Transitioning from an active-duty Army soldier to an Army spouse seems like it would be easy.
You are going from working full time to staying home full time; what’s not to like? However, any new mother that has ever had the privilege of transitioning from active-duty service member to a military spouse will tell you differently.
Serving in the Army is one of my proudest accomplishments in my life.
My naïve 21-year-old self left home that cold January morning with a sinking feeling in my gut and doubt racing through my head. However, I knew this opportunity would change my life.
Basic training proved to be as miserable as I anticipated. Missouri in January is not where you want to be. Frigid mornings led to frozen extremities. Snow filled the tire pits where we conducted physical training at 4am each morning. Did I mention the rushed chow times, late nights, infrequent phone calls to loved ones, group showers, bay beddings, and everything else used to break a person down only to build them back up?
I completed it, though!
With the encouragement of family and friends from back home, I finally walked across that stage on graduation day with my head held high. Following this momentous time, I initially traveled to California for Advanced Individual Training (AIT), then drove across the country to Fort Meade for a new MOS or job specialty.
I finished training as an Army photographer and made my way to Airborne School in Georgia. After three more brutal weeks in Airborne School, I finally met my husband in Fort Bragg, North Carolina – the same city where we would be married a year later.
We spent the first six months as a married couple apart.
While my husband called Afghanistan home for those six months, I shared a containerized housing unit (CHU) with one of my Soldiers in Iraq. During this time, my husband reenlisted for a duty station of choice. Only months after we both returned, we found ourselves preparing to make the 10-hour flight to our new home: Germany.
As photographers, we were assigned to the training support center. We documented training missions; prepared visual aids; and managed the DA photo lab there. We were afforded some really awesome opportunities while serving there.
The highlight of my career, apart from earning airborne wings, involved being the personal photographer for 2nd Lady, Jill Biden, while she visited our base only 3 months before the end of my career in the Army.
About a year and a half after arriving in Germany, our precious little boy was born. Life took a swift turn after that.
The decision to retire my jump boots and hang up my ACU’s seemed to be the most logical option. Blessed with the honor of serving six years, I made the decision that staying home with my children would be my priority. I would transition from active-duty to military spouse.
Six months later, my world changed. I no longer created high-speed products for customers or felt the exhilaration of jumping out of airplanes. That part of my life was over.
Now my days began by breastfeeding my infant. Discussions of babywearing and cloth diapering filled my social media pages. My newborn and I treaded through new territory in a country where I still didn’t speak the language while my husband worked. I felt terrified and lacked a sense of purpose. Thankfully, the support groups for women were plentiful, and I kept myself occupied during the remainder of our time overseas.
We received orders to Pennsylvania following our tour in Germany. On that hot day in June, we sat on a runway in Landstuhl for two hours with no air-conditioning as we waited for the crew to fix some unknown problem. My husband and I took turns walking our rambunctious 20-month-old up and down the aisles in an attempt to wear him out. Did I mention I was thirty-three weeks pregnant with our second child?
No air conditioning+pregnacy+cranky toddler? Not ideal.
Once we arrived at our new duty station, I couldn’t find the energy to meet anyone new. Exhaustion filled my bones as I chased after my growing boy while our daughter continued to grow inside me. This left me feeling isolated and alone. I was still transitioning from soldier to mother and military spouse.
I knew I needed to find friends, yet I had no idea where to start. When my mother-in-law visited after my daughter was born, she asked if I would take her to church. The last time I attended church was before we moved to Germany. It had been several years by this time, and I knew it was time. So I packed my newborn and toddler up and we attended the chapel on-post.
That Sunday morning in November opened doors for beautiful friendships to begin.
Taking that initial step with my mother-in-law allowed me to find where I fit into this military life. Fliers for the Christmas program for the Protestant Women of the Chapel were nestled inside the Chapel program. The community I found in PWOC helped me not only develop friendships and find mentors, but it also repaired the relationship I once had with Jesus.
Now, several years later here in Georgia, I have found my people through the PWOC chapter here. The combination of retired women, military spouses, and veterans affords an excellent opportunity to create lifelong friendships all the while providing a safe space to be vulnerable and open with like-minded women seeking Jesus. Just what I need as I continue to navigate this life as a veteran and spouse.
While the transition from an active-duty soldier to a military spouse was not easy, it was one that was best for my family. I am so proud of my service and to call myself a veteran; I’m also proud to call myself a military spouse. Both roles have been important and pivotal to my life, my career, and my family.
Kelli Baker is a former Soldier married to the love of her life. She and her husband have two children and currently live in Georgia. After spending many years navigating staying at home, Kelli wants to get back out into the workforce. Her passions are Jesus, writing, traveling with family, and exercising.