellent entrepreneurs. Why would that be the case? Well, I don’t know this for certain, but I would imagine that the careers of most military personnel revolve around 1) creating a plan, and 2) executing that plan.

Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that entrepreneurship generally follows a similar roadmap. Entrepreneurs also create a plan, then execute that plan. With that in mind, here are six key points for anybody embarking on the process of business planning:

Begin with the end in mind. You might recognize this as Habit 2 of Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is always a good habit, but especially so when it comes to business planning.

Of course, it may be somewhat challenging. If you have never written a business plan, the odds are that you have also not seen a wide variety of business plans. If you have not seen a lot of business plans, it may be difficult to envision what your completed plan might look like.

You should ask your network of peers and advisors if they might be able to share some business plan samples with you. If your personal network doesn’t include people who are well-versed in the business planning process, use this as an opportunity to expand that network a little bit. I would recommend that you begin your journey by attempting to read and review at least ten business plans. This will give you a baseline.

Beware of search engine results. Sure, you could type “business plans” into your favorite search engine.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…I can tell you what you are going to get back. You will see all kinds of specialty business plan-writing products that will cost you anywhere from $79.99 to about $1,200. Search engines are wonderful, and I frequently wonder how I managed to get by without the ability to find out what time the nearest pizza restaurant closes. But when it comes to complex topics like business planning, I’m not sure that search engines are your best friend.

When it comes to business plans, results with high placement are often placed in your results feed because companies who sell these tools pay for that placement. Their job is to give you “business plan envy”. They want you to feel like you couldn’t possibly do this without them. They want you to think the business planning process is more confusing or more exacting than it really is.

There is no magic format. Believe it or not, there is no magic in how you lay out the sections of your business plan. I’ve seen great business plans with 4-5 sections, and I’ve seen great business plans with 12-14 sections. I’ve seen business plans funded for millions of dollars that were 4 pages long. I’ve also seen plans of every shape and size that were lacking in critical content.

I spent several years working with an aspiring pre-venture entrepreneur who was convinced that there was a magic business plan format. He created a plan and he sent that plan to dozens of potential funding sources.  Each recipient of the plan pointed to some issue or issues, and many of them pointed to different problems.  Every time he received a response, he passed it on to me with a note, making sure to tell me that he was unhappy that I didn’t see the issue ahead of the rejection!

In this case, my belief was (and still is) that the plan didn’t correctly identify a problem and his corresponding solution. The business notion underlying your business plan is always the main issue. But his belief was simply that if he wrote the “perfect” business plan, regardless of the underlying facts, he would get millions of dollars in funding.  (Hint: it doesn’t really work that way!)

Especially if you are in the earliest stages, it will benefit you to think of your business plan along the lines of a simple feasibility analysis. The simple act of viewing your concept and your business idea from that 10,000-foot perspective may well be revolutionary for you. Shoot for maybe 5 or 6 sections, each section being one page.  You may be surprised at how far that will lead you.

Research is key. There are a lot of different types of research that might go into a business plan. Foremost among those types of research, I would say, is “secondary” market research.

When it comes to market research, “primary” market research relates to the questions you ask customers and/or potential customers. “Would you buy this?” “How much would you pay?” “What should we call it?” It’s not that these are bad questions, but for most entrepreneurs, it is exceedingly difficult to design the right survey tools and get outside of your comfort zone far enough to ask them to people who will give you unbiased answers.

“Secondary” market research relates to existing sources of information that answer questions one might have.  If your business idea is related to after-market car parts, it would be helpful to know how many cars are registered in your metro area. If you are planning to open a nail salon, wouldn’t you like to know how many people in the area have received pedicures in the last six months? (Believe it or not, this is a question that could be answered!)

There are some amazing tools for research out there if you know where to look. Some are free to use, but some are not. Again, it is always a good idea to expand your personal network to help you learn what you know and what you don’t know. If you don’t know any librarians, it might be worth your time to meet one! I’m a big fan of the US Census Bureau tools (https://www.census.gov/smallbusiness/), as well as industry reporting from places like IBISWorld, Cengage, and First Research.

Be specific in your statement of purpose. Yes, you should be as specific as possible in all aspects of business planning. But the reference here is to the purpose for your actual plan.  I always like to see a sentence in the first couple of paragraphs that starts like this: “The purpose for this plan is….”

Maybe the purpose is to find a bank loan for 50% of the $100,000 you need. Maybe you are looking for early-stage investors among family and friends. Maybe you are simply putting together a document that will keep you on track as you develop ideas and one that will provide you with direction as you move forward. Whatever the reason is, put it in the plan.

Necessary, but not sufficient by itself. I’m certain that no battles have ever been won by planning unless the planning was backed up by robust action. Know that it will be the same way with your business. Planning alone will never compete with planning AND execution.  In your military career, how many of your plans survived first contact with the enemy? Probably not very many! The same will be true of your entrepreneurial pursuits. It’s great to have a plan. In fact, it’s critically important to have a plan.

