Dawn Hoffman

Branch: Marine Corps

Duty Station: Not Affiliated With a Duty Station

Number of Deployments: 12

Number of PCS's: 10

Share your military spouse story:
I was a young 21 year old bride marrying my high school sweetheart, a Sergeant at the time. I had grown up in the same farm house most of my life in rural Indiana. I can't say that I was a "change" kind of girl. I like things steady and consistent. So marrying a Marine was probably the last thing most people thought I would do, but when you're in love, you're in love. I had known my husband since childhood, and he was worth the upcoming "changes". Through the 90's, we had a few moves, a couple of children, and two MEU deployments. My husband was an infantry Marine, so being away from home was not unusual. I quickly transitioned from a naìve, dependent young wife to a woman with more confindence and independence than I thought I would ever have. It's a necessity, really. I thought the military life was really tough....and then came 9/11. The next few years were a blur. My husband was deployed far more than he was ever home. I was functioning for all intents and purposes as a single mom, running the house as structured and simply as I could muster. Some days went amazingly smooth, others were downright ugly. But we survived. I survived. The support of my home and military families kept me afloat. When Randy's main surge of deployments was mainly over, I breathed a sigh of relief. We could get back to normal. What I wasn't prepared for was that "normal" had changed. Randy's struggle with PTS had just begun, and I was in for a much tougher "war" than I had bargained for. That has now become my focus, and largely his as well. Advocating with our military families for mental health and wellness. Children have grown, life has slowed down immensely, and deployments are basically done. But supporting my military family will never end. It's what my horizon looks like now. The last 29 years of being a military spouse have flown by, but they have also defined me in a great way, and are continuing to do so.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
One of the aspects of being a military spouse working with other military spouses that I admire most is how much of a team mindset there is. Because of that, I have always had great experiences with leadership opportunities. I most recently was on the board of the Parris Island Spouses Club, Parris Island, South Carolina. It was a great group of spouses from young, new enlisted wives to older, crusty officer wives. :). We had a lot of fun, raised a lot of money for community scholarships, and managed to even set up and support a program for newly pinned Marines that had no family at boot camp graduation. The members of this club were amazing and I was proud to be a small part of it. I also had the pleasure of working with my husband on the command team as an advisor during the same time. A recruit depot has it's challenges, but it was good to be able to work with Marines and their spouses away from the main fleet and deployments, for awhile.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Over the last almost 3 decades, I have been immersed in military community. I was a part of the original Key Volunteer network, taking classes on base to learn how to support other wives. I also attended and helped with pre- and post- deployment briefs. I have always been involved with command spouses' clubs and groups, attending many "teas" back when they were so popular. (Something I kind of miss these days!). I started an in-home bible study with fellow military spouses in my base neighborhood and also worked in a DoD school as a school nurse, taking care of military elementary kids. I now spend a lot of time talking to and helping spouses with husbands struggling with post 9/11 trauma. It gives me a great purpose taking the hard things that have transpired over the last 19 years and using them to help others. There is great power in giving others hope.

Describe how you support your community:
As I mentioned above, the "team" mentality of military spouses has been such a positive influence on me and has given me opportunities to really plug in. One of these was working on the Praise and Worship team at the base chapel in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. From that experience, I was afforded the chance to play for the Praise Team of a military spouse ministry, called Planting Roots. It was begun by a former Marine who became an Army wife! We traveled around the US setting up conferences to support and encourage other military spouses at different bases. The ministry was set up for the spouses of all services. I am now using my nursing degree to work for a non-profit called Vantage Point Foundation that offers resources and support to post 9/11 transitioning veterans and their families. I am able to not only use my clinical experience to help others, but now my personal experience as a military spouse dealing with post 9/11 issues personally.

What do you advocate for? Why?
The ultimate reason to accept this nomination is to bring awareness to mental health in the active duty military and it's impact on families. As a Marine spouse of 29 years, I have personally been greatly affected by my husband's post 9/11 PTS and health issues. It can be consuming and quite frightening. The biggest problem in the military now is that this issue is largely silent, either because of fear of career impact, pride, or both. I know how addressing mental health in my own family led to great hope and healing.....but it had to be addressed first. Simply ignoring it and hiding from it only made it worse for everyone involved. Once we reached out for help, in our case to a NMCRS nurse, the light at the end of the tunnel became visible. That is largely why I chose to be a nurse working with transitioning veterans. I know what hope she instilled in us that day she first came over and sat on our couch to help us....and I want to do the same for others.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
By working with a non-profit, I get to support and work with military members and their families on a daily basis. I have the opportunity to write for our newsletter, help set up training, and participate in Leadership Development Courses. I have shared our story personally with many and have a presence on social media. Most recently, our personal story of how PTS and post 9/11 issues have affected our entire family was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article written by Michael Phillips. We were asked to do the article, but weren't sure if we wanted to share that much personal information to the public. But after talking about it, we decided that if it could encourage a single person to reach out for help, it would be worth it. Since that time, we hve received hundreds of calls and emails, many asking where and how to get help. It has been overwhelming, but we know that talking about our personal story of post 9/11 mental health has imparted hope to many.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
The fact is, there are thousands of military spouses that deserve MSOY. But the importance of it is it's ability to shine light on an issue that is pervasive in the active duty and veteran world. I would love to see the curtain pulled back on mental health issues in the military and it's affect on military families. It would give a platform to talk about post 9/11 trauma and possibly begin discussions that are long overdue. Recognizing symptoms and then acknowledging something isn't right is the first step to healing for the service member and ultimately, the whole family. But it has to become a topic of discussion. I had no idea how many active duty military men and women were dealing with this until our story was told. It is not going away. That being said, there is hope. This title could accomplish the awareness of mental health issues in the military that would lead to those struggling to acknowledge the problem and then seek help.