ainsley gottrich

Branch:
Air Force

Duty Station:
2. Not Affiliated With a Duty Station

Number of Deployments:
3

Number of PCS's:
8

Share your military spouse story:
Daniel and I are stationed at the U.S. Embassy in the West African country of Niger, one of the poorest on the planet but filled with the most tranquil and friendly people you could ever meet. My life has truly come full-circle, as my father was an Army Defense Attaché who specialized in francophone African countries, so I spent the majority of my childhood experiencing this wonderfully diverse continent -- and now I get to share it with our children! My husband is a military brat himself, and though we've only been married 18 years, we've known each other since we met in a Department of Defense high school in England in 1983. Our first assignment together was in Colorado, where I worked at the Humane Society while my husband went to night school to get his degree. As we left for the Pentagon with 3 dogs & 4 cats in tow (I tended to bring my work home), we settled back in the DC area for what would be an unprecedented 5-year run (the longest I remained at a single address in my entire life). During that span, Daniel would have 4 separate assignments, including one that had us separated for a year while he went to school (and I gave birth to our son), and another that had him deploying to Russia for months at a time. We were soon joined by our daughter before shipping off to Biloxi, Mississippi. It was during this assignment, with two active toddlers often in tow, that I began volunteering as the Storytime Reader at the base library. I also completed training as a Key Spouse Mentor and acted as the Mother Hen of the 900+ tech training students in my husband’s squadron, even creating a quarterly New Spouses Orientation Course to explain the military way of life for dozens of brand new spouses on their 1st tours with their fresh-out-of-tech school Airmen. We then bounced from coast to coast, with a California assignment followed by one in Disney's backyard in Florida, again acting as Key Spouse Mentor. But the opportunity to move back "home" has been a true joy!

Describe your involvement in the military community:
While there is only a small military community at the Embassy, we do have over 500 Airmen and Soldiers who deploy in and out of the capital city. When we first arrived in the June '18, most of the Airmen who traveled to Niger had never left the base -- six months in country and they may have well felt like they were in in Texas or Afghanistan or any other hot and dusty installation. Slowly, I was able to convince base leadership that the town was safe and worth exploring, and invited Airmen to Embassy events, my "Wine-Down Wednesdays" (where they always scarfed down the fresh vegetables they don't receive in their chow hall) or to participate in local volunteer events with orphanages or other charities via the local Chapter of the Women's Association. Whether through Key Spouse mentorship, spouses clubs, or community volunteer projects, I always felt it was important to get the youngest airmen and their families involved, prepping the next generation to be the next... us!

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
We were stationed at Vandenberg AFB when our children first started their schooling at the elementary school on base. I took positions as the PTA Treasurer and then Vice President while simultaneously working on several committees for the Vandenberg Spouses’ Club (VSC) before accepting the President position in an effort to revitalize a Club that was failing and ready to be disbanded by the Wing Commander. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining an all-ranks social cohesion in a relatively isolated location, I built partnerships across multiple wing agencies, streamlined processes within the VSC, and increased interest and membership while striving to positively impact our base and spouses’ community. I also groomed my successors, who thankfully have maintained the Club's invaluable outreach projects 6 years after our departure. Again, what I'm most proud of was being able to influence the young spouses of lieutenants and staff sergeants to feel a part of the Air Force family.

Describe how you support your community:
Soon after arriving in Niger, I began volunteering in the Embassy's Community Liaison Office helping arrange monthly events and finding volunteers to be sponsors for employees moving to Niamey. When the CLO coordinator was medically evacuated for 8 weeks I kept the schedule going without a hitch, including executing a successful “Eggstravaganza” potluck and egg hunt on the Ambassador's lawn. I was then asked to lead both the Decorations and Food Committees for the Embassy's July 4th celebration, the largest & most important representational event on the calendar. Starting as early as February, I guided teams of helpers to beautify the grounds, decorate the residence and create a menu to create a memorable event; despite 500+ participants (nearly 2x the number expected), our efforts showcased America for the international community and local press. At the same time, I was elected PTA president, and also co-chaired the local Women's Association volunteer group helping local charities.

What platform do you advocate for? Why?
Ask my kids my mantra, and they'll tell you: "Be Kind." Servant leadership is the official phrase, but it all boils down to supporting one another and helping people achieve their potential. As the once-daughter of a diplomat, and now a proud representative of my country in a region of the world where war, poverty, food scarcity, malaria, and lack of education are everyday occurrences, I believe it's imperative that we set a good example and showcase America -- and Americans -- and our core belief that all people have value, and all should be treated equally. A hug, a smile, a helping hand means the same whether you're living in the richest country in the world, or the poorest. It's more than being a "good citizen"; it's being a good person.

How have you spread the message of your platform?
My husband will sarcastically refer to me as his shy little wallflower, knowing full well that I thrive on interaction and espousing my "cause du jour." It started when we were first married and I became the Director of Public Relations for the Humane Society in Colorado Springs, doing weekly television and radio slots and newspaper interviews to get pets adopted and ensure everyone knew how important it was to Be Kind to animals. I volunteered to be PTA President, Key Spouse Mentor, or Women's Association Chair in order to give the ideals of being a part of a community a voice, to keep these values front and center whenever possible. Here in Niger, I have been able to use my French-language skills (remembered from childhood) to interface with Host Nation organizations and demonstrate the American volunteer spirit; our projects often end up on the Embassy facebook page or the Embassy monthly newsletter. Fortunately, being kind is a universal concept that transcends language.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope my example inspires others, starting with my children. Moving to Africa was the first time either of them had lived--or traveled--overseas. We made sure they knew that they'd see some aspects of life here that would make them sad. But the attitude my husband and I demonstrated, the friendliness we show to everyone we meet, the spare time we offer to aid others, has sparked an infectious enthusiasm in them and they're right there by our sides. My time is soon running out to try and make a difference here and keep others involved in the kind of projects that will last beyond our tenure. Whether through the Embassy, the international school, or the bottomless energy of deployed Airmen, I have been able to garner volunteers for beautification projects at a Deaf School, set up food and clothing drives, and donate supplies to Nigerien charity organizations supporting abused women. I try to be a good representative of the US, and of the military, every day. I'd love to share my story.

Nominations

While serving with her husband at a remote U.S. Embassy in Niger, Ainsley has continued to be a role model for young military members and their families, demonstrating the importance of volunteerism, camaraderie, and setting a positive example in a foreign country. She has devoted hundreds of hours in support of not only Embassy personnel, but the local Nigerien community, multi-national members of the International School, and the 400+ deployed Airmen and Special Forces deployed to Niamey (the second largest DoD footprint in all of Africa). She co-founded a Women's Association to help local orphanages & women's vocational programs, volunteered as PTA president, and provided volunteer opportunities to dozens of Airmen who otherwise would never have left their expeditionary location. In previous assignments, she has led Spouses Clubs, been a Key Spouse Mentor, and continuously advocated for spouses of all ranks to feel a valuable part of the military family. Ainsley is an inspiration!
- by daniel gottrich