Just be prepared to deviate from that plan when the situation calls for it!

 

Will Katz, MBA, CVA is a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and Accredited Business Planning Advisor (ABPA) specializing in valuation support for SBA lending. Will is also Director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Kansas, where he helps entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Will has worked with more than 1500 business clients, including hundreds of military Veterans in the Ft. Leavenworth area. Connect with Will Katz on LinkedIn here

 

Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your small business planning process or military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, email Kris@militaryconnection.com and tell us your story…

Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business

Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

(This is one of a series of posts relating to entrepreneurship. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)

For many of us, transitioning from the military to the next phase of our lives – going “back on the block”, if you will – consisted of nothing more than getting our hands on a set of clearing papers and looking for signatures, so we could get our final orders for Fort Living Room. In 1993, the first time I left active duty, I was offered some help on putting together a resume and shown how to sort through some arcane database of open jobs…but that was about all, and that was about all I wanted.

The next time I found myself clearing an active duty installation was about 15 years later, and to be sure, there were more opportunities available to help me successfully transition. There was more hardware, more software, and more subject-matter experts to help me navigate my options, but it was still optional and mostly centered around getting help finding a job.

One of the best things the Department of Defense has done for transitioning service members recently, though, was to make the core transition workshop mandatory and add some additional tracks to augment the experience. One of those tracks is a course on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business (B2B).

Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The two-day course, titled “Introduction to Entrepreneurship”, is held at over 180 military installations worldwide and provides an overview of the subject. Active Duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans, and spouses are eligible to participate. Boots to Business Reboot is a version of the original workshop that takes the event off the military installation and extends access to veterans of all eras. There is no cost to participate, and those that have successfully completed either course are eligible for follow-on Boots to Business courses that cover a variety of topics.

“Introduction to Entrepreneurship” is a TAP training track for those interested in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership and it’s the foundational piece of the larger Boots to Business (B2B) program. Participants are introduced to the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to launch a business, including steps for developing business concepts and a business plan, and information on SBA resources available to help. Participants learn business fundamentals and techniques for evaluating the feasibility of their business concepts and are introduced to a broad spectrum of entrepreneurial concepts and the resources available to access start-up capital, technical assistance, contracting opportunities, and more. Subject matter experts from the SBA and its network of partners and skilled business advisors teach the course.

Those partners and business advisors are what makes this event so valuable. While there is some variance from installation to installation, there are a few key organizations that help facilitate the workshop across the country. Those groups include the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, America’s SBDC, SCORE, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, members of the National Guard & Reserve, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement with the SBA that have the VBOC mission.

Small Business Development Centers (America’s SBDCs) are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies, and private sector partners. There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses. on topics that include business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, technology development, international trade and much more.

SCORE. A nonprofit association of thousands of volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. and its territories, SCORE members are trained to serve as counselors, advisors, and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners.  SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters.

Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). WBCs work to secure entrepreneurial opportunities for women by supporting and sustaining a national network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers. WBCs help women succeed in business by providing training, mentoring, business development, and financing opportunities to over 145,000 women entrepreneurs each year.

Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Located at Syracuse University, IVMF is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families.

Personally, I think it’s a great benefit that the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, and those resource partners have put together for those of us in the military community. I may be a bit biased, however, because over the last 5 years I helped facilitate over 150 Boots to Business workshops across 7 different military installations in 5 states. I’ve spoken with hundreds of folks considering their entrepreneurial options and witnessed plenty of “a-ha” moments. I’ve also seen more than a few come to the realization that ‘small business ownership’ wasn’t for them.

In my opinion, as both a Soldier that has recently transitioned and as a professional facilitator, the Boots to Business workshop is a great course that offers a birds-eye view of some of the key elements of small business ownership. In pretty short order, most participants will figure out if entrepreneurship is something that could be right for them and they’ll know where to turn for more information.

Perhaps you find yourself pining for the day when you can open your own business. Or you and your spouse are already knee-deep in running a successful enterprise, but you’re ready to connect to resources that might help you take it to the next level. Or maybe you just might officially rule out the option of being self-employed, but want it to be an educated decision. For whichever reason, Boots to Business is a good starting point and will likely be a good use of your time.

If you’re still actively serving, contact the transition office at your closest military installation for more information. If you don’t have access to an installation or aren’t close to one, you can visit the program’s website at https://sbavets.force.com/s/. For technical support and registration questions, contact the Boots to Business Help Desk by emailing Boots-to-Business@sba.gov/ or by calling (202) 205-VET1 or (844) 610-VET1. Good luck with your journey!

 

Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email Kris@militaryconnection.com!

