UNION, Ky. — November is recognized as National Veterans and Military Families Month. In recognizing the important roles service members and their families play in maintaining a strong military force, Spectrum News 1 is sharing the stories of some of those families across the Commonwealth.
A member of the National Guard from northern Kentucky, who stepped up during Kentucky’s recent natural disasters to help families in crisis, says he wouldn’t have been able to do so without the unwavering support of his own family.
First Lieutenant Mike Wilson has to be a leader when he’s out on missions, and when he’s working as a supervisor for Boone County Public Works. He also has to be a leader at home.
“Your job is to prepare your unit to be able to know your job and be able to deploy quickly. If I didn’t bring that mission home and prepare my family for that same mindset, then I would be failing at my job as the leader of the family,” Wilson said.
When he’s on the sideline watching his son Hunter’s football practice, though, he leaves the leadership up to the coach.
“That was a fun play,” he yelled excitedly. Rain was pouring down.
Rain or shine, he’s there, watching his son with a group of other dads, not just because Hunter needs a ride home, but because being someone people, especially his loved ones, can depend on has always been important to him.
Wilson enlisted in the military after graduating high school in 1996. He left for basic training in Jan. 1997. When he first enlisted, he was an electrician working on communication equipment.
After completing Officer Candidate School (OCS), he became an engineer officer in the Army National Guard.
More than a decade of service included multiple deployments. As commander of the Forward Support Company 206, he’s now a platoon leader in charge of 30 combat engineers. Their primary responsibilities, Wilson said, are mine clearing and survivability missions, as well as preparing for stateside national disasters.
“The combat engineer mission kind of falls right in line to helping out with the state side mission there,” he said.
Toward the end of those initial 12 years, though, he felt another calling, or rather, an inclination to make a call, when he was working with the aunt of his now-wife.
“He saw a picture on her refrigerator and was like, ‘Oh, who is that?’” Janet Wilson said.
They met on a blind date.
“Janet and I met in April of 2006. And then we were married the following June. So June of 2007,” Mike said.
Janet’s mother had recently passed away. Her husband was a steadying force in her life. She was originally from Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Mike was born and raised in Boone County, where they continue to live now in Union.
“And then we went on to have these wonderful children here,” Janet said.
First came Hunter, and then Kayla. Add in three dogs to complete the family.
Their bond was strong, but Janet quickly learned to be part of a military family would not come without its trials.
“Of course, there was a small hesitation of ‘Oh my gosh, he’s gonna leave for a year, and I’m gonna be stranded at home with a one and three-year-old,’” she said. “There are definitely times where I’m like, ‘Oh okay, let’s hope he stays safe.’ You never know with natural disasters, right?”
A year and a half after they got married, Mike left the National Guard. A 10-year break from the military made for less chaos in their lives, but that first calling to serve his country never really went away.
“That was something that he really wanted to finish,” his wife said.
In Nov. 2019, he was back in.
Missions since then have included helping with the tornadoes that devastated western Kentucky, and most recently, flooding in eastern Kentucky.
“I got a call around lunchtime. And I was asked to be on a call three hours later with my assignment of where I was going to go for the flood the next morning,” he said. “You know, ‘Hey Janet, the thing that we have going on this weekend, I need to go home and pack, because I have to go to bed, and wake up early and be on the road.’”
There, he was assigned as liaison to the emergency management director. He was assisting with running what became a homeless shelter 30 minutes away from the devastation in Wolfe County.
“I was in a unique situation where I was able to assist the guy that does my job as a civilian in another county,” he said. “After seeing all the devastation, that was one thing that was pretty eye-opening, was just seeing all the families that were separated and left with nothing.”
Carrying the weight of helping those people on top of his other responsibilities was a lot to bear. But his family, as it always has, Mike said, helped keep him from crumbling under the pressure.
“If my mind is not in the fight, worrying about myself, worrying about my troops, worrying about the people I’m in charge of, if I’m not worried about them, then something could happen to me or to them out in the field,” he said. “Without the support of a military spouse, or the kids, and understanding that it’s a calling, and knowing that while I’m gone that we do need their support, accidents could happen. So their support is very important. It’s vital.”
His wife and kids have fully bought in on the idea as well.
“I don’t want him worrying about if things are okay back home,” Janet said.
One thing that has helped is checking in with each other over the phone, even if briefly, when Mike is deployed.
“I thought that he was helping people, and that’s a good thing. It’s okay that he’s gone, because mom’s here,” Hunter said.
Hunter said he could see himself being a lawyer in the Army one day. Kayla said it’s not for her, but she’s proud of her dad.
“I didn’t like that he was leaving, but I thought that it was for a good cause,” she said.
That’s been a successful formula, at least for this family. And Dad has always come home.
“The sacrifice that I have deploying or being mobilized to go to a mission, sure it’s rough,” Mike said. “But the sacrifice they’re making is just as rough, if not more.”
His advice for military families: communicate, and set expectations.
“Let them be part of the team as well,” he said.
And make time for things like a game of “Sorry,” a chess match, or building a Lego set.