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In honor of Veterans Appreciation Month, we sat down with Kelli Baker, Senior Marketing Specialist out of the Denver office and Veterans ERG co-lead to learn about her military experience, why she became the ERG lead, and what being a veteran means to her.


Q: Why did you make the decision to join the military?

Kelli Baker, Senior Marketing Specialist

A: My dad served two years in the Army and now my little sister is in the Army National Guard. Born and raised in a small town in Iowa, thinking college wasn’t the right move, and attending an air show at the nearby Air Force base, I realized serving my country could be the next step. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life as I did not have everything figured out at the age of 21 (surprise, surprise). I was looking for the stability and guidance the Navy had to offer, so after talking with a recruiter, I jumped at the opportunity. It gave me the ability to experience life through a different lens, learn a lot, and build life-long connections in those five years. I am deeply thankful for that experience.


Q: How and where did you serve?

A: In 2013, I embarked on a transformative journey as a proud member of the United States Navy, serving five years as a Utilitiesman (plumber) in the Seabees. Throughout my military tenure, I had the honor of being deployed to Okinawa, Japan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, where I played a vital role in leading humanitarian efforts. These meaningful missions involved constructing essential schoolhouses, emergency rooms, hospitals, water catchment systems, and engaging in diverse restoration projects for underprivileged communities. 


Kelli installing underground plumbing for a new emergency room and maternity ward in Sri Lanka

Q: What brought you to SWCA? Do any of the skills/ experiences from your military background carry over into this role?

A: I got out of the military in 2018 and decided I was ready to go back to college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from California State University Channel Islands. My college professor introduced me to SWCA, and that’s what led me to this role. There are many skills and professional developments associated with my time in the military that translate into my work now. I see a lot of overlap with the planning, permitting, and environmental regulation we did during our construction projects overseas and the projects that we do here, which is cool to have some real-world context and understanding of our work.


Q: What drew you to the Veterans ERG and to be a lead?

Kelli with local children who regularly visited the project site in Sri Lanka

A: The military community is unlike any other in its own special way, and that sense of community and camaraderie is what initially drew me to join the ERG group. Every day there’s something that brings me back to that time and reminds me of just how much I miss it, and that’s exactly why the veterans ERG is so special to me. Setting aside the time to chat, joke and reminisce with other veterans keeps me feeling close to that part of my life.

Last year there was a need for a co-lead to support Jim, and I was already immersed in the ERG experience as an active participant and helping with our events and meetings, so it was easy to say yes to this opportunity. 


Q: What’s on the radar for the ERG group?

A: We just secured a speaker for our July meeting who we are excited about – the Chief Executive Officer of the American Veterans Archaeological Recovery Group. We’ll be opening that up to all SWCA employees. I’m also super excited that we’ve gained six new members to our ERG this year!


Q: What does being a veteran mean to you? 

A: Military titles have to be earned; they hold a lot of meaning, on the inside and outside. That also applies to the title of Veteran. To me, being a veteran means being part of a life-long community and support system. We all have our own stories and experiences as veterans, but we share the title of veteran and the sense of pride accompanied by that. That sense of camaraderie and support is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, even when I was on active duty and now as a separated armed forces member.


Kelli receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal from her Commanding Officer in Okinawa, Japan Kelli receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal from her Commanding Officer in Okinawa, Japan.