Cindy Meili

Branch: National Guard

Duty Station: New York

Number of Deployments: 10

Number of PCS's: 7

Share your military spouse story:
My story began in small town America as an 18 year old college student dating what my father called a “jet head.” Six months after meeting John he was off to serve a year in Korea. Little did I know at the time, this would be the beginning of a long and remarkable experience as a military spouse. A year later we were married and off to Germany for the next six and half years where our first son Ryan was born five years later. The next two decades on the military roller coaster of combat deployments, travel abroad, moves from coast to coast where exciting, challenging, sometimes disappointing, but never regretful. The opportunities I have been given, the people I have met, and lifetime bonds made as a military spouse would not have been possible had I not got in line for the ride of my life with that “jet head.” I am honored and grateful to serve alongside of my Active Duty spouse for the past two and half decades. Service has taught me to be a resilient, caring and compassionate human being, and the importance of giving back to the men and women who preserve our freedoms and the American way of life. These traits are the foundation of our family and continue on through to future generations with my older son Ryan, who is in the Air Force and currently serving abroad on his third combat tour in three years. The “Military Family” is who we are and I wouldn’t change a thing if given the opportunity. The joys and struggles experienced through countless moves, deployments, missed once in a lifetime moments and loss of “family" over the years has humbled me and provided a perspective of being grateful for every day you have with loved ones. I carry this on through my work with the military community and service to the veterans and the families that have come before us.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Leadership is a role that I first accepted out of necessity. After our transition from USAF Active Duty to the New York Air National Guard I learned early on that I had to take control of situations that left me feeling disconnected and isolated from the military life style we had become accustomed on an active duty Installation. I took it upon myself to gain as much knowledge and seek out resources that were available to families in need like ours. I consolidated local, state and national support programs and shared them with our unit and the joint collocated units throughout New York State. I quickly became known as the go to “Military Spouse” that could assist with networking and resolving military specific difficulties.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
As the Key Spouse Mentor I've mentored volunteers and implemented the mandatory Air Force program. A member of the National Military Spouses Advocacy Network, I'm part of a team of seasoned spouses responsible for mentoring, empowering and educating a global network of new spouses.I've volunteered 120 hours directly contributing to strengthening family networks critical to mission accomplishment. A staunch advocate for military veterans, I help local officials develop and solidify multiple community programs to assist transitioning military members and struggling veterans. My dedication to nonprofit organizations not only raised community awareness of local military family and veteran needs, but also helped generate thousands of dollars in donations for programs. As the 152 Air Operations Group Spouse lead I've directed the annual School Supply, Holiday Toy Drive, and led the party planning committee resulting in the most successful celebration in the unit’s history.

Describe how you support your community:
I have always felt it was my duty to give back to the community and fellow military spouses . I am committed to developing and maintaining relationships, through community outreach with organizations that have proactively worked and identify challenges among our military spouses and veteran communities. I am actively involved in the Onondaga County Veteran Advisory Board as the Military Spouse Advisor, 152 Air Intelligence Squadron Key Spouse Mentor, 174 Air Attack Wing Family Readiness Volunteer, Skaneateles American Legion Post 239 Veteran Outreach Advisor, and Wreaths Across America Program Coordinator for Onondaga County Veterans Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My 25 years as a military spouse provided me the opportunity to experience an Active Duty Air Force and Air National Guard spouse way of life. The transition to the ANG has given us the best of both worlds however, it has not been easy. The ANG is no longer the Strategic Reserve called upon when needed. Our new reality is that of full time real world missions and consistent activations on a moment’s notice. The mission related paradigm shift required to ensure mission accomplishment has evolved. The infrastructure and programs required to sustain families on the home front have not. Budgets to build and sustain infrastructure to support our families is not adequate. I will work with a multitude of organizations to address the critical shortfalls and lack of programs available to National Guard. Through persistent advocacy and networking I will expand access to wellness programs, medical care, childcare, and military spouse hiring initiatives afforded to active duty family members.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
As a National Guard Mentor for Military Spouse Advocacy Network, I have been able to network with National Guard Spouses across the nation. I am able to reach our geographically seperated members of our unit by creating private and secure social media accounts to develop positive communication and relay vital information on policy change for Military Families. During Unit and Wing Events I provide useful information for families that they may have not known existed. Through active listening, I have been able to identify specific needs for new and transisioning Military Spouses. By sharing my unique Military Spouse story at community events I have been able to raise awareness to the struggles that we experience. My efforts have been highlighted several times with the local media outlets as well as within the school districts.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I will work with national, state and local military and civilian officials to help bridge the gap on critical concerns that are leaving National Guard families feeling isolated. Through persistent involvement and presence, I will continue to expand my network of influence and capitalize on opportunities to share the real life stories and struggles of our Military Families. The Military Family story especially that of a National Guardsman is one rarely told, acknowledged or appreciated. It is equally critical in order to assist our Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guard family members we serve alongside. Through spreading our story and fighting for access to programs we so are desparately in need of I am determined to make a difference.