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Air Force

Dear Air Force: Had it not been

Dear Air Force,

Where to begin? How do I put into words how I feel at the end of a 24-year relationship that brought some of the best experiences but also some of the hardest moments? I can remember feeling excited and exhilarated but I can’t ignore all the times you made me feel scared and alone. Had it not been for the highs and lows, I wouldn’t have learned what I have.

Lamenting and thanksgiving

Honestly, I wrote and rewrote this post a dozen or more times. I just couldn’t find all the words nor the right ones. A couple of versions sounded too angry and I don’t want to bow out now with anger. My friend Ashley is a minister and preached many sermons on lament. See her sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vv7UxeFzbcU  The Bible has a whole book of Lamentations, prayers of anguish calling out in faith. Part of walking in faith is lamenting. Job lamented. Even Jesus wept. I realize now that had it not been for the lamenting, thanksgiving would not have followed. With pain, disappointment, sorrow, chaos comes praises of thanksgiving in the morning. Therefore, I find thanksgiving in the ‘had it not been’ statements.

Had it not been

Had it not been for Chris washing out of pilot training, he never would have crossed trained into Airfield Management. That career change opened up many opportunities for us. We never returned to a previous duty assignment or location which was a good thing.

Had it not been for his year-long remote to South Korea, I never would have discovered just how strong I really am. I met some of my dearest friends during this time. Even though it was a really hard time, I found out what I was made of. A sweet reward of this remote was that we were handed an assignment to Germany!

Had it not been for The War on Terrorism and living in a foreign country, I would not have experienced childbirth with three of my closest friends. This was by far the scariest thing I have ever gone through. It is a barometer by which I measure all the hard things in my life thereafter. I thought I was strong from that year-long remote, but this made me stronger.

Had it not been for all the moves, I wouldn’t have friends around the world. The friends we have collected are by the far the greatest treasure we have gained.

Had it not been for all the deployments, I never would have known who Missy Kuester is when she is alone. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time alone and I like my own company.

Had it not been for Oklahoma, Germany, and Delaware, I would not have my three sons.

Had it not been for all the places we lived, I couldn’t share those experiences with others. I can say definitely that I have lived there and known what it’s like. I’ve lived in other cultures and with people not like me. It makes me a better human. See my previous post about the exciting life my kids have lived, https://missykuester.com/reasons-i-dont-want-you-to-feel-pity-for-my-military-kids/.

Had it not been for assignments to Germany and Belgium and South Korea, we wouldn’t have traveled and seen places some people only dream of. I have sailed the fjords of Norway, stayed in a home given to General Patton near Normandy, and experienced the 70th-anniversary activities. I have stood on battlegrounds, been to Paris, gone in a boat in the canals of Amsterdam, Venice, and Switzerland. I have eaten whale, reindeer, and a lot of weird stuff in Korea. The experiences are too numerous to list here but I treasure them all.

Had it not been living away from our families, I wouldn’t have been able to show them the world and our beautiful country.

Had it not been for the 7 deployments, I would have never experienced the homecomings

Had it not been for all the goodbyes, I never would have had the hellos.

Had it not been for all the heartache and loss, I never would have known how truly blessed I am.

Had it not been for the Lamenting I wouldn’t have Praises of Thanksgiving.

Who holds the future

When I started this blog, my friend Angie asked me what I wanted to write about. She asked if I wanted to write a military blog. My answer was a resounding, “No!” As I explained to her, I want to be something other than a military wife. It has defined me for the past 24 years. It is time to be someone else. I don’t yet know who that will be but I’m looking forward to meeting her. I don’t know exactly what the future holds but I know who holds the future.

It’s been an honor.

It’s been hard.

I believe those two statements best describe our years as a military family and go hand in hand with one another. I’m glad we did it but I’m glad it’s over. I’m tired.

So, to you, Dear Air Force, thank you, for making me who I am. While you didn’t always live up to your end of the bargain, I know I gave you everything I had. 

