In Praise of Courage: A Review of Netflix’s Medal of Honor

I have received free merchandise in exchange for my review of Netflix’s series, Medal of Honor. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by this company.

We haven’t had cable in 6 years and, most days, I’m OK with that. With the exception of missing a UK game here and there, I am fine with not having to flip through 150 channels of reality shows, which really bear very little resemblance to reality. Remember when the History channel showed documentaries about…history? Now they hunt ghosts, examine conspiracy theories, and pick through people’s storage sheds. And the Travel Channel transported us to festivals in Rome or holidays in China. They also hunt ghosts now. And the Food Network focused on cooking shows instead of cooking contests. My competition cup runneth over.

Our answer was a Roku, which allows us to stream Netflix, PBS, PBSkids, and, yes, even most UK basketball games. We’ve been able to keep up when party conversation turns to Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Crown. Blue has discovered a world within Netflix that includes Storybots, King Julien and a slew of Magic School Bus shows. So, when Blue Star Families approached me about a partnership they had formed with Netflix to screen their Docu-series, Medal of Honor, I was all in. Fortunately for me, so were my neighbors. They may or may not have been in it for the Trader Joe’s appetizers (pancake bread, anyone?) and Shiner Bock.

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None of us had ever heard of the show so we had no idea what to expect. We all assumed it was a fictional series akin to Army Wives or SEAL Team. Historically accurate, but crafted in someone’s mind, nonetheless. There is one season with 8 episodes and they are independent of each other. So, the wives let the husbands decide which one we should watch. They chose the Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Afghanistan. For the record, the wives would have chosen someone from World War II or the Korean War. Or…pretty much anyone from any time period except the one we are in right now. The husbands wanted to relate, the wives wanted to distance themselves. Such is life with service members and spouses, I suppose. We poured another glass and settled in.

Episode 2 tells the story of Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, an Army veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2009. At the mention of COP Keating, several of our neighbors nodded in recognition of the name, but the room soon fell silent as the Battle of Kamdesh unfolded. One of the wives leaned over and whispered, “This is so hard to watch. I hate thinking of what they go through over there.” But that’s true for every military-inspired film or show that prides itself on authenticity. Hollywood can recreate, with alarming accuracy, what it’s like in the thick of war. That’s all made possible by producers willing to hire veterans and those veterans volunteering to share their stories or offer their perspectives. And on the Medal of Honor set, every role that could be filled by a veteran, was, starting at the top with a Marine.

Medal of Honor‘s executive producer, Brandon Birtell, came up with the idea for the show during Marine Corps boot camp in 1996. The Marines’ final challenge, called The Crucible, is a series of obstacles named for Medal of Honor recipients. When I read about that in this Stars and Stripes article, my first thought was, “I can only name one Medal of Honor recipient – Sergeant Dakota Meyer.” And that’s because he grew up 2 hours south of me. But most Americans only recognize his name because he was married to Bristol Palin. What about the other 3,400 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who have received the honor since its inception in 1861? Shouldn’t we know their names? Shouldn’t we share their stories? Unimaginable bravery should be lauded and passed down to future generations. The award demands respect, but the story behind it deserves to be told. It should be just as familiar as that little medallion that dangles from a sky-blue ribbon.

Our neighbors agreed. The box of Kleenex had made its rounds.

I sent out a little survey after the screening, asking those who attended to share their thoughts on how the show differed from what they were expecting and whether they would recommend it to friends. Overwhelmingly, the response was, “YES!” Everyone appreciated that the story was told well, accurate and engaging. And our friends concurred: we all, Civilians and Military, need to hear these stories. Maybe we won’t sit down and read a 700-page book by Jake Tapper, but we can certainly watch a 55-minute show. I love The Great British Baking Show as much as the next girl, but this is important. This helps us understand what happens on our behalf, what we are asking of our service members when we send them into battle, and what they accomplish against all odds.

Over 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients and Netflix has created an episode about 8 of them. I don’t know how they ever narrowed it down or whether a second season is in the works, but I’m certainly glad they at least started the conversation.

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What Blue Star Families Means to Us #Giving Tuesday

On the second morning of our honeymoon, as Neal and I sipped coffee in our bathrobes on the veranda of our B&B in Charleston, SC, I confessed to him that I hated my job. It had become indisputably clear that I was terrible at selling gym memberships, which was the first bullet point in my job description. Neal mulled this over for a second and then asked, “What do you want to do?” It wasn’t said in a judgemental or demeaning tone. He truly wanted to know what would make me happy. “I think I want to be a massage therapist. I want to go to massage school,” I answered. He flashed his trademark Neal smile and said, “Well, there you go, then.” One month later, I was enrolled in massage school.

