Branch: Coast Guard
Duty Station: Coast Guard District 7
Number of Deployments: 20
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
My story started like every Coast Guardsmen; in Cape May, New Jersey in 2009. In the first weekend on boot camp, I remember wondering what I got myself into when I heard a boy telling us all to keep going. He was a natural born leader who cared about his fellow shipmates. That man would become my husband 2 years later. For a year we kept in touch. Myself in New York while Coby was in Florida. We finally decided to start dating November 2010 and by December 2010, we were in love. We both got our orders to “A” school a few short months later, where we would yet again be separated from each other, but this time, on other sides of the country. We knew we could handle it, so we decided to get married May 2011 in Cocoa Beach, FL before we left for “A” school. With Coby in North Carolina and myself in California, it was sometimes difficult for us to communicate throughout the day, but we always called each other, even if it was only for 10 minutes. When we both received our orders to Kodiak, Alaska for the spring of 2012, we were ecstatic! We had our daughter on Christmas Day of 2012 and loved our time in Kodiak. We transferred to San Diego in 2015 where I got injured on my boat and had to be discharged from the Coast Guard. This was devastating for me, but Coby was there for me and supported me as I went back to college and got my degree in Surgical Technology. I worked for a plastic surgeon up until we transferred to Clearwater in 2019. In Clearwater, I volunteered to be Air Station Clearwater’s Ombudsman after hearing they have not had one in over 5 years. At the same time, I was working at a local hospital for a breast cancer surgeon when COVID hit. COVID really took a toll on not only myself, but on my surgeon. So when he retired, I decided to leave the medical field and I joined one of the leading nonprofits in the US for helping homeless veterans and their families eat off the streets and back into permanent housing and to establish healthcare at the VA.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In 2019, Air Station Clearwater had a spouse meeting where the newly reported spouses were able to meet the command and the chaplain and get to know the base and what was available. When asked about who was the Ombudsman, the Commanding Officer at the time stated that the base had not had an Ombudsman for over 5 years because no one had volunteered for the role. That baffled me. After the meeting, I introduced myself to the command and asked if I could interview for the Ombudsman position, stating that with my unique experience of being both a Coast Guard veteran and a spouse of a active duty member, I felt I could provide a great role for the families of the unit. I became the Ombudsman for that largest Coast Guard base (over 700 members) which included medical, maintenance and logistics. I attend all meetings and events, I create the first ever email address so I could received no only important emails from the command and other agencies, but from the members and spouses.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
In December of 2022, I became a member of a nonprofit group called the Breakwater Alliance. The Breakwater Alliance exists to aid the mental health of the active duty members of the US Coast Guard. Instead of speaking to a traditional counselor or to the member’s command, the member will be put into contact with a volunteer, like myself, who can truly relate and wants to help guide them to the appropriate resources that already exist to best fit their needs. With volunteers of the same rate, rank, location, this could ultimately change the culture in the military by breaking the stigma of mental health. Being asked to become a volunteer by one of the foundering members of Breakwater Alliance was a huge honor and I have felt that in my short time of doing the work, I have made a difference.
Describe how you support your community:
I have the best job in the world. I get to work with and for veterans everyday. I work for a nonprofit called St. Vincent de Paul CARES and it is the largest nonprofit veteran organizations in the nation. Everyday I get to go out into the community and speak to veterans that need assistance when no one else will help them. Some may need housing assistance to get themselves and their families off the streets. Others may need help setting up healthcare with the VA and don’t know how to. Some have all that covered, but just miss talking to someone that has been where they were and know what they have been through. I get the pleasure of making her veterans and their families prevent themselves from becoming homeless or get them into permanent and stable housing. St. Vincent de Paul CARES, has a say, we’re making homelessness rare. Belief. One time. I’m so proud to apart of that mission.
What do you advocate for? Why?
With my career, I am passionate about preventing our nation’s veteran from becoming homeless. No one who has served our nation should be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. I want to create programs, even with coordination with the VA or other veteran organizations, that could help struggling veteran prevent homelessness before it gets worse and would could be done to prevent it in the first place. Before a service member get’s out, the military needs to show them how to apply for benefits better, how to apply for jobs, write resumes, how to use their GI Bill, and so much more. If there was a program that can give the service member a leg up and make sure that they have the steps to lead them to the write way and potentially help prevent them from becoming homeless.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
The world communicates through social media, and I think it is the fastest way to spread the word to as many people as possible. I use my social media to as an Ombudsman, wife, mom, veteran, and friend to show support for the people in my life and to bring awareness to the things that matter most to me. Whenever possible, I like to go to conferences to meet with other organizations and like minded people who are passionate like myself in topics like ending veteran homelessness or children in the military. I love to learn and spread my knowledge and experiences, and whenever I get the opportunity, I take it.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
With the unique perspective of being in the role I currently have with the homeless veteran population, it has really opened my eyes to the issues and how I would like to be the voice for the voiceless. I want to help prevent the the disease that is homelessness before it attacks anyone one of our service members. Homelessness makes a person a shell of the person they use to be and can take them down a wrong path. If there was a way I can prevent that and bring awareness of this before it gets worse, then this epidemic can stopped and become a thing of the past.
My wife Heather is an amazing person, she is a veteran serving 6 years in the Coast Guard as an Operations Specialist. After leaving the CG she attained a degree in surgical technology, she worked through the the entire pandemic helping conduct life saving surgeries on cancer patients at Bay Care Morton Plant in Clearwater, Fl. She now works for one of the top homeless veteran assistance non-profits in the country. At St Vincent De Paul she works with homeless veterans assisting them with getting access to medical care through the VA. As well as getting short and long term housing and assistance for these veterans, spouses and their children regularly working 50+ hour work weeks. She also acts as the Unit ombudsman to the largest air station in the CG (Air Station Clearwater). On top of all that, while I’m deployed for weeks at a time she takes care of our daughter. Taking her to and from school as well as hockey practices and tournaments.
- by Richard Mason