When Nicole Lovald married a soldier, she thought military life meant a lot of moves around the country.
"I was young and I was naive and September 11th hadn't happened yet," said Lovald, 34, of Excelsior. "I didn't yet truly understand deployments. I didn't yet truly understand war."
Fourteen years later, Lovald is among a delegation that will talk with Michelle Obama about military families' needs when the first lady visits Minneapolis on Friday.
Lovald's husband Jon, 41, is a lieutenant colonel with the Minnesota National Guard and has been deployed twice. She's raised a child alone. She's helped develop a support program for service members who are students at Cappella University, the online college where she works.
Jon Lovald was deployed to Kosovo for a year in 2004 and to Iraq for another year in 2009. Anxiety, she said, began building before her husband left.
"You're already going through this depression and all the stress, knowing that in three months or in six months he's leaving," Nicole Lovald said. "And my son's not going to understand why his Daddy's gone, and he's not going to have that good solid male role model."
The Iraq deployment presented an additional challenge: raising her son Jackson, then 2, alone. While grueling at first, Lovald said she got into a groove with regular baby-sitting help from family and a commitment to special mother-son date nights every week.
Driven by the support she received from family and friends, Lovald channeled her energies into creating support services for military members at Capella University. The program helps students who are deployed transition in and out of courses and handles their veterans' benefits that pay for school.
Lovald comes to the roundtable discussion with Obama through an organization called Serving Our Troops. The group prepares steak dinners for Minnesota National Guard members and their families, bringing them together for the meal via live camera. It's one of several local military support groups whose members will meet with Obama.
The first lady's press office said in a statement that Obama plans to discuss "Minnesota's best practices that can be replicated nationally," when it comes to military issues. The first lady has spearheaded the Joining Forces program, which connects and promotes military support and resource groups.
Pat Harris, a former St. Paul City Councilman and a founder of Serving Our Troops, said the group will talk about how it can serve as a model for other communities.
"Our organization is definitely unique because our focus is around this steak dinner that we provide to families," Harris said.
Lovald praised the Joining Forces program, but said it could use more development at the local level. In Minnesota, for example, there are no active duty bases or the tight-knit military communities that come with them.
"It's hard for the families to know who's out there and how they can access the resources," she said.
Lovald said she hopes to ask the first lady about how the government will continue to provide support after troops return from active duty. Lovald noted that mental health issues tend to crop up months after a service member comes home.
"The service members get a lot of support from the (Veterans Administration), but the family members, being a part of that process, they aren't always going get the same level of support," Lovald said.