When Neal was offered the opportunity to move from a Reservist position to active duty with the Active Guard/Reserve program, there were 2 stipulations: we had to move to Macon, Georgia by the middle of May, and he would be deployed for one year to Iraq within 6 months of the move. We readily agreed knowing that this door, which had been opened so unexpectedly, would shut without any guarantee of it opening again. We arrived home from a vacation in Hawaii at 4 AM and at 7 AM, the moving truck arrived to take all of our worldly possessions south.

Prior to that first move, as the wife of a Reservist, most of our challenges were centered around being apart, from deployments, to annual training and the drill weekends each month. I became the FRG (Family Readiness Group) Leader, simply because no one had expressed any interest in the position. I ran fundraisers for unit events and I called to check on spouses when the Servicemember was deployed with a different unit. I was involved, but I wasn’t immersed in the military culture. My knowledge was limited to what I had experienced since meeting and marrying Neal.

Our first PCS changed everything.

With a house full of boxes and the realization that my parents weren’t just down the road, I sat down and cried. Neal went to work, met people, made friends, and had conversations throughout the day. I tried to figure out how my Kentucky massage therapy license would transfer to Georgia and wondered where I would work if my clients didn’t have a military ID to get into base housing where we lived, all while emptying box after box in our carport. I was suffocating under the sheer weight of chaos and loneliness. I put on the brave face for Neal as he relayed the ups and downs of his day, but I wanted to scream, “Take me home! I can’t do this, I’m not cut out for this life. I want to go back to my friends and family and our little house on the cul-de-sac with the pergola and the clematis!” Six months later, he deployed to Iraq and I did go home. But it didn’t feel like home. Now I was a visitor who had missed out on birthdays, births, weddings, and funerals. Everyone was glad to see me, but they also knew I couldn’t stay. For the first time in my life, I felt like a flower, ripped from the stem and stuck in a vase. No longer rooted to anything, eventually I would wither.

It feels a little melodramatic to even write that from where I sit now, but it is exactly how I felt back then. I was 32 years old and had never been away from home for more than a few months. I went to college next door to my hometown, along with most of my closest high school friends. As it was in 1989, so it was in 2009. Sitting on the back porch of our house on Robins AFB, huddled around a fire pit with new friends, we rang in 2011. Neal would be leaving in a few weeks for Iraq. I had no job and no job prospects. We had made friends – some from the base and some from Neal’s work – but it was the first time I had ever felt depressed. Nothing was as I had imagined it would be.

Over the years, we’ve gotten better at this military family thing. I can make a new friend in 4 minutes flat (Blue can do it in 3) and I’ve finally come to accept that most businesses don’t want to hire someone just to lose them again in 24 months. I don’t blame them – that’s a lot of time and energy to invest in someone just to have to start all over again with someone new. I know because we do it all the time. It’s emotionally exhausting. I conceded that my life would revolve around making sure that Neal didn’t have to worry about anything at home. Whether he wanted to help with the chores or not, everything would get done – from packing and unpacking when we move, to daily tasks like cleaning the litterbox and cooking meals. He only had to focus on work and spending time together as a family. And on most days, that has been enough for me. But there have certainly been times in the past 8 years when I shake my fist and shout, “This doesn’t have to be so damn hard!”

Like when we moved to Fort Lee, VA, when Blue was 3 months old because Neal was picked up for Captain’s Career Course. On-post housing had a wait list so we leased a 3-bedroom apartment behind a strip mall. An hour after the movers had emptied the truck into every room of that apartment, the housing office called to say they had a house for us.

Like when I couldn’t get a spot in the Child Development Center at Ft. Knox because all of the slots were full, which meant I couldn’t go to the gym for an hour each day because the gym had no childcare.

Like when we were stationed on a National Guard post and not only was there no housing, but there was no way to meet other military families outside of the unit.

Like when the contract for our dental care was switched to a provider who reimbursed pennies on the dollar and all of the good dentists stopped accepting Tricare because they have to make a living, too.

Like when we were stationed in Southern California and the first time we went out as a family, we paid $12 in parking and $75 for a barely palatable lunch.

This is not a list of complaints, these are the challenges that we encounter constantly. But we have grown resilient and resourceful. We take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and figure out how to solve the problem.

We loved that little apartment because in the strip mall was a grocery store and an Italian restaurant, which made pizza that we still talk about to this day.

At Fort Knox, I joined a group of moms who worked out on a playground while the kids played. Sometimes wrangling kids back onto the playground was part of the workout. I took that idea with me to Fort Leavenworth and implemented it there, because we weren’t going to let a lack of childcare keep us from exercising.

I met my neighbors in Pennsylvania and then took a job writing for the local magazine so I could meet even more. And sometimes they turned out to be fellow military families.

I wrote letters to our Congressmen and women about the dental insurance situation and rejoiced when I found a phenomenal dentist with military ties and an office just 40 minutes from our house. Some of my friends were driving an hour each way.

