2007 Versus 2017: Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello, everyone.  I know New Year’s treated you well.  I spent my three-day weekend at home and enjoyed a slight decrease (much to my appreciation) in fireworks exposure.  My new neighbors don’t seem to go quite as crazy as the ones I had in the Willows neighborhood in Gilbert.  If you like fireworks, you might enjoy a stroll through this neighborhood on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve; I anticipate in a neighborhood of 586 houses so long as the Town of Gilbert permits fireworks, people will set up small fireworks shows just outside their front doors.  For today though, I’ll like to start my first 2007 versus 2017 post.

2007 was important for me because I completed my active duty service with the Marine Corps and started to explore what life beyond the Corps would look and feel like, my taste of adult freedom if you will.  I won’t say I made smart money moves back then so as we begin this new journey looking back and discussing my future in 2017, please know I will likely discuss money a lot.  My financial needs were met very well on active duty; Thomas and I did not have any kids while I was serving and we both collected a housing allowance.  Since we both served, we received one full housing allowance and the other received a partial housing allowance.  I do apologize that I do not recall the actual monetary amounts because I understand this knowledge aids our conversation greatly.  All too often, a young service member will complain about not having sufficient pay for food, housing, etc.  but for our household size and relative expenses, we always came out ahead even after I separated until we moved to Wyoming in 2009.  Stories for another day I know, but the short version is that many of our expenses, fixed and variable, remained the same and our housing allowance decreased significantly.

In 2007, I had some lofty wedding reception ambitions, as you can see from my journal entry below.  While we never ended up having our wedding reception the reality is I spent a significant amount of time planning for a costly one-day event.  On the skinny spending side, I think we were looking at $8,000 to $10,000 for the venue, a photographer, hotel rooms, travel, food, etc.  The dream was dropped before anything was booked but not until after I purchased my wedding gown (we got married through the Justice of the Peace in 2006) and picked up some small wedding related items.

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My desire to control my personal finances did not truly begin until we moved to Wyoming. Our crash course in the broke life lead us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s program through friends and their church, we made headway towards undoing the financial damage.  It’s not fun, but without the substantial housing allowance we received in California, we had to take a serious look at our finances. Throughout the years, we’ve still struggled to stay on the Dave Ramsey path so I still refer back to the books and resources.  My in-laws also added more Dave Ramsey resources to our collection.  Additionally, I kept my Financial Planning notebook from my undergraduate studies because I want to ensure I update our financial goals (i.e. retirement planning, life insurance planning, etc.) as our family needs change over time.

With my husband still in school, 2017 does not wear the carefree face our lives did in 2007.  We just don’t have that same amount of money to play with on a daily basis.  Thankfully, he has one semester of Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to help cover expenses this semester but law school is one of those endeavors where we are bringing student loan debt into our lives.  This decision obviously strays from Dave Ramsey’s teachings.  We take steps towards self-improvement and I would prefer to not be shamed for student loan debt; I do not make enough money to fully fund law school.  We considered ASU’s Employee Reduced Tuition but the reality is 100% of that tuition reduction is taxed for graduate programs and I am already working on a tight single income, the last thing I need is more money taken out of my paycheck at this time.  Now that we have a more transparent conversation (thanks for not judging me or keeping your opinion to yourself) I would like to share personal goals for the year.

My goals are broadly categorized under personal achievements, family activities, and home improvement.  Financial planning is important to each one of these endeavors.  I am in a place to either spend money for the results or I am saving money to complete the goal.    Although I am not outlining these as SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) for your respective purposes as the reader, these qualities are important whenever you desire to see a goal through completion and I’m keeping these factors in mind for each goal.

