Her day begins at 3:30 a.m., when Sgt. Kathryn Daniels hydrates and prepares herself for work as a Stryker systems mechanic.
Before sun rises, the 24-year-old mother has woken her two children, Isabella, 3, and son, Tiago, 15 months, and helped them put on their clothes for preschool. At 6 a.m. she drives 20 minutes from the family’s home in base housing to drop her kids off at their child care center just outside of the Texas installation.
Then already wearing her black exercise sweats, she hustles back to her unit’s formation at the Fort Cavazos motorpool. For an hour she does pushups, sit-ups and a short run with Soldiers in her unit.
She returns home to shower, quickly change into her combat uniform and tie her hair in time for an eight-hour workday.
Occasionally, she will get a call from the child care center when one of her children gets sick. Then she must scramble from managing Soldier mechanics at the motorpool’s Stryker bay and call the family’s pediatrician. Sometimes, she has to leave work to take one of her children to the doctor.
She remains in the bay until 5 p.m., depending on the number of vehicles that need maintenance. Then she must drive to the day care center to take her kids home. After preparing dinner and feeding her children, she puts them to bed at 8:30 p.m. Then spends time cleaning the house. “So, it’s just go, go, go until 9 o’clock for me,” she said.
Daniels dedicates time to review disciplinary actions or paperwork she needs to file. And then she has few brief moments for herself before she finally goes to bed at around 10:30.
Being a single mother of two and a Soldier can be a daunting task. But Daniels, one of about 9,800 single moms serving in the Army today, weathers that challenge every day.
When Daniels and her daughter’s father, a fellow Soldier, separated in 2021, she unexpectedly had more responsibility placed upon her shoulders.
She became the sole caretaker of Isabella, but then in February 2022 life threw her another curve. She took the role of lead supervisor of her squad at the Fort Cavazos motorpool vehicle repair shop shortly before giving birth to her son.
“It was like a sink or swim situation where I needed to learn how to take charge and get everything done that need to be done without any prior knowledge,” Daniels said. “And that really tested me.”
To fulfill her duties both as Soldier and as a mother, Daniels meticulously plans each segment of her day, and holds herself to high standards.
At times she has struggled. During one of her pregnancies, she could barely keep pace with other Soldiers at Master Resilience Training. She said initially when she enlisted in the Army in 2018, she didn’t always have leaders that empathized with a mothers’ needs.
She said that after giving birth to Isabella in 2019, she felt pressure to return to duty before she had fully recovered from her pregnancy.
“When I first came [into the Army] it was such a different environment,” she said. “When I had my daughter, and fighting through that kind of stigmatism when you’re pregnant, it’s super difficult to get that … I don’t want to say respect, but it’s really hard.”
Fortunately for Daniels, that burden has become lighter.
Her command staff at Fort Cavazos has accommodated her needs, allowing her to take additional time to pump breast milk after the birth of her son. The Stryker Brigade cadre set up special rooms at the motorpool for new moms to breastfeed. The space includes a refrigerator, water station and a couch.
In April 2022, Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth approved the Parenthood, Pregnancy and Postpartum Army Directive which called for measures that provide provisions for new and expectant mothers.
The 12 policy changes included specific areas for new moms to pump breast milk, extensions up to 24 months for Soldier-moms lactating while in training or on deployment. It also opens more professional military training and temporary promotions for pregnant and postpartum NCOs.
“We’re not punished for having children,” Daniels said. “Like, there’s no shame in it. When I first had my daughter, it was very frowned upon to have problems with your children.”
“And now if there’s an issue then they’re like, ‘Alright, let us know if you need help.’ And I haven’t seen it like this until after having my son. And it’s made my stress level, go way, way, down.”
Going the extra mile
At a hotel in Memphis, Daniels reunites with her two children on a March afternoon.
She and her friend, Sgt. Ke Spears, have driven nine hours from Killeen, Texas, to Tennessee to meet Daniels’ parents who cared for her children while Daniels spent 14 days in field training. Daniels’ parents have travelled 10 hours west from Daniels’ hometown near Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Less than 24 hours before, Spears had just picked up Daniels from the Killeen-Fort Cavazos Regional Airport after returning to Texas from her training.
Daniels, Spears and Daniels’ parents spend an hour dining at a restaurant before making the nine-hour trip home. She and Spears must still report for duty at Fort Cavazos the following day.
“[Being a single mom] could be extremely challenging,” said Spears, who has a four-year-old son herself. “Sometimes you have leadership that do not have family or have not been in that situation before. But you just have to have the right attitude and right mindset and wake up every morning and say ‘Hey, I got to do this for my baby, no matter what.’”
The two women bonded when Daniels took over as squad leader for Stryker mechanics while Spears became a lead supervisor of logistics.
They both knew the struggles of being a single mother in the Army, while also taking duties as young leaders.
They coordinated their schedules tightly around their duties at the motorpool, fitness training and their children’s day care and health care needs. They spend time in each other’s homes while also coordinating play dates for their children.
However, the uncertainty of child care looms every time they must deploy, train in the field or go on temporary duty. During each separation, she must prepare enough snacks and pack enough clothing for each day apart.
Daniels knows that the more difficult time apart from her kids is coming. Daniels will soon deploy as part of a security force assistance brigade — special training units that travel to locations throughout the globe. She faces the uncertainty of not knowing how long she will be gone. It could be anywhere from a couple weeks to nine months.
But she knows she can count on her Family Care Plan, which provides care for military members when a Soldier deploys, and the support of Daniels’ family and friends.
Daniels said that she relies on her ability to plan and manage her schedule to find balance as a single mother and Soldier.