When your kid comes home from college and says, “Mom, look what I did today,” you might expect an article published in the school paper, an A on an exam or even an ill-advised tattoo. Most parents don’t expect their daughter, who never participated in organized team activities or showed any interest in the military, to suddenly announce she’s joined the National Guard.
“I decided on the military when I was in college and starving,” said Army Lt. Col. Allison Day.
Much to her parents’ and Day’s surprise, she enjoyed her basic training experience — so much so that when she returned to school, she joined the Army ROTC program.
“When I came back to college, I looked at other majors because I really was not happy with my current major, journalism,” said Day. “I was good at it, but I just wasn’t excited about it. So, after I came back from basic training, I had this confidence that I could do all kinds of other stuff and I ended up switching to forestry. It was math and science and things I had avoided all my life. I had to work really hard, but I enjoyed it so much that I ended up doing really well in it.”
After her five years in the National Guard, Day graduated college and was commissioned in the Army, where she’s served for the last 20 years.
“I think that everybody should serve the country somehow,” said Day, who had also explored options with the Peace Corps before joining the National Guard. “The military is very cool in that you get a little slice of the whole American pie. I get to work with people from New Jersey and Alaska and Samoa and just wherever, so it’s been a very broadening experience for me.”
And, it turns out that forestry degree was the start of a career for Day in the military. Her first tour was with a topographic unit in Hawaii doing terrain analysis. After a company command in Fort Riley, Kansas, Day applied and was selected for a fully-funded graduate school program with a follow-on assignment to the U.S. Military Academy. She earned a master’s degree in remote sensing and geospatial information systems from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and then taught geography, photogrammetry and surveying at West Point.
In her current position, Day’s background serves her well at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. She works in the Military Support directorate where she supports the acquisitions process for the military services, analyzing the geospatial needs of emerging and future land warfare systems.
“We look at their standards and what they are proposing and how they plan to use our data,” said Day. “I check and see — are we still going to be producing that? Are there new things coming out that would be more efficient? Is it going to be interoperable? Having my background helps me understand the standards, system capabilities, and how the program fits into the larger geospatial enterprise.”
Much of Day’s career has been spent achieving a balance between work, military deployment, education and family.
“Balance is the big thing,” said Day. “Whereas maybe I used to volunteer for a lot more things, I have to be realistic in my expectations for everything now. So, maybe I don’t volunteer to lead Boy Scouts, but I will sure help and be involved.”
Day’s advice for work-life balance, “Know your limits and don’t expect to be perfect at everything.”
With four children ranging from 10 years to 6 months old, Day said that “everything kind of focuses around the munchkins right now.” And, it seems her education and career interests are already inspiring the next generation of her family.
“They can read a map very well,” she said. The family does a lot of camping, hiking and biking and Day said they check out every museum possible, but especially the area battlefields. “My eight-year-old can pick out the War of 1812 uniform versus a Civil War uniform, so they enjoy dressing up,” said Day. “They do play soldier, but they also really like being astronauts.”
Day retires from the military in January 2016, but it’s that first experience in basic training that still holds some of the most meaningful lessons for her.
“Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you won’t be great at it,” said Day.
“You have to have confidence that as long as you work hard at something, you can do whatever you set your mind to. I think that lesson learned, that I got from basic training, has applied to everything I have ever done since.”