All IWS22 InDependent Daily Recaps are created via partnership with the staff and writers for It’s A Military Life. It’s a Military Life is a milso and vet networking community, dedicated to serving military families and those who serve our country past and present. Founder, Christina Etchberger, is an Army spouse on a mission to give a voice and opportunities to members of the military community by sharing their stories and providing resources.
THE Last DAY OF THE INDEPENDENT WELLNESS SUMMIT FOCUSED ON the importance of taking care of our physical health and also an inspiring panel of military spouses sharing their experiences in the military community.
Day 5 of the InDependent Wellness Summit began with Nicole Leth.
Nicole has been a military spouse for seventeen years and has an extensive background in healthcare. She is currently the Lead Health Educator at Fort Belvoir Armed Forces Wellness Center. In the past she has worked as an EMT, paramedic, and as a health educator in a private office.
I started seeing, and experiencing, changes in my physical health at the start of 2020. My usual routine of going to the gym and eating healthy were impacted due to my deployment and the COVID-19 pandemic. My mental health was also impacted because I had to leave my wife alone at our duty station while the pandemic raged on. It was even more difficult for me because she was essentially alone in quarantine until I returned from my deployment in the summer. She was also pregnant with our daughter during that time. “It is hard to find a space sometimes to feel vulnerable and let go,” Nicole said during the interview. I feel this way in my professional life and when it comes to admitting I needed to change to improve my physical health.
Nicole said, “You’ve got to take care of yourself. In these lives we lead as military and first responders, there’s a ton of stress and we have to find better ways to manage ourselves or we cannot show up for the people in our lives.” Listening to Nicole say this resonated with me on a personal level. It is easy to say, but hard to realize when it is happening, that stress has such an impact on yourself and everyone around you. Being active duty brings me different types of stress that may not be typically encountered in the civilian world. It has been a process learning how to properly handle the stress I experience in my life.
I really enjoyed hearing the positive viewpoints that Nicole provided about food toward the end of the interview. She emphasized the importance of giving yourself grace, being mindful of what you intake, and being aware of your goals not taking away time from family. I really liked that she suggested integrating your physical goals for the day with activities that can include the whole family. Nicole provided wonderful resources for people who do not live close enough to a wellness center. I am excited to implement the ideas that Nicole suggested throughout this interview. —Joel Ramos, IML
The second interview for Day 5 was the panel with Verenice Castillo and Adam Evans.
Take a moment to think back to when you stepped into the military community. Everything was new: new place, new people, weird acronyms. Perhaps you felt pressured to know it all, be it all, do it all. Maybe you felt like this was not your community, these are not your people, this is not your thing, and you did not want to partake in any of it.
Did you feel isolated? Were you a minority? Were you in a culture that spoke a language outside of your first language? Did you feel alone? Did you think surely, this was not the life for you?
The thing is, we’ve all felt that. As Verenice Castillo said herself–she immigrated to the U.S. and was tossed into a military lifestyle that she didn’t understand. She felt out of place, unseen, and absolutely did not want anything to do with the military community. However, there was a turning point when she was introduced to the Airforce’s Key Spouse’s Club through her husband. She went from feeling resentful to having a sense of purpose. Her “AHA” moment happened when she realized she could help people just like her; those that felt alone, unseen, unheard, and out of place. Thus, the Military Spouse Advisory Network was born!
Adam Evans brought up a key point as well. Like Adam, I was raised a military brat and when I stepped into the military community as a spouse, I thought I should know it all; I’ve got this, I’ve done this all my life! There was this heavy sense of pressure that I needed to be part of it all and completely immerse myself into all the family support the military had to offer. Very quickly, I found that it was not my time to do that. Ten years into my husband’s career is when I truly found my niche within the military community.
It’s ok to not want to dive headfirst into the military community. It’s ok to connect when it’s right for you, on your own time. Unfortunately, many spouses associate their spouses rank or position with how involved in the military community they should be, and that’s a barrier we have to collectively break down.
For many spouses, they’ve experienced some sort of negative trigger that has turned them away from the military community, whether it had to do with exclusion, “gossip mills,” a sense of not belonging, poor leadership, and the list goes on. Often, lack of communication or lack of support has heightened those negative feelings and you just don’t want any part of it. I’m sure that almost everyone reading this is nodding their head! That’s the thing though–everyone has been there. You do belong. You are wanted. You matter.
The beauty of the military community IS the diversity. You PCS to new places with new religions, cultures, beliefs, races, norms, etc. The military has pushed past “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies and welcomed the LGBTQ+ community. Change is what the military does and does it well. You know how to adapt and how to immerse yourself in new cultures. Within the military community, you’re not alone because I guarantee there’s someone–a neighbor, a fellow friend sitting in the opposite corner of this month’s SFRG meeting, a parent at school pickup standing to the side away from everyone else–that is feeling or has felt just like you.
So, in your own time, I encourage you to take a step out and test the waters again. Go to the next coffee, the next spouse seminar, the next unit-affiliated meeting. Open your mind to the idea that someone might just need you to lend a hand out as much as you need them. There’s a world of support, encouragement, and acceptance just waiting to help you grow and flourish through your community. —Lexie Coppinger, Assistant Program Director of Veteran Pen Pal Project, IML