Malena Southworth

Branch: Marine Corps

Duty Station: Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth

Number of Deployments: 5

Number of PCS's: 7

Share your military spouse story:
I have always had a deep love for the military, in fact, I owe my existence to the Marine Corps. My parents met when my father's recon unit was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Much like my father, my (then) boyfriend answered the call when our country was in a very uncertain time. He joined the Marine Corps just days after 9/11, something I will always admire. Mike proposed the day after completing Officer Candidate School and we were married the day after he graduated from The Basic School, allowing just enough time for a honeymoon before reporting to Pensacola for flight school -- our life together began maneuvering around the needs of the Marine Corps. I was still in school at the time and determined to finish my degree. In the next 3 years we moved 4 times, each time losing credits, but gaining experience and lifelong friends. Move #4 landed us in San Diego for Mike's first tour of duty and the first of 5 deployments. There I graduated with distinction from San Diego State University with a BA in Graphic Design and a minor in Advertising -- and it only took me 7 years to get a 4-year degree! To say our first deployment was difficult is an understatement. It was the hardest thing we've ever done. It was incredibly trying on our marriage and my mental health was shaky at best. To be separated from my best friend and soul mate was excruciating. Without the support of fellow milspouses, most of whom I am still very close with to the day, I honestly don't know how I would have survived. 4 deployments, 3 moves and 3 kids later, we are nearing the end of Mike's military career. I look back at more love and support and growth than I ever could have imagined. I love our life. The places we've lived, the amazing friends who have become family and the countless memories we've made are more than I ever hoped for back when our journey started. Much has changed, but what remains: I love the military, I love my husband with all my heart and we are so so blessed.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I'm a creative by nature and profession. This creativity has fueled the birth of the non-profit I co-founded, Hugs from Hercs. We stepped up and did something when thoughts and prayers just didn't seem to be quite enough. When you lose 6 Marines in one mishap, an entire squadron suffers and is devastated. I'm so thankful to lead a movement of showing our love to those in our military aviation community that are in need of a hug:)

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I have always been very involved in coordinating and organizing spouse functions and supporting our squadron. In December 2018, 5 Marines from VMGR-152 “The Sumos” lost their lives when their C-130 was involved in a tragic mishap off the coast of Japan. These were our friends, our community. A dear milspouse friend and I were devastated, along with so many others. We felt helpless but desperately wanted to give all those grieving spouses and service members a big hug. We decided to do something. So we started a nonprofit dedicated to honoring, uniting and giving support to the military aviation community through acts of kindness and compassion.

Describe how you support your community:
Through Hugs from Hercs we have supported not just Marine Corps families and squadrons, but now Navy, Airforce and even the most recent civilian mishap in Australia where 3 former US military lost their lives battling the brushfires. My hope is to unite all of military aviation in one community of support.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Kindness and compassion. I advocate for lifting each other up with kindness. I want to empower and inspire others to unabashedly show their care and love for one another, to make the world a better place through thoughtfulness and encouragement.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Kindness. The smallest act of kindness can make someone smile, turn their day around or even have a profound effect that creates ripple effects in our community and our world.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to start a movement of change. An attitude of compassion. An expectation of kindness. Small acts can change the world. And military spouses are where I hope this can start.