In lieu of resolutions, here are my planning goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Pauline Nordine’s Butt Bible Challenge to restore fitness discipline into my life (Challenge runs January to March).
  2. Attend an adoption education event, free other than cost to get there.
  3. Add $1,000 to my daughter’s savings before the close of 2017.
  4. Pay for a one recipient’s scholarship for the Rising Stars, Desert Nights Writing Conference.
  5. Close a credit card account.
  6. Finish painting my master’s bathroom (February).
  7. Complete a family vacation (no visiting extending family).
  8. Attend a family member’s wedding.
  9. Add additional money to our emergency fund (i.e. amount will vary depending on overtime worked and additional income received this year).
  10. Finish first draft of memoir by October.
  11. Set up college fund accounts for nieces and my nephew to be born this year in lieu of gifts and clothes for Christmas.
  12. Visit family who have not seen my daughter since 2011.
  13. Set aside money for an adoption home study (approximately $1,200 to $1,800) before the end of the year. (Goal is to adopt in 2019)
  14. Replace our large bookcase with wall shelves (May/June).
  15. Purchase (1) PAX wardrobe for master bedroom (September/October).
  16. Put in Astroturf and extend patio slab (March/April).

The Final Reveal: An Alternative View of Operation Iraqi Freedom

I am very proud to say my applied project is complete.  Revisiting the American casualty information, the most painful part of the research process, took nearly the whole semester.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I had to step back from the process.  Before building this applied project, I never spent a substantial amount of time looking at the narratives of my fallen comrades.  Given my past work on activity reports for our area of operation, I spent 12 hours a day, 7 days a week viewing data on killed and wounded personnel (friendly forces, civilian, and enemy).  While I’ve previously talked to you all about Captain Brock I forced myself to sort through the data for the total 553 American military personnel killed from August 13, 2004 to February 25, 2005.  The images below are courtesy of MilitaryTimes Honor the Fallen.  One of the hardest stories to learn, when I investigated the issue further was the death of Corporal Paul Holter because he died by the thoughtless actions of a fellow Marine.

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I intentionally looked for information on individuals who died specifically within the Al Anbar Province; units would have sent us this casualty data along with the number of wounded persons in the same incident.  For this reason, the American service member casualties represents the most accurate reality of the deployment because I could sort through each narrative to find the right dates and province. Eight individuals who were wounded in the Al Anbar province died outside this area (one passed away in Baghdad, 2 passed away in Germany, and 5 passed away stateside) and so were not included in my applied project.  There are a number of deaths that read as potential suicides although the cause of death is not stated as such.  While I do not mean to come across as insensitive to the families, there is such a struggle maintaining intra- and intercultural conversations regarding suicide and each time we hide the circumstances surrounding our loved ones’ passing, we further exacerbate the social stigma.  For the most part I did not label any service member’s death by circumstance in my presentation because many simply state ‘enemy action’ as the cause of death, particularly for the Marine Corps, whereas more of the Army narratives list a specific weapon type.  I do not know how to make any useful connection (or know if there is one) about this difference.

It was equally as important to look for information on wounded American service members.  While I don’t know what types of injuries qualified for record purposes, I did not make an analysis about that lacking data in my applied project write up.  Once again, in providing the human toll of war, my purpose was to align the numbers that might represent what we would have “seen” coming across our desks.  For this reason, the data is incomplete for my purposes but provides greater context because it is not limited by day or province.  However, I reigned the numbers back in by only showing Army and Marine Corps data since these branches made up the majority of our area of responsibility.  iCasualties.org provided the necessary data for this segment of the applied project.  Unlike the American deaths, it was not a struggle to collect this information.

The more I moved away from American data and my experiences, the easier it was to review the hard data.  Iraqbodycount.org provided the second most substantial amount of data and also the second most accurate representation of that deployment reality. However, I have more work to do in understanding the individuals who made such a site possible.  We all carry our own biases and while I may question who is listed as a civilian, their assessment–from the construction of the site and language utilized–lends itself more to who do we count as our enemy?  From this site, I gathered information that was only specific by month and year.  For this reason, my applied project included more data than I had planned for but I could not break it down into daily numbers as was available for the MilitaryTimes casualty information.  I wasn’t able to find Iraqi civilians wounded from the same time period through Iraqbodycount.org.  I think it’s very important that Iraqbodycount.org acknowledges why this issue is complex.  A 2003 article on their site, Adding Indifference to Injuries, is just one such online article that addresses this problem.  Outside of my research for this project, I do know there are many others trying to undo this marginalization, like the Costs of War Project.