Thank you Air Force, had it not been for you my life would be profoundly different but in the end I wouldn’t change a thing.

Now, off we go into the Wild Blue Wonder…….

 

 

 

Pilgrims at Thanksgiving did not go home

That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I wrote a response to an article on Military Spouse Magazine in regards to going home for the holidays. The article felt judgy and unnecessary for military spouses who want to go home but for reasons cannot. My response was hasty, brash, and resonated with other military spouses. If you google it you can probably still find the original article at https://www.militaryspouse.com/magazine/. I decided to edit and share with you my thoughts about feeling guilty when you cannot go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other important times of the year. So enjoy this revamped and retitled article, That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Here is to another guilt-free holiday!

Released from guilt

Two significant times in my life I was released from guilt for living so far away from family. The first was when my mother told me to get out of our small, rural, Indiana town. Then my 93-year-old grandmother told me as we prepared to move to Germany, “If anything should happen to me while you are gone do not haul those babies back here for my funeral.” She released from the guilt I had for not attending her funeral. You see, I am married to a military man but I live with less guilt because of the overwhelming understanding of my family for missing out on holidays back home.

My husband Chris has been in the Air Force for over twenty years. We have spent five years overseas and moved fourteen times in total. Currently, my college kid has never come home for Thanksgiving. I would be a hypocrite to insist he come home for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I have prepared myself for the future. As the mother of boys, I may spend future holidays without them. Our military lifestyle has always been about creating new traditions. Holidays at our house don’t always look traditional and we are okay with that.

Many times it is just not fathomable to return to your parents’ home for the holidays. Air travel, car rental, hotel stays, boarding of pets, food, and the list compiles and before you know it, you are so in debt you cannot travel the rest of the year. There is also the stress factor, the inability to get enough time off, and a plethora of other responsibilities. Let us not forget those that are deployed and cannot be home for the holidays.

Random thoughts about going home for the holidays.

1. If it is so important for your extended family to be together, invite them to your place. Two years in a row, our families traveled to where we live and we rented a house large enough for all of us. It relieved me of doing all the cooking and cleaning.
2. Delay holiday for cheaper times of the year or plan a destination holiday where you all gather in a central location. I dream of having a vacation in a cabin in the mountains one day surrounded by my boys and their families.
3. Talk to your extended family. Let them know how you feel. My hope is that your family is understanding and if not that is on them, not you.
4. Coordinate with local friends to gather for the holiday or serve in the community in some capacity. In years past, my family and I are served dinner to inmates in a halfway program on a farm.
5. Create your own traditions. My husband and I have created our own family holiday traditions. We look forward to carrying these out every year.
6. Above all, do what is right for you and your family. In the meantime, release your family from that same guilt. And do not judge other military families if their choices for the holidays are different than yours.

The 2020 holiday season is different but still guilt-free

The holidays should not be stressful or filled with guilt. My kid is doing what I taught him to do by making a life of his own. If his adventures lead him far away at the holidays I will survive just like my mother has done. She is a great example of how a mother can release her children and adapt through the holidays. Listen, this military life is hard enough on good days so the last thing you need is to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to return home for the holidays. Instead, embrace your new home, make new traditions, and if someone tries to make you feel guilty remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t go home for the holidays either. I release you of that guilt. I’m not saying to never go home for the holidays but when you can’t that’s okay too.

The 2020 year is bizarre, to say the least. We are being told by health professionals that it is best to not gather in large groups or with those people who have compromised immunity. This year we all are relinquished of any guilt about not going home for the holidays. We can claim that we love our families by staying away and thus keeping them healthy.   

Have a happy, guilt-free holiday season!

Second house in Texas

Military housing: Challenge accepted

On October 9, 2009, at 3:00 p.m., a knock on my door surprised me. I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids asking to play with one of my boys at the park. As it was a Friday, I was ready to sit at the park with the other parents and have an adult beverage in one of those kid’s cups from Chili’s. I was months into a deployment so I had earned it. Much to my surprise, it was one of the military housing managers, Kathy. Beside her stood someone vaguely familiar. Also, with a deployed husband, I automatically feared the worst. Sensing my unease, they jumped straight to the point.

