When Monte and Robin LeBlanc met at a 200-mile race in Texas, neither had any idea they would fall in love. And they certainly had no idea they would experience every major life change – in one year! Their long-distance romance blossomed, in spite of a 6-hour car ride to be together. Monte joined the Air Force and was active duty when they met. Robin was living in Oklahoma, and yet they focused in building a strong relationship beginning in 2009 until they got married in 2013, when Monte retired from the Air Force. While this seems like a beautiful love story, and it is, their relationship was not all sunshine and roses. In fact, 2013 was a year of major change and transition.

It’s not a secret that veterans often struggle with reintegrating into civilian life. Add to that a move to a new state, starting a life with your new spouse, and a whole host of other changes, and you could have a recipe for disaster. Not for Robin and Monte. What is their secret?

“We really talked, knew what we both wanted, and had the same foundation from our upbringing,” says Robin. “Both our sets of parents have been married for 50 years, which is unusual in today’s society.”

Having that like-mindedness supported Robin and Monte through the changes that were happening. In addition to a marriage, military retirement and moving, they also adopted a daughter. Plus, Monte started to school at Spartan College of Aeronautics.

Adding a child to your life is a blessing. However, Monte and Robin’s situation was not the norm.

“Our daughter was with us off and on for a while because her family struggled to properly care for her. I was the safety plan,” says Robin. “In 2013, she came to stay with us permanently.”

More Than a Change in Routine

Taking on all of those life changes in one year is significant and can add to the stress of trying to acclimate. For Monte, it was adapting to life without the structure of the military.

“I’m used to being with my team of people. While we didn’t always like one another, we had each other’s back,” says Monte. “Civilian life does not have the same level of team orientation and structure.”

As a professional counselor, Robin is all too familiar with the rigors of transitioning through life changes. She focuses on working with children who have experienced multiple traumas in their short lives.

“I knew the transition would be difficult for Monte, so we decided he should just focus on school for the time being,” says Robin. “I know that a lot of military people do not have that luxury or cannot transition well. I wanted Monte to have that opportunity.”

The military is a unit that provides a secure space. Everyone has a specific detail, everyone knows that detail and they all function as one. That is not the case in civilian life.

“The military creates a team environment that is simply not replicated in the civilian world. It’s more from a place of family orientation, covering each other’s backs,” says Monte. “The motivation is different inside a business and can be very cut throat.”

Getting to Your Happy Place

Taking on all that Monte and Robin did in 2013 was not easy. Today they have moved into a different rhythm, but not without ups and downs.

“I often talk to my kids in therapy about finding their happy place. It has to be somewhere you can feel and use all your senses,” says Robin. “For us, that is the outdoors.”

Fishing and hunting is one of the commonalities Robin and Monte have. So, when Monte found out about Heroes on the Water, it seemed like a natural fit.

“The people at the Northeastern HOW chapter are like family,” says Monte. “The experience is peaceful and easy to do. It’s a relaxing getaway.”

“Coming at it with my background, it’s understanding that nature heals. The more you are out in nature, the less medication you need,” says Robin. “Getting to connect with others, having that positive interaction, and then being able to visualize the kayak fishing later makes it a happy place.”

Monte, Robin and their daughter do a lot as a family, and as many families today, stay quite busy. They focus on helping others through various organizations, as well as Robin’s work as part of the State of Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Board.

“Having the one monthly HOW event allows us to get some good family time and unplug a bit,” says Monte. “It lets us teach our daughter about the beauty of nature while also doing something fun.

Transitioning through life, whether it’s joyous occasions like marriage and adoption or difficulties of changing locations and jobs, can be overwhelming. Robin and Monte found that using the foundation of their like upbringing, strong communication and an ability to empathize helped them navigate the tough times. They also know that working with organizations like Heroes on the Water put them in groups of people who understand and are willing to be part of their extended family.

The art of transitioning well is the focus of HOW’s program, Reunify Family. Through our no-cost therapeutic kayak fishing experiences, we are able to serve veterans, first responders and their families as they transition through their life experiences. Giving them peace of mind and support of like-minded folks helps them to make the transition more readily. Become a part of the HOW Family by donating today, and help us serve those who have given so much.

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