Duty Station: Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
When my husband and I were dating, he told me he wanted to join the Navy. Growing up, I could never picture my future so vividly like others; I now understand why. I was on my way to being a part of an amazing community. As we grew closer, I knew the next chapter of my life was beginning and I was ready for everything it had to offer. Almost fifteen years later, we have just arrived at our 4th duty station. If you are reading this, you are aware of how challenging, yet rewarding military life can be, and we must embrace it all. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi where everyone knew your name and stop signs were more of a suggestion. After graduating high school, I attended William Carey University, where I met my husband. John and I dated for 3 years and married after graduation. Shortly after, the Navy sent us to Pensacola, FL. I learned a lot of military culture and how different life can be; it was everything I hoped it would be. I thrive on patriotism, stopping for colors, and making friends with people from all around the world. Our next duty stations were Newport, RI, and Guam. We loved Newport and took advantage of traveling around New England. Guam has my heart. We made friendships to last a lifetime, and I consider myself lucky for the experience and memories. We just arrived at Camp Lejeune, and I already love the community. When I look back over the past decade, I see our military marriage as a series of events, maybe even chapters in a book. Each school, job, and duty station a different chapter with their own stories to tell. Some of the memories feel connected with love, friendship, and success while others feel completely separated by hardships and periods of loneliness. Well, I am here to tell you that it all matters. Embracing the moments will turn into a beautiful story being created. Our story is still being written, and I am excited to see what the future holds.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Leadership is something I take seriously and consider it a privilege to help others. Leading is not just helping someone but it is using interpersonal skills to create spaces where people are comfortable. In Pensacola, I started a Bible study and hosted a monthly brunch. These gatherings created opportunities for spouses to embrace life among other spouses with security and camaraderie. When we moved to Guam, spouses became family. When you are over 8,000 miles away from friends and family, military families create irreplaceable bonds. While on the island, I was able to help many different spouses transition into the new duty station. Moving on Guam can feel isolating at first, and having a support system is essential. My goal was to help struggling military spouses feel comfortable. Being an advocate for spouses who are experiencing hardship is my passion. I welcomed spouses and their family into our home, listened to them, and spent quality time getting to know them.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
My involvement in the military community includes being the Vice President of Oakleaf and the hospital Ombudsman. Oakleaf is a nonprofit organization that serves and supports families of the hospital. Oakleaf provides mentorship, command activities, and deployment support. Being VP of Oakleaf allowed me to help maintain a group who was in the business of solely helping and creating a community. Being part of the leadership team was such a great experience, and we were able to help others by supporting spouses and their families. As an Ombudsman, I served as a liaison between the command leadership and command families. Twice a month, we were able to welcome new service members and their family to the hospital and we worked closely with the triad (CO, XO, CMC) to keep open lines of communication throughout the command and community. This experience was fulfilling and rewarding; being able to help others is an opportunity I will always seek.
Describe how you support your community:
Being supportive of your community starts within the walls of your home. We teach our children that it is a privilege to live on base with other military families, and it is our personal responsibility to embrace the culture and set an example for others. Life in the military is rewarding and challenging, and it is our duty as spouses to be an advocate for positivity, change, and support. As spouses, we encounter a myriad of different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. We need to embrace the differences and create a military spouse culture worth being a part of. I support my community by being the best listener, communicator, and friend I can be. I create spaces where others feel comfortable to open up and be themselves without fear.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I am an advocate for connection. Connecting with others is realizing we are more similar than we are different. As military spouses, we share a lifestyle and memories that are irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind. Our circumstances are sometimes similar, but our perspectives are different, which creates a beautiful picture of different people coming together for a common goal - connection. Being connected in the military lifestyle is essential when moving new places and creating lasting friendships. Unconditional positivity and empathy is a great place to start. When one can master the art of genuinely caring for others, making a difference is inevitable. I had a mentor on Guam, Lori Brito, who took the time to teach me and guide me into becoming the leader I aspired to become. Being humble and being able to learn from others is pivotal when working with others.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have spread the message of connectivity in the way I choose to live my life. Embracing the lifestyle of helping others is a goal I have for everyone, so I will be an example. Choosing to see the good in others is always worthwhile and being open to communication is a good way to start connecting. When spouses are disconnected at a new duty station, they might begin feeling homesick and defeated. Whenever I meet new people, my goal is to be a good listener and learn about them so I can be helpful if needed. Ultimately, I listen to hear and understand instead of listening to respond. I always have an open door to anyone who wants to talk or spend time with other people.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
As Military Spouse of the Year, I would like to promote working together to embrace connectivity. As military spouses and leaders in the community, we must be able to meet someone and be okay with who they are, where they've been and what route they chose to get there. Embracing the humanity of others is what is going to make our community thrive. Instead of sitting in small groups, let's create bigger tables to feast at and gain relationships. Connecting with others is what humans are created to do, and I believe there is a gap in the military spouse culture. Our lives are busy with personal issues, family, friends, jobs, etc., so making time for meaningful relationships can refill our empty tanks and create fulfillment.
Ashley is the epitome of a military spouse! She is inspiring, kind, and knowledgable, as well as engaging and empowering. I met Ashley while stationed in Guam. My husband arrived as the XO of the Naval Hospital. Ashley was one of the first spouses I met. She was serving on the board of the command's spouses club and then went onto become the command Ombudsman. Ashley is one of the most inclusive and welcoming spouses I've ever met! Always had an open door, kept an eye out for new arrivals and has a second sense for anyone who may be struggling. Ashley saw another spouse having great difficulty adjusting to Guam. She went to her house, got her to change out of her pajamas and took her out. That spouse later went on to become involved as a ARC volunteer and as a staff member at the hospital. I'm not sure that would have happened without Ashley. This is only one example of many. Ashley everything the MSOY should be, and I am a better person because she is on this journey with me.
- by Lorri Brito