Branch: Coast Guard
Duty Station: Coast Guard District 1
Number of Deployments: 6
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
My military spouse story begins a little differently than many. I met my husband while we were both Active Duty Air Force stationed in Omaha, NE. We traveled the world as Airborne Communications Specialists while getting to know each other. When our enlistments were up, we got married and moved back to WI where I ran an insurance agency. I didn’t become a military spouse until my husband Rustin decided to reenter the military, and this time it would be in the US Coast Guard. Being a military spouse was new for me as was the Coast Guard, but I already had four years of military life under my belt. While being separated from each other during deployments is never easy, I believe my time in the Air Force has served me well when my husband was gone for months on a ship with limited contact opportunities. I was always happy to hear from him but, I understood when I didn’t and was able to support others who were experiencing the stress of deployment for the first time. Being a new military spouse can be rough especially during deployments so I have always tried to use my experience to make that transition easier for spouses experiencing deployments for the first time. I am a mother to two amazing children with large and in charge personalities which isn’t much of a surprise to anyone who knows me. They keep me on my toes but, in 2018, I still managed to graduate with my BS in Human Development and Family Studies. I am proud to say that I graduated Suma Cum Laude despite the other hats I wear daily. My passion has always been to work with children diagnosed with Autism and with my degree I am one step closer to achieving that goal. I am passionate about teaching children diagnosed with Autism how to communicate with their family and the world around them so, I am also pursuing my BS in Psychology. I am happy to say that I only have one class left to go. Attaining this degree with allow me better understanding the brain and how I can better serve the Autistic community.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
This year has been wonderful partly because I had the opportunity to become the co-ambassador of the NYC chapter of Giving Tuesday Military. Our group is amazing. As co-ambassador I helped get a team of participants together and came up with the activities we would participate in within our NYC Chapter. As a team we set up card making depots and meet-ups and then mailed cards overseas to troops. We also delivered cards and fresh baked goods to teachers and school employees as well as much needed school supplies. Our team also delivered fresh baked goods and cards to seven local fire stations. In addition, we held a coat drive to benefit the local battered women’s shelter and held a donation drive for our local animal shelter that I had the honor of delivering. Our family also provided gifts and cards to the bus drivers, security personnel, and teachers as well as pencils with special noted about kindness to two classrooms. Our group collectively completed over 1,700 acts of kindness.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
At each duty station I do my best to hit the ground running to get fully immersed in the military community. Even though we just moved to New York six months ago I have become quite involved here. I have recently accepted the position as Ombudsman for Sector & Station NY which is one of the largest units in the Coast Guard. I am looking forward to connecting on a deeper level with the spouse community here while working alongside the command here. My favorite part of living here so far has been working with Project Kindness which is a sub-club of the Spouse's club here. Together we do one activity per month to positively impact our local community but in December we took it much farther. I took the lead on several of the projects such as collecting, constructing, and delivering 60 winter weather kits for the homeless, collecting, wrapping, and coordinating pick up of gifts for two local families in need, and collecting, wrapping, and distributing gifts to 25 local veterans.
Describe how you support your community:
I have the opportunity to stay at home with my children which gives me time to devote myself to the community in times of need. Recently, our community had a fire in one of our housing units in which 8 families were displaced. I was home when the fire occurred and was able to head right to our community center to assist the families with their immediate needs. I donated what I could and coordinated getting supplies I did not have for the families. I also volunteered to clean up after meals provided by local restaurants for the families. On a more regular basis I walk the beach behind my home and do personal beach clean-ups between the community scheduled ones. I encourage others to post pictures of their clean-ups to win prizes that I provide. I began 2020 by helping procure a non-profit and venue for a pop-up pantry and then a permanent food pantry for families affected by the Government Shutdown in our area and by volunteering my time to ensure families got the supplies they needed.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for military suicide and mental health awareness. Military suicide rates are on the rise for active duty members and their families. It leads back to mental health and not having the proper resources needed along with the stigma that seeking help has attached to it. While military members and their families have health insurance there is a stigma attached to having mental health issues that prevents many from seeking help. It is difficult to find a Doctor that accepts our insurance and new patients. This is also an issue during PCS season when those under psychiatric care have to set up new Doctors to prescribe and oversee medications as well as new therapists to oversee their mental health needs. When members of the military and their families need help they should not have to jump through hoops to get the help they need or have to hide that they need help. My goal is to make the appointment process easier and fix the stigma associated with mental health needs.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have been working in my area with our local clinic to get an updated list of mental health providers. I became aware of the need when I was seeking treatment for my mental health needs. I am sharing my story because I want people to know that mental health needs do not define who you are and do not stop you from being a positive influence in your community. I work to spread the message about mental health and the suicides that are the result of the lack of care and stigma attached to that care is the Stop the Stigma-Fight Military Suicide Facebook page. It is a new endeavor but I believe that it will help shed light on the struggles our military families are having with mental health needs and suicide. A dear friend of mine was inspired by life events to start the page. She and I have been working together to get the word out by doing fundraisers to donate to Stop Soldier Suicide which works with the military to help with mental health needs and to put a stop to military suicide.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
As the AFI Military Spouse of the Year I would bring awareness to the mental health crisis that is plaguing this country, our military members and our military families. It is vital to me that the stigma attached to mental illness be changed and I believe I am a fantastic example to the military community of a person with mental illness who has persevered and flourished as a military spouse while coping with depression and anxiety. I want to show others that having a diagnosis is not the end of your story and it does not define who you are as a person. I refuse to let my diagnosis define me. I am determined to show the world that I and others like me have much to contribute. I hope to inspire others to stand up out of the shadows and stop hiding their diagnosis. I hope to inspire others to get the help they need even if they are scared to admit that they need help. I want to show others that they can have a fulfilling life even with mental illness and that suicide is never the answer.