Elizabeth Ann Castro

Branch: Marine Corps

Duty Station: Camp Courtney

Number of Deployments: 4

Number of PCS's: 7

Share your military spouse story:
I met my Marine in our hometown of Galveston Island, Texas. He was searching for his path in life when he made the decision to enlist in the Marine Corps. He proposed to me over the phone while at boot camp and we were so certain about our future together, we had to get married twice! Twenty years later and I have zero regrets. Hand in hand, we've traversed this earth crafting a life of service full of defining moments of joy as well as tragedy. Our physical separation from extended family has served as a crucible to strengthen our relationship in that we know when to give space and when to hold one another closely. In 2012, prior to our PCS move to US Embassy Santo Domingo, I received the heartbreaking news that I tested positive for breast cancer. The treatment and recovery was one of the darkest periods our family has endured. We were fortunate that Sam’s command and our extended family came to our aid and provided care and support such that I truly came to see how blessed we are to be part of this amazing “gun club;” as Sam lovingly refers to the Corps. We came out of this ordeal with a clarity of purpose and invigorated resolve to help others. Sammy is a better Marine than he would admit and he would say I'm the best teacher he's ever had (We met when I was teaching at his old elementary school!). The truth is, neither of us would be who we are nor where we are without the other. Despite the challenges this life of service presents, we've persevered together with smiles on our faces and the comfort of knowing that we have truly established roots wherever the Corps sends us. Resiliency coupled with service to others are two things we have been fortunate enough to pass along to our sons. Our aspiration is that they learn through our example they cannot predict what life holds for them. However, they do control how they respond to dark skies and rough seas and are capable of weathering any storm.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In my work with Blue Star Families, I led the effort across San Antonio, TX to support the military community, surging efforts with multiple events during April, the Month of the Military Child. As a DoDEA educator and a mother, I came to realize this special form of recognition for the unique circumstances and sacrifices of our military children was missing here in Okinawa. I established a volunteer committee of fellow educators & we quickly put things in motion. I secured local base media to cover our Month of the Military Child events. We organized a schoolwide student-led rally with over 500 students in collaboration with the high school band. We provided family members a platform to record special video messages for their children to be posted & shared on our school’s social media page. We also teamed up with our PTO to organize a walkathon for the entire school. It was a huge success and we are currently preparing for this year's celebration.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Boy Scouts of America - Committee Chairwoman/Treasurer. Led fundraising efforts, recruitment drives & community service projects connecting military families overseas with BSA program. Helped establish one of Japan's first Girl Troops on Camp Courtney granting young ladies access to BSA program. Blue Star Families - Chapter Director/Social Media Moderator. Marine Reading Program - Organized outreach program for Marines of the Defense Language Institute to read with children in local schools. Military Spouse Advocacy Network - Mentor. USMC PCS Advisory Council - Regional Admin. Giving Tuesday Military - Chapter Ambassador. Month of the Military Child - Committee Chair. Breast Cancer Advocacy - Public Speaker/Mentor to diagnosed spouses. Sakura Seminar - Team Member. Spouse Guide 2 Okinawa - Founding Team Member/Curriculum Developer. International Women's Club - President (Santo Domingo) and member (Okinawa). Command Family Advocate - III MEF/USEMB Santo Domingo

Describe how you support your community:
This year, I was recruited by AFI MSOY spouses to serve as the Chapter Ambassador for Giving Tuesday Military in Okinawa. I quickly established a social media presence and generated awareness by cultivating relationships with the media, local and national non-profits here on island. I was invited to be a guest on the AFN Okinawa radio show to conduct a live interview raising awareness for this effort. I enlisted the services of my husband to produce a short video to promote the organization’s mission. I drafted a press release and provided photography to Stars and Stripes Okinawa, which resulted in a feature print and web article highlighting our cause. I was moved by the amount of energy and kindness our little island was able to generate. It filled me with joy to see the positive influence even simple gestures can have on others. Overall, we had 500+ participants provide 18k acts of kindness to others. The stories shared spanned the spectrum from girl scouts to the Command SgtMaj!

What do you advocate for? Why?
My efforts in the military community center on "Roots." Our military lifestyle places a significant burden on the families behind those in uniform. The geographic separation coupled with the velocity of our operational tempo force us to cultivate a level of resiliency and resolve equal to the task. As seedlings are transported to a garden in plastic containers, they are removed from a confined space to take root in new soil. This holds true for our families. Their health, personal and professional growth are determined by their ability to adapt to new environments. Their strength is reinforced only once their roots spread and deepen as they become part of the local community. A common military phrase is to, "Bloom where you're planted." As they're most effective when out of sight and burrowed deeply, roots are rarely mentioned. Roots are a crucial component to family readiness. Family readiness has a direct impact on combat readiness. Combat readiness is vital to national security.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Even as a seasoned spouse, the move to Okinawa was one of the most difficult we have endured. I was fortunate to have a close, long time friend, Lora Garcia, the first spouse I met back in 2000, greet us at the airport. Many aren't so lucky. It’s a daunting task to move your family halfway around the world. So, a group of fellow spouses & I recognized a need to teach others to “Be Lora.” Our Spouse Guide 2 Okinawa program provides training for "guides" to incoming Marine Corps spouses to ensure they are welcomed with a warm ‘konnichiwa’ by offering experience, information, resources and connections as they start to put down roots. In the Sakura Seminar, we have developed a holistic approach targeting transplanted spouses to reset after their initial arrival, establish contact with those in similar circumstances, identify goals and orient themselves in new surroundings. My role in these efforts include curriculum development, social media management and radio to broadcast our message.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
Truthfully, I hope to establish that my story, my experience, my efforts are simply indicative of the caliber of spouses we are blessed to have in our military family. I am not exceptional. I am just an example, not the example. This perspective is informed by my trip to the 2019 AFI MSOY Town Hall. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I listened to hundreds of others share their journey. I was inspired to see how much we all have in common. It instilled in me a sense of obligation to convey this realization to the rest of my “family” here in Okinawa. It's my goal for the AFI MSOY class of 2020 to extend this same sentiment of unity throughout the military family community at-large. Together, by example, we can work to encourage and empower other spouses to cross “the first threshold” by reminding them how exceptional they are. Each of them possess the ability to demonstrate agency, positively influence others, and embody the change they wish to see in the world around them.