The gaps in piecing together the data cannot be overlooked but they can be explained. None of the numbers alone on any side though reflects accurately on the war.  The connections between social systems, the breakdown of such systems, and learning another culture’s values on the fly shape our perceptions of war and incidents of all scales and frequency happen out of emotional responses and intentionality.   (I would say this statement is true of all matters not just war.) These are not the only intersecting factors, but as narratives become known, these issues are more visible.  I would highly recommend  the HBO mini-series Generation Kill as a good representation of pulling these issues together.  There are not a lot of war genre shows or movies that I can tolerate about Iraq;  however, this one shows aspects of Marine Corps culture that I appreciate.  Additionally, I appreciate how concern for Iraqi civilians is represented and how those individuals who do not express concern for Iraqi civilians is also represented.  We must be willing to acknowledge that both types of individuals exist not only in our military but also in our nation.

It is also important to mention I am not pro-War or anti-War.  I think to say something as controversial as war is 100% right or wrong in all situations is not an educated statement.  While it is not my place to tell others what opinions to have, I will work to respect both sides of the spectrum so long as individuals throughout the spectrum understand a difference of opinion is a difference of opinion.  Opinions are neither right or wrong.

One of the last pieces of information which was the most difficult to find was that for insurgent forces killed and wounded.  Again, like the data for American wounded, Iraqi civilians killed and wounded, I am confronted with the reality none of this data is transparent enough for me to correlate it with my deployment.  For this reason, it is impossible to say I’ve truly given my audience the knowledge they need to understand the enormity of the situations specific to the deployment.  Instead, I’ve given the next available answers.  From a 2007 USAToday article, I found this last piece of the deployment puzzle.  A 2007 Stars and Stripes article shows this information broken down more clearly. I would recommend checking out the latter article as I’ve had trouble on numerous occasions with getting the USAToday article to display properly.

My journal entries which are significant to understanding the deployment are embedded throughout the applied project.  I do apologize for the fact the ones at the latter part of the presentation might seem exceedingly long.  I was concerned the longer entries might be hard to read if they were shown for a shorter period of time but several individuals mentioned they could read faster than the pace of the presentation.  While I won’t make every entry I’ve ever written public, there are strong conversations from my past that will always be worth remembering.  The journal entries I shared were carefully chosen for what they mention about the violence in Iraq with respect to my work and the indirect fire we experienced on base; my positive and negative responses to the dangers; and my feelings about my friends, family, and my place in the Marine Corps.

As this blog progresses further, I will continue to provide you all with comparisons between 2006 and 2016 and 2007 and 2017 to show how my life has changed as my Marine Corps career ended and my current life looks now.  I cannot promise a lot other than a continued interest exploring and discussing today’s military culture, especially as the role of women changes.  I am equally interesting in conducting more research about the broader implications of Operation Iraqi Freedom and sharing my finds with you all.  Lastly, because my schedule has opened up significantly, I am looking to read more academic articles and popular books about our military.

I want to thank you all for following along on this journey so far and I look forward to sharing more again soon.  If you are interested in looking at some of the articles I used for toward the applied project, they are listed below.  All were accessed through ASU’s libraries using JSTOR.

