Danielle Lankford

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Hill Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 2

Number of PCS's: 2

Share your military spouse story:
My high school sweetheart proposed to me just before he left for basic training. When he had first told me about his dream to serve his country, I was nervous, but now, I was just excited to share in that with him. We planned on getting married after his tech school, about a year later. In a true introduction to military life, though, he called sooner than expected to let me know he had orders to RAF Lakenheath - in Europe. The next weekend, I packed up and drove four hours to marry my Airman so we could arrive in England together. Once there, I found the most welcoming community I could have hoped for. I made friends who still feel like my second family. During 4 years and 2 deployments there, I worked and volunteered while earning my bachelor's degree. We went on lots of weekend trips to places like Belgium, Spain, and Italy where I got to see the history I was learning in college first hand and use my Italian classes in the real world. Once at Hill, I used my volunteer experience to start a career in the nonprofit sector and went back to school to earn my MPA. I now spend my days working at a children's grief support center. On the weekends, the area around Hill AFB provides beautiful outdoor space for us to be active with our two rescued German Shepherds. Exploring around our second duty station, I realize that the best part about being in a military family is the fullness with which you get to experience the world. Not only do I get to visit parts of the world I hadn't given much thought before, but I get to live there and be immersed in the community. In ten years, I have experienced a lot but by far, the title I am most proud to hold is Air Force spouse. Standing by my husband's side through promotions, deployments, and moves and seeing him fulfill a dream to serve his country with dedication and integrity has been an honor. I know that wherever his career takes us, I will always have a home there, and we will always do our best to return the favor.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In late 2017, I was approached about the Military Spouse Professional Network because I had already started my own grassroots group for career-minded spouses at Hill AFB. My work always has been an important part of my identity and I want every military spouse to be able to use their unique talents to have an impact - whether that is through corporate, nonprofit, or government careers or entrepreneurship. From that small group, I grew the Military Spouse Professional Network at Hill to over 600 engaged members with the help of two consecutive co-leads and a team of volunteers. I strive to empower our volunteer team to bring forward ideas for career-related topics they want to see at our monthly events. I pride myself on bringing innovation to our group to better serve local spouses. For example, I introduced an online mentor match feature last summer, and host discussions through live video as well as in-person events to increase access to professional development content.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
My involvement in the military community has been a small way to pay forward the way I have been embraced and supported. At RAF Lakenheath, I served for one year as the youth volunteer coordinator at the American Red Cross office on base. In this position, I coordinated with military personnel to ensure there would be volunteer opportunities for youth and worked with local schools to plan activities and events. Near the end of my time there, I became a founding board member for Pets Enriching Troops, a nonprofit organization that provided therapy dog visits to military families and resources to military members with pets. In this role, I participated in strategic planning and outreach efforts to ensure families far from home could enjoy pet companions. At Hill, I launched and co-lead the local Military Spouse Professional Network. At just two years old, our network provides career advice and professional development to over 600 members and holds networking meetings once per month.

Describe how you support your community:
I am always willing to pick up the phone or answer a message from another spouse. I believe when we support each other, we break down barriers. I frequently have individual conversations answering questions from members of our Military Spouse Professional Network. I also brainstorm with and answer questions from other Network Leads around the world when they are seeking advice. Both online and in-person, I strive to be vulnerable by talking about my own struggles, both in my career and with military life. My hope is that my openness will create valuable and needed conversations. I have also supported the community through my work. I am always willing to lend advice to military-affiliated nonprofit organizations and volunteer my time when I can. This year, I was proud that my workplace got to partner with a corporate sponsor on a campaign elevating the stories of Gold Star families. It meant the world to me that I could help them feel comfortable as they shared their loved ones.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for military spouse employment, because despite the many resources that exist, the unemployment and underemployment rates for spouses who are highly educated and talented remain high. We know that this takes a toll on the mental health of our military spouses and the retention of our military members. Although many spouses want to work and add value to their communities, there are many barriers that still exist. These include frequent moves, childcare, and unpredictable schedules. For some military families, spouse employment is the difference between living and thriving. For many, it is not about finances, but about a spouse's identity and ability to be an asset to the community. My view is that we have to take this message to employers to create change. Military spouses are highly qualified candidates. A lack of knowledge about our twenty-first century armed forces is what may ultimately prevent a military spouse from getting hired despite their qualifications.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I talk about military spouse employment with anyone willing to listen. Outside of the Military Spouse Professional Network, I engage connections on social media through Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I participate in several local networking groups so that I can build relationships with local business owners and inform them of the employment challenges facing military spouses. In graduate school, I gave a presentation to my public policy class on some recent policy developments in the spouse employment space. I have also given several presentations at local Chambers of Commerce and to base-affiliated organizations. I regularly reach out to local employers to ask for a few minutes of their time to discuss military spouse employment and how they might get involved. This includes local nonprofit organizations I interact with in my daily work. In addition, I have been interviewed for two local articles on the subject and have reached out to numerous news agencies with information.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
My goal would be to use my influencer platform to create a training program for companies around military bases that combines statistics and experiences shared by real military spouses with a healthy dose of fun and humor that would equip them with the knowledge to hire and retain military spouses. For such a program to be successful, the workshop would be interactive and include some sort of incentive for the employer to participate. These workshops could also partner with the local base to gather military spouse resumes to be delivered to the employer upon completion of the training. There are many facets of military life I have found my employers to be curious about and informing others could help us erase the military-civilian divide that exists with today's all-volunteer force. Employers would feel more comfortable hiring, having the knowledge to make military spouses successful, and undoubtedly would help military families feel more like part of the local community at large.