Whenever she puts on her uniform as a U.S. Army reservist, Sgt. Kelly Sablan’s 5-year-old-daughter shouts out, “Soldier! Soldier!” and she knows that mommy is going off to work.
Sablan hopes that that will make her a role model to not just her daughter but also other girls that they can aspire to do their own thing or get into a field of work that is dominated by men.
For Ashley Castro, a U.S. Army Reserve specialist, putting on her uniform is almost a life-changing affirmation. “It is like I am not just Ashley Castro, that I am a part of something bigger and meaningful.”
Serving one’s country and being a mother at the same time may appear daunting but these women are proving that, with focus, sacrifices, and hard decisions, it can be done. And these military moms in the U.S. Army Reserve stationed in the CNMI also manage to face both responsibilities with great honor and respect.
Sablan, a mother of two and a 7th grade teacher at Hopwood Middle School, counts on the help she gets from her support system: her family.
“The military offers work-family balance programs but, personally, I balance my military career and personal life through advance planning and having a really good support system. With advance planning, when I know I will be leaving for training to go off island, I would tell my parents to take care of my children. They are big supporters of my military career,” she said.
Her support system extends up to her workplace, making sure that her students are also taken cared of.
And because her children are still very young, she does not go into full details whenever she has to leave for off-island training. “I just say I got go to work and I will be back.”
Sablan, who is 27 years old, joined the military fresh out of high school. “I have been in the service for 10 years now.
Like many who go into military service, Sablan said she pursued this career for the twin purpose of serving her country and to further her education.
That comes with a lot of sacrifices, like missing milestones and family events.
Sablan’s patriotism helps her get through it. “I knew coming into the service that there will be sacrifices because we constantly have to bear ‘readiness’ in mind and that’s is really important being a soldier,” she said.
As a soldier, what motivates her is the future she is creating for her children. “I want my children to live a long and happy life and pursue the goals they want to when they figure it out. …That is why peace and security are important to me as a soldier.”
Like other mothers, military moms face all the same day-to-day challenges. Sablan acknowledges that that’s just how it goes. The important thing is powering through.
“It does get hard, no matter what, because a lot of thing just come from the left field, unplanned. Just keep going, as balancing is hard but it’s worth it in the end, especially if you have your kids and you see them grow up and pursue their own goals and dreams,” Sablan said.
As a woman, she finds joy representing women in the military but she pointed out that there is no dichotomy in being a soldier. “When you are a soldier, there is no male or female. You are a soldier.”
Castro, who left Saipan 10 years to get basic training and advance individual training, chose to go into the U.S. Army Reserve “because I wasn’t ready to leave home yet and I also wanted to pursue my education.”
She is scheduled to graduate from the Northern Marianas College with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 but what got her started on the military track was in high school, when she was a JROTC cadet from freshman year all the way to senior year at Marianas High School.
That means Castro is not merely balancing a career and motherhood but is also juggling a third pursuit—going after a college degree.
“One of the benefits of being in the Reserve is that we also have education benefits and this helps me balance my life of being in the service, having two children, and being in school.”
Castro admits that it can be a struggle at times but the rewards make up for it. “I have my parents and extended family who all help me with my children and my unit company in the military. …It’s just like any other workplace. When you have something going on, we notify in advance our leadership and, depending on the situation, they can approve the notice,” she said.
She believes she is up to the challenge of having a career in military service. “I feel like I will be in here for so many years but I am ready to take the next step to pursue my military career. …It is exciting and I don’t know want to expect until I am finally in that position, but I’m sure I can handle it,” she added.
And being a soldier helps her ensure that her children will also have the “freedom and the choices that we have, to pursue our happiness and our overall wellbeing,” she said. “…I want my children to have that opportunity now and tomorrow and I want them to make the choices without any persecution or restrictions.”