And in the last few months before we were due to leave Pennsylvania, I met Joanna. A spouse in our unit suggested we meet at Joanna’s coffee shop for breakfast and some adult conversation. During a lull, Joanna sat with us and we chatted about living in Pennsylvania, military life, and her new position with Blue Star Families. “OH! They do the Blue Star Museums every summer! We love those people,” I exclaimed. Joanna laughed, “Yes! And we are doing a new thing this summer called Blue Star Parks!”

And that is how I came to join the Blue Star Families network (which is to say I went on the website and entered my information – which is free and open to all military families) and continue to be indebted for the ways they are improving our quality of life everyday. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to sit in one of their staff meetings. What ideas get written on the board? Which ones get tossed out? It feels like every week they have devised a new way to make life a little easier, make it a little more enjoyable.

Yep, making new friends every 24 months is draining, but what if you could do it around a table with a Starbucks latte in your hand? The Starbucks Neighborhood stores commit to holding Coffee and Talk events for military families.

Yes, sometimes we get stationed in exotic (read: expensive) places and after each little expense is raised, there’s very little left for exploring the area where we live. Blue Star Museums, Parks, Theatres and their partnership with Disney ensure we can enjoy the same opportunities as residents whose pay more accurately reflects the cost of living for that area.

Absolutely, it would be amazing if every spouse who wanted to work outside of the home was given that chance. Blue Star Families Careers Center not only actively partners with businesses who have voiced an interest in hiring military spouses, but also provides career coaching, training, and mentorship.

And if you want to work outside of the home, what a blessing it would be to have access to reliable and affordable child care close to base housing. Blue Star Families is working on that, too.

They also see the need for an improvement in access to mental healthcare – for the entire family – and providing more tools for caregivers. There are a lot of moving pieces when you are talking about a military family, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of the rank or where they live. Blue Star Families wants to address it all.

But they aren’t going it alone.

One of the reasons, I think, they are so successful is because Blue Star Families is always on the lookout for new partnerships. Starbucks, Disney, National Endowment for the Arts, National Parks Service, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Academy of US Veterans, Ebates, CSX, USAA, The Boeing Company and so. many. more. Those are just the ones I saw in a quick scroll through their Facebook page. They are consistently reaching out, daily, to close the gap between military families and the civilian communities where they live and work. When I had thrown my hands in the air and decided the divide was too wide, they decided to build a bridge, initiative by initiative. They must do at least 3 impossible things before breakfast each day.

We all have a story…a difficulty that has lessened because an organization exists to address it. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, the American Heart Association, The Ronald McDonald House, St. Jude’s, United Way, American Red Cross, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Girls on the Run, World Wildlife Foundation, Doctors Without Borders…and on…and on…and on. We must support the organizations that touch our lives directly and, if we can, choose one or two that touch the ones we love.

Blue Star Families is the one I choose and that is why I support them today, on Giving Tuesday. I want to do everything I can to further their work, their mission of helping military families all over the world. When I look into the eyes of a newly married military spouse or a Servicemember who is leaving his/her family for another deployment, I want to be able to say that we are doing everything we can to support them. And that takes money. Blue Star Families has an excellent track record of putting it to good use.

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Hanging out at the Skirball Cultural Center, a Blue Star Museum, over the summer.

When It’s More Than a Cup of Coffee

I’m not going to sugarcoat it…the week leading up to Veterans Day was pretty brutal in Southern California. It began with a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks (about 90 minutes up the 101 from us), which was carried out by a decorated former Marine with PTSD. Before the first funeral could be held, a spark from a fire in Malibu jumped the 101 and scorched a wide swath through the same region. All the while, the Camp Fire absolutely leveled Paradise, California and took dozens of lives in the process. Although our home on the south side of Los Angeles was never in any danger, the air quality took a hit as the smoke hung ominously between us and Catalina Island. It blotted out the sun and the ocean seemed to glow with shades of yellow and orange. Simultaneously beautiful and devastating. We weren’t impacted, but we were definitely affected.

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So, when the box arrived from Blue Star Families in the middle of the week – a volunteers’ kit with buttons to hand out at Starbucks on Veterans Day, I was filled with a sense of dread. The death toll north of us was climbing daily and I was supposed to hand out buttons to people buying coffee and thank them for supporting military families? I hadn’t really laughed in a week. The last thing I wanted to do was half-ass something for Blue Star Families, an organization that has given our family more than we could ever give back. But I had no idea how I was going to pull out of my funk enough to be convincing. I set the entire box to the side and decided I would worry about it later.

When I woke Sunday morning, I was no more cheery than when I went to bed on Saturday night, but I put on the t-shirt from the box. The front of the t-shirt read ” It’s more than a cup of coffee.” The back proclaimed, “It’s all about communities.” The Blue Star Families and Starbucks logos almost seemed to be holding hands. I felt a little better. I picked up the bag of buttons and started walking out of the neighborhood, to the Starbucks across the street (where we all go because it’s so dang convenient). When I entered the store, I asked to see the store manager and when I introduced myself, her entire face lit up.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” JayIssa said. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

I felt the some of the week’s burdens let loose and float away.

