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Reservist, Civil Servant, Military Spouse, Mother, Small Business Owner and Advocate: Meet Monica DeGroot

  • Published
  • By Melony Bagwell

As a Reservist, civil servant, military spouse, mother, small business owner and advocate, Senior Master Sgt. Monica DeGroot never gives up and never takes no for an answer.

She attributes much of her success to support from her husband, family, previous supervisors and leaders along the way who taught her perseverance and that a bend in the road does not mean the end of the road.

DeGroot’s journey started when she joined the Air Force in 2005 as an information management specialist and spent six years on active duty. Early on in her Air Force career she dreamt of becoming a first sergeant.

“My very first first sergeant was an amazing human being,” she said. “He was kind, compassionate and empathetic. He remembered everyone’s name, their story – he truly cared for each and every Airman he met. He passed away early on in my career yet his presence still lives in me to this day. He epitomized what a true leader is and set an example of who I aspired to be.”

Her path to fulfilling her dream of becoming a first sergeant was full of missed turns and detours. She thought the dream died when she decided to leave active duty to finish her degree. However, an opportunity came knocking when she was offered a position to join the Air Force Reserve as an Air Reserve Technician.

“One of the toughest decisions I had to make in my life turned out to be the start of many more opportunities ahead,” she said. “Sometimes the best opportunities truly come when you least expect it. Now I believe that was exactly what was supposed to happen. At the time though, I really had no idea what the future would hold for me beyond my military career.”

After just a few years of serving as an ART, DeGroot was given the opportunity to be a first sergeant – a title she proudly held until her family relocated to the National Capital Region in support of her active-duty husband’s assignment.

“At first I was disheartened to give up my duties as a first shirt and my civil service position,” she said. “Being a military spouse has its challenges, like moving and starting over in a new place. It sometimes feels like I take one step forward and three steps back when it comes to managing both my personal and professional goals. Being a military spouse is a duty I don’t take lightly. I feel blessed to be able to support my husband while serving our nation and still manage to pursue my aspirations.”

Despite many sacrifices and disappointments, DeGroot kept pushing forward and she never let anyone or anything stop her from reaching her goals.

Job searching as a military spouse is not easy. She’s heard the word “no” more often than she wanted to hear, but she took those rejections as redirections instead – opportunities for her to discover something different and new instead.

With every rejection she’s encountered, DeGroot said a new door would open and offer a new opportunity that wasn’t expected. She recalled one particular interview that had a great impact on her. After meeting a human resource representative at a job fair, she was offered an interview she had little experience with, but had the appropriate education and training for.

“Mid-interview, one of the panel members said to the HR rep, ‘she has no experience for this job, why is she even here?’” DeGroot recalled. “I spoke up and said, ‘I might not have the experience you require of me right at this moment, but I promise if you give me a chance, I will be the very best employee you have ever had.’”

Not only did she get the position, but she has excelled and moved up two grades in just four years.

“I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been give over the years,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I have worked very hard, volunteered to take on more to learn more, but I also attribute what I have to those who saw potential and believed in me. I believe that you should always be prepared for the next step because you just never know when opportunities will come knocking.”

DeGroot is also a big believer in community. “We have to surround ourselves with others who are able to understand, listen, share advice, be there for each other and live life with,” she said.

When she found herself in a tough situation after the birth of her child, she said she almost shut down and felt like hiding away. It took support from her family, friends and coworkers to help her get back up.

Through this experience, she leveraged an existing group in her organization to launch MOMSConnect, a support group for mothers with children of all ages from infants to those leaving for college.

“I knew I couldn’t be the only new mother with lots of questions about how this motherhood thing worked,” she said. “And, it turns out I am not. Our first meeting validated the need that all moms feel in this journey – that this isn’t easy and we need each other. I am so happy to have a space for us to come together and not feel all alone.”

DeGroot received so much positive feedback about MOMSConnect that she has been asked to help start a group for dads and she’s exploring the idea of a starting a group for all parents to meet together.

If this isn’t enough, DeGroot decided to launch her own small business recently. She decided to try her hand at creating custom gift boxes that are shipped monthly with personally curated products that focus on self-care and encourage relationship building. Each basket comes with a hand-written, personalized note from her.

“I want every box I build and ship to bring joy to the person who receives it,” she said. “I also created the business as a community and forum for women to connect with other women. I believe in connectiveness. Often, military spouses or others who move frequently for their careers feel like they don’t belong or find it difficult to make new friends. This is an online community where women can bloom where they are planted – which is the mission statement for my company.”

Despite her extremely busy life, DeGroot has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. She said she gets her energy and feels the most accomplished when she is helping others.

“My long-term goal is to be able to do outreach to military communities and provide support for our military spouses and those families who are new to the area,” she said. “I pray that our community grows to be able to reach those who might feel overwhelmed with moving, with finding employment, with being new parents. It’s like Helen Keller said, ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’ Sometimes we must build something we want to be a part of. Make room at your table, that’s how community is built.”

One final word of advice from DeGroot: “Continue having big dreams and envision the life you want. Then wake up, work extra hard and make it happen.”

(Bagwell is assigned to the Air Force Reserve Command public affairs office.)