Seaman Janine Jones graduates, still has bills

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Class 050-15, the latest batch of Navy public affairs specialists, celebrate their last day at the Defense Information School. Photo by PO2 Don White.

This website’s in-depth look at Fort Meade’s economic impact included two insights into the lives of junior enlisted service members. The money these troops spend in the surrounding community is a big contributor to Fort Meade’s total economic output.

Seaman Janine Jones briefly checked in to update us on what’s happening financially in her world. She’s a Navy public affairs student at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, and her class graduated just a few days ago.

“Lately I’ve been going out with people from the barracks,” Jones said.  “We’re all pretty happy to be graduating, so we go out to celebrate. Restaurants are a big thing, because food is a great way to de-stress.”

The biggest drain on her finances is college debt. That won’t change for several years, but one thing about military life is helping.

“I’m still paying on my college debt, but I’m making progress,” she said. “Being in the military helps, because I don’t have to pay rent.”

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SN Jones directing during her final project. Photo by SR Kyle Moore.

What’s next for Jones? Warmer weather and more saved money. She had her orders to USS Nimitz changed at the last minute, to USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Nimitz is in Bremerton, Washington, while the Roosevelt homeports in San Diego.

“Bremerton is colder than San Diego, so I would’ve had to buy some more cold-weather clothing,” Jones said. “I wanted the Nimitz but I am happy to avoid buying expensive winter clothing.”

For cancer survivor, baking soda takes on new meaning

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Kathy Paul practices law on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

In the age of global communication, it’s easy to get buried by the onslaught of new products vying for our attention. I just saw an ad on Facebook for a bag that catches your dog’s poop. No, I’m not linking to it, but it does have some relevance to this story.

I grew up in the 80’s and back then, baking soda was a workhorse product. My child’s mind marveled at the seemingly endless amount of uses for it. Fast forward about 20 years and baking soda is still going strong.

I talked to Kathy Paul, who waged her own battle with breast cancer. During those difficult days, she found baking soda to be just what the doctor ordered. Seriously, it’s what the doctor ordered.

“For the six weeks I had radiation treatments after breast cancer surgery, my doctors didn’t want me to use regular commercial deodorant because they thought that the chemicals would increase the severity of burning and irritation to my radiated skin,” Paul said.  “It was the middle of the summer and since I spend a lot of time outdoors in the Maryland heat, I wasn’t about to go without SOMETHING to try to control my body odor.”

It’s strange to think of a product with the word “baking” as being used to cover up bad smells, but baking soda works in even more hostile climates than the human armpit.

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Belzoni enjoys a fresh litter box, thanks to baking soda’s powerful stink-killing qualities. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

“I’d been sprinkling baking soda in my cat’s litter box for years to cut down on the smell so I figured if it worked for the cat smell, it should work for mine, too,” Paul said.

The process of dusting oneself in baking soda may not seem like a big deal, but to her surprise, it evolved into something else. She purchased the required powder puff to apply and soon found the substance to be not only functional, but therapeutic as well.

“As treatment wore on, to cheer myself up, I turned it into a bit of a game and started dusting lots of other body parts,” Paul said.  “After a while, a thin film of powdery baking soda regularly covered my bathroom counters, cabinet and floor.”

Paul said baking soda wasn’t quite as effective as commercial deodorant, but it was there for her when she needed it. The little orange box still has a place in her home.

“To this day, I still have that container in my bathroom,” Paul said with a smile. “Every once in a while, I dust my arms or legs if my skin is a little irritated from the heat or working in the garden.  Who knew?”

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Kathy and family at their home in Maryland. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

Constellation Energy breathes new life for homeless animals

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A kitten waits to be adopted at the MD SPCA. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

As a two-year volunteer for the Maryland SPCA, I’ve learned that the job is at once gratifying and heartbreaking. On any given day, dozens of dogs and cats are there, waiting for someone to take them home. It’s a superbly-run facility, but the non-profit relies on the generosity of businesses like Constellation Energy to survive.

That generosity takes the form of manpower and money. According to Rae Borsetti, volunteer manager at the MD SPCA, Constellation volunteers are unrivaled in their dedication.

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Constellation’s monthly volunteer teams have become a cornerstone at the MD SPCA. Photo by Rae Borsetti.

