Pillars of Strength Scholarship Recipient: Elisabeth Baugess

Preparing for a New Life Beyond the Navy

Elisabeth Baugess and her husband, Kenneth, have Oklahoma roots. But his service in the Navy kept them and their family, which eventually grew to four children, on the move. Beyond their home state, they’ve been based in Georgia, California and Hawaii. Then then were assigned to Bahrain on the Persian Gulf.

That’s where the trouble started.

In December 2018, Kenneth was flown out to an aircraft carrier steaming into the area. It was a 48-hour temporary duty so that he could give the officers on board an update. As his flight took off for the return to Bahrain, something happened as the aircraft catapulted at 6Gs off the deck. Kenneth hit his head and passed out.

For four-and-a-half hours of the flight, he drifted in and out of consciousness in a low-oxygen environment. That’s not a problem under regular conditions, but if you have suffered from a concussion, Elisabeth said, your brain gets rewired.

“When I picked him up at the airport, he just didn’t seem to be himself,” she recalled. “It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and he didn’t want to wait for the kids to come home. He slept for 18 hours and when he got up, he couldn’t walk without assistance.”

Since that day, Kenneth has undergone countless visits to doctors and specialists, several trips to the emergency room and completed an in-patient traumatic brain injury program. Through extensive physical therapy, he regained his ability to walk and improved his working memory. But he still suffers from nervous systems problems, migraines, vertigo and nausea, all of which limit his daily life. He cannot work. He is going through the medical board process to be discharged from the Navy.

“After a dozen years as a stay-at-home mom, I am suddenly preparing to step into the breadwinner role,” she said. “It is my turn to take the reins and better prepare myself for the workforce and a new career to provide for the family.”

Her husband’s health is not the only challenge facing the family. Their 10-year child suffers from PTSD, the 8-year-old has autism and all four children show signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Elisabeth also cares for both of her disabled parents. Her mother who has early onset dementia.

“It’s been a crazy two-and-a-half years,” Elisabeth said.

Elisabeth said she was more speechless than surprised when she received the call telling her she had won the scholarship.

“It’s an immense weight off our shoulders financially,” she said. “And it will help us make that transition between the Navy life we loved into the unique opportunities and future we need to embrace.”

The scholarship will set her on a path to erase some of that 12-year gap in her job history. She is looking at either an MBA or an advanced degree in health care administration. 

“I have become a really good advocate for the seven—oh wait, eight including me—that I have maneuvered through the health care system,” she said. “I have a few ideas I would want to implement.” When Kenneth is discharged from the military, the family plans to move back to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where they will be surrounded by their large extended family.