When Army Capt. Justine Bolten found out that she was pregnant in August of 2020, like most women, she was filled with happiness and joy; however, there was an underlying feeling of anxiousness about this new chapter in her life.
“It felt like I was just starting my career, and now it was ending,” said Bolten, an occupational therapist assigned to the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. “At that time, I was so new to the Army, and it just felt a bit scary.”
Fort Drum, N.Y.
10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade
Bolten, who commissioned into the Army in January 2020, added that the feeling of anxiousness came from the fear of being isolated from her peers.
“As a pregnant soldier, you are non-deployable, and so you begin to feel like ‘what good am I for,’ and that really affects you mentally,” she added. “I also never really thought about being a mom. I have always been career driven. So, when I found out I was pregnant, it was very much a surprise.”
But those unsettling feelings slowly diminished as the months progressed.
“I felt super supported by my team and my senior leadership,” she said. “They were encouraging and even pushed me to challenge myself on days when I had that negative mindset. They were all very encouraging not only during my pregnancy but also during my postpartum journey.”
Laura Miller, program director for the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade’s holistic health and fitness section, was one of the team members who helped Bolten during her time in need.
“I think our role as her teammates was to provide moral support and reassurance to her because it’s a big milestone in her life and it can be terrifying,” Miller said. “We wanted her to be able to take care of herself but also to know that she could rely on us for whatever she needed.”
Becoming a Mom
In April 2021, Bolten and her husband Adam welcomed their son Liam Bolten into the world.
A month before, on March 19th, the U.S. Army announced an exception to policy that extended the timeline for postpartum soldiers to meet body fat standards from 180 days to 365 days.
As a new mom and newly commissioned officer, this news came with a sigh of relief, according to Bolten.
“At six months, soldiers are sometimes taking dramatic, and at times dangerous, measures to meet standards that can impact their health and their baby’s health,” Bolten said. “The policy, I think, helped take away that unhealthy pressure.
Now, more than a year later the U.S. Army implemented a new parenthood, pregnancy and postpartum directive, which updated regulations to help support all Army parents and families. Among the updates was the postpartum body fat standards extension.
Bolten, whose postpartum period ended in April 2022, said the extension gave her the support and time to succeed.
“One year is a great timeframe to be able to perform as a soldier again in a healthy manner,” Bolten said. “It gave me time to learn how to navigate being a mom while also still being a wife to my husband and provider for the soldiers in my unit.”
So, when an opportunity to challenge herself opened up in May 2022, Bolten decided to put herself to the test.
Testing New Boundaries
“I don’t like letting the fear of a new challenge or the possibility of failure push me away,” Bolten said. “I knew going into it that earning my [Expert Field Medical Badge] would be difficult, but I made it a goal to at least attempt it.”
After two weeks of testing her tactical and technical skills, Bolten earned her EFMB.
“The badge has a different meaning to me now that I am a mom,” she said. “I look at my son and want him to know that his mom is strong, and that because of him, I have learned to be stronger and more resilient.”
For Miller and the rest of the H2F team, Bolten earning her EFMB was no surprise.
“She never gives herself room to have excuses for why she can’t do things, and I think a lot of that has to do with her support system,” Miller said. “She has a very encouraging husband who is always there for her. It is absolutely incredible to watch her be so career-driven but yet be such a wonderful and present mom and wife.”
Strength and Motherhood
Aside from being a good role model for her son, Bolten, who is a lead instructor for her unit’s postpartum and pregnancy physical training program, said she also wants to be a role model for soldiers — especially those who are moms or soon to be moms.
“I want these soldiers to see that there is so much more that they can do if they just put their mind to it and that being a parent doesn’t end your career,” Bolten said. “It’s just another motivation to try even harder. I am honored and proud that I can show other females that they too are capable of doing anything they put their mind to, even if it might seem challenging or even impossible.”