It helped our family

“I wanted to share something that I hope will help ease some of the loneliness of separation.

“My husband is retired from the Army now, but when he was on Active Duty, we started this when we had to be separated. It helped our four kids, even after my husband retired.

“First, we decided on a time (9 pm worked for us) when we would think about each other. If we were in different time zones, my husband would figure out when it would be 9 pm at home. Then, we always knew that no matter where we were in the world, we’d be thinking about each other at the same time.

“Second, each person had an envelope, or however many they wanted. In each envelope were ‘hugs and kisses’ from every member of the family. Then, each person–daddy included– could put an envelope under his/her pillow, in their backpack, purse, diaper bag, duffle bag, glove compartment, or wherever, knowing that ‘kisses and hugs’ were readily available when needed.

“Such little things made a big difference–especially in ‘the old days’ when there were no cell phones, email, etc.

“I sincerely hope that the above helps to make a separation of any kind or length of time much more bearable. It will!”

Some of us will die for you

  “It’s been almost 15 years since I wrote this on the eve of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. I was a young lieutenant in the Air Force, a single mom and a friend of many awesome military women with so many different background stories. I suppose I was a little upset when I wrote it because at the time so much was being discussed– even among my own civilian friends– about the men ready to go off into another war. All the women I knew were proud volunteers absolutely ready to do what what was required of them, yet I didn’t see much written about them. So I wrote a few lines about my military women friends, not meant as complaints but to show their strengths. Each line is about an actual person I knew or worked with. As I dug this out today it was pretty cool thinking about where they are now and all that they have accomplished since 2003. I’m proud to be associated with them.”March 2003

I received an email today describing “today’s military.” It bothered me because it never once mentioned a woman. I have seen tough, brave people in the military, and lots of them are women. I thought I’d introduce some to you.

According to recent statistics, almost 90,000 of us are single parents. We raise our children alone. Our exes are Marines, Airmen, civilians.

We can shine a boot, change a tire, cook dinner, drive a carpool to baseball practice and then take apart an M-16 in 45 seconds flat.

We work 12 hours a day. We don’t remember what make-up is or the last time we wore a dress.

When the phone rings at 0500, we hear “This is recall message #4. Report immediately to work with your mobility bags. Do not shower. Do not shave.” We panic. Day care doesn’t open early for us for exercises. We scramble to wake our sleeping babies and find a neighbor who will answer their door that early in the morning.

We are women on our fourth last name. We are women who have left 2 young boys home alone all night so we could work the night shift. We are women who married hastily a month later so that would never happen again.

We are single twenty-somethings who were told single military men don’t date military women. (“It’s too complicated.”)

We are pilots in Bahrain. We have been to the Sari club in Bali. We are truck drivers and nurses.

We are melancholy. We are hard core. We’re tattooed and pierced.

We are commanders of chemical companies who have deployed to secret locations and left our 5 year old son with in-laws in Texas. We missed his birthday. We don’t know when we’ll see him or our husband again.

We may not want war, but we are Americans and will obey our commander in chief.

We are medics in Korea. We have seen things that will turn your stomach.

When helicopters crash on training missions, we hide our faces and cry.

We are separated from the ones we love more than we have ever been near them.

We are veterans of Desert Storm.

We are wives of fighter pilots.

We are wives of cops.

We are fighter pilots.

We are cops.

We are dentists who deploy and pack heat to war-torn East Timor.

We are munitions flight chiefs who know better than any man how many JDAMs and MK-84s are in our bomb dump.

We are daughters of soldiers, daughters of Airmen, daughters of immigrants. Our ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War.

We danced to INXS in the 80’s. We are college educated. We used to be poets.

We drink Crown Royal and Wild Turkey. Sometimes we go to church.

We Scuba dive. We boonie stomp. We own dogs named Princess. We have torn ACLs. We are crud players.

We have a top secret security clearance. We wonder if there’s a full moon in Iraq tonight. We would gladly board a desert-bound C-130 right now to be worth our stripes, our bars, our oak leaves.

We’ll continue to leave our children with strangers, with grandparents and with neighbors so you can continue to live in peace.

We are Marines, we are Soldiers, we are Sailors, we are Airmen.

Some of us will die for you.

We didn’t need stuff, we just needed him

  “I grew up in a small town in Missouri. My husband and I met in our first month of college in Tampa. I have a really loud laugh and he walked up to me between classes at the student center and asked me if that was actually my laugh. He was soft-spoken, almost meek. I would have never thought he’d someday be in the military.

