Jennifer Perez

Branch: National Guard

Duty Station: Ohio

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 0

Share your military spouse story:
At the young age of 19, I met a handsome Army Reservist who was just about to enter IRR after completing his initial contract with the military. We soon moved in together and began our civilian lives. After the events of 9/11, and a chance encounter with a member of his former unit, he was presented with the opportunity to deploy with the Army Reserves. I gave my blessing for his return to military life, and shortly-thereafter I began my journey as a military spouse! I drove to Ft. Lee, VA on a weekend to meet with him at a courthouse and the rest is our happy history. That mobilization never transformed into a deployment, but in the post 9/11 world, he was not to be home for long. My husband was soon compelled to change branches of the military to be closer to family , so he joined the Ohio Army National Guard. He soon deployed to Iraq along side his two nephews and we have been a proud Guard family ever since. In 2010 I gave birth to our son, Ramses. He is a wonderful boy, and he could also not be more proud of his father! Three deployments later, we are stronger than ever. Upon returning from his first deployment, my husband became an Active Duty Guardsman. He is currently the Readiness NCO for the 838th Military Police Company in Youngstown, Ohio. I feel as though I was somewhat prepared for this role by growing up in a military family. Both of my parents were active duty military and many of my extended family members have served. Currently, I have two brothers serving in the Army and multiple nieces and nephews serving in the Guard. I could not be more proud of my strong military family!

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Through his military career, I have volunteered to take part in the Family Readiness Groups. Though the roles and units may have varied, I have always been driven to support the Families and the Soldiers in whatever capacity was needed. After my husband's last deployment, there simply was no FRG. I reluctantly took over the Leadership role, because I could not stand by and watch family involvement in unit functions disappear. I was faced with a very negative perception of the FRG and it was an uphill battle to draw families back to participate. With limited funds and time, I was able to utilize the community to create a wonderful event that over 300 Soldiers and Family members attended. I continued to work hard and within a year, we had increased participation from family members and had a full FRG staff. I believe that building strong bonds between unit leadership and families is critical in keeping Soldiers and Families happy and focused on taking care of themselves!

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am currently beyond blessed to have a position as a Family Assistance Center Specialist in the state of Ohio. I am able to assist all branches of service, regardless of duty status, in so many different ways. Some of my most memorable days have allowed me to work with individuals who were unaware of the assistance that was available to them! This job has provided me with the opportunity me to help keep military families in their homes, their utilities connected and food in their stomachs. I also take pride in my ability to support the Family Readiness Groups in Ohio. I have been able to connect with not only the families in my husband's unit, but those all over the state to ensure that they have access to accurate information and a strong support system within the community. Also, I enjoy volunteer opportunities with the Amvets, American Legion and local VFWs. I am looking forward to joining a new chapter of a ladies Auxiliary for the Amvets in 2020.

Describe how you support your community:
I am constantly looking for new resources and programs that are open to supporting the military community. There is an abundance of organizations that are looking for ways to impact the world, and it is essential to secure those for our military families!

What do you advocate for? Why?
With reserve component families, there is an overwhelming feeling of isolation from supportive services. Without access to the support systems that are typically available at active duty installations, reserve families can be left struggling. Sadly, many of these families may not be aware of programs such as ESGR, Family Assistance Centers, Financial Advisers and Employment Specialists until well after their loved one is out of the military. I hope to educate families in order to get them to utilize resources that their loved one's service has provided for them. Additionally, there is lack of overall knowledge at the local level about the number of reserve families within a school district. This leads to a shocking lack of support within communities where so many Service Members reside. I believe that schools outside of military posts should receive additional access to educational programs that support reserve component children.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I work daily to make sure that military families know about the resources are available to them; it's one the best aspects of my job! I am privileged in my position to be able to host meetings where I invite the community to come to learn about military issues and needs. In addition to educating the community, we provide organizations with the opportunity to share with us how THEY support the military. In my volunteer time, I work within my community to find organizations that are willing to support Guard units. Local organizations are usually happy to assist, however, they frequently have no idea that local Soldiers are deployed! During a Thanksgiving celebration at a Veterans organization this year, I was able to connect the post with a local FRG so that they could assist in supporting the unit during their current deployment. Also, I am currently working on preparing information so that additional schools in my son's district can receive Purple Star designations.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
If I was awarded with the title of AFI Military Spouse of the year, I would hope to open more doors to educate the community about military families and their needs. The best tool used in taking care of our Service Members and their Families is education and information sharing. I would be proud to carry on my work for all of our Ohio Military Families!