The Strength Behind the Strong website. Proudly supporting our friends and family in the U.S. military, including Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

WHY WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT OUR TROOPS (AKA OUR FIRST POST)

The Strength Behind The Strong was founded by Christine Hofmann-Bourque, who is proud to have a husband in the Army, three brothers in the Navy and Army, and a sister-in-law in the Army. Christine is also a professional journalist. Read our first post to find out why this website is so close to her heart. More >>

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Entries in Relationships (4)

Saturday
Apr172010

How Captain Underpants travels to Iraq (and how you can too with Skype)

Oprah uses Skype to video chat with out-of-town guests on her talk show. Contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire use it to “Ask the Expert” for help. But the biggest fan of Skype just might be a five-year-old named Joel. When his Navy father did a 12-month tour in Baghdad, Joel loved to Skype with his far-away dad. Joel could spend an hour reading to his dad from his literary favorites, which this month include Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. And it didn’t cost a penny.

Skype is free, easy-to-install, simple-to-use software that lets you use your computer to video chat — at zero charge — with people all over the world. Joel would tell you (if his vocabulary was a little more advanced) that Skype is a surefire pick-me-up when you are missing a deployed loved one. There is not much that beats hearing and seeing the person you’re missing most. You simply open Skype, click “call,” and the computer of the person you are calling rings, just like a telephone. Through your computer’s camera, you can see the person you’re talking to, whether they are in Germany or South Korea or Guam.

Brothers Joel, 5, and Gabe, 4, are pros on Skype: It's one way they stayed connected with their dad while he was in Iraq. These screenshots show the boys on a recent night talking to Aunt Christine (yes, that's me in the corner of the window).

Get set up this weekend. You need a computer with a built-in camera and microphone; many newer computers have both. Or you need a webcam to attach to your computer.

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Thursday
Mar252010

Talk About It: Free counseling — in your area — is available to extended families of our military

I’m normally an even-keeled person, but toss a husband’s deployment to Iraq in the mix, and all bets were off. Watching war coverage on CNN would set my heart racing. I’d cry whenever the car radio played Trace Adkins’ “Arlington” or Carrie Underwood’s “Just a Dream,” or really any country song about love and loss. And when soldiers from Kyle’s brigade were killed? I felt equal parts sadness and guilt that my husband was still safe while others’ weren’t. If you have a loved one who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, you understand these feelings all too well.  

The nonprofit Give an Hour recognizes the emotional burdens of military families, and its mission is to help shoulder the weight. Give an Hour has assembled a nationwide network of more than 5,000 mental health professionals who each donate one hour a week to counsel military troops and their families. That means grandmothers, cousins, brothers, mothers, fiancées, and other affected family members can speak with licensed counselors — at no charge — about everything from post-traumatic stress and anxiety to traumatic brain injuries and grief. “We recognize that family members — immediate and extended — can be profoundly impacted by their loved one’s service,” says Lauren Itzkowitz, a Navy spouse who works for Give an Hour.

Give an Hour offers the services of psychologists, pastoral counselors, social workers, and more to military families at no cost.

Is it really free? Absolutely. If you are inspired to give back once you’ve used this service, Give an Hour will link you up with other worthy veterans service organizations that need volunteers. “We offer volunteer opportunities as a ‘pay it forward’ kind of system,” Lauren says. “It is not required.”

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Tuesday
Mar022010

Flat Husbands (and Flat Daddies, Sisters, and Cousins): The 2-D gift with real heart

Newlywed Amanda Stapp decided that if she couldn’t spend her first year of marriage with her husband, Jason — who deployed to Kosovo from 2008 to 2009 with the Missouri Army National Guard — she’d spend it with the second-best thing: Flat Jason.

Flat Jason was handsome, willing to tag along with Amanda wherever she went — and made by mounting a life-size photograph of her husband on foam-core board. Amanda took Flat Jason bowling, showed him off on Military Appreciation Day at the Missouri State Fair, and cooked him heart-shaped pancakes to celebrate the couple’s first wedding anniversary.

Flat Jason (above) kept Amanda company during her husband Jason’s overseas deployment. "Real" Jason joked to Amanda, “When I get home, you’re going to like Flat Jason more than me.”

“I wanted Jason to not feel like he missed everything,” says Amanda, who chronicled her yearlong adventures with Flat Jason on her blog A Time Together … Apart. Reading her blog helped the deployed Jason feel connected to his life back home. But Amanda was surprised how much Flat Jason helped her too. “It kept me busy, and I didn’t have time to get depressed or anxious because Flat Jason and I were always doing things,” she says.

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Sunday
Feb142010

Welcome to The Strength Behind the Strong

Yes, the name of this website is a mouthful. I blame the military for that: I’m just worn out from being bombarded with — and perpetually befuddled by — military acronyms. So I went in the opposite direction: wordy and long, but clear in purpose.

The Strength Behind the Strong will spotlight imaginative and useful ideas for Americans who have loved ones in the military. We’ll tackle everything from the practical (tips on mailing care packages) and the patriotic (how to dispose of worn-out flags) to the celebratory (welcome-home party ideas).

These five words — The Strength Behind the Strong — convey a powerful truth I’ve learned during seven years as a military spouse: The friends and families left behind by our troops do so much valuable behind-the-scenes work keeping relationships intact, staying brave in the face of danger, and sending joy and hope overseas in care packages, letters, and emails. Unfortunately, sisters and grandfathers and neighbors don’t get medals for their everyday heroics.

But if they did, I’d nominate these people for The Strength Behind the Strong medals:

  • My husband’s best friend, Max Nuki, for driving up to Fort Drum, New York, in the middle of winter during my husband’s first deployment to Iraq because Kyle asked him to check on me. Max brought a few bottles of red wine and — unprompted — unclogged the bathtub drain. That’s true friendship.
  • My mom, Betty Hofmann, who stepped in for Kyle one Valentine’s Day by sending me a big box of candy and this poem: “Roses are red, violets are blue. If Kyle were around, he’d send these chocolates to you.” She understands better than most the stress of military separations: She had me while my dad was serving in Vietnam.

Photograph of the author as an infant being held by her mother in the backyard, during the author's father's tour of duty in the Vietnam War. From thestrengthbehindthestrong.com.Christine and her mom, Betty, in June 1968, four months before her dad would arrive home from Vietnam.

  • Matt Conklin, my garbage collector in Watertown, New York. During Kyle’s two deployments — one 12 months, one 15 months — Matt pushed my empty garbage can all the way to the top of my driveway, whether it was sunny, rainy, or snowing, as was most often the case. That little gesture made me smile every single week because it was so thoughtful — and because I always wondered if the neighbors thought I was having an affair with him to get such great service.

The list of people who have supported my husband — and me in the process — goes on and on. And those great people are one of the reasons I’ve started The Strength Behind the Strong website. We’ll share ideas, lend support, and give a big pat on the back to all of you who stand proudly behind your friends and family in the military. 

—Christine Hofmann-Bourque