Navy wife regroups to help military families

Attorney, blogger leaves Clark County job to start consulting business

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Did you know?

Lori Volkman was among 18 finalists for 2013 Military Spouse of the Year; she represented Naval Base San Diego, where her husband Randy was assigned as a reservist.

Video

See an interview with Lori Volkman.

RIDGEFIELD — Lori Volkman's reflections on life as a military spouse were midnight messages that bounced around the blogosphere.

Now she can target her audiences. She's still sharing her perspectives as a Navy reservist's wife, but now Volkman wants to influence as well as to entertain and empathize.

Volkman recently left her job as a Clark County deputy prosecuting attorney for her own communications business. The Ridgefield woman's new enterprise advocates for military families and helps develop strategies for lobbying groups, which does tap some of her legal skills.

"What we do in court is persuade," she said.

Volkman also is a funding matchmaker, pairing businesses that want to help members of the military community with projects looking for sponsors.

"I found out that I was the only one out there that was informally offering a connection between these large brands and military family organizations that need money to run meaningful programs," Volkman said.

She calls it rewarding work and "a way to get paid for what I actually love to do, which is help find reasonable answers to difficult puzzles."

Volkman recently helped a New York-based nonprofit, Modest Needs, reach out to veterans. Modest Needs quickly provides small amounts of aid. Its Homecoming Heroes grants help veterans back from recent overseas deployments while they're waiting for their benefits to be processed.

"They need help getting through some difficult months," said Sonya Barash, Modest Needs' vice president of marketing and outreach.

"I got in touch with Lori to see if she would help bring some publicity to Modest Needs through her ties in the military community," Barash said. "She is truly passionate about this cause."

The cause is a result of her 21-year marriage with Randy Volkman, an aviator who is a commander in the Navy Reserve. When Randy was gone for 15 months during a deployment to the Middle East, Lori solo-parented Olivia, 10, and Cooper, 8. Her observations became fodder for her blog, "Witty Little Secret."

"One of the difficulties for reserve families, we're typically remote," Volkman said. "When a deployment happens, you feel very alone. In an area like Vancouver, you don't have any active military base nearby."

Volkman blogged about things such as serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches four days in a row: It's not really four days in a row if one of them is a grilled PB&J, she pointed out.

In a piece called "Creepsville," Volkman described the day a box arrived in the mail: It contained her husband's Navy uniform. She eventually learned that Randy had been assigned to an Army unit. After he was issued an Army uniform, he didn't need his blue-camo Navy wardrobe, so it was sent home.

Her writing resonated with other military spouses. It also attracted media attention, up to national television, Reader's Digest and the New York Times. But it was time-consuming for a busy attorney and mother.

"I was working full time, then writing from 9 (p.m.) to midnight."

While it gave her a chance to let off steam, "writing is not so lucrative," she said.

When something had to give, Volkman left her 13-year job as deputy prosecutor in the county's civil division.

As CEO of Trajectory Communications, she can be a project manager, working for a fee or for a percentage of money raised.

She still has links to the law as communications director of Military Spouse JD Network. It supports attorneys (JD stands for "juris doctor") married to military personnel.

Moving every couple of years, as your spouse is transferred, is tough on a legal career, Volkman said. It means taking another state bar exam with each move.

"State bar exams are set up for a reason," Volkman said. "We're just asking that if you've practiced for a minimum number of years, you be given an opportunity to temporarily work" while your spouse is stationed in that state.

Six states have confirmed their intentions of accommodating lawyers in military families, she said; 12 others are in the pipeline.

The JD Network also is involved with Homefront Rising, an effort to help military spouses run for Congress.

In January, Volkman moderated a town hall discussion on veterans' retirement benefits; participants included the Military Officers Association of America and several other advocacy groups.

Volkman isn't a midnight blogger now, but she still likes telling the civilian world about military life.

Some of those stories surprise even her, such as a recent conversation in Washington, D.C. The tour by the Homefront Rising team included a visit with U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

Volkman mentioned how her feet hurt because of all the walking they'd done around the city. Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, picked up the conversational thread and started talking about some of her own shoes: her favorite pair of flats. That's when Volkman got squirmy, because Duckworth doesn't have any feet.

One of the first women pilots to fly combat missions in Iraq, Duckworth lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Volkman confessed to Duckworth: "I can't have this conversation."

Duckworth seemed to take it, well, in stride.

"She was so gracious," Volkman said.

Lori Volkman

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