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

Marla Lopez Barlow

Branch: Navy

Duty Station: Naval Base Point Loma

Number of Deployments: 6

Number of PCS's: 5

Share your military spouse story:
Hello, I"m Marla, Navy spouse and mom of 4 amazing children, also a bonus child born of my heart who I'm proud to say is also a Sailor. In February of 2001 my husband of nearly 2 years had decided that he wanted to enlist in the Navy, that is where it all began. In September of 2001 just before the events of September 11th, we arrived to our first duty station in Norfolk, Virginia for what would become the ride of our lives. As the events of 9/11 unfolded we were thrust into something very different than we had anticipated when we had started this journey. It was in those first months, and really that first duty station, that I learned what it meant to be not just a military spouse, but a spouse during a time of war. The first experiences I had, trying to navigate a new world amid chaos, introduced me to the Navy Family Ombudsman Program. This also taught me that I needed to be part of the community of spouses if I wanted to thrive as a spouse in my own right. As a young spouse I jumped into learning and doing as much as I could. I fell in love with being part of the spouse support system. I started by actively engaging in the Commands Family Readiness Group, FRG. There I found not just support, but a family that would be my "battle buddies" in the midst of two back to back deployments. I also met an amazing spouse who taught me that while my first experience with an ombudsman wasn't stellar, what an ombudsman was looked very different when done with the right heart and with the best intentions. I firmly believe that because of her, I am a better ombudsman when the opportunity has arisen in my life. Its been since that first duty station that I have found myself driven to serve the Navy families of the commands my husband reports to. To offer a kind word when things seem chaotic is sometimes the exact thing to make a difference.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Over the last 20 years I have taken advantage of opportunities to serve as a Navy Family Ombudsman at several commands. During that time I have supported families in navigating not just Navy life, but the emotional rollercoaster that is deployment. Through my role as Ombudsman I have stood as the face of Navy Families with command leadership, congressional officials, as well as "Big Navy" officials. Most recently I have been honored to take on the role of Certified Ombudsman Trainer for the San Diego area, allowing me to be part of training ombudsmen as well as offering support to ombudsman through their own needs. As an ombudsman in the age of COVID, I was able to support families through the height of the COVID pandemic, supporting command planning for safety protocols for sailors with families who fell under the high risk category and could not count on support should both parents be ill.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
As an Ombudsman I have taken on many opportunities to support the community through engagement not just with the resources available to our families but to engage with families as a whole. Being available to be a sounding board or to help support self advocacy and assist in navigating the complexities of Navy life has been a great honor.

Describe how you support your community:
I firmly believe that if the Navy wants sailors to be "mission ready" the families need to be as well. I firmly believe that if spouses/families/children aren't equipped with the tools, they cannot thrive in this life. Resources and support is available, but education is key. As an ombudsman I have always taken the classes I recommend to my spouses, put my children through programs geared towards kids, because if I can't support it, how can I promote it. Allowing families to fly blind is why we end up with families in turmoil and it is our job to help keep our community afloat. Spouses should have a strong community, where they can build a family away from home, through programs like the Navy Familyline COMPASS Mentor program (which I also mentored through) we can help spouses navigate the information overload and thrive. Mission readiness only exists with Family Readiness.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for families, its such a broad term but its true. Families need to be seen in all aspects and have access to support their sailor in the process. As a spouse we are often hitting roadblocks because we aren't the service member. The spouse voice needs to be heard, spouse representation needs to sit at tables where housing issues are discussed, when changes that primarily affect the families, a spouse needs to be there. In my area, when given the opportunity, I encourage those voices, even if it's just mine.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
In the last 20 years I have shared by voice by being a volunteer to support families both in my local community as well as within my own faith organization. I have worked closely with groups to provide mentorship to spouses as they navigate the Military community as well as through other aspects of the military community. I have participated in school parent organizations that support the needs of the military student. One of the greatest opportunities to share the needs of the military family was to share with not just Congressional leaders but Mrs. Richardson, the spouse of the former CNO to ensure the Navy's family framework was addressing all that we see in that word family. I have also had the honor and privilege to speak with the former MCPON Rick West in regards to military spouse/family issues.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I hope to give a voice to families, to work towards ensuring that programs that continue to give strength to families and allow them to thrive, not just survive, the rollercoaster of Navy life. I hope to work with various leaders to bring the current needs of the military family to the forefront. I want to remind those in leadership that, family retention is service member retention. We can't have mission ready strong service members if the homefront is struggling.

Nominations

She is an amazing military spouse. She is kind, strong and humble. Her voice is heard and she was an incredible ombudsman when she was in that position for many years helping multiple of military families. She is fierce! And a protector of her military family. After her sailor was hospitalized with covid she lead her house like a CO of a command and kept her shipmates (kids) safe. She has gone through many trials and many adventures but if the navy calls she is ready to serve. The tempest might come but her foundations are strong and she will support her chief and family along the way.
- by Jessica Eugenia funes crouch