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Share your military spouse story:
I grew up on a cattle ranch on the windswept plains of eastern Colorado…the kind of place where neighbors help one another and everyone works to support local businesses and a thriving rural community. In high school, a friend and I created CattlemenCare, a nonprofit that encouraged ranchers to donate beef to Denver’s homeless shelters. Over the course of four years, we donated thousands of pounds of prime Colorado beef to help feed the hungry. As a military spouse, I’ve made it my mission to continue the legacy of volunteerism and community service that was instilled in me in my youth. My husband, Mark, and I met over ten years ago as cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Life took us to separate corners of the world many times before we walked down the aisle in 2014. We are a team - a united force from the front line to the homefront. Together, we have two beautiful children, Zoey (2) and Mark Joseph Jr. (9 months), with another on the way. Before beginning my journey as a military spouse and full-time volunteer, my adventurous and altruistic spirit found me working as a live-in au pair for a Polish family in Poland, navigating between the islands of Turkey and Greece as a deckhand on a private Turkish sailing yacht, leading underwater expeditions as a PADI Divemaster on a remote island in the South Pacific, and learning Arabic and teaching English to adults in Egypt. Living, working, and learning alongside people of all genders, races, religions, and walks of life has made me the inclusive and servant leader I am today. I am genuinely passionate about keeping soldiers and families informed and connected, giving back to our ever-resilient military children, and empowering and supporting my fellow military spouses in all things.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
In just over five years as a military spouse, I have held multiple leadership positions and sat on numerous committees. I have been an active member of Soldier and Family Readiness Groups (SFRGs), spouse coffee groups, base-wide soldier and spouse social clubs, play groups, parenthood support groups, spouse sports teams, and company, battalion, and brigade-level care teams and steering committees. In my first year as a military spouse, I became a certified U.S. Army Master Resilience Trainer (MRT) and am the only MRT spouse in the Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion. For the past three years, I have been in the service of over 700 soldiers and families as an SFRG Leader with U.S. Army Europe and the U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC). As a lead volunteer for the Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade and Holiday Toy Drive, I’ve gathered, sorted, packaged, and delivered hundreds of bags of toys and school supplies to military and veteran children across Mid-Michigan.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I admit that my first volunteer experience as a military spouse was a bit intimidating. One day, I received an email notifying me that I had been selected by U.S. Army Europe to attend the 2015 Master Resilience Training (MRT) Course in Vilseck, Germany. During my 10-day training, I was the only spouse in a room full of soldiers from all over Europe. It turned out to be a fantastic experience and launched my career as a military spouse volunteer. My role as SFRG Leader from 2016 to present, encompasses a wide variety of leadership experiences. One of my most memorable volunteer opportunities was as a USAG Bavaria German-American Volksfest Booth Leader. Thirty-five weeks pregnant, I led a group of soldier and spouse volunteers in constructing and decorating an all-American hot dog stand. Over the course of three days, we made gallons of chili and chopped a mountain of onions, raking in over $7,000 for our SFRG and besting 100 other vendors to win the 2017 ‘Best Booth’ award.
Describe how you support your community:
As an SFRG Leader, I have hosted monthly SFRG meetings, classes, and guest speakers for everything from financial readiness to Military and Life Counseling (MFLC). I strive to keep our soldiers and families engaged and informed by organizing social events and outings and have written and distributed over 40 newsletters in an effort to encourage others to get out and explore their local communities. An unwavering advocate for the Great Lakes Military Community, I am continually collaborating with local organizations to provide free experiences, events, activities, and services for soldiers and families stationed across Michigan. In December, I debuted the first-ever “12 Days of Spousemas” holiday gifting celebration in support of local and national military spouse entrepreneurs. Currently, I am working alongside two of Michigan’s largest Children's Museums to offer a free learning experience for military children in April in honor of the ‘Month of the Military Child’.
What platform do you advocate for? Why?
My husband and I were newlyweds when we arrived in Europe in 2015 and found ourselves living off-post outside a small German village. At first everything was new and exciting, but soon I began to struggle with feelings of isolation. I felt that in some way, a part of me had gone missing. Before arriving in Germany, I’d been an independent young woman with dreams and aspirations. Then overnight, my life was reduced to simply waiting for my husband to return from post. I had no job and no career…not in Europe, anyway. I felt lost and alone. Disconnected. I wanted to be useful. I wanted to contribute. I wanted to make a difference. Eventually, I came to realize that I wasn’t the only military spouse to have that experience - to wrestle with those feelings of isolation and disconnect or struggle to build a career or business - and it sparked in me a desire to connect with, support, and empower military spouses. And that’s become my platform, because, truly, we are stronger together.
How have you spread the message of your platform?
Our military is comprised of over one million spouses of all genders, races, religions, and walks of life. Though our differences are many, our mission is one - to create and foster thriving, all-inclusive military communities. Through newsletters and social events, I strive to cultivate a friendly, welcoming, and supportive environment for every member of our military family. By empowering spouses to build strong, resilient military families and communities, I hope to help spouses realize that they are key players in our military’s success. The “12 Days of Spousemas” was born, not only out of a desire to advocate for local and national military spouse entrepreneurs, but to empower and encourage all spouses everywhere to support others while pursuing their own dreams. I am not a military spouse entrepreneur and the "12 Days of Spousemas" is not only about supporting our hard-working and ardent entrepreneurs. It's a special event created to inspire others to change lives.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
If awarded the AFI ‘Military Spouse of the Year’ title, I would like to amplify my platform of “Stronger Together” and grow my reach beyond the Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion so that I may engage with military spouses across our great nation. In regard to the “12 Days of Spousemas”, I would like to see it become a recurring annual holiday celebration and hope to encourage other spouses and leaders to participate in their own holiday gifting events. Finally, I hope that this esteemed award would open doors for public speaking opportunities with spouses across all military service branches. It would be my genuine honor to serve as a mentor and also encourage spouses to connect through volunteerism. It’s important to remind one another of our worthiness and to encourage acceptance and support. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with spouse groups about the many challenges we face and assure them that we are all useful. We do contribute. And we can make a difference.
A tireless volunteer and advocate for the military community, Sara Ziegler has logged 2,000 hours on VMIS and is the only U.S. Army certified MRT Spouse in the Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion.
Sara is a lead volunteer for Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade and Holiday Toy Drive. As SFRG leader, she has served on numerous committees, organized social events and Soldier and Family outings, and has written and distributed nearly 40 monthly newsletters.
Sara is passionate about empowering Military Spouses and Families and fostering inclusion within the military community. Most recently, she created the first-ever Military Spouse "12 Days of Spousemas" holiday gifting event to celebrate and support local and national Military Spouse entrepreneurs and spotlight the creativity of Spouses and Veterans from different military branches across the country. Each day for 12 days, one lucky GLRB Spouse received, via a drawing, a unique gift courtesy of a Military Spouse entrepreneur.
- by sara mays