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Melissa Johnson

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Drum

Number of Deployments: 5

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
My husband and I often joke that our love is a fairytale kind of love, one they only write about in books. Though we grew up just 21 miles apart, we didn’t meet until he joined the Army and came home on leave after Advanced Individual Training, before reporting to his first duty station. Just over 24 hours after meeting we professed our love for one another and only 2 months later, in December 2002, we were married! With the war in Iraq about to begin, he left for his first deployment in March 2003, just 3 months after we got married. Being a new Army wife, in a town where I knew almost no one, during a deployment that didn’t have an end date, was so much more difficult than I thought it could be. That’s when I realized just how important it is to love my Army community as my family and support one another. Fast forward through 3 more year-long deployments over the course of 7 years and having 2 children and the need for those Army-community relationships had solidified. After 17 years of marriage we now have 3 kids and are in the midst of our 5th deployment, yet we continue to thrive. We pride ourselves on our communication and stress the importance of having good communication to other couples. My husband is my best friend, the person I look to for calm and peace. He’s the one I want to tell all my stories to. He is my biggest supporter and my loudest cheerleader. Without him, I wouldn’t be a military spouse but I also wouldn’t be a complete version of me.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Each time I’ve taken on the role of SFRG leader, I’ve had to build the position and team from the ground up because either what was already in place wasn’t working or there wasn’t already leadership in place. I’ve educated myself on regulations and made sure each newly appointed SFRG member went through the appropriate training for their new role. I’ve created and lead company-level volunteer trainings so that everyone knows how to log hours in the Army’s Volunteer Management Information System. I work in close partnership with the company commander to carry out the mission of the unit. I have helped train several other spouses to get their SFRGs up and running as well; one team, one mission. I keep the lines of communication open between myself and our soldiers and families. I make it a point to stay positive when faced with adversity. The best leaders I’ve had have been the ones who don’t seem visibly shaken when plans change or the going gets tough, that’s the leader I try to be.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I started my involvement slowly, as I think most spouses do. I would attend SFRG meetings here and there but didn’t offer to help. Not because I didn’t want to help but when I was a new spouse, I thought, there couldn’t possibly be something they’d need my help with. I know that to be a ridiculous mindset now! At our second duty station, I knew it was time to get my feet wet. I jumped in head first and never looked back! In a few short months I spent hundreds of hours helping bring a warrior run back to our community that had previously been an annual event. Then I started saying YES to every opportunity that came my way...SFRG treasurer & leader, Brigade PO treasurer, Volunteer Coordinator and 2nd VP in charge of welfare for spouses’ club, DODEA classroom volunteer, on-post Girl Scout troop volunteer, planned & ran homeschool program alongside CYS staff/director, Fort Drum Girl Scout treasurer and Service Unit Manager, Lego Robotics Coach, Church cleaner/volunteer

Describe how you support your community:
Through various community events, I've proven that I am successful no matter who I'm working with. I've planned and executed events with Girl Scout leaders/parents and Council members, Spouses' club board members, SFRG spouses, Brigade PO advisors, Battalion steering committee members, Senior leadership spouses, Airport managers, foreign community leaders, civilian business owners, tasked green-suitors, and soldier volunteers. Over the years, I've learned how to use my network to accomplish the task at hand. Events I've been able to plan/help plan include...Warrior Run 10k, 5k and Fun Run, 700+ acts of kindness for Giving Tuesday Kids/Giving Tuesday Military, German-American Tea, Thrift Shop Fashion Show & Upcycle Auction, Brigade Ball, Community-wide Easter Egg Hunt, Volunteer Appreciation events, Unit/SFRG Organizational Day, Encampment weekend, Online Cake Auction, Countless SFRG/BDE PO/BN/Girl Scout fundraisers Church Fellowship events: Oktoberfest, Trunk or Treat, Chili Cook-Off

What do you advocate for? Why?
My pilot program, Adopt-a-Grandparent: Veterans Edition. This program will follow the Adopt-a-Grandparent model but will be for veterans and their spouses who are in nursing homes near military installations. Oftentimes the elderly people in our country can feel forgotten about once they’ve transitioned into life in an assisted living facility. Loneliness can make their time spent residing there even more difficult, at a time in their lives when their health or livelihood are likely already in decline. Now think of our veterans who often face more hardships while aging due to service-related injuries, service-related illnesses, or lack of support in the area. This program will help spread kindness, happiness, and a sense of worth to those veterans and veteran spouses that may not be receiving visits, phone calls, letters, or cards. Though I can’t reach out to each of them in the U.S., the veterans and veteran spouses in military community care facilities will be a good start.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Because my program is still in its infancy, I have not yet shouted my message from the rooftops, though my local Public Affairs Office has already been contacted. However, my network is vast and I have no doubt that when my program is up and running, I will be able to get my story out to the viewers and listeners. I know media coverage will help Adopt-a-Grandparent: Veterans Edition grow so we can reach more people to adopt more veterans in more areas. I can’t wait!

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
Not only will I advocate for my pilot program, Adopt-a-Grandparent: Veterans Edition, but I’ll be working toward helping service members plan for their retirement. This won’t necessarily be about finances but about coming up with actual plans for when they retire and then setting the wheels in motion, early on in their careers, to carry out those plans for retirement. We have many friends going through the retirement process that kick themselves for not having thought of many of the issues they’d face as a retiree, until it was time to retire. I’d also love to volunteer on bigger projects that have even bigger impacts. Many MSOY spouses have come before me and already have amazing programs of their own but may just need help bringing them to life. I’d really just like to help make a difference. Yes, there are issues I feel more strongly about than others, but at the end of the day the thing I want to do the most is help people; help them grow, help them learn, and help them succeed.