When MJ Boice put out an “SOS” across social media, she knew her military spouse tribe would show up strong. This time, it was for her grandchild.
MJ’s husband enlisted into the Marines when they were just 18-years-old and left for bootcamp when their daughter, Julie, was two weeks old. A few years later, their son, John, would join the family while they were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“My kids attended six different schools until we landed at Quantico where Chris retired after 20 years of service,” she said. “But before he retired, Julie met a Navy brat named Kyle [Kayabyab]. The rest is history.”
With both families having a long history of military service, it was no surprise in 2018 when Kyle announced he was enlisting in the Air Force. A few years later the couple was expecting a military child of their own. However, Julie would navigate the pregnancy by herself due to the pandemic. Kyle made it home in time to see Kaden enter this world and their second baby boy, Keanu, would make his appearance a little more than two years after his brother.
“It’s weird to witness our kiddos as they navigate their own military journey because it really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since ‘Team Boice’ was a junior enlisted family,” MJ said. “It’s like watching a replay of our own experiences in real time only it’s our kids portraying our roles.“
MJ added that Julie is facing many of the exact struggles that her parents did when they were new to military life.
“Lack of childcare, financial uncertainty, isolation, global conflict and trying to figure out the military healthcare system. Same story, different dynamic,” MJ said.
When Keanu was born, there weren’t any obvious concerns. He was a healthy baby boy born 10 days past his due date. But during one of his checkups, Julie did point out that she was concerned with the shape of his head.
“Over the last few decades it’s been recommended that all babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of that is there are now more cases of Plagiocephaly, or what is known as flat head syndrome,” MJ said. “The doctor advised more tummy time and repositioning if he was favoring one side over the other when he was sleeping. Julie and Kyle did all that for four months or so, to no avail. When she brought him back for a followup, Keanu’s pediatrician gave them a referral to see a specialist that could offer other therapeutic options.”
His case was labeled “severe” by the specialist. Left untreated, babies with Plagiocephaly are at risk of developmental delays or even neurological, ocular or psychological difficulties.
With Keanu’s severe case, the therapeutic intervention recommended by the specialist was that he be fitted for a cranial helmet — something TRICARE rarely covers. Even with a generous discount for military families, Keanu’s cranial helmet was $1,900.
“Even though I knew that TRICARE wouldn’t cover Keanu’s cranial helmet, I did know that there were others in my ‘milfam tribe’ who’ve been down this road before. So, I tapped into my own military spouse network to see what we could do to help this young Air Force family,” she said. “Within minutes, the comments were blowing up with experiences, policies, informational webinars and offers to connect me with others who could further this effort along. I was blown away by how quickly so many blasted out their ideas, resources, guidance and follow-up assistance. This is where the Air Force Aid Society came into play.”
Despite being aware of the AFAS, MJ said she never dreamed she’d be reaching out to them for a family member. A week after assisting her daughter and son-in-law with applying for assistance, the organization awarded the family a fully-funded grant for the cranial helmet.
“A cranial helmet does so much more than just correcting the shape of Keanu’s head and avoiding social scrutiny by his peers as he gets older. This therapeutic intervention is meant to remove the risk of developmental delays or neurological and psychological issues in the future,” MJ explained. “Military children are twice as likely to join the military than their civilian counterparts and 18 years from now, it’s very probable that I will be watching Keanu march across a parade deck as he graduates from the military service training of his choice. I hope he’ll remember how AFAS supported him way back when he was a military kid.”
As MJ reflects on her own military spouse life after marrying her high school sweetheart, one word comes to mind: grateful.
“It seems like just yesterday I was watching my own husband march across the parade deck as he graduated from boot camp at MCRD Parris Island,” she said.
Now, she’s helping her daughter navigate the same journey through the hard moments but also the undeniably beautiful ones, where a community bands together to serve each other. These are the moments she’ll “treasure when it gets hard”, MJ added.