Duty Station: Redstone Arsenal
Number of Deployments: 2
Number of PCS's: 6
Share your military spouse story:
My journey as a military spouse began over 10 years ago on a dance floor at a honky tonk in Nashville, TN. I had no idea that what started as a girl's night out would end with meeting my husband. After being asked on a date by a handsome and respectful active duty soldier named Zach Lewis that night, I politely responded with "yes, but I'd like to take the baseball hat you're wearing as collateral so I know you'll actually pick me up for a date". On our first date the very next day (the hat collateral trick worked!) Zach explained that he would be deploying for fifteen months and he understood if I wanted to enjoy this one and only date and move on in different directions. To Zach, dating for just a few short months and being apart for fifteen months felt like a lot to ask a person. I did not grow up in a military family but had friends who had and I knew there were many unique challenges they faced in that role. However, there was something very special about Zach and although we had just met I knew it was worth enduring a deployment and getting to know him better. After this first deployment we continued to date in-person for a bit before we took the leap into marriage. Since then, we have relocated six times and have had the opportunity to experience duty stations all the way to South Korea and coast to coast across the United States. Each time we move, there is a sense of excitement and adventure but there are also plenty of challenges we face. One of those challenges is feeling "at home" at our new duty station. As a mother of two, I began to realize that it was not only important for Zach and I to feel settled into our new home but our two daughters were looking to us to learn how to assimilate and welcome these frequent changes. This experience of frequently relocating has been a true gift as it has lead to the opportunity of experiencing different cultures, friendships that will last a lifetime, and the development of Native or Not.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
As a military spouse I am grateful that I was selected to participate in the 2019 Street Shares Foundation Pitch Contest. This opportunity showcased my entrepreneurial journey as a military spouse and was an example to military spouses that there are people and places eager to support us! My degree is in dental hygiene and being able to participate in the pitch contest was a fantastic way for me to show my military spouse community that it is ok to reach out of your comfort zone and take that leap of faith into an unknown territory (like tech startups!) because you believe in your cause and are confident in the service it can provide for your community. I believe Native or Not has provided a way to show military spouses the power of collaboration. Through our hyperlocal connections, we have been able to connect military spouse entrepreneurs with local business owners and build strong relationships with their communities that can lead to future income earning opportunities.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
My involvement in the military community has ranged from leading an FRG while we were stationed in South Korea to my current role as 2nd Vice President of the Redstone Arsenal Military and Civilians' Club. My role as FRG leader in South Korea was unique because we were able to explore and connect with a different culture as we worked to create our home away from home. In my current role as 2nd Vice President, I have had the honor of serving amongst senior leadership spouses and veteran spouses that have given me mentorship and guidance that I will carry with me through my journey as a military spouse and beyond! One of my favorite elements of Native or Not is that it has created a space for military spouse entrepreneurs to plug-in to their new market as they transition their businesses to their new duty station. I have had the honor of showcasing incredible local military spouses with businesses ranging from photography to Bible journaling.
Describe how you support your community:
Native or Not is a hyperlocal resource built for military families by military spouses. Each business featured inside our Military Guide offers a military discount as a way to welcome military families to their new duty stations, all while supporting the local economy. I believe when you shop local there is more than a monetary transaction, there is an actual relationship formed. To a military family new to town, having an inclusive resource to engage and learn about their new duty station will provide a smoother and more efficient transition. Creating opportunities for military spouses to earn income through the natural process of getting to know his/her duty station is an integral piece to my platform. In addition, as Native or Not grows, military spouse entrepreneurs will be greeted at their duty station with a built-in network of fellow military spouse entrepreneurs eager to support and assist them as they transition their businesses to their new duty station.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Connecting military families to what matters most when moving to a new duty station; building relationships with the local people and the local businesses that make up the personality and charm of that area and are excited to welcome us with open arms (and a discount). The reason I advocate for a stronger connection to the cities associated with our duty stations is that frequent relocation is an inevitable piece of our military lifestyle and it is also one of the leading stressors. Through my experience of PCS'ing six times in the last ten years I have truly began to feel "at home" once I connected with the great local businesses and people associated with those businesses (even in South Korea where we didn't speak the same language). Our goal with Native or Not is to empower military spouses through a business model supportive to them as they work to expand this resource to serve military families across the country.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have had the honor of being interviewed by a Huntsville tv station twice, participated in the Street Shares Foundation pitch contest, and had the opportunity to be on a statewide tv series dedicated to sharing new business ideas with people across the state of Alabama and will be a part of a follow-up episode in just a few short weeks! As a community member of AUSA I have been featured inside the local chapter newsletter that was shared inside the installation newspaper, The Redstone Rocket. I've also had interviews published inside the Aberdeen Proving Grounds newspaper and The Baltimore Sun's local magazine for Harford County, MD. I am grateful for the chance I had to write an article for Legacy Magazine and to be a part of a local business feature inside Military Spouse Magazine. I appreciate these opportunities as they have offered a boost in our exposure and development of Native or Not as we work to serve our military families!
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
With the title of AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I hope to share the vision of Native or Not and inspire military families across the globe to connect with their local business community as a way to feel more "at home" at their new duty stations. My hope is that military spouse entrepreneurs are empowered and proud of the businesses they have created and know that we are working hard to create a hyperlocal space for them to plug-in and transition their businesses with ease. I hope that military spouses see a girl who went for it and that a heart full of service and courage can lead to the creation of an opportunity to help thousands of military families across the globe! Photo Credit: Gari Ann Kia Photography