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Mom, Daughter Are Battle Buddies and More
AUGUSTA, ME When Specialist Michelle Silvermane first said she was thinking about going into the military, her daughter Sergeant Amber Silvermane thought she was out of her mind. She never thought a mom could do something like that. With less than 14 percent of the Army made up of females, and less than 10 percent of military recruits over the age of 35, it is no wonder her mom’s seemingly abrupt decision came as a shock to Amber. Struggling to overcome physical fears and complacency, the 37-year-old was determined to realize a dream she had held since she was young, and she was going to convince her daughter to come along for the ride.
Amber and Michelle enlisted in the Maine Army National Guard in 2007, less than a month apart from one another. Thanks to a sergeant at the Military Entrance Processing Center, they were enrolled in a buddy program, meaning they would stick together during their training. The two native Mainers attended Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, SC, then continued on to their Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, TX.
Michelle had always wanted to join the military, but having children in her late teens made that seem like an impossible dream for years.
“My mother worked three jobs her whole life just trying to support us kids,” says Amber. “She worked as a behavioral technician at one point, but she never really had anything to call her own. She always put us first, and it was always about us kids. She was the one who really wanted to join.”
When her youngest was 16, Michelle’s mind was made up. Michelle said her husband, who served in the Army until Amber was 1, was very supportive of her decision. Knowing it was something she had really wanted to do, and knowing she had the support of her family, Michelle went to the recruiter. She made Amber, who had recently graduated from high school and was working the graveyard shift at a call-in center, come with her.
“Amber was not going in a direction I approved of,” says her mother. “She wasn’t doing anything illegal, or super bad, but I could see where it could go really bad, really quickly.”
Amber, now the full-time administrative noncommissioned officer for Joint Force Headquarters in Augusta, never gave the military any thought until her mother told her she was going. She remembers thinking that the military would never be a good match for her.
“My dad looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing right now? You aren't going anywhere. If you hate it, it’s not Active Duty; it’s one weekend a month, and two weeks a year. Anyone can do that.’ He was right, in a way.”
Amber enlisted in January, and her mother, who also works full time for the Maine National Guard at Camp Keyes, Augusta, enlisted the next month. The two were matched up and left for Basic Training that November.
At this point, both women were nervous. Amber’s dad had given them a rundown on what he had gone through when he went to Basic. He told Amber she was going to have to shave her head. Michelle was mentally prepared for what she would face, but not necessarily physically prepared.
“I knew mentally, I could do it,” says Michelle, a healthcare specialist for the Maine Army National Guard Medical Detachment, and full-time case manager for medical and behavioral health.
She knew that her own life experiences would give her an advantage over some of the younger recruits who may have a difficult time being yelled at or ordered around. She knew that, tough as it may be, she could look past the yelling and screaming, and see the end result of what they were trying to accomplish: a mentally tough and disciplined Soldier.
But changing her mindset as a 37-year-old wife and mother was more difficult than she thought. “I went from being the one who organized everyone’s lives, the one who made sure they did what they were supposed to, when they were supposed to, and where they were supposed to be, to being told what to do and when to do it,” she says. “I think that was the hardest struggle for me.”
Michelle has always had a close bond with her daughters. Going to training together gave the women a support system as they faced the same challenges, the same struggles, every day. However, being a mother and daughter, they also had to handle a certain level of misperception. While both women were ready and prepared to help each other along the way, they were also ready to independently be successful. There was a constant hyperawareness of their mother-daughter status. At Fort Jackson, they were warned by commanders that this wasn’t something they approved of. Michelle remembers a commander asking her what she would do if Amber was dropped and yelled at by a drill sergeant.
“I looked at him and said, ‘I held her accountable as a child; I expect you to hold her accountable as a Soldier,’ ” Michelle says. “I think that kind of surprised him.”
Michelle says that level of discipline was common in her house. Growing up, Amber and her sister knew that the results of their decisions, whether well thought out or a split-second impulse, would be theirs alone to face. It made the girls responsible, and for Amber, that discipline is partly why they are closer than most. The support they were able to lend each other after hours in training helped each woman succeed along the path to where they are now. Amber remembers when her mother was almost sent back because she was going to fail basic rifle marksmanship.
“My mother is an extraordinarily smart woman; she is driven and passionate, but can be easily discouraged,” Amber says. “After a day at the range, we would come together and she would be tearing herself apart. I would look at her and tell her, ‘You are smart enough, driven enough; you have to stop talking yourself out of things. You have to stop being so detrimental to your own progress.’ ”
That blunt support helped the team graduate from Basic Training together and quickly reverse roles when they both arrived in Texas for their healthcare specialist training. Michelle would have to rein Amber in at the end of a long day of classroom activities and PowerPoint presentations, almost forcing her to focus and study so that they could make it through together.
“She wanted to go for a walk, go to the gym or the PX, but there was a very real chance that she wasn’t going to make it through AIT the first time if she didn’t buckle down,” says Michelle. “I would tell her, ‘You are not getting recycled, not here, not now. Open that book; we are going to study, and we are going to get you through this.’ ”
They both struggled a lot as they were torn down and built back up by their experiences. Now, the two work doors away from one another and get lunch together nearly every day. Amber says her mom has become a personal counselor for her, and one she doesn't have to pay for. Because they both live and breathe the Army life on a full-time basis, they understand a lot of the same things.
“She is a constant source of support,” Amber says. “I know, the Army is a family. The National Guard is a family. But every family has its issues. There is a lot of ‘he said, she said.’ People will share rumors and secrets, but they aren’t necessarily close. You don’t always know who you can talk to, who will keep what you say confidential. But I can tell my mom anything. She can tell me anything; it doesn’t go anywhere. She gets me.”
Michelle is proud to be where she is. She is proud to serve and proud of Amber. For her, she has realized a lifelong goal. It may have taken her a bit longer to achieve it, but because she waited, she was able to share her experience with her daughter. She says that she has seen a change in Amber, who has found focus and direction, while maintaining her happy and carefree outlook.
“I never expected either of us to accomplish what we have already accomplished,” says Amber. “Everyone has aspirations to be something someday, but that’s just it. No one defines it. I never thought my mom would really do this. I know I never thought I would be here.”