Cathryn Sprynczynatyk
North Dakota's first lady Betsy Dalrymple walks through the garden area of the Governor's Residence. (Tom Stromme/Tribune)

North Dakota National Guard Capt. Coty Sicble, left, holds daughter Carley, 2, while visiting with Governor Jack Dalrymple and first lady Betsy Dalrymple at the Bismarck Airport. (Tom Stromme/Tribune)

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and first lady Betsy Dalrymple lay a wreath at the base of the North Dakota Capitol building during the 9/11 memorial ceremony in 2011. (Will Kincaid/Tribune)

Betsy Dalrymple, the First Lady of North Dakota, does not come from a military background. But when her niece's husband, a counter-insurgency expert in the Navy, was deployed to Afghanistan, Dalrymple got a view into military family life.

"It's not just the solider or airmen who serves; it's the families who serve," Dalrymple said.

During the Afghanistan deployment, Dalrymple sent care packages overseas and stayed in touch with her niece -- a full-time working mother with three children at home while her spouse was in a theater of war.

"It's sad to realize the impact it has on an extended family," Dalrymple said.

When Dalrymple's husband Jack became Governor of North Dakota, the two began frequenting deployment ceremonies and military homecomings.

"I did not grow up in a military family at all -- my father was a lawyer," Dalrymple said, "but it really struck home."

When Dalrymple was approached three years ago to chair a new military services coalition, she was ready and willing to take an active role.

The ND Cares Coalition was founded in 2013 to identify the resources and gaps in services as North Dakota military members transition from active duty and service deployment back into civilian life. Although the initial focus was on suicide- and homelessness-prevention, it was broadened to include mental and behavioral health.

When Dalrymple was asked to chair the coalition, she said, "'I would love to do that, but if you really want me, you'll get me. I don't do title-only.'"

With more than 45 members in the coalition, ND Cares works to identify gaps in resources for military service members and bridge those gaps.

One example was the frequency of the question "Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Services?" on official forms. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a very specific definition of who qualifies as a veteran. Therefore, military service members might answer "No" if they didn't fit the federal definition of a veteran.

Through the work of the ND Cares Coalition, the North Dakota Department of Human Services and North Dakota Department of Corrections changed their intake forms to the broader question, "Have you served in the military?"

"It gives everybody a better idea of the issues that the clients of the Department of Human Services or the clients of Department Corrections -- that this might be a part of their history," Dalrymple said. "It helps give a better picture of who a person is."

Members of the ND Cares Coalition range from Fargo VA Healthcare System to the North Dakota Long Term Care Association to the Bismarck Police Department.

"We try to recognize the gaps in services," Dalrymple said. "We're not a provider of services, and we say that loud and clear. Some of our members are providers of services."

In 2015 the North Dakota Legislature authorized funds to hire a full-time staff person for ND Cares. Joe Faller serves as the ND Cares Executive Director.

ND Cares is one of several major initiatives Dalrymple has pursued as First Lady of North Dakota.

"I think when I first became First Lady, I had lots of people -- more than I ever imagined -- come to me and say, 'Betsy you should do this,'" Dalrymple said. "I decided that I was old enough and ornery enough that I needed to decide what I wanted to do."

One of Dalrymple's first major initiatives was promoting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which gives free books monthly to every enrolled child, ages 0-5 years. Her passion for childhood literacy can be traced back to her work as a kindergarten and preschool teacher when she and her husband were first married.

These days when Dalrymple travels the state as First Lady, she said her staff looks for opportunities for her to read to schoolchildren.

Now that the ND Cares Coalition is established, she tries to include stops in cities that participate in the ND Cares Community Program. Dalrymple said she likes to meet with the mayors of these communities.

"I've got nine more months (as First Lady), and I'm not slowing down," Dalrymple said. "We're going full-throttle."

Cathryn Sprynczynatyk is a lifelong resident of Bismarck, a proud Ukranian and a news junkie. She is wife to Jason and mother to Sigurdor and Henrik.