“Constellation is awesome, because they come every month,” Borsetti said. “There’s a lot of companies that have these annual volunteer days. Having people come here consistently is nice because they build skills that we can rely on.”

Constellation is serious about giving back to the community, and even makes contributions to organizations based on how many hours its people volunteer there. Another powerful gift comes in the form of grants, and they just gave the MD SPCA $7,000 for use as it sees fit.

“Most of our contributions come through individuals, but we have a lot of events that really depend on corporate sponsorship,” Borsetti said. “Grants like the one we just received from Constellation really allow us to move forward with big projects that need to get done.”

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The Maryland SPCA adopts over 3000 animals a year. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

I realize you probably have a neutral feeling about energy companies, at best. Big organizations don’t exactly give us warm fuzzies, but I’ve been impressed with Constellation’s level of commitment to the community.

Take a minute and see what Constellation is all about. You might be as impressed as I am.

You have a choice in energy suppliers, but by joining Constellation’s family, you’ll be helping them continue to save the lives of innocent animals.

See how your rates compare here!

Military base closures: Is Fort Meade safe?

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MSgt Pedro Jimenez works at his editing station at Department of Defense News. Beneath BRAC are the people that hope to avoid it.  Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

In the military’s world of seemingly-endless acronyms, BRAC doesn’t really stand out, but to many it carries immense weight. That’s because military bases, and the people who work there, depend on surviving BRAC.

The Base Realignment and Closure Act was born in 1990, and has been shuttering military bases ever since. In the simplest terms, every few years, to save money, some facilities are forced to shut down and move their operations to other facilities. The last round was in 2005, and word is circulating that another one may be in the works.

Fort Meade was a winner in the 2005 BRAC decisions, and saw explosive growth as personnel from several bases were forced to move in. It meant massive construction and of course, a big boost to the local economy. Among the moves were the Defense Information Systems Agency and Cyber Command, the arrival of which, along with the presence of NSA, meant the base was now the hub of United States cyber warfare.

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Military public affairs specialists meet at Defense Media Activity. Over 10,000 troops work on Fort Meade. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

While Fort Meade might not be at the top of chopping block list, it must remain wary. The local government understands its value to the area as do community groups. But what, if anything, can the base do to secure its future? Growth is probably the best assurance. It cost more to shut down and consolidate the last round of bases than the yearly savings it produced. The more personnel Fort Meade employs, the more expensive it will be to relocate them all and construct new offices.

Along with growth must come modernization. The most antiquated facilities will find themselves at the top of the closing list. Fort Meade’s community continues to work with the base, as all parties understand the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

From the renovation of AAFES, the Army Air Force Exchange Services shopping center, to the construction of Maryland Live!, it’s a win-win for troops and civilians when Fort Meade continues as the economic powerhouse it currently is.

Living on a military base: Is it worth it?

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Petty Officer Andrew Gordon may look like a party animal, but his maximum excitement capacity is an hour of bowling. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

U.S. military troops living on a base enjoy the close proximity of necessities like healthcare, groceries and of course, where they work. But what, if anything, do they trade in order to enjoy this prime real estate?

Petty Officer Second Class Andrew Gordon lives on Fort Meade, Md., with his wife and two young children. They’ve got a nice place, about four miles from work. It sounds ideal, but it’s expensive, and the arrangement cuts down on the entertainment budget.

The family’s rented 3-bedroom townhouse came with a small backyard and is big enough, without being spacious. Most of Gordon’s Basic Allowance for Living (BAH) is sunk into rent, meaning his base pay must go towards the rest of the bills. His wife, Shanika, is at home raising the two children.

“We’re doing ok,” Gordon said. “The bottom line for us was she needed to be there for our kids. We’re making financial sacrifices so that our children are raised the way we want.”

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The Gordon family relaxes after a base softball game. Photo by Ensign Michelle Tucker.

They could live outside the base and pay much less in rent, but that would mean a longer commute. But there’s another reason this is the place for the Gordon family.

“The sense of community is great,” Gordon said. “It’s nice living here because you trust everyone. Step outside the gates and you really don’t know who people are.”

As with many single-income families, the Gordon family has to think about what they spend money on. While there’s no expensive vacations on the horizon, the family makes time to dine out. Here’s where another downside comes into play. The areas immediately surrounding many bases are just plain garbage.

