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

Heba Abdelaal

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Ramstein Air Base

Number of Deployments: 0

Number of PCS's: 1

Share your military spouse story:
Have you ever watched the West Wing? While the show’s perspective is that of the White House and Executive Branch, for nearly nine years I served as a policy aide to two U.S. Senators. (Think Season 3, Episode 14 – “Hartsfield’s Landing”.) I was 22 and unemployed when I moved to Washington, D.C. Six months later, I accepted my first job as an administrative staff assistant on Capitol Hill working for my home state (Arkansas) Senator John Boozman--and received my acceptance to graduate school. As a congressional staffer, your primary responsibility is to provide a Member of Congress timely and accurate information to make informed decisions on legislation that will impact the lives of constituents. Much like the military community, congressional staff hail from every state and district across the country. We share an intrinsic sense of duty and respect for public service. Although military service was not my path, I was honored to serve on behalf of the States of Arkansas and Colorado to secure their defense and military family priorities in annual National Defense Authorization Act measures. My husband and I first met as undergraduate students at the University of Arkansas. When we reconnected three years later, he was completing his two master’s degrees in music at the University of Missouri. We dated long distance so I could keep pursuing my dream job of serving military members, veterans, and their families. My husband’s family has a long legacy of service in the U.S. Air Force as professional musicians. I will never forget the night my then-boyfriend and I attended a 2016 Veteran’s Day concert featuring the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force. That night, he affirmed his own personal desire to serve in the U.S. military. The rest as they say – is history.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I am remarkably fortunate to have military spouse mentors who have taken me under their wing. I strive to practice leadership in the military community by carrying their example forward and amplifying the work of my fellow military spouse advocates. As leaders supporting the work and success of military spouse advocates we become the catalyst for advancing meaningful and enduring change that benefits our entire military community. Last year, I spent Military Spouse Appreciation Day serving as the Team Lead for the National Military Spouse Network’s 2021 Day of Advocacy —training military spouses in effective virtual engagement of their elected representatives as they advocated for military spouse employment initiatives. In recognition of my leadership experience, I was also invited to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Military Spouse Advocacy Network (MSAN) Military Spouse Leadership Development Program.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I currently serve as the Legislative Committee Chairman for the Military Spouse Career Coalition located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During my tenure, we have been able to advocate and pass legislation that brought Colorado’s state statute into compliance with DoD’s recommendations for supporting military spouse professional licensure and reciprocity. Further, in my role as Policy Advisor to the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN) I co-authored this year’s White Paper, “The Military Spouse Employment Dilemma,” featured in Air Force Magazine and the Military Times. Additionally, I served as a Key Spouse with the U.S. Air Force Academy Band. I am most proud of the collaborative way our team approached and managed the diverse needs of our squadron through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Describe how you support your community:
Community is a shared activity, and you never know who you are going to meet along your military spouse journey. My husband had been walking our golden retriever (Franklin) in the neighborhood when he met another golden retriever (Brady) and his mom, Georgia. About a week later, she invited me for a Halloween get together. I planned on just dropping by for a few minutes but when I showed up, I was the only person there—so I stayed (and am so thankful I did). We discovered that our families had a lot in common, and that we’d been married just a week apart. We quickly became fast friends – dogs included! Georgia’s thoughtful nature inspires me to actively support my community by showing up and making sure others feel welcome, included, and celebrated. So last August, when I had the special opportunity to witness the mission critical work on the front lines of Operation Allies Refuge/Operation Allies Welcome, I volunteered to support the efforts of my newfound community abroad.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Becoming a military spouse as my career had built its foundation, I empathized personally with the desire of military spouses to pursue their own professional goals. The challenges I personally experienced seeking employment OCONUS drove my self-advocacy on military spouse employment. As a military spouse with a congressional staff background, I have a deep sense of personal and professional responsibility to advocate for changes in law, policies, regulations, and programs that negatively impact our military families’ quality of life. Researching, tracking, and advocating for legislative proposals that support broad hiring authorities, streamlined licensure and reciprocity at the state level across skilled professions for military was my job. Information on programs, resources, and opportunities that military spouses are eligible for should be transparent, include clear guidance, and be readily available (by installation) to military families so they can make informed decisions.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Taking the initiative I have lent my skills, expertise and experience to any individual, organization, or effort that prioritizes solutions to military family quality-of-life issues over personal benefit. As a congressional staffer I worked directly with military spouse constituents and heard firsthand of the difficulties our military families face on a daily basis in employment, housing, childcare, education, and healthcare. Difficulties that persist despite the current support organizations, programs, resources, and opportunities that exist today. In addition to policy and advocacy work with NMSN, I have provided expertise on military family policy and self-advocacy as an Air Force Key Spouse panelist, spoken as a subject matter expert on various support organization roundtable discussions, and advised Air Force and Space Force senior leader spouses.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
Military spouses do not need to be policy experts to engage in meaningful advocacy. Military families are experiencing challenges advocating for the change they feel is necessary to supporting their family and serving member. Quality-of-life issues are like an interlocking wheel–you need every gear to function or the whole thing will stall. Military families rarely reach out to their elected officials unless it’s a last resort. However, these engagements can offer critical insight to Members of Congress from those who are directly impacted and understand how important issues affect our military community. I am humbled to have been nominated for consideration to represent my installation, the Air Force, or our nation’s military spouses. Should I advance in the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® Program, I will continue to empower military spouses to advocate as well as partner with, elevate, and create opportunities for my fellow military spouses to grow and advance their platforms.

Nominations

I am nominating Heba Abdelaal for the military spouse of the year award because she truly embodies and embraces our US military values and lifestyle. Heba went from working on Capital Hill in DC to Peterson AFB in Colorado and is currently stationed in Germany with her husband. Heba Abdelaal, a former congressional staffer for the US Senate and Air Force Spouse Heba is currently stationed in Germany with her husband and their golden retriever. She focuses much of the her time on advocacy work for military spouses and is a huge support to all military spouses everywhere. I truly think Heba would be a fantastic US military spouses to receive the award of military spouse of the year. Thank you!!!
- by Georgia Cassidy

Heba thrives on creating real change to help others. As an advocate at the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), she has engaged with military spouses around the globe to learn about their needs and concerns. She has hosted NMSN events to inspire and empower spouses to contact Congressional offices to promote military family health and welfare. Ultimately, Heba’s efforts have led spouses of sitting members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force to successfully include spousal employment as a quality of life issue for military members into the Congressional record. Finally, when presented with a chance to directly engage her community, Heba successfully led military spouses in accepting, organizing and distributing donations for over 30,000 Afghan refugees. Moreover, volunteering her cultural, religious, and language expertise (as a Muslim woman) proved invaluable to U.S. forces as they helped those refugees transition to new lives in America.
- by Joseph Rulli