KaLea Lehman

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Not Affiliated With a Duty Station

Number of Deployments: 8

Number of PCS's: 9

Share your military spouse story:
Josh and I married in 2006. Fort Riley, KS was his first duty station. Our first Iraq deployment was a formative experience filled with ambiguity due to the “Surge.” His return timeline changed constantly, but I filled it with finishing my undergraduate degree at GWU, looking for work in KS, making new and lasting friends, and diving into the Army community. In KS, I witnessed the many ways families deal with the uncertainty of military life. I experienced Army tradition and the resources and needs of families. When Josh returned, we began a new path in Army Special Operations Forces. In Special Operations, I realized the Army has constellations of family cultures, ordered around the missions, heritage, and culture of the military community. For us, the Special Operations community proved to be a close family of families that was self-reliant. The strength and necessity of the family is core to the wellbeing of the service member. But I came to realize that families need to draw strength, too. Each assignment brought new challenges and opportunities. Families, dear friends, and mentors have inspired, humbled, and counseled me through highs and lows amid Josh’s many deployments. Among my highs, I earned a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University and ran a record-breaking, half-marathon time while pushing our 3 youngest. In low times, we dealt with a toxic military base house and faced life-threatening medical emergencies. Our community helped us through each instance. Our four children know they are “Army kids” who move and whose Daddy deploys. But they also know their friend’s dad paid the ultimate sacrifice and their friends are not determined by geography. They are aware they are part of a great tribe. This cumulative experience compelled me to give back. In 2018, I started a nonprofit collaborative effort to help Special Operations families, and our journey continues.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In 2018, after volunteering in Special Operations units at Ft. Bragg, Ft. Campbell, and MacDill AFB, I founded the Military Special Operations Family Collaborative (MSOF), a nonprofit dedicated to “adding certainty to the journey of Special Operations families.” We strive to equip families with meaningful tools and resources that enable sustained, whole-family success within an environment of routine, unpredictable change. To do this well and right, I’ve worked to form a working team that represents our joint community and built a team of SMEs capable of guiding us to understand and identify challenges, opportunities, and excellent resources fit for Special Operations families. Together, we are working to find creative ways to enable our community to live well.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
From the beginning, I’ve strived to be an authentic friend and helpful presence. My efforts evolved from taking meals to those in hardship to learning how to show-up informally when I saw a need. I’ve hosted spontaneous dinners for spouses of deployed soldiers, where the informality helped everyone relax. I’ve served in various roles in unit family organizations to include being a Point of Contact, chairing numerous organizational functions, or serving in an advisory role. Aside from traditional involvement, I’ve always had an academic interest in military life and service; and I sought to tie this passion to service. I’ve volunteered to train and serve as our unit’s resiliency counselor; ordered academic studies around community wellness and organizational culture; and most recently, founded the Military Special Operations Family Collaborative.

Describe how you support your community:
I love to reach out to people one on one. In our early military family years, I spent a lot of time in meetings and at events that supported the unit and families. Now after over a decade in Special Forces, I believe that I am at my best when I make efforts to invest in people’s day-to-day life by trying to be as present and attentive as I can in casual ways. I found I was good at hosting spontaneous dinners for deployed families and being flexible for everyday needs like helping watch or pick up kids. I believe that it is important to show up even when people are too proud or distracted to ask for a helping hand. I’ve been that person; and now I try to recognize those needs and step up. I think investing in people in this way models what meaningful connection and friendships should look like, and it enables people to be their real, best self while nourishing a strong family.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My platform is connecting the whole Special Operations community through comprehensive wellbeing efforts that enable families to thrive from qualification to retirement. The Special Operations community is often isolated from military and civilian resources. The high operational tempo of Special Operations’ units often means families live with constant and unpredictable challenges that are unique. Often family trainings or briefs start with a disclaimer that the presentation does not fit the Special Operations experience. Some families are approaching their 20th deployment or more. It is not surprising that fitting and available resources are scarce and often challenging to find or access. I believe by uniting this community of families, we can create effective resources that better serve the 75,000 Special Operations families in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and National Guard units.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Talking about connecting the Special Operations community has been an endeavor of courage for me. Shortly after founding MSOF, I was the guest on the “Shine Strong” podcast talking about starting MSOF. We have a website, social media accounts, and a mailing list to help communicate our efforts. Our Special Operations community is very tight knit; and recognizing this, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people one-on-one and sharing information on social media. Listening to differing perspectives has been formative for our mission and everything about how MSOF is organized. This year, I plan to step up efforts to get our message out by hosting webinars and workshops and attending more conferences to build engagement of both families and potential partnering organizations.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
As the AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I would have an unmatched opportunity to grow our family collaborative community. There is no other Special Operations wide-family focused organization out there, so gaining the awareness and trust of families is an extremely high hurdle. This honor would help us to more effectively and efficiently reach families in our sister, joint units. Additionally, this opportunity would help communicate and network with organizations interested in collaborating to conduct unique research or better serve and connect with our families. Currently there are very few resources available to Special Operations families that recognize the unique challenges the community faces. Too often people seek help when they reach retirement or a crisis point. It is MSOF’s goal to help families thrive at all points of service and prevent them from ever reaching a point of critical need.