It’s been 5 years since my transition into civilian life and I am finally at peace with my decision and with the way my new chapter is unfolding. I am a mother of 3 beautiful children ages 15, 7, and 5 and have been married to the most loving, supportive husband for almost 13 years. He has seen me at my worst and has been the light to guide me through my darkest moments. I spent 9 years in the Air Force as a Public Health Professional. I had one special duty assignment, ran multiple non-commissioned officer private organizations, received multiple awards and was listed as #1 out of 300 medical staff to retain during the 2015 federal cuts. Deciding to separate early was never an option. I had a wonderful career but did not feel my family was getting the best of me and my attention was always elsewhere.
A week after I found out I was pregnant with my youngest son, my husband deployed for the 6th time in our marriage. We were used to deployments but this time things were different. We had my stepson living with us since his mother had deployed and my daughter was about 2 years old. Within a matter of months, the whole family felt an overwhelming abundance of stress. My husband struggled with the separation from us, my kids acted out in school/daycare/home, and I was dealing with issues in my workplace. I finally hit my breaking moment when I met with the Military Family Life Consultant who called me in to talk about the changes he had witnessed in my children’s behavior. He had explained how my son (10 years) confessed to him about hating the military for taking his parents away and both him and my daughter (2 years) had mentioned that I didn’t have time to play and talk to them because I always had to work. Seeing my family struggle and realizing that I wanted to do more, but was restricted in many areas, I decided separation was best for my family and I.
The first year was the hardest, after separating; I owed the military over $9,000 for my reenlistment bonus and didn’t get my last few months paychecks. We owned a house, had credit card debt, had three children and I had no income coming in. I registered for school but could not take classes with a newborn so we applied for WIC until my disability checks came in. I felt like I failed my family and started contemplating suicide, my husband intervened and found a psychologist for me. After you separate from the military, even if you are a military dependent, you can no longer see the mental health specialist on base, however Military One Source offers 6 free visits with a psychologist.
I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and given some exercises to try at home to cope when I felt stressed. I started looking for a job, but it was more difficult than I expected. Although I had a Bachelor’s degree at the time and years of experience underneath my belt there were not many jobs within my career field available. I relied on my military friends and contacts and was given an opportunity 6 months post separation on base in the hospital I worked at while on active duty. The job was perfect! I was able to do something within my degree background and work with all my old military colleagues.
About 3 months into the job my husband received orders for a special duty assignment, he had been applying for assignments our entire marriage but never got selected. At this point I finally realized what a military spouse goes through. We only had a few months to sell our house and for me to find a job, this caused so much anxiety and my husband and I fought over the idea of us staying behind, which only lasted a few months until we joined him in New Jersey. Since I had a few months head start I applied for as many jobs as I could and received two interviews the week I arrived, but didn’t receive a job until 7 months later. So, I stayed home, started my Master’s Degree and watched over the children. This was the loneliest I felt in a long time, with no friends, no family, my husband at work and the nearest Walmart almost 45 minutes away, I was miserable.
Once I got hired at the New Jersey Department of Health, I was thrilled about the opportunity to start my first civilian job and get away from base housing. Within a few months of being on the job I felt different, my colleagues and I had nothing in common and couldn’t relate to one another even though we were all females. Every time I spoke about my experiences or had ideas about a new project I was looked at like I was from another world. I didn’t fit in, and I felt my supervisor didn’t know how to guide me and felt threatened by my suggestions. I was lost again, but this time I did not feel hopeless and remembered as a military veteran we do have many options for assistance, one thing I felt I needed was mentorship. I literally typed in “veteran mentorship” into google one day at work and ahha, I found American Corporate Partners (ACP).
ACP is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on helping veterans and active duty spouses find their next careers with one-on-one mentoring, networking and online career advice for free for a full year (American Corporate Partners, n.d). I immediately signed up and was linked to a phenomenal mentor who was a leader in the healthcare field and within her community and helped turn my life around and push me in the right direction. She helped me strategically align my goals and objectives in my career and in life and drive me to meet them with realistic expectations and ways to measure my success. She also introduced me to a women’s organization called Ellevate.
Ellevate is the largest community of women at work, a coalition of supportive women who help each other mobilize and build your career and culture of business (Ellevate Network, n.d). Ellevate offers a military discount and has a mentoring program where women are partnered together to discuss any issues they need help working out and as a collective group we help each other get to the level they are trying to reach.
ACP also has a women’s program with various workshops to help connect female veterans with female entrepreneurs and business leaders to enhance one-on-one mentorship and the workshop I gave in April 2019 titled “Making Work Life Balance Work-An Honest Discussion” (American Corporate Partners, 2019).
After our April ACP women’s program workshop my one year of mentorship ended, but our friendship continued. My husband ended up deciding to retire after 20 years and we decided to move to Tampa Florida. This time I was confident about my final transition and had all the resources I needed. Did you know that LinkedIn gives veterans one year free membership to premium after you separate or retire, and if you are a military spouse you can qualify for free LinkedIn Premium through Myseco (military one source)? This program offers many career education opportunities for military spouses who will be transitioning to a new duty location. So even though I had taken advantage of my free LinkedIn Premium as a veteran 4 years prior I also qualified for the SECO LinkedIn Premium for military spouses. Upon arriving in Florida I went to 6 career fairs, applied for over 20 positions (4 interviews) and after nearly 4 months I found a job that fit me and what I want to do in the future.
During my time off after getting the kids registered in school and daycare, I used my time to network which was the best advice I received from my mentor. She linked me to Ellevate members in Tampa, FL and I was able to meet up with them to pick their brain about companies in the bay area. Then I joined a local chamber of commerce organization for women in the housing area I lived in and networked with more professionals and even had an opportunity to speak in front of them and discuss some entrepreneurship plans my husband and I had. During one of the career fairs I went to I met Veterans Florida, a local nonprofit organization created by the State of Florida to help military veterans transition into civilian life (Veterans Florida, n.d.).
My husband and I were able to get into an entrepreneurship program geared to help veterans who have a business, or are thinking of starting one, and provide advice and skills on how to be the CEO of your own company and give an opportunity to network with other veteran owned businesses. The course is valued $3200 and offered free to veterans seeking entrepreneurship. In May of this year we received an approved LLC for “The Culture Marauders” where we dive into all cultures to enlighten and entertain our audience. We are hoping to build a network that will increase awareness on culture differences and use our military leadership skills to mentor/consult other podcasters to give them a platform to increase their audience views and help them reach success.
I leave you with this, “Sometimes when you lose your way, you find YOURSELF, trust the journey”. This has been an inspirational quote I have had by my side during my whole transition. I hope this blog lets you know that even though transition can be difficult, there is light at the end of the tunnel and the ball is in your court, so see what you can do with it.
Corinna Kelley is a mother, wife, mentor, Air Force Veteran and co-owner of The Culture Marauders. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and support The Culture Maraders on Facebook, Instagram or send us an email email@example.com if you have a topic you want to maraud on or if you’d like to be on the show.
American Corporate Partners. (n.d.). Mission. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.acp-usa.org/about-us/mission
American Corporate Partners. (2019, April 3). ACP’s Women’s Program April Workshop: Making Work Life Balance Work- An Honest Discussion. https://www.acp-usa.org/news/event/acps-womens-program-april-workshop-making-work-life-balance-work-honest-discussion
Ellevate Network. (n.d.). About. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.ellevatenetwork.com/about
Veterans Florida (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.veteransflorida.org