Tina Mai Chen’s (2004) Introduction: Thinking Through Embeddedness: Globalization, Culture, and the Popular

Liam Corley’s (2012) “Brave Words”: Rehabilitating the Veteran-Writer

Liam Kennedy’s (2009) Soldier Photography: Visualising the War in Iraq

 

Sincerely,

Cheryl

 

 

Catching Up: 2006 versus 2016

My apologies for being one of the worst blog authors you’ve probably put up with in a while.  Over the course of the last few weeks, I dug deep into my applied project write-up and mulled over what to include/exclude from my applied project itself, which will be a 20-25 minute iMovie.  Upon completion of my project presentation, my goal is to return to video to this site for public consumption.  It is–and is intended to be–an alternative American war narrative, so be prepared for the fact it neither feeds into the normally messaging seen in American war genre films nor is it fully on the other spectrum home to anti-war sentiments.

Earlier this year though I promised you I would also do a 2006 versus 2016, especially as it relates to giving you what I essentially feel is the other half of my military service.  Life at 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) and my second Iraq deployment with Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16 represented a significant culture shift from ground side Marine Corps life. Therefore, today, I am upholding my promise to you.  Today I will start my 2006 to 2016 comparisons; while not complete, these entries that follow intermittently for the rest of the year will allow you to see the different voice I took with my writing and also contribute to a better understanding of how that time further honed my desire to leave the Corps and assimilate back into civilian life.

Please enjoy the older journal entry below, previously posted on MySpace.  (I know I’m dating myself and as I’m learning in class, I am still dating myself with my reliance on Facebook, too. )

~Cheryl

p.s. I have to chuckle at my old self, too.  I totally love (some types of) white wine now and I’m a big Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon fan.  I will probably equal disappoint a lot of people when I mention that the only sweet red wine I like I found at Trader Joe’s.

I do see some bitterness placed (unduly) on my senior prom date and this is why situating an event in context matters, which I failed to do in the journal entry below.  He was sick when he took me to prom and unfortunately, as one of the not-so-cool kids, I was in the unfortunate position of nearly every popular girl in my class coming over to talk to my date, who was older than all of us.  He, being the nice person that he was and likely still is, apologized for the state of our evening but obviously the person I was back in 2006 was still a bit hurt my senior prom did not live up to expectations.

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Me, on the left, deciding to show off my athletic physique for senior prom.

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Homecomings: Snapshots & Realities

Hmmm…so lots of good things went down last week, but the short work week was insanely busy.  I added more social events to my weekly plans than I would normally accommodate, which meant I’m recovering from sleep deprivation this week.

Devin Mitchell made himself at home when visiting Memorial Union--it was so great meeting him!
Devin Mitchell made himself at home when visiting Memorial Union–it was so great meeting him!

I had a great time meeting Devin Mitchell, photographer for Veteran Vision Project, for starters.  I promise once my photo is finished, I will share it with you all.

Ehren Tool treated us to a show--he made several cups on site out of a 25lb. block of clay!
Ehren Tool treated us to a show–he made several cups on site out of a 25lb. block of clay!

I also met Ehren Tool who came to ASU recently.  Please know I will devote a whole entry to him here soon–probably this weekend.  I checked out his gallery talk and there’s so much I want to digest before sharing my thoughts.

Last week was also Marine Week!!!  My family went to the exhibits at Mesa Riverview Park.  I am proud of all the Marines who worked the event–their efforts were flawless.  While I love all my Marines, I especially love seeing the Silent Drill Platoon perform.  However, the exhibits started at ten and by noon, my five-year old had enough of the heat.  She didn’t care the Marines performed without talking–that they tossed rifles in the air–she just wanted to leave.

IMG_7581 IMG_7582IMG_7592I mention my–happily–busy week because I enjoyed being a participant of each but also because they touch on different aspects of homecoming for me, in literal and figurative ways.

Today, I came across the image below (and many others) through MSN and it made me realize I’ve wanted to discuss the notion of ‘homecoming’ for awhile–scraping below the surface meaning of the word.

