2015 April

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Michael Vitacca: Reflections from a Military Teen

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

When I was little, moving was an adventure. It was cool to go to a new town and a new house. There were new yards to explore and new friends to make. I remember one of our early PCS moves to Alabama. I was happy about the opportunity to see new things. As I got older, moving was still a pretty exciting experience. I made lots of friends all over the country, and saw places most people just read about. When we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, I found the place that I really loved. I made tons of friends, did well academically and athletically, and just fit in. Eventually the thought of moving did creep up though. I didn’t want to leave my friends and home. Luckily I was able to finish my four years at Loyola College Prep and graduate with my friends. That was the first time I felt such a connection to a place, and leaving all I had worked so hard to accomplish would have been terrible.

I would say that military teens have so many more advantages than normal teens. We’ve had the opportunity to visit various places around the country and meet many people with different backgrounds and views. Those experiences give military teens the ability to get along with very diverse groups of people and handle a wide variety of situations. Also, we tend to be very resilient and adept at handling changes. Our lives are constantly subjected to deployments, moves, and other stressors that take a lot of time to learn how to deal with. However, our experience helps later in life.

There are disadvantages though. One of the biggest is that we never get to completely establish ourselves anywhere. Over and over, I would be doing great and making lots of friends, just to be torn away after a year or two. There were so many times I wished that I could’ve been on the same soccer team for more than a couple years, or that I had grown up with the same group of friends. So many of my friends met each other when they were very little. They grew up together and formed special bonds. I always had to work my way into those friend groups. It would have been nice to grow up in the same place.

Deployment was always a scary thing. I lived with the possibility of something happening to my dad and there was nothing I could do to stop it or help. When my dad deployed to Afghanistan, whenever something came up in the news regarding the war, I would always wonder if he was close to the event, or if it had the potential to hurt him. It’s extremely hard to deal with thoughts like those regularly.

I wish people knew just how hard it is to move around our whole lives. A lot of people are very supportive of us when we come into a new place, but there are still a lot of challenges that come with the territory. Even filling out college applications was extremely hard because of all the moves. There isn’t a box to explain why I was never in a club or on a team for more than a couple years at a time. We military kids are tough and we do well in new situations, but I wish people knew just how much of a toll those moves took on us.
Right now I’m studying Biomedical Science at Texas A&M. It’s an extremely interesting topic and has the potential to be a very good career. I’d like to pursue the medical field a little bit further and join the Air Force as a doctor. There are a whole lot of opportunities for doctors in the military, and it would allow me to give back to my country.

Editors Note: Special thanks to Michael Vitacca for sharing his personal reflections so that people can come to better understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and kids in particular.

Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

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Gratitude Initiative Named 2015 Carry the Load Non-Profit Partner

On April 8th Carry the Load announced Gratitude Initiative as one of the organization’s 2015 non-profit partners for their Dallas Memorial March. Carry the Load is a 501c3 non-profit that is working to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day by connecting Americans to the sacrifices of our military, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue personnel.

Carry The Load’s events provide an interactive way for Americans to remember, honor and celebrate Memorial Day while raising funds for programs that honor and serve family members left behind. The events are free to attend, but funds raised during Memorial Day allow Carry The Load to grow its vision as well as provide their non-profit partners with valuable resources to assist heroes and their families.

The goal for this year’s Dallas Memorial March is to raise $1.75 million dollars with 100% of the proceeds going to Carry The Load’s non-profit partners. The Dallas March begins at 4pm on May 24th and ends at 12:15pm on May 25th.

Carry the Load’s National Relay starts at the cemetery at West Point, NY on April 28th and will end at the Dallas March on May 24th. The National Relay will cover over 2,000 miles and take part in Carry The Load Rallies along the route.

For more information on Carry The Load and their 2015 events, please visit www.carrytheload.org or for information on the Dallas Memorial March visit http://ctl.convio.net/site/TR/2015/General?fr_id=1220&pg=entry

Mississippi unit returns in time for Thanksgiving
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Meet Skyler: Learning Fortitude from a Service Family

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

On the day she was born, Skyler’s dad left Fort Bragg for drill sergeant school. A few years later, she has a faint recollection of putting all her toys in a big cardboard box as her family moved to Fort Hood. Her father, a career NCO, decided to keep his family tucked away in a suburb not far from the flagpole where they could be safe and sound in central Texas.

After twenty-six years of soldiering in garrison and four combat deployments, Skyler’s dad recently retired but the memories of war-time service remain.

Her mom remembers the tears and tummy aches each of her children experienced, fear gripping them as the war took their dad away time and time again. She remembers the frantic phone calls from Fort Hood when a gunman took the lives of thirteen innocent people in a mass shooting. Such scenarios aren’t supposed to be a part of childhood, but like most military children, Skyler has had to come to grips with the realities of military service.

