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When people think of a military spouse, they think of a woman married to a service member. But this isn't always the case as nearly 10% of us are men. I was born in November 1978. I am a stay at home dad to two boys, one born in October of 2000 and the other born in June of 2009. I married my wife in June of 2006. In April of 2010 she left to go to basic training for the US Army.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dear Congressman DeSantis: I want to tell you to support the commissary subsidy.......

Dear Congressman DeSantis,

I want to tell you to support the commissary subsidy. I want to say those words to you and mean them with all of my heart, but I can't. For me and my family the benefit it is said to offer us just isn't there; as you are aware. Lately I have been wondering what makes my family so different from so many who are saying how much they save by shopping there. We eat fairly well in my home I do believe. After spending 4 years with commissary privileges I have even become a little spoiled to certain brand name foods and have cut back buying similar items at Walmart. So how is it I don't see the savings? And does 4 years of shopping at the commissary explain why I gained 115 pounds since my wife joined the Army 4 years ago? (On my way down in weight thankfully, ironically since I stopped shopping at the commissary. Hmmmmm...... that's a weird coincidence)

While I can't tell you I believe you should "save the commissary" and be one of the members of Congress touting how much it saves our families, I can give you a reason to consider jumping on team Keep the Commissary. A reason worth fighting for.

The reason? Because we D-E-S-E-R-V-E it.

We don't deserve the benefit in the sense that we should only be buying brand name, high end, quality food. We deserve it because of what it means to our families.

The commissary may not be the best place for a new 21 year old military spouse to shop on an E3 budget, but when he(or she) goes in there shopping, maybe she will bump into someone she met at an FRG meeting and they will make a plan to get the kids together. *I would have used a he in this scenario but most people don't see the male spouses.* **Or try this one**

The commissary may be teaching our service members that they do deserve the best(brand name foods) because they do, even though when they get out they can no longer afford to eat the way they did on that E2 salary, but it's also teaching them about family. When one of us(you too since you serve) is in the commissary we are in a safe place with people we feel know us. Who get us. It really is like a hometown grocery store spread out not just across the country, but across the globe. And of course the prices are nearly 30% better at the commissary than at yours and mine local grocer, Publix. But let's be real, unless you live in a gated community or are buying a sub, we don't "shop-shop" at Publix. We shop at Walmart and Winn-Dixie. But that "hometown feel" may just be worth every penny in and of itself. I found much relief in seeing my favorite attendant standing at the self checkout lines when my wife would be gone. I am too cheap to tip as you may have figured out so I always go through the self checkout and whenever Robert at the Fort Riley commissary was working, I knew I had a "battle buddy" should my minion get restless.

I find the only savings that would really impact my family if we lost the commissary is on meat. God I love meat. In fact I am going tomorrow specifically for meat. I may even check out the new commissary on the Air Force side to see their bulk area that may just be the reform we actually need...... my bad.... I got sidetracked.

Anyways.... meat...... For many families when you live behind the gates and it's 4:20 in the afternoon and you just picked up your child who forgot to get on the bus which made you miss the air conditioning repairman on the first day of a TDY and realize you forgot to thaw the meat, many families rely on that tiny bit of relief that they won't have to spend 30 minutes going off and on post to pick up hamburger meat that is 38 cents (about 9% not 30%) more expensive at Walmart. It's a real pain in the butt to go off post and then back on at that time of the day. And besides, if not for the incredible privatized housing, that air conditioner guy may not stick around and wait on you. But since the privatized housing companies take such good care of our families, they tell us to take those extra 5 minutes to grab what we need and they will wait or just go inside and turn the air down so it is comfortable when we get home. I am actually surprised they don't just pour a glass of wine and leave it out too.

The commissary may not be worth driving past 3 Walmarts to get to, but when retirees are walking around all cute and grandparent like, it's worth it for me to show my sons that even though we are in a military store we can still stop them and thank them for their service. I try to drive home to my boys(especially my youngest) that the people whose hands daddy is shaking, those people spent a lot of time doing what mommy does and deserve to have that feeling of community. It's a great thing to see those older couples hobbling around the store. I don't care how slow their roll is, anything we can do to keep our veterans close to the military family is a win. In these times when we are losing so many veterans to suicide, it is valuable to keep them as close to our bases as possible so they know they are among people who care and understand.

