Beyond the Uniform

  • By:  Dawn Brotherton

Today’s military pursue their humanitarian mission in their uniforms—and out.

The first rattle of metal on wood nudges you toward the surface of wakefulness. The second vibration of the cell phone brings you to full attention.

It’s one o’clock in the morning, and you’re being called into work, but your husband is deployed, and you have no family living nearby. What are you going to do with your infant when duty calls?

Balancing family and work life can be especially challenging for modern military women. Yet their drive to serve others keeps them going, on duty and off. Let’s meet three local military women and find out more about the challenges they face.

Paying It Forward To Others In Need

Coast Guard Lieutenant Jeannette Rincon

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The scenario above was a real dilemma for Coast Guard Lieutenant Jeannette Rincon, 35. As one of only a few technicians trained on a particular system, Jeannette was on call around the clock to troubleshoot issues. Her solution for those middle-of-the-night calls? Take her baby with her.

The boathouse and armory were open twenty-four hours a day during an operation. Jeannette knew she could count on the sailors on duty to help out when she got called. On more than one occasion, she was able to leave her sleeping baby with them and fly out to the ship to work.

“I was underway, and they sent me pictures of the baby doing pull-ups or helping with their chores,” Jeannette said. “It was a great family.”

Jeannette credits the Coast Guard’s family-friendly atmosphere for helping her through the tough times of separations and deployments. “I think it’s just a mentality that we [in the Coast Guard] all have,” she said. “We’re always volunteering. It’s just a great group of people, and the attitude is contagious.” She feels strongly the desire to pay it forward and goes out of her way to help others in need.

That attitude carries over into her personal life. She sees needs in the community and steps up to fill them. When Jeannette signed her kindergartener up for Girl Scouts, there were not enough troop leaders. Now Jeannette spends her off-duty time organizing first graders on a weekly basis. Not only is Jeannette teaching life skills to her own kids, she is showing a group of twenty Girl Scouts how to grow up strong and resourceful.

“You’re your own advocate when it comes to anything in life,” she tells the girls and lets them choose what they want to learn and how they want to spend their cookie money.

Jeannette is now the Operations Officer for the Coast Guard Communications Command. Their mission is to support Coast Guard Forces, government agencies, and the maritime public by making sure people can communicate in a crisis and that no call goes unanswered.

That includes the call to educate and encourage young women beyond her own twenty-girl troop. Jeannette was the lead coordinator and head of the team who developed the first Girl Scout Coast Guard Pride Day held at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth.

She emceed the daylong event that consisted of cutter tours, various unit specific demonstrations, a life jacket relay race, trivia games, and flag etiquette training, providing the girls opportunities to interact with service members and explore different Coast Guard assets.

“Not only are we a military branch that trains for law enforcement and times of war, but we’re also a humanitarian service,” Jeannette said. “And that’s huge because our job never stops. There’s always somebody who needs help.”

On Call for USAID Around the Clock

Air Force Reservist Colonel Elizabeth Blanchford

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Her USAID job keeps Air Force Reservist Colonel Elizabeth Blanchford on the move 50-70 percent of the time, between Hawaii, Japan, and Korea. Her reserve duty brings her back to Norfolk Naval Station, training to deploy at a moment’s notice.

The hardest part of this grueling schedule is the time away from her family. It’s been a tough balance, but she feels the opportunities she and her husband are providing their kids are worth the sacrifices. When Elizabeth isn’t working, she’s able to spend quality time with her husband and kids, Aiden and Bella, taking large blocks off at a time to travel as a family or visit grandparents in Montana.

Elizabeth, 46, recognizes that her work schedule can be a struggle sometimes, but she sees it as a good problem to have. “I need to be a role model for my kids and show them what it means to live your truest, fullest life,” Elizabeth said.

Following an eight-month military deployment to European Command, Elizabeth was offered a one-year assignment in Germany and was able to bring her family. The kids were enrolled in a German school, and they loved it.

As a family, they have gotten involved in supporting a girls’ school overseas. Through this connection with underserved girls, Elizabeth hopes her daughter, Bella, recognizes how fortunate she was to be born in this country. She encourages both of her kids to think about how they can help others not quite as fortunate.

In Elizabeth’s role in USAID as the humanitarian assistance advisor to the military, she ensures cohesion among policy goals and operational execution between USAID and the Department of Defense. She also coordinates disaster response activities for USAID.

