FORT STEWART, Ga. — "Specialist Keiser before Specialist Keiser was actually a specialist,” reads the caption under a childhood photo donning the social media wall of now Sgt. Summer Keiser.
At the time, a four-year-old playing dress-up in her aunt’s Army uniform seemed to be nothing more than an opportunity for a quick photo op for Keiser, a public affairs specialist assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division.
Or was it?
Coming from a family with deep military roots, admiration for those who choose to answer the nation’s call is literally in Keiser’s blood. But the desire to grow up and follow that path simply wasn’t something she ever considered.
“My mom raised me with traits to help develop people become better versions of themselves, regardless of my occupation,” Keiser said. “I was always quiet, always listening, and always creating art. I wanted to live a quiet life teaching art composition, not joining the military.”
While Keiser had no way of seeing the future at age four, everyone else in the family seemed to know the call to serve in uniform was inevitable.
“We predicted this,” said Keiser’s uncle, Michael Touchet. “We somehow just knew back then that Summer would join the military and that this childhood photo would end up in the newspaper one day.”
But the military connection runs deeper than a childhood photo and a prediction. Family generations deeper, to be exact.
Keiser’s grandfather advanced through the ranks as one of the first Filipinos to join the U.S. Navy, starting as a steward and retiring as a chief who deployed during Vietnam. His feat instilled a great deal of pride in an already patriotic family.
It didn’t stop at her grandfather.
Keiser’s aunt, Princess Touchet, served as an Army public affairs combat photographer and production specialist from 1996 to 2002. In 2003, she met her husband Michael Touchet on Fort Bragg, where he was in the middle of what would become a 22-year career as an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior Scout helicopter maintainer.
Michael Touchet's job eventually landed his family at Hunter Army Airfield where he served as a production control noncommissioned officer with 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. There he maintained the 3rd Infantry Division’s final fleet of Kiowa helicopters. After the fleet’s retirement in May 2015, Touchet followed suit and retired from the Army two months later.
Keiser's aunt and uncle would end up playing a vital role in her future.
Pursuing a career in the arts through the Army never crossed Keiser’s mind as a possibility, mainly because she did not know such military occupational specialties even existed.
“In 2017, Summer came to live with us in Savannah while attending art school,” Michael Touchet said. “After a couple years of going to school, the realization that art school is extremely expensive began to set in. The desire for growth and change was definitely there for her and that’s when I decided that it was time to discuss the possibility of a career in the Army.”
With his help and a visit to the Savannah U.S. Army Recruiting Station, she began to explore the creative career opportunities available to enlisted Soldiers through the Army.
“Becoming a public affairs specialist was actually an impulsive choice that I had to make within a five-minute phone call at the recruiting station,” Keiser said. “The graphic arts position I requested had no availability, and there were only a few public affairs slots open at the time. They couldn’t guarantee to hold it after the phone call.”
A self-proclaimed introvert, Keiser understood that a position in public affairs meant a large amount of social interaction.
“I decided to take my chances,” she said.
The rest is history.
As Keiser’s Army adventure began, the Touchet family set out on their own adventure, to Tokyo, Japan, where Michael Touchet had accepted a position to work for Bell Helicopters, the same company that created the Kiowa’s he’d spent his entire career maintaining. It was a dream come true for a Soldier whose heart never truly left the flight line.
On July 14, 2020, Pfc. Keiser returned to Savannah and reported to Fort Stewart for duty as a public affairs mass communication specialist with the 50th Public Affairs Detachment.
The occasion was marked by the fact that Keiser joined the ranks as a second-generation public affairs specialist and Dogface Soldier. Keiser says this fact has given her a great deal of growth and pride.
“When my aunt put her uniform on me while I was young, I knew my family thought it was just to see how cute a child would look wearing something they have pride in,” she said. “I’m happy to know that I have honored my family by growing into that uniform … though the camouflage is different.”
When asked what the greatest benefit of joining the Army has been, Keiser responded simply with one of the Army values.
“Personal courage,” she said.
“It’s a value I’m still developing. Without the Army, I wouldn’t be given opportunities to keep challenging myself. Every friend I have made in the Army has been a mentor to me. It is wonderful being in a place where you can readily find inspiring people, whether it’s from reading citations from a Soldier who served long before you or watching the Private in your detachment grow into a leader.”
But for Keiser, aside from being able to channel a creative mindset, a huge selling point to the Army public affairs career is getting to work in a supportive, judgement-free environment.
“I am non-binary and pansexual,” Keiser said. “I have always hid who I was so others wouldn’t change their expectations of me. Being in a workplace where I’m not judged for who I am has put me in a much healthier mindset. It’s refreshing to be treated exactly the same as before they knew.”
The gift of growth and confidence isn’t the only thing that joining the Army had to offer Keiser.
In late 2020, Keiser met her husband, Jacob Manley, a former network systems operator-maintainer with the 3rd Infantry Division. Manley now holds a Department of Defense civilian position as a system administrator at the Mission Training Center on Fort Stewart. It’s a position that he wouldn’t have found if it weren’t for his career in the Army.
“I met Jacob while he was in the Army,” Keiser said. “He was the one who helped me break out of my shell. He has been a source of confidence ever since we met.”
At the beginning of August, Keiser left the 50th Public Affairs Detachment, taking a public affairs specialist position with 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs. A few days later, on August 9, she was officially promoted to the rank of sergeant next to the static display near Fort Stewart’s Wooldrige Gate — where the 3rd ID’s last remaining OH-58 Kiowa Warrior Scout helicopter resides. The location for the ceremony was a nod to her uncle Michael Touchet’s service and a promise to continue the family legacy as an active-duty service member and public affairs specialist.
And her aunt and uncle were present to witness it all.
“Summer’s promotion location was a huge surprise and meant a lot to me,” Micheal Touchet said. “For a lot of the Kiowa community, it’s an emotional thing. We’re the legacy aviation guys of our wartime.”
Aside from the location, being present to witness another piece of family history in the making was an opportunity that Michael and Princess Touchet would never dream of missing.
“It’s kind of a family tradition in a way,” Michael Touchet said of traveling from Tokyo to Georgia for Keiser’s promotion. “It’s a really proud moment to see the next generation of the family taking those steps and being successful.”
Having the opportunity to promote to sergeant after only three years in the Army is something Keiser doesn’t take for granted. She attributes her awarded opportunities to the support of her family, a strong sense of self and the determination to never stop growing.
“I knew I was going to be excellent in public affairs as long as I made sure to balance my social battery properly,” she said. “I feel that my self-worth grows the more I keep developing myself in the public affairs field. I’ve changed a lot over the years, and while I still have moments of uncertainty, my family has watched me grow as a person after enlisting. I’m going to continue working to make myself proud and I hope they’ll continue to be proud of me then, too.”
Keiser plans to stay on Fort Stewart as a public affairs specialist with the 3rd Infantry Division until 2024 and has aspirations of heading west to Fort Carson, Colorado for the next leg of her Army career.
Learn more about the creative careers in the U.S. Army by visiting GoArmy.com.