Nominations are closed. Come back February 3 to meet the candidates!

Aleha Landry

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Schriever Space Force Base

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 2

Share your military spouse story:
I never thought I would walk this path. Military spouse was never a role that I aspired to hold. I wanted to settle down somewhere, grow roots, and create inroads within the community. But, here I am– My name is Aleha Landry, and I am an Air Force Spouse. June will be 10 years since my husband went active duty, and I was a ROTC wife for 4 years before that. Ours was a typical military family story– or so I thought. We moved to beautiful states, had amazing adventures, and added military brats. Then one day, my husband came home from work and said that he pulled the short straw to deploy. Supposedly, he was in a career field that was safe from deployments, or at least anyone who deployed in his MOS had to volunteer. He was volun-told. I did what many military spouses did before: I hunkered down and tried to make the deployment as smooth as possible, but everything broke. After returning from deployment, military mental health and medications became part of my family’s journey. The ups and downs were excruciating. Twenty months and one day post-deployment, my husband had a breakdown. He did not want to live anymore. I didn’t know what to do or say as I sat there holding his hand, silently praying for the right words, not knowing who to call. He didn’t want me to call anyone, but I did. He decided he had to go and seek help. He spent 8 weeks in a hospitalization program, 7 weeks with frequent mental health visits, and many more seeing a psychiatrist for crushing depression. When I saw how many cracks he and my family fell through during this process, I knew I had to do something. So, I did. I have written 15 articles on military mental health and military spouses. I was one of two spouses to serve on a branch-level working group. I continue to interface with many Air Force leaders to share my story so that the wide cracks may be fixed. I have pushed and successfully made Air Force policy changes and am pushing for DoD level change with Congress. And, I’m not done.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Leaders take risks and dig deep to find the courage necessary to passionately fight for what they believe. I try to live up to that by sharing my story with anyone who will listen. Fortunately, I have been able to make many inroads with Air Force leadership and encourage change. In November, I was able to meet one on one with General Brown, AF Chief of Staff, Chief Bass, CMSAF, General Kelly, A1, and many others, to discuss military mental health. I talked about how families fall through the cracks and how spouses, like me, need more support, especially in this arena. I shared my story so my experience could better the system and change what is not working. This was not my first interaction with these leaders, and they know they will see me again. I have all of their contact information and continue to work with them. I was encouraged to keep reaching out and keep talking about this because they don’t have many people who are willing to speak candidly about such painful issues.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am involved in the policy side of the military community. I advocate with leadership, propose policy changes, such as changing the regulations regarding the way a questionnaire was administered for mental health screenings, and participate in working groups. I write for national publications to raise awareness of critical issues through personal experience and story. I communicate with congressional staff regarding legislative ideas to remedy the mental health provider shortage in the armed services. My favorite experience was with the Air Force ARC Care Team. I was one of two spouses invited to sit on the committee. I was able to attend all meetings and be a voice for spouses as the AF evaluated resilience needs and how to best approach these needs. Sitting in on these meetings, hearing the barriers faced by all affected parties, listening to proposals, and advocating for my own spouse community was heartening. It was the first time spouses were formally included, and I was one.

Describe how you support your community:
I support my milspouse community in a few different ways. I check in on my friends and my fellow military spouses. This life is not easy and having someone to vent to can be helpful. Similarly, in most of my articles, I include my email address. I do this so that people in my community can contact me. I treasure the messages from my fellow spouses and military members. Many are heartbreaking to read and tell of similar pain, but in those moments, neither party is alone. I volunteer weekly with a nonprofit for struggling veterans, military, and spouses. I lead a spouse group when applicable and we are able to candidly talk about mental health issues. I am able to support spouses who feel at the end of their ropes because I have been there. When participating in ARC Care, I recruited spouses from key demographics that held perspectives different from my own. I enjoyed learning from them and know that the only way to adequately solve the problems we face is to bring all to the table.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for changes to the military mental health system, and specifically why spouses should be included in this discussion. Oftentimes, including my own experience, spouses are not contacted in an acute mental health crisis involving the member. This is a disservice to everyone involved, and supporting spouses in the mental health fight is imperative on all levels. Directly supporting spouses and families means more holistic support of service members. Additionally, I believe that bringing spouses to the table can solve problems, not only on a family level, but on a military-wide scale as well. Spouses are the most underutilized and undervalued resource the military has. We are highly educated and have front row seats to how the system works and how the system fails. Allowing spouses input on policy would offer a more complete picture of what is going on and, I believe, solve some of the longstanding issues within the military community, such as mental health.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Mental health is so stigmatized that families and spouses walking through these experiences often whisper about it out of shame, and I didn’t want that. I needed to talk about it, and I needed community. Because of that, I wrote for Military Times, Military Spouse Magazine, Responsible Statecraft, Military.com, The Circle Magazine, and Washington Examiner. I also co-wrote a piece for the New York Times with another military spouse regarding voting. Military spouses need to know that there are others who have walked dark paths. Military leadership needs to know that spouses are a valuable resource. Additionally, I have discussed these issues in podcast interviews, both military and civilian, as well as reporter interviews for relevant news articles. I have participated as a panelist for a non-profit about making changes for military spouses. Sharing my story of the strain on my family and lack of support for me as a military spouse is the only way that this problem will be solved.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
If I am chosen as AFI MSOY, I will use the platform to elevate military mental health and military spouse issues. I know that through this experience, I will make many friends along the way, and I want them to join me. One voice can easily be silenced, but many voices are harder to quiet, and I will use this as an opportunity to elevate my story and the stories of others. I will use the office to advocate strongly to Congress and talk about legislation that would improve and empower military spouses and encourage my community to do as well. I will continue interfacing with military leadership, bringing more military spouses with me to make change or plant seeds of change. I will increase interactions with the media and ask for more of our stories to be told. Less than one half of a percent of our nation serves, and an even smaller percentage serve as military spouses. We wouldn’t be military spouses if we didn’t love our service members and our country. Our stories have to be told.

Nominations

Aleha is one of the most passionate & tenacious milspouse advocates I’ve had the privilege of meeting. She’s a stalwart champion for mental health services within the military. Whether she’s meeting with a high-ranking DoD official or publishing a national op-ed, she shares her family’s story with eloquence and bravery. I can’t wait to see Aleha thrive in the MSOY program!
- by Sarah Streyder