The commissary, by the Military Officer's Association of America (MOAA) definition, I strongly disagree it is worth the subsidy money. I would tell you what I think about the numbers they are sharing, but I think Lawrence "Larry" Korb talks about things like that better than I do. So maybe I can get ahold of him and have him talk to you. But only if I can convince him that even when we show it is not as beneficial to our families as some say, it is most certainly and undeniably a benefit we could possibly maybe say we deserve based solely on what it means to our military families.

The only reason I can't tell you to jump on the bandwagon completely is because I find these 5 things to be more valuable( in order and why) and fear we would compromise these for saving a dime on Kraft Mac N Cheese:

Readiness- Keep my wife safe and don't ever compromise her safety.

Survivor/DAV/Retiree benefits- These people need to be our priority as much as our active duty service members and their readiness...... and it's as simple as that.

Healthcare- While my family personally doesn't oppose the possibility of a copay, do NOT raise the premiums/copays of the people listed above. In fact, LOWER what is already in place if you can. Those people earned it in ways we can never pay back. Also, we need to get a handle on mental health which I know is a daunting task. But wait til you hear the story I got for you about how bad it REALLY sucks. That's my next stop once I get off this commissary merry-go-round so don't think we will be done after this. And while we are at it, can we do something about the VA? Just because some dude doesn't qualify for tri-care doesn't mean he should get sub-Obamacare healthcare.

BAH- I rented a house in Junction City, KS that was a little over 1000 sq ft and 30 years old for more money than a 1600 sq ft pool home on a canal goes for in the C section in Palm Coast. CASE CLOSED ON THAT!

Pay Raises- While I am a firm believer that the nearly $45k my wife makes is a pretty good penny, how can we EVER justify not giving our troops an adequate cost of living raise? Especially when people are saying minimum wage needs to be increased to the numbers they are saying!?! Flipping burgers and bagging groceries will be a better career path for future recruits and retention will go down. Besides, I would rather have the money go in my pocket instead of going in DeCA's pocket which is essentially going into the pockets of the government and government contractors.

If you needed a reason to save the commissary, morale is a darn good one.

Because our families do deserve the best is another.

Those two reasons are pretty doggone good. I just ask you to be sure to consider that one of your constituents values those 5 things mentioned above more than where I buy my ice cream. Three of those things above I am not willing to compromise on if you want my vote and support in the future. The other two, #MyFamilyNeverHadItSoGood and we were #Called2ServeNot2BeServed. So we can offer some flexibility in this #BudgetBattle. I just wish people would raise as much commotion about specific ways to save money and point out waste instead of formulating hypothetical-what if-doomsday numbers that they justify by using the term "purchase power". Life is a lot easier when people are bringing solutions and not just the problems. In fact, one solution is maybe I should teach a budget class to those about real "purchasing power". Equate shampoo rids my dandruff just as well as Head and Shoulders.

Sincerely,

Wayne C. Perry representing the 386 and 32164.

OK.... I am only representing myself. I am not an advocate unless I am right. Otherwise I am just a butthole.

PS..... please remember Larry the Cable Guy is way more awesomer than Larry King.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Barret: My family has never had it so good!

Dear Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Barret,

Greetings! I would ask you how your day has been, but something tells me I already know. And I doubt it was anything like my day. My day can be summed up with this song. It was the song my son and I were singing at 0830 when we ventured into our backyard. And it was the song we kept singing throughout the day. Have a listen while you read the rest of this. Maybe it will "turn that frown upside down" if you have one.





When I wrote my dissenting take on the commissary I really tried to make it explicitly clear that I was not questioning your integrity or character. What I was questioning were DeCA's numbers and your illustration of those numbers. To me none if it added up and I was appalled that something so clearly obvious was being overlooked. So I may have handled the situation improperly, but I hope you understand that this #BudgetBattle is not my arena so I don't know how to walk the walk or talk the talk.

In addition to my attempt at making it clear I wasn't questioning your integrity I also said I would come to your defense if anyone blamed you for this mess we find ourselves in. Like I had said, while all this was happening and building up over the last decade you were leading our troops in harms way. While DeCA was formulating their numbers to justify the subsidy, you weren't shopping in the commissary and at local grocery stores to know the price of Kraft Mac n Cheese, you were busy training soldiers and fighting a war. Knowing that made it easy for me to believe you were simply given bad intel.

