Monday, September 26, 2011

Success before Stress: Keeping Relationships Healthy

By Dr. Kate McGraw, DCoE clinical psychologist

If you could have the ideal loving relationship, what would that look like? For some couples, it would involve lots of time together and shared interests, and for others, it may include more space and time spent separately. There are many ways to be a loving partner, and the key is discovering what your partner needs from you, rather than what they aren’t giving to you. Often, loving your partner means putting yourself in their place and imagining what would bring them happiness.

Military couples face incredibly challenging stressors together. Those couples who remain resilient often find themselves with stronger relationships when the dust settles. However, many of the unique stressors imposed on military couples may chip away at the fabric of safety and peace within the relationship. What can you and your partner do to help protect your relationship from the stress of military life?

Here are some ideas to enrich your relationship so it serves as a vessel of comfort for you both:

■Ask your partner what they need. Also, you should both be able to identify what you need and how your needs can be met. If you both develop empathy for each other’s needs, than you will both be very satisfied with what you can create together in your relationship.
■Eliminate all sarcasm, name calling, belittling or other types of verbal and emotional abuse, and make a pact to not tolerate displays of temper such as slamming objects or doors. These behaviors cause significant damage to the trust and safety between you and may lead to physical abuse. If you’re able to say at least five positive comments to every negative one you say to your partner, your relationship will feel much more loving and supportive.
■Nurture the bond between you. One way is to foster and keep open regular communication about the important things in your life, as well as the small daily matters.
■Develop a homecoming ritual upon your partner’s return from deployment. This ritual can serve as a line of demarcation for both of you, a dividing point from their being away at war, to being here, at peace.

Often service members returning from deployment need a period of readjustment to their old lifestyle and familiar surroundings. They may want to talk but are unable to find words to express their experiences or feelings about what they’ve been through. They may need time to themselves, which you should respect. The non-military partner can play an important role in the stress management of the relationship by lovingly encouraging their military partner to seek help if it appears they are experiencing severe post-deployment problems.

Service members should remember that their partners want to help and reconnect with you. Have compassion for the stresses that they experienced while you were away. It’s OK to share your feelings about your deployment experiences without sharing details about what you saw or did. In this way you can reconnect emotionally, lean on your partner for support, and feel less isolated while protecting them from the harsh realities of what you experienced. Be alert for signs of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. If you find yourself unable to cope, talk to your partner about it and seek professional help. If you have suicidal thoughts, always seek professional help, as you may be experiencing depression, which resolves with proper treatment.

In the end, our relationships reflect the amount of energy and devotion we give to them. If you both give your relationship the gifts of compassion and empathy, regardless of what the external world heaps upon you, you both will reap the rewards of contentment and love within your relationship.

Are you familiar with some of the risk factors for suicide, which include relationship issues? Find out more about suicide prevention information and resources on the DCoE website.

Blue Angels Talk to Media Before NAS Oceana Air Show

By Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Lenea Johnson, Naval Air Station Oceana Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Members of the Navy's Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, spoke to local media Sept. 23 before the start of the 2011 Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Air Show, which ran through Sept. 25.

Both pilots and enlisted crew members answered questions about what it's like to be part of the Blue Angels and offered advice for those who would like to join the prestigious team.

For Marine Maj. Brent Stevens, who flies left wing, being part of the Navy's Flight Demonstration Team is much more than just taking to the skies at shows such as the annual Oceana Air Show, which this year celebrates the Centennial of Naval Aviation.

While the Blue Angels' talent in the air is witnessed by millions every year, Stevens believes the most rewarding part of being a Blue Angel takes place on the ground.

"We visit schools and volunteer at hospitals and community events. We serve as representatives of the Navy and Marine Corps for those communities that do not have a military presence," he explained.

Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., Stevens has been a Marine for 15 years. Prior to applying to the Blue Angels, Stevens was an F/A-18 instructor and decided to take his training to the next level.

He says performing at military bases, especially at air stations where the sight and sound of military jets is a part of everyday life for those who live nearby, is an exciting challenge.

Stevens is very familiar with Oceana, having been stationed here from December 2002 to November 2003 with the "Gladiators" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106.

"There is a rush when flying in front of your peers and showing what the team can do. It's exciting everywhere we go, but it's great to be back in Virginia Beach," said Stevens.

He encourages Sailors and Marines who admire the Blue Angels to apply to join the team and emphasizes that the selection process for the Blue Angels pilot starts with a commission.

