Arlette Marie Cuello

Branch: Navy

Duty Station: Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Number of Deployments: 4

Number of PCS's: 3

Share your military spouse story:
To be honest I have not always identified as a military spouse. My husband and I have been friends since we were 17. In my early 20s I studied with a Shaman in Florida and he went off to joined the military. I have always identified as a no shoe wearing, wild spirited, wander lusting hippie. So, when we got married in 2013, military spouse was not a hat I knew how to wear. It was an adjustment to understand military life; as I struggled to relate to statements like “we sacrifice/serve too,” or “it takes a special kind of person to be a military spouse.” For years I thought I could remain separate from the “military spouse” identity by maintaining the mindset that military life did not affect me. I found myself trapped in a loop of constant frustration because without actually engaging, I was still part of a culture I didn’t understand. Being stationed overseas in Japan stripped me of all the comforts and amenities of home. My husband’s job suddenly had a major impact on my life. My initial days in Japan were filled with traveling and exploring which was amazing; but once the deployment cycle began, I found myself alone and sad due to the lack of fulfillment in my life. A friend asked me to go volunteer with her one day at The American Red Cross (ARC). I have always had a heart for helping others and through volunteering I realized that I could serve a community of people who really need strong, understanding, and kind people in their corner. The idea of being a part of something bigger than myself was revealed to me in a way I had never allowed myself to see before. Through my own experiences and the witnessing of others experiences, I have learned the struggle and sacrifices military families face helping their service members be “mission ready.” I found my place as a military spouse, supporting others, with an overwhelming desire to empower other military spouses and thereby strengthening our community.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I am currently Ombudsman Assembly Chair. When the Navy relocated to Iwakuni we did not have a chair person and our installation was at risk of losing our Ombudsman Assembly all together. I stepped up to ensure our community didn’t lose a vital component to our support system for Navy families and service members. My responsibility as Ombudsman Chair is to support our installation ombudsman, for 12 commands with over 4000 personnel and families I, as chair, make sure to be knowledgeable on the most up to date resources by fostering relationships with different organizations across the base. It is my responsibility to come together with Command Leadership, and the Family Readiness Group to bring organizations together and hold trainings and informational briefs. At the ARC my leadership was expressed through my lead position and streamlining the Station Advisors’ (Leads’) organization. I lead by example, maintains initiative above and beyond the requirements of my position.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
On Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, I eventually filled a much-needed role as an Administrative Assistant for Marine and Family Programs, Personal and Professional Development (P&PD). In a very short time Iwakuni’s military population doubled and the family member population increased exponentially with the addition of over 4000 Sailors and their families. Navy families have had to learn new program names and acronyms to engage in programs and services provided by the Marine Corps. Through my position I have become a link between Navy families and the resources on our base. In our office I created a booklet that is updated quarterly and can also be found on the instillation website with all the classes we offer the community and also helped fact check a trifold that correlates Marine and Family Programs to Fleet and Family Services. As an Ombudsman for VFA-27, I support 245 Sailors and 122 families. This year I will also receive the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

Describe how you support your community:
Supporting my community is achieved by my continuous support as an Ombudsman not only to the 245 Sailors in our command and their 122 families, but also supporting the other ombudsman and in turn helping them to support the hundreds of navy families on this base. Someone once told me “we can’t help everyone but we can help those around us and those people can help those around them; it’s the ripples of our hard work that flow out and affect the greater community.” Supporting my community has been a journey of considerable volunteer work. Working my fulltime job also puts me in a place to support every servicemember and family on this installation, over 13,00 people. In our office, even though I am an Admin, I find myself playing the role of information and referral, making sure every person, Navy or Marine related leaves our office with the information they were looking for. Supporting my community means sharing knowledge and inspiring others to grow where they have been planted.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My platform is military spouse empowerment. It is so easy to feel lost in the military lifestyle and I believe every military spouse should feel supported in pursuing whatever avenue brings them fulfillment in life. Most of the time, the duty of the service member can overshadow the spouses dreams and career path. I want every spouse to feel supported, inspired and uplifted. We follow our service members wherever duty calls but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a path that fulfills you. Job continuity and consistency is hard to find with the PCS cycle, but there are so many places in the community to volunteer and give your time; having employment isn’t the only way to find stability and self-actualization. I found what I love in a way I didn’t know I could in the military lifestyle and I want everyone to be able to find what lights them up and fully live that; whether you’re in the states or overseas I want every spouse to feel like they have value in their community the way I do.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I spread the message of my platform to the community everyday through everything I do. From the American Red Cross, Marine and Family Programs, Personal and Professional Development to Ombudsman and Ombudsman Chair. I am constantly in a state of supporting and encouraging those around me to support themselves and their community. I full heartedly believe through self-advocacy and self-empowerment we can help one another to do more in our communities.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to set an example for other military spouses who are married to junior enlisted service members. There was a time when I felt I couldn’t make a difference or evoke change because my husband wasn’t senior enlisted. I had a misbelief that it wasn’t my place. Who you are as a person, and what you contribute to society is what defines you. You can't be constrained by job titles or an insignia on a sleeve or collar. We all have unique and wonderful gifts to share. With this title I want to set a standard of empowerment and support for other spouses but especially for junior enlisted spouses. I want to show them that your spouse’s rank doesn’t matter when it comes to a spouse and their accomplishments within the military community. Our Commanding Officer believes in the motto “excellence without arrogance”. With this title I hope to show other spouses within the military community that giving back to one another is the greatest way to feel fulfilled and reach that mark of excellence.