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

Julie Eshelman

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Leavenworth

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
My story starts like many others; girl meets a boy, they fall in love and start a family. High school health class led me to think it would be so easy. It isn’t, and military life adds to the challenge. My husband, a reservist, served on Active Duty mobilization orders at his unit for 6 years. As an active duty family not in the Active Component (AC) we encountered challenges in accessing support. Far from family, I longed for connection but was turned away from military organizations and spouse groups because “reserve spouses aren’t real military spouses”. When my husband’s unit deployed, I vowed to give them a better experience, starting an SFRG. Within a few months, we had a functioning support network for our 240+ Soldiers and their families, spread out from New York to Hawaii. During this time, I began advocating for the inclusion of all military families not stationed near installations that also encounter difficulty in accessing entitled support. Phrases like “for Active Duty and their families” exclude the families of the RCs currently serving, oftentimes when they need support the most. When we started to build our family, the military seemed to separate us constantly and at the worst times. This delayed us seeking help for infertility. A deployment and 2 PCSs also added delays to our ability to pursue treatment, awaiting referrals, even though fertility treatments aren’t covered, and canceled treatments because of COVID. After doctors in three states, multiple IUIs, miscarriages (during a PCS, a TDY, and drill), a global pandemic, and an emergency hospital stay after IVF egg retrieval, we now have our rainbow baby. But I felt ashamed and was alone during those times. Once I gained the courage to share, I realized we weren’t alone. Now I advocate for openness in sharing infertility and loss, insurance reform, and helping lawmakers understand the complications of military life because I don’t want other military families to struggle with family building.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I served in leadership roles both within the military and local communities. As a reserve spouse not at a base and without a military community to connect with, I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I’ve held several leadership roles in DAR including Chapter Vice-Regent. As the military and veteran chairperson, I was responsible for all military and veteran outreach programs. It was here where I learned that many people don’t understand what military life is like and launched my advocacy. In my third year with RESOLVE National Infertility Association, I'm leading the Military and Veteran Task Force. As a leader in RESOLVE, I advocate for infertility and family building coverage to Congressmembers, educate others about military life’s impact on infertility, and train other advocates to share their stories. These roles have taught me that while many organizations desire to support the military community, they need us to educate and support their efforts.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Volunteering is at the core of who I am and once I stopped accepting exclusion, I worked to build an inclusive community. I have fought to build SFRGs, but units are challenged with other priorities. I am always sharing resources, organizations, and groups to help other spouses find their community. I’ve volunteered for nonprofits directly serving military spouses. In 2019, I became a Chapter Ambassador with Giving Tuesday Military, leading my local area in spreading acts of kindness. This year our event collected donations for the international loan closet to support international students and their families at CGSC. In nonprofit volunteering I’ve supported the military community with mentoring, securing grants, partnerships, and training and resources to equip volunteers to serve the military community. Wherever the Army Reserve sends us I find a way to get involved with the unit SFRG, spouse clubs, and organizations in my area and online.

Describe how you support your community:
I build my community through advocacy for those facing infertility and raising the voices of others feeling left behind. Infertility is a long, lonely journey and I want them to know they aren’t alone. I want to bring those feeling left behind together to support each other, something I desired from being stationed away from military bases and family, and from being told I wasn’t welcome in groups as my husband was a reservist (despite being on active duty). Building SFRGs connects families across the country and helps them support each other and create lasting support networks. I support my community by educating others on the military lifestyle, especially those that don’t live near an installation, and how they can help support military families whether they are Reserves, National Guard, or on Active Duty. All military families should have access to resources and support, especially while their service member is deployed, even when commanders can’t support SFRGs.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for inclusion of the RCs and any military family that doesn’t have local access to support and resources. Service members live in the entire US, not just on bases, and we should be able to meet them where they are. Inclusion of everyone being able to build a family, whether through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, or naturally. Fertility treatments and medications are expensive, and infertility is a diagnosable medical issue. In many states, insurance companies are mandated to cover treatments, and advocating for federal coverage will give access to fertility treatments to all. Across the US, and especially in the military community, support, resources, and compassion for families dealing with pregnancy and infant loss are also lacking. 1 in 8 couples in the US experience infertility, 1 in 4 experience a miscarriage. Whether a military spouse is isolated from family or not, no one should walk that journey alone, and they are always invited to the table.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Once I was open to sharing my infertility and miscarriage story, I desired to ensure that other military families don’t struggle how I did. In 2020 I joined RESOLVE’s Federal Advocacy Day. I met Congressmembers and their staff, sharing my story and encouraging legislation to expand fertility treatments for Tricare beneficiaries. After this event, I continued with RESOLVE to educate others about military life and its impact on family building. I shared video testimonials and my IVF journey, including an interview for the Reserve & National Guard Magazine. I continue to break the stigma of miscarriage and infertility. This year I am leading RESOLVE’s Military and Veteran Task Force to train other advocates for Advocacy Day 2022. Over the years I've spread my story and struggles RC families face through multiple podcasts and webinars. For example, many stationed at bases don’t realize a Soldier’s Chaplain is often in a different state and are unlikely to see them more than once a month.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I would be humbled and honored to continue the work of the Military Spouse of the Year winners before me, and continue the legacy of building community and helping others. I want to bring family building and inclusion to the next level and continue advocating for those who feel voiceless. This would include working on creating positive change for the military community on matters around family building. Further, I would continue to educate organizations and individuals about the reserve component and it’s overseas and stateside service, clear language for inclusivity of members currently serving. I hope to see a time in the future when everyone that wants to build a family can do so without having to risk going into debt to do so. I hope to see a military community that is understanding of all components and statuses and that meets the needs of all its service members and their families because access to resources and support is available anywhere, not just at the installation level.

Nominations

Julie dedicates herself to improving the lives of military families, including the often-excluded reserve. After her spouse’s deployed unit’s families were excluded by both military and civilian organizations, Julie spent years educating the community on the reserves and enacting change. Her dedication expanded to areas of systemic stress for service members of all branches. She meets with Congress members to promote reform for adoption and infertility benefits, and this year is appointed as one nonprofit’s military subcommittee lead. She established another non-profits budgeting process and earned it $30,000 for its first grant. As a third non-profit’s area ambassador, Julie raised awareness and donations to the Ft Leavenworth International Loan Closet. An unfunded service, it relies on donations to provide international students attending year-long course basic household supplies. Julie’s actions positively impact the lives of all military families, including those of our Allies.
- by Andrew Christopher Eshelman

From the moment I met Julie Eshelman several years ago I knew she would leave her mark on me. JulieE and I met virtually when she served on a volunteer team with me. As she grew within the organization we had the opportunity to serve 15-20 hours a week together on a common goal, equipping hundreds of new spouses and mentors across all branches and duty statuses with resources they needed. It was in this time in the trenches I saw JulieE's truly passion. Julie loves being a part of anything positive in our MSOY community and supports everyone and their platforms, but Julie's true passion is family building. Julie and Andrew have met struggles while building their family and learned that resources are truly lacking in this area. Julie has worked tirelessly to advocate and educate our military spouses, policy makers, and helping organizations. Julie has used her story to create change! Julie has used her story to help countless families! You won't find a better representative than Julie!
- by julie cooley