Two military sons with mom smiling

Military Families: The Force Behind Our Military

This month, our nation honors the strength and sacrifice of our military families. These families are the force behind our U.S. Armed Services, the ones who stay behind to provide comfort to military members, manage the household, uproot their lives when necessary, handle parenting duties, juggle careers in the midst of relocation and much more. Their service is essential to our military and our country. We owe them our gratitude and honor their service.

In celebration of National Veterans and Military Families Month, we are highlighting two longtime TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) employees whose stories are a testament to the incredible spirit and resolve of our military families.

Kathi Sobera, proud military mom and Vice President in Clinical Operations

Kathi Sobera is a nurse and a mother. Her own father served in the Army, and in 2004, her oldest son followed in his footsteps. He joined the Army as a medic and was deployed nine times to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. He is now serving as a liaison to the Pentagon, but not before earning the Order of Military Medical Merit Award. Her youngest son took a similar path and joined the Army four years ago. He is a biomedical equipment specialist currently stationed at Eglin Air Force Base.

Kathi is a proud military mom. “Each of my sons has chosen a different path, but both of them strive to do well and bring honor to us,” she says. “They serve bravely, and I am so very proud of both of them.”

Amidst the pride for her sons, Kathi recognizes that military life isn’t always easy. “When my son was deployed, I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks at a time. Not knowing if he was OK was very hard,” she says. Even more, as a parent, Kathi longed to protect her son from some of the difficult moments of his service. “Working in the emergency room in Baghdad was a very traumatic experience for him. I could not shield him or make him better,” she recalls. “It hurts your heart to see them try to deal with all the trauma.”

Happy military couple with babyKathi acknowledges that military families deal with the impact of war differently than other families who don’t have that same experience. She notes, “It has made me more aware of the sacrifices and challenges military families face, and I try to support both of my daughters-in- law as much as I can.”

Like so many military family members on the homefront, when Kathi’s oldest son deployed to Afghanistan, she often wondered how she could help. He didn’t ask for much, but one memory stands out. “Pillows,” he said. After Kathi found out that no one in his unit had a pillow, she went into action. “We did a drive at TriWest in Healthcare Services to send pillows, sheets and pillowcases to my son’s unit,” she recalls. “The shipment took up the entire vehicle. The soldiers were so happy and sent many thank yous and pictures. It made us all feel like we provided a little comfort for them when they were so far away from home,” she says.

Kathi moved to Arizona and started working for TriWest in 2001 as a Case Manager in Healthcare Services. She is now the Vice President in TriWest’s Clinical Operations area. Like many at TriWest, Kathi’s work is more than just a job. It’s personal. She reflects, “Sept. 11 changed me. It changed our company’s focus, and my oldest son joined the Army soon after. This intensified my awareness, and I knew I was supporting others like him and their families when they needed assistance.” Of her work, Kathi says, “I want to give my team the tools to bring services, support, education and understanding to our beneficiaries and their families. Making health care ‘easy,’ improving their quality of life and supporting them with services is what I strive to do.”

For families like Kathi’s, she believes “every month is military family month.” She wants people to know that supporting those at home can be critical. “Recognizing they need help and getting them help when you can is such a gift,” she says. Kathi suggests leaning on organizations such as Blue Star Families for support and information.

Karla Venable, military family member extraordinaire and TriWest Senior Project Manager, reporting to the Chief Medical Officer

Karla Venable is another military family member and TriWest employee who is not new to sacrifice and service. Karla has worked at TriWest for more than 25 years, and she begins her story like this, “I was an Army Brat, an Air Force Wife (we are divorced now) and an Army Mom.”

Vintage photo of father holding infant daughterKarla’s father was in the Army for 32 years, including three tours in Vietnam. She says, “I was born in the middle of those tours in San Bernardino, Calf. My family lived in places around the United States and overseas, including Washington, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Guam and Germany.”

After graduating from high school in Ramstein, Germany, and marrying her high school sweetheart, she and her husband had three children and traveled back and forth between bases in the U.S. and Germany. Karla says, “My oldest son then joined the Army, spending most of his eight years on active duty in Ft. Hood and Ft. Bliss, Texas, but was deployed for six months to Afghanistan.”

Similar to Kathi, when Karla’s son was deployed, she recognized the importance of a support network. She recalls, “So many of my friends and family, including my coworkers at TriWest, were always asking how they could support us. They would bring me snacks, baby wipes, sunscreen, Chapstick, socks and whatever else they could think of that he might need.” She mailed him regular care packages that he shared with his fellow soldiers. Karla notes, “While I constantly worried about him, it helped to be ‘wrapped’ in the care and love of my family and friends.”

Both women acknowledge that military families face a lot of challenges. Karla says, “Living far away from extended family is hard. Constantly moving every few years is hard too.” With new technology and social media, communication may be easier now, but Karla recalls, “We just had letters and an occasional phone call.”

“This is a time to reflect on and recognize the sacrifices made by military families. It is a time to truly express our appreciation for all the hardships, but also to celebrate them in all that they do and all that they represent to our country.” – Karla Venable

However, Karla came to realize that some of the challenges that military families face are also the sources of their greatest rewards. She says, “Living away from extended family, we learned to make the people we were stationed with our families. I remember many holidays sitting around the dinner table full of friends that were more like family to us.” Karla adds, “We got to travel to some beautiful places, experience new cultures, learn new languages and enjoy different foods.” And much of this experience becomes a part of you. Karla notes, “We often adopted new customs and incorporated them into our own traditions.”

As someone who has lived as a daughter, a wife, and a mother to members of the military, Karla knows firsthand the sacrifice it takes. She says, “We are a strong breed, and we are resilient, but having support from our friends and families in the civilian community is so appreciated.” Karla says that patience, understanding and respect are crucial when interacting with our military and Veteran communities. She recalls how much her father hated fireworks and certain smells because they triggered traumatic events from his time in Vietnam. Karla says, “Understand what they sacrificed, be respectful of that sacrifice and have patience while some Veterans navigate often hidden wounds and scars.”

Mother and daughter with military son smilingKarla’s son has left the military, but she still considers herself a part of the military family and her ties are still strong. With more than 25 years of experience at TriWest, she has held a lot of different positions from customer service representative, enrollment supervisor, project manager, senior project manager and more. But the one constant in every job she’s held at TriWest is this: “Knowing that what I do, no matter how big or small, impacts the customer service and care our active duty, retirees, family members and Veterans receive.”

During National Veterans and Military Families Month, Karla believes, “This is a time to reflect on and recognize the sacrifices made by military families. It is a time to truly express our appreciation for all the hardships, but also to celebrate them in all that they do and all that they represent to our country.”

We agree.

To Kathi and Karla and all the other military families, thank you! We appreciate the sacrifice, hardships and challenges you’ve endured. We honor your service and the service of your military family members. We celebrate your commitment to our country. Happy National Veterans and Military Families Month!

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