Branch: Space Force
Duty Station: Marine Corps Base Quantico
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 2
Share your military spouse story:
My milspouse story started when I came home for a holiday break during my 3rd year of college, and my boyfriend-since-high-school told me he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. His news startled me. The military was nowhere near my radar. I didn’t have any family or close friends who had served in the post-9/11 military, so I had no idea what this life would look like. And I was scared! I didn’t want my love to be put in danger. But he was passionate about this path, and I supported it. One year later, we got married. And one year after that, he went to bootcamp. At the beginning, I kept the military part of my life far away from the other personal and professional parts of my life. Sometimes quite literally – my husband and I “geo-bached” for 3 years during his early service. It took a long time for me to fully embrace my “military spouse” identity. But that changed when I got involved in my local community in Omaha, Nebraska. I worked for a nonpartisan nonprofit that was encouraging people to register to vote. Throughout hundreds of conversations with my new civilian neighbors about why civic engagement is so important, I started to realize that people really cared about my family’s service. They wanted to learn more about how to support us. That experience gave me the confidence to speak more about my milspouse story and encourage other milspouses to do the same. In 2020, I started a nonprofit to empower milspouses to be voters and advocates for their families. Joining the AFI MSOY community that year gave a huge boost to my work, and I’m so grateful. In 2021, my family took the next momentous step in our military journey: my husband transferred to the U.S. Space Force. We’re both so excited about this opportunity to help shape a brand-new military branch’s culture from the ground-up. I have already begun connecting with other Space Force families, and I can’t wait to keep building that network when we start our first Space Force assignment in June.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I regularly use my leadership skills to mobilize our milspouse community toward collective action. Every year I organize a Day of Service event. In 2021 we delivered 7 trucks of snacks to National Guard troops in DC and sent their spouses cards of support. In 2022 we collected $1000, 300 winter coats, and dozens of welcome cards for local Afghan refugees. We partnered with another milspouse nonprofit for this, demonstrating the power of teamwork. These projects build community, and I believe in servant-leadership. I have also been called on as a leader to represent milspouse issues to the government. In 2020 I founded a coalition with other nonprofits to educate the public on military voting issues. We testified to a number of U.S. Senators about how pending legislation would negatively impact military voters. Shortly after our meetings, the legislation was amended to protect military voters. Good leaders seek out coalitions because we’re more effective together than alone.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
For the first 4 years of my milspouse journey, my involvement with the community was primarily on a base or individual level. I frequently participated in our installation’s roundtable events, offering milspouse input on topics when asked. I volunteered at squadron sports events and the legal clinic. I babysat kids and pets for neighboring military families who had to run errands or travel. Over the last 2 years, my involvement in the military community has expanded. I’m still deeply integrated in my local milspouse community, supporting my peers when they lead events or raising funds for their kids’ projects. But now I’ve also built a global community of milspouses who regularly connect on virtual platforms to encourage and learn from one another. I regularly look for opportunities to connect milspouses with similar interests, which has helped each of them advance their personal passion projects – and sometimes find jobs! I look forward to staying involved no matter where we go next.
Describe how you support your community:
I support my community by sharing my skills and experiences whenever possible. Last year I led a Civic Engagement Bootcamp where we trained nearly 100 milspouses (from every branch, stationed all over the world) to be effective advocates for their families. We recruited 9 trainers and 15 guest speakers to ensure that attendees heard from a wide range of voices. Because diversity, equity, and inclusion are principal values in everything that we do, I was proud that 70% of our panelists and 66% of our trainers came from historically underrepresented groups in the military. I have also been thrilled to share my training materials with the AFI MSOY community. In 2020 I presented a virtual AFI MSOY webinar about “Politics Do’s and Don’ts” for milspouses, as well as some tangible advocacy tips. In 2021 I spoke on a panel at AFI MSOY week where I encouraged milspouses to get involved in advocacy by sharing my story. I can’t wait to continue giving back to this awesome cohort of leaders.
What do you advocate for? Why?
My platform is advocacy. Ever since I launched my nonprofit centered on empowering milspouses to be advocates, we've received huge demand for our training materials. Why? Because so many milspouses have seen how advocacy can improve outcomes for our families and communities. For a long time, milspouses were discouraged from speaking up about issues that affected them. As a result, many of us struggled with the military lifestyle. But thanks to leadership programs like AFI MSOY, so many milspouses are finding their voice and connecting with others who can support their journey. I want to help those leaders take the next step and hone their advocacy skills to become as impactful as possible. There’s a myth that advocacy is divisive. But that’s not true! In fact, the core of effective advocacy is telling our personal stories in a way that helps build bridges of understanding. I want to empower my peers to advance milspouse causes because when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have regularly been asked by journalists to speak about how current events are impacting military families. When COVID started, I went on CNN to explain how travel stops were affecting military families. When the pandemic worsened, I published an article in USAToday inspiring civilians who missed holiday plans to learn from the resilience of military families. Both times I shared real examples of affected milspouses who trusted me with their stories. I’ve also presented on Fox News and CBS TV broadcasts, and I’ve been quoted in articles by the New York Times and Newsweek. But social media is important to my platform as well as traditional media. I have helped my nonprofit grow our digital footprint to tens of thousands of followers across various platforms. My personal favorite is TikTok, where I make snappy videos that explain complicated policy topics through easy-to-understand tidbits. This is an especially important tool for connecting with the next generation of milspouses.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
As a 2020 base winner, I know firsthand the incredible opportunities that come from AFI’s MSOY program. I’ve met countless inspiring milspouse leaders who encourage me on a personal level and promote my platform. When my friend Liz nominated me again this year, I hesitated. I’m already lucky to be part of this community - why compete again? A few things inspired me. First: this is the first year that my new Space Force branch gets to be included! I want to help cultivate this growing community of USSF milspouses as we navigate new territory together. Second: I’ve learned so much more about my platform since I joined AFI MSOY in 2020, and this title would help me achieve new goals. For example, I’d like to see the branches train their Voting Assistance Officers to expand their outreach beyond just service members to help milspouses register to vote as well. That’d be a huge win! If I’m lucky enough to earn the AFI MSOY title, I look forward to sharing that idea directly to leadership.
It is my honor to take a moment to nominate my fellow military spouse and friend, Sarah Streyder. She is the Founder & Executive Director of Secure Families Initiative. Secure Families Initiative exists to train military spouses and family members on being effective spokespeople on civic and foreign policy issues affecting military families and encourages them to share their stories fearlessly. If I ever have a question about voting or advocacy she is my go to. She does a great job keeping the military community informed. Sarah has also educated and encouraged military spouses to become advocates for the things they are passionate about. Thank you Sarah for inspiring, empowering, engaging, and advocating for ALL military families and communities not just at Quantico, but world-wide. I am so proud of you!
- by Elizabeth Castro