"A degree in aeronautics is not required. We have English literature majors on the team; the military will train you how to fly. Pilots fly a two-year rotation, so there will always be a need for talented pilots to follow in our footsteps," he said.

The next stop for the Blue Angels is Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. Stevens explained that traveling is a large part of the job and being away from his family is challenging. His family includes his wife and 2-year-old daughter Riley, who already loves air shows and shouts "Daddy plane" whenever she sees an airplane.

While the Blue Angels pilots perform at air shows around the nation, they could not fly without the skilled maintainers who take care of their aircraft. Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class (AW) James Buchanan, a Blue Angels crew chief, explained the importance of his job with the prestigious team.

"We come out every morning before the pilots and make sure all systems are operating properly. A crew chief is the first and last person to look at the aircraft each day," Buchanan said.

Crew chiefs are responsible for ensuring the aircraft are properly serviced and that any part not in perfect condition is detected and corrected promptly. Blue Angels crew chiefs are initially assigned an aircraft but are trained to work on every aircraft that performs. They also complete the pre- and post-flight inspections that keep both the F/A-18 Hornet and C-130 flying.

Originally from Toxey, Ala., Buchanan has been in the Navy for eight years and with the Blue Angels for the past year. Buchanan offered advice for those interested in being a part of the prestigious Blue Angels team: "Get your education and stay away from the wrong crowd. We're waiting for you."

The Blue Angels have performed for more than 427 million spectators since their inception in 1946. They fly the same aircraft and perform the same maneuvers as Navy combat pilots flying over Afghanistan and operating off flight decks of aircrafts carriers worldwide.

Brooke Toner: Life After the Knock on the Door

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2011 – Brooke Toner was 28 years old the day she heard the knock on her door.

That knock brought the news every military spouse dreads: for Brooke, it meant her husband of less than three years was never coming home.

“It was the worst day of my life,” she told the capacity crowd gathered at the Navy Memorial here yesterday for the award ceremony honoring her husband, Navy Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV.

Toner died in Afghanistan while defending fellow service members from an enemy who had infiltrated the Afghan National Army. The Americans were unarmed and on a physical training run when the gunman started shooting. Toner accosted the man and bought time for another service member to seek help.

After Brooke accepted her husband’s posthumous Silver Star from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she told American Forces Press Service how she felt about the event, and how her life has changed since that knock on the door in 2009.

Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family, and ‘Frankie’ Toner’s fellow sailors, she said, “I’m just so proud of my husband. It’s as simple as that. I’m just proud that he’s a man who lived the way he did, who loved me the way that he did, just who he was as a person.”

Toner was a great friend, brother, support system to others and a Navy officer, she said.

“He was just so incredible,” she added.

Their first date was six years to the day before he was killed March 27, 2009, she said.

“I knew him for seven months before that; we started dating in 2003, and we were married in 2006,” she said. “We were married for two years, seven months, eight days.”

Brooke said she is now involved in the American Widow Project, which a fellow military widow, Taryn Davis, founded after her own husband was killed.

On the group’s website under “our mission,” visitors will find this:

“Since 2001, nearly 6,000 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around half of these service members were married, leaving an estimated 3,000 military widows across our country. While the service member’s sacrifice is acknowledged, many simply forget or fail to recognize the sacrifice of the spouse who is now left a widow of war. Oftentimes the invisible wounds of military widows are disregarded due to age or a simple lack of knowledge and understanding.

"The American Widow Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to the new generation of those who have lost the heroes of yesterday, today and tomorrow, with an emphasis on healing through sharing stories, tears and laughter … military widow to military widow.”

Brooke said the organization “means a lot to me, because I know how alone I felt. Just being able to meet with other women who understand the love that I have for my husband, and understanding that it’s forever.”

The group is “full of love, full of life, full of laughter, surprisingly,” she said. “For me to be able to let another widow know that they’re not alone, through the organization – I couldn’t ask for a better gift, because I know how I felt.”

In the two and a half years since her husband died, Brooke said, she has moved back to Idaho, where her “entire family” lives.

“After not living there for 12 years, I decided it would be a good support system at home, which is wonderful,” she said.

She also got a dog, which she named Kailua after the place she lived with her husband in Hawaii.

“I call him Kai. We picked out the name – we wanted to name our pets after places where we had lived,” she added.

Brooke said she travels to retreats “with the widows” and helps Davis with the group in any capacity she can.

“I’m just keeping busy. Each day I wake up and say, ‘I’m going to have a good day today.’ Because it’s not always easy,” she said. “So I make myself smile, and I find a way to really live and love life, the way me and Frankie lived and loved life.”

