Author’s Note: Some of the details of this story are graphic in nature, and may trigger survivors of various forms of abuse. Discretion is advised.
A common expression that is shared by members of the United States Armed Forces is that they’re offering a blank check to their country. This is because the service they’re offering includes everything up to and including their lives if needed for the betterment to the land that is free and home to the brave.
The commitment these heroic men and women make is all of that and more, but they aren’t the only ones who are giving more of themselves. The family members of those servicemembers make quite the sacrifice as well. Whether you’re talking about a parent, spouse, or child of the hero in action, the family member is giving up time, memories, and moments so that loved one can do what is necessary to protect everyone.
Melanie Branch knows about this sacrifice all too well. She’s the wife of 12-year US Air Force member Jared Branch. He was already serving at the time he and Melanie met. Jared had already ended one marriage before they met. Their first encounter was at a local bar, but their first real encounter was at a charity event in Arizona. Even though he had to move to New Mexico, they stayed in touch on social media.
“Eventually, I ended up taking a Greyhound bus from Tempe, AZ to New Mexico, and we ended up getting married pretty quickly,” Branch recalled. “We got married in an apple orchard on an Indian reservation with two witnesses.”
The newlyweds kept their marriage a secret from his family for the first year they were married. Nonetheless, Branch was now the spouse of a servicemember. Her first surprise in her new role came at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
“It was quite a bit of a shock just to come into it, really find my footing, and figure out how friendships work, how they don’t work. There are even different types of spouses,” said Branch. “I tell people that I feed him and I wash his clothes. That’s in respect to my appreciation for everything he does. I’ve seen all his struggles.”
Struggle is something that Branch is familiar with herself. She revealed that her family members didn’t like each other very much. So, there weren’t many gatherings. She also grew up with a single mom and a brother who she called a “certified sociopath.” When she was 16, she, her brother, and a friend went on a camping trip and a friend of her brother came along as well. Her brother’s friend would commit sexual assault against Melanie.
“I came home from it and told my mom, and she didn’t believe me,” she revealed. “We were living in Arizona at the time, and I ended up moving back to California to live with my dad. They tried to get me into counseling and everything.”
Even with counseling, Branch’s road didn’t get any easier. She would actually move out of her dad’s home for a year living on her own. She went back at 18 to graduate high school, but she was unsure of what came next. She even tried to enlist herself in the military, but she was in a car accident right before. That resulted in her being unable to serve herself.
“That’s always kind of got to me,” she explained. That combined with the previous struggles she dealt with already weighing her down, Branch attempted to end her own life in 2017. She tried to run into a road with heavy traffic in the dark during a rainstorm. Her attempt failed, and she stayed in a mental health clinic in North Carolina.
“That was really eye-opening,” she said. “I got to see people that were coming off of things like heroin. This was where they lived. They were systemized. This is what happen with people go through things and don’t deal with the things.”
Melanie Branch would leave after a short stay, and she recommitted to her life. One way that helped her do that was fitness.
“I started working at Five Star Nutrition. I was the assistant manager there, and I figured out that I was good at supplementation. I’m really good at research and finding why these supplements benefit the body.”
Just like negativity can steamroll and generate momentum, so can positivity. After she began focusing on her new career, she and Jared would become parents in September of 2018 to a baby girl. However, adversity would face Melanie again in the form of post-partum depression. This time, Melanie didn’t succumb to the negative forces – she fought back.
“I watched for the signs such as not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to exist. Fortunately, the only thing it affected was me. It never affected the overwhelming love I had for my daughter.”
Training and fitness would be the key to help Branch move forward to become a better mother and military spouse. Another military spouse she knew had a baby around the same time as the Branch’s. They started going to the gym together to keep each other motivated and committed.
“We just started going to the gym at 4 AM. That went on for about a year and a half.”
Melanie Branch took her commitment to the next level by taking to the stage, and she even started working with Redcon1 through social media. If fitness was going to be the avenue that helped her become her best, then she was going to go all in on the commitment.
“I’m the type of person that if I want something, I’m going to go get it,” she shared proudly. “I was always messaging the guys there and asking ‘hey, how do I do this or that?’ They told me that no one had ever asked them those questions before. ‘Well, here I am. So, tell me how.”’”
Branch is now thriving on all fronts. She and Jared’s daughter is now approaching pre-school age, they are as committed to each other as ever, and she is blossoming in her fitness role. She is considering entering the 2022 NPC Armed Forces Nationals later this year, and she is also working as a coach to help others. Whether the title she is working under is mom, military wife, competitor or coach, she now lives by two mantras.
“Begin – again,” and “head down, grind high.”
Follow Melanie Branch on Instagram and Facebook: @iammelefate.