Armed Forces Week 2015

Celebrating Those Who Serve

Armed Forces WeekIt’s Armed Forces Week, a time during which we celebrate our nation’s combined military and the sacrifices made by those who serve. To give a bit of insight into what it’s like to serve—including as a military spouse—we asked three people a few questions about military life: Kristine Schellhaas, a Marine Corps spouse and founder of USMC Life; Steven V., a retired E7 from the Army who has worked with several commands; and retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Allen Usry, who started his career in the Marine Corps. 

Q: What prompted you to join the military/how did you get involved in the military?

Steven V.:  It’s pretty simple, really: I was from a small town and I wanted to do something different. So I joined the Army.

Allen U.: A close friend signed up on delayed entry before we graduated high school, but I had no interest in following him. After graduation I even dropped him off at the recruiting station when he left for boot camp, and I still had no interest in joining. After a dead-end summer and a few weeks of college in the fall, I knew I needed to do something different. I went right back to where I had dropped my friend off and said “I want to join”; four days later I was in Marine Corps boot camp.

Kristine S: I met my future husband in our hometown of Boise, Idaho. He had just finished a four year enlistment in the Marine Corps and had recently returned home. He said he was never going back, and we dated while attending Boise State University. Several years later, it was then his heart started wavering back to his first love: the Marine Corps. So he began taking the steps to go return as a Marine Officer.

Q: What is/was the most important thing serving taught you?

Steven:  Serving has taught me that you must have a firm set of values. You must live by these values 24/7 because everyone is watching how you act and how you conduct yourself as a leader.

Allen: You may not always be the best, but you can always do your best.

Kristine: The Marine Corps has taught me to be flexible and have perspective. I’m not able to make plans like I used to, so I’ve learned to step back and celebrate the small moments. We may not have the holiday we thought we were going to have, or the ideal duty station, but we’re going to enjoy it and make every minute count.

Q: What would you consider the highlight of your career?

Steven: The highlight of my career was being named the Cadre of the Cycle at the III Corps NCO Academy located at Fort Hood, Texas. I received the award a total of four times during my tour as an instructor. There is no tougher job, and none more rewarding, than being able to provide young noncommissioned officers with the solid, baseline leadership knowledge they will use the remainder of their careers.

Allen: Being selected to serve as the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for NORAD and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was pretty big, but I think I enjoyed serving as a first sergeant, both in the field and as an instructor at the academy, more. Wearing the diamond was the best period of my career.

Kristine: I started the site USMC Life in 2009 as a way to help other families in their Marine Corps journey. I worked on it steadily as a way to give back and volunteer my time for others. It was a sign I was onto something and that a family perspective was needed in our community. I decided to dig-in and turn USMC Life into a business. I received several offers to sell USMC Life and finally let it go in Jan. 2015. It was a hard decision to sell, but I’m thrilled that I get to remain aboard and manage the site for the next three years.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?

Steven: My tour in recruiting command was the most challenging. You have to become an expert salesman to sell a intangible product but an even better salesman to sell a way of life. 

Allen: I was responsible for managing an Air Force program that was not in very good shape. The changes I proposed were initially very unpopular in the field. The program was my responsibility, the changes were my idea, and I knew it was the right thing to do. Because the amount of opposition was significant, I chose to implement the change slowly over a three year period. During that time I focused on educating the field as to why change was needed and the benefits it would provide. Because I took the extra time to explain the need for change and include field inputs into the change, it was much better received and was eventually a strong success. 

Kristine: Our one-year-old child died suddenly, just six months before my husband was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. This loss ripped our family apart and we had no time to deal with our loss as a family. My husband deployed and I ended up bringing our third child into the world while he was fighting a war. There’s so much more to this part of our lives that I don’t want to downplay the exhaustive, mentally draining process. (She has published an essay in Stories around the Table about these experiences. -ed.) The truth is that we never will get over our loss, but we have learned to cope and move forward as a family. We surround ourselves with positive people, connect, and love deeply.

Q: What advice would you give someone just starting in the military?

Steven: Plan for your future financially. If you invest wisely the Army provides a perfect opportunity for you to have a career and enjoy comfortable lifestyle when you decide to exit the Army.

Allen: ALWAYS do your best and then let the chips land as they may.

Kristine: I always tell people that they’re going to have to dig in when married to a military member. It’s difficult and scary, especially for those of us who knew nothing about military life, but it can be an amazing journey. So look for the positives, connect with other military family members regularly, and volunteer.  In order to find those lifelong friends, it’s going to take time and effort. Put yourself out there; you’ll be glad you did.


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