Branch: Air Force
Duty Station: Misawa Air Base
Number of Deployments: 6
Number of PCS's: 7
Share your military spouse story:
When I was seventeen I joined the Air Force and worked as a firefighter/EMT for eight years. I loved my job and the opportunities it gave me to interact and serve the community while playing with powerful tools. I was one of two female firefighters in our fire department for many years and found myself becoming the mama bear to the guys I worked with; we were family. This is also when I met my best friend, my husband. We pulled off the military to military couple life for a few years through many deployments, countless TDY's attending college courses and juggling it all. After deploying in 2003 I realized that long term I would prefer to be by my children's side than across the ocean. As I transitioned into the military spouse world, I realized I was completely unaware of the day-to-day life of a military spouse. Separating from the Air Force and becoming a "dependent" was a difficult transition and one I wasn't quite mentally prepared for. Struggling to find your place in the puzzle isn't as easy as I had hoped for. I finished my BA in Human Development and Family Studies hoping to put together a portable career that would allow me to be a supportive wife and present mom. We have three boys who are hilarious and also my most important work. On this journey I feel in love with volunteering! I started in my children's schools and then found opportunities in the community. Each duty location I worked to find various non-profits to support, mostly in social services through community outreach and rehabilitation. Hoping one day, post active-duty life I can start or support a non-profit that helps in that capacity. Over the last 18 years I have found myself understanding the opportunities and responsibility that being a veteran AND spouse held to advocate and educate the community. Currently seeking those opportunities while soaking up as much of travel and exploring Japan as possible! Travel and experiencing new things is my love language!
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In the last year: Lead a committee to organize our installation's annual cookie drive benefiting close to 2000 unaccompanied Air Force, Navy, Army and Japanese Air Space Defense Forces. Cookie Caper on our installation is much different than CONUS due to how remote we are. Lead a committee to plan and organize the Spouses Dining In for the installation. It was much needed fun and comrade during the pandemic. Co-lead a committee to successfully merge the Enlisted and Officer Spouses Clubs into one organization and open it to ALL SOFA members to be a more inclusive community. Key Spouse Mentor supporting our local Key Spouses and Airman and Family Readiness Center by assisting the Key Spouse program manager plan events on multiple platforms for Key Spouses and Navy Ombudsman to network, support each other and bring awareness to THEIR needs as well as their unit spouses.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Facilitate as a Resiliency Training Assistant for first term Airman/Officer classes or any units that request on base. Work with the Career Assistance Advisor facilitating John Maxwell courses for the Professional Development Center encouraging dependents and Active Duty to attend. Also work with the Wing Community Support Coordinator on topics involving both active duty and dependents. The topics range from mental health during the winter, alcohol related incidents and family involvement. Member of the Diversity and Inclusion council to advocate for a more diverse and inclusive community. The council is new to the installation and working hard to have monthly events and multiple forums to bring people together, educate and improve relationships in the community. For extra fun I volunteer through the USO doing community outreach and giveaways and Operation Birthday Hug to surprise individuals on their birthday!
Describe how you support your community:
I am active in the School Advisory Council (SAC) for both schools on the installation. The SAC is equivalent to the school board and is the best avenue to advocate for our children with safety, programs and educational opportunities. I also volunteer in both schools when COVID mitigations permit. Attend the AAFES and DeCA council meetings and created a community survey to speak on issues and needs of the community. Working closely with the managers of both facilities to give them information gathered from the community to share with their leadership to support our community better. Attend the Patient and Family Advisory Council meetings to communicate issues and suggestions dependents have voiced in regards to our local medical facility. Also educate spouses on how best to voice their feedback/suggestions to elicit change in our medical facility in a constructive manner. This has been anywhere from EFMP issues to feedback on COVID testing, vaccinations, etc.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Military families mental health, specifically spouses and children of active duty members overseas. Military life is hard and stressful for obvious reasons such as frequent moving, temporary and permanent duty station changes, deployments, changing shift hours and length, etc. Mental health of dependents isn't as high of a priority as Active Duty personnel. Military families often have resources available while stationed in the United States but overseas is different. In addition military spouses often don't seek the mental health help they need because they are fearful that their medical needs will impinge on their active duty members career. Mental health is just as important as our physical health if not not more. We wouldn't skip the emergency room if we had a laceration on our leg, why would we skip speaking to someone about harmful thoughts. Spreading factual information on the topic and advocating for additional/sharing resources is important to me!
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Spreading mental health awareness through my personal social media as well as various social media groups. Topics shared were my vulnerable and personal stories of using fitness (Out of The Darkness and the Taji 100) to improve my mental health and encouraging others to share as well to normalize the discussion. Mental health awareness is also why I wanted to become a Master Resiliency Trainer. Facilitating resiliency courses to our military community helps to improve their ability to remain resilient short and long term; as well as normalizing the discussion. I also recently completed the Living Works Safe Talk training to increase my knowledge and skills to intervene with individuals who are potentially having suicidal thoughts. Quarterly we have a Key Spouse Keystone event that allows networking, training and an opportunity to love on Key Spouses and Navy Ombudsman. We have added an element to promote self care for these spouses especially during the pandemic.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
As AFI Military Spouse of the Year I would hope to accomplish several things starting with advocating for more easily accessible mental health resources for dependents around the world. Work to help military spouses and military members understand the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and how it correlates to seeking mental health services. Be an authentic example and positive role model for others, balancing educational/professional goals, family, my health and being a supportive military spouse. There is no sugar coating that this military life can be hard but it can also be wonderful. Being a relatable spouse is always my goal and sharing how how our family works as a team to find balance is important to me. Inspire others to make a difference. Kindness and compassion are contagious and are like ripples in a pond. Our military family IS our family and we need to know and show encouraging and supporting each other through the small and big things makes a difference.
I wish to nominate Audrey Meininger, a friend and fellow military spouse. Audrey and I have worked together on many fundraising event and planning school PTO/PTA events for our children schools. Audrey is not only a military spouse but she is also an Air Force Veteran which has helped her have a special insight in understanding how to support her service member and knowing where to give back at each duty station. She never ceases to impress me with her professionalism and compassion for helping others. She goes out of her way to help the less fortunate in her military community. When she is not caring for her family, she devotes her time to various projects and she is always finding ways to help/and give support to others-active duty, the families and her peers. She is worthy of being named the Military Spouse of the Year!
- by Carter Leigh