Branch: National Guard
Duty Station: Florida
Number of Deployments: 5
Number of PCS's: 5
Share your military spouse story:
I’m a military brat, a mother, a veteran, a volunteer, and a spouse. I’m a pretty easygoing gal who likes to read, create and eat good food, and drink wine. I’m also the Guard and Reserve Exceptional Families Lead Advocate with the non profit organization Exceptional Families of the Military. My journey into advocacy wasn’t planned and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but I believe it has been well worth it. In 2003 I was a quiet and frankly lazy volunteer at my husband’s base. I wanted to make friends and I was told there was free daycare so I joined up. Slowly over the course of 18+ years my lazy volunteering turned into more like a full time job. The more I saw, heard, and felt, the more help I wanted to be. I realized that volunteers have a unique ability to check the pulse of the at home hero as well as provide feedback and awareness to leadership to make policy changes that could help. Apparently, they can also cause quite the ruckus if they are a newbie who is socially awkward. I made so many blunders and stuck both my feet, and that of a few others, in my mouth at times. I found learning how to help was just as important as learning when to help. Along this journey I have been blessed with four often cantankerous but perfectly wonderful kiddos. Two of which have various diagnoses and conditions that add a little spice to our lives. The challenges that previously seemed manageable suddenly became insurmountable. So long easy-breezy deployments and totally planned long TDYs and hello chaos. That’s when I really began my dive into policies and programs offered to help military families like mine. After several wasted months of attempting to access these programs I discovered the truth. Families like mine can’t really access these programs. They can’t enroll, recruit providers, and utilize the programs within the timeframe allowed. This made me a mad momma! It also made me a sad volunteer. If I can’t get help, how can others? So, I stepped up and found I love it!
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I coordinated the training, planning meetings, and the recruitment and retention goals for all Key Volunteers as the first ever Key Volunteer Mentor at the 144th FW. I frequently briefed leadership on the KV program as well as established an independent point of contact for the KVs, giving them autonomy and the ability to become more effective. I created a communication flow chart for the KV group, built easy to use forms for new KVs to establish a mission directive, created easy to read commander’s guide for commander’s to use, and was coined by the wing commander for my leadership role within the community. I also received a coin from our local congressman for reaching out to him and advocating for military families with exceptional needs. I’m most proud of having recruited and doubling the key volunteers during the pandemic to help keep families supported when needed most. I have recently become a lead advocate for Guard families with special needs and started a support group.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
From military brat, Airman, spouse, volunteer, mentor, to soon-to-be mother of and Airman, I have made my military community my life and family. I’ve spent over 18 years as volunteer, Key Volunteer, Key Volunteer Mentor, and now an exceptional Guard families advocate. I have participated as a Care Team member, Combined Council Representative, and liaison for the local Blood Center. Some of my work has included editor of the family newsletters, built and created recruitment packets, and attended/spoke at commander’s calls/all calls. My event planning includes; trunk or treat, spring egg hunts, family days, open houses, retirements, change of commands, assumption of commands, assumption of authority, promotions, welcoming new babies, family meal trains, yellow ribbons, pre-deployment family briefings, barbecues, movie night, rummage sales, morale calls to families during deployment, school supply and holiday toy giveaways, Red Cross training, base exercises, and hosted an ABU Drive.
Describe how you support your community:
Building partnerships with organizations like the USO, Civil Air Patrol, Fresno State Dietetics Department, political committees, Exceptional Families of the Military, and fellow AFI MSOYs has helped me to better serve my military families with special needs. I have spent the last 2 years building a team of advocates to aid in my mission to make the Exceptional Family Members Program accessible to Guard and Reserve families. A critical oversight is preventing families across all branches from gaining access to EFMP, preventing support for readiness, retention, and resiliency. Through AFI MSOY connections I was able to join forces with Exceptional Families of the Military to begin a peer to peer support for Guard/Reserve families that address these issues. Our partnership has already begun to establish relationships with Congressmen Nunes, Senator Blackburn, Congresswoman McClain, and more to address these issues. Our team of 3 is now 70, building a stronger network for Guard families.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I hear that military spouses have to learn to pivot. If that’s true, (it’s true) military spouses with special needs dependents have to learn to pirouette. And if that’s true, (absolutely true) then Guard/Reserve spouses with special needs dependents have to learn to pirouette… on the back of a galloping horse. They are cut off geographically, short handed by programs that promise to help but don’t, and left without a voice. We are told we don’t count and don’t qualify as we continue to support the mission both locally and federally. So I decided to do something about it. I’ve partnered up with a team of interested stakeholders and joined a non profit group to widen the reach. I want families to know that they matter, but more importantly that help is coming. I hope to become a beacon to families like mine in the Guard/Reserve as a source of help, knowledge, and inspiration. I won’t stop fighting for change because I know too many families out there that can’t fight for themselves.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I started out small by creating a Facebook page to spread awareness. I reached out to the CA NG, 144th FW, and posted on my personal page, to expand efforts. I am a platform moderator for several groups; vision impaired kids, multiple children with various diagnoses, military families with children with Down Syndrome, and a lead moderator and advocate for Guard/Reserve families through Exceptional Families of the Military. I use these opportunities to spread awareness and share resources. There was an article about my advocacy in the Reserve and National Guard Magazine as well as a mention in the newsletter by Partners in Promise. In 2021 the 144th FW ran a story about my advocacy on all their social media outlets. I have been petitioning legislation for a GAO report to find data to support reasonable access to EFMP for Guard families. I have spoken at 2 open forum town halls to spread awareness about our issues and have started a strategic planning session to build onward in 2022.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
Doors are slowly opening up as I knock knock knock my way to change. I’m hoping to use this platform to shine a light on this tremendously important issue. Military families, all military families, have challenges. But we cannot ignore the few because they can’t make enough noise. I want to challenge leaders to listen to the hearts of the Guard and Reserve. To show them how hard it is to be a military family and have no support for our most vulnerable. To be expected to put on their boots and leave caregivers without leaving them tools to deal with the challenges they face. I want to support and empower families in every branch to fight for the entitlements that were promised to them but never given. It’s my hope to take this title and speak my truth and to share the stories of others who cannot speak for themselves because they are too battle bruised and weary to do so. I hope to ignite the flame within those who just want to be seen and heard. I want to bring hope, change, and help.
Over the last year, Carolyn has worked tirelessly to improve family and mission connectedness in her role as Key Spouse Mentor. She has reinvigorated the key spouse program by doubling engaged key spouses that directly support 12 units. Additionally, Carolyn created inclusive programs, involving Airmen and families during mission planning and execution, resulting in more robust support of mission needs and deployment requirements. Carolyn was also a member of several unit councils, working to integrate family involvement into officer and enlisted decision making. Finally, as a mother of four children, two with special needs, Carolyn has embarked on a mission to improve ANG accessibility and awareness to the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). Joining forces with Exceptional Families of the Military, she established a 50 person team that is engaging congress on EFMP improvements for the reserve components, which will result in increased readiness across the Guard and Reserve.
- by Eric Chase