“We were married five years when he decided he wanted to join. We had two kids at the time, and he lost his job in the banking industry in 2011. He was doing everything he could to support our family, but I think he was embarrassed telling people he was working at Quiznos and delivering pizza. But he told me to trust him, that he would figure something out, and I did. And he did.

“He came home one day after talking to a Navy recruiter. He really wanted to join. I was supportive, but I was nervous. I don’t think our families were really excited about it at first either. In the beginning, I thought it was going to be awful. He is my rock, and I didn’t know what I would do without him. But at the same time, and I know it sounds so old school, I was so proud of him for stepping up – for wanting to provide for his family.

“The distances have been tough, on us and on the kids. I put all of our things in storage and moved down to Pensacola while he was in training for six months to be near him. Having him home for dinner and seeing him most weekends was worth living on blow up mattresses for the better part of a year. You learn quickly in the military that it’s just stuff. And we didn’t need any stuff. We just needed him.

“This life is a hard path sometimes. The workups leading up to a deployment are almost harder than the actual deployment. And when they come home, you have to make room for your spouse again. You have to continually work on your marriage. In the end, I think deployments have made our marriage stronger. And there is nothing more I’d rather say than, ‘He is in the Navy.’ Our families have seen what he has done and how hard he has worked, and I know they respect his service too. He is a good father, husband and Christian. Whether he stays in 20 years or gets out soon, I will always be so proud of him, for standing up for our family and for our country.”

A new family was born

  “I was emotionally bankrupt and if something didn’t change I would eventually not wake up because there was nothing left of me. I took a deep breath, looked around the dinner table and said to myself, ‘I will never sit through another dinner like this again.’

“That was my moment of decision. Years of trying to fight a battle that wasn’t mine, I was ready to let go. I left an unhealthy marriage and started a new life for myself. I mourned the idea that the forever family I had always dreamed about would look different now. 

“Fortunately for me I had a stable income working from home so finances were not an issue in my decision. For many women that is not the case. A majority of women stay in abusive or unhealthy relationships because of finances.

“I had a lot of healing to do. Day by day I would work on starting to feel again instead of numbing myself from all the pain. I know what it feels like to be lonely. I know how it feels to have all the responsibility of two little kids resting on your shoulders. I also know how it feels to come out of those circumstances and begin to rise.

“As my healing continued in walked a handsome Army fellow into my life. I didn’t want to fall in love and I didn’t want to trust again. However, this man proved to me that he could be trusted. He was strong, he was a protector and he accepted me just the way I was. 

“We were married in July 2011 and a new family was born. My fairytale has twists and turns but every obstacle, mistake and pain-filled moment made me the woman I am today. 

“I’ve witnessed spouses stay in bad situations because of lack of money. I’ve seen families choose to live in different states to provide for their families. I’ve seen parents separated from their children during deployments in order to provide health insurance and a stable income.

“It’s my dream to see everyone have the choice to make decisions based on what’s best for them and their families regardless of income. I’m dedicated to finding more remote work opportunities for military spouses. I’m passionate about eliminating unnecessary separations of families due to lack of income opportunities for their spouse. I want to see others have the ability to work from home, keep their career, be there for their families, and make life decisions based on wants not fear.

“To see my dreams and passions start to take form is an amazing feeling. Out of these dreams and a partnership with Erica McMannes, ‘MadSkills,’ an online platform to find and hire military spouses was born.

“At MadSkills, military spouses can find legitimate work from home positions within their career field directly on our site. Companies post jobs that they are looking to fill with a military spouse. It’s a win-win for everyone. Every time we connect an employer with a military spouse my heart is flooded with pride. I truly find joy helping others find the opportunities they’ve been looking for. When an employer tells me how great their military spouse has been for their business, I can’t help but smile and think, ‘I told you so.'”

Liza Rodewald is the Tech CoFounder of MadSkills. Visit to learn more.

I started to see the magic

“I grew up in Yuma, Arizona. I didn’t come from a military family but we were taught to really love and cherish this country. We were taught to appreciate the freedoms we have here. The correlation was made very early that freedom wasn’t free. 