“Me, too. Thank you so much for supporting military families. It means everything.”

The lunch rush began and 2 of my neighbors, Ashley and Candace, joined me. We distributed the buttons while mentioning that if they purchased a tall brewed coffee that day, 15 cents from each cup would benefit Blue Star Families. We also let Servicemembers and their families know that Starbucks was offering them a free, tall cup of brewed coffee to celebrate and honor their service. I certainly wasn’t at the top of my game, but with each smile, with each thank you, with each proclamation of “Happy Veterans Day”, the load seemed lighter. We were all neighbors and we were gathered at our Neighborhood Starbucks. It was about the coffee and it was about communities.

When we ran out of buttons, we chatted a bit more with JayIssa, who is eager to partner with and support the military community. She showed us the postcards that are available for customers to write notes to Servicemembers who are deployed or injured and the gift cards that were available for purchase, which also benefit military families.

She mentioned future possibilities like providing coffee and baristas for military events. Her passion for linking civilian and military communities is exciting. JayIssa’s offer to provide her store and staff as a way to do that is a substantial commitment to supporting military families.

Finding the places where civilian and military communities intersect and looking for ways to broaden that overlap is one of the many strengths of Blue Star Families. But they also work diligently to improve the quality of our lives, including sharing data results from the Annual Military Lifestyle Survey (which I completed last spring) with Congressmen and women so they have a better understanding of our challenges and ways in which laws can be crafted to address those challenges. They also partner with the National Endowment for the Arts to host Blue Star Museums every year and the National Parks Service to provide the America the Beautiful Park Pass. Their partnership with Disney has allowed us to visit Disneyland FOUR times this year, which would be out of our price range otherwise since every little thing costs more in Southern California, but Neal’s income doesn’t reflect that steep increase in the cost of living. We have not yet taken advantage of Blue Star Theatres, but as soon as the holidays have passed and life calms down a bit, we will get tickets for a children’s play that Blue has been asking to see. But they also provide support in other ways, like the Caregivers programs, which are so important for military spouses who have become caregivers for one reason or another. They truly address all of the challenges that come with serving our country.

There’s no doubt that of all of the military focused, non-profit organizations out there (and there are a lot), Blue Star Families is the one that we feel most directly impacts and improves our daily life. Because of that, we are happy to support their #GivingTuesday challenge on Tuesday, November 27th. This actually links to Ashley’s Facebook event so if you are having problems viewing or donating, please let me know and we’ll fix that. The funds raised on Facebook will be matched by Facebook and PayPal so your donation is actually doubled! And it directly benefits military families through the work Blue Star Families does on our behalf everyday. Funds raised will create more programs like Blue Star Museums, Blue Star Books, Blue Star Parks, and Blue Star Theatres – all of which are available to the entire family, not just the Servicemember. If you are going to give on Tuesday, this is a great organization to give to!

Things have started to calm down a bit around here. Blue and I took my mom to Santa Barbara yesterday, straight up the 405 to the 101 and although you can still see where fire suppressant was dropped by helicopters to protect the towns, the air has mostly cleared and it’s business as usual. The cloud has lifted, it’s once again sunny in SoCal and we are grabbing a coffee from our Neighborhood Starbucks on the way to the beach today!

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday, friends!! It’s a short week for Neal since the Army gives a 4-day holiday for Columbus Day. Blue’s school does not, however, so Neal and I are going to try our hand at kayaking the canals at Long Beach today. I haven’t been in a kayak since 2004, but it’s probably just like riding a bike, right? Get in, paddle and try like hell not to tip over because the Pacific Ocean, in case you didn’t know, is freaking cold. All the time. I don’t know how the kids play in it on our beach days. They say once you get in, you warm up, but I’ve never gone in past my knees so I can neither confirm nor deny that statement.

I think on Fridays I’m going to do a little round-up of my favorite things from the week. Please feel free to send me your favorite things, too! As I’ve been saying all along, this blog is meant to be a community where everyone has a voice. So, please…use it!

I Got Back on Instagram…After a Year Hiatus

I had the opportunity to “take-over” the Blue Star Families’ Instagram for the day. On “Take-over Tuesday”, they posted several pictures and captions from our star-studded evening at the red carpet premiere of SEAL Team. They even included a picture Neal took of me interviewing Judd Lormand and A.J. Buckley! Speaking of the premiere, did anyone watch it? Holy explosions and falling stunts, Batman! When Max Thieriot jumped off that rig, the whole theater erupted in applause and cat-calls. Should you ever get to attend the premiere of any TV show or movie, take it! It is a completely different experience when the cast is in the audience with you. 20180925_213631

I Have Awesome Friends Who Do Awesome Things

A friend of mine in Kentucky posted this picture on her Facebook page this week.

