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. 

Work Life Balance…What’s your reality?

Posted by Elizabeth Gorkowski

Are you a working military spouse just dreaming of work life balance?  For just $9.99 a month this dream can be yours!  Ahhh if only it was that easy. How is a working military spouse supposed to fit in all of the demands placed on them, work, eat, perhaps raise children, sleep and find precious minutes for themselves?

This morning my alarm went off at 5:30, I greeted the yet to be seen sun with a P90x workout,  jumped in the shower, made lunches for the kids, dressed all three of them (ages 5, 3.5 and 1.5) for picture day at school and somehow arrived at school by 8am.  I worked on rewriting necessary policies for M.O.M. FIT to continue its growth; attended a luncheon for Americans Working Around the Globe (I am almost positive I brushed my hair), sprinted to the park  to run a M.O.M. FIT class and at 2:15 picked the kids up.  We returned home for snacks and an awesome hour of tag, soccer, jump rope and sprints in the backyard.  (Oh yes I said sprints, that way I can get my “speed” workouts in).  We showered, ate dinner, dressed for bed and I high fived the babysitter on the way out to attend a coffee for RHHT.  It was of course everyone’s lucky night that it was karaoke coffee and I love Bon Jovi.  At 9:45 I hugged my friend Morgan and thanked her for watching the children, laid out their clothes for school, sat down to work on my white paper for MOM FIT and at midnight went to sleep.  Perhaps outsiders who don’t know me might think this was a day of pure insanity but for me it is a perfect example of work life balance.

My balance did not arrive without a lot of planning, effort and the shocking realization that I simply can’t do it all.  As a military spouse it becomes far too easy for our lives to be pushed to the back burner as we attempt to cram our own dreams and goals into a life that is already packed with moves, work, family obligations and no luxury of extended family support.  Sometime during the fall of 2010 I realized I had too many extraneous factors pulling me in a hundred different directions and that the one item I had always cherished, working out daily sometimes twice a day was no longer a part of my life and it was making me a miserable person.  Exercise is my drug of happiness, nothing makes me feel better then a workout and the benefits are numerous.   I decided at that point to make a list of my top priorities and that they would be non negotiable  1)MY FAMILY  2) Fitness  3) M.O.M. FIT  4)Learning to say “let me check my calendar” and then had to actually make it happen!

I have a wonderful family but three girls under the age of 5 can easily steamroll out of control and my husband and I decided upon arrival in Germany (which was the 5th move for my 4.5 year old daughter) school and daycare options would be the best solution to set me on a path to being a better mother, spouse and owner of M.O.M. FIT . Their attendance allows me to put quality hours in on the continuous development of M.O.M FIT  and more importantly provides them with quality mom/daughter time when they  aren’t in school. I quickly realized I had too many friends where I was the primary giver using up a lot of my time and energy.  I decided to cut ties with many so called friends and it was shockingly easy.  I started adding fitness hours to my daily calendar, worked hard to build workouts that didn’t require me to go to the gym and slowly regained myself one step at a time.  I also learned to add the magical phrase “let me check my calendar and get back to you” before saying yes to any requests.

Numerous volunteer requests always fall at the feet of military spouses with little acknowledgement of the outside job many spouses are already balancing as a military spouse and perhaps parent.  Spouses are part of a culture where expectations exceed the normal standard and if you don’t make your time a priority no one will do it for you.  I have now cut my volunteer time to only saying yes to INGEAR,  Americans Working Around the Globe and coaching high school basketball. Nothing else provides me with the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction like those organizations, which allows me to justify taking time and energy away from my family.

For years coaching basketball was my life and passion but 5 moves in 4.5 years quickly put a 12 year career to a screeching halt.  I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the MYCAA benefit offered to spouses and obtain my personal trainer certification and begin the development of M.O.M. FIT.  Our mission at M.O.M. FIT is to improve the wellness, overall health and fitness levels of military spouses through a supportive team environment.  Daily we make in home visits for individual workouts, meet at parks across Germany for boot camps and stroller fitness, teach families how to meal plan, educate them on nutrition, teach goal setting and most importantly build the TEAM concept so spouses always have a support system in their lives.

Today was a balanced work life day for me; there are days work garners more hours, the family receives less attention and vice versa.  Take a moment and share with us the way you find balance in your day, you just might help another spouse achieve their pursuit of balance. There is no perfect in the pursuit of work life balance and I have come to the realization that as long as the good days far outweigh the bad days then my balance is successful.

Liz Gorkowski , a military spouse with  15 years in the fitness industry has mentored Olympic, professional, collegiate, All Army Team and military spouse athletes.  Liz is an ACE certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor and former college basketball coach. She is the owner of the Fit Group which is home to M.O.M. FIT where WE ARE CHANGING LIVES ONE WORKOUT AT A TIME! Like the Fit Group today on Facebook at The FIT Group or visit our website at www.the-fit-group.com.  If you would like a M.O.M. FIT chapter on your post please send all requests to thefitgroup11@googlemail.com