Duty Station: Naval Support Activity Bethesda
Number of Deployments: 2
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
Nine years ago, as a single mom finishing nursing school with a baby with a kidney disease, I met my sailor. A whirlwind romance and one mom, who was convinced he was the "man God had shown her", had us married within six months of meeting one another. A PCS to San Diego and a couple of fights driving coast to coast, I felt like I became a real life military spouse in the grit of it all. I quickly learned "home is where the Navy sends us", as we were sent cross country and up and down the coast a few times. The one constant in each move was my spouse and the adventure loving a sailor assured me. I am keen on adapting, finding the silver lining, and creating life long friendships wherever I go that sustain me no matter what curveball the Navy throws our way. I am a nurse, mom, and wife with emphasis on the mom and wife as of late because life threw us the curveball of a lifetime on Christmas Eve 2018. While my husband was away at Rescue Swimmer School and, thank goodness, home for holiday leave, our two year old was diagnosed with a tumor in his brainstem. In one day, our world was shaken and our lives forever changed. Thankfully, military spouses are cut from a special cloth and are resilient. Thankfully developing community paid off big time as a community of 20 girls spanning from 7 different states converged on DC to save my family they love so dearly. A year later, we are living the dream, as I like to say, experiencing DC through the awe of our children with a newfound thankfulness for each day. Our children are seeing strength, tenacity, and the love of others through my advocacy for both children with brain tumors and my advocacy for safe military housing. Our family's journey is not over yet. With my husband's hopes of being a career service member, I have another decade of being apart of the military spouse community I so greatly admire and respect. If I've learned anything in my 9 years of being a military spouse, I've learned we are stronger together.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I've participated in the Village Representative program, became a Displaced Resident Liaison, and am a Navy Ombudsman. I was approached to be a community representative when the military housing crisis broke in February. I declined then because our two-year old had brain surgery in January and was starting a year and a half of chemo. When mold affected our family's entire home, displacing us for an entire summer, I realized the problem in our community was real and saw how deep it ran. I created - with housing's blessing - the Displaced Resident Liaison. I've raised donations for three homes lost to house fires, outfitting just short of each entire home with community donations. With the help of local churches and veteran's organizations, I was able to provide displaced families a weekly pizza night, monthly dinner, convection ovens, and even Christmas trees. Through the holidays I organized a Trunk-or-Treat, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve dinner, complete with Santa and presents.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I believe in community. I believe every one needs someone to support them and we cannot do life alone. I believe, when times get hard, friends, spouses, support systems don't make the hard softer but make YOU stronger. For these reasons, in every duty station, I have participated in creating a community of spouses. From weekly mom and baby play dates in Charleston, when I so desperately needed moms to raise my kids alongside, to being the Ombudsman and champion for those spouses myself to weekly Monday night craft nights in DC to weekly community Bachelor viewing parties in SD. I have been welcoming, kind, supportive, and THERE for fellow spouses. In addition to creating spouse groups, I have become deeply involved in the Military housing crisis- participating in focus groups, becoming a board member of a local advocacy group, going in to the homes of concerned residents to calm their fears and support their needs.
Describe how you support your community:
In addition to being inclusive to creating community on Navy bases as well as Joint Bases, such as Fort Belvoir, where we currently are, I strive to be inclusive of all branches. In Charleston, we developed a mom group, which hosted at least weekly play dates, that spanned across the city and encompassed both local Navy and Air Force bases. In DC, we developed a base wide advocacy group that spans across the services, the ranks, and the needs of the community. While my initial focus was strictly displaced residents and their immediate needs, collection of goods, information, and events has spanned across Active Duty, Reservist on orders, and National Guard spouses. I have participated in community events that have encompassed all of our local spouses and
What do you advocate for? Why?
In my personal life, I advocate for and have created a non-profit organization surrounding brain tumors and emotional support for families. Rhett's diagnosis has rocked my family's entire world, changing the trajectory of my husband's naval career. 13 children are diagnosed every day with a brain tumor and our family's fight is no different, except we are surrounded by a huge military community who loves and supports us. Professionally, this year, I have stepped on to the advocacy platform for safe military housing. Having personally lived in a home that was less than desirable and then helping over 100 families on Fort Belvoir alone, I have realized the need for safe homes and empowered military residents. I realize the plight of the Department of Defense, having to both manage the safety of an entire nation and the safety of their service members homes. Spouses are an integral part of bridging the divide.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
In the desperation of a hospital room, as I sat beside my almost three year old, fresh out of brain surgery, the #DonutsforRhett movement was born. Social media has been flooded for now a year with people eating donuts, paying it forward, raising funds and awareness in local communities across the globe. Because mine and many others' sick babies live in military housing, I became impassioned about the housing crisis in our own backyard. Rhett's story and the housing story of Fort Belvoir has been featured in numerous news outlets, raising awareness for both, as well as Rhett being the face of the Children's National Hospital holiday campaign. I admin a local social media information page with hundreds of members, as well as several business pages and a website. We've been invited to participate in galas, charity events, focus groups, to speak with Generals and Senators, and met with Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
Life changes in an instant; it can be sickness, homes, deployments, anything. What I hope to accomplish as MSOY is to "man, train, and equip" the families of our military to have the resources they need when tragedy strikes. For me, my son's brain tumor changed my life in an instant, but for others its being #ambushedathome. I hope shining a light on the state of military housing will create dynamic discussions, which will bring proactive and effective results. I hope showing the need for more voices will bring about more volunteerism in the military spouse community for housing and advocacy groups, locally and nationally. Because right now it's not a matter of if, it's when.