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Her husband spent three days repainting the roof of their barn. He had to paint one color at a time. And if you’ve ever heard the expression, You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, then you know exactly how big that barn’s roof is. I’m sure this was a backbreaking task, but what a worthy endeavor! And the result is breathtaking. I look forward to seeing it in person someday.

 

M-I-C…K-E-Y…M-O-U-S-E

Fifteen hours after walking the red carpet, I was sitting at LAX, waiting for Mom’s flight to land. We had a hot 3-day date with a couple of mice (and all their friends) down the road. I am going to quietly admit that Disneyland was significantly more fun than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the Happiest Place on Earth (because over-stimulation of a six year old is anything but happy), but it was certainly a good time. I’m not sure I would change my stance on the question: Our family wants to go on vacation…should we go to Disney or the Grand Canyon? But I am finally willing to concede that perhaps the answer is: Both, eventually. These are a few of my favorite pictures from the weekend, but you’ll see many more next week (apparently, I have a media storage limit on my WordPress account and I’m at 12% right now. I am wondering just how long it will take before upgrading is my only option.). Beginning Sunday, I will post a 4-part series that will cover what I planned beforehand, what we learned from each park and what we’ll do differently next time (oh yes, boys and girls…there will be a next time).

 

Because One Blog Just Isn’t Enough

I was channeling my grandmother when I started yet another blog this week. She was a woman who, upon finding shoes or clothes that fit perfectly, would buy it in every color. Why have one when you could have two? Or three. Or four. I enjoy writing (obviously, as most of the time I do it for free), so why not create a space for sharing my love/hate relationship with burpees, kale and all of the essential oils that smell so bad but are so good for me. Most of that happens in our garage, which is too small to fit the Prius but too big to not utilize. Also, I don’t have to scrape ice for 2 years and that was a major factor in choosing to convert the garage into a gym. Playing beat the clock while your windshield defrosts is, I’m sure, a game they play in Hell. My paint job will probably suffer but at least I can squat myself to greatness. If you want to join the fun, come find me Behind the Garage Door. I will post Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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Have a great weekend, lovely people! I’ll see you on Sunday!

 

Our Star-Studded Evening Courtesy of Blue Star Families

If you had told me 6 months ago, as we were following a horse and buggy through downtown Lititz, Pennsylvania, on our way to church, that Neal and I would be mingling with the cast of SEAL Team at their red carpet premiere of season two, I would have slapped you with bread and called you a sandwich. There is no way that was ever going to happen. We aren’t Hollywood. We’re barely Dollywood. But that is exactly where we were last Tuesday night, thanks to a collaboration between Blue Star Families, Academy of United States Veterans (AUSV) and CBS.

The premiere, which was held at the swankiest American Legion I’ve ever been in, kicked off at 5 PM with the press check-in. As the Blue Star Families Social Media Correspondent for this event, I went in search of my spot on the red carpet. I found it right next to a former Marine, who is now reporting for the American Legion, and directly in front of a spotlight that nearly melted both of us by the time we were done. Meanwhile, military families were invited to the lounge downstairs, where they could relax and get a drink.

The cast began arriving around 6 PM, starting with Kerri Medders, who plays Emma Hayes.

This last picture cracks me up because as they were posing, one of the photographers said, “Hold on. There’s a dog’s butt in these pictures.” And that, my friends, is where Hollywood intersects with keepin’ it real.

By 6:15 there was a steady stream of celebrities, each stopping to spend a few minutes answering whatever questions we lobbed at them. Thank goodness I had made the effort to watch all of season one before the premiere so I could ask questions specific to the characters. They weren’t ground-breaking (or even particularly thought-provoking), but they did pertain to how each role addressed military life. And Dita got to give an interview, although as it turns out she’s a pup of few words.

The ladies next to me were asking cast members to record video tweets in the Twitter selfie mirror and create boomerangs for social media. And that is the exact moment when I learned what Twitter selfie mirrors and boomerangs are. I need someone’s tween to school me.

I spent at least 2 minutes practicing my boomerang while I was brushing my teeth that night.

By 6:45 the cast was all there and we finished up our interviews as they gathered for pictures, including several with the Chief Operating Officer of Blue Star Families, Noeleen Tillman!

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By the time I joined my husband and our friends in the theater, they had already met Neil Brown Jr. and A.J. Buckley. And my husband had taken a selfie with Dita, which was really his only bucket list item for the evening.

It’s the world’s blurriest selfie but I couldn’t not share it because he’s just so happy…and that makes me happy.