I find it quite ironic that when I wrote that blog article that I was heavily criticized by many of my peers, some specifically charging me with questioning your honor, integrity and character, yet after your remarks yesterday few, if any, came to your defense. Not that I am implying you need anyone to defend you. After all, you are a "GOSH DARN MARINE!".  But still, the only things I kept reading yesterday were how out of touch you are with the Junior Enlisted.

When I wrote what I did, I did question if you knew the Jr ranks. After your comments yesterday, I am pretty sure you do. Well..... you at least know this E5 family of 4.

Before I go on to tell you about my day I want to show you how it started and ended. The top picture is my 4 year old, Q, watering the flowers at 0830 while wearing his Spiderman top and Spiderman shoes. The picture on the bottom is of him just before dinner, and after his bath,(mom came home and let him.... not cool) digging in the backyard while wearing that same Spiderman top. Except he traded his jeans in for Star Wars pajama's and added his cool Spiderman shades.





We ended up spending a good 8 or 9 hours absolutely enjoying life and singing our song. Most of which was spent in that Spiderman outfit. **In full disclosure, there was quite a bit of yelling and several temper tantrums mixed in, but that's life.**

When you said "We've never had it so good" you really reminded me how great I have it. Now don't get me wrong, military life isn't a cake walk. And even though my wife came home normal from her year deployment, I am now a cracked nut because of the time we spent apart. But we are managing. And not only that, but we are legitimately thriving! I am serious when I say my family has never had it so good.

I spent a good bit of today doing what I have been doing for several months now, reflecting on all of the blessings God has graced my family with. I thought quite a bit how since my family spent a number of years collecting welfare it did make us more resilient and how it forced us to be a little more disciplined. Especially when it comes to my grocery shopping. I also spent a good bit of time comparing how good my family has it compared to many I know outside of the military. And sir, compared to many I know, love and care deeply for, my family is pretty damn lucky. We are current/ahead on all of our bills, we have been doing some home improvements and the best of all, we live with confidence that our bills will be paid next month as well. As Charlie Sheen would say, we are "WINNING!"

You were also right in how my family thinks in regards to the budget. In my home our primary concern is will my wife(and her fellow service members) be trained and prepared properly. Our secondary concern is her career/retirement. We are honestly unsure if we will make it another 16 years, but career planning and progress will dictate that. The other main concern of ours is that those who served and sacrificed more/longer than our family are well taken care of. By more/longer I mean those who came home wounded one way or another(and surviving family members) and those who made this life a career. We feel those are the people we are deeply indebted to and need to come first. Well, before our family.

When my wife enlisted we answered the call to serve our country. We of course did it for the compensation as well, but let's be real, few ONLY sign up for the compensation. Most of us do feel we have a higher calling to serve our country and that is what really motivates us. And I can speak for my family when I say we are willing to continue to serve even if it meant there were some minor changes to the compensation package. Contrary to what many will say, I do feel as a military spouse I can get a job if I really wanted to. If I needed to. But because of the generous compensation we receive I don't have to work. I can focus all of my energy and attention on my family like the good military spouse(with testicles) that I am. I will proudly continue to make my wife sammiches and be the one who plans the play dates for the kids as long as she says she wants to continue doing what she is doing. Because I know with certainty if my family had to get out, I would definitely have to get a job and we would most likely end up back on welfare. I know this because unlike many of the people speaking, I know better what it looks like for the average American living outside the gates. I was one. And I am working on lowering myself to become one again.

I don't know if this "letter" will reach you, but I will try to get it to you. On a day when you were being drug through the mud, I wanted you to know my son and I were planting vegetables and having the time of our life. And I was thinking of you and praying for you quite a bit. Today must have TOTALLY sucked to be you. I would not have wanted to be you for anything! LOL But I hope it puts a smile on your face knowing you have an ally who you may have thought was a foe.

Anyway..... that's all I have to say.

Love, peace and chicken grease!
Wayne

PS...... This is a picture of my boys. Since it is the month of the military child and I bragged about my youngest, I wanted to be sure I mentioned my older boy(I call him LeRoy, as in Leroy Jethro Gibbs). He really is turning out to be a fine young man. I look up to him. He is the epitome of resilient and maybe one day I will get to tell you more about him.





  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dear Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission,

Dear MCRMC,

DeCA and advocates for military families will tell you the commissary saves, on average for the average military family, 30% by shopping at their stores. I would like you to know that information is FALSE.

I did my own comparison and found the commissary only saves approximately 5% over shopping at Walmart on brand for brand items. And in my home, based on my yearly budget, at best that would save my family $400-$800 per year. Not the $3,000-$4,500 DeCA and advocates for military families say.

