Kimberly Bacso

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Rock Island Arsenal

Number of Deployments: 2

Number of PCS's: 9

Share your military spouse story:
After an internship with the Army during law school, my soon-to-be husband told me that if he joined they would most likely send us to Germany and he could get out after that. Having already studied abroad in Spain for a year in college, we thought that sounded like a wonderful adventure. We got married after law school and he went off to training while I stayed behind in Denver to continue working as a senior accountant at a Fortune 100 company and finish my Master of Business Administration degree. We didn't know what a gamble it was to make a huge life decision over the promise of a duty station, but sure enough, our first duty station was Stuttgart, Germany. Still completely naive about things like the military spouse unemployment/underemployment issue, I didn't know how lucky I was to receive an on-the-spot job offer at my very first interview upon arriving in Germany. After discussing the opportunity with my husband, I said no to the job, and in doing so, my career took a wild turn that would lead me away from accounting and into heartfelt, mission-based work in the military community. The reason I said no? My husband and I decided that it was more important for us to travel aggressively for three years, using all of his leave and all of his training holidays. As a civilian employee, I wouldn't get the same time off. That decision set the tone for our marriage which has been full of adventure. My husband did not leave the Army after one assignment. After nineteen years, four Germany assignments plus five Stateside duty stations, one daughter, and over fifty countries visited, we are still on this amazing Army life journey. I've had the opportunity to piece together seemingly unrelated experiences along the way, including becoming a yoga teacher, into a community movement that serves military spouses.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I am the co-founder and operations director of InDependent, a non-profit organization that has been dedicated to championing military spouse wellness for over six years. Creating InDependent finally connected the dots of my business background, my volunteer experience, and my passion for teaching yoga and mindfulness. I work shoulder to shoulder with the executive director to lead the team and brainstorm, create, and execute programs that inspire military spouses to prioritize their wellness and connect them in community to combat stress and isolation. With our new Wellness Unfiltered™ program that we were able to launch after building trust in the community for six years, we're leading the way in tackling tough topics such as suicide ideation, alcoholism, depression, loss, and more. We're also leaders in the military spouse virtual event space. This year marks our fifth annual virtual InDependent Wellness Summit™, a week of wellness made easy from anywhere in the world.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Throughout the years, I've filled positions on the boards of various FRGs and spouses' clubs, volunteered as the manager of a tax center, served as the program coordinator for a large Mothers of Preschoolers group, and offered free yoga and meditation classes to military spouse mothers. Now, I am the co-founder of InDependent, a nonprofit on a mission to make wellness accessible to all military spouses. I'm also the managing editor of Legacy Magazine, a mission-oriented print publication that offers the voice of a friend and mentor during times of celebration, transition, and growth. Through my work with these organizations, I strive full time to positively impact the wellness of the military spouse community—a group of men and women that places service above self, but also normalizes high levels of stress. I want to bring them safely back from the edge of stress and self-neglect and into the care of a supportive community.

Describe how you support your community:
On a big-picture level, I work to support the multi-faceted dimensions of wellness for all military spouses. InDependent's mission is not complete until we reach every military spouse. We build programs that address the specific wellness needs and pain points of military spouses. Our community combats isolation. On a team level, I lead military spouse volunteers in creating and delivering programming content for. I support guests in preparation and delivery of our vulnerable Wellness Unfiltered™ interviews. A positive team environment is really important to me and I believe we've created a uniquely positive remote team environment. On a personal level, I watch for warning signs that my friends and family might be struggling and I check in, lend a listening ear, and/or encourage them to get help when needed.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for military spouse wellness because Military Spouse Wellness Matters™. Military spouse wellness matters because: One life lost to suicide is one too many. We want to vanquish the stigma attached to seeking help and educate ourselves on the warning signs. Military spouses are often the food and activities decision makers. Military spouses who focus on their personal wellness can in turn positively impact the wellness of their service members, children, and communities. Service members need to focus on the mission. They can better do that when they’re confident that their spouses are okay. Military spouses are people with hopes and dreams, vulnerabilities and fears. We need to build a firm foundation of multi-dimensional strength. We can do that by offering help to others who admit they’re struggling, asking for help when we need it, and educating ourselves on the resources available so we can access them easily when a situation calls for them.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I've spread the message through public speaking, in-person community engagement, teaching yoga and workshops, writing guest blog posts and magazine articles, writing press releases, participating in podcasts, meeting with leaders of well-known organizations, attending large networking events, regularly participating in military spouse Facebook groups, and collaborating with influencers and wellness experts. I help create buzz-worthy programs like the InDependent Wellness Summit™ that get the community talking and bring in big-name guests like Gretchen Rubin, Jean Chatzky, and Angela Duckworth. We're proud that MSOY Corie Weathers moderates our Wellness Summit interviews. A big part of my job is generating blog posts and social media content that military spouses will not only use to boost their wellness, but also share with their communities. Finally, I create personal relationships within our community. That connection feels great for all of us.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
With a larger platform, I hope to reach more military spouses of all branches so they too can start prioritizing their wellness and find drama-free friendship, accountability, and inspiration. I want to give them the support system they need so we can all grow stronger together. I hope to expand my scope of influence to convince everyone that military spouse wellness matters to us as individuals, to our families, to our communities, and to our country. I want to save lives and decrease the suicide rate. I don't think it's being over-dramatic to say that we're in the life-saving business. Military spouses are normalizing alarming levels of stress and using unhealthy coping mechanisms. At the same time they're putting on brave faces because they're expected to be strong and they're not seeking the help they need. We must grow our capability and capacity to help ourselves and others learn and adopt healthy habits that span all the dimensions of wellness.