“Mrs. Kuester, we need to renovate your kitchen and you have until the end of the month to vacate your house.”

The first thing into my brain and out of my mouth was, “Over my dead body!”

The man, Jason spoke again, “I don’t think you understand. You don’t have a choice.”

And that’s when the challenge was accepted.

Finding out what I was made of

Anyone that knows me knows that if you back me into a corner, ask me my opinion or challenge me, I will fight back. Poor Jason had no idea that I was not passive. He and I were both about to find out what I was made of. (Find out more about me: https://missykuester.com/have-you-heard-about-missy-kuester/)

Let me back up.

Our family arrived at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas in July 2008. We owned a home in Delaware that had not sold. Therefore, we felt it more economical to live on base. The day before arriving, Randolph military housing called to tell us a house was available. On our check-in, the housing office explained that the kitchen would be renovated in the next year and may require us to move out. We agreed because we were desperate. We moved into the house on August 22. A private contractor, Pinnacle Hunt had taken over months before so things were in a stage of transition.

We pretty much lived in bliss at 5 Northeast Road. With family in the Dallas area, new and old friends, and great neighbors, we were content. We loved the 1920’s character and charm of the on-base housing. Even though it had an outdated kitchen, I was thrilled to have a base house.

A bit of history on Randolph AFB Housing: https://www.433aw.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1547475/history-comforts-of-home-coexist-at-jbsa-randolph-housing/

Early in 2009, we found out Magnum would be deploying. In preparation for his deployment, we informed Pinnacle he would leave in May. The house across the street (6 Northeast Road) became vacant a few weeks before.  We requested that we be allowed to move into it. “Perfect,” they said. So, with the help of neighbors and my family, we relocated to the house across the street.

May came and went, Magnum left, our lives resumed until that knock on the door.

The fight was on

By this point in my military spouse career, I had endured many deployments, gave birth to a baby in a foreign country with Magnum deployed, and moved…a lot. I felt confident in my abilities to keep things afloat. So, as soon as they told me I needed to vacate to renovate a kitchen that had already been updated but now needed to be updated again (lookup government fraud, waste, and abuse) I was upset. My first call was to Chris’s commander.  He was an imposing man, probably about 6’4″. He also happened to be a really good guy. We agreed to meet at the housing office. Upon our arrival, he did the talking. He asked to speak to Kathy, the manager. We went through the whole song and dance about ‘Did we have an appointment?’ and ‘Was she expecting us?’ No, and No but we were not leaving.

The great thing about the colonel besides his physical stature, his cool demeanor, his smart brain, and the eagles on his lapels was his notebook. Something so simple conveyed that he was serious. The air shifted when he withdrew that notepad from his pocket.

Throughout the process I quietly observed. The manager, Kathy answered the colonel’s questions and filled in blanks. He scribbled their answers in his notebook. Then he turned to me and asked one simple question, “Missy, is that how it happened?” I said a simple ‘no’. And the fight was on! The colonel gave the manager homework and we dispersed with a plan.

The military spouses’ guide to a fight, 10 things that may help you

There are a lot of details I am leaving out but I need to get to the point of this post. Sadly, this type of behavior is still ongoing. I want to share things that worked and what I learned throughout this process so it may help other military spouses.