Soon the lights were dimming and it was time to find our seats. Being able to interact with the cast before the show and then sitting among them as we all watched it together, most for the first time, was electrifying. I had to keep reminding myself as the first few scenes played out that I needed to stop rehashing the last hour in my head and just enjoy the action on the screen. And there was plenty of action to be had. Y’all will not be disappointed by how season two kicks off!

After the credits rolled, the cast made their way to the stage for a Q&A moderated by former Navy SEAL and author of The Terminal List, Jack Carr.

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Mr. Carr’s questions ranged from how the show was created, to what the technical advisors do to ensure authenticity, to what each character brings to the show. An accurate portrayal of military life seemed to be the overarching theme, with a side of explosions and humor to keep us all coming back for more. One of the directors once mentioned in the special features section of the DVD that it’s challenging to convince people to sit down and watch an hour-long show about war every week. But I think it’s like using Lego men to help our son learn how to add and subtract. When you are entertained, you don’t even realize you’re learning something hard. And learning about what our men and women endure on the battlefield and at home is hard. But it’s the first step in helping civilian communities understand our experience so that we can make more meaningful connections with them. So that we can strengthen their community and they can strengthen ours.

With the scheduled activities wrapping up for the night, everyone began making their way downstairs to the after party. But not before Alex and I scored a picture with David Boreanaz. Because…right?

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Don’t worry, Neal. My heart still belongs to you. And Gary Sinise.

And maybe just a little bit to Judd Lormand, but only because Lt. Commander Blackburn kind of reminds me of Neal, circa 2009.

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We were all about to turn into pumpkins, but it was so hard to leave such delightful company. We had discussed everything from deployments to how much homework our first graders have and it had turned into the kind of evening that I didn’t want to see end. But it was a school night and babysitters were waiting. So, we left the party, which was still in full swing and headed home, via McDonald’s. Because if you ever go to the after party at a red carpet premiere it’s hummus and cheese cubes. So eat before you go or pack a hoagie in your purse. We did neither.

For this Kentucky girl, the entire evening was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allowed us to fully engage with the community where we are stationed. We weren’t limited by how much money we have or who we know in the industry. We didn’t have to win a radio contest or happen to be in the right place at the right time. We simply had to say yes. And what I’m learning is that if Blue Star Families is involved, I will always say yes. Yes to enhancing life for military families, to creating connections with civilian communities, to reaching out, to strengthening our country by uplifting one another.

Walking the Red Carpet With Blue Star Families

The most ironic part about being stationed in L.A. is that neither Neal nor I have ever paid much attention to celebrities or mainstream television. We haven’t had cable since 2010 so when we’re out with friends and talk turns to the fall line-up or the latest tear-jerking episode of This Is Us, we sit mute and clueless. You want to discuss how Poldark, the period drama from PBS, seems to have jumped the shark in the last couple of seasons? We’re on it. We can also chime in about our hopes for a season 5 of Sherlock or how much that ugly lamp appraised for on Antiques Roadshow. But don’t ask us about crime shows, sitcoms or, especially, military dramas.

I watched one episode of Army Wives, before I was even officially an Army wife, and hated it. “They make us look like goal-digging homewreckers!” I yelled from the living room one night. Neal and I finally did settle on The Unit for a few seasons and then went back to PBS after it was inexplicably canceled. Hollywood just couldn’t seem to zero in on an accurate depiction of military life. They were portraying it from a civilian’s perspective and the last thing we, as military families, needed was civilians perpetuating their own point of view. So, when I noticed signage for a multi-day taping of SEAL Team at the beach where our son had aquarium camp a couple of months ago, I largely ignored it. I posted a couple of pictures of the crew’s trailers on Facebook because that’s a fun perk to being stationed in this part of the country and then forgot about it…until a fellow military spouse tagged me in a Blue Star Families Facebook post about tickets to the upcoming SEAL Team premiere.

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My awareness of Blue Star Families has been largely limited to their summer program, Blue Star Museums. Each year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, military families can access over 2000 museums across the country, free of charge. Very few discounts have boosted our family’s morale, especially after an arduous PCS, like Blue Star Museums. We look forward to it every year. So, my immediate response to Candace’s tag was, If Blue Star Families is affiliated, this must be worth it. My next thought was, I wonder how they got involved. I contacted a friend who works for Blue Star Families and she put me in touch with Meghan Wieten-Scott, the National Events Manager for Blue Star Families.

Meghan, a military spouse herself, has been with Blue Star Families for 8 years. When I confessed that my knowledge of Blue Star Families has been confined to where they have gotten us in for free, she laughed. “That’s OK,” she assured me. “Programs like Blue Star Museums are great, feel-good opportunities. They are wonderful morale-boosters for military families!” And it certainly opens the door for further conversation about Blue Star Families’ mission; to strengthen military families and our nation by connecting communities and fostering leadership. “It is our hope,” Meghan continued, “that once people find out about us they also find out about other programs we offer, including Blue Star Parks, Blue Star Books, Blue Star Spouseforce, the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey and Caregivers Empowering Caregivers.” Exclusive events, like the SEAL Team red carpet premiere are just one more way Blue Star Families is supporting and enhancing military life.

