Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune
Number of Deployments: 6
Number of PCS's: 6
Share your military spouse story:
My journey started when I fell in love with a Drill Instructor. I blame it on the good looks and that voice! We survived the depot, despite the crazy schedule that came along with it. This provided a glimpse as to what to expect being married to a Marine. Attending graduations gave me a sense of pride in my country and this man I was falling in love with. His passion and love for the Corps are unmatched. After DI duty, the next stop was 1st LAR. While there, he completed two back-to-back combat tours. One to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Two vastly different deployments. During the second deployment, I decided to volunteer in the FRP, and I fell in love with it! A strong, supportive military family surrounded me. Unfortunately, during that deployment, we lost 3 Marines. Nothing prepares you to watch your fellow spouses mourn the loss of their Marine. This experience lives with me daily and fuels me to build a community of love and support. Serving as a Family Readiness Assistant and Advisor in various units has allowed me to learn and grow within the Family Readiness Program. To provide a space for families to feel supported while helping spouses navigate this journey. I may not know all the answers, but I am lucky to have a solid team to turn to when I need guidance. Whether helping organize an event, having coffee with a spouse, or cooking for Marines and Sailors, the vision has always been to leave a place better than how I found it and put a smile on someone's face while doing it. As spouses, we tend to lose sight of ourselves. Living in the shadows of our spouse. Moving from place to place, trying to find a job while maintaining a somewhat normal life for our families. I joke that my volunteer work is my second full-time job. This life is not easy, but what makes it beautiful are the connections you make along the way. Connections that will last a lifetime. I've done my job if I can influence someone to find a role in the military community.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
My involvement in the military community began with the KV program, now known as the family readiness program. I started as a volunteer and have worked my way up as we moved from unit to unit. Gaining tools and knowledge from every position. I have served as a Family Readiness Assistant and Family Readiness Advisor. Every unit has had its challenges, but the one constant has been the need for a solid support system for the service members and their families. The Family Readiness Program fills that need. I currently serve on our command team, overseeing a team of 20+ volunteers. Our family readiness team started with one volunteer. It took work and dedication to build, but now our FRT serves close to 1500 Marines, Sailors, and their families within our unit. From providing a meal to our Single Marines and Sailors to organizing an etiquette and ball gown swap for our spouses, we stay busy! Consistency and authenticity are key to building the right team and safe space.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
In addition to my involvement in the Family Readiness Program mentioned above, I am currently serving as the Vice President of the Camp Lejeune Leadership Seminar (CLLS). CLLS provides leadership training to spouses of active duty and retired military over three days twice a year. The CLLS seminar aims to enrich our community and individual lives through the support provided, the connections made, and the skills learned with each seminar. We strive to empower, enrich and enlighten the lives of those we encounter. As a non-profit, this organization has successfully filled the leadership gap within the spouse community. Privately, I mentor a group of military spouses. We meet to discuss challenges they may be facing and brainstorm new ideas to help build a stronger community. Our goal is to foster personal growth and empower spouses to find leadership roles within their networks. Build a team you can count on and empower those with the tools and resources to thrive!
Describe how you support your community:
I volunteer with the United Way of Onslow CHEW program in my local community. The CHEW program assists in feeding children in our community by providing bags filled with child-friendly, easy-to-prepare meals they may eat over the weekend. I have been delivering their meals weekly for four years now. We organized a food drive within our unit to help fill the CHEW program's pantry. We collected close to 2,000 pounds of food. I volunteer with Christmas cheer which provides gifts and food during the holiday season and serves meals at our local homeless shelter. We sponsor a family yearly and provide them gifts and food during the holidays. I volunteered with the local USO, which provides services to our service members and their families picking up food donations, organizing and delivering birthday cakes to single Marines and Sailors in the barracks, and leading a kid's fitness class. You will be hard-pressed to find me saying no to an opportunity to help someone in need.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I am an advocate for spouse leadership, empowerment, and mentorship. My husband celebrates 24 years of service this year. Along this journey, I have noticed a need for a solid leadership foundation for spouses to build upon. The Marine Corps does a great job building the leader within the service member. However, the spouse is often left out of that equation. Learning the lifestyle and getting involved is not the standard. Mentorship is key! Helping a spouse navigate this life, learn the resources available, and provide them with a mentor would make a tremendous impact. We all know if your spouse is happy, you are happy. As the service member grows in their career, their spouse grows alongside them. The spouse is a part of this military journey, and their involvement within their servicemembers unit makes a tremendous impact. The unit benefits from a spouse looking to impact and help spouses navigate this journey positively.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Personally, social media has not been a priority for me throughout the years. Connecting with spouses on a personal level has been my calling. Whether I am offering a hug, introducing myself to everyone I come in contact with, or writing a thank you card, this is how I make my connections. Personal connection is my strong suit. I am constantly recruiting for the FRT and offering support along the way. Public speaking comes easily to me. Most often, I speak from the heart, which leads me to get emotional from time to time. Especially when speaking about something I hold near and dear to me. Volunteering has been a constant in my life, since early childhood. I am passionate about volunteering. I work full-time and volunteer full-time. I pride myself on being able to serve my community, not only within the military but in the local community as well. I am just a girl from the hood, looking to do something good in this world and leave it better than how I found it.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
What I wish to accomplish as a Military Spouse of the Year is to have a platform to help build a leadership foundation for our spouses. Speaking for those who wish to find their voice in this military life that isn't easily navigated. With the right mentor, an individual can move mountains. They can go back to their communities and spread the knowledge they have learned. And know that they have someone to reach out to for additional support. Growth is vital to leadership. When you can empower someone to find themselves and their place, you have a sense of pride in your abilities and in calling yourself a military spouse. We are not dependent but INDEPENDENT. I want to share my journey, foster growth within my community, and instill a sense of pride in those looking for a place to belong. We all have a place in this world. Some of us need a little bit of help finding that place. Let's help those looking for their place find and grow into it.
Berlinda is the embodiment of servant leadership. She is a pillar in the military spouse community (although she may not think so!), lifting up other military spouses at each and every duty station. She serves her community through volunteerism with the United Way of Onslow County CHEW Program - delivering meals to schools for hungry children, as well as with the Camp Lejeune Leadership Seminar - she currently serves as the 2023 Spring Vice President. Berlinda is a true mentor. She leads and uplifts her fellow military spouse, her community, and never asks for anything in return. I have known Berlinda since 2011. She is a personal mentor and friend - her guidance has helped shaped me, both in my personal and professional life. If anyone is deserving of the 2023 MSOY title she is!
- by Sara Rizzo