  1. You should always start with the chain of command, even if you don’t have faith in them. Give them an opportunity to do what is right. Proceed from there.
  2. You find out who your friends are.  I heard from many people that my name was often mentioned during morning meetings on base. Well-meaning people offered their sympathy but no real help. The wing commander called near the end of this ordeal with no real help but empty words. One person stood out. We were friends before this event and he and his wife supplied me with pitchers of sangria during the deployment. In another world, before housing privatization, he had more say in the matter. He did try to speak up and he was told it was no longer his lane. One day, I received word that a Congressional complaint was filed on my behalf. I could only guess it was him.
  3. It’s important to get the word off base.  This was a valuable lesson taught to me by my friend Angie. She guided me through the ordeal. She sent messages to all the contacts she had in town; reporters, news outlets, bloggers, politicians, etc. When the wing commander said to me, “I’m getting phone calls from outside of base about your situation and we don’t like that to happen,” I knew I had peoples’ attention. Get the word out! I equate it to an abuser threatening you to not tell anyone. Tell someone!
  4. Document EVERYTHING!  I learned this early on with the colonel’s notebook. Write down everything. Record conversations, keep emails, and remember, that tablet may be your best weapon. People will lie, say they don’t recall or change their story. You need a record to protect yourself.
  5. Find your Allies.  Yes, you will find out who your friends but you need allies. I found people within the military housing office that did not agree with what was going on. Our maintenance guys were with housing before privatization. They were familiar with these older homes. Even before this saga, I appreciated them. During our future renovation phase when I was living in another house temporarily, they met me at the house to let me get personal items. Don’t look down on the people who have the actual keys to your home.
  6. Don’t ask, tell people what you need and want.  This was another valuable piece of advice from Angie. I stopped being sheepish and instead stated what I needed and wanted. At some point, they realized I wasn’t going to back down and therefore started meeting my demands. I wasn’t mean spirited but stood firm in what I needed. My kids were already without their dad, now they were being forced from their home.
  7. Find resources and help outside of the military spectrum.  Tap into resources outside the gate. I reached out to the VFW and The American Legion. Both of those organizations reached out to Public Affairs and put pressure on them. I sent emails and made phone calls almost daily to obtain advice and find out my rights. Educate yourself. One of the best ways to bring about change or bring awareness to a situation is to contact your Congressman’s office.
  8. It’s not always about you.  This has two meanings. Sometimes, the military housing office, management, and contractors are just doing what they are told. While it’s hard to not take it personally, it isn’t a direct attack on you even though that’s how it feels. Also, remember when you are fighting, keep in mind all those families that will come after you. As I told management many times, “What are you doing to the first term Airman (Solider, Marine), who is 19, new to the military, has a wife and a baby?” Always work so that you relieve some of the hardship for others.
  9. Shoot for the moon and hope to land on the stars.  After I learned to tell people what I needed, I shot for the moon. Initially, they wanted me to move entirely to a new house and never return. I asked the housing manager if she ever moved 3 times in one year. She then understood what they were asking of us. When they said I needed to move for 4 months, I told them to find me a place on base. They suggested a TLF room, but it was not comparable to our house and wouldn’t allow my dog. I also requested a furnished house on base and I got it.
  10. Use the power wisely.  After a while, I realized my power in this situation. The goal was to use it in a way that got us to our desired endpoint, a house with a new kitchen. It had to be done and the housing office wasn’t going away. The contractor slated our house to be the last one to be remodeled to allow time for Chris to return from his deployment. When workers failed to show up one day to work on my house, I called Hunt Headquarters. I informed them it was costing them more money every day I was displaced. From that day on, workers never failed to show up to work and eventually finished ahead of schedule. I think they were just tired of me. What I never did was become mean, resorted to name-calling, or became overly demanding. Keeping a level head and ultimately working together made the process go faster.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, it all worked out for our family. I can’t say the above will work in every case for every person. Each situation is different. Our situation was a matter of inconvenience, not safety. If my experience can help even one person or give them the courage to speak up, then we win. Military families are resilient. But we also endure things that many people don’t. Our homes are our refuge. It’s the one place where we have a little bit of control in a lifestyle that requires us to be flexible, resilient, and brave. In the end, no matter the outcome, all that matters is that you are safe, healthy, and together.

And the next time someone tells you that you don’t have a choice, remember you do have power in the situation. I wonder what Jason is up to these days.

