Naval Base San Diego
Number of Deployments:
Number of PCS's:
Share your military spouse story:
As I gathered a stack of photos and letters, I sealed it with a kiss and placed it on the top of a very special Care Package. I was turning 31 in a week and I had searched intensively to find a way to celebrate the day the best way I know how, by giving back to the military community. I gathered my tribe for a road trip from San Diego to Los Angeles for a day of working shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of volunteers, some military-connected and some not, but all together for one reason - to show appreciation for service members in a hands-on way by packing donated and handmade items into 10,000 Care Packages for Deployed Troops and Veterans. My aunt, a long-time volunteer with Operation Gratitude, introduced me to this organization, and where they arranged to throw me a birthday party and also allowed me to package that final Care Package of the day to send to Peter. It was then that I knew that I wanted to be part of the nonprofit world and that I had found the organization that deeply resonated with my purpose. Peter, now a Petty Officer First Class, and I met in high school, lived across the road from one another and were driven by a common call to serve. I officially began my Military spouse journey in 2010, when in true Military style, we married while Peter was on leave, and quickly PCSed to Japan. This is where I started to understand the challenges of Military life, juggling first-time parenting and a career while stationed OCONUS. At our 2nd duty station we had our daughter, and I faced the dilemma of finding affordable childcare. I chose to stay at home and leveraged my financial planning skills as a volunteer and then full-time student in Business Management. While my husband was in Romania for a year I remained committed to serving and volunteered as the Ombudsman for Romania. I loved being an Ombudsman, supporting others and I wanted to do more, and serving more people, and that’s when I started my search to find a role at a nonprofit organization.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Service is second nature to me. In my youth, I earned the Girl Scout Gold Award for my 13 years of service as a Girl Scout. Later, when I had the chance to go into commercial banking, I instead chose to start my career at Navy Federal, as I felt a strong need to help service members. During the ebbs and flows of my career that are typical of military spouse life, I sought volunteer opportunities focused on the military community. When I was asked to become the first-ever Ombudsman for Romania, I leapt at the chance to serve my fellow Navy spouses across the U.S. It was after that Assembly Day, I knew I was in the right place to answer my own call to service, directly giving back to the community I was so involved in. Several months later, after having noticed my passion for service, the CEO approached me to lead the Recruit Graduate and Military Families Programs. Both of my programs provide opportunities for civilians and service members to interact in meaningful ways.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
As an Ombudsman, I am a trusted resource and leader for all of the spouses and families in Peter’s command. They know that they can come to me with concerns about housing, family life, finances, and emergencies and I will provide guidance and a connection point to command leadership. I view my role as a mentor to some of the newer spouses in this regard, drawing on my own experiences navigating military life. As a full-time employee of Operation Gratitude, I have built a thriving program at MCRD from the ground up and provide leadership to the dedicated volunteers who serve with me weekly, handing our Care Pouches to the nation’s newest Marines, providing a warm welcome to the Military. When I had expanded the program to the point where another hired position was required, of course I sought applications from the military spouse community. Now that we have another military spouse on board, I am honored to serve as a mentor to her professionally.
Describe how you support your community:
In my role as Ombudsman, I create community among the spouses here at home, supporting them so they can in turn support their service members. I build community through my two programs at Operation Gratitude. When a child receives a Battalion Buddy through my Military Families program, he or she is provided with an exceptional comfort item that has been hand-stuffed by a grateful American. What is so touching during the Battalion Buddy presentation is watching the spouses suddenly understand that there are countless Americans who truly care for the whole family and recognize their sacrifices as well. This feeling of connectedness to the community at large is critical. At MCRD, I connect the Military community and civilian volunteers every week for Care Pouch delivery to the graduates. Since Aug 2018, I have led nearly 200 community volunteers totaling well over 600 volunteer hours - a significant number of hours with which to build relationships and community over time.
What platform do you advocate for? Why?
I want to bridge the civilian-military divide! Every choice I have made to serve has led me to where I am right now, hosting meaningful interactions between civilians and the military community on a regular basis. In 2019, we delivered more than 17,000 Battalion Buddies to the children of deployed troops nationwide. Each bear was stuffed by a stranger who wants a military child to feel loved and supported. In many cases the Battalion Buddies were hand delivered by community volunteers directly to the children and their families. We also delivered Care Pouches to 68,498 Recruit Graduates, with many civilian volunteers. Continuing to take concrete steps to bring military and civilian communities together will break the stereotype that the military community can only rely on other military families. With each interaction the military families start to feel more understood and appreciated, and civilians have a chance to show their appreciation for the sacrifices made.
How have you spread the message of your platform?
I have published several blogs on the Operation Gratitude website detailing how the programs I run provide support and connections for military families. I have also had the privilege of speaking at various events such as pre-deployment briefs, both with Operation Gratitude and the command, Indocs, various Operation Gratitude events, financial briefs and employee training with Navy Federal, Girl Scouts and in a customer service role at Disneyland. I am comfortable speaking with audiences from all walks of life and welcome any opportunity to share my passion for supporting military spouses and families.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
With this title I want to scale my impact and broaden my connections. In each role I pursue, I seek to be a resource and leader focused on bringing communities together, with the ultimate goal of bridging the civilian-service divide. This will broaden my reach and bring more volunteers in front of service members and their families. The reason for this is two-fold - when I bring groups together, civilians gain a greater understanding of the challenges associated with supporting the military, and equally as important - the spouse and family understand that people everywhere do care about them. Giving back to the community I am so intimately involved with has been a de-stressor for me, and has done so much for my mental health and I embrace the idea of sharing my story with the MSOY community and the spouse community at large. I believe my experience will resonate with others. I am eager to help everyone find a way to take action to help bridge the civilian-military divide.
I first met Katie when she organized a group of her family and friends to volunteer at Operation Gratitude in June 2018. She was serving as the Ombudsman for her husband’s command, and his unit was deployed to Romania. She chose to drive 3 hours to our facility to celebrate her birthday, volunteering in support of the military community. Knowing her now, it is no surprise that she chose to spend her own special day in service to others. Now in her role as Operation Gratitude's Program Manager for Military Families and Recruit Graduates, Katie doubled the number of service members and military families who were impacted by her programs in the first year. In her new role, Katie orchestrated the direct delivery of more than 65,000 Care Packages for USN, USMC, USAF, and USCG Recuit Graduates and 17,000 Battalion Buddies for children of deployed Troops. As the spouse of a Navy Master at Arms she works tirelessly, to enable others in the community to give back to military families each day.
- by kevin schmiegel