By Ursula Palmer

“What got you here won’t keep you here and won’t get you there.”

This was one of the first pieces of advice I received at the beginning of my career. I had been at my entry level job for a couple of years and didn’t seem to be able to get the promotion I thought I deserved. Within a couple of months, I was taking a real estate investment class while interning for the school’s CEO. One day, the President of the real estate school said something I’ll never forget: “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”  So, I worked hard, and a few months later, their real estate auction company offered me the position of Director of Marketing. It seemed things we’re finally working out.

Then, when I thought I had it together, my husband was severely injured while on active duty in Afghanistan and died two and a half months later.  In the blink of an eye, I had become a Gold Star Spouse, left behind with a 3-year-old daughter. She became my reason to survive. I knew that regardless of how heartbroken and depressed I felt, I had to figure out a way to show her how to survive, adapt, and move forward.

I worked for a few more years at the Real Estate Auction company, and then I found love again. I married into the military for the second time. I had to move away from a job I loved and had a beautiful baby boy who got severely sick at 18 months old, leading me to put my career on hold to take care of him. During that time, I started to volunteer for two of the organizations that had provided support during my journey as a military widow. I was now in a position to use my experience to help and advocate for others. That was extremely empowering and fulfilling.

The volunteer experience was great, but I knew I had to continue to improve myself if I was to go back to the workforce. So, I decided to get my Project Management Professional certification. Then, as I was participating in a golf program for wounded warriors, disabled veterans and Gold Star families, the organization providing the adaptive golf classes was looking for a program manager. Working with veterans and for veterans was addicting and it provided me with an opportunity to give back to those, who like my two husbands, had given so much to our country.

A few years passed, and I knew I could do more to serve the military community. That’s when I found HillVets. Their website stated that they brought together the veteran community in the National Capital Region and provided fellowship and leadership training to veterans interested in engaging in policy, politics, or government. That sounded great, but I wasn’t a veteran. So, I thought I’d ask if they would consider allowing a Gold Star spouse to participate, and they said yes! I applied to both their HillVets House Fellowship Program and HillVets LEAD program and was accepted to both.

Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone. 95% of the HillVets LEAD participants were veterans, most of them already with experience in policy. In addition, while participating as a fellow, I found that most fellows on Capitol Hill were in their twenties. Having the most important thing to undertake this adventure – my family’s support – I swallowed my pride and went to work. “Work hard, get lucky” resonated again. I kept reminding myself that this was the necessary step to gain the knowledge and experience that would allow me to better serve those I cared about. I finished the HillVets LEAD program and found an opportunity with a great office in the House of Representatives. HillVets also chose me as their fellow to represent them with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization. I learned a great deal and made wonderful friends. Then, the pandemic hit.

I had two options. Sit down and feel defeated that my Hill experience got cut short or do something about it. I started networking and keeping abreast of military and veterans’ affairs issues, policies, and developments. As I talked to people, I started to realize that others respected and appreciated my knowledge, my desire to continuously improve, and especially my most important goal – to serve. HillVets had proven to be the conduit to take me to the next level.

I am now the Executive Director of Military and Veteran Programs for Cybercrime Support Network, an organization where being a servant leader is the main expectation. And once again I know that I have to work hard because, “what got me here won’t keep me here and won’t get me there.” I will have to continue to learn and to improve. Thanks to HillVets and many other great organizations and leaders who have guided me throughout the years, I am finally at a place where I can directly help and serve the military community. Through my work, I am able to honor the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, like my late husband.