I wrote this post sharing my experience after becoming involved with MHAN, a great resource for military families living in military housing with private, managing contractors. http://militaryhousingadvocacynetwork.org/

 

snake, fear and doubt, parenting advice

Parenting advice from a Copperhead encounter

According to Nationalgeographic.com snakes are carnivorous reptiles that have a life span of 18 years, can grow to be 3 feet in length and weigh more than 100 grams. While their scientific name is Agkistrodon Controtix, Copperheads receive their name because of their hour-glass shaped, bronze head. Mostly found in the south and eastern parts of the US, they account for more bites than any other venomous snakes. They feed on rodents and small birds or animals. These snakes are a pit viper according to NatGeo and use heat to sense their prey. A copperhead is resourceful and adaptable. They can live in the woods as well as subdivisions, thus increasing their probability of coming in contact with humans. While not the most venomous snake they are still a hazard.  Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/c/copperhead-snakes/

I hate Copperheads but one gave me great parenting advice for combating fear and doubt.

Advice from an encounter with a Copperhead

It was the summer of 2017 and my son was weeks away from his high school graduation. While his younger brothers were still in school, T was sleeping until late and helping me prepare the house for guests and a graduation party. On this particular day, he and his best friend, Abby were making cookies in our kitchen while I was on the riding lawnmower cutting the grass. I was in my own world with my headphones on. At one pass I see him standing on our neighbors’ porch with what looks like a gun. Horror and curiosity struck me at the same time. We had a wonderful relationship with our neighbors. Early on they made it known that we were welcome in their home even if they weren’t home. We had the code to enter their house via the garage. Also, unknown to me, Mr. Don had shown T where he kept a pellet gun in the front hall closet.

Cooperhead snake alive
The Copperhead in question.
©missykuester.com

So, there he is standing on Don’s front porch in a t-shirt, shorts, no shoes, and a gun. Upon closer inspection and inquiring, he informed me he had shot a Copperhead that was going across the walk just as he was going to the front door to ask Miss Angela for vanilla for his cookies. Discovering they weren’t home, he decided he couldn’t just let the snake hang around. He was worried because he knew Miss Angela hated snakes, they had a cat and the neighbors had a little boy. So, he remembered the pellet gun and shot the snake. To ensure it was dead, he buried it. He still wasn’t satisfied that it was dead so he dug it up, cut it’s head off with a shovel, put it in a bucket. (He wanted to show Mr. Don what he had done and he was proud of his accomplishments.) He then took the snake way out in the woods and buried it 2 feet underground.

How that Copperhead was like fear and doubt

Where is the parenting advice in an encounter with a Copperhead? It’s more than just ‘Do not mess with a snake.’

Years after that encounter, T was living across the country at college. He called during a particularly challenging time. He wanted advice and encouragement. I came back to that Copperhead. He faced that dangerous snake with conviction and without hesitation. I encouraged him to meet this new challenge like he had that snake—head-on. He was brave then and he could be brave now. And I would use that anecdote again and again through his various challenges.

It holds true for many of us. Maybe what we face isn’t necessarily dangerous like that snake but it can be disturbing, uncomfortable, or a nuisance. If T had let that snake slither on, who knows where it could have gone. He would have always wondered and he would have always been paranoid that it was lurking around. Instead, he killed it and buried it. He often needs reminding to chop the head off of whatever he fears or when he begins to doubt himself.

Writer and Illustrator Kate Seredy said it best, “Kill the snake of doubt in our soul, crush the worms of fear in your heart, and mountains will move out of your way.” What theoretical snakes are causing you or your kid to fear or doubt? Maybe a snake isn’t the illustration you would use but just recalling something your son or daughter has overcome in the past may help them through what they are going through now. We all have to tailor our advice to the person. In this case, it just so happened that a Copperhead gave me the best parenting advice.

