Guest Post By: Cara Loken
For over 16 years Cara Loken has been married to a National Guardsman providing her with an inside look at the distinctive way of life for families away from base support. Her community engagement and volunteer work earned her the opportunity to represent all Guard spouses as the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year. In order to have an impactful role, Cara wants to hear from you on what challenges are happening in your everyday lives.
BENNET, NEBRASKA: Soon after becoming a Guard spouse, I realized we play a unique role as military spouses, but really do not interact with each other outside of unit activities such as family days and certain other events. Serving as a Key Spouse and family readiness volunteer for a number of years, I started to have questions. I’d like to pose these questions to you to paint a picture of what is happening in each of our Guard units. Please contact me with your responses and input at: NGSOY16@militaryspouse.com.
Do you feel like these activities provide enough interaction for us?
Do you feel your Family Readiness Program Manager is effectively doing a good job making sure we have the proper information or do his/her job as best as they can?
Do you feel like there can be improvement in areas, if so what areas?
Please feel free to share with me what areas you would like to see improvement in. I know the National Guard lacks funds needed in some areas to help our families, when compared to the active components. Plus, the Air National Guard tends to get less funding for family programs than the Army National Guard. Would you like to see this changed? I know my Wing, State and I certainly would. These are the types of questions I would love to get answered for you. Hopefully, working together, we can get some things accomplished for the Guard community as a whole.
There are several areas I am focusing on over the next year. I plan to visit with Guard spouses and family members to listen to your concerns and to gain insight on what can be changed to positively support our families. (Please contact me and we can further discuss if you would like me to visit your base).
Partnerships to Help Our Veterans
Another area of focus is the start of my non-profit organization for military members and veterans called Nebraska Arts for Vets. This will be an outlet to help relieve stress, share, and create artwork through all mediums of art. Local artists are volunteering their time to teach courses, and we are currently collecting art supply donations so the program stays no-cost. We plan to have one or two art shows per year to display the member’s or veteran’s artwork. Classes start in August, so follow us on our Facebook page to watch for dates and times. Share with anyone you know that would benefit from these classes.
We Can Do Better
My last area of focus is to find better ways to get information out to families during deployment that will focus on re-integration within the first three weeks. As we know, those first three weeks are crucial to relationships when coming home after being deployed. The first Yellow Ribbon Events are usually not for 30 days, and I feel that is insufficient. Personally, I would have liked to have known how and why my spouse might change during deployment, and what to do if there is change. To help me in this endeavor please provide what type of information would you like to have or would benefit from regarding reintegration during the first few weeks.
What I Have Been Up to So Far
Life has been busy since May’s Military Spouse of the Year awards ceremony. I have gotten right to work on areas that I think matter and will be blogging about my progress throughout the year so I can get your feedback. Employment continues to be a hot topic for both veterans and spouses so I was eager to meet with an employer to share some perspective. Werner Enterprises, a national transportation company, recently asked me to speak with their company recruiters in Nebraska. They wanted to hear what it is like for a military member, veteran, or spouse when it comes to job searching, moving, and other challenges that we might experience when looking for employment. I asked all branches of the military what their concerns and struggles were and gained some very helpful and needed insight. Werner Enterprises was very receptive of the information provided, so I left feeling like the talk was a success. The company is a military, veteran, and military spouse-friendly employer, and that was reflected in the meeting. I was honored to be asked to represent all military spouses, as I am currently looking for employment while completing a permanent change of assignment (PCS) move as a Guard spouse.
My year will be busy as the National Guard Spouse of the Year, but I am never too busy to hear from you! Please let me know what you want to see improved upon, suggestions for change, or just want to talk. I want to help build a stronger support system for our spouses and families. Who wouldn’t want their families to have stronger bonds? There is always room for improvement especially when it comes to taking care of our members and their families. Together we can make a stronger tomorrow. Go Guard!
About the Guest Blogger:
Cara Loken is a military spouse for over 16 years. Her husband has been in the military for 25 years. She has two sons, ages 16 and 30, and one granddaughter, age 2. She recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science Nutrition degree and an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting. She recently moved from a year long stay in Alabama back to her home state of Nebraska. Once a Husker always a Husker! She is busy spending time with her family, friends, working on her non-profit organization and volunteering.