Lest we forget, during the holidays…

Lest we forget, during the holidays…

By Guest Contributor Renee Nickell

The holidays are approaching, so you know what that means…the black plague of shopping is upon us.  No, I don’t really think this way. I love shopping during the holidays, albeit mostly online. Enter Thanksgiving-the day we feast with family, watch football, and discuss all those blessings we are so thankful for.  Then, just when everyone is getting settled down for the night after gorging on pumpkin pie and spiced eggnog, the avid Black Friday shoppers are reading their flyers, marking their maps and strategizing as if they are preparing for combat, ready to trample anyone in their path that would prevent them from purchasing their child the latest, most popular, deeply discounted item…the must-have item that will be played with for about 10 minutes and placed on a shelf until next year.

Yes, it’s the holidays. It brings out the best or worst in all of us.  I for one, have been the best and the worst to those around me at times I’m sure.  Let me explain, Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been so special to our family, being that we don’t always get to see a lot of our family during the year.  We are “the military family.” We see family when we can and in the past, that has always depended on where we were in the country and whether we could afford to travel long distances (raise your hand if you’re a military family on a tiny budget, yet are expected to travel to see everyone else during the holidays).

I’d say being around those I love always brings out the best side of me.  The side that loves to laugh and cook, play practical jokes, and watch Christmas movies.  In recent years past, it’s been difficult celebrating Christmas when my brother Sam made his last phone call to us on Thanksgiving 2011, and then was killed in action just three weeks later on December 14th   in Afghanistan.  I am thankful for my husband and children who are so patient with me during those “bad days.” While most families were preparing their Christmas plans and wrapping gifts, we were planning a funeral.  The reality is, if we hadn’t been planning a funeral, Sam would have still been in war, separated from his family like so many other deployed members are each and every year.

Many military families daydream of running through an airport with their balloons and signs, imagining their little toddlers stumbling over their own feet because they haven’t seen mommy or daddy in nine months.  It becomes hard to fathom the scenario of holiday shopping madness of people pushing and shoving each other that has now begun on Thanksgiving Day in recent years, instead of waiting until Black Friday. How has our beloved Thanksgiving now become Black Thursday?  Who agreed to this?

You get a whole new perspective when you’re sitting around a Christmas tree wondering what you’re to do, since there was no time for Christmas shopping because your brother of 36 years of age was recently killed.  We had three young children at the time, and he had two young sons. That was the Christmas when Black Friday or any other shopping day didn’t really seem to matter anymore. We just wondered how we would survive each year without him.  

Being a military spouse and a military family, we have an understanding that so many people do not.  0.4 percent of Americans are currently serving on active duty. The scope of understanding what military life is like is getting smaller and smaller for Americans as fewer people are serving.  For the majority of my life I have lived or have been part of a military community. It is hard to fathom that so many American’s do not understand or cannot comprehend the magnitude of sacrifice our military men and woman face each day.  “Since 2001, 2.77 million service members have served on 5.4 million deployments across the world with soldiers from the Army accounting for the bulk of them. Deployed personnel were under 30 years old on average, over half were married and about half had children” (McCarthy, 2018).

Understand this-In the past 17 years, there have been 5.4 MILLION deployments.  This means that statically, every service member since 2001 have deployed twice.  Now, we all know that there are some that never deployed and there are those that have deployed nine times.  Let us not forget about Retired Navy Seal, Dan Crenshaw, who got blown up in Afghanistan in 2012, lost an eye, and signed up to be deployed two more times.  Let that sink in during your hair pulling and Samsung TV trampling shopping event after telling cousin June how much you hate grandma’s lumpy gravy.

But I digress.  You see, Christmas will never be the same for our family.  As if it weren’t bad enough that military families have to miss anniversaries, birthdays, and births, some of us will forever have the empty chair at the table.  Christmas of 2011 was our families first experience with the proverbial empty chair. Not only was there going to be an empty chair, but also an empty Christmas Tree on Christmas morning.

Cue the sad, melodic, music which begins to increase as the doorbell rings on Christmas morning.  Just when you think life couldn’t get any sadder…it’s as if I could hear the sound of angels singing and thunder erupt from the heavens shouting “SEND IN THE MARINES!”  And that was the day the Marines were sent in to save the day for our family. That Christmas, the one with all the small children, and not a present in sight, was the Christmas that restored my hope in well…everything good.  You see, two young, sharply dressed Marines showed up with Christmas present after Christmas present for our families just five days after my brother’s memorial service. I don’t recall any child that morning wishing for something else or complaining they didn’t receive a new puppy or a $500 iPad.  What I heard was grateful children, happy to have experienced a little joy that morning, long enough to get a short break from the tears.