“Over the last couple of years, Blue Star Families has worked with several different TV and movie production companies when the show or movie has somehow hit on an aspect of military life,” Meghan mentioned. From an episode of Disney’s Andi Mack where a character’s mom returned home from deployment to an upcoming episode of Magnum P.I., the premiere of season 2 of SEAL Team is yet another opportunity to bridge the gap between military and civilian communities. “What better way to do this than on a celebrity scale,” Meghan explained. “The cast is reaching out, through the show, to say they appreciate military families. They are also gleaning a glimpse into military life by researching and portraying a character in the military or a family member.” For our neighborhood families, it has truly been a win-win.

About a week after we RSVP’d for the event, I decided we should watch the show. I ordered the first season from Amazon and crossed my fingers, hoping it wouldn’t be a bust. From the first 10 minutes of the pilot, Neal and I have been completely sucked in. We’ve watched 2 episodes per night to get caught up before the premiere and we’re thoroughly enjoying the fast pace, the music and the character portrayals. Neal appreciates how accurate each episode has been so far, especially in regards to how Servicemembers speak to and behave around one another. And I applaud any show that can help me better understand his experience as a Soldier. He’s not a SEAL and I’m sure there are differences, but at least once during each episode he is next to me, cackling about some spot-on quip by Jason or Sonny. Last night, he was doing push-ups and sit-ups in preparation for an upcoming PT test while the opening credits rolled. It was very Hooah in our house at that moment.

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As the days tick by, the excitement about this event has been building, both in our neighborhood and in our home. Meghan understands why. “We have found that these opportunities really resonate with our members. How cool is it to go and see a sneak peek of an upcoming episode and interact with the cast. They often will talk about the inspiration behind the show and how they get into character, even when they have had no previous experience in the military.” Sure, being stationed in L.A. has its advantages, but Blue Star Families is also ensuring that those advantages are extended to the military families stationed here.

I have a vintage clutch with a stash of questions for the cast and a back-up battery for my cell phone. My dress, purchased for an Army Ball six years ago, is hanging in the closet. Neal will shave his head and don a suit. We will take a lot of pictures and enjoy this unique experience together, with one another and with other military families. And we salute Blue Star Families for helping to make it all possible.

Movin’ and Groovin’ at the Grammy Museum

Last Monday was the official end of summer, although here in Southern California, it feels like it has only just begun. (Seriously, we were freezing from the time we arrived in May until about 3 weeks ago. I had to locate and then bust into the winter box of clothes. Who saw that comin’? So I’m figuring my white shoes have a solid 3 months of wear left.) Labor Day also marks the end of the Blue Star Museums program for this year. Unlike years past when we’ve managed to hit every museum on the list by the 4th of July, we were really hustling this year to squeeze in as many as possible. We didn’t even get through half of the ones just in Los Angeles alone, much less all of Southern California. I give you props, SoCal, for wholeheartedly embracing this initiative. We salute you right back! It seems we have some catching up to do next summer, but we did visit the Grammy Museum (in downtown L.A.) and the Skirball Cultural Center (right off Mulholland Drive near Bel Air).

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The Grammy Museum was fairly low on the list until our neighbors, who also have a son about Blue’s age, mentioned how interactive the exhibits are. Blue has always loved music (with the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman getting top billing in our house currently), so this seemed like something that he wouldn’t hate…which is kind of where our standards are at the ripe age of 6.

We headed up the 110 after breakfast and found parking at a meter on Figueroa Street (although there is a $5/day parking lot near the corner of Olympic and Figueroa – that’s where we’ll be going next time). The Grammy Museum is located in a complex called L.A. Live, which is adjacent to the Staples Center. There are restaurants, bars, a movie theater, condos, and a hotel. The area kind of resembles Fourth Street Live in Louisville, KY or the Power and Light District in Kansas City, MO. I’m sure a concert at The Staples Center, followed by a yard of beer at The Yard House, has my name all over it sometime before we move.

I always have the Blue Star Museums website pulled up on my phone before approaching the ticket booth because occasionally the staff doesn’t realize they are participating in the program. But there were no questions or issues getting into the Grammy Museum. They showed us where the restrooms were and sent us up to the 4th floor to begin our tour.

So, I’ve written the next portion of this blog post about 5 times. What I want to do is give a beautifully detailed description of everything we learned from each exhibit. What actually happened is more like how it would go if you took a dog to the park and then let loose about 300 squirrels…and maybe a handful of rabbits, just for good measure. Someday, visiting a museum (that is not specifically created for kids) is going to get easier. But since Blue was born, reading the informational plaques that accompany artifacts has become practically impossible. I try to read some, but anything less than about 300-point font tends to get skipped over. (True story: I took a picture of every.single.display at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS so I could read it later. I looked incredibly suspicious. They probably have my picture up in the break room.) Sometimes Neal and I tag out if it’s something we’re both interested in, but mostly we spend a lot of time reading anything in bold and trying to keep Blue from touching or racing around a corner where we can’t see him. So, what did we learn at the Grammy Museum?

