Duty Station: Fort Polk
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
Although Fort Polk will likely never find itself on the cover of a ‘Home & Garden’ magazine, to me, it’s where my home and my garden grows best. It’s where I was awarded the opportunity to meet, date and later marry my husband, Shiloh. Although we got married in 2019, I still consider myself a newlywed, and that hasn’t held me back. Shiloh and I started dating and got married while he was in Company Command. Everything about my life changed. I went from being an independent woman, zeroed in on driving my own career, to being completely engulfed by the military community and lifestyle. Why were letters like “OpTempo”, “PCS”, and “SFRG” being throw at me like they are complete sentences? What even was an SFRG and why was I expected to lead it? I was worried that I would lose myself, but instead I found SO much purpose in serving my community. Those first moments were a whirlwind. Everyday felt like a scramble. Every day since has been a whirlwind and I still scramble. But I could not be more proud of to watch as Shiloh has taken his career to the next level. Four years later, I know what all of those letters mean, why they are important, and even better, I help other spouses navigate what was once new to me.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
It didn’t take long before I knew I not only wanted to embrace the military community, but I needed it. During my first year of marriage, I decided to do what most people do - join the spouses' club! Anyone that knows me wasn’t surprised when I didn’t just sign up as a member, I signed up to be the treasurer. The next year I decided to run as President and I saw how we were limiting ourselves and those we serve. My first initiative was to turn the club into a Spouses' AND Community Club - an all-inclusive club. In the military community, we move all the time and constantly miss the feeling of "home". I wanted our club to be a space that helped create a feeling of home. Whether they are a military spouse, a single soldier, a dual military couple, or even a contractor - I wanted them to know they have a seat at our table. I am proud to say that we have been able to do just that. By taking the lead and transitioning the club to a community club, we have been able to do just that.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I truly believe and stand by the quote "What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good". My motivation for being involved is never to gain anything in return, but I have found SO much purpose and fulfilment in it. The first few months after arriving to Fort Polk, I felt isolated and lost. I leaned into that quote. I currently serve as the Fort Polk Spouses’ and Community Club President, the Treasurer of the Fort Polk Thrift Shop, and a Giving Tuesday Military Ambassador. Since 2019, I have also served our Company SFRG, as the Treasurer of the Fort Polk Spouses' and Community Club, and as a peewee soccer/baseball coach for Fort Polk CYS. I most recently turned my passion for serving the military into a career. I work for a non-profit organization that is focused on coordinating efforts to support the armed forces, the missions of military installations in the state, and the quality of life for members of the armed forces and families stationed in Louisiana.
Describe how you support your community:
Our family portraits may just look like Shiloh, me, and our two darling golden retrievers, but our family is so much bigger than that. I consider everyone assigned to the Ft Polk community to be a part of my family. Brene Brown said “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”. I love helping others feel connected. That might be inviting a spouse to an event, providing resources that otherwise can be hard to find, or using my network to create a better outcome - I want them to know that someone is there; that when they PCS here, they are PCSing to a family. The Army is rife with horror stories about Ft Polk. The one that will never be true is that Ft Polk lacks community and support. I strive to improve my local community through my volunteering, and I hope to leave Ft Polk a better place when I go.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for opportunity. Fort Polk is physically isolated from other major cities. The largest element here is, literally, a detached brigade. It’s easy to feel alone and like there are no opportunities to grow yourself. I advocate for better opportunities, communication, resources, programs, and careers for military spouses at Fort Polk. As the premier training center, Fort Polk is always on the hunt for talented soldiers. With talented soldiers comes talented spouses. We are also not co-located with a strong economy, which means that spouses have to rely even more on their soldiers and the Army. I have fought hard for everything that I’ve accomplished here, but I’ve done it to help smooth the path for spouses who come after me, just like a spouse did before me. Spouses selflessly follow their soldier to each duty station, often leaving behind careers or other things that they worked hard to achieve. We deserve to have systems in place that make our transition easier.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I talk a lot, and to everyone. I actually talk about the Spouses Club and Fort Polk community programs enough that the Installation Garrison Command gave me the opportunity, and captive audience, to talk to all Soldiers and families checking into our installation. You can also find me on Facebook responding to questions on community pages positively, writing a column in a local monthly newsletter publication, speaking at different briefings on the installation, being interviewed on podcasts, guest speaking on different forums and being present anytime I am invited to be a part of something that has the potential to positively impact our installation. Within my new career I work closely with elected officials and utilize those connections to help better Fort Polk for those who come and become the next generation of Fort Polk families.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
The MSOY program’s network, resources, and tools are specifically designed to promote community and opportunity. If I had the honor of bearing the title as AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I would leverage that to change the reputation of Fort Polk. If others across the Army, or other services that may be a part of joint operations here, heard that the people are happy people because they have a one-of-a-kind community and amazing personal growth opportunities, then they might have less negativity about getting orders to Fort Polk. Further, I truly believe that the isolation that many feel when they first arrive at this installation, if they hear from the Military Spouse of the Year, that Fort Polk is the best place to be, then those words will have credibility.
Mrs. Emily McGruder is your next MSOY, hands down. As the spouse of an active duty Army officer, she has led the Ft Polk Spouse Spouses and Community Club as president. In 2022 she was the catalyst who brought a much needed Operation Deploy Your Dress boutique to Ft Polk. She repeatedly logs over 1,000 hours of community service per year. She was recognized as a CENLA 4WARD (4 under 40) award by the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professionals Group of Central Louisiana. Her passion and dedication to advocacy for military families spans all branches. Emily is the director of membership development for Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance. “We represent the installations in the state of Louisiana, all of them, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Reserves. And we defend whatever they need. So, if they need money for quality of life or projects on their installation, we are the liaison between the installation and our state representatives.” She is a dog lover and boy mama.
- by Rebecca Barlow
Emily is a driving force at Fort Polk. She may have just married into the whirlwind of #armylife in 2019, but her impact has been widely felt. She has held various volunteer positions and logged 1,000+ VOLUNTEER hours in 2022. Her roles in the last 3 years include FPSCC President (twice), FPSCC Treasurer, Thrift Store Treasurer, SFRG Treasurer and Co-Lead, #GivingTuesdayMilitary Ambassador, and CYS Peewee soccer & weeball coach. Emily also holds down 2 full time professional jobs- with Lockheed Martin and the Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance. Emily was most recently awarded a grant to address food insecurity in our community. She has also received numerous awards regarding her commitment to the Fort Polk Community. Emily is a leader, role model, and great friend. Her goals encompass more than her personal endeavors as she has made it her mission to lift up and support the military community in many ways.
- by Jamie Lynn Blum
Emily is an incredible spouse and asset to the Fort Polk community. She is involved in so many different organizations and is always willing to go above and beyond to help improve her community so that other spouses can reap those benefits. She leads by example and never gives up. She volunteered OVER 1000 hours in 2022. She also recently turned her passion for helping military families into a career, while also continuing her volunteer roles. Fort Polk is lucky to have her for as long as they have, but I know she will continue to do great things wherever she goes.
- by Sarah Nolan