Volunteer of the Month

In Gear Career is able to provide our services because of wonderful Military Spouses who understand what it means  to serve.  Many people contribute to our collective success, but this month we would like to recognize Kelly Schwark for her work photographing Military Spouses for our website.  She graciously spent an afternoon with the Spouses from the West Point Local Chapter to capture them in professional settings.  She then edited and donated all of the photos for use on this site.  Many of the photos you see on this site are real Military Spouses in  action.  In addition, each Spouse photographed received a free professional head shot.

Kelly became an Army wife in 2001 and has been enjoying how her roles as artist, mother and wife always blur together and often overlap…  she loves that!  The military lifestyle taught her to strive to capture the emotion and sentiment in the moment; to appreciate every second that we are blessed to have on this earth.  Please check out her work http://kellyschwark.zenfolio.com.

‘Coffee isn’t just about the caffeine’ : A Military Spouse’s Reflections on the International World of Work

Posted by Melanie Brassfield on June 26, 2012 at 4:50pm

As I used one hand to dexterously position and operate the Keurig in my kitchen this morning while checking my work emails, eating a bagel and playing ‘Simon says..’ with my 2 year old, I had a fleeting vision of my morning coffee in Italy 2 years ago. During 2009 and 2010 I worked at the US base in Naples, Italy and I remember vividly the frustration I felt when I first began working there. It seemed impossible to get anything done between 9.30 and 10.30 as everybody would saunter out of their offices to one of the local coffee shops on base and just as you started to feel like you had tracked down the people you needed to speak with – it would be lunch time and the offices would be empty again.


After a few months of frustration, I decided that the best way to overcome my angst would be to leave my desk and have coffee at the same time. At 9.30 I rang one of my colleagues and we strolled up the walkway to the little Italian coffee shack with its outside plastic seating. We ordered our coffees and then sat and had a chat. We discussed our weekends and our families but naturally the conversation returned to work. We talked about issues, we sought advice and we swapped ideas. Our morning coffee quickly became an almost daily occurrence. Sometimes there were 2 of us, sometimes there were 4 and sometimes we couldn’t make it work, and it was those days that I felt the loss of what had become my ‘work routine.’ Coffee wasn’t just about a caffeine boost or procrastinating over the latest pile of paperwork. The Italians are on to something….Coffee is about re-energising by getting outside for some fresh air and to stretch your legs. It is a chance to network and talk face to face rather than relying on emails and phone-calls. It gives you the opportunity to refocus and gain a fresh perspective when you return to the office environment.


My Italian coffee shop memories started me thinking about some of the different cultural approaches I have seen to education and work.  As a child I spent 3 years living in Zimbabwe. My memories are mostly of the animals, the huge toothless grin of our gardener and days spent in the swimming pool; but tucked away is a memory of me asking my dad why he was always late home. As a High School Teacher I knew he finished his classes at 3pm, but we often wouldn’t see him until 6 or 7. He sat me down and explained that School was very different for someone from Zimbabwe. A family would usually select one child and that was the only child they could afford to send to High School. They held great hopes for this child and these students approached High School the same way we might if we were offered a Fulbright Scholarship. They felt an obligation to be the best that they could be because their family had placed that trust in them. They studied hard and they remained after class for any and every optional educational activity that was offered. My father didn’t have the heart to turn them away when they wanted to stay and learn. Education was a privilege and they approached it that way.


During my 14 years spent living and working in Australia, I remember planning and dreaming about my Long Service Leave. When an employee spends 10 years working for the Government, Military or a private company; they receive 3 months leave on full pay or 6 months on half pay. I elected to take 6 months on half pay and at age 31 set off on a 4 month backpacking trip around Europe. There is a mantra in Australia – ‘Work to live..not live to work.’ If I needed to spend a Saturday at work, it was naturally expected that I would take the Monday off in lieu. Most employees receive 30 days leave a year and the majority of them are already planning how to use the next 30 while they were taking their current year’s holiday. There was an understanding that we work to support ourselves, but that the time away from work should be where our priorities lie. Work needs to be left at work and leave needs to be taken so that we can fully appreciate and enjoy our hobbies, our families and our lives.


My final insight into the international world of work was during 6 months spent living and working in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE economy operates on a ‘caste’ like system where cheap labor is sourced from countries including Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The kitchen and laundry staff working at our complex were all Pakistani… and I assumed..until I spoke at length with them one day…living in the UAE with their families. I was shocked to discover that their employment conditions did not allow them to bring their families with them. They were working on 2-5 year contracts during which they lived in rudimentary shared accommodation, were transported to and from their place of work and received their pay and food in return. None of the workers I had spoken to had visited their families as their priority was to save as much money as they could over their contract period. They were in an incredibly difficult situation yet their demeanor was upbeat. One told me proudly that his son was studying Medicine at University and another how his money was being used to open a family tailor shop in his home town. The years spent living away from their home country and their families was seen as a small sacrifice in the big picture of where they wanted to be in the long term.


So today as I balance my ‘To Do’ list with checking my 3 email accounts, answering phone calls and trying to produce tangible work product for the day I will remind myself:


  • Coffee isn’t just about the caffeine
  • I am privileged to have the opportunity to learn something new every day
  • Work to live… and
  • Don’t lose sight of those long term goals


Mel Brassfield is a Military Spouse who spent 14 years in the Royal Australian Air Force before moving to the US with her husband who is Active Duty in the USN. She works as a Career Counselor and Facilitator leading employment workshops for separating and retiring military personnel in Hawaii. She is also the Director of Programs for In Gear Career. 

In Gear Career Partners with eMentor

We are pleased to announce that In Gear Career is actively partnering with Millitary Spouse Business Alliance Partner – MilSpouse eMentor to help our members get the support they need.  In addition to finding mentors in your Community of Practice, you can enroll in the eMentor program to find professionals who have volunteered to help you.

The program allows you to enroll as a mentor and/or as a protégé.  As a protégé, you can view mentors’ profiles and select someone you identify with based on industry, skill sets, life stage, etc.  Once you have identified a mentor, you send them a request and begin a relationship through the online portal.  How the relationship develops is up to the pair, but will typically be a 20-30 min commitment each month.

In addition to being user-friendly, one of the aspects that we really like about the program is that it connects you not only with other successful military spouses, but also with corporate professionals – enabling you to expand your professional network.

You can sign up for the eMentor program on their website: www.milspousementor.org

Stay tuned as we collaborate to bring you a great program!