Furthermore, if I was to shop at the commissary exclusively or semi exclusively, shopping at the commissary would cost my family more money than shopping at Walmart since my family relies on generic and off brand items for many things. An example of my point can be found in apple juice. My family goes through about 4 gallons of apple juice per week. If we were to buy it at the commissary we would end up paying roughly $432 MORE per year.

I believe there is value in the commissary, just not the monetary value people will testify before you. At least not for the majority of our force since most of our families are E6 and below. I believe those advocating for us and testifying in front of you may be out of touch with how those of us who make significantly less than them shop.

I won't argue that there is some savings in shopping at the commissary, but if savings is the reason for Congress to continue offering the subsidy money, then I must request DeCA no longer receive that money. It is unfair to tell the American taxpayer that they are helping save military families thousands of dollars per year by helping fund the commissary. I believe doing so to be deceitful.

Please remember as you hear testimony before you that what I am saying now comes from the family of an E5 family of 4. The identical dynamic that advocates will use to prove their point.

I would also like to add that my family signed up to serve America, not to be served. We are prepared to adjust our lives if need be should our country need us to tighten our belts. My family spent a significant amount of time outside of the military community, and on welfare. While cuts may impact how long my wife stays in, I think it is safe to say we would not be quick to leave over a possible few hundred dollars per year increase in certain things.

For me personally, the only thing that would make me angry, irate and ready to say "shame on Congress" would be if retirees and physically/mentally altered veterans saw any sort of increase. As well as if life began to cost Gold Star families more. I believe we(America) are deeply indebted to the families whose loved ones have given life, limb, mind, body and soul to our country. Indebted to the point we could never REALLY pay them back.

I thank you for your time and I also pray you will be guided by your moral compass regarding the issues before you. Our military families do deserve the best, but not the best based on inaccurate information. We can not compromise the honor and integrity of our military by using partisan politics to further our cause.

Sincerely,
Wayne C. Perry

PS.... yes, I am a person of Walmart and proud of it. In other words, I am a proud American.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dear Keep Your Promise Alliance.......


**Sometimes when the stars align my blog entries deserve two songs. This is one of those times. This is a "double dipper". So maybe you want to enjoy the music while you read? Just don't forget to check for the song at the end too.**
 
 
Dear Keep Your Promise Alliance(KYP),
Whenever my family is planning any sort of outing I am always planning it around food. It’s so bad that my wife regularly asks me “Why does everything revolve around food for you?” It really is a standing joke in our house. And if I even think of telling her “Everything doesn’t revolve around food” she either stares me up and down, literally sizing me up with her eyes, or she reminds me of the camping trips I used to take.

Before my wife enlisted I would go away a couple times a year and camp by myself. I would take that time to be alone in the woods to pray, rejuvenate, contemplate, read, fish and EAT! Contrary to the bearded “hick from the stix” I portray, I am no woodsman. I could illustrate what kind of outdoorsman I am by telling you about my irrational fear of raccoons. Or I could tell you the story about the zombie squirrels I encountered on one camping trip. And then there’s the story of the time a rabbit rustling in the bushes had me standing on a picnic table in the dark with a flashlight that was dying. But those stories are for a different day.

So all of that to say..... Is it any wonder I am all over this commissary issue? I take food serious!
 
Nobody wants to hear “I told you so.” And while few like admitting it, some do enjoy saying “I told you so.” I am one of those few because I am not right often. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

So…. I told you so.

I told you that there wasn’t a 30% value in shopping at the commissary. I asked to be proven wrong and no one took me up on it. Now that I went out and did my own legwork and price comparisons, I can firmly stand on what I said. I can firmly say the savings over Walmart is roughly 5%. You may be able to get me up to 10%, but it will be a stretch.

I also told you that most likely the commissary would change the way it does business whether we like it or not. And I would follow that statement up by asking “How will you explain the defeat of the commissary to the troops you rallied around the flag that you planted in the dairy section?”
As of this moment, all signs are pointing to a drastic change in the way the commissary does business. And I share the same thought I know many of you have, “if prices go up and less people shop at the commissary, it will be the beginning of the end to the store.”

A month ago there was no way I could justify planting a flag in the commissary. I couldn’t because I knew the monetary value just wasn’t there. Today, I could plant a flag in the commissary because I am watching the reaction from the people. And while I believe most of our military (especially JR enlisted) could do better shopping off-post, it’s what money can’t buy that could take my passion you see now and use it to your advantage.