For years, our families have been donors to Marine Toys for Tots.  Did you ever wonder who was the recipient of those toys?  I did. I wondered about the “less fortunate” children that would have Christmas from the Marines because people were generous enough to donate in stores and businesses across the United States. Christmas morning of 2011, I realized where those toys go.  I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined our family would be the recipient of such an amazing organization. But that day, well, it brought us hope.

The following year, I made this observation:  Christmas morning came, children awoke out of their beds, and not a single one asked about opening presents.  There were presents under the tree, but it wasn’t the focus of the day. These children knew and understood, at such a young age, the level of sacrifice no family should have to endure.  There were giggles and smiles, hugs and pancakes…and then we got to the presents.

It’s 2018, and there is still a war.  There are many wars still happening that we never hear about in mainstream media.  There are men and women still sacrificing their lives for our opportunity to shop until we drop.  They do it willingly. They don’t begrudge our opportunities to bless our kids. They do it with willing hearts because they love America. I know they would much rather be with their families during the holidays, as they do not get to choose when they will go or when they will return home.

There are military families all over this country who will be separated from their hero, either by ocean or by death, that are not focused on the “buy now” or the “add to cart” button.  They just desire their family together. Don’t get me wrong. Shopping is not evil. Black Friday or Thursday or any other day to spend time shopping for your family is not evil. Get all your girlfriends together and have a great time doing it, while the men are at home watching football (or sleeping).  I love shopping and I love shopping especially for my children and family. We now try to do extra special things at Christmas to make new memories, which usually entails a special trip, and less presents.

I always believe the best way to combat the materialism at Christmas is to give-and give generously.  While you’re out shopping or enjoying your feasts with your families, let me suggest that you take the time to remember those that are deployed.  Pick up an extra gift and donate it to Toys for Tots. There are donation boxes everywhere. You can also go online and donate money. Say a prayer for our deployed and their families.  You never know when they’ll receive the dreaded knock on the door. You know that military family down the street in their twenties with two young children? Perhaps give them a card with some cash in it to help pay for their travels home to see grandma and grandpa. The ones they haven’t seen since before the last two deployments.

In addition to Toys for Tots, an organization that provides a beautifully wrapped gift for Gold Star children is Believe With Me.  It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization who helps support Gold Star families throughout the year. At Christmastime, this group of selfless volunteers prepares months in advance to purchase, wrap, and ship gifts to hundreds of Gold Star children.  They call it an American Gold Star Christmas and it’s spectacular! It is a wonderful gift to be remembered at such a difficult time of year and I know these families are grateful that their heroes sacrifice have not been forgotten, nor have their children. Believe With Me allows donors to purchase the gifts themselves or provide cash or gift cards and the organization will shop for the sponsored children.

Believe With Me currently has 300 Gold Star children signed up for gifts.  They are expecting over 1000 children this year. The non-profit continues to grow each year in its provision for fatherless or motherless children.  Sadly, this means that there are thousands of children who are missing a parent, not only at Christmas, but forever. Believe With Me depends solely on the donations of others and they depend on the volunteers who help package and ship these beautiful gifts.  I spoke with the Founder of Believe With Me, Lyette Reback, about the upcoming American Gold Star Christmas. She explains,

An American Gold Star Christmas is your opportunity to give back to the families of our fallen soldiers. Your donation will allow high school and university students the opportunity to shop for Gold Star kids’ wish lists and the students will be impacted by the up close and personal cost of their freedoms. This year, Believe With Me will have more than 1000 children to serve and the cost of the project will total more than $150,000. FedEx has graciously stepped in to underwrite the shipping costs, but our needs for gifts are still at an all-time high.”

Being a Gold Star family member myself and understanding firsthand the cost of freedom, our family is incredibly grateful for families like the Rebacks’ and organizations who honor our fallen and the families left behind, year after year.  You can never replace what is lost, but love sure does go a long way. Christmas is the time of year when people all over the world express their love in the form of gifts and giving. I hope you will show your gratitude this Christmas and support Toys for Tots and Believe With Me.

If you are a Gold Star family, you can go to www.BelieveWithMe.com/sponsor to register your child. Organizations like these need your help to make a difference in the lives of these children who have already sacrificed so much.

 

Renee Nickell is the Author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following My Brother’s Death in Afghanistan” For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.

Military Families Month and the ASYMCA

Military Families Month and the ASYMCA

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

The name says it all – Family Military Month, observed throughout the month of November, is a time for us to remember, honor and applaud Military families. The observation was set in motion in 1996 by the Armed Services YMCA and has become a tradition, complete with a signed Presidential Proclamation, ever since.

Common sense helps us to understand the sacrifices that our soldiers made when they joined the armed forces or make military a career. These sacrifices don’t end with the completion of a mission or tour. Many men and women hug their families goodbye and set off to live a whole life apart from the people they treasure most. While these men and women protect and defend our country, many of the people they love are left at home to maintain “home business as usual.” Additionally, there are many families who move from state to state and even country to country to support their loved one who is active duty.

