Melanie Simon

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Seymour Johnson Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
I met a man in IHOP that asked if I would share my grits with him. For this southern girl, that was a quick “no”. When he asked if I would share forever with him, that was doable. Ten years later, I am the wife of that wonderful airman and the mother of three beautiful children and a Cane Corso. Our little family has been through three deployments, 4 PCSs and averaged one move per year until three years ago! I value myself as being a problem solver by nature and a defender of those who cannot defend themselves. I am purposeful, good under pressure and have a respect for loyalty. I believe in the sentimental value of the moments we all spend together in this life- I cry easily over handwritten notes, love stories and saying “goodbye” to friends. I am also a licensed esthetician, skin enthusiast and military spouse entrepreneur. I have a passion for seeing the military community thrive. I use my businesses to promote mental health, self- confidence, clean beauty and sustainability with a “we’re better together” attitude. When I was a new wife people would ask, “what aircraft does your husband fly on?” I blurted out “I don’t know” more times than I would like to admit. I’m also pretty sure that when my husband’s rank changed to Staff, I referred to him publicly as “Senior Sergeant Simon” more than twice. I look back at those moments and laugh. Maybe even cringe. I think I laugh harder at the idea of trying to be “the perfect military wife”. This is such a relative reference that has so many varying, albeit-awesome, definitions. Today, I use my reach to encourage members of the military community on their quest to find their individual definition of perfection. We cry and mourn deployments together. We laugh and celebrate the big wins together. Military life is not easy, but the journey is a lot better when we can lean on each other.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I have been afforded the opportunity to serve as a leader on multiple occasions during my time as a military spouse. Having to choose one, the one I am most proud of is the SJAFB Produce run. I created the SJAFB Produce Run to strengthen our community. Every two weeks thirty-forty families contribute $10 to what’s called a “produce run”. With these funds I travel one hour to the nearest farmers market and purchase produce food items in bulk. That produce is then distributed evenly across the families that contributed, amounting in a larger amount than what could originally be purchased at large supermarket chains in town. Extra produce items are donated to the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter. During Thanksgiving, extra produce is used to provide a meal to a military family in need. Members of the Facebook group create discussions about recipes for the items purchased and forge friendships. We get to build our own community while supporting farmers and local citizens.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
As a military spouse entrepreneur, I seek to generate countless opportunities for military spouses to feel supported in their journey. I began my own journey as an Air Force Key Spouse. I later discovered my passion to uplift other military spouse entrepreneurs and placed my efforts sponsoring military spouses in vendor events and joining the local chapter of the Milspo Project. I am also a part of the book club and various other base clubs created by the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base’s Make It Better program.

Describe how you support your community:
When I first opened Spa LaRae I sought to provide access to proper skincare for military families becoming acclimated to a new region in which they were placed through PCS’s. When military members enter my practice, they experience a safe space to feel inclusion, understood and valued. I noticed stress was the number one contributor of the skincare problems I was seeing in my clients. That's when my practice became an all-over healthy lifestyle promoter of clean diets and mental health. This journey sparked countless efforts to provide clothes, toys and necessities to military families. My connection I felt with those awesome individuals I met through my practice left me with the desire to forge a stronger sense of community; this is how The SJAFB Produce Run was created. This initiative furthers the promotion of healthier diets and fosters a community building as we come to rely on one another.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My passion lies in community building. I firmly believe that the answers to many of the challenges we face in this lifestyle goes back to our community. As my platform, I seek to strengthen the military community through: the creation of safe spaces, the encouragement of communing together and the provision of stress-free healthy diet options that reinforce the family. I will seek to create more decompression zones on military bases while we combat mental illness and high suicide rates. I will also fight to make healthy eating options more convenient to tackle health concerns with our children and help members better prepare for PT tests. I am training others to take up the torch for the produce run for our base here in North Carolina; members of other bases have expressed interest as well. I am also launching a project in April of this year which will open the conversation about self-love, self-care, clean beauty and healthy mental health practices among military spouses.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
The aforementioned initiatives are currently being driven by Social Media and word of mouth. I have also had several pieces published by Military Spouse Magazine which covered the topics of confidence, community and strengthening family.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
We are fortunate to have the Armed Forces interested in creating a dialogue about how to better fill the gaps that are left when already accomplishing major missions for our country. Through this award, Armed Forces Insurance aids that effort by working tirelessly to ensure that no voices go unheard and nothing is left to fall between the cracks. I would like to be a part of the conversation and raise offer my ideas to better our communities. I hope to continue the awesome legacy of all previous winners of The MSOY Award. I’m hoping to adequately represent all military spouses with this title because, to me, they are all Spouses of the Year- every year. They are the builders and the keepers of the village that cause our community to thrive. They do it all and are often unseen. Everything I do, I do it with the mission of being an attribute to that community. I hope my fellow Armed Forces family looks at me and sees themselves. Forever humbled.