The commissary in most instances offers much less monetary value than you say, but you are failing to use it for what it truly offers us, a morale value. There are few better feelings than walking into a grocery store and having it feel like your hometown grocer. All the way down to the staff knowing you by name. A great example is at the Ft Riley commissary in the self-checkout line, the attendant, Rob, knew when Q was with me that I may need an extra set of eyes in case Q would stand in the cart or an extra set of hands for when he would throw things out. Rob and I had such a great connection that on the days I went shopping alone he seemed to share in my joy of shopping alone. I could see it all over his face. He had the same look as me.
I am ready to fight for the commissary but I won’t participate in a fight using DeCA’s numbers. (And I will continue to fight to not allow those numbers to be used). I think the use of DeCA’s numbers are a great example of the oversight, accountability and transparency we crave from our government. DeCA is a government agency that is self-reporting (with use of external auditors) to the government to justify their subsidy. Are they not?

In my eyes…. shining a light on how this system functions could be the beginning to the reform and accountability our DoD budget needs. If we really want transparency, then it has to start with us. It has to start with us telling them that maybe DeCA’s numbers don’t add up to $3,000-$4,500 a year in savings. I believe if you remove the monetary value and use nothing but the morale value, we stand a fighting chance to save it. But how do you backtrack now? How does someone go back and say to Congress “all these years, we may have been wrong”? The answer is simple, you just do it. You just say “it may not be the cost saving grocery store we thought it was, but it means something to us”. You tell them until now, you never had a reason to question DeCA’s numbers. You remind them that your families were too busy fighting wars to compare apples to apples. You tell them the truth. At this point, what other choice do we have? A PX/BX-Commissary merger would be just as bad as anything else they can do to us. It would be a beginning to the end.

The way I see it, the KYP Alliance can choose to be led by one type of Colonel or the other…….








**Special thanks to Rough Cut Men for doing with movies what I try to do with music.**

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Walmart Executives: Do you want to get back at the DoD/Gov't?


Dear Walmart Executives,
I was in disbelief when I read last week that the Department of Defense(DoD) requested/ordered you to remove the logos of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Air Force from 18 of your semi-trucks! I guess the only time it is OK to slap a decal of one of the military branch’s to the side of something mobile is when it is turning laps on a racetrack and we are paying over $30,000,000 to put the decals there.

Ironically, I would bet the trucks would log a lot more miles than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will in his National Guard sponsored NASCAR season.

I know my heading says “do you want to get back at the DoD/Gov’t”, but what I am asking is nothing with malicious intent. It’s just that headlines are what make people read something.

When I think of “America’s store”, I think of Walmart. I am not afraid to say I am a person of Walmart. I may even end up in a People of Walmart video one day. Ya…. I am that kinda guy. I just hope I remember to put my tooth in that day.

To me Walmart is as American as baseball, NASCAR and BBQ’s. So I was not surprised to find out you were doing something to honor our service members, specifically the fallen. And I am appalled at the fact that such an amazingly selfless act to make people think of the sacrifices our military families make was snubbed by the DoD. I mean really, what message did they have a problem with? But these days, little surprises me coming out of our Nation’s capital.
I am writing you because I find myself in a sticky situation with the DoD and our government. I am mixed up in some #BudgetBattle over benefits for our military community. The point of the argument I am engaged in is a government agency, DeCA(Defense Commissary Agency), is trying to say if I shop at their stores(the commissary) I will save 30% on my grocery bill as opposed to shopping at your store.

I never had a reason to question DeCA’s numbers until now(or should I say be vocal about what I think of those numbers). And only now because in the midst of this #BudgetBattle we are justifying $1,000,000,000 in taxpayer money for a service our families deserve. **Key word is deserve**
When this conversation I am in got going I called BS immediately. I have ALWAYS questioned whether shopping at our commissary was “Worth the Trip”. Ever since I became a military spouse four years ago I have split my shopping between your store and my local commissary. I had never seen much of a difference in most things I buy between your store and theirs so I was OK shopping at either at any given time. Plus your stores offer the generic versions of products my “E5 family of 4” relies on to maintain our own budget.

