Erika Hope Bradley

Branch: Navy

Duty Station: Naval Base San Diego

Number of Deployments: 7

Number of PCS's: 7

Share your military spouse story:
My journey with the military has demanded more of me than I could have ever imagined, and grown me more than I was ever prepared for. I was married to an army national guard solider and was a victim of domestic violence that almost claimed my life. ( ) Determined to never be "dependent" on anyone again it was unexpected and unplanned to fall in love with my high school sweetheart and my daughter's father again. Especially because he had recently joined the navy. Being a military wife wasn't something I walked into again easily and it has taken me many years to thrive and not just survive in this role. The stress of multiple deployments, a medical mishap that almost claimed the life of our unborn child, moves all over the world, and a lack of true purpose or identity had left me bitter and drowning. We had been stationed in Sasebo, Japan a small rural base with very few opportunities. I volunteered to be the command ombudsman as a way to give purpose to my life and to "pay it forward" so many had been kind to me in my early years and I never could've made it without them. That summer was horrible for the 7th fleet with the McCain and Fitzgerald accidents claiming numerous lives and shattering our community. With my own husband deployed the best way for me to cope with my fears was to throw myself into volunteer work. When we transferred to San Diego a year later I was unprepared for the challenges it would present. Our daughter who is in high school and has always been very resilient was impacted like never before. Opportunities she had worked hard for an deserved were being denied because of inconsistent standards. When I saw the effect on her mental health, and that of my own I sprung to action. Choosing to take stand and attempt to make a difference for our military family and those that come behind us. I founded a non-profit and became an advocate.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Most recently our organization was named a finalist in The Rosie Network's Military spouse entrepreneur awards, and received senate recognition for outstanding community service. I have also been the voice for our families during the housing crisis, facilitating numerous interviews with the media and appearing on the news myself 4 times in the last year as the "unofficial spokesperson" for our effected families.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
The military community truly is my family. I look at this community as a fringe benefit of our lifestyle, one of the blessings. I involve and engage with the community in every aspect. Online I have a dedicated facebook group to encourage, and empower spouses. No "mean girl" stuff allowed, this life is hard enough without keyboard warriors constantly tearing one another down. My favorite way to engage by far though is in person. Our organization has hosted outdoor boot camps, group hikes, coffee socials. And most recently helped host a Thanksgiving dinner for families that have been displaced due to mold. I am also very involved in advocacy and education efforts. During the housing debacle I have been a point of contact, I have also helped families in advocacy efforts for their students here in San Diego Unified school district. Most importantly I am in the community at the food drives, town halls, to lend a hand, listen and give hugs when words can't communicate properly.

Describe how you support your community:
In every way I can. I truly feel that the issues that effect our community will not get better until our community takes a stand together, with one voice. And being transparent in our "struggles" gives hope to others. We all know that there are some things about being a military family that others just don't "get". So when we all begin to walk in grace and truly care about what our neighbor is going thru as if we are going thru it ourselves then our community becomes a better place. I support my community by not contributing to the "one up" mentality that seems so prevalent. Everyone's "hard" is different, and that's okay. It's not our jobs to judge someone's hard, but rather be kind and supportive. There are actions that I take today that my family will never see the "benefits" of, but I do them anyway because I know that I am leaving my community a better place. I try to education and guide others to do the same.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Mental health, because it encompasses all of the things that effect us. After being a "nation at war" for the last 18 years the implications have soaked into the fabric of our families. Are we strong enough to send our loved ones into a war zone for months on end... sure. But not while we are also dealing with substandard living conditions in military housing, schools that are under performing and not appropriately supporting our military-connected students, lack of employment/underemployment, Tricare issues, and lack of community. We are spread so thin and sometimes feel like we are fighting a battle at every angle. When we can have honest conversations about how we are struggling and why we are struggling we can find productive means of coping. I am also passionate about opening up more opportunities for our military-connected high school student athletes. Semper Fortis recruiting wants to help our military kids get more exposure for collegiate opportunities

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Social Media is a powerful tool to spread any message, and that is part of my platform as well. That as a community we should be using social media to empower one another. Thus the "dependa strong" terminology. I wanted to take the power from such a hateful and derogatory word and use it to showcase the awesomeness of our military spouse community. I also have contributed to several military publications in the last year to bring awareness. Daily Military mom published an open letter to Congress that I wrote, In Dependent posted a piece I did on gardening and mental health, I have done podcast interviews and facebook lives speaking about the issues that are effecting our mental health. I have appeared on the news here in San Diego about school and housing issues and most recently with Steve Walsh of KPBS.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I would never be so presumptuous to assume that I could win such a title. There are so many phenomenal spouses doing things that are incredible. However my biggest goal in life is impact. I just want someone to say, that something I did or said made a difference. That my efforts made this road a little easier for the next person to travel. That a story I shared, piece of advice I gave or smile I shared gave someone hope. Encouraging our community to be transparent and real with one another so that we can have the hard conversations about mental health. Saving just ONE LIFE... (and helping our military kids get more exposure for college scholarships for athletics would be GREAT too)