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In the simplest sense “returning home” is a neutral and somewhat vague concept.  It can apply to a person and/or group; it also doesn’t matter–in the context of the definition–where the individual (or group) had been but their destination–home–has social value.  Home can also encompass many different places, depending on the individual or group.  The definition is also a little less vague in the fact it limits homecoming to a singular event.  Lastly, and I want to hinge on this key point, homecoming is overwhelmingly used to describe the occasion in the positive.  The four insights I just gave you for ‘homecoming’ provide some talking points about why homecoming is a difficult term to associate with military service.

Home–as a destination–is what matters.

I love the concept of ‘home’ but it’s different once you leave, potentially good and bad.  The landscape will change over time, the people will change over time, the social setting will change over time.  Will ‘home’ still feel like home after weathering these changes? In my situation, home has a short lifespan of feeling comfortable.  I can weather home (Rhode Island) for about a week before feeling antsy for my normal routine.  My physical home is enjoyable when I’m not reminded of the slew of chores to maintain my residence.  I feel incredibly embarrassed to complain about having a roof over my head knowing that so many do not.  I should find more simple joy in what is, even when it does not live up to my standards.   I also think the current Syrian refugee crisis added a further layer to the conversation: what if you never get to go home?  It’s difficult to watch so many people treat these refugees (and refugees, in general) as less than human.  There is so much space in this world and so much potential for peace, prosperity, and creativity if people opened up their ‘home’ nations so that others may have a safe place to call ‘home.’

What is home?

Home can be a place/feeling/a person.  I often fail at captivating my audience about why Iraq will always feel like home to me.  I saw so little of it and yet, in my heart, I feel it is a beautiful nation undergoing years and years of great tragedy.  It is also home because of a love/respect/deep friendship that happened there.  The reality of my situation is I left ‘home’ then and returned to the States, a place that no longer felt like ‘home.’  When I describe home now, I typically use the word in two ways.  I describe Rhode Island as home; it’s where the majority of my family lives.  I describe my residence as home because that’s where I live.  Iraq is my past home and I’m bothered that terrorism is still rampant there.

Homecoming as a ‘singular’ event.

I’ve had many homecomings, usually in the sense of high school dances but also trips back east and returns to the States, once after a trip to Cape Verde and twice from deployment.  Homecoming in the military sense would describe my arrival back at Camp Pendleton after the first deployment and my arrival in Sheridan, Wyoming after the second deployment.  Those happenings were less positive (see focus on this issue below) than portrayed say in the images above.  Homecoming–for me–has been a process and not a single event here and there.  In October, I can add another lenses to the notion of homecoming when I attend training in Nashville, Tennessee.  More to follow on that issue later.

Homecoming-facing the past, present, and ‘pain points’

I mentioned earlier homecomings are thought of as positive events, but what about when they aren’t?  Your story–pain and all–is marginalized in history.  Not too long ago I watched Fort Bliss per one of my professors’ recommendation.  There are tough moments in the film, which I will discuss one day, but this story provides a truer glimpse that homecomings are not always beautiful singular events.  Not everyone is greeted by their families; in familial units torn by divorce, as depicted in the film, who knows is your child will embrace you or be present when you step off the bus?  I didn’t have my family waiting for me when I came home from the first deployment, but my unit was there–they were my family–but even my social network there was incomplete.  Returning from the second deployment, I was embraced by my husband and his family, but once again, my family wasn’t there.  Sometimes, it’s very difficult being the adventurer in the family.  Everyone stays in their comfort zone in Rhode Island.  I journey home time and time again, bearing the financial burden and emotional toll of not seeing my actions reciprocated.  In the last few years, especially as I recovered financially from unemployment, I haven’t made the journey home.  I don’t want to cough up $2,000 or more for flights, hotel rooms, meals, and so on because I know it’s a huge dent to my savings and I have zero desire to put those expenses on a credit card, unless it was an emergency.

