Erin Burns

Branch: Navy

Duty Station: Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka

Number of Deployments: 5

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
Not unlike many other spouses who have come before me, I never saw myself in a military marriage. It wasn't the plan teenage Erin had for herself. And then I met a man and we fell in love and all my plans changed. When he wanted to sign up to serve his country, I didn't know what to say. I didn't come from a military family so I knew nothing about what I was getting into! He enlisted in the Navy, we were soon married, and began our life of moving all around the country and across the world. Eight years, 1 baby, 3 pets, and several houses later, I am so proud of my husband and the career he has chosen for himself. Beyond that, I am proud of the life we have built together as a military family. I've learned so much about myself over these years through the unique challenges we encounter as military spouses. I'm proud of the jobs I've held at each duty station and the volunteer work I've filled my time with. I have met some extraordinary military spouses and built incredibly strong friendships. I've reached down deep and found strength that I didn't know I had while toughing it out through long deployments. This may not be the life teenage Erin dreamed up, but it is better and more fulfilling in every possible way.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I currently serve as Co-Lead (President Equivalent) for YESS, an organization that serves incoming families by connecting them with a local spouse to ease their (often rocky) transition to Yokosuka. I manage social media, oversee the maintenance of a large sponsor database, answer correspondence and guide the mission of the organization. As the leader for CFAY Tiny Tots, a parenting support group, I manage a community of 500+ local parents, plan events and complete weekly check-ins with our members to ensure we as a community are supporting one and another. As the FRG President, it has been my pleasure to serve as a resource for my spouse's command and the families connected to the command. Over the last year, I have organized monthly events, planned and executed our children's holiday party, arranged a marriage enrichment class, planned BBQs and potlucks, offered support throughout deployment, arranged meal trains for new parents, and welcomed new families to the command.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
It’s been my experience that there are no shortage of volunteer opportunities and ways to get involved in the military community. This is most apparent living at an overseas duty station. We are all in a unique position of living far away from our homes and families while our spouse are often deployed. Once we moved here, I decided to jump right in, starting with our command FRG. I volunteered for a position as the board secretary and by our second year here, was elected president. Some other programs I have become involved in are Yokosuka Enhanced Spouse Sponsorhip(YESS), USO Japan, and CFAY Tiny Tots. I also independently organize local clothing and toy swaps(along with several other busy moms!) for anyone in the CFAY community to partake in.

Describe how you support your community:
As a leader in the Tiny Tot community, I have the ability to impact an under-served population. Parenting overseas can be challenging. Some issues we experience are solo parenting, language barriers, limited healthcare choices, limited child care and being separated from our families and support systems. We as a community, and I as a leader, strive to provide parents with the resources they need while ensuring they are practicing self-care. Offering support and community for spouses of deployed service members through FRG and other organizations is also a huge part of my life. The emotional toll that a deployment can have on a marriage can be overwhelming. It is important for all spouses to support each other through these tough times and I like to do this by sharing a meal together, helping out with childcare, check-in regularly to make sure everyone is holding it together, gathering for holiday celebrations, and just generally making sure everyone knows they are cared for.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Mental health is a topic very dear to me. As parents, and as military spouses, we often forget to care for ourselves. We are constantly juggling PCS moves, deployment prep, intermittent solo parenting, and trying schedules; our own self-care is often the first thing we neglect. Every day I see the burdens spouses carry, having also carried them myself. Being mindful of personal boundaries, using resources provided, asking or accepting help when needed, and discovering self care and coping mechanisms is integral to success. I feel it's important to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Many spouses are not aware of the resources available to them for mental health support. With more awareness and less stigma, we can create a positive environment while offering support and resources to those who need them.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
The Yokosuka community is very Facebook oriented. Being abroad, we rely heavily on Facebook and Facebook Messenger for all of our communication needs. Everything from communicating with a leadership board via group chat, or receiving official communication from the command via their Facebook page. In Yokosuka, Facebook is king. I have worked diligently to make effective use of Facebook as a marketing and communication tool. Serving as admin for several of the major groups utilized in Yokosuka allows me to reach a large audience to share my message. Facebook also allows me to stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous bases. We often say "Small world, even smaller Navy", and this couldn't be more true. Social media has allowed me to stay connected with these friends, and share my message past our local military community.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to use my AFI Military Spouse of the Year title to help diminish the stigma associated with mental health. It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to use the amazing resources we have been provided. I want spouses to know that self care doesn't look the same for everyone, it isn't always about a spa day or exercising. For some people, it's about making sure you get a good night's sleep. For others, it's getting a babysitter and spending an hour with a therapist. Self care is a personal matter and everyone's approach will be a little different. I feel that encouragement and support are key to helping others figure out their own self care plan and learn to embrace the resources and community around them. Diminishing stigma is essential to getting spouses to take the important steps necessary for mental health and self care.