Nikki McCraney

“It took 17-years to get to the point where I felt like I could finally say I had a path. Because I never could throughout my life. I was never in a single place long enough. I didn't have a professional background that would be flexible with moving all around. I had to wait until I got to our retirement home to have a position and to finally define myself beyond just being known as an officer's wife. It's challenging to get into a line of work coming into a non-military community. People don't care about your volunteer background. The fact I had spent 17 years volunteering for all aspects of service - being in charge of 300 spouses to going to kids schools and working and fundraising on so many levels - I would apply to jobs and couldn't get a single interview.

I had known my husband Scotty since elementary school. When he graduated from West Point he went back home and I just so happened to be there as I was back from college. We reconnected and for 6 weeks before going to flight school, we spent a lot of time together. I finished college, worked for a year post school, we got engaged and then he was off to Afghanistan. We got married 6 months early because, well, Iraq happened. At that point, I became a stay-at-home wife and then mother, having our first child while Scotty was in Iraq.

From there, my whole life became my kids. Having a job or career aspirations went to the wayside. My focus was always on the family and the unit we were serving, because in this world, you have to be a team—a unit family. That meant everything from fundraising to setting up dinners to hosting single-soldiers that would come eat at our house. That's the lifestyle. you really give up a part of you by serving.

We've done 9 moves to 5 states in 17 years along with 3 deployments and 3 unaccompanied tours—meaning when you cannot take your family with you. We said that the time our eldest—Connor—went to high school, we would never move again. We decided to divide our family for 2.5 years because we chose stability for the kids over the family being together. This was something they never had before. At 14, Connor had been to 7 different schools in 5 different states. Our kids did not choose the lifestyle—we did. Even though we dragged them all over the central time zone, they were at least with kids who came from military families. But, when we got to our retirement home, they were suddenly the outsiders. This is the type of sacrifice required in the name of service.

During my time as an officer's wife, I tackled challenges such as time differences during deployment, no video chat or FaceTiming, no time for yourself, focusing only on children, taking care of others families. My life was nothing short of selfless. Service means, as a spouse, that you are making a positive impact for a greater being—for those who serve—and always putting yourself second.”

Nikki now works for the school board where her mother worked, and where she and her husband went to school. She's a community liaison for a poverty school, running their mentor program and all corporate sponsorships and volunteers. It's the first time she's had a job that entirely defines her, for herself.