Mullen Presents Silver Star to Fallen Sailor’s Widow

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The nation’s top military officer today presented a posthumous Silver Star to the widow of a heroic Navy officer who was killed in Afghanistan.

During a ceremony at the Navy Memorial here, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the hundreds of people in attendance that Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner faced death “tragically and heroically.”

Toner, 26, was deployed to Afghanistan with an embedded training team as garrison engineer mentor for the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps at Forward Operating Base Shaheen, near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

He and three other officers were exercising, running around the camp’s perimeter on March 27, 2009, when an enemy fighter who had infiltrated the Afghan army attacked with a firearm.

As Toner’s Silver Star citation recounts, “In seconds, officers were shot and lying wounded on the ground. The gunman proceeded to shoot one of the wounded officers. … Toner, unarmed, verbally challenged the insurgent and continued to advance until he was fatally wounded.”

“I’ve been to enough [award presentations] and I’ve seen enough citations to know that he was basically walking straight into the enemy’s fire,” the chairman said of Toner’s actions. “We shouldn’t -- and we won’t -- ever, ever forget that service, that sacrifice,” the admiral added. “Because that is what makes us strong, as a military and as a nation.”

The chairman said today’s ceremony, attended largely by sailors in uniform, was particularly poignant for the Navy because Toner deployed as an individual augmentee, attached to an Army unit.

“I started that [program] when I was [chief of naval operations],” the admiral said.

Mullen said his experience in Vietnam and knowledge of ground operations made the decision to deploy individual sailors very simple.

“I knew the ground forces would bear the brunt, and every sailor I could get into the fight was going to relieve a soldier,” he said.

The Navy and Air Force have had thousands of their members “in the sand” of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said.

“There are 12,000 there today, and that continues,” he said.

Brooke Toner, who accepted her husband’s Silver Star, spoke during the ceremony and thanked everyone who attended.

“Form the moment I got that knock on the door -- which was the worst day of my life -- I’ve been supported by my casualty assistance officer, by Admiral Mullen, by [Navy Rear Adm. Christopher J. Mossey, commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command], by all of our friends who have wrapped their arms around our family to support us all,” she said.

Toner was born Sept. 26, 1982, in Panorama City, Calif. He graduated from Westlake High School in 2001 and his family relocated to Narragansett, Rhode Island, in 2002.

In the summer of 2002, Toner entered the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. where he earned a bachelor of science degree in marine engineering and shipyard management.

In May 2006, Toner was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from Navy Civil Engineer Corps Officer School in Port Hueneme, Calif., September 2006, and was assigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

He reported to Camp Mike Spann in Afghanistan in October 2008 for a one-year individual augmentee assignment.

Toner is survived by his wife, Brooke Toner; mother, Rebecca Toner; father, Francis Toner III; stepmother, Sharon; sister, Amanda; and brothers, John and Michael.

Toner was previously posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with valor. The Silver Star is the third highest combat military decoration.

USS New Hampshire Sailors Present Flags to Governor Prior to Speedway Race

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group Two Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- Twenty Sailors from USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) attended the New Hampshire Motor Speedway race in Loudon, N.H., Sept. 25, during one of many Navy community outreach events planned for New England Navy Week 2011.

Navy weeks feature engagements with corporate, civic, government, education and community service organizations and are conducted primarily to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy.

"Attending this week's race in Loudon is a great opportunity for our Sailors to continue their great relationship with their namesake state of New Hampshire and proudly represent both," said Cmdr. John McGunnigle, commanding officer, USS New Hampshire.

Prior to the call to start their engines and with tens of thousands NASCAR fans watching, McGunnigle presented New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch with an American flag and state flag, both of which were flown on USS New Hampshire in the Arctic during Ice Exercise 2011.

"USS New Hampshire has a great connection with its namesake state. This week, five of my Sailors will participate in various New England Navy Week engagements to expand the awareness of our Navy, and in particular our submarine forces," said McGunnigle.

New Hampshire was commissioned at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, Oct. 25, 2008. She is the fourth ship to be named for the state of New Hampshire.

New England Navy Week 2011, gives area residents an opportunity to meet some of the Navy's Sailors and learn about the Navy's critical missions and its broad ranging capabilities.

New England Navy week runs Sept. 24-Oct. 2. The U.S. Navy conducts approximately 20 Navy Weeks each year. During a Navy Week celebration, the Navy concentrates a variety of outreach events in a metropolitan area for a week, sharing the Navy story with as many people as possible.