The sacrifices of the active duty military servicemen and women go far beyond the Soldier. There are spouses who keep a household running. Parents missing their child. Children missing a parent. There are countless events missed completely or captured in videos and pictures to be watched and enjoyed during a brief stay at home. The impact on the families of military should never be overlooked or ignored.

Children, particularly ages 6 to 12, often feel a good deal of stress regarding their military parent. Moving can be incredibly stressful to adults. Children have this same stress, but in a different way. They also are burdened with the realities of deployment and, unfortunately, trauma should their parent be lost or wounded as a result of that deployment. These kids are just part of the reason why military families need and deserve a month’s worth of recognition.

In an effort to show these military families how appreciated they are, several groups, service centers, public affairs offices and the ASYMCA have all combined efforts to celebrate and honor the military family. In addition, these groups are all looking to increase awareness of both the need for celebration as well as any events throughout the month.

Military families benefit daily from the ASYMCA, the Armed Services YMCA, an organization that has been providing support and services to the military and their families since 1861. The first recorded call to military assistance was performed by over 5,000 YMCA volunteers during the Civil War. These volunteers, who did not have significant military training, stood by the soldiers in the field to provide support as needed. As a result, President Abraham Lincoln commended the organization. The Civil War set a standard for the ASYMCA – they have been present to support our soldiers in military conflict since.

ASYMCA is part of the global YMCA, but the focus is specifically on providing support for military and military families. Volunteers and the ASYMCA organization invest a good amount of time, energy and resources in supporting the men and women on the front lines. The ASYMCA provides these services without requiring membership fees or dues. All of the services provided are offered at no- or low-cost at all 80+ branches and affiliates and over 200 program centers.

The ASYMCA relies on volunteers to make all of these services available. Over 10,000 volunteers dedicate more than 112,000 hours of their time every year to a variety of programs. With only 500 employees, the ASYMCA staff is resourceful at establishing relationships with other nonprofits like Operation Homefront, USO and, of course, the YMCA. These relationships, as well as working with locations who are willing to donate space and other materials, help to keep costs low. Minimizing overhead and staffing costs allow the ASYMCA to save nearly over $2 million in fixed expenditures each year so that the majority of funds raised by the organization can go directly to the troops and their families.

The ASYMCA works diligently to close the gaps in programs and services available to enlisted men and women and their families. There are many services, like family support for wounded soldiers, wounded warrior support and hospital assistance and care, that are more obvious to the non-military family. However, the ASYMCA uses their staff, knowledge and resources to address the lesser-recognized needs of the military. Childcare, for example, is just one of the many gaps that the ASYMCA fills. Food services for those in need, spouse and deployment support, emergency needs and bringing holiday joy are just a few examples of programming available at the local level to those in need. The ASYMCA also has programming in place for recently discharged Soldiers or those on medical leave. Health and wellness services, counseling, computer training classes and more all help a soldier to acclimate to civilian life and live with the many physical and mental wounds that war can bring.

So many children would be lost without the benefit of the ASYMCA. Military kids so often end up with “less” than their traditional family counterparts. For starters, these children don’t have access to a parent for long periods of time. Operation Hero is just one of the programs that is tailored to helping these military kids. This after school program is designed to assist military kids in grades 2-8 and the unique and sometimes significant struggles they face every day. This 10-week course allows each child to work with a trained professional and openly discuss and solve problems faced at school and home. The goal of the professional, facilitator and all of the volunteers is to help a child that is identified as being “in need” by their parents or school by providing counselling, homework assistance and guidance on how to manage conflict. Through Operation Hero, which is at no-cost to the family, children will get the resources to learn how to get back on track – and stay on that track!

Operation Hero is a prime example of the work that the ASYMCA does to change the lives of military children, families and servicemen and women. Clearly, the ASYMCA is working throughout the year to improve the lives of so many Americans. It is during this month of awareness of the military family that we can do our own part to support their efforts. If you are looking for a way to assist someone in the military or a military family, there are many ways to help. If you are interesting in donating to this cause or volunteering your time, please visit https://www.asymca.org/donate or https://www.asymca.org/volunteer.

An excerpt from the ASYMCA’s website (https://www.asymca.org/who-we-are) tells us more about the organization:

Mission.  The Armed Services YMCA enhances the lives of military members and their families in spirit, mind and body through programs relevant to the unique challenges of military life.

Guiding Principles. The Armed Services YMCA will:

  1. Be guided by Christian principles with a holistic approach to develop and promote healthy spirit, mind and body;
  2. Be inclusive and treat everyone with compassion and respect;
  3. Collaborate with military commands and community organizations;
  4. Honor the service members’ and their families’ commitment to defend our Nation; and
  5. Strive for excellence in all we do.

