The post exchange at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, bustles with morning shoppers, while Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer approach the red, white, and blue backdrop of their soon-to-begin book signing. These two military spouses, authors, and speakers have participated in hundreds of similar events at military installations worldwide. Through the years, they’ve encouraged military spouses through workshops, newspaper columns, and books, to see military life as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
It’s apparent they enjoy being together, and it doesn’t take long to discover they also love meeting other military family members. At the entrance of the exchange, they attract passersby of every age and service affiliation, engaging each in conversations about deployment, dedication, moving, and their love of military life.
“Being in a room full of military spouses is one of my favorite things,” Holly says. She and Kathie have spent countless hours with spouses over more than two decades, at events for their books and “Follow Your Dreams While You Follow the Military” workshops.
The only time their military lives brought them to the same place was when the two met in 1991. Kathie, then an army reservist as well as a military spouse, her active duty husband, and Holly’s husband were students at the same military school in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for ten months. Now living on opposite coasts, Kathie in Oregon and Holly in Virginia, the two are still collaborating. Their latest book, Military Spouse Journey: Discover the Possibilities & Live Your Dreams, is due out this fall from Elva Resa Publishing. The book is an updated and retitled third edition of their first book, Help! I’m a Military Spouse—I Get a Life Too.
Kathie’s and Holly’s own paths as military spouses led them to create their workshop, which eventually formed the basis of their book. When they first met, Holly was struggling to balance her career and the demands of military life, growing frustrated at having to recreate her career with each move.
“When I met Kathie, she’d already spent time researching how to approach military life differently,” Holly says.
Of her earlier experiences, Kathie says, “I did a lot of complaining rather than looking for solutions.” Kathie’s attitude toward military life changed when she began presenting seminars for women in the workforce. One of her topics was about managing priorities.
“Speaking about priorities forced me to think about my own,” she says. “It made me figure out my values. I was sharing that with Holly and she said to me, ‘Every military spouse I know is struggling with this. Let’s create some kind of a program for military spouses.’”
Military orders, fittingly, would direct the next phase of collaboration. Their husbands’ careers took them both to Germany, but not the same location. “Kathie was in Heidelberg and I was in Bamberg,” explains Holly. “I’d say an hour and a half drive away on the autobahn. Kathie would say two and half hours.” She laughs at this example of their personality differences, which both agree have made them more effective at what they do.
“I have different strengths than Holly, and our material is better because of that,” Kathie affirms.
In Germany, both women were starting over again. They began carving out opportunities for speaking and helping military spouses. They gave their first joint seminar in 1993 at Bamberg. They called the seminar “Joyful Living.”
“We really wanted to know how to find happiness in this life, how do you support your loved one in the calling they have and find the true calling of your own life?” says Holly. “We dove into the research and started asking other military spouses we admired who appeared to really love this life, ‘How do you make this work?’”
“The most important message is to see the possibilities when you don’t think there are possibilities.”
They crafted an engaging program, backed up by research, and tailored to military life. With help from Army Community Services, they began conducting workshops all over Europe. When they left Germany, they stayed in the partnership.
“We were constantly being contacted by family readiness groups and spouses groups asking us to come,” Kathie says. But the demand was greater than their ability to travel.
“Physically, we couldn’t go to all those places. Holly had kids by then, and logistically we couldn’t do it,” says Kathie. “We thought, if we had a book, we could get it out to a wider audience. We got so many requests for the material. Every time we did a workshop, people came up to say how their friends could use the information.”
“I really wanted to be able to give people something to take with them,” agrees Holly. “A workshop in a book.”
They realized that dream in 2005 with the first version of Help! I’m a Military Spouse, which soon became recognized and recommended throughout the community. Through their books and workshops, Holly and Kathie encourage spouses to see possibilities, use their skills to help others, and brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles. On the path to getting their book published, they had to put their principles into practice.
“When we first started trying to get our book published,” Kathie remembers, “we went to five or six publishers before one said, ‘There’s already a book out there for military spouses, I can’t see the market supporting a second one.’ That’s like saying there’s already one book out for parenting, there’s no need for another one. Or there’s already one book for dieting or for cooking. Military spouses face unique challenges; our needs are different. One book is never going to cover all that.”
Since then, the market for military family books has grown to include many more publications. In fact, their current publisher, Elva Resa, specializes in books for military families.
Bianca Strzalkowski, senior editor for military family life at Elva Resa, says Holly and Kathie have been role models for her and other military spouses. “They have been trailblazers who inspired an entire generation of military spouses to believe they can, in fact, be something, whatever that something may be,” says Bianca.
Kathie adds, “We all want to feel like we’ve made some difference in the world, to know our experience had purpose.”
“To be able to share (what we’ve learned) is just the happiest thing I can imagine,” says Holly.
Writing the book has affected the authors’ lives, too.
“We continue to dive into and read everything we can get our hands on about happiness, time management, energy management,” Kathie says. “When you immerse yourself in that, you live your life differently. You make choices, set priorities.”
For Military Spouse Journey, the authors updated the research, added new stories from military spouses, and restructured the material.
“We changed the whole flow of (the book) because the most important message is to see the possibilities when you don’t think there are possibilities,” says Kathie. “We wanted to dive into that right up front.” She says they wrote into the book what they wish they had known from the start of their mobile military life. “We would have been much more supportive (spouses) earlier on if we’d been able to realize that each location will have something fun, exciting, and wonderful. To have thought, here is my overall goal for my life, what can I use here to apply to that goal?”
Their work has never been a formulaic approach to becoming the perfect military spouse. “There’s no such thing,” says Holly. Instead, they encourage spouses to discover their individual strengths, go for their passions, and avoid comparing themselves to other people.
“It’s so important to figure out your own priorities and values,” Kathie says. “If we had to be like everyone else it would be boring and dysfunctional.”
Hearing from those who’ve been helped by their work is rewarding, says Kathie, recalling a spouse they met at a military base in New Mexico. “She couldn’t wait to come in and tell us that our book changed her life. That keeps you going for a while.”
Holly and Kathie, friends and coauthors, use their differing strengths with a common motivation. “Our hearts are in the same place,” says Holly. “We want to help other people. We want to make a difference.”