Aj Smit

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Lackland Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
During our wedding vows, my husband and I agreed to be adventure partners for life. We didn’t want to stay in one place, we wanted to explore, meet new people, and learn about the world. Graduating from college in 2012; the job recession revealed adventure might look different in the light of day. My husband Jeremy’s brother was a pilot in the Air Force; and although it seemed odd to enlist after graduating from college, we decided this was our next adventure. As Jeremy went to training, I traveled seeing family and worked as the art head at a summer camp. I had a deep fear of being alone, but him leaving taught me I had an inner strength I didn’t realize. A resilence to be honed as orders changed two weeks before our flight; meaning instead of going to England, we would be headed to Hawaii. Making us learn how to be hyper communicative as our household goods almost went across the wrong ocean had it not been for a last-minute double-check, of ‘this is all going to Hawaii correct?’ As a brand new military spouse, I learned our squadron was in need of a Key Spouse and volunteered to be one. We created a contact system from the ground up, and I was terrified. I was 23, and I thought I didn’t belong here. I thought I wasn’t old enough to be a Key Spouse, but my efforts were needed. I was wanted, and I didn’t realize it until I got involved in the community. Between Spangdahlem in Germany, and moving to Keesler in Mississippi, I have learned that you are stationed at a base for a reason. This gives you the grace to take risks and show up fully as yourself, so you can get connected. We are now at Lackland AFB, in Texas. Each place we go in the military is a chance to learn something new; a gift of 1-5 years where you have the exquisite opportunity to speak life and encourage the community you are placed in. Being a military spouse wasn’t on my bucket list, but a life of adventure was, and being a Military Spouse has been the adventure of a lifetime.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I believe that leadership is shown when you see a need and you step up to create it. In Germany, I discovered Red Tents and finding none near us I decided to make one right where we were. Red Tents are an evening for women to share stories, learn and intentionally grow together. In the year and a half I was at Spangdahlem, we had 23 Red Tents, 3 Retreats, and many village nights; where the whole family was welcomed and we potlucked like only military spouses and midwestern women know how to do. We created a village from scratch, creating a team of tent keepers who helped me run it and took over when I left. 56 women in Germany came through, looking for a place to call home, to belong, to be seen, now two years later, the number continues to grow. Military members, spouses, and local Germans. We carried and still carry each other as we created a village with each other’s families to weather the storms of life, PCS news, deployments and more.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
In Hawaii and Germany, I heard spouses say, ‘I hate this base, there is nothing to do or see around here.’ It broke my heart. Being involved in the military community is more than just what adventures are nearby. As a past Key Spouse, to being the program lead for the PWOC chapter at Spangdahlem, I’ve learned that being involved is a way of weaving yourself into the fabric that is the base. At each station, I’ve used my business as a professional mermaid to give free storytimes at the base and local libraries to spark imagination and joy in those in attendance. Performing and volunteering with the USO in Germany, and teaching line dance lessons at the base community building created opportunities for new people to come, and get involved in a way that perhaps didn’t feel as daunting as a spouse’s club meeting. Being in Keelser for only 11 months, cemented the necessity to jump in with brave vulnerability as you make friends, and get involved to make a base your home.

Describe how you support your community:
Community building is at the heart of what I do in my In Joy Productions business. Creating access points for people to experience joy, use their imagination and gather together. Here in San Antonio, we haven’t simply created one Red Tent, but three, just in the last six months. Collaborating with our local church, we use their space each month so one tent is centrally located. Having a Red Tent online allows those who can not attend in person the ability to be connected to their village from afar. I believe that when you create a space for people to be their whole selves, it creates a bond of community that is hard to break. Our tent is growing each month, and we’ve already had 30 women join within the last few months in San Antonio. Military spouses, members, and civilians. My goal in community building and as the AFI MSOY is that people understand their stories are wanted, and that our diversity is what makes us great.

What do you advocate for? Why?
That when spouses show up fully as who they were created to be, true community is made. I believe women can change the world when they have the right tools in their hands: understanding how to set boundaries, asking for what they need, or using their intuition in their business and lives. We think community takes years to build, but you can create friendships as quickly as you can grow roots. Roots come from people standing tall, taking up space, and cultivating the lives around them. As spouses, we can be set down in a new place, and become the rock for everyone else. Having a space where you can let down your guard, where you don’t have to plan or fulfill a role reminds military spouses they don’t have to do it all. You can be present as yourself to remember your dreams, and share stories that remind us: you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are wanted, and enough. Just as you are, and you have a seat here at the table with us. That fierce belonging, is what I advocate for.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
As a former pageant queen, I’ve learned how to interact in public settings, and media in a way that lifts up the people around me. I have been on live tv talking about soul art classes, and on podcasts sharing about cultivating community. I write for MilSpo Co. as one of their main content writers and will be launching a podcast with them in the Spring of this year. I run an online community called Embodied in Joy, which gives resources, tips, and encouragement to women. In my Facebook and Instagram pages @MermaidHarmony I share Mermaid Musings; which is accessible life encouragement for kids and adults. I’m writing a book which will help give women tools to start a Red Tent and lean into vulnerability, boldness, and embodiment in an interactive way both by themselves and in community. Spreading the message of intentional embodied living, has a way of weaving through the world and into the lives of the people around me by being consistent in what I’ve been called to do.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to be a permission giver to let spouses know it’s okay to be different. To create ripple effects in the local and military community with the truth being we have more in common than we do that separates us. There is a magic that happens when women learn how to stand tall and take up space, and encourage people around them to do the same. Creating brave space gives permission for this, and the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title would lend me the ability to take that to the next level. Reminding new and older military spouses: you don’t have to have the perfect bundt cake. You can have blue hair, tattoos, or make delicious banana bread with six kids, or no kids and belong. You can be a mil spouse who runs the FRG, or who is a CEO. Every type of spouse is wanted and welcomed, and everyone has a seat at our table, because that’s what true community is about. Bringing people together, and cultivating true belonging is what I think this title, and I can do in 2020.