Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
Number of Deployments: 5
Number of PCS's: 4
Share your military spouse story:
If I had to describe being a military spouse in one word it would be TRANSITION. I have had many as a military spouse, and not just physical transitions of moving. Life transitions of becoming a young spouse to now being a more seasoned spouse preparing for military retirement. Transitions of being the childless spouse, to being a mother of three boys. Transition of moving from the state I grew up in to moving to another country across the world. Transitions of friendships, saying goodbye to some you may never see again, and some you know distance means nothing and you will still chat almost daily. Transitions of the plans you thought you were at the location you would retire to, only to move across the country and pivot your plans and goals. All of these transitions have a much deeper story and are part of MY story as a military spouse. With each new transition, I have found it to be more and more necessary to have community. Military spouses are always described as resilient. And that we are. Resiliency for me has come in the way of community that I build tailored to the transition I am in. I met my husband, Nick, on a blind date in 2009. We were engaged in 2011, after a hallmark worthy homecoming engagement story of him proposing coming off the bus after our first deployment together. In true military fashion, we decided to make it official by eloping to the courthouse on 11/11/11 before hosting our big celebration the following year. We knew a family was what we both wanted. After struggling with infertility and treatments for a couple years, we welcomed our oldest son, Jack, while Nick was deployed. Later, Maxton was born, and finally our youngest, Archie. Three boys within 7 years felt like chaos already, and then some difficult diagnoses of our children prompted more of the transitions we never would have expected.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
My leadership experience started as a young military spouse serving as a Key Volunteer, later earning the Molly Pitcher Award. Growing with the program and each deployment I became a Family Readiness Advisor during an 18-month long deployment cycle. There is a dire need for community for military spouses not offered at all military installations. A program that fills this need and one I am most proud of leading is Mothers of Preschoolers, a global organization that focuses on bringing an inclusive community to mothers. At our last duty station, I assumed the duties as co-coordinator and successfully led the program during challenging COVID mandates. We maintained a community of nearly 100 spouses, from all branches of the military. I have now taken my past leadership experiences to fill the need for community by launching a new MOPS group. Working with base leaders, we identified the need for creating a program for mothers on Camp Pendleton, my new duty station.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Community involvement is my daily life as a military spouse. I am involved in several circles of the military community and find that oftentimes those circles do overlap. Many of my circles begin from a personal need, and then grow into serving through leadership. I involve myself in many attributes of my lifestyle. Athletically, I currently coach youth sports, and participate in military spouse kickball which provides a community, camaraderie, and charity locally on base at our current and past duty stations. Fellowship and ministry are two of my other strong ties to the community. I serve on the board for Christian Women's Fellowship, and as coordinator launching Mothers of Preschoolers on base. I also participate in homeschool co-ops with other military families and have served on board leadership for other homeschool groups at past installations. I have served on the planning team for a program that brings resources and community to military spouses each month with local churches.
Describe how you support your community:
I am known to be a serial volunteer with a balloon hand. Where I see a need for community, I will often jump to support that need and work out details later just so the need does not go forgotten. This is exactly what I am doing with the Mothers of Preschoolers program here on Camp Pendleton and extending the program to all mothers, even past preschool aged children. My passion for community comes from wanting to involve everyone. Being a mother to special needs children, I have witnessed the loneliness due to lack of community with inclusiveness. I am often labeled as an extrovert, and will find and "adopt" introverted friends and find a place for both of us. I believe we can always find meaningful relationships with others. Communities should not be exclusive, and should connect people through a common interest.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I am passionate about bringing awareness to the importance of community, the Exceptional Family Member Program, and safer housing for all military. Building a community is a way for military spouses to maintain mental health awareness. We are so much stronger and healthier in community. The impact of community and our mental health is crucial and is what drives me to advocate for an inclusive community for everyone. Being part of the Exceptional Family Member Program for several years, I have seen many changes that have benefited families, and many that have caused more challenges. Most importantly, I have found that many families do not understand the program or have misinformation. I find myself helping families understand what the program is intended for and what it can do for their family. Finally, I feel the need to advocate for safe housing, as my family has been affected by safety and health hazards in base housing. Sharing my story has encouraged others to advocate as well.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Advocating for community building for spouses comes in many different ways. I use social media and local community events to connect with military spouses. Whether through starting and/or leading programs, joining a social club, athletics for myself and for my children, I often find these groups overlap as several in each community have similar interest and I love creating connections through these relationships. I help families with the Exceptional Family Member Program by answering questions on social media and have spoke at informational meetings about EFMP. I find myself in conversation with many families looking for answers or not knowing where to start. Pursuing factual information has led me to sit in congressional hearings, help committee staff conduct research, appear on Washington DC news, and has driven me to find solutions versus only identifying problems. Most importantly, I want my advocacy to drive solutions for our families. This is true for all of my advocacy.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
For years I have watched the growth of the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® program. I have cheered and supported the other amazing military spouses of this program and the work each of them have accomplished. I am so humbled to call many of them friends. Many of these spouses are the examples I have seen go forth and make our community better. Should I take the title of AFI Military Spouse of the Year®, I intend to use my experience and leadership to educate spouses on identifying gaps in our community at all of our installations. Having the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® audience will better allow me to guide spouses on working with base leaders to develop programs that fill those critical gaps. As a lifelong learner and teacher I want to continue finding new and better ways to advocate and communicate to the military spouse community. I am inspired by the diversity of this program and what that means for support of inclusiveness communities across all branches of the military.
I currently serve as MCIWEST - Camp Pendleton Command Chaplain. Heidi is my single, most energetic self-starter who refuses to pass up a need. To begin Heidi currently serves on the leadership of the Command Religious Program's (CRP) Christian Women's Fellowship group. Here she helps speak into curriculum choices, assists with arranging child care, ensures women feel welcome and works to solve problems as they come up. When the Chapel held our first Vacation Bible School post Covid it was Heidi who saw the registration and administrative challenges and simply stepped in, organized all procedures, and ensured processes and accountability were cared for and then guided our after-action process. Even knowing her time remaining may be short, she is spearheading the development of a Mother's of Pre-School (MOPs) program to help our youngest mothers find connection, purpose and support. It is Heidi's character to find and meet needs. She is indispensable and deserving of recognition.
- by Wayne MacRae
Heidi Starr is a dedicated military spouse, brave advocate, and leading volunteer for the military community. Her willingness to stand in the gap for the needs of this community has been steadfast for a number of years, and she continues to serve next to her spouse in wherever they are stationed, with whatever need arises. She would be an amazing addition to the MSOY family and one we should welcome with open arms from the USMC community.
- by Heather Campbell