I know I’ve given you more to digest today than I normally do and in odd fashion, started on a positive note and ended on more serious thoughts.  There is always a happy thought in my day, despite my seriousness.  To prove it though, please enjoy the cute Prickly Pear image. below.  I use these stickers all the time on Facebook; Prickly Pear stickers are my stickers of choice for Facebook messenger.  They always put a smile on my face.

~C

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Veteran Vision Project: Sentiments of a “Model”

My Little One and I
My Little One and I

Yesterday’s photo shoot with Devin Mitchell (Veteran Vision Project photographer) went so well, I wanted to share my feelings about it. I won’t divulge exactly how the photo was laid out, although I did discuss it with my local peer group (perks for those who work with me and for whom I work for) because this is such a big deal for us. Devin did a fantastic job putting the finishing touches on my general concept. The photo above is an after shot my husband took of Avery and I.

In encouraging others to participate as models, let me say, Devin does not direct how something should look or feel. His interest and his heart are for allowing your message [whatever it may be] to shine. I indicated what room we would be photographed in, the items I was interested in having in the shot, and I picked my uniform, my civilian dress, and my daughter’s clothes. Devin managed the logistics for us, because he has the eyes as the photographer on where things (and us) had to be moved to make best use of our space. He listens and he notices. He found a better arrangement for our artifacts I had not considered as I was looking through the situation as the subject and how controlled I see my everyday life.

In sharing details of my life and what I want both stories to say, Devin figured out what I could not see.

As well, I want to touch on Devin’s professionalism. He has done a great job tackling multiple assignments and when the one before mine was running over time, he called me right away to discuss his scheduling conflict. He also asked my permission to bring over two of my ASU colleagues, which we didn’t originally plan for the photo shoot. My anxiety crept in a little because ASU has lots of employees–trust me I do not know them all–and I wasn’t sure what the vibe would be like meeting them on the spot for something so personal. Taking to heart the notion of Semper Gumby (Always Flexible), I once again trusted Devin and opened my home as well to my fellow ASU peers. It turns out I already knew one, Kevin, and I met Ben. Both were respectful and had a good time hanging out with my husband and daughter while I changed over from my civilian dress into my desert camouflage uniform and pulled my hair up so it was up and off the bottom edge of my collar per regulations.

Trust me…it sounds like it should be easy to change over, but not when shoulder length, layered fine hair is involved. On top of those issues, I had spent probably 45 minutes or so curling my hair, spritzing it with product, and re curling the sections that fell flat as I curled other sections. I expressed decided against a sock bun although that was the way I wore my hair when I was in, except for the time period where I cut my hair short. That time period was post my first deployment and I donated the hair to Locks of Love. Although I had a period of instruction in boot camp on how to do either the sock bun or a French braid, I never mastered a braid until after having my daughter. (Thus far, I’ve learned to do a French braid, Dutch braid, waterfall braid–barely–and a fishtail braid, although it’s difficult for me to do on my own hair.) I asked Devin to not photograph the back of my hair…there were some wispy pieces, which have always been a problem for me. I was constantly critiqued for my hair at boot camp.

Putting on my full uniform (minus a cover, what civilians call a hat…not on duty, not wearing a cover) again was an experience. I last tossed on boots and uts [utilities] for a camping trip awhile back. It’s been 8 years since I wore my uniform as I would wear it for work. My utility bottoms felt huge; I had to look at the size tag to ensure I didn’t have my husband’s trousers. I was 108lbs. when I left the Marine Corps. I now weigh 112lbs. and there was still plenty of room for a second one of me in those trousers! The full experience of getting dressed “for work” again was striking. I measured the proper placement for my brand new chevrons on Monday–no room for error. Thank you to Sgt. Grit for getting my items to me on time. I ordered the chevrons, an extra gray martial arts belt–which surprisingly now has velcro on the inside–and boot bands. The martial arts belt ended up being unnecessary as my husband located my old one. No problem with an extra belt though…it will always come in handy on camping trips!