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The “Grammy” is named for the gramophone (yes, that should be something that we already knew, but somehow it just never occurred to me). Also, the award has grown substantially over the years. I sort of went a little starry-eyed over being so close to something that I had only ever seen on TV (although that happens almost daily…last month it was that streets actually are palm tree-lined).

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We loved this room! OK, if you get a little itchy just thinking about germs on museum-provided headphones, maybe bring a baby wipe. Personally, I saw our son pet a lizard and then pick his nose with that same finger soooo…. (I don’t condone this, by the way. Kids are fast and also gross.) There is every genre of music that you can imagine, ready for enjoying at the listening station. It was at this moment that Blue learned about African American spirituals, cowboy country, the blues, and hip hop. He just tapped on the genre and then chose a song and listened for a few seconds. We hung out here for at least 10 minutes.

See that entire wall on the right? That’s an exhibit about Pete Seeger. Blue skipped all of that. But I did see this:

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I never realized that the popularity of We Shall Overcome as an anthem for civil rights is largely attributed to Pete Seeger (who I sometimes confuse with Bob but that’s #childrenofthe80’sproblems for ya).

I also made Blue stop and appreciate this.

When asked, Blue will openly admit to not knowing who Michael Jackson is. But he can break some moves to Thriller and Bad. He always asks me if Jimmy Buffett sings those songs. So it was a real learning opportunity for him. Also, that glove. I just stood for a long time trying to soak in the historical significance of these pieces. What a deeply missed icon of my generation.

There are also several sound-proof recording booths where you can learn how to produce a soundtrack. He skipped right past that, too. But this is why we return to museums over and over…next time he’ll find something new and interesting that seemed boring to him this year.

There is the obligatory dress from Whitney Houston, the lyrics in scribbled loops by Taylor Swift, and an entire exhibit dedicated to John Coltrane (which I will go back and read someday).

But Blue’s favorite part (and perhaps ours, too) was the interactive instrument stations. You can play the piano, drums, or guitar and hear every note or beat by wearing the attached headphones (again, baby wipes). We are not a very musical family so Blue has had limited access to musical instruments. He played the drums for at least 5 minutes, learned a couple of chords on the piano and then we practiced at the mixing booth.

Yep, we could have stayed here for most of the day. But others were waiting so we moved on. But this part right here? Perfect for a hands-on kid who loves music!

The Grammy Museum also has rotating exhibits (which is just one more reason why we tend to stock up on museum memberships). Currently, there is one about Cheech and Chong (which we kind of skimmed because what I know about them involves me explaining things to a 6 year old that I’m not ready to explain). However, what’s not to love about these?

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A decorative light set for your next patio party. And a lunch box that’s just begging for a phone call from the school (even if it did include the metal drink container…I keep my weeeeeeeeed in there).

Also, the World’s Largest Grammy…

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illuminated by a changing spectrum of colors – for anyone who came to the Cheech & Chong exhibit prepared and altered.

But the best surprise was the current exhibit, The Get Animated Invasion, which starts with an ode to Looney Toons (and a giant screen playing some Tom & Jerry favorites)…

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followed by Bugs Bunny on the big screen in the Clive Davis Theater…

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followed by an entire room with popular cartoon activities.

This is also when I realized that we have completely failed as parents. We have forgotten to introduce our child to Space Jam and the Jetsons. And he only knows Fred Flintstone as John Goodman. We will try to do better. I don’t know why Blue insisted I pose with hands together and one foot behind the other while he flung open his arms to the skies above…the whole thing made sense in his mind, I’m sure. I think we would have spent a little more time here, but he was hungry and tired. We did the best we could and then he slept all the way home.

There is so much more to the Grammy Museum than what I’ve included here. Visitors can view the Songwriters Hall of Fame (with samples of handwritten lyrics), Revolutions of Recorded Sound (where you can experience the difference in sound quality from the beginning of recorded music to today and learn how technology has changed how and where we hear music), read the history of the Grammy awards, and view artifacts and footage from the Latin Grammys. Plus, many exhibits that explore the complexities of music (and how it intersects with or influences culture, for example).

If you can’t make it to the Grammy Museum in L.A., there are sister sites in Cleveland (MS), Nashville (TN), and Newark (NJ). If they are half as engaging as this one, they are worth every penny.

THANK YOU to Blue Star Families for including the Grammy Museum in your 2018 Blue Star Museums program and THANK YOU to the Grammy Museum for agreeing to participate!