Staff Perspective: Family Life During a Drill Weekend

Staff Perspective: Family Life During a Drill Weekend

It’s Friday, and 7:00 pm is rapidly approaching. I finished work hours ago, but it always takes me longer to finish packing than I expect. I’ve also made a point to stop and eat dinner. I have my Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) tomorrow and I know even if I’m short on sleep, I need to have a good meal tonight. My partner comes over to pick up my dogs and I have a rare 15 minutes to see him before I head to drill for the weekend. I’ve been serving in the Army National Guard for nearly 7 years and while this is the norm for me, it’s still a relatively new part of his life. Despite that, he’s always been supportive and involved with my military career. A trait that’s been difficult to find in a partner and yet, has been found to be a key indicator of whether a service member will continue their military career (Woodall et al., 2023). We say our goodbyes and I leave my house shortly thereafter to make the long drive to my duty station1.

I arrive to my friend’s house over four hours later. She waited up for me to make sure I arrived safely, even though it’s approaching 1:00 AM. She helps me get my luggage and gear inside and heads to bed herself. I stay up to paint my nails because the bright pink I wore on vacation a few days prior isn’t going to cut it in uniform. After they’re relatively dry, I finally head to bed. I manage to get about four hours of sleep before my alarm goes off to prompt me to get ready and report for the day.

The morning goes smoothly, and we eventually head to lunch where I have time to catch up with my colleagues/battles/friends — some of whom I’ve known for the better part of a decade. We talked about our families and the balance between our civilian lives, families, and the Army. I share the top reason females leave the military is due to concerns of the impact on their family (Thomas et al., 2018). A friend sitting behind me states how the benefits she could receive for her family are what lead her to commission and a part of her motivation to continue to serve. We discuss how everyone’s experience is different and even our own purpose and motivation can shift so much over the course of our careers. We acknowledge the difficulties at times of keeping all the proverbial balls in the air. It’s nice to connect with other women who have this shared experience. I feel less isolated in the struggle and more seen in my identity as a mom, partner, provider, and Soldier.

After we finish the duty day, I spend the evening with my friend and her son. I’ve become a staple in their home over the last year since she invited me to stay with them during drill weekends. They’ve become a part of my extended family and a piece of the puzzle that allows me to be successful in my military career. The time with them has been a welcome opportunity as I get to spend time with her, have gotten to know her kids, and have a stable place to lay my head down at night. We enjoy dinner together and return to her house where before long I head to sleep. For whatever reason on this night, I woke up numerous times. It was likely the significant amounts of coffee I drank to sustain me over the course of the day. But perhaps it was my enduring thirst after my ACFT or my inability to manage an appropriate temperature of a room in a house that isn’t mine. I toss and turn and when my alarm goes off at 5:00 AM, I press snooze until I can muster the drive to get out of bed.

I have another productive day at drill and after we’re done, I drive the four hours home. Along the way I try to catch up with family and take some time to myself. I always feel like I’ve been in a bubble while away and sometimes it leaves others feeling neglected. But even still, I haven’t had much time for quiet and stillness which is critical for me to reset and feel renewed.

I make it back to my town and as I approach, I let my partner know I’ll be back soon to pick up the dogs. He’s been graciously willing to take on the invisible role of keeping my precious pets loved and cared for while I’m away. This isn’t always an easy task, as my young dog, Gravy (Potato), is a chewer and the older one, Greta (Goose), is in her older years and she needs much more care and attention than she once did.

I pull up to his house and he’s outside doing yard work. He notices me, but he’s in the midst of a project, so I slowly, painfully— thanks to the ACFT— get out of the car and head inside. I’m greeted by his young son. He starts to run to me then notices my uniform is on. “Ahh! Why are you wearing that?!”, he shouts. I tell him I had to work for the Army this weekend. He proceeds to ask me numerous questions about why I’m in the Army, if I’ll have to go to war, and if it was my choice to join or if someone made me. These questions aren’t new but he’s always curious how it works.