I felt like a completely different woman again coming downstairs in my uniform. Avery’s never seen me dressed that way. As well, I also wiped a full face of makeup off I had on specifically for the civilian photo–primer; two kinds of concealer; three different kinds of mascara; gel eyeliner; and a lip stain. For everyone who knows the daily me, I do not invest 45 plus minutes of doing my hair or don this much makeup in my every day life, with the exception of special occasions. Yesterday was about making a statement on so many levels, even if not all messages will be recognized by all audience members. Photographing myself as ‘flawlessly beautiful’ versus my ‘barely there make up beautiful’ was an important message for me to convey based on my feelings about society and makeup.

I will save my discussions about the context of my photo for when it becomes available. Now that the nerves have (mostly) gone away, I will report I am happy I took this leap. I put myself out there to make my statements, all important in different ways. More so, I am happy to support Devin who is doing great things with the Veteran Vision Project. Once he gets his book is published, I am definitely purchasing a copy!!! I can’t wait to have his time capsule of history as a treasure in my home.

Semper Fidelis, everyone.

~Cheryl

Life Insurance: A Real Necessity

We’re all going to die some day.  It’s not something we enjoy talking about–or planning for–but it will happen.  Some of us have short times here on earth and others live well into their 100’s.  Planning for the inevitable falls on us–or for those of us too young or indigent–someone else must plan and set aside funding for burial expenses.

Normally, I would not write about such a topic.  People don’t really like being reminded that they are going to die or that their loved ones will eventually die.  I am with you all in this regard and more so because of how often death has touched my life starting with my mother’s passing in 2000.  Death, though, has not stopped there.

On my first deployment, my family tried to spare me this burden and delay notifying me my Uncle Duke passed away.  On this same deployment, my dad’s (stepfather, legally) father passed away.  My work also suffered the burden of losing one of our own, Captain Brock.  I didn’t think about what difficulties my family members may have undergone if sufficient life insurance was not in place, because it’s not something we (and certainly, many families) discuss or want to discuss.

I didn’t think of what arrangements Captain Brock’s wife made for him; thinking back, I’m assuming he had the maximum Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance, which is $400,000 and he may also have been covered under the $100,000 Family Servicesmembers’ Group Life Insurance.  Thomas and I had this spousal coverage on each other while we were both active duty.

As active duty service members we each had $400,000 worth of SGLI, although when Bart was killed in 2002, his mom told me SGLI had been $250,000 and unfortunately, from her, I learned his parents were not listed as beneficiaries which meant paying for his burial costs without this financial support.  I don’t know about all life insurance plans, but ours recommends reviewing the beneficiaries at least one a year.  Based on my conversation with Bart’s mom, I made sure my parents were listed as my beneficiaries when I was single or dating because they would bear the costs of my burial.  I didn’t update this information again until I was married.  It was updated yet again when we had my daughter.  Should we later adopt, I would update my plan again.

When individuals get out of the service, they can get Veterans Group Life Insurance up to the maximum amount of SGLI they had while serving.

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I imagine someone on the outside would assume these numbers are unnecessarily high, but life insurance can help with more than just the bare necessities of funeral planning and for many people, life insurance that just covers burial costs is not enough.  Inadequate life insurance and no life insurance at all can be devastating for people who lost their family’s sole (or higher) source or income.  The Granite Mountain Hotshots’ lawsuit settlement is just one example of why life insurance planning is an absolute necessary.

However, this conversation is not limited to just replacing an adult’s income.  When I worked for Pinal County, I had the privilege to learn a little, informally, about the handling of birth and death certificates.  A peer there told me about the life insurance policies she has for her children.  I also carry a policy for my daughter, so we would not be financially crippled should the worst happen and we are faced with her burial costs.