Mission Focus.  Priority shall be given to providing needed programs and services for junior enlisted personnel, both single and married, and their family members.  The focus of work shall be in three areas – youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Services may be provided to military personnel other than junior enlisted where resources are available. Programs and services shall be designed to complement and supplement those provided by the Armed Forces, either on or off military installations as appropriate.

Finally, here is the text from this year’s ‘Presidential Proclamation on National Veterans and Military Families Month, 2018, issued on October 31 and found in full at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-national-veterans-military-families-month-2018/

During National Veterans and Military Families Month, we salute the brave and dedicated patriots who have worn the uniform of the United States, and we celebrate the extraordinary military families whose selfless service and sacrifice make our military the finest in the world.

Our Nation’s veterans represent the best of America.  Generation after generation, men and women have answered the call to defend our country and our freedom, facing danger and uncertainty with uncommon courage.  They make tremendous sacrifices by leaving their families to serve throughout the homeland and in combat, contingency, and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Our heroes have always relied on their families for strength and support.  Serving alongside our men and women in uniform are spouses, siblings, parents, and children who personify the ideals of patriotism, pride, resilience, service above self, and honor.  They endure the hardships and uncertainty of multiple relocations, extended trainings, and deployments because of their admirable devotion to our country and a loved one in uniform.

President Ronald Reagan said, “America’s debt to those who would fight for her defense doesn’t end the day the uniform comes off.”  Our Nation’s veterans fulfilled their duty to this country with brave and loyal service; it is our moral and solemn obligation to demonstrate to them our continuing gratitude, unwavering support, and meaningful encouragement.

I am steadfastly committed to ensuring our veterans and their families receive the care and support they deserve.  I was pleased to sign into law the landmark VA MISSION Act of 2018, which revolutionizes the way veterans receive healthcare and other services vital to their lives.  The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to raise its standard of service, including through the establishment of the first national center of excellence for veteran and caregiver research, which will improve services and outcomes for patients and their families.  I have also mandated greater collaboration across the Government to support veterans transitioning to civilian life. Additionally, Second Lady Karen Pence and I have collaborated on ways to elevate the career and educational opportunities for military spouses and children in partnership with State, local, and tribal officials.

It is most appropriate that in this season of gratitude we stop to recognize veterans, military families, and those who gave their lives in service to this great Nation.  We are indebted to these heroes for the freedoms we enjoy every day. I ask all Americans to join me in offering our sincere thanks to our veterans and the families who love and support them.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2018 as National Veterans and Military Families Month.  I encourage all communities, all sectors of society, and all Americans to acknowledge and honor the service, sacrifices, and contributions of veterans and military families for what they have done and for what they do every day to support our great Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.

DONALD J. TRUMP

Freedom Isn’t Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

By guest contributor Bethany DeHart

As I began to shut the door, the chill from the refrigerated room blew against my skin and created goosebumps that I would be able to feel for the rest of my life. The room was small and the only contents were of which I had just pushed in: a black bag that contained a vessel that once was made up of dreams, laughter, memories, love, sadness, a life. What it contained now was the very essence of that which this country is made: a soldier that had given the ultimate sacrifice. His life.

In my mind, I kissed a forehead that would never again be kissed by a mother, a child or a lover and I said my goodbyes. I gave one last look into the small room full of a chill, a room that would the resting place until this Soldier took his final flight home to his family – so that they could say their final goodbyes. I tried to swallow, but the lump that had formed in my throat barely let a breath escape. I would never have to wonder what it mean to be lonely. As the door to the refrigerated room closed shut, I felt every essence of the word throughout my whole body. I turned and began my walk into the evening – unlike my fallen comrade, I was still able to experience this simple act.

I had decided to volunteer my time at the mortuary while in Afghanistan because I wanted to give a little to those who had given all. Yes, the possibility of death goes hand-in-hand with being a Soldier, especially when at war. It becomes a possible job hazard as soon as you sign on the dotted line. You do not let it consume your mind during your day-to-day, mission-to-mission tasks. You just accept it and do what you have to do. It had been my first case, and while I went out on daily missions, into harm’s way – into the possibility that I, myself, might not come back – this was the first time I had seen firsthand what war can do to the human body and what war takes from the human soul.

During my walk back to my tent, I couldn’t stop thinking about this Soldier -tying his boots that morning and having no idea that he would not be untying them this night. I wondered what he laughed at today as he and his battle buddy walked to breakfast – or what conversations had gone on in his vehicle right before the ambush. I imagined it was much like the goofy nonsense that we talked about in our truck. Anything to make the time go a little faster and to add a touch of enjoyment to the situation at hand.

