Veteran Turned Military Spouse Finds Balance in her New Role of Entrepreneur
Portions of this story were originally published on MilitaryOneClick.com.
Hopping from FOB to FOB on a helicopter became a way of life for Public Affairs Specialist Andrya Silberman when she was deployed to Afghanistan with her airborne brigade. Silberman spent a year following her unit behind the lens of a camera, documenting “her guys”, as she affectionately called them, as a photographer, journalist, and liaison.
She covered every type of mission imaginable, from quality checks on local building projects, to raids searching for Taliban, to meetings with Afghan tribal leaders, to Ambassador Briefings, to days-long Combat Outpost set-ups. There were some more unique missions as well, like flying around with a small group of New England Patriots Cheerleaders to boost Soldier morale.
She told the stories of what she calls, “true heroes”, from behind the lens of her camera. The photos she took allowed the Soldiers to understand that what they were doing was important. While the stories she wrote helped their families know that their sacrifices were not in vain. Silberman even accompanied multiple search missions for captured Soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
Although this incident has been made famous in the media, the moments that she remembers most are much smaller in comparison. She described playing with Afghan kids and showing them their pictures in the back of her camera, or watching a medic dig shrapnel out of a soldier’s backside while he told jokes. She remembers taking photos at KIA ceremonies and crying behind the lens, wondering why the click of her camera had to make the most disrespectful noise she had ever heard. “I listened to great men and women laugh, cry, and rage, and witnessed all the strength, courage, and kindness, that exists in the worst possible situation”, she added, “it was one of the best, and certainly the most enlightening, phases of my life.”
The Mission Changes
Fast forward several years and Silberman’s life is still a whirlwind of activity and runs at the highest of op-tempos. However, instead of jumping out of helicopters and avoiding rocket blasts, she has traded in her combat boots for the position of military spouse. She and her husband Tom, an Army officer, have five children, ages 14, 11, 4, 3, and 1. She describes her family as looking like a lost circus with seven people parading around with baby backpacks, a wagon, ice-cream and at least one child doing cartwheels along the way. Silberman proudly proclaims, “no one is ever bored here, that is for sure”. Her large family is currently knee-deep in the midst of an OCONUS PCS, all while she focuses on opening her new business, Gymfinity International in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Having previously owned several small businesses, Silberman is finally realizing her life-long dream of owning her own gymnastics academy and is currently the owner, managing director, and for now, head-coach at Gymfinity International. Like many other successful military spouse owned businesses, Gymfinity was born out of necessity. When the Silberman Family found out about their upcoming assignment to Germany, Silberman realized that it would effectively be the end of her daughter’s gymnastics career.
The local gymnastics academies in their new duty station’s area don’t have sufficient equipment or the amount of hours to train at her daughter’s level. The only gym that could have somewhat accommodated her was an hour away and required her daughter to apply for German citizenship to be allowed on their competitive team. Then Silberman’s husband joked about one more option that they hadn’t discussed yet: opening the gym that she had always wanted. She conducted a market analysis and discovered a huge need for a good gym in the Kaiserslautern area. Her research showed that families with advanced gymnasts often split up their families, declined assignments to Germany, or watched their children make peace with losing their strength and skills because there just weren’t the right level of coaching and equipment available.
Their family was already in love with Germany from their previous assignment there and Tom would be retirement eligible after this assignment. Her crazy dream was finally becoming feasible. She wrote a (40-page) business plan and the numbers were adding up and looking not just good, but great. They took the leap, and just a few months later, she was working with a business advisor and lawyer, knee-deep in German tax and business laws, across the world with language barriers.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
As a military spouse, Silberman has had to “re-invent” her career several times. She’s worked in accounting, owned several small businesses, ran a travel and homeschool blog, and worked in public relations for a political campaign. However, in her “transient” lifestyle, she has always had one constant passion and that is gymnastics. A former gymnast herself, she has also worked in 12 gyms, five states, and three regions, coaching all levels from preschoolers through regional champions. She’s been a gym manager and meet director, and built two competitive programs from scratch. She became a USAG certified judge after returning from overseas in 2013, and has been gymnastics in Texas and Virginia for the last four years, as well as coaching at her daughter’s gyms.
Her passion for gymnastics shows through in Gymfinity’s mission to develop each athlete’s potential, enriching their lives through gymnastics and positive relationships, creating confident, healthy athletes with a lifelong dedication to sport and wellness. Her goal is to create a gym family, where athletes can transition from their gym in America, continue to progress, and reintegrate into their gymnastics program when they return home. Kaiserslautern is home to 57,000 US military, civilians, and their families, as well as 100,000 local residents from 126 nations. Gymfinity will take local and international athletes, and have an integrated training program to include the levels and specifications of the German gymnastics program as well.
As one of the newest USA Gymnastics member clubs, Gymfinity is proud to offer programs for all ages, genders, and skill levels. Although Gymfinity has traditional gymnastics offerings for preschoolers through Junior Olympic levels, they also offer tumbling, boys’ fusion, homeschool P.E., summer camps, in-house competitions, open gyms, birthday parties, and even an adult “fitnastics” class. As a gym mom herself, Gymfinity has a sibling/toddler play space, wi-fi, comfortable lounge area and, of course, coffee, all with an overhead view of the gym. “We want to make sure that our athletes and their families love to spend gym time at Gymfinity”, exclaimed Silberman. She adds, “I want military families to know that an assignment to Germany means a continuation of the progress and passion of their athletes, rather than the end of it”.
A Solid Foundation Brought to You by the US Army
Although it seems like Silberman’s dream is falling perfectly into place, she credits it to an obsessive amount of planning, creating a business plan, support from her family, and even her time in the Army. “Before the Army”, she explains, “I was a perpetually late person, so they fixed that right up”.
In all seriousness, she credits her Public Affairs training and the experience she gained working with such a wide variety of people across the military branches as wholly invaluable. She elaborates:
Learning to appreciate people, despite different beliefs or methods, is I think, the single most valuable take-away I had from my time in the Army. Everyone has something to offer. Working in the military also gave me an acute awareness of how finite time is. No matter how amazing something is, or how horrible it is, it will end. This helps me to try to appreciate individual moments a bit more, and let things come and go in phases.
As a veteran, military spouse, mother of five children and small business owner, Silberman has seen a little bit of everything, but she offers up her best hindsight advice. She says if she could offer her younger self advice she would say “narrow your focus”. Silberman explains that a few years back, someone told her, “you can do ANYthing you want, but not EVERYthing you want. So, I would tell my younger self to slow down and prioritize, and to let the quality of the experience become more important than the quantity.”
A true athlete, Silberman has no troubles balancing in a handstand for as long as she wants but she’s still working on the importance for balance in her life.
Trying to find time for my husband, each of the five kids, and my work, in the midst of all that the military asks of him and us. Knowing that his job is always the priority, followed by our family, and that my job (whatever that may be at the time) comes last, is a tough pill to swallow some days.
She admits that she often has so much on her plate, and everything she has to do has to fit in around the needs of the Army, that it creates an enormous amount of stress all at once. Making time for herself is often her very last priority and she knows that this is the life of a military spouse. Silberman confides, “I can tell you, that my time as a soldier, tromping around Afghanistan, was most days, way easier than being a military spouse has ever been. But, the opportunities and experiences we have as military spouses, are also always worth it.”
Gymfinity International is is open and accepting new students. For more information, visit https://gymfinityinternational.com/.