USO of North Carolina programs director reflects on military childhood

1/3 Photos

Kelli and her father.

2/3 Photos

Kelli and her husband David attend the USO of North Carolina Salute to Freedom Gala.

3/3 Photos

Kelli poses with a group of NCServes Central Carolina providers after a meeting.

I always thought my Dad was the coolest person in the world. From the moment I was born, he was my hero, my person. He was in his early 20’s when he joined the Army. He was inspired to join the military by the opportunity to attend school, something that was out of reach financially for my parents. Though I’m sure it gave him a sense of duty and patriotism, too.

My dad became an awesome Soldier and the Army became his career. I wasn’t around when my Dad made this decision. He was 27 when I was born, the first of his three children, and the thought that his career choice would shape my own was not even on his radar.

Then there was my Mom. My fiercely smart, independent mom. We made 14 moves before I was 20 years old, and my mom took each one like a champ. Packing up all her memories, her kids, and everything she loved. We lost things in moves, things broke, and she just kept on being the most amazing military spouse I have ever met. Never a complaint. Although I’m sure she cried when my dad was gone for 18 months in the Gulf War or when he was gone during Operation Just Cause (or any of the other countless times he was gone, honestly), I never saw it. Not once!

Today I’m proud to support our service members as the Warrior and Family Programs Director for the USO of North Carolina. When I joined the USO of NC in 2014, I was asked to create programs that would make an impact and meet the ever changing needs of service members and their families. I brought nearly 13 years of nonprofit program management with me, but that wasn’t the most important skill set I had for this task.

I learned that keeping our military families strong and providing them with leadership skills was what our military really needed. The USO of NC needed to create a resiliency and leadership program for service members. I thought about the traits my Dad possessed that made him such a great Soldier and leader, and we built a program around that called Warrior Reset.

My mother passed away in 2003, and today our Spouse Reset program is essentially a letter of appreciation and love to her because she believed in supporting other military spouses through their own unique struggles.

Family Reset was built around my own experiences. I looked at my life as we moved from place to place, school to school, and how I made it through all of that. My parents’ support and the tools they provided me to succeed were also a big factor.

Even our new STEAM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) was built thinking about my brother and fellow military child, who used these subjects to express his own challenges. It’s safe to say that all of our programs have a small piece of my or our team’s travels and experiences in them.

As a military child we lived all over the world from Panama, to Korea and even Fayetteville where I went to high school and still live today. It sounds cheesy, but I really enjoyed getting to know the cultures everywhere I lived. My parents always encouraged us to get out of the installation gates and learn about the new country, town or community we lived in.

One thing I’d like to say to all military children is that even though military life can be tough, it’s all about your attitude. If you have a positive outlook, your new duty station or home has the potential to be the best place you’ve ever lived. If you embrace the lifestyle and continue to go with the flow (as military children do), you’ll gain valuable skills that you can use in any career, education and many situations in life.

Although it wasn’t always easy, my military family upbringing has made me the person I am today. It has given me a career path that I love and has allowed me to make friends throughout the world. I am so proud to be a military child and treasure the resiliency, friendliness, and community it has allowed me to gain along the way.

More from USO