Military Mom: How it all started…

Lt. Col. Erin Karl
Owner of Analytical Grammar and, Erin lives in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband, two kids, two cats, and the dog. AG was started by her mom, Robin Finley, a public school English teacher for 34 years. Robin passed away in 2015 after a seven-year battle with cancer. Erin now runs the company, serves as a public affairs officer in the Air Force Reserve, cares for her family, and tries to sing as much as an often as anyone will let her. To reach Erin, email her at

“So, what made you join the military?”

This is a question I’m often asked. It’s funny; I’ve actually got a HORRIBLE memory, but the day I decided to look into going into the Air Force is one I remember clearly.

I had graduated college and had come home to Anchorage, Alaska, where I grew up, to “start my life.” I had a degree in communications and had gotten a job in sales for a company that produced commercials. I did that job for one week and decided I HATED IT. I hated sales. I was a straight commission employee and never made a dime. Although that lasted a week, it was very eye-opening for me.

My mom taught public school for 34 years. My dad was an L.A. County Sheriff for 30 years (my parents divorced when I was three years old, and I moved to Alaska with my mom and grandmother when I was six). That week in sales made me realize that I wasn’t going to be happy unless my job served the public in some way.

So, it was Friday night and I was in the living room watching JAG with Mom and Nanny. Remember that show about the Navy lawyers? Anyway, when the show was over, I turned to my mom and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about going into the Air Force.” My mother was SHOCKED. We lived in a military town, and I had friends who were stationed at the nearby bases. Both of my mom’s brothers had served as well. Still… I was a cheerleader, not athletic at all, a total “girly-girl,” and musical theater nut. What on EARTH would put military service in my head?

I explained that I knew the U.S. military had people who did all sorts of jobs: lawyers, finance, human resources, food service, computers, and what I was interested in… public relations. (Later I found out that we call it Public Affairs.) Why not take what I learned at college and apply that toward a greater good?

Well, long story short, I applied, was selected, and left for Officer Training School about a year later. After three months of push-ups and yelling, I reported to my first assignment at Patrick AFB, Fla. It was the very best decision I’ve ever made.

I spent four years active duty. During that time I learned SO MUCH about myself, my capabilities, and my job. I met my best friends (shout out to the other members of the Fearsome Threesome, Sylvia and Alana) and my husband. I had adventures, I traveled, I worked LONG hours, and I LOVED it.

After those four years I went into the Air Force Reserve, which has allowed me to continue my service without having to move around and allowing me time to spend with my kiddos once we were blessed with them.

People who only know the “civilian Erin” are still sometimes surprised I’m a military officer. I’m still a “girly-girl,” still a musical theater nut, and still the worst runner this side of the Mississippi. However, I’ve also learned how to be calm in chaotic situations, work well under pressure, problem solve, and push myself to do things that are hard or scary. Why? Well, thousands of other people have done it (whatever IT is at that moment)… why not me?

All these things make their way into my parenting. My kids often hear me say:” Figure it out.” “Deep breath and press on.” “Suck it up.” The military really does become a part of who you are – for better or worse!

Here’s the thing — I really don’t know WHY I said something to my mom that night. I honestly don’t remember mulling over the idea before that. I personally think it was “a God thing.” I just know that I’m so grateful that idea popped in my head. I don’t know what my life would have been without that turning-point decision, but it wouldn’t be THIS LIFE, and THIS LIFE is perfect.

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