I thought about his mother and the grief that was about to fill her heart. The fear as she watched Soldiers in polished uniforms walk to her door. The moment she realizes the reason for the shiny black shoes beyond her door. I thought of his comrades, who will have to load up again and continue on their mission despite the events they survived today.

The image of him sitting on is cot, lacing his boots, just like I did every morning, kept coming to my mind. It was a task that was done everyday, something you never really had to think about doing. I knew at that moment that I would never take tying my shoes for granted again. I knew that I would focus on actually feel the of the material of the lace and the pull it created as I looped the laces to form bows that would hold my shoes on my feet. I knew that from this time forward, I would enjoy tying my shoes. I had a new appreciation for untying my shoes at the end of the day – and a new awareness that the opportunity to untie them at the end of the day was not guaranteed.

I had a new awareness of the world around me. I could feel every little pebble that crunched under my feet. I could hear the whisper of the warm evening breeze as though I had become fluent in its language. Even the smell of the human waste dump left a refreshing singe in my nose. I had a new love for being alive. For the first time, I could understand and appreciate how lucky I was to be taking this walk. The walk was a second chance to appreciate my legs; what they could do for me and the places they would take me. I appreciated the feeling of my arms swinging beside me, the feeling of my pants rubbing against my skin and the tightness of the laces of the boots that held my feet so firmly inside.

As I sat down on my cot, I looked at my boots and the laces I was about to feel in my hands. As I untied them to let my feet escape from the day’s journey. I thought of the Soldier to whom I had just said goodbye and I promised that I would not take for granted this life that I had been given. From this day forward, I would give my utmost best in everything I did – from lying my laces to loving my family.

I untied my laces of my boots, and I untied them for him. My head fell to my pillow with a new awareness of my skin against the cool material and my eyes closed with an awareness of my lashes on my cheek. Sleep surrounded me and brought with it some peace – and I let it take me. The morning would come soon and it would once again be time for me to lace up my boots.

Super Typhoon Devastates US Territories

Super Typhoon Devastates US Territories

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

Military forces across the globe are combining efforts to bring aid and relief to areas impacted by Super Typhoon Yutu, particularly Saipan and Tinian.

The Super Typhoon, a Category 5 storm, made landfall last Thursday and immediately took out power and clean water supply for the local residents. As the winds, which reached nearly 180 mph, ravaged the provinces, residents found themselves with limited shelter as many there were many reported cases of roofs being ripped from the housing structure.

The path of the storm spared Guam, which became key to aid and assistance efforts. Guam quickly became the home base for relief operations. Prior to the storms of September and October, FEMA had reported that relief supplies included more than 100,000 liters of bottled water and more than 127,000 packaged meals.Since their initial report, supplies have more than doubled. While even these increased amounts don’t seem like enough to make an impact, it is an excellent reserve on hand and will ensure that victims of Super Typhoon Yutu will have access to adequate food and water. The supplies are already being distributed to those impacted by the storms.

Commonwealth officials are reporting that the impacted regions will likely be without power for months. This report solidifies the thought that US Military operations – which include the Coast Guard, Marine Corps., Air Force, Navy, Army Corps of Engineers and more – will be on site and working together for many months to come.

 

Flu Facts: What you need to know this season

Flu Facts: What you need to know this season

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

We are rapidly approaching the holiday season, and carving pumpkins turns into carving turkeys and decking the halls, we all need to be reminded and aware of the uninvited guest: Influenza. There are a few important things you need to remember about the flu:

  1. The “flu” or influenza is caused by the Human Influenza A, B and C Viruses
  2. Symptoms typically appear 1-4 days after exposure
  3. Symptoms include fevers of over 100 degrees, cough, nasal stuffiness, weakness, congestion, muscle aches, general fatigue, sore throat, chills and sweats
  4. Symptoms often last for at least a week or two, sometimes longer
  5. You are contagious for about a day before you have symptoms and for about a week after your symptoms start
  6. You get the flu by breathing. Tiny droplets are inhaled and spread the virus.

If you bring yourself to the doctor within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms, antivirals can be prescribed and may significantly decrease the duration of your illness. It is critical that you pay attention to your symptoms and react quickly to minimize the impact of your illness.

The best way to attempt to prevent the flu is by receiving a flu vaccination. That, combined with consistent hand washing and limiting contact with individuals known to have the flu, will limit the spread of the virus.  

Flu vaccinations are completely covered by insurance and many major chains are incentivizing customers to stop in and receive the vaccine while they shop.

It is critical to get the Flu vaccine before the flu is spreading throughout your area. The earlier in the season that vaccination occurs, the more likely you are to receive maximum protection. The CDC recommendation is that vaccinations be received in October. This year, many communities are reporting cases of the flu already, and some have even reported deaths attributed to the flu.

It takes two weeks from the time of vaccination for the antibodies to develop against the flu. While many are skeptical of vaccination, the flu vaccine does not “cause” the flu. It does, however, give the body the best protection against a virus that does, in fact, kill.