As the conversation progressed I became more and more belligerent towards those who said I would save 30% by shopping at the commissary. (Or depending on what the numbers of the day are- $3,000 or $3,600 or $4,500 annually) I was demanding those people who were touting those numbers to prove me wrong. To show me that I could save anywhere close to the amount they said I could save. Yes, I will admit it….. I was one big fat jerk at times. And maybe that is why no one took me up on that. Or maybe it was because they knew I might be right.
Since no one wanted to prove me wrong, I had to prove myself right. Not because I wanted to say “I told you so” (even though I will say that and do), but because I wanted to know if I was as crazy as everyone was making me out to be. I wanted to know if I could somehow, someway, find enough money to take my family on a family vacation that doesn’t include a 90 minute time-share sales pitch mixed in. So I set out and did my own price comparison between the commissary and three other stores, including yours. And I definitely did NOT find your store to be 30% more expensive than the commissary on exact brand-for-brand items. I only found a 5% difference.

I think since I only had a pen and paper that we can assume I made a minor error somewhere in my calculations. And since I only bought $300 worth of merchandise there needs to be some flexibility in my 5% finding. How about 7.5%? Although I wouldn’t argue if some guy in a suit who used a giant supercomputer told me it was 10%.  
So what do you say your company begins offering a 10% military discount and call it even?

I understand you run a business and need to make a profit so I come to you with not only my problem, but a possible solution. When you “Rollback” your pricing, instead of rolling it back to “$??.98”, roll it back up to “??.99”. I know that’s only a penny, but pennies add up. Trust me I know. I have utilized those Coinstar machines in your stores for a long time. Well, up until my wife joined the Army that is. I told you I was a person of Walmart, didn’t I?
I personally would like to see that 10% discount on all merchandise, but I would understand if you kept it solely to grocery items. Because that is what this all about anyway. The basic need to eat and at an affordable price.

I also would say the 10% number is negotiable since I only found a 5% difference(keep in mind I only have a 6th grade math education though), but 10% is the market norm these days and I would imagine if you guys did this, your competitors would soon follow. But if I were comparing Walmart apples at 10% off to your competitors 10% off apples, I would choose your apples 9 out of 10 times because they are typically less expensive.

I think the most important thing about this proposal is how many people it will effect. Not all military ID card holders live near a commissary and make the drive to the base to shop there. Opening this up to ALL MILITARY ID HOLDERS would lead to hundreds of thousands more veterans/families to the savings we enjoy by shopping at our commissaries.

I could go on and on about this but I will stop here and let you all mull it over a bit. But I hope you act fast so I can have this issue of mine resolved so then I can get back to fighting for the billion dollar subsidy to fund our commissaries. **I bet that leaves you scratching your head**

Sincerely,

Wayne C. Perry

PS…… While I have your attention, I would be remised to not ask on behalf of all military families, all American families and all foreign families who shop at your stores to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE find a way to open more cash registers.

PSS….. Maybe the answer to that could be found with veteran/military spouse employment.

PSSS….. What ya say we paint those semi’s with your new military discount and line us up a good ole convoy?

**This song is dedicated to truck drivers everywhere. Especially those truck drivers in my family. If I had to say what my family legacy was for employment prior to my generation, it would be truck driving. Cousins. Uncles. And my father. Even though military service runs in my blood too. 

So this song is specifically for my father. A man who received his G.E.D.(General Education Diploma) for the sole purpose of enlisting in the US Navy and then when he got off the ship, he jumped behind the wheel of a rig and spent the best part of his life there providing for our family. Until the day, and with a “Good Enough Diploma”, he landed his sore butt in an office in Manhattan, NY as a union man. Representing the little guy.
I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.**

"Rugrat II out."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Strong Bonds Retreat: The Good. The Bad. And even the ugly.


My family and I just returned from a Strong Bonds Retreat hosted by the Army. And I wanted to share my experience. All of it. The Good. The bad. And even the ugly.

Instead of starting with the good I am going to start with the ugly. I believe it is always wise to end on a positive note if you can.

