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Finding the Right Balance Helps NETL Military Family Overcome Challenges
Headshot of Erin Behrman

Despite her hectic schedule, NETL’s Erin Behrman has found a way to successfully juggle work, family and other responsibilities while her husband serves at a U.S. Army post more than 1,700 miles away.

“It’s not always for the faint of heart,” said Behrman, an executive assistant in the Office of the Director. “With three young children and a full-time job, life can get tricky.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), there are more than 2 million uniformed service members and 2.6 million family members across the globe. As the country observed National Military Appreciation Month, which is held in May, Behrman discussed the importance of military families, the crucial role they play in the defense of the United States and her efforts to balance the needs of family with work and other priorities. 

Behrman explained that the success and high level of readiness maintained by U.S. military forces is built on the strength of their families. “My husband can get called up at any time, including birthdays, holidays, middle of the night and major life events, and we, as a family, have to be ready for that,” Behrman said. “Knowing that we can handle things when he is gone allows him to focus on the crisis at hand.”

In their 13 years of marriage, Behrman and her husband, Lt. Col. Robert Behrman, deputy commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico, have lived in seven states and Washington, D.C. They have three children — Victor, 9, Genevieve, 8, and Jessica, 2, and a large menagerie of pets, including a 100-pound Saint Bernard puppy.

“The children miss their father terribly. But like many military families, we have a lot of creative ways for coping with the distance,” said Behrman, who joined NETL in September 2023 and works at the Lab’s campus near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

FaceTime helps the miles disappear. Robert Behrman uses the technology to visit with his wife and children daily. “It’s great. Almost every evening we prop the iPad on the table, so he can help with homework. Nothing like shared pain to bring the family closer together,” Behrman joked. “And our toddler’s favorite game is to take him (on the iPad) into her secret fort for a tea party. He may not be physically there, but he’s still part of our everyday lives. The key for us is to focus on his accessibility, not the separation.”

In the Behrman household, time is a precious commodity. It takes nearly two hours, longer if traffic is heavy, for Behrman to complete the roundtrip commute between her home and NETL office. “I am blessed because my mother lives with us and is a huge help with the kids, pets, driving and the never-ending laundry,” Behrman said.

She also considers herself extremely fortunate to work at NETL.

“The technology incorporated into the structure of NETL is fantastic,” Behrman said. “For my type of work, videoconferencing, SharePoint and an amazing team make work enjoyable. We’re in constant communication. Simply put, without such tools and NETL’s flexibility, I wouldn’t be able to remain in the workforce.”

The DOD estimates that military families move on average every two to three years. Behrman said friendly, helpful neighbors can provide tremendous assistance for military families when they transition to new communities.

The Behrman family visits Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. Photo taken in March 2023.
The Behrman family visits Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. Photo taken in March 2023.

“Moving is stressful. You need to find new doctors, new schools, new groceries stores, new friends, everything new; it’s a hard re-start almost every time. Some of the best ways to help a military family relocating to your area is offer recommendations. Local knowledge is more reliable than online reviews,” Behrman said.

Although managing a busy household alone can be challenging, Behrman said she enjoys many facets of life as a military family. “I’m always looking forward to the next adventure,” she said.

The Behrmans hope to remain in Pittsburgh for an extended period. Rob is scheduled to rejoin his family in July as an Army War College Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, the couple’s alma mater where they met playing pickup soccer as students.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.