Michelle Packard Bowler

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Campbell

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 1

Share your military spouse story:
Growing up near Camp Pendleton, surrounded by military families in my church congregation, I often felt I would marry into the military life. As a young college student that feeling started to become reality when I met my husband while he was in uniform as un-contracted ROTC student at a college event. When I first saw him I thought, “Oh hey there, Soldier, come and ask me a question,” and to my surprise he actually did head right towards me, and the rest is history! In two busy years we got married, he enlisted in the Army Reserve and contracted with ROTC, and we became parents to baby girl #1. We served for six years in the Reserve and welcomed three more daughters, all while I earned my Bachelor’s degree and my husband earned his Master’s degree in Religious Studies and completed his chaplain service requirements. He has been serving for a year and a half as an active duty Army Chaplain in Fort Campbell. I wish I could say all the years went by smoothly, but there have been major bumps along the way. I naively thought I could will myself to handle the difficulties of military spouse life on my own. I felt my energy being depleted, but I didn’t know how to refill my emotional tank. During these low points, I hesitantly reached out to other military spouses to learn how they were handling similar challenges. Their advice was specific and actionable, and I felt my resilience as an Army wife increase by implementing it. I felt inspired to share the tools I learned, so I created the Waiting Warriors community through social media and my podcast. While connecting with other military spouses around the world and interviewing over 45 military and first responder spouses, I’ve become convinced that we all need help and we all have wisdom to share. Through it all I have found that I thrive best when I create a tribe of support by reaching out of my comfort zone and forming open, honest relationships with people who understand my situation. We lift each other.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I am leading other military spouse online as I openly share my experience(the good and bad) and create a constant community of military loved ones who feel connected regardless of distance, years of service, or rank. There have been dozens of times when military spouses have engaged through comments on post or personal messages opening up about their experiences or expressing gratitude for the moment of solidarity because its not something they’ve been able to find anywhere else. My personal favorites have been the conversations about reintegration, our hurting hearts while our serving spouse misses out on our kids growing up, and the importance of not becoming a martyr. Sometimes I still feel hesitant to be vulnerable and openly discuss our journey, but I'm constantly reminded how much it helps to hear messages speaking to the reality of this life, and not just the strength required. I think it's incredibly important to show the struggle, and the continuous attempt to keep going.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am a ministry leader for families living on-post, offering temporal, emotional, and spiritual support for over 30 military wives. I coordinate group events, child care for women in need, and meals for new or ill moms. I learn about military trends and needs at my church’s annual chaplain and spouse conferences. While I value these face-to-face interactions, I am so grateful for the hundreds of more interactions possible through technology. With limited free time (I do have four young daughters), I can educate, empower, and encourage military spouses all over the world! And they do the same for me! On my podcast, The Waiting Warriors, I interview military and first responder loved ones with varying experiences. I fill my @TheWaitingWarrior social media accounts with resources, mentors, and everyday solutions to help military spouses thrive.

Describe how you support your community:
I’ve created the Waiting Warriors community to be a place where military and first responder loved ones are safe to engage and connect with others, be uplifted, and learn specific strategies to create a joyful life of supporting service. The Waiting Warriors Podcast gives a voice to imperfect, relatable stories that empower and lift military spouses in all stages of life. My @WaitingWarrior social media platforms provide a place of belonging for military spouses of any age, race, gender, and experience. We talk about creating a home in temporary housing, connecting children to absent parents, and prioritizing self-care during difficult times. We share our successes and failures. Most of all, we feel supported because we know there are thousands of others like us doing our best to create and share joy.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I want military spouses to learn how to be emotionally, mentally and physically healthy, in a word, to thrive. Marriages don’t have to be torn apart by deployments or hanging by a thread at retirement. Spouses don’t have to drown in loneliness and overwhelmed by parenthood during separations. Children don’t have to be estranged from their service member parents.   I want to educate my peers on healthy ways to cope with and discuss the heavy burdens of the military lifestyle, instead of burying feelings and suffering from depression, anxiety, or resentment. I want to help people intentionally plan specific ways to connect, find joy, and grow closer as families during separations. I want to teach couples to communicate and work together effectively to keep their marriages strong and healthy. In short, I want all military families to understand that survival isn’t the only option. With proper tools and support, we can all truly thrive.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
In order to create an authentic shared space, I have leveraged social media and podcasting to connect, educated, and provide resources to help our waiting warriors thrive. Through the podcast and social media I've been able to spread my message to hundreds of actively engaged military spouses. I've been a guest on a popular mom podcast, The Marvelous Moms Club, and featured on numerous other military community outlets.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
It's really important to me to continue to spread the hope and message of thriving spouses to all military spouses and loved ones. I know being the AFI Military Spouse of the Year is a huge opportunity to been seen and speak to thousands of military spouses. I would love the opportunity to be to show more spouses that survival isn't the only option, thriving is absolutely possible. I would seize every opportunity available!