The ugly: Our accommodations……

Believe me when I tell you where we stayed was FAR from ugly. In fact, the place we stayed was so luxurious that while it was hosting our Army families it was also hosting several other functions. There were a few charity events. A wedding. And a “going away party” as it was described to me. The type of going away party that has heavy security, including ex US military Special Forces on security detail. 
The person I was told (but can't confirm) being honored at the going away party that truly illustrates how incredibly swanky this hotel was. The party was for none other than Steve Ballmer. YES! THAT Steve Ballmer. The former CEO of the Microsoft, Corp. I am pretty sure that was his Rolls-Royce Phantom parked out front. I almost grabbed my “Proud Army Husband” yellow ribbon magnet and “Proud Army MANspouse” license plate frame and put them on that Rolls-Royce, but I thought better of it.
I also thought better of tracking Mr. Ballmer down and asking if he could sponsor a few Strong Bonds Retreats. *wink wink*

It feels weird calling the hotel we stayed at “ugly” since it wasn’t, but I think considering the current state of our Department of Defense (DoD) budget, the money spent on the retreat was hideous.
I don’t want to go too deep into the ugly, but I think what two of my friends said about the choice to host the event there is worth mentioning. One friend asked “Why don’t they host these events at the DoD owned resort facility just two hours away?” and another wondered “What happened to bonfires and smores?”.

Both good questions if you ask me….. but what do I know about budgets?

 

The Bad: NOTHING!

I have ABSOLUTELY nothing bad to say about the weekend. I can’t even say bad things about where we stayed no matter how much I dislike the hotel bill, because I do see the value in staying at a place like that. For some, they may never stay in that fancy of a place again. This may have been their only opportunity to see how “the other half” lives. And for others, it may just have been the type of romantic getaway their marriage needed.

 

The Good(well… the GREAT!!): EVERYTHING! But I will share my top six things which are in no particular order except the first one.
It was FREE! Not only is my family not able to afford a place like we stayed, but we can’t really afford to stay at The Holiday Inn Express either. Not that the Holiday Inn Express is expensive, but a weekend getaway is not typically in our budget. Unless there is a 90 minute “time share presentation” stuffed in to our itinerary.

Childcare! Childcare (and free childcare at that) is something to get excited about. Especially when you live very far from family and find it hard to find a sitter. And specifically when you have the type of child that makes it difficult to find someone who will watch him. **Not that I know anything about that. My baby is an “angel”.** (Insert a sarcastic tone for the last two sentences.)

Date night! Caveating off of free childcare, date nights are few and far between in my home. I think since we PCS’d 9 months ago, this may have been mine and my wife’s 3rd or 4th date night. Which is definitely not adequate to keep the flame in a marriage burning, but our situation isn’t unique. Not by a long shot. **Did I mention we were given gift cards to eat out on our date night so the meal wouldn’t cost us anything?**

The lessons I learned! I learned a long time ago the best way to learn at a marriage retreat is to listen for what I need to hear. Not what I want my wife to hear. While I was quite familiar with the curriculum, the way it was presented and the conversations specific to those attending made it VERY satisfying. I would definitely say “this old dog learned a few new tricks”. Tricks to better love my wife and serve my family that is. While the weekend was free and the hotel was quite pricey, the lessons I learned were priceless.

The Chaplain and the Chaplain’s Assistant! Seriously, Ron made the weekend GREAT! I am not sure what his rank was (he made sure everyone left rank at the door) or even which unit he is the Chaplain of, but this guy was INCREDIBLE! How incredible you ask? Well…. This was his first time using this specific curriculum. And it may be worth mentioning that the delivery truck delivering the study guides and material for the class broke down in like Wyoming or something so he was basically winging it. Of course he had his teachers guide and the slides, but the job he did to teach what he taught can’t be taught from a “textbook”. He did EXACTLY what the Army taught him. He adapted. He overcame. And he conquered! He taught from his heart with a little help from the guidebook.

I am not sure what the Chaplain’s Assistants real name was because his name was “Sarge”, AKA Sergeant. While the participants left rank at the door, “Sarge” had to wear his because he was working. And working quite hard I might add. These two guys made a great team! A true Dynamic Duo!

**There was also a guy/participant named “1st Sergeant” so we knew his rank, but I think all Army families can agree that when someone earns the rank of 1st Sergeant they no longer go by the name they were born with. Their name is forever changed to “1st Sergeant”. Unless they get it changed to Sergeant Major. But whatever the case, they earned either name.**

The people we met! There is something magical that happens when you get a group of people together who want to impact their personal lives (and marriages) in a positive way and they all have something specific that binds them together. And for us, we are all part of the Army family. I really appreciate hearing from others who will share their life experiences that sound eerily similar to my own. People who know how it feels.

While I can’t say my wife and I made new best friends, we are planning on having a “Strong Bonds Reunion Dinner/BBQ” at our house for the couples we shared a table with for the weekend. The couples who we shared our lives and stories with. The people who made this weekend what it was, special.

