Duty Station: Fort Polk
Number of Deployments: 3
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
When I first married my soldier I was excited to see what kind of impact the military lifestyle would have on me. As a social worker, I’ve always had a heart for helping and standing up for others. Advocating for the military community has been an eye-opening experience that has made a stronger person in many ways. In 2019 I was invited by a friend and fellow army spouse to the Washington state capital where she provided compelling testimony regarding support for military families. Once she was finished, the committee asked if there were other military spouses in attendance who wanted to speak. I declined because I was not prepared and I had my infant son with me. Afterward, one of the State Representatives encouraged me to consider becoming an advocate for military families at the capital. He stated nothing is more compelling than a woman holding her child while testifying on behalf of others. Over the next few months, I met with him and other state and community leaders to network and gain awareness for military families who faced barriers in our state. I then testified several times in front of multiple committees to advocate for military families. The last time I testified I was holding my then 4 year old daughter in my lap. All hearings are recorded and available online, so later I showed her and we cheered to “being on TV.” In early 2020, thanks to my testimony and the testimonies of other military spouses a bill was passed for the state to create a Military Liaison position to help military families with the barriers we face daily regarding employment, quality childcare, access to resources and more. I am proud to share this story with my daughter and others so they may see how important our voices can be. My family is now stationed in Louisiana and I’ve been networking with spouses here to mentor and prepare them to testify in front of the LA state senate in Baton Rouge later this year regarding the needs of military families stationed here.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I have volunteered on military spouse club boards for about 5 years, to include being the president of the spouses’ club at JBLM, WA for 2 years, Community Outreach at JBLM, and Parliamentarian for 2 years at Fort Polk, LA. In September 2019, I met with several WA State Representatives on the Veterans and Military Spouse Senate Committee to establish relationships with state officials to educate them on issues important to the needs of service members and their families. In February and March 2020, I provided testimony multiple times before principal members of state legislative committees regarding military spouse employment and a lack of quality child care available to military families. I have also been invited to several round table discussions with senior military spouses and leaders where I have advocated for the needs and well-being of military families.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
As mentioned, I have volunteered on military spouse club boards. I’m also currently serving on the Fort Polk Thrift Shop board. I began volunteering with the Military Spouse Advocacy Network in February 2019 as a New Spouse Mentor and transitioned to Grant Writing Coordinator in May 2021. In May 2019, I was recognized as a Volunteer of the Month at JBLM. In May 2021, I received 2 awards regarding my involvement with the military community. First, I received the honor of Kentucky Colonel, the highest title of honor bestowed by the Governor of Kentucky. It is in recognition of my noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to our community, state, and nation. I also received the Louisiana Volunteer Service Award for my service at Fort Polk. In August 2021, I received Volunteer of the Quarter at Fort Polk, LA. In October 2021, I received the Bronze Presidential Service Award for giving 194 hours of volunteer service to the Military Spouse Advocacy Network in a calendar year.
Describe how you support your community:
I support my community through volunteering with local and national nonprofit organizations. While serving as the Parliamentarian for the Fort Polk Spouses’ Club last year, I was part of a team who advocated to become a more inclusive organization. We rewrote our constitution and bylaws to become a spouse AND community club, opening our doors to build better relationships between military spouses and the community we get to call home. While serving as a New Spouse Mentor with the Military Spouse Advocacy Network from 2019-2021, I provided peer-to-peer support and mentorship to new military spouses. I connected assigned military spouses to resources and opportunities to help deepen their understanding of military lifestyle. I also provided military spouses with the knowledge, tools and support they need to advocate for themselves, their service member and their families.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate strongly for mental health. I lost a friend and fellow military spouse to suicide in October 2020. This loss devastated our community because most of us were unaware of her mental health struggles, we saw a happy mom, wife, friend, sister, etc. I want to dim the stigma many people attach to mental health. My goal is to normalize mental health services so much that seeking therapy will feel just as ordinary as making an eye or dental appointment. I aim to aid in creating safe environments where individuals can be open with what they are experiencing or feeling.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
After the loss of my friend I started a social media page where I post a weekly video featuring a mental health topic, known as “Mental Health Mondays, Check-ins with Jamie Lynn.” I make multiple posts each week to encourage engagement regarding that week’s topic. The purpose of this page is to get conversations going to make talking about mental health less taboo. My page is not meant to diagnose or serve in any professional mental health capacity, however I have a Master’s degree in Human Services Counseling with a focus on Crisis Response and Trauma.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I hope to normalize mental health care across the military community and beyond. Military spouses and children face more than their share of stressors.Frequent moves decrease stability for children in school and for spouses who lose their support network each PCS. Oftentimes spouses also lose gainful employment, especially when being stationed in more rural areas or overseas. When a service member deploys, the not knowing if they're safe creates anxiety for the families left at home. Financial concerns lead to strain and tension on marriages. Many military families feel isolated from their extended family, often leading to depression. According to the DOD Annual Suicide Report, 202 military family members tragically died by suicide in 2019. The military community, while resilient, is not immune to mental health issues. Prevention services are increasing every year, however if we don’t normalize the use of these services suicide and other mental health statistics will continue to climb.
Jamie Blum was the President of the spouse club at JBLM, WA. While there, I saw her lead a team of spouses to create a wonderful culture of inclusivity for all spouses. She is now in Louisiana and just as involved there. I think she is very deserving of this award and is a great example to all of our military community.
- by Sonia Garza