The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota serves as a haven for families seeking fun, educational experiences. For military families, the museum holds a special place, providing a supportive environment and a sense of community. In honor of the Blue Star Museum Initiative which starts this week, we interviewed a Museum member who is also active in the military, a small-business owner, and single mom of three, U.S. Army Reserve Specialist Krysta Smith. Smith shared her story of service and the impact the museum has had on her family’s life.
WHAT IS THE BLUE STAR MUSEUM INITIATIVE?
Traditionally hosted at museums across the country between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, Blue Star Museums offer free admission for active duty military personnel and their families. Guests can present one of the following upon check-in at the Front Desk: Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent ID), or DD Form 1173 -1 ID. The active duty military family member does not need to be present in order for their family to visit the Museum. The 2023 Blue Star Museum Initiative at CMSM will take place from May 20th – September 3rd, 2023.
Additionally, the Museum offers twice-a-year Military Appreciation Days. These special events take place to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Military Service members (past and present) and their families and include free Museum admission. 2023 Military Appreciation Days will take place on June 30–July 2 and November 11. Military members and their family also enjoy a 10% discount on admission every day of the year.
MEET KRYSTA SMITH
We will never know all the ways in which our members and guests are impacted by the Museum, nor will we ever get the chance to know them all personally, but we definitely want to try! Our Program Facilitators enjoy the “regulars” who come to weekly programming, our Playworkers love having conversations with guests of all ages, and we are happy to have special events that guide us toward interviews like this one. We were able to connect with Smith despite her very busy schedule, and we are so grateful.
(This interview has been edited for space and clarity.)
CMSM: Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. We are excited to hear all about you. Let’s start with some background on your military career. People choose the military for a lot of reasons, what inspired you? And how did your family react?
KS: I had been working as a cook and waitress at a bar and steakhouse prior to enlistment, and I wanted to experience and engage in the camaraderie that is the military. I sure got it! My family didn’t think I would even make it through basic training, because I’m so fiercely independent, but a year after I enlisted…my sister did, too!
CMSM: That’s awesome! You were an inspiration from the start. Did you have experience from school that made you want to serve in a similar capacity?
KS: I had earned an Associate’s Degree in Illustrative Design prior to enlistment, so not really, but I was able to use the G.I. Bill to earn my Bachelor’s in Business and Marketing while serving–with a newborn baby even!–and I plan to continue on and get a Master’s as well. I was in Aviation in the National Guard from 2014-2019, and currently, I hold a 12R slot where I am an Electrician with the 492nd Combat Engineers.
Museum: Whoa! Those are some very different skills and achievements. What is one of your most vivid memories from the training you’ve had?
KS: A vivid memory I have is the training we did on first aid and combat lifesaving. I remember the entire simulation scenario and the team we carried out of “rubble” “during oncoming hits.” I remember how heavy another man is when they’re geared up and how desperation turns into quick-witted problem-solving. I watched many people make realizations about themselves, and I did, too. Both the best and worst part of that experience was the settling fact that this can be any one of us, and it is our jobs to have one another’s’ backs.
Museum: Wow. So true. And we haven’t even yet touched on your role of mom yet. Do you feel like your experiences in the Army contribute to your parenting philosophy?
KS: Absolutely. I have three kids, ages 6, 4, and 3, and we take our values very seriously. They reflect the army values–loyalty, duty, responsibility, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage– in an almost mirrored fashion. We maintain order within the chaos with simple habits that I learned from the Army.
Museum: What’s an example of that?
KS: Some things are little, like yelling “squad up” to have the kids gather in the yard, to more blatant, “we do PT [physical training] in the mornings,” and “PT is free.” I also depend on the help of others and ALWAYS have a contingency plan. One thing I learned in the Army is sometimes doing your best is not good enough, and this is when you need help.
Museum: That’s so true for parenting. It takes a village, right?
KS: Yes! That’s actually how I learned about the Children’s Museum in 2017– from another local mom friend. She told me she’d recently learned of an indoor place that we could get memberships for, with the Gateway to Play programs, because of our financial standing. Being a full-time student and single-parent was not easy for me. Without the museum, I would not have had the opportunity to work on schoolwork and do what I needed to start my own company. My family spent many happy, safe, and warm days in the Children’s Museum while I worked on my laptop, held meetings, and prayed. I am thankful that I had the pass because it gave me opportunities to make friendships, as well.
Museum: Thank you for sharing that. We aim to be a connection point for families in addition to our focus on play and education.
KS: That’s why we love coming here as often as we can. We are an outdoors family that loves nature and doing what we can to explore. Learning is a passion of ours. We loved the cabin exhibit; it was so well-built and inclusive to all ages and abilities.
Museum: What would you say to other families who have never been to the Museum?
KS: You’ll see smiles from your babies that can really heal your heart. Share the community with them in this fun and safe place!
Museum: Well, that’s just lovely. Thank you. Thank you for your service. And thank you again for this time.
Donations from guests and supporters like you help fund the admission discounts and offers we have for military families like Krysta’s. See our donations page for more information and to learn where else your money goes.