Dead snake
The dead snake, with its head chopped off.
©missykuester.com

 

Keeping with the theme of snakes; listen to one of my boys’ favorite song, Snake Farm. It’s just a fun song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgy7PLAgF-Y

 

MLK friends quote about racism

Check on your black friends, they are not okay

One of the reasons I started a blog is I need an outlet to say things that are on my heart. This morning when I began writing a lengthy Facebook post about racism, I stopped and remembered that I have a blog now. So, I am sitting down now to put feelings to paper…or screen. It will probably be imperfect but it’s from the heart. Before I go too far, I want to say that in no way am I saying that all police officers are bad or that all white people are racists. Just like I wouldn’t say that all blacks are criminals. Blanket statements are ignorant. I have family and friends in law enforcement, I see them hurting too and I pray for their safety every day. This is for my friends who are affected by racism.

Racism has nothing to do with where you grew up

I had a wonderful conversation with my mother yesterday. She says she is learning things about me on my blog that she never knew. Yikes! However, she told me that when she was a little girl she was always the one in school that sat with the kids that had no one to sit with. This must be where I get my desire to make people feel important and included. Read my introductory post and you’ll see. https://missykuester.com/have-you-heard-about-missy-kuester/

I grew up in a small, rural Indiana town. It was mostly an all-white community. Growing up there was boring and safe. My parents were blue-collar workers. However, they both worked in a neighboring city that was more diverse. My father was a truck driver and a factory foreman. My mother worked in a hospital. Both had black co-workers and supervisors (as well as co-workers from other countries and cultures) so I was accustomed to being in an electric group of people. I found it fascinating. Consequently, I have spent the last 29 years amassing a friend list full of people from different countries, cultures, and upbringings. I’m a better person for it.

I’m not going to be the problem any longer

Recent events in Minnesota and the death of George Lloyd and previously of Ahmaud Arbery made me re-access my ideals. Yesterday, I reached out to three of my black friends. The first is a bi-racial couple who are raising 4 amazing kids. They are open and honest about how racial tensions are affecting their children. Both made suggestions about how I could use my privileges to help those who are being oppressed. “Support our local black-owned businesses. Whether it be restaurants, food trucks, handyman, banks, events, stylists, clothing and shoe stores, etc. Take a few extra moments to leave reviews for those places. Do not support the chains or large companies or any place for that matter who condone racist acts of their employees or customers.” I appreciate their concrete suggestions on how I can help. I feel empowered.

My next conversation was with a friend that I respect because she’s an amazing human who has shaped and molded kids for years as an educator and administrator. She helped my son. He is pursuing a career in Natural Resources because of her. She also has three amazing kids. They are a family that makes a difference and impact in their community. Our conversation was one of encouragement. I spilled my heart out to her because she is a safe place to do so. She in turn told me just reaching out, befriending, and being aware is the first and most important step. Stomping out racism is a marathon, not a sprint. As she reminded me it’s a matter of changing hearts.

The last conversation I had is with a dear friend who I talk to weekly. She and I went to high school together but never interacted much. We reconnected at a class reunion and she’s become one of the most important people in my life. She is witty, smart, and easily one of the funniest people I know. She can debate the hell out of anything. Consequently, when she is done with you, you are convinced the sky isn’t blue. What makes her situation unique is that she is a fiery redhead married to a black man. Additionally, her father and brother work in law enforcement and she admires both of them for their work. Her post this morning says it all, “Some of you have never had a conversation with a black person about racism and it shows.” Our conversation was of solidarity.

The most important thing we can do for our black friends

All three conversations had one resounding theme: reaching out is the most important thing. Letting people know that we see them and support them is vital. I am thankful that I can learn from them (and others) and ask questions. They educate me so that I’m not part of the problem. I don’t pretend to know what they are going through so I need them to show me. Just like I have reached out to my friends in law enforcement to lend my support and let them know that I support them.

My best friend, Jenny had a knack for supporting me. My enemies were her enemies. She didn’t need the details. If I was upset, she was upset. That’s the way I feel about all my black friends right now. I just want them to not sit alone but to have a seat at my table. I see them, love them, and support them. Racism stops with me.

Check-in with your black friends. Make sure they know where you stand. Take the risk of sounding foolish. Ask questions. But don’t stay silent.

For more ideas of how you can fight racism, visit Corinne Shutack’s 2017 post. https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234