Julie Dodge

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Tyndall Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 2

Number of PCS's: 9

Share your military spouse story:
My husband,Tim, and I met in 1997 at Wright-Patt AFB, I was a contractor for the AF. During a government shutdown when only contractors and military were at work, we got to be friends and as they say “that was that”. We took our first real plunge into military life together 5 weeks after marrying with a PCS. Of course, we didn't do an easy move from one state to another, NO, we moved thousands of miles and many time zones away from family and friends...to Cairo, Egypt! The internet was new, phone calls cost $7/min and there was a huge lag time when speaking to family; not great for keeping up morale. During this assignment I learned many things about myself; my ability to be independent, resilient, and that military friends are truly family. This has become a theme in our lives to have the most complicated, stressful but exciting moves imaginable and that we will find and create a larger military family at each base. We have since been stationed in Germany, AL, VA, MT, CA, WY and now FL. We have two great kids that keep us focused and running to Scouts, sports and school. We have been through countless TDYs, a couple of deployments--one of which was “only” 6 months, but with a 4-month old and a 3-year old, it felt like a lifetime! Tim’s second deployment was a lot longer and I was lucky to stay at a base where I had a strong military family that supported us through the ups and downs of a year-long deployment. At this point, I thought all the stress of being a mil spouse was behind us, but then Hurricane Michael hit and we jumped on another crazy life altering roller coaster. Our base and community was devastated by a direct hit, close friends up and left overnight, many without a chance to say goodbye. My home is still being rebuilt and after 16 months we are still living displaced. I’ve loved all the opportunities the AF has given us and even this last year, as stressful as it has been post-Hurricane Michael, we remain strong and thankful for this military life.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Hurricane Michael dealt a devastating blow to Tyndall AFB and our community. Our spouses club had a robust membership and very profitable thrift store, which made over $100,000 a year!! With this money our club annually awarded $40k in scholarships to dependents and another $40k for base and local community programs. The hurricane scattered our members and destroyed our store. I’ve led and guided our club through this difficult time. Under my leadership, we rebuilt our membership to over pre-storm size. We have committed to using our savings to continue giving back to our community. In 2019, we were able to give $10k in scholarships and $5k to programs on base. This year we will do the same. The biggest challenge is wanting to help everyone but not being able to without the funds raised through our thrift store. While we wait for a new store, I have taken on fundraising and personally raised over $5k to support and increase morale events on base.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Over the years, I’ve found programs that support spouses and young airmen to be closest to my heart. I first became a squadron Key Spouse in 2007, before it had an official title. I continued to be involved as either a Key Spouse or now as a Key Spouse mentor after the program became official in 2009. I feel I helped work out the bugs of the initial program and have seen it work in the best and worst of times for a squadron and its families. Also, I’ve always been involved in the local Spouses club, holding many positions on several boards throughout the years, serving as scholarship chair, social chair, as one VP or another and currently am serving in my 2nd year as the Tyndall Spouses Club President. I’m very proud of my work helping to unify two different bases enlisted and officer spouses clubs. At the end of the day, it’s about supporting one another no matter the rank. I find it rewarding to meet new spouses and watch the bonds of friendship and military family form.

Describe how you support your community:
After the hurricane those of us remaining at TAFB were scattered, lonely, and traumatized. It became a challenging place to live with no inhabitable base housing, few safe rentals in town, and insane rent. We needed opportunities to get together to share our experiences, mourn the loss of our homes and things, our community and the shock of dealing on a daily basis with widespread devastation. I focused on spouse social activities to help everyone mend. Spouses have found this as a venue to connect, valuing it more than ever before. As a result, we’ve tripled in size having higher membership numbers than pre-storm. Also, of the 11 dorms pre-storm, only 3 house Airmen. I work to support Airmen dinners that promote community, raise funds, volunteer for holiday gas/money giveaways for E-4 and below and support the base cookie drive to bring love and a piece of home to our dorm Airmen. Our newest program is our dorm welcome bags we began once we discovered the need.

What do you advocate for? Why?
The focus of my advocacy is taking care of Airmen and their families post Hurricane Michael. I advocate for and work diligently towards getting a new Thrift Store so we can continue to support Tyndall families, base resiliency events and give to local community nonprofits that are focused on rebuilding. Also, I advocate for the young airmen who come to a base, without many of the normally available amenities, after a natural disaster. I want them to feel welcome and excited about their new Air Force life and career. My hope is that even though Tyndall is in a transition period of rebuilding, they’re excited to be here and see this as an amazing opportunity to help the base grow from devastation to what it will be in the next 5 years. Finally, I advocate for spouses. I hope to be a guiding force, especially for the young spouses to learn the military way of life, and for all spouses to celebrate it while coping with its many unique challenges.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of gal, I quietly find needs and then work to fill them. After the hurricane, I found myself as a spokesperson for TAFB and the AF. I was interviewed for a Weather Channel documentary to convey my story of the devastation from the hurricane. The Air Force Aid Society featured my family’s hurricane story and our damaged home in their video: https://shortyawards.com/4th-socialgood/air-force-aid-society-hurricane-michael-disaster-relief-effort. I engaged with AF Sr leadership about the needs of Tyndall Airmen and families when representing Tyndall at the AFAS Charity Ball in Wash DC. I have attended TAFB rebuild planning meetings to provide input to the ‘Base of the Future’ plans. I’ve recently been working with a non-profit organization, Stand Up USA, to support the airmen living in dorms and lay the groundwork for a new program that will have military and community families Adopt-An-Airmen. All were wonderful opportunities to spread my message.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
With the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title I would hope to push the Adopt-An-Airman program out to as many bases as possible. I see this as a way to combat the danger of suicide and loneliness in new airmen that maybe haven't ever been away from home or in a new environment. I would also continue to reach out to young spouses and introduce them into the Key Spouse program as well as the spouses club. The younger spouses are our future and we need them to see the good in joining each of these programs. Spouses clubs have changed and evolved with the times they are no longer stuffy and rank-based clicks. They are fun, they allow friendships to develop quickly with people of similar life experiences and they are service oriented. I want to know that when we transition to retired life I have helped those younger than myself be ready to step into my shoes and continue this amazing tradition of supporting the airmen and families wherever we are stationed.