Author's te: Some of the details in this story are graphic in nature and may trigger survivors of various forms of abuse. Discretion is recommended.
A common phrase shared by US military personnel is that they are offering their country a blank check. This is because the service they provide includes everything up to and including their lives if it is required for the betterment of the country that is free and home of the brave.
The dedication of these heroic men and women is all that and more, but they're not the only ones giving more. The family members of these soldiers also make quite a sacrifice. Whether you're talking about the hero in action's parents, spouse, or children, the family member gives up time, memories, and moments so the loved one can do what's necessary to keep everyone safe.
Courtesy of Melanie Branch
Melanie Branch knows this victim all too well. She is the wife of 12-year-old US Air Force member Jared Branch. He was already serving when he and Melanie met. Jared had already ended a marriage before they met. Their first encounter was at a local bar, but their first real encounter was at a charity event in Arizona. Even though he had to move to New Mexico, they kept in touch through social media.
"I ended up taking a Greyhound bus from Tempe, AZ to New Mexico, and we got married pretty quickly," Branch recalled. "We got married in an apple orchard on an Indian reservation with two best man."
The newlyweds kept their marriage a secret from his family for the first year of their marriage. netheless, Branch was now a soldier's spouse. Her first surprise in her new role came at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
"It was quite a shock to just get in there, really settle in and figure out how friendships work, how they don't work. There are even different types of spouses," Branch said. "I tell people I feed him and wash his clothes. This refers to my appreciation for everything he does. I've seen all his fights."
Combat is something Branch himself is familiar with. She revealed that her family members didn't like each other very much. So there weren't many meetings. She also grew up with a single mother and a brother whom she called a "certified sociopath." When she was 16, she went camping with her brother and a friend, and a friend of her brother's came with her. Her brother's boyfriend would sexually assault Melanie.
"I came home from it and told my mom, and she didn't believe me," she revealed. "We were living in Arizona at the time, and I eventually moved back to California to live with my father. They tried to get me into counseling and everything.”
Despite the advice, Branch's path didn't get any easier. She would actually move out of her father's house for a year and live alone. She went back at 18 to complete high school, but wasn't sure what came next. She even attempted to enlist in the military, but was recently in a car accident. This meant she couldn't help herself.
"It always kind of came to me," she explained. Combined with the previous struggles she had already dealt with, Branch attempted suicide in 2017. She tried to walk onto a busy road in the dark during a rainstorm. Her attempt failed and she remained in a rth Carolina psychiatric hospital.
"That was really eye-opening for us," she said. "I've seen people get off things like heroin. Here they lived. They have been systematized. That's what happens with people who go through things and don't deal with things.”
Melanie Branch would leave after a brief stint and get back to her life. One way that helped her was fitness.
“I started working at Five Star Nutrition. I was the assistant manager there and found that I was good at nutritional supplements. I'm really good at researching and figuring out why these supplements benefit the body.”
Just as negativity can steam and build momentum, so can positivity. After focusing on her new career, she and Jared became parents to a baby girl in September 2018. However, Melanie would again face adversity in the form of postpartum depression. This time Melanie didn't succumb to the negative forces - she fought back.
"I've been looking for signs like not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to exist. Luckily the only thing it concerned was me. It never detracted from the overwhelming love I had for my daughter."
Training and fitness would be key to helping Branch become a better mom and military wife. Another military spouse she knew was having a baby around the same time as the branch. They started going to the gym together to motivate and engage each other.
“We just started going to the gym at 4am. That went on for about a year and a half."
Courtesy of Melanie Branch
Melanie Branch took her engagement to the next level by taking the stage and she even started collaborating with Redcon1 via social media. If fitness was the way to help her look her best, then she would embrace anything.
"I'm the kind of person that if I want something, I'll get it," she proudly shared. "I would text the guys there and say, 'Hey, how do I do this or that?' They told me that no one had ever asked them these questions before. 'Well, here I am. So tell me how.'”
Branch is now thriving on all fronts. She and Jared's daughter are now approaching preschool age, they're as committed as ever, and she's thriving in her role as fitness. She is considering attending the 2022 NPC Armed Forces Nationals later this year, and she also works as a trainer to help others. Whether the title she works under is mother, military wife, competitor or trainer, she now lives by two mantras.
"Begin - again" and "Head down, loop up."
Follow Melanie Branch on Instagram and Facebook: @iammelefate.