GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Finding a sense of community can be a struggle for Marines, soldiers and sailors after they leave their respective services.

For Carrie Papke, who spent seven years as a communications officer in the Marine Corps, she said the hard work surprisingly came after she got out.

“I found that it was very hard to be a stay-at-home mom after you’re used to the go of military life,” she said.

Papke moved to the Grand Rapids area after her final station at the Pentagon. She told News 8 that she found herself lost and struggling to find her own identity as she made the change to civilian life.

“I think that’s a pretty big thing a lot of veterans struggle with is their identity of who they are as a person and also what is their community,” she said.

Luckily for Papke, her love of fitness quickly proved to be the catalyst for her next career. She found quick success with her store, To & Fro Activewear, as it opened in the downtown Ada area. 

“I also just wanted to create a community for women, in addition to the clothes. Our values were passion, positivity and kindness,” Papke said.

That passion was the first step in finding Papke’s new community.

Her fitness store proved to be so popular that Papke found herself consulting with other brands and their digital strategy.

While her store did close at the end of 2022, the connections Papke made during her time in Ada helped connect her with the next step in her career.

“Sometimes veterans won’t have that perfect application,” she said. “But they do have really unique skill sets.”

Papke said in several cases, when she applied for corporate jobs, her time in the Marine Corps wasn’t counted toward her experience in marketing and technology.

But in reality, Papke said, the role she played in logistics for the Marines — both overseas in Africa and at the Pentagon — was similar to what large companies look for in their leaders.