Our Guest: Raleigh Duttweiler, the Director of Outreach at the National Military Family Association (NMFA). We support military families through advocacy, camps for military kids, and scholarships for military spouses. A lot of people know us through Operation Purple, which is camps and retreats for military kids. I’m excited to talk to you about what we’ve been doing with PCgrades as our “Neighbor in the Know” Program. We all PCS as military families, and this new resource is so needed!
What’s the mission of NMFA?
I came to NMFA 3 years ago. They are the leading voice for military families on the Hill for 50 years! They took their commitments to the military community from their kitchen tables straight to the halls of Congress, and they brought about change. A lot has happened in the past 50 years, and even in the past few weeks since the events in Afghanistan. A lot of what NMFA has done is to stand up these programs that support things, since change is often a long process. Those program solutions come in as an immediate solution to support you where you are, which is where Operation Purple Camps came from. The spouse scholarship program has similar roots, because most families need two incomes, and spouses have career goals and things they want to do. It’s bigger than covering tuition, because some people want to start a business or have other big ideas. We help with licensing fees, start-up costs, etc. In the last year, we’ve heard you say that childcare is expensive and unavailable. We have a childcare fee release program to help you with that.
My personal story is that about 6 years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter. She was born early with a lot of allergies, and there was almost nothing I could eat that didn’t cause her to go into shock. There was one type of formula that she could stomach, but it was extremely expensive, and Tricare didn’t cover it. So while we waited for approval from Tricare, my friends told me to call NMFA. But I couldn’t! I was too busy, had a screaming baby, and my husband was about to leave! So my friends called for me, and within 48 hours, the special formula was at my door. They really showed up for me. So that’s why NMFA is so important to me. I will always answer the phone and show up for you because they did that for me.
Their motto is “together we’re stronger.” That’s what Neighbor in the Know is all about, because we all show up for each other together.
Tell us about Neighbor in the Know. Why did you launch it with PCSgrades?
We understand what it’s like to go through the move. PCSgrades has so many resources to help you understand your area, choose a neighborhood, prepare for your move, etc. We want everyone to know what great resources you have, because they definitely solve a need. NMFA comes at it with advocacy– if you are having trouble finding housing, or with your landlord, or with your education IEP and new schools, or even finding a new job–we are here for that. PCSgrades gets you there, and we help you get settled, to make sure you have everything you need every step of the way.
We’re going to show you a glimpse of this new Neighbor in the Know resource!
At the NMFA website, click on the Relocation + PCS choice on the menu. Then you’ll see a great video explaining the program, and a section called Area Research. PCSgrades has crowdsourced one-of-a-kind Area Guides and checklists, which you should ALWAYS use when you PCS. It will save so much anxiety! You’ll see so much info from PCSgrades living here on our website. There are blog articles, info about your Housing choices, etc.
The next section, about Kids, is where NMFA really shines. This is when you have to get your kids into new schools, and navigate special needs, IEPs, etc. We want to empower you to be your own best advocate in the school system. We put it into an Education Revolution Advocacy Toolkit to help you speak up for your kid!
Then we talk about the move itself, and the choice between having the military move you or doing a Personally-Procured Move. The content creators did so much research here, to make sure everything was up-to-date. I love all the content that PCSgrades puts out, because I always feel so alone after a PCS, but when you realize how much of our community is going through this, it makes you realize that we can get through this because we’re all facing similar struggles together!
What have you been hearing from milfams about moves right now?
I wish I could solve the housing market right now, but I can’t. So just know that we hear you and we are listening. It is definitely a seller’s market right now. Everyone is feeling that cost and really struggling. We have been hearing that from milkids connected from Bloom Military Teens. When you’re hearing it from teens, you know it’s next-level. You need to make sure you have all the information and are researching and talking to your real estate agent as soon as possible. I wish I could make it easier, but it is definitely hard right now.
What are NMFA’s legislative priorities right now? How does PCSing impact those?
All aspects of military life all impact each other. We are working on the NDAA Defense Bill that will touch every aspect of our PCS lives. When you PCS, it affects housing, schools, medical, and so many other issues. While the PCS continues to have an economic impact on military families, we do have programs to cover that gap while we are waiting for legislative solutions. I can’t bring down the cost of your PCS right now, but we can help you with the rising costs of childcare, tuition, and start-up business or new licenses. We are here to help, so use our resources. Right now, in the NDAA, we are focused on one really big thing. Many military families are going hungry, and we want to fix that with the basic needs allowance. It is currently in the House and Senate versions, and we really like the House version and hope that it passes.
Tell us about the Operation Purple Camps!
Each summer, I get to be a camp counselor at our Operation Purple Camps. Some are in person, but during the pandemic we held big virtual camps for families. In 2021, we built an actual camp and made it virtual too. Virtual camp is a camp-in-a-box and camp programing! The camp-in-a-box includes so much fun stuff: a tent, a backpack, a telescopic marshmallow roaster, hat, signal coder, plus activity cards each day. You also get to visit a National Park. Then, we did three separate weeks of virtual camp programming, where they had cool field trips and science lessons from 8:30-5:30 every day, based on your time zone. We learned about Pokémon, went on nature walks, did a Stream Study with the Arlington Outdoor Lab. We had cabin club every day where we did silly games and dance parties, drew things, did Lego Masters Challenges, etc. It was SO MUCH FUN! The virtual camp was awesome, because we had kids that were PCSing or had severe asthma, or couldn’t do sleep-away camp, so they still got to hang out with military kids and have a great time.
Neighbor in the Know is a labor of love to improve our resources for the military community!