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

Anne Villano

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Hanscom Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 0

Number of PCS's: 6

Share your military spouse story:
I am a mixed media artist, mother, MSW grad student and military spouse painting to make a difference. While it began as a personal healing journey, I soon discovered that my answer to coping with mental illness could, in fact, help others too. My entire life, I have been the person who had a plan. I was determined to have a successful career, then find my husband, maybe kids starting at thirty (four to be exact) and be a working mom. Ever the relationship girl, imagine my surprise when after much urging from my best friend to try online dating, I happened upon the man with whom I would give up everything I worked so hard for. It wasn’t until after we lived together for two years that Sean decided to join the Air Force. The irony of this was not lost on me, as I had always told my Air Force retired parents that there were two things I knew for sure: that I was not meant for the nursing field and that I did not wish to be set up with a military man, let alone marry into military life! Little did I know how much my life would change, how passionate I would become about mental health advocacy, how much the military community would become like family and how many unforgettable adventures we would have. My husband and I believe in the adventure that the military lifestyle brings and the opportunities to see the world in a new light that it offers our children. During the last 8 years served, we have lived in five states and survived a 365 tour to South Korea. It was during this tour, while I struggled with bipolar depression and flashbacks, that I began painting with a purpose — and I haven't stopped since.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Leadership to me is the ability to guide others through vulnerability. I have written and spoke about my personal mental health journey within the military with military spouse publications (Legacy Magazine & In-dependent.blog), non profits (Invisible Combat & The International Rescue Committee), and podcasts (Inspired Women, Choosing Brave Podcast, Spous-ly's I'mPossible & The American Milspouse) in the hopes of spreading awareness and validity to those who may be suffering in silence. Living the military lifestyle has built my resilience beyond anything I could imagine and elevated my passion for fighting the mental health stigma. With military mental health statistics on the rise and a very real stigma amongst the ranks, it’s time to get creative.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
At my breaking point, I had to navigate the military insurance system unsuccessfully for five weeks while in crisis seeking mental health care. Exasperated, I thought of all those within our community that wouldn't be able to advocate like I did. Before I knew it I was in graduate school for social work and began selling artwork professionally to fund the Circle Sessions on Mental Health program. This program will be an all inclusive, creative therapy program for active duty military, dependents, veterans, and now refugees --as mental health symptoms know no age, gender, rank or race. As an intern at an international NGO, I am adapting Circle Sessions to the refugee population. Other projects include SIV Sips, which brings together veterans and Afghan refugees with a Special Immigration Visa to provide support while adapting to civilian life & collaborating to bring an international art therapy program pilot study for refugees to the U.S. for the first time.

Describe how you support your community:
My platform is "creative purpose for the military community"--because I believe that everyone has the ability to use creativity to cope with mental illness. The amazing thing about the military spouse community is how much strength, both mental and physical, are displayed on a daily basis. It is my hope that through providing simple, creative ways of coping with stress that can be adapted anywhere, we can help end the mental health stigma and ultimately save lives. Creatively and wholeheartedly, my core beliefs are as follows: Creation is healing, coping, closeness and expressing without having to speak. Color is beautiful, bold, happy, love, excitement, joy and a necessity in life. Advocacy is at the heart of my artwork with a focus on military and refugee mental health. Transparency is being courageously vulnerable. All voices matter, especially in the silence of creation.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My entire life, I have struggled with chronic mental health symptoms. I am so high functioning that it was difficult for others to believe my struggle--something other military spouses, active duty and veterans understand. It wasn't until a few years ago that I fought and advocated for the level of mental health care I needed and discovered so many others in similar situations who needed more than what was being offered. I have a gift of speaking out on this topic unapologetically, utilizing my story to inspire change, and to meet others where they are at in order to facilitate healing.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I completed a social action mural that composed of over 20 military active duty and veteran service members, spouses and their families who were in a place to share their mental health journey, to put faces to the military mental health statistics.This mural created a platform amplifying the voices of each person, calling for an end to military mental health stigma, advocate for more efficient access to mental health care and show support for creative therapies. It is my hope to advocate on a federal level for better access to military mental health care and more creative therapy options. My time in graduate school has afforded me the opportunity to research, plan, and implement a free virtual mindfulness circle painting class for women veterans with the next class for first responders and refugees!

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
If I were to become Military Spouse of the Year, I would continue to advocate for creative therapies to be a more accessible option for military service members and their families. I would amplify others' voices because I know that in telling our story, especially with stigmatized topics, we become stronger and have the ability to create real change. The title would offer an opportunity to make new connections to other phenomenal military spouses, organizations and agents of change to learn how to bring this program to more people and to learn how to advocate for change of policy on a federal level.

Nominations

Anne has been not only supportive to our son who is in his 8th year of the Airforce but has been a huge support to other military spouses as well! She can speak from experience and has helped many to realize they have a real family support unit. She is a talented artist that has touched many lives with her messages that show through the beauty of her paintings and drawings. Her talent has naturally lead her into becoming an art therapist recognizing the struggles that spouses and families face and wanting to have a creative way of expressing their inner feelings. She has accomplished this all while raising two beautiful young children! These are just a few of her many accomplishments but we as her family couldn’t be more proud of Anne! She truly is an accomplished young woman with a whole lot of heart!
- by Dawn Villano

Anne has the kindest heart! I truly believe that she has a mission to change lives for the better in the military with her creative therapies.
- by Lauren Riordan

Anne is quite a remarkable military spouse. She passionately advocates for mental health in the military spouse community and incorporates her talents in the arts. She is close to graduating with her Masters Degree, while also being a mother, military spouse, and entrepreneur. Her authenticity about her own struggles and her undeniable strength are a true inspiration to the military spouse community.
- by Wendi Iacobello