Tracy Steele

Branch: Marine Corps

Duty Station: Marine Corps Air Station Futenma

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 7

Share your military spouse story:
As a young kid, I dreamed of being a registered nurse. I worked hard for that dream and landed a job in the NICU. A few years later, I met my Marine, and in 1 year’s time, was married, started a family, and made my first of many moves. There began my identity struggle. In the beginning, all I knew was being a mother of 2 and trying to survive. I felt I had little to offer other military spouses nor did I need the military network of support. Then, during a combat deployment in 2009, there was a fatal helicopter crash in my husband’s squadron. A father of a 19 month old with a baby due any day was killed. The hardest thing for me was I didn’t know the spouse well because I had not been active with the unit. The nurse in me felt compelled to help this family, and I did, along with several other squadron spouses who jumped right in. Quickly I learned: military spouses take care of their tribe. This tragedy changed everything for me. After the crash, I fully embraced being a military spouse and began actively taking on volunteer roles to strengthen my network and support of other spouses. Since then, I have served on multiple command teams, sought out board positions in spouses’ groups and PTOs, and helped with youth sports. My military spouse network now consists of spouses in every service, all over the world. I have someone to call each time we get new orders and I welcome the calls when spouses move my way. It feels so good to be a part of the tribe. Even though my investment into the military network fulfilled a need, it didn’t answer my struggle with my identity. I had worked hard to be a nurse and earn a paycheck as a young adult and it was hard to define myself as something different. Now, however, I have realized that I have worked as hard for the position I have in the military spouse network and have acquired skills that go way beyond nursing school. The irony is my passion is no longer in nursing but now being a military spouse advocate.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Elected by my peers, I am currently the President of the American Welfare & Works Association, an international non-profit organization that supports the local military and Japanese communities through financial grants. In this role, I lead an organization of 6 large spouses’ organizations and manage an annual budget of over $140,000. I have effectively implemented changes to the organization to include legally changing its name and updating its logo, as well as overhauling the Constitution and Bylaws to improve organizational processes. This role connects me with military spouses from all branches of service and I am often looked to for guidance and mentorship. As spokesperson, I serve as an advocate for the organization, leading delegations during on and off island meetings with elected Japanese officials and facility directors, as well as engaging both the American and Japanese communities to raise awareness to our mission of improving the quality of life through charitable giving.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
My initial involvement within the military community was focused on building relationships and offering support to the Marines, spouses, and families in my husband’s unit as a command team advisor. I realized the impact an active liaison and mentor can have on a unit so I have continued to invest my time at the unit level, currently serving with MCAS Futenma. Once more comfortable and experienced, I expanded my involvement to spouses’ clubs and school PTOs, gaining confidence to pursue positions of leadership. Since arriving in Okinawa in 2017, I have served on multiple boards for spouses’ clubs, a gift shop, school PTOs, and a travel baseball team. I am involved at many levels from unloading merchandise trucks, planning blood drives and banquets, to writing bylaws to improve organizational processes. Currently, I am the President of an international philanthropic organization in Okinawa, providing me opportunities to work closely with both our military and Japanese communities.

Describe how you support your community:
The transient military lifestyle often makes it difficult for spouses to find their purpose and network of support. Being a seasoned spouse, I know this firsthand and have been dedicated to helping spouses get involved and connect within their community through volunteerism. Appreciating the power of networking, I have invested myself in being an active volunteer in many different areas of the military and local communities, developing relationships with spouses and leaders of all branches of service and roles in the community. My involvement has enabled me to connect military spouses with people and roles that they are passionate about, thus improving their quality of life and in turn helping them make a difference in the local community.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I have realized a need to help people see the marketable value in volunteering and how the acquired skills can translate to the professional workforce. With this mission in mind, I founded Beyond Volunteering to help inspire military spouses to feel valued in their roles and confident to take their skills beyond volunteering. In addition to empowering spouse volunteers, I have championed change in spouses’ groups to rename the volunteer roles to more professional titles to be more easily translatable to the workforce. I have also advocated for organizations to offer measurable feedback to its volunteers such as recognizing them publicly through the Presidential Service Award Program and giving letters of recommendation and appreciation. My goal is to encourage spouses to volunteer knowing these roles will not only help their local community, but, in turn, help them gain professional skills that will build their confidence and keep them competitive in the workforce.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
My volunteer leadership roles have helped me develop relationships across all areas of the military and local communities and have given me a platform to advocate for what I am passionate about. As President of the American Welfare & Works Association, I have met with elected Japanese officials, being pictured and quoted in the local paper, and have publicly represented the organization at meetings and banquets. I have been an invited guest more than once on the Armed Forces Network radio on behalf of military spouses and have been asked to contribute on several different panels. These experiences have given me the confidence to pursue my passion of being a military spouse advocate and helping spouses discover the value in their volunteer roles. Because of my Beyond Volunteering workshop, I have been invited to speak at forums such as the Okinawa Leadership Seminar and the upcoming Hiring Our Heroes symposium. I welcome future speaking engagements to help advocate for military spouses.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
Being AFI Military Spouse of the Year would provide me the opportunity to be a military spouse advocate for all branches of service and expose spouses all over the world to Beyond Volunteering. Having lived in multiple duty stations both stateside and overseas, I have in-depth experience with the challenges military spouses from all services face, as well as the resources that are available to them to be successful. Beyond Volunteering looks to raise awareness to military spouses on how their volunteer experience can translate into the professional workforce, give them the tools and confidence to apply their skills to seek greater roles, and then help pair them with local resources available through the military programs, such as MCCS. I have aspirations to bring Beyond Volunteering to duty stations all over the world and in every branch of service, inspiring military spouses to discover the marketable skills in their volunteer roles and have the confidence to go for something big.