“I wanted to serve our country and I wanted adventure. My dad gave me a piece of advice when I was in high school that the trick to finding what you wanted to do in your career was to figure out what you would be willing to do for free. All signs pointed to the military for me. I started researching Special Forces. Jump out of airplanes, learn how to fight, travel, blow stuff up, kill bad guys, all while protecting the USA? Yes, that is something I would absolutely do for free. That was the answer for me. All the research I was doing led me to believe that the SEAL training was harder than any other training on the planet. And I wanted to test myself; I wanted to see what I was made of. I am so glad I made that choice. The training I went through not only helped me on the SEAL team, but it helps me so much today. It’s physically and mentally demanding, and grueling, and brutal. I had to go through the hardest part of SEAL training twice. I started in BUDS 242, made it through hell week, and two weeks later was dropped. I went to Jacksonville and did two years on a ship, and came back with BUDS 256 and made it through. 

“If a scientist were to break it down, I think he or she would say everyone shows up to BUDS with enough physical training. They can all do enough push ups. They can all do enough pull ups. They can run fast enough, swim far enough. We had a saying that everyone wants to be a Frogman on Friday. You know, when it’s 2:00 on a Friday afternoon and the sun is out, the beer is flowing, the girls are looking good and you’re out in Coronado telling everyone that you’re in SEAL training. But it’s a totally different ballgame on Monday morning at 0300 when your alarm is going off and it’s still dark, and it’s cold, the wind is blowing off the ocean, and you have to swim in the Pacific, and then you’re going to get a beat down, and then go run, all before a breakfast that you won’t have enough time to eat, and then you’ll have a room and personnel inspection that’s almost impossible to pass. You realize quickly that the tempo is non-stop. And you realize that they aren’t teaching you how to jump out of airplanes or shoot a machine gun yet, and that there aren’t bathroom breaks and there’s very little sleep, and that starts creeping into your brain that this is way more than physically demanding. Everyone is physically able to finish unless they get injured, but quitting is a choice you have to make. I served in the Navy for 13 years and as a SEAL for 9. I am so proud of that.

“In 2009, my little brother who is a helicopter pilot went on deployment and brought me a generic 50 caliber bottle opener from the Philippines. I loved it, everyone who saw it loved it, and people kept asking me where they could get one. Aside from flying to Philippines, I couldn’t tell them. A few years later, I took that idea and made a “Bottle Breacher,” improving on the one my brother gave me. I made my own design and made it even better. People started asking me to make them some and I started selling them out of our garage. 

“I’m not a brilliant guy. I like to say I’m not a rocket surgeon. You throw me in a physics class or a chemistry class and I’ll run for the door. But the lightbulb went off. If people are willing to pay for this, I thought I might be on to something. I started to see the magic in the product. My wife Jen is my business partner and my best friend. She’s so strong in everything I’m not – organization, accounting, marketing, and she’s good with the technical and sales aspects. But, she liked the security of the military. We have two little girls. So when I told Jen I wanted to leave the Navy to go big and try doing only Bottle Breacher, it was one of the hardest decisions we had to make. 

“Within 6 months, we were making $7500 a month. Then we were making $22,000 a month. We were watching Shark Tank all the time and I wanted to go on it. I started researching and practicing our pitch. It was about a year later when we finally got the chance. We went to the open casting call in San Diego. They said that the first 500 people would get a chance to pitch the Sharks. I thought about hell week and how we stayed up for five and a half days and knew that I could out-wait anybody. We got there the night before and we were ready. We were doing about $80,000 a month out of our one-car garage at the time. We had four guys working for us. They would work their military jobs and then come moonlight for us in the evenings, packaging and polishing and helping out. 

“When I showed the casting director a picture of Clint Eastwood holding our product, she thought it was awesome. She said her dad would like one for Father’s Day. It was a good conversation, but they took about 1000 of us into a room and told us that maybe one, possibly two of us would get called back. And we did. 

“When we flew out to LA, Jen and I had to sit in the green room all day; we were the last ones to get in front of the Sharks. She was pacing around the room, but being a military guy we’re so used to hurry up and wait. You don’t get spun up until you need to. Once we got out there, it went really well for us. I think I’m the first person to drink a beer while pitching the Sharks. I don’t know what they did to my beer backstage; I think someone wanted to play a trick on me and shook mine. The Sharks wanted to do a toast, and my beer exploded all over me and that famous carpet you see on the show. But you’re trained to roll with it, so I chugged the foam. Halfway through our pitch, Jen leaned into me and whispered, ‘There’s foam in your mustache.’ We got a deal with Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban. We definitely had a back order after the show, but the cool thing about adversity in a company or even in your personal life is that’s when you become stronger. It has not always been easy or a success. I believe that God only trusts you with a lot if He can trust you with a little. I failed many, many times to get to this point. 