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The food pickings are slim on Fort Meade. There’s a few more places to eat, but it’s almost all greasy and not-so-healthy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

“There’s nothing for us on the main street outside the base,” said Gordon. “It’s almost all fast food it seems like. If there was a family-run diner out there they would clean up!”

A drive of about 10 miles takes them to their favorite local restaurant, so it’s not a total disaster. It’s a trip they only make a couple of times a month. Other than that, it’s cookouts with friends at the townhouse.

“We like the setup right now,” Gordon said. “I’d understand this wouldn’t be the ideal location for a single person looking to mix it up in town. For us, our kids’ safety is the most important, so we’re happy.”

While living on Fort Meade might not be for everyone, it’s working for the Gordon family. It’s all about priorities, and what kind of lifestyle the service member wants to live.

Social media is key to communicating with troops

It’s no secret that the overwhelming majority of young people get their news from social media. Every day, the military’s public affairs machines strive to get their messages to the junior enlisted. Since most of that audience won’t ever read a newspaper, product promotion must be done online.

Marine Corporal Cedric Haller is a great example of the importance of harnessing social media. If a story airs on television he’ll never see it.

“I don’t own a television,” the 21-year-old Haller said. “There’s no way I’m paying a monthly bill to access something I can do immediately on the phone.”

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The U.S. Army uses Instagram to deliver small bites of news in photo format.

And that brings up the second point, mobile compatibility. If a website doesn’t play well with a consumer’s cell phone or tablet, that’s a very bad thing. It’s something the military struggles with.

“Because you have an increased security requirement on these military sites, getting the proper plug-ins is more difficult,” said Carrie McLeroy, Chief of Army Production Web and Social Media. “We don’t have mobile-friendly sites where we should.”

Having recognized the power of social media, the United States military is slowly getting a grip on how to use the big three: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They’ll be just in time for the next generation of applications.

Navy public affairs students hold Pasta Prom

Three words inspire dread in every junior enlisted service member: Death by PowerPoint. That program is used to educate Sailors on many topics, and alcohol abuse prevention is a hot one. On Fort Meade, Navy Mass Communication Specialists (MC) turned a boring command message into actual fun.

The idea was really simple. First, decorate the student detachment, or barracks. Then get everyone to break out their suits and dresses, cook a bunch of food, and dance. This is a creative group so  a catchy name was guaranteed. Lo and behold, the Pasta Prom was conceived.

Seaman Apprentice (SA) Sean Frank is an event coordinator for the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions, or CSADD. It’s a Navy-wide program and its goal is to give students alternatives to alcohol. She organized the event, and said it was important to take time to unplug from the military, and their lessons at the Defense Information School.

“We work hard as students, and spend a lot of time together,” Frank said. “We’re like a family, so it’s nice sometimes to get out of the uniform and just hang out.”

The students will test their organizational skills when they host senior members of the MC community on June 30, for an MC 10-year anniversary celebration.

Fort Meade troops rely on Freedom Inn

For young service members, separation from family during the holidays can be especially challenging. The award-winning Freedom Inn, located on Fort Meade, Md., prides itself on giving some comfort to those spending their first holidays away from loved ones.

This Memorial Day, junior enlisted service members from the Defense Information School filed into the Freedom Inn dining facility and grabbed dinner from a variety of stations. It was business as usual as young public affairs students relaxed and talked in small groups. On a day like this, however, it was about more than a meal.

The majority of the patrons here are under 25, and many are in their teens. A holiday like this may not hit as hard as Christmas, but it can still be tough. The old saying “An army marches on its stomach” has meaning here as well. It’s a simple equation: good food = good morale.

Wille Harmon is the Assistant Project Manager for Sun Quality Foods, and he paused from serving the students to talk about the pride he takes in being here year-round.

“This year, we’ve actually been here 366 days. We’re here to feed the students. We want to make sure they get a good quality meal. If you get that, you’ve got the motivation and the energy to keep going.”

The troops have a variety of fresh-made foods to choose from. The salad bar isn’t chosen as often as the grill, though. Many students grab French Fries then head to the burrito bar.

Harmon said the most popular food hasn’t changed over the years.

“Cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, a lot of cheese. I don’t know what it is about the young ones but they love cheese!”

The Freedom Inn will continue to work for these young troops, but there are other resources available to anyone who may be feeling down. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to tackle the holidays alone. Reach out and help will be there.