Face of Defense: Mother, Daughter Succeed Together
By Army Sgt. Angela Parady
121st Public Affairs Detachment
AUGUSTA, Maine, April 30, 2014 When Michelle Silvermane first said she was thinking about going into the military, Amber Silvermane thought she was out of her mind -- she never thought a mom could do something like that.
Army Sgt. Amber Silvermane, right, and her mother, Army Spc. Michelle Silvermane, attended basic training and advanced individual training together in 2007, and now serve full-time in the Maine Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Angela Parady
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Women make up less than 14 percent of the Army’s ranks, and less than 10 percent of military recruits are older than 35, so 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 onto since she was young, and she was going to convince her daughter to join her.
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. They went through basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then continued on to their advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Michelle said she 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, … but she never really had anything to call her own,” Amber said. “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 asked Amber -- who recently had graduated from high school and was working the graveyard shift at a call-in center -- come with her.
Amber is now a sergeant, and her mother is a specialist.
“Amber was not going in a direction I approved of,” her mother said. “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 Maine’s Joint Force Headquarters here, said she 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 -- its one weekend a month, and two weeks a year. Anyone can do that.’ He was right, in a way,” she said.
Amber enlisted in January, and her mother, who also works full-time for the Maine National Guard at Camp Keyes here, enlisted the next month. The two were matched up, and left for basic training that November.
“I knew mentally, I could do it,” said Michelle, a healthcare specialist for the Maine Army National Guard Medical Detachment, and full-time case manager for medical and behavioral health. 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 said, adding that she knew she could look past the yelling and screaming and see the idea was to create a mentally tough and disciplined soldier.
But changing her mindset as a 37-year-old wife and mother was more difficult than she thought, she said.
“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 were where they were supposed to be, to being told what to do and when to do it,” she said. “I think that was the hardest struggle for me.”
While both women were ready to help each other along the way, they said, they also were ready to be successful independently.
But Amber recalled 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 said. “To this day, she struggles with shooting. 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 reversed roles when they both arrived in Texas for their health care specialist training. Michelle would have to rein Amber in at the end of a long day of classroom activities, 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,” Michelle said. “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.”
Now, they work doors away from one another, and get lunch together nearly every day. Amber said 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, she said, they understand a lot of the same things.
“You don’t always know who you can talk to -- who will keep what you say confidential,” Amber said. “But I can tell my mom anything. She can tell me anything, [and] it doesn’t go anywhere. She gets me.”
Michelle said 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,” Amber said. “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.”