Branch: Air Force
Duty Station: Misawa Air Base
Number of Deployments: 2
Number of PCS's: 5
Share your military spouse story:
I am Erin Ike and I have been a military spouse for 10 years. When I first became a military spouse, I honestly didn't know the first thing about military life and all it entailed. My first hurdle to overcome was shortly finding out we were expecting our first child just before my husband went on an unaccompanied tour to Korea for a year. It was a crazy few months leading up to the birth by myself, but thankfully my husband was able to take leave for the birth of our son. Nine days after the birth he was gone again for another nine more months. It was not the greatest of starts as a military spouse but we had an assignment to Aviano AB, Italy after his Korea assignment. Aviano AB would become the first base I was introduced to as a military spouse. As this base is in a foreign country, completely away from my family and everything I knew, I was very overwhelmed at the prospect of living overseas. Learning the culture and the language was a struggle for me, but I quickly discovered how independent and resourceful I can be. Even with all the great moments, there were so many hard ones. My husband was gone a lot due to a number of TDYs with his unit and a deployment to the Middle East. I felt very alone and with a young child it was not an easy life. The support from his squadron was sadly not there, however, I quickly made friends that will last a lifetime. These friends were other military spouses who supported me through it all. We went on many adventures that I will treasure and never forget. At the end of our time in Italy I fully learned the burden and treasure it is to be a military spouse. We spent an amazing four years there, and I would happily go back despite all the hardships. Since that assignment, we have been assigned to three more bases, dealt with many small TDYs, another deployment, and a second unaccompanied tour to Korea. My experiences taught me a lot, and just like those who helped me through everything, I strive to help other spouses in need.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I would have to say a great leadership experience would have to be with Operation Birthday Hug. Being far away from family and an overseas base, it makes it harder for family to celebrate their loved one's special day. This program allows us to be in contact with an Airmen's parents or other family member to help connect families and make a special someone's day a little brighter. I have teamed up my small baking business with several squadrons to allow me to create a favorite dessert at no expense to anyone for an Airmen's birthday, whether it be a small cake or simple cookies. After communicating with the family member and the squadron's point of contact, a group of us will go and surprise that Airmen and deliver their birthday dessert. To see the shock and joy on their face and the appreciation from their family, makes it truly a great experience for everyone all around. It is a small gesture but comes with a huge impact and I'm excited to lead and create baked goods for Airmen.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I tend to be highly involved in the community of Misawa AB. I truly enjoy being a part of all the events, functions, and fundraisers on base. I belong to a group of mothers called Just Among Moms (JAM) and have started helping out on the board to make sure moms are getting out and enjoying socials and crafts centered around connecting with others. My two kids are in school so I am very involved with the school PTO by helping pop popcorn for the students to helping plan out big event nights for the base. I have put myself out there to get involved with the base's spouses clubs and become a Key Spouse in my husband's unit as well. Doing so has helped me to be there for a variety of spouses and other Airmen. I have personally enjoyed doing bake-offs for the school and clubs to help raise money. I have immersed myself into so many things and have gotten the chance to meet so many people. I am grateful to be involved with the community and get to know so many wonderful people.
Describe how you support your community:
I have a passion for supporting and helping the community. I have helped in numerous functions with the schools PTO and putting in countless hours of volunteering in different areas on the base. Giving back to our Airmen is one of my favorite ways to help support the community. I have helped several times with the Hearts on the Flightline program and even joined the planning committee to help. My husband is a maintainer and has ate a lot of cold meals when he can't escape for a meal. This program helps give Airmen who work long hours on the line a chance to eat a free warm meal brought directly to them. I also support the base's yearly Cookie Caper where nearly 60,000 cookies are donated by the community. Along with many others, we package them up to be donated to all the single Airmen during the holiday season. Unfortunately, there is not enough room to describe all the ways I support the community, but I get a lot of joy helping Airmen others in the community.
What do you advocate for? Why?
A major platform that holds a special place in my heart is suicide awareness. This is a hard subject in general and has unfortunately become more prominent over the last year with increasing number of suicides but I believe it is one that needs to be advocated for in the military. This subject hits home for many and especially for my family as it has effected three times with one attempt thankfully being unsuccessful. I feel the loss of family members to suicide has provided a better perspective and outlook for someone who may be having those thoughts and going through depression. With the rise in mental health and suicide rates, I feel it is very important for all military members to realize it is okay to not be okay and be able to have a place or someone to talk to about things when they feel depressed. That is why I want to start the program "Adopt an Airmen" at our base. To give them a chance to have a nice home cooked meal and have someone to be able to talk to about things.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I am working out details about my idea of the "Adopt an Airmen Program" to the Airmen Family and Readiness Center and hopefully get this started. Suicide is such a hard topic, but my hope is to get this up and running and to see a decline of mental health issues for our base. Hopefully it will be a part of every base in the future. Everyone needs someone to go to for support and fell like they can talk about anything and everything. Providing a safe place for the Airmen is key. It will also get them out of the dorms to enjoy a dinner and have some company with the hopes of getting that little bit of home feeling. I support other base events that help support Airmen and spouse resiliency which are a step forward in the right direction. I am grateful that I belong to a community that does take part in such events. I always make sure that I am sharing it on my Facebook page, as well as all the groups and squadrons, in hopes that everyone is able to see the event and come be a part of it.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
The AFI Military Spouse of the Year title would be a huge honor in itself. I would make sure I uphold the title to my upmost ability. For the Airmen, I would push and strive to develop my idea of an Adopt an Airmen Program to be established on our base and hope it continues to grow to other bases. I feel this would be very beneficial to the younger Airmen and help deter depression and suicide. For the Airmen and other spouses, I hope to be a voice for anyone facing mental health issues and/or depression. To let others know it is okay to ask for help in their time of need. Staying active and helping the community is a top priority for me. I would continue to help the community and hopefully inspire others to do the same. A community can only become stronger when a community lifts itself. I want to inspire others to take on new programs and get others involved. We can to build people up and motivate them to get out to make things better. Together we can succeed and move mountains!