“My advice to someone who wants to start their own business? Go big. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Have passion. Work like you’ve never worked before. The military has taught us so many skills from leadership and courage to perseverance. I think about my time as a SEAL so often. And I know if I can do that, I can do anything.”

These women deserve a voice

“My dad was in ROTC at Holy Cross and joined the Navy. I did the same, at his encouragement. I sort of fell into the Navy. I like to be challenged. There was one other woman in my class; she was a Marine. It didn’t phase me. Everyone was treated equally.

“After graduation, I went to Pensacola for flight school and that was a lot of fun. I chose aviation because I thought it was the most challenging option available at the time. My first deployment as a helicopter pilot was in 1994 with the George Washington Battle Group. There were two women – my roommate and me. The flying was great. Nothing compares to flying at sea.

“I met my husband in the squadron. Even before we got married, we knew that we wanted six kids. I’m one of three and he’s one of eight. I was expecting my third child when I transitioned off active duty and went to into the reserve. We had four kids in five years and that was an insane time. A few years later, we had two more.

“I had been in the reserve for close to ten years and hadn’t been mobilized. We were mobilizing a lot of people at that time, 10 years into 2 wars, and it was my turn. I was going to Afghanistan for a year. By then, we’d had our sixth baby, and she had just turned four. Our oldest was 14. Even some of my closest friends couldn’t understand why I felt I needed to go. It was a time of war, and it was what the reserves are really for – to augment the active component. I knew it was going to be hard. But there was a part of me that was excited, and that also needed to show my kids that you don’t just sit and collect a paycheck. You have to pay your dues.

“You always hear military spouses say ‘live like he deploys tomorrow.’ I prefer to say ‘live like you deploy tomorrow.’ What would you want to be doing if you (the wife and mom) were leaving your family for a year? I spent as much intentional time as I could with our children and my husband in the days leading up to our goodbye.

“I was ten months into my deployment when I got a call from my husband. It was super early in the morning in Afghanistan. He caught me just as I was leaving my room. He had taken our oldest to the pediatrician to look at a lump near her collarbone. They were sent to the children’s hospital for X-rays and by the time they got home from that, the pediatrician called – they were pretty sure she had cancer.

“I could almost physically feel the whole world change. My first thoughts were worst case scenario, and then I was flooded with guilt for not being there. But the community of people I was deployed with was unbelievable – Army, Air Force, Marines, Brits, Aussies – all of them. I made one phone call and in a short time, everyone was surrounding me, crying right along with me, assuring me that they would get me home. It was humbling and much needed. Just a few days later and I was on my way back to the states. I am happy to say she is cancer free now.

“I left deployment very abruptly and I never really closed that chapter the way I probably should have. That call was on a Thursday. By Tuesday, I had shed all my combat gear and was at the Pediatric Oncologist with my daughter. Right away, I was dealing with our daughter’s illness on top of my rapid departure from Afghanistan. I coped by running and I was running a lot with no end in sight.

“I’d been home about a year when I decided I needed to do something. I visited the Women’s Memorial in DC and happened upon a book of pictures and stories of women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. It spoke to me. I wanted to give a voice to that very small population of the military. At the time, it was 160 women who had died during combat operations. I decided to do a tribute run I called Valor Run. I ran one mile for each woman killed. 160 miles in 160 hours. I raised money for two non-profits — our local Combat Wounded Coalition and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. The response was overwhelming, so I turned Valor Run into a non-profit. We sponsored our second 10 mile and 5k run in May in Virginia, and on October 15th we will sponsor our second ‘virtual’ 10 mile and 5k. Last year, we had participants in 40 states and 4 countries run, and we are hoping for an even bigger turnout this year.

“It’s funny. People ask me if women want equality, why am I focusing on just them when more than 6,500 men died in Iraq and Afghanistan? You know, all through flight school I was always just one of the guys. As a female aviator in the 90’s, it was just about blending in, and I was ok with that. But this very small percentage of the military – the now 161 women killed in the Global War on Terror – doesn’t have its own voice. I’m doing this for the Gold Star Mother who lost her daughter. For the still serving, active duty man who lost his wife. For the kids who lost their mom. Those 161 women deserve to be honored and have their stories told.”

To participate in the virtual Valor Run on October 15th, register here by October 8th: