Spotlight on Spouses: Ellie Taliaferro

  • Published
  • By Rachel Ollivant
  • Spouse Writer's Corps
"I remember having to step out of my comfort zone and say, 'I want to do this,'" said Ellie Taliaferro, wife of Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander.

Ellie sat down at a local coffee shop to share her 21 years of experience as an Air Force spouse, and wife of a pilot.

"There is some community, somewhere, you can connect with. Find where other people who have your interests are and connect with them," Ellie continued. "You won't feel like this is home if you don't make it a home."

Throughout her life, Ellie has learned about building a community. Even before marrying into the Air Force, she was accustomed to packing up and starting over in new places - as her corporate attorney father moved the family every few years. She was born in Colorado, and still considers it home, but has never lived anywhere longer than eight years. Her moves and travels have taken her to 49 of the 50 states, missing only Alaska.

Ellie joked that she, "married an Air Force guy to see the world, and ended up in Texas, Alabama, Washington D.C., and South Dakota."

She met Colonel Taliaferro on spring break in Mexico when it turned out they were both attending college in the same area of Colorado. The couple dated until he graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy. They married and have been together for 21 years, and have two children: Ryland, who just went off to college, and Kaylie, who is a sophomore in high school.

Ellie said being an Air Force spouse is more than just being married, "If you feel that this is a team job, then it's fun and rewarding for you as well. If it's just his job and you're following him around, it gets a little old after awhile."

Ellie sees relationships and interactions with other Air Force spouses as one of the most rewarding things about their military experience.

"It's like you connect with people and you're instantly friends," Ellie said. "Not necessarily because you have so much in common, although you might, but because you recognize how short your time together may be."

Ellie recognizes the benefits of an Air Force family network, but also has found it challenging to live far away from her own extended family.

"I've been concerned that the kids may not have enough time with aunts, uncles and grandparents," she said

When it comes to bridging distance from family, Ellie appreciates social media in military culture.

"When I got married and moved away from home, it was pretty dramatic," she recalled. "On the phone back in that day we were still paying long-distance charges and we couldn't afford a lot of that. It's definitely a huge benefit to our military communities to feel like we're not so disconnected when he's gone, and you're sitting there at night, and you don't know what to do, you can connect with your friends and family, and that's awesome."

But, Ellie's life experience tells her that social media has its limitations. "You need to make the effort to have face-to-face interaction with those around you," she said. "When you're snowed in and sick and need to get to the doctor and the car won't start, your Facebook friends may not be able to help. If you have a connection with your neighbors and unit-mates then you can pick up the phone and call your neighbor, and say 'I really need your help,' and they can be there helping you."

She recalls the night during one of her husband's deployments that she became "violently ill" after Thanksgiving dinner with another family. "It wasn't what we cooked," she laughed. "It was the flu!"

She was "so delirious" the next morning that she couldn't even feed her children. "Ryland said, 'Mom, we're hungry and I said, 'You can eat anything you want, just give half of it to your sister.'"

Six-year-old Ryland answered a telephone call from a family friend and said, "Mommy's not well." Friends came right over to help with the kids and take care of the things she couldn't.

"People care," Ellie said. "They step in without hesitation, and don't need to ask, 'Oh, should we do this for you?' They just do it."

Face-to-face connection is at the heart of a special memory of Air Force life. Her daughter Kaylie was born 15 weeks premature, weighing only a pound and a half, and had to be hospitalized for six months. In such a stressful situation, fellow military families were there to help.

"The experience has really shown me the blessing of the connection that we can make with people. I would say that a handful of those folks I'm still very, very close with and we've interacted since," she said. "And there were always a handful of folks that were there at that moment, and I've never seen them again, but they were there and they helped me, and I remember their faces and everything they did."

This "rallying support" continued when the young family had to move before Kaylie was released from the hospital.

"She was born on April 12 and we moved the first week of June," Ellie shared.

Six-week-old Kaylie had to be moved by aeromedical airlift on a C-9C Nightingale from Abilene Regional Medical Center in Texas, to Dallas Medical Center in Texas, to Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, friends helped the family sell their house and car, and take care of toddler Ryland.

"Air Force spouses gave me, early on in our military career, the thought in my head that 'I will never pay all that back,'" she said. "So now when I can help someone and they say, 'I'll never be able to pay you back,' I can say, 'It's okay! I'm still working on an old debt,'" she said. "That's been a good perspective, for me, because I don't lose sight that I still have a big debt to pay." It's not the reason why she helps others, she says, but it is motivation to be especially excited about it.

Baby Kaylie eventually came home to a new condominium in Fairfax, Va. that September. "Sept. 5," Ellie remembered. "It's an incredible memory that gives me that warm feeling now."

Not all of Ellie's military moves have been that hard, of course, especially because she has a routine she says she follows religiously to make moves less stressful for her children.

"We know how to do it, and we have a process," she says. "It's not the chaos that it can be. I use a checklist to streamline the whole thing. But, that certainly doesn't prevent problems, because those are always going to occur."

She also has ways to fill downtime before it's time to unpack the house. If she's in a new city, she drives around to find things like the grocery store and dry cleaners. And at some point, she turns off the navigation system, allows herself to "get lost," and finds her way back to where she needs to be.

"You never see what you'll see if you're not lost," she said. "It gives me a good feel for what the area is really like."

In her current role as the Wing Commander's spouse, Ellie invests much of her time and energy promoting the "number, quality and awesomeness of resources that are available to Air Force families."

This is her, "biggest wagon," she said. "I want to make sure everyone knows about them. It's not just for the major's wife or the flying squadron. It's for everyone."

"I'm the advisor on programs, I don't' run them - which is kind of nice," she said. "I recognize the fact that I have the time to think about how I can best serve the Ellsworth family. I can be an advocate and a voice for military spouses."

Ellie supports many programs, including Heart Link, Key Spouse, and a new Spouses' Crisis Action Network. However, with all of the programs out there, Ellie encourages spouses to remember the most important aspect of life in the Air Force.

"Have fun!" she said. "I don't know of any other life choices where there are so many doors open to you in such a short period of time. There's so much opportunity to meet different people, be a part of different programs, and be a voice for what you believe is important. I am proud and honored to be an Air Force spouse, and I wouldn't change it for the world."