It's time to nominate! Click here to nominate a deserving military spouse today!

Emily McGruder

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Polk

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
Although Fort Polk will likely never find itself on the cover of a ‘Home & Garden’ magazine, to me, it’s where my home and my garden grows best. It’s where I was awarded the opportunity to meet, date and later marry my husband, Shiloh. Although we got married in 2019, I still consider myself a newlywed, and that hasn’t held me back. Shiloh and I started dating and got married while he was in Company Command. Everything about my life changed. I went from being an independent woman, zeroed in on driving my own career, to being completely engulfed by the military community and lifestyle. Why were letters like “OpTempo”, “PCS”, and “SFRG” being throw at me like they are complete sentences? What even was an SFRG and why was I expected to lead it? I was worried that I would lose myself, but instead I found SO much purpose in serving my community. Those first moments were a whirlwind. Everyday felt like a scramble. Every day since has been a whirlwind and I still scramble. But I could not be more proud of to watch as Shiloh has taken his career to the next level. Two years later, I know what all of those letters mean, why they are important, and even better, I help other spouses navigate what was once new to me.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
It didn’t take long before I knew I not only wanted to embrace the military community, but I needed it. During my first year of marriage, I decided to do what most people do - join the spouses' club! Anyone that knows me wasn’t surprised when I didn’t just sign up as a member, I signed up to be the treasurer. The next year I decided to run as President and I saw how we were limiting ourselves and those we serve. My first initiative was to turn the club into a Spouses' AND Community Club - an all-inclusive club. In the military community, we move all the time and constantly miss the feeling of "home". I wanted our club to be a space that helped create a feeling of home. Whether they are a military spouse, a single soldier, a dual military couple, or even a contractor - I wanted them to know they have a seat at our table. I am proud to say that we have been able to do just that. By taking the lead and transitioning the club to a community club, we have been able to do just that.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I truly believe and stand by the quote "What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good". My motivation for being involved is never to gain anything in return, but I have found SO much purpose and fulfilment in it. The first few months after arriving to Fort Polk, I felt isolated and lost. I leaned into that quote. I currently serve as the Fort Polk Spouses’ and Community Club President, the Treasurer of the Fort Polk Thrift Shop, the 2021-2022 Giving Tuesday Military Ambassador, work as a contractor on our installation, and I get to brief on community involvement and resources at the Installations New Soldiers brief. Since 2019, I have also served our Company SFRG, as the Treasurer of the Fort Polk Spouses' and Community Club, and as a peewee soccer/baseball coach for Fort Polk CYS.

Describe how you support your community:
Our family portraits may just look like Shiloh, me, and our two darling golden retrievers, but our family is so much bigger than that. I consider everyone assigned to the Ft Polk community to be a part of my family. Brene Brown said “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”. I love helping others feel connected. That might be inviting a spouse to an event, providing resources that otherwise can be hard to find, or using my network to create a better outcome - I want them to know that someone is there; that when they PCS here, they are PCSing to a family. The Army is rife with horror stories about Ft Polk. The one that will never be true is that Ft Polk lacks community and support. I strive to improve my local community through my volunteering, and I hope to leave Ft Polk a better place when I go.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Community. Fort Polk is physically isolated from other major cities. We are not co-located with a strong economy. As an installation, we are detached from the rest of the Army. The largest element here is, literally, a detached brigade. It’s easy to feel alone. Everything that I do, all of the happiness and love that I have found here, is because a spouse before me laid the foundation for a good community. I want people to know that they are wanted. When they leave here, I want it to be one of the hardest goodbyes—because of the people they have here. Moving to Fort Polk brought a lot of tears for me, and I know that I am not alone in that. It took me a while to figure out what there was to love about Fort Polk, and some days, it feels like not a lot. But then I check my calendar and I see a book club on Sunday, Bunco on Saturday, and a lunch on Thursday. I am reminded that it’s the people that makes a life worth living, and if we have to live here, then we’ll have the best people.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I talk a lot, and to everyone. I actually talk about the Spouses Club and Fort Polk community programs enough that the Installation Garrison Command gave me the captive audience, and opportunity to talk to all Soldiers and families checking into our installation. You can also find me on Facebook responding to questions on community pages, writing a column in a local monthly newsletter publication, speaking at different briefings on the installation, being interviewed on podcasts, guest speaking on different forums and being present anytime I am invited to be a part of something that has the potential to positively impact our installation.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
The MSOY program’s network, resources, and tools are specifically designed to promote community. If I had the honor of bearing the title as AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I would leverage that to help change the reputation of Fort Polk. If others across the Army, or other services that may be a part of joint operations here, heard that the people are happy people because they have a one-of-a-kind community, then they might have less anxiety about getting orders to Fort Polk. Further, I truly believe that the isolation that many feel when they first arrive to this installation, if they hear from the Military Spouse of the Year, that Fort Polk is the best place to be, then those words will have credibility.


Emily is truly a pillar for her local military community. She somehow finds the time to work full time jobs, go to school, be a wife/step mom/dog mom and still serve her community endlessly. She advocates for military spouse needs and if she doesn't know the answer or the solution to a problem, she utilizes her amazing networking skills to get to the right person. She uses her leadership skills to serve her community in countless ways, and has truly bloomed while serving as the President of the Fort Polk Spouses' and Community Club. She goes out of her way to make other military spouses' feel welcome, seen and valued - which is something we all yearn for. Emily is a true asset to not only the Fort Polk community, but the military community as a whole.
- by Megan Wood-Smith