Chelsea woman is a mother and combat veteran

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Cassie Elder is at the far right. photo supplied by Cassie Elder

Chelsea resident Cassie Elder knows what it’s like to be a mom and she knows what it’s like to be a combat veteran.

She has a perspective and story that is unique, and not always known. 

However, it’s also one that might be relatable and helpful to hear, especially for those moms who have served or are serving their country.

In celebration of mothers everywhere, Elder, a mom of two and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is sharing her experiences as part of a free webinar at 1 p.m. EST on May 24, for mothers serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Hosted by the Warrior-Scholar Project, a national nonprofit, the event is called “Moms Who Serve” and it is billed as a safe place for mothers in the military, past and present, to discuss the unique experiences and challenges of duty to both country and family.

In its announcement, the webinar’s planners said one goal for it is to help local female veterans searching for resources and support. The announcement cited a New York Times article that noted that “So many systems are designed with the idea of a male service member and female spouse.”

In answering the question, what’s your hope for people who listen to the webinar, Elder said, “I hope that more folks will begin to acknowledge, recognize, and understand the complexities of being a veteran and service member while also being a mom.”

“I also hope to bring more visibility to women in the military and our unique experiences,” she said.

Elder, in middle, during her time in the Marine Corps. photo supplied by Cassie Elder

Elder has lived in Chelsea for the past seven years, but she grew up in Davison, where she graduated from high school in 2005. She joined the Marines with a simple yet important desire that others, men and women, have felt.

“I wanted to do something different and push myself to see if I could become a Marine,” she recalled of those days when she enlisted during a time of war.

She did become a Marine and went on to serve as a combat engineer, having deployed twice to Iraq.

Looking back, she said there are some main takeaways from her time in the Marine Corps.

“Always act with integrity — it's the one thing that no one can take away from you, except for yourself,” she said. “Also, respect is earned, not given.”

Although no longer in the Marines, she has stayed close to that world. She currently works with the Warrior-Scholar Project as an outreach assistant and said she helps everyone on the gender spectrum, not only women.

The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) aims to empower enlisted veterans and service members to excel at four-year universities. Through intensive and immersive one- to two-week academic boot camps, participants gain skills required for success and support for the cultural shift from the military to higher education at top-tier schools.

Throughout WSP’s free resident education programs, students are traditionally housed on campus, and engage in challenging discussions with accomplished professors, receiving tailored instruction on key skills like analytical reading and college-level writing.

For 2021, WSP is working with partners on six campuses to offer on-site programming and all other boot camps will be held online utilizing the successful virtual model developed in 2020 in response to the pandemic.

It is a national nonprofit with programs at public and private colleges and universities across the country.

“As an advocate, I connect veterans with the resources they need to achieve their highest potential and beyond as they transition out of the military — that ranges from transition support to higher education resources to helping veterans find their "mission" after separating and everything in between,” Elder said explaining her role.

She’s also been in school and will soon receive her Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan.

Cassie Elder, photo by the Warrior-Scholar Project

According to WSP, moms are still a rarity in the military — women make up 16 percent of enlisted forces and 19 percent of the officer corps, with a minority of those women having children.

The “Moms Who Serve session is part of Warrior-Scholar Project’s Women Veterans Empowerment Dialogues, a virtual series of informational small group talks given by female or femme-of-center veterans. With more than 2 million women veterans in the U.S., the goal of these sessions is to create female and feminine spaces and discussions that are inclusive and empowering.

In closing the interview with Elder, The Sun Times News asked, is there anything you would like the community to know that you think is important?

She answered, “Women serve in the military, too! If you know of a woman veteran in your life, please take the time to acknowledge their service and appreciate them.”

For those interested in checking out the webinar it’s at 1-2 p.m. on Monday, May 24, and it’s hosted on ZOOM. Learn more and register here.

The other panelists are Kasie Valenti, a mom of three and U.S. Army veteran who served as a logistics officer with one deployment to Afghanistan and who is also a military spouse and director of communications at Service to School, and Kymberly Helwig, a mom of four and U.S. Army veteran. Helwig is currently earning her undergraduate degree in psychology from Columbia University.

For more information on WSP, visit www.warrior-scholar.org.

Elder holding a local Iraqi woman's infant child. photo supplied by Cassie Elder
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