A few moments later I hear the patter of another set of feet heading down the stairs. My partner’s daughter has come down to greet me and she too is startled to see me in uniform. “What did you have to do this weekend?”, she asks. She is also curious what this geographically distant Army life looks like. I told her yesterday I took the ACFT, and she responded quickly, “But you’re a Captain, I thought you just told people what to do”. I remind her she came to my promotion ceremony and I’m not a Captain, I’m a Major, but everyone has to take the physical fitness test. She looks perplexed and asks more questions about what my job looked like during the weekend. I told her I met with Soldiers to make sure their mental health was doing well2. “But I thought you just had to make sure people were ok to go to war,” she states. I share with her that people can have stress and concerns about anything in their life and it’s my job to provide them support and resources, even if it isn’t related to the military. She seems satisfied with this answer but still seems uncomfortable to see me again in my uniform. The last time would’ve been at my promotion ceremony some seven months ago. Since we don’t share a house, she’s not used to this image of me yet.

My partner comes in and we talk for a bit about plans for our new home and I preemptively order dinner for my son and I, as I have no energy to think about or put together a meal for the night. We get my dogs in my car, I give them all hugs, and before I depart my partner's son exclaims, “Bye Army Soldier!”.

I head towards my ex-husband’s home, as it’s time to pick up my son. He’s happy to see me and isn’t fazed by my uniform. Unlike my partner’s kids, he’s been living his life as a military kid for as long as he can remember. He immediately starts telling me about the Godzilla movie he and his dad watched earlier in the day. When we get to the car, he’s excited to see our dogs and asks questions about where they were and where we’re going. We pick up dinner on the way and finally make it home.

After we arrive, I resist the temptation to plop my son in front of the TV. I’ve missed him while I was away. But after three days of sleeping in another bed, eating out, working, and driving over eight hours, I’m tired. We took on the task of putting away the clothes that were left in his room before I left. He’s not happy with this, as he’d rather be plopped in front of the TV, so it inevitably leads to tears. I am somehow able to remain patient and nurturing with him, likely in part due to the long, quiet drive. Amid our time together of listening to his stories about going to the movies, getting the dogs settled back at home, and folding clothes; I jot down notes for the blog that is due for my civilian job the following day. I’ve had the idea in my head for weeks of what I want to write, but it’s a story you can’t fully put together until you live it, even when it’s been your life for this long. After we clean up the house a bit more, it’s time for my son to get ready for bed and prepare for school the next day. It’s a routine he knows well and, in a few weeks, when it’s time for me to head back to drill, we’ll do it all over again.

My story is one version of a lived experience of a National Guard Soldier during a drill weekend. Each “part-time” military member spends a great deal of time prior to and after drill weekends preparing for and accomplishing their military duties. Those who serve in a leadership capacity can take on full-time responsibilities. The story I’ve shared here does not reflect those nuances or the duties of my military service but is rather meant to highlight some of the responsibilities one must navigate to ensure family life, a civilian job, and a household continue to run smoothly while you’re away. I often say that National Guard service doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it doesn’t happen without a significant amount of planning and dedication from service members and their support systems. Prior to commissioning in 2017, I did not fully understand how the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” minimum service requirement would shape my life and routine.

My hope in writing this blog and sharing a piece of my story is to help instill a sense of curiosity and empathy for those who decide to serve in this capacity. I encourage you to show interest, ask questions, and work to understand the complex nature of the life of a National Guard or Reserve Component service member.


1: The National Guard is a state and federal entity. Due to the state mission, National Guard members duty stations remain within their assigned state although do not have to be geographically close to their home of record.

2: My Military Occupational Specialty is 73A- Clinical Social Worker. In this capacity, I serve as a Behavioral Health Officer supporting the mental health and welfare of Soldiers in my assigned unit.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Jennifer Nevers, MSW, LCWS, is a Military Behavioral Health Social Worker for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Thomas, K. H., McDaniel, J. T., Haring, E. L., Albright, D. L., & Fletcher, K. L. (2018). Mental
     health needs of military and veteran women: An assessment conducted by the Service
     Women’s Action Network. Traumatology, 24(2), 104-112.
Woodall, K. A., Esquivel, A. P., Powell, T. M., Riviere, L. A., Amoroso, P. J., & Stander, V. A.
     (2023). Influence of family factors on service members' decisions to leave the military.
     Family relations, 72(3), 1138-1157.