The youngest of four children, Skyler has an older brother and sisters to look up to, and they’ve shown her the ropes of resiliency and fortitude. These young Americans are examples of the more than one million children left behind since 2001, as their parents deployed in service of our country. As is the case in many military homes, Skyler’s mom held down the fort through her dad’s numerous combat tours, relying heavily on friends and neighbors to sustain them. It’s not an uncommon scenario. Today, more than 2 million American kids have a parent serving on active duty.

Skyler’s brother Zach, now a PFC in the Army stationed in Cuba, was anxious to follow in his father’s footsteps, working on his college degree concurrent with military service.

While Skyler stays busy in middle school, she can’t wait for her big brother to return home so they can play ball. Skyler says, “We stick together.” This Army family attaches a premium to the time they can spend with one another, taking nothing for granted.

The Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.

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Meet Becca: Displaying Gratitude in the Face of Adversity

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child 

Home is where the Army sends her, which for this Virginia high school senior has included more than a dozen hometowns around the country. Yet this young lady with her vibrant blue eyes and sparkling smile will tell you flat out: Being a military kid is a blessing.

Becca’s in her third high school, and it’s her senior year. She’s had to take and retake some of the same courses just to meet the varied diploma requirements of three different states. That’s been the hard part. Becca explains.

“It came to a point when I didn’t even want to unpack the boxes of my belongings because I knew we would be moving again.”

In the same breath she’ll tell you in excited detail that the easy part has been the travel, which has exposed her to many fascinating cultures and customs in locations all over the map.

Fingers crossed, she thinks her family is going to stay put in Virginia. Her father, an Army staff sergeant with four overseas combat deployments, has medically retired near his hometown. While under treatment for severe PTSD, he plans to keep his family in one spot so that he receives the level of care he needs to overcome the wounds of war.

Becca is thankful that her parents are putting down roots, but is filled with gratitude for the life that gave her wings.

“There was always a new adventure to try,” she explained. “From snow boarding and ice sculptures, to indoor rock climbing and day trips to watch sunsets at the beach.”

Becca’s cognizant of the lessons she’s learned along the way. “No matter how bad my days had become, I knew I was never alone. I lived in a community full of children just like me. It astonishes me how quickly military kids become best friends. There was always someone who had been exactly where I was and they would have advice filled with knowledge beyond their years.”

Like most teens, friendship is paramount. “I have traveled and made amazing friends from all over the world. And the families of my military friends are awesome. They are quick to open their doors to the newest new kid. There is a lot of love in the military community.”

The future is bright for this courageous military teen who hopes to be a teacher some day. “I don’t really have distant future goals in store just yet. I have applied to a few schools around the country but I’m enjoying living in the moment and settling in to my newest home.”

After a childhood spent in remote outposts as well as turbulent Army installations, Becca is thankful.

“I am one of the lucky kids who has their dad as their hero and for that I’m forever grateful,” she says. “I’ve gotten to see the entire country and meet some of the most caring people along the way. My life may be confusing and challenging but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.

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Meet Jordan – A Model of Resilience in the Face of Constant Change

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

If there is one thread that runs through the tapestry of Jordan’s life as a military kid, it is friendship. His earliest memory from childhood involves making friends in Baumholder, Germany when he didn’t know the difference between good morning and guten Tag. He was raised with older sisters who were his best friends when he was the new kid on the block again and again.

Jordan’s dad spent two tours of duty overseas, in Bosnia as well as Afghanistan. Jordan feels lucky that his dad came home safe and sound, despite living in harm’s way. He remembers how heavily his mom and siblings relied on one another.

After five recent moves, his dad’s assignment at Fort Hood has been good for him. He likes the people he’s met in central Texas.

“If you’re nice and friendly, they’re nice in return.” When he’s not in school, Jordan likes to hang out around the lake near his home, and spends a lot of time playing video games with his friends.

Transitioning to the Republic of the Marshall Islands in just a few days, Jordan will have to say goodbye to all of his stateside buddies at Belton High School, and therein lies the rub.

I ask him how he feels about his father’s new duty assignment to Kwajalein Atoll.

“You make a lot of friends as a military kid, but you lose a lot of friends, too.”

He tells me that he wants to stay connected, and is apprehensive about going to his second high school as a freshman.

Will his credits transfer? How different will it be? Will he find someone to eat lunch with? These are common questions among today’s more than 2 million kids with parents on active duty. On average, they will attend 6-9 different schools before graduating high school.

Moving from the largest military installation in the world to one of the smallest, Jordan knows there will be many adjustments to make. West of the International Date Line, Kwajalein Junior/Senior High School holds classes from Tuesday-Saturday. Because there are no privately-owned vehicles on the island, Jordan will have to walk or bike to school.

A 21st Century learner in every sense of the word, much of Jordan’s academic work will be digital yet his field experiences will place him amidst a hundred islands and islets surrounded by one of the largest lagoons and coral reefs in the world.

Life on an island that occupies less than one square mile is going to be very different for sure. But lucky for this military teen, there’s one thing he’s learned about his new home already: Kwaj is known as one of the friendliest places on the planet.

The Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.