I am of the mindset that the lessons learned at an event like this need to be reinforced. So what better way is there to reinforce what we learned than getting back together with the strangers who know more about my personal life than many of my close and personal friends do.

This was my second Strong Bonds Retreat. The first one I went to was for spouses with deployed soldiers. After going to two now, I can’t stress this enough, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Strong Bonds Retreat, DO IT! I can only hope you have similar experiences to the ones I have had. Just remember to go in with an open mind and open heart. Had I not gone in with an open mind and open heart to the first retreat I went to, I may not have got a pedicure that weekend and then I wouldn’t have met the forever friends I met.  And without that open mind and open heart for this one, I may have dwelled on “the ugly”. Instead I am rejoicing for the GREAT time we had.

**This song sums up my weekend nicely**


Monday, March 31, 2014

A phone call with Congressman DeSantis' office.......


Within two hours of sharing the letter I wrote to Congressman DeSantis with his office via Facebook I received a reply. The reply informed me that the previous communication I have attempted with the Congressman had been seen and relayed to the Congressman. I was also given the number to a staffer, not an intern, should I want to follow-up and speak to someone directly about my concerns.
So I called and this is how the conversation went……
Liz”: Hello. Thank you for contacting Congressman Ron DeSantis office. How may I help you?

Me: Hi! This is Wayne Perry, TheArmyWife(DUDE), I write a blog.

Liz”: Hi Wayne! You!!! Of course! Thank you SO much for sharing your concerns. I am so glad you called because we do want you to know Congressman DeSantis does care about what matters to his constituents. He truly does care about all the families in his district. And as a member of our military himself he deeply cares about how the proposed DoD budget will effect military families. He would also like you to know……..
**This is where I interrupt her mid-sentence with my loud and booming voice.**

Me(bold print means I was being very loud): I’m sorry. I hate to cut you off but can you hold on please? JUST HOLD ON! HOLD ON PLEASE! That kid you hear screaming is my kid.

Liz”: Ummmm???…… of course!
Me: I don’t know what happened to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles(TMNT). No I don’t know why it’s not working. Please stop screaming I am on the phone. No it’s not mommy. Yes it is raining out. STOP JUMPING ON THE COUCH! And stop pulling on the dogs ears. I know you want TMNT back on. BUT I JUST PUT IT BACK ON LIKE YOU WANTED! What do you mean you want to watch it after you watch Lalaloopsy? A granola bar? Is that what you said you wanted? Well I can’t understand you when you are throwing a fit! Do you need anything else before I go back to this very important phone call? Are you sure?

Hey Liz. Are you still there? I am SO sorry about that. Not exactly a good time for my kid to have a meltdown.
“Liz”: No problem at all! I completely understand. So what can I help you with?

Me: I truly am sorry about my kid screaming. That’s quite embarrassing, being I am talking to the Congressman’s office and all.

Liz”: Honestly, don’t worry about it. I understand. Now how may I help you?
Me: Thank you. First, I need you to know I often write my blog tongue-in-cheek. So I am not as crazy as I may sometimes sound. And the only issue I wrote about that I expect a response on is the exclusion of Gold Star Husbands from Congress’ dedication of April 5th as Gold Star Wives’ Day. I feel it is ignoring the men who lost their wife to war and slapping them in the face even though their wife made the ultimate sacrifice. I fell it is…… I’m sorry. Hold on. What!?! I told you I was on the phone. More juice? Anything else? Are you sure?

Hey Liz…. Sorry again.
“Liz”: **giggle giggle, tee hee hee, giggle giggle** Really Mr Perry, it IS ok. I understand.

Me: Please call me Wayne………….

From that point on the conversation went normal. No more interruptions and no more meltdowns (at least not until I got off the phone).
“Liz” was exceptionally kind and helped to reinforce my belief that while I don’t trust Congress, I am correct in my feeling that I can trust Ron DeSantis. The individual who happens to be a Congressman.

I was informed that Gold Star Wives Day is not as completely a day recognizing Gold Star Wives as it appears. It is actually a day recognizing the organization Gold Star Wives of America. Congress has recognized the organization itself for the extraordinary work they do for all Gold Star families. Husbands included. And that is something I can’t argue with. It is a great organization worthy of the recognition.

I still feel that the way the message is coming across isn’t right and is alienating, but I can’t see myself taking the issue further. It just wouldn’t be prudent.
Besides, my life is too much like this video to be on the phone with the powerful people who could help.......