As a member of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC), Colonel Blanchford is a military planner, prepared to meet emerging requirements and build joint headquarters for a no-notice operation anywhere in the world.

Even when she is not in uniform, Elizabeth is focused on serving others. It’s important for her to contribute to the greater good. When she was a newlywed living in Montana, Elizabeth served as a volunteer firefighter. She appreciated the need for quick response without question.

“I like that it’s still really about service. It’s amazing that people are willing to sacrifice for another person, our society, or the greater good,” Elizabeth said.

“And the military really is that. We have to be willing to die for our country and be willing to be away from our family, to go make a difference,” she said. “It’s an incredible community of like-minded people who are willing to work hard and create a better life for the next generation.”

Volunteering With Joy In Her Heart

Intelligence Specialist Petty Officer 1st Class Kandace Howard

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The first time Intelligence Specialist Petty Officer 1st Class Kandace Howard, 34, had to be separated from her family was difficult. For Kandace, leaving her children, ages one and two, within weeks of arriving in Atsugi, Japan added to her anxiety and fear.

“We were excited about going to Japan because we knew it would be a great adventure for the kids as we introduced them to another culture,” Kandace said. But when they received the news that Kandace would shortly be flying to her assigned ship at an undisclosed location, her heart sank.

“I knew this day would come, but no matter how much you prepare, you’re still not ready to leave your family behind,” Kandace said. Although Jalen and Kalie were too young to understand what was going on, they sensed their mother’s anxiety. Jeremy, Kandace’s husband, explained Mommy was getting on a bus to go on an adventure.

The morning of departure finally arrived. Kandace was the first to cry. Toddler Jalen tried to comfort his mother because he thought she didn’t like the bus. When she laughed and told him she was going to miss them all very much, he assured her they would be there when she got back.

She waited until the last possible moment to let go of them. They stood holding their dad’s hands and waving goodbye while Kandace sobbed all the way to the ship.

“It was an extremely hard deployment because this was the first time that I was away from my family,” Kandace said. Having a supportive spouse helped her through the separation. Jeremy sent her pictures of furniture for approval and captured Kalie’s first steps on video.

But Kandace has no regrets about joining the Navy. “I’ve never had a bad assignment because I always try to make the best of every duty station,” she said. She joined the Navy to serve her country, and now she extends that service to time beyond the uniform.

And she is modeling that service to her children. While stationed in Bahrain, no other American families lived nearby. “My children loved the culture and wanted others to play with,” Kandace said. She discovered an orphanage near their house and struck up a conversation with the young women working there. The family started visiting the orphanage twice a week to read to the kids or color with them, sometimes taking clothing and small gifts. The adults were elated to have them visit, and the smiles on the faces of the children, including Kandace’s kids, were priceless.

Back in Hampton Roads, now with three children, Kandace finds herself volunteering often in the classroom or on field trips. She recognizes the need to do what she can while at home station because she may be deployed again at any time.

Kandace is also one of the Lead Preschool Teachers at Point Harbor Community Church, volunteering in the children’s ministry with twelve-year-old Kalie alongside her. “My heart is always overjoyed when I step in the room because of the energy the two-year-olds bring,” Kandace said. “Serving at the church has taught me that God gave me the gift of working with children,” she said.

She volunteers on station as well and serves on the committee that organizes the Command Giveback Days, picnic, and holiday party. She especially enjoys working the kids’ holiday party and Trunk or Treat.

As the Training Requirements Analyst for the Intelligence Specialist rating, Kandace travels from state to state, collaborating with working groups to determine best practices for the intelligence community fleetwide. “This duty gives me both a sense of pride and humility at times,” she said

Working on her master’s degree from Capella University to be a mental health counselor, Kandace hopes to someday work for Veterans’ Affairs, helping people who have suicidal tendencies. “We never know what a person is experiencing, whether it’s something personal or something in their professional life,” she said. “People need to know there is no shame in getting help. They are not alone.”

This is also a lesson Kandace shares with her children. Jalen is now 13, Kalie is 12, and Kaori is 5. The kids endure the challenge of moving to a new state or country every two to three years guaranteed. Although they always have a fear of making new friends, Kandace shares her own anxieties with them.

“The advice I give my babies is to always approach a situation with an open heart and mind,” said Kandace. “Learn from both the positive and negative situations, give a solution if you have a complaint, and make sure to always, always, always be yourself.”

Dawn Brotherton is the author of nine books in various genres. She’s a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, president of Williamsburg Book Festival, and founder of Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC. Learn more about Dawn at

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