The reason I decided to write on this subject today is because I learned via Facebook a 2003 graduate from my high school recently passed away.  I do not know the circumstances of his death, but his family is struggling to pay his funeral expenses.  Given his age–thirty years old–I wonder why he didn’t have life insurance.  Did he think it wasn’t necessary?  Was he barely scrapping by?  A donations request was sent out and donations are coming in to help reduce the burden on his family, but I wonder if it will be enough.

Depending on what options a family explores, burial expenses can be overwhelming (funeral, travel, flowers, etc.).  I took a personal finance class with the University of Wyoming and the following from Garman and Forgue’s Personal Finance (9th ed.) is a useful needs-based assessment:

-Final expenses

-Income-replacement needs

-Readjustment-period needs

-Debt-repayment needs

-College-expense needs

-Other special needs

*Add all these totals together and subtract government benefits and current life insurance assets to get the total life insurance needed.

And while I don’t feel like tackling the whole life insurance and term life insurance debate, I will say I purchase term life insurance.  It’s just appropriate for my life right now.  My premiums are not ungodly which is great since my paycheck is smaller than what I made while on active duty.  My last premium, in fact, was due the day I learned this former student had passed away–if this new is not an incentive to get life insurance (or to make a timely payment), I don’t know what would be.

When I die, I know I want a simple service and I want to be cremated.  I think it’s such a waste (for me anyways) to have an elaborate casket and flower arrangements.  Cremation is less costly and I’m not a big fan of flower arrangements.  After my mother’s death, our house was littered with so many flower arrangements.  These beautiful things competed with each other–in small bunches, they smell beautiful but the combination of them makes an odd urine type smell.  The only flowers that really stuck out in my mind as beautiful were the ones sent by my mother’s former employers from when we lived in California.

As an early warning, when I do die, people are welcome to leave letters on my grave and tuck them in the earth. I will greatly appreciate it if people donate their money to a charity instead of spending that money on flowers.  After two deployments, I can also say I don’t want my family to waste my life insurance money on remembering me.  It’s money for them to maintain their dreams and to keep their basic needs met so they are not burdened unnecessarily whenever it is my time to go.

15 Year “Anniversary”

My mother's journal entry to me.
My mother’s journal entry to me.

Today is one of those terrible days in my family’s history; 15 years ago, we said goodbye to my mother after she lost her battle with lung cancer. In the 16 years I was fortunate to have her in my life, I feel I didn’t know her well enough. Her journal entry (above) demonstrates how much a mother knows her child. My heart was so broken when I found out she had cancer. I left the room and went to the bathroom to cry. There was no way to pull myself together.

I don’t know how I watched her struggle without asking more about her as a person. Fortunately, many of her family members (siblings, her husband, and my siblings) are around to share stories about her. Sadly though, her perspective on life is lost except for what was saved in the notes she wrote to her husband and children.

Today I share this note with you all because life is precious. I am not perfect; I still waste the moments I am given. God spared my life as a baby and for reasons unknown, I was one of His children to come home from Iraq. I’ve had my moments of doubt for His plans and my ability to carry out those orders. He’s seen me in one of my worst moments and he’s rewarded me more than I deserve for moving forward.

I am not the same person I was before I lost my mother. She has also seen my transformations and achievements. Some day, I’ll know how she feels about my Marine Corps service. I’ll know her thoughts about my family and the grandchildren she’s never held.

Last night, I was reminded of her absence by my five-year-old. We have nightly Skype visits while she’s gone to Wyoming. She knows she has two grandmas (her maternal grandmother and maternal great mother) and I reminded her about her Nannie, my stepmother. She also knows about her late grandparents. My sweet girl asked if her Nannie was my real mom. I know what she was asking, so I had to say no. We worked through our conversation about my mom again and I told her I’d show her pictures.

For now though, please enjoy this photo of the woman who prayed for me years ago. She built our family. She rebuilt our family after her divorce and subsequent marriage to the man I call my dad. She missed many milestones in my life, not by her choice. She was, and always will be, my mother.

Mom