Nicole Goetz was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Air Force in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Air Force recipient. We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Maggie Rochon, MCOY for U.S. Coast Guard 2011.
In 2011, I had the honor of serving as the first Military Child of the Year for the Air Force. That Operation Homefront gala in Washington, D.C., was such a special time for me because not only did I meet one of my heroes, then first lady Michelle Obama, but I also got surprised by my forever hero, my father. My father was finishing up a year-long deployment in Afghanistan and it was his service overseas that inspired my community service on the homefront.*
A few short months after the gala, I was pursuing an international affairs degree at Emory University in Atlanta. Every class and every discussion brought me back to my father’s service. During my time at school, I realized just how bad the military-civilian disconnect had become. For the most part, students, staff, and faculty had never personally interacted with an active-duty member or their family member. Most of their understanding of the active-duty service members had stemmed from what they read about or saw on TV, and a vast majority of it was never good. That was when I decided to act. With help from now-retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former Air Force Chief of Staff, and Moody Air Force Base, we were able to assemble a panel of active-duty service members to speak to students.
I remember the day of the panel like it was yesterday. I was scared that students wouldn’t show, because why would they? But with extra pleading from myself and extra credit offered from professors, the room was packed. The panel consisted of five active-duty service members: a colonel; an Army Ranger who was about our age; an explosive ordnance disposal technician who was 24 with four kids and a purple heart; a combat controller; and a young female airman who performed humanitarian missions overseas.
After I introduced each guest, I watched as students connected the material they were taught in their college classes to those on the panel. The only way I could describe what happened next was that it was magic. The air in the room was no longer cold and awkward, but warm and full of empathy.
The next moment would change my life forever. The colonel shared that he was not sure how the panel was going to be received by the students. He reflected on how the Vietnam veterans were spat on and shouted at by college students when they came home. Then he started to tear up and remarked that my generation would be dealing with 20-plus years of veterans due to our involvement in the global war on terror. Right then and there I decided that I’ll be damned if I let my generation treat my father and the rest of our veterans as they did back in the 1960s and 70s. The panel was a huge success and Emory continued to host military panels and reintegration projects ever since.
From that moment, I figured my best bet at helping the military community was to work in the political sector. It was an exciting, fast-paced world. My military upbringing helped me tackle the unpredictable, tumultuous environment. I worked for organizations and campaigns from the local to national levels. It all seemed like a natural fit, until it wasn’t.
I was exhausted from constantly trying to break through the glass ceiling in politics. Sexism was and is a real issue. Many of my colleagues assumed I was there to become a senator’s wife, not to positively change policy. It had become a major hindrance that set me off my original purpose of serving our military and veteran community. Rather than continuing to try to chip away at the obtuse obstacle in front of me, I searched for a new angle. That angle soon revealed itself through the STEM field.
After my departure from politics, I accepted a marketing and outreach position with the Curtis Laws Wilson Library at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. This past February, I spearheaded the university’s largest hackathon to date. A hackathon is a weekend-long event that brings hundreds of students from across the nation together to solve a current problem in society through the use of coding and technology. This year, we decided to focus our efforts on helping our transitioning military members, veterans, and their families. With over $20,000 from corporate sponsors and around 100 hackers, the event was a success as many new ideas and platforms were created to help assist the military and their families with reintegration. Our inaugural event set a strong precedent for next year’s hackathon.
I’ve also been working on another project with a fellow 2011 Military Child of the Year and close friend, Maggie Rochon — creating a platform that will better connect military spouses and dependents across the different military bases and posts around the country and world.
Aside from my transitioning career, I am also transitioning from the role of military brat to military spouse. In May 2017, I married my best friend, 1st Lt. Brian Kloiber. Brian is a West Point graduate, Army diver, and a great dog dad. His kindness, patience, support, and good humor have made the transition to being a spouse a fun and somewhat seamless one despite the curveballs of military life like moving, deployments, and career sacrifices. With every challenge we have faced so far, I was reminded of how great of a team we make and how we are both each other’s equals and strengths. I am excited to see what all the future has in store for us!
Obstacles and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I know I am blessed to be part of one of the best and strongest communities in the world. From growing up watching my mom be the strong and selfless super military spouse to now interacting with so many great, ambitious spouses, I am forever in awe of the service and support that spouses, dependents, and great organizations like Operation Homefront give to ensure our military members, veterans, and their families are well taken care of.
Moving forward, if I have to give advice to future winners, I’d say that it’s OK if things don’t work out as you plan. Things can change at the drop of a hat, dreams can shatter, and you will be thrown off course. But all that matters is how you react. If you stay true with what you are really passionate about, life has a funny way of getting you back on track.
By Nicole Goetz
*Editor’s note: Nicole’s father, now retired, was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force
Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018