 

Manes and Reins: A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

Manes and Reins:  A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

By guest contributor Renee Nickell

I had heard the term PTSD as it related to war heroes, but I did not know much about its impacts on civilians. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental affliction that can cause one to be hyper-vigilant, aggressive, easily angered, subjected to nightmares, depression, anxiety and more. After my brother, Major Samuel Griffith, was suddenly and tragically killed in Afghanistan, I did not even realize I, personally, had PTSD.

After several years of traditional therapy without much improvement, I decided to pursue equine therapy. With the assistance of trained therapists who help military and combat veterans and their families heal from the effects of PTSD, I was able to face my own level of PTSD after years of struggling.

Horses are capable of mirroring human emotion, allowing the patient to become more self-aware when feelings cannot easily be put into words. While I was skeptical in the beginning of therapy, the connection with the horse quickly brought comfort I hadn’t found anywhere else.  I must admit: I was absolutely terrified at the start of my journey. I did not know what to expect from the horses or the sessions, and for me, that was scary. Over time, the bond that is formed with your gentle giant increases your confidence and ability to face painful circumstances in far less time than traditional therapy.

Equine therapy is now being used to treat various forms of illness, disabilities and medical conditions to include diabetes, autism, blindness, epilepsy, addictions and more.  Horses do not have the ability to lie, therefore, the patient cannot manipulate the horse beyond its true feelings. This is extremely beneficial when building trust between the patient and the horse.

Gold Star siblings, in general, tend to place our grief on the back burner so that we may help support the surviving spouse or our parents through the grieving process.  While each member of the family deals with their own grief separately, a sibling often postpones their grief, sometimes for years. This delay is to the detriment of the sibling and the family unit around them.  PTSD can last for years, even decades. I have spoken to siblings whose brothers were killed in Vietnam and there is still a level of PTSD.

Not only did I suffer from PTSD, but my teenage daughter did as well.  The day my brother was killed, she stepped into my role. The trauma was debilitating for me and it was my daughter that helped take care of everything that day, including protecting her younger siblings from the impact of the news.  The weeks after, from retrieving his body at Dover to the funeral and then trying to resume somewhat of a normal life, was incredibly traumatic for all of us.

Our family is fortunate that we were able to find the necessary help to move us forward in our grief journey. Not only myself, but my veteran husband and my daughter benefited from equine therapy. We were able to heal as a family and face issues from the past that otherwise weren’t being addressed. We are not talking about playing with horses here! Equine therapy is a lot of hard work and deep soul searching. It can be quite painful to face the things we long to forget, even childhood traumas.  This is why it is so important to find a reputable equine therapist who is skilled in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders.

There are many organizations that are non-profit and will assist a veteran and family for free or low-cost.  Many even take Tricare insurance. If you or a loved one struggle with PTSD and feel you can benefit from equine therapy, I would recommend searching your area for licensed equine therapists.  We are now in a 17-year war with countless veterans suffering from PTSD, and there are many organizations that are ready and willing to help them recover to live as best a normal and peaceful life as possible.

Sam cockpit

(Major Samuel Griffith, USMC, was an F/A-18 aviator and Forward Air Controller.  

He was killed December 14, 2011, in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of OEF.)

Author Headshot

Renee Nickell is the author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following 

Her Brother’s Death in Afghanistan.” For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.

Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Every year thousands of military service members and their families pack up and move on military orders. All of their valuables and household goods are packed up by contracted strangers, loaded onto a truck and driven across country. In a perfect world, everything would arrive at its destination, in the same condition it was in when it left. But a Change.org petition to “Hold Military Moving Companies Accountable,” started by a frustrated military family member, has over 100,000 signatures, a good indication that this is far from reality.

The story behind the petition is easy enough to figure out. With $2.3 billion spent on moving services, the Department of Defense might just be the single largest moving services customer in the world.

Many military families on the move have experienced hardships because of unexpected delays in pickup or delivery of their household goods. In late July, U.S. Transportation Command officials said about 10 percent of military members who had moved at that point had experienced delivery delays. There have been complaints about the quality of work, too, which has resulted in loss and damage for some families.

“Military families are tired of how things with the current moving system are being handled,” wrote the military spouse who runs the Military Spouse Chronicles Facebook page, in initiating the petition

Moving is a stressful activity under the best of circumstances. Officials at U.S. Transportation Command have urged families to reach out to their household goods/transportation offices to learn about their options for assistance, including reimbursement for expenses caused by delays in delivery or pickup.

Among the suggested solutions from Military Spouse Chronicles is to have move coordinators and quality assurance inspectors properly trained in being a mediator between the military family and the moving company and its crews. Another solution, long proposed by a number of advocates in the military community, is to have less frequent moves.