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

Cindy Meili

Branch: National Guard

Duty Station: New York

Number of Deployments: 7

Number of PCS's: 8

Share your military spouse story:
My story began in Plattsburgh, NY as an 18 year-old college student dating an Airman. Six months after meeting John he was off to serve a year in Korea. A year later we were married and off to Germany for the next six and half years where our first son Ryan was born. Little did I know at the time, this would be the beginning of a long and remarkable experience as a military spouse. The next two decades on the military roller coaster of combat deployments, travel abroad, moves from coast to coast were exciting, challenging, sometimes disappointing, but never regretful. The opportunities I have been given, the people I have met, and lifetime bonds made as a military spouse would not have been possible had I not taken the ride of my life with that Airman. I am honored and grateful to serve alongside of my Active Duty spouse for the past two and half decades. Service has taught me to be a resilient, caring and compassionate human being, and the importance of giving back to the men and women who preserve our freedoms and the American way of life. My grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He passed away before I was born but I can only imagine the conversations we would be having! The traits of my grandfather are the foundation of our family and continue on through to future generations; with both of my children currently serving in the USAF. The “Military Family” is who we are and I wouldn’t change a thing. The joys and struggles we have experienced through countless moves, deployments, missed once in a lifetime moments and loss of “family" over the years has humbled me and reminds me to be grateful for every day you have with loved ones. I carry this on through my work with the military community and continue to honor veterans and their families that have come before us.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Leadership is a role I first accepted out of necessity. Transition from USAF Active Duty to the Air National Guard was eye opening and I saw the need for change. I learned to take control of situations that left me feeling disconnected and isolated from the military lifestyle I had once known. I took it upon myself to gain as much knowledge and seek out resources available and share this knowledge to empower other families. I consolidated local, state and national support programs throughout our state for easy references. As a Key Spouse Mentor I've mentored volunteers and implemented the mandatory Air Force program. A member of the Military Spouses Advocacy Network, I'm part of a team of spouses responsible for mentoring, empowering and educating a global network of new spouses. As the local Wreaths Across America Location Coordinator I managed the movement and placement of over 1000 wreaths and 450 volunteers for the 2021 campaign.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Volunteering directly contributes to strengthening family networks critical to mission accomplishment. Advocating for military families, I help local officials develop community employment and food programs to help transitioning military families and veterans in need. My continued dedication to many organizations raised community awareness of barriers local military families and veterans were facing. I helped generate thousands of dollars in donations to local programs to alleviate obstacles. During the COVID Pandemic I identified multiple needs requiring attention. I created “Masks for the Mighty” which provided over 2000 masks for our veterans, military members and their families. As a Key Volunteer I collaborated with a local American Legion Veteran Aux to provide Comfort Bears to children of our deployed members. As the Giving Tuesday Military Ambassador Syracuse, NY I facilitated the acquisition and placement of 12 Purple Heart Parking Spaces in the Central NY Region.

Describe how you support your community:
I’ve always felt it was my duty to give back to the community, fellow military spouses and veterans. I am committed to developing and maintaining authentic relationships, through positive and encouraging interactions. I am committed to creating opportunities where everyone can work together and fill the gaps to assist those in need. “It is not about me it is about we.” The collective power “we” create together is limitless. Creating opportunities for all eras of military spouses to work side by side to tackle current and future challenges that face our spouses and veterans is my passion.

What do you advocate for? Why?
My 29 years as a military spouse has provided me a unique perspective. The transition from USAF to the ANG has provided the best of both worlds, but it has not been easy. The ANG is no longer a Strategic Reserve. Our new reality is full time real world missions and consistent activations on a moment’s notice. The Guard stands ready and remains relevant. The mission related paradigm shift required to ensure full spectrum readiness of our forces and mission accomplishment must adapt as future missions evolve. Programs required to sustain family readiness has not kept pace with the operations tempo. With continuous advocacy and networking we will expand awareness to our local communities and look for innovative ways to provide support on the home front. "Always ready always there" is the motto of the NG. My hope is to transcend this into our communities. Taking care of families from beginning through retirement along with creating a place for spouses to feel worthy and connected.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Being a Military Family Advisory Network Advisory Board member for 2021-2023 provides me the opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges on the national stage. I have established collaborations with fellow spouses to ensure critical issues are being heard in Washington. As a National Guard Mentor for Military Spouse Advocacy Network, I’ve networked with fellow Guard Spouses across the nation and reached geographically separated members by creating private and secure social media accounts to develop positive communication and relay vital information on policy change for Military Families. During Unit and Wing Events I’m engaged in providing critical information to families that they may have not known existed. By sharing my unique Military Spouse story at community events I have raised awareness to the challenges and proactively created dialog leading to positive outcomes for our families within in their communities.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
My hope is to have the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title continue to inspire and evoke positive and meaningful change. I will remain committed to my ongoing work with national, state and local military and civilian officials to help bridge the gap on critical concerns that are causing National Guard families to feel isolated. Through persistent involvement and presence, I will continue to expand my network and be inspired by the opportunities to share the real life stories and challenges of our Military Families. The Military Family story, especially that of a National Guard is one rarely told or understood. I believe this is the perfect time to raise awareness and show what our National Guard military spouses have to offer to communities.

Nominations

As I sit here writing this nomination, I can’t think of a spouse more deserving of this recognition than Cindy. Cindy volunteers, not for the spotlight, not for the moment of recognition but from the goodness of her heart. She welcomes all into her circle and shines a light brighter than anyone I have seen. Cindy works with veterans everyday for her career. She works with the Veteran's Service Program, which assists veterans in obtaining benefits under various Federal and State Statutes. Cindy is responsible for supervising the preparation and filing of claims and for advising veterans in matters pertaining to veteran's rights and benefits. Cindy makes a difference everyday with our Veterans.
- by Amber Conroy