Duty Station: Fort Knox
Number of Deployments: 5
Number of PCS's: 7
Share your military spouse story:
'What's life without a challenge?" My husband jokingly said those words to me as I faced my first hurdle as a military spouse. We have faced many challenges in the last 17 years - 4 combat deployments, a 9-month, unaccompanied rotation to Korea, 7 moves, and raising 4 children well. In every challenge, we saw the opportunity, and that has made all the difference. Each opportunity created space for growth, love, and commitment. Each opportunity has become an adventure. That sense of adventure has carried me through military life. Before we had children, I worked in almost every area within my field, speech-language pathology. Each move required a new job in my new city, and I took the challenge of a new setting head-on. Sometimes we'd be there less than a year, yet I managed to walk away fulfilled, having made many friendships, and having made a difference. After our second child was born, I embarked on the new adventure of being a work-from-home mom and began my own business. The thrill of problem-solving with other adults was fulfilling in a whole new way. I built a team that thrived on community, making sure everyone had a seat at the table and everyone’s voice was heard. A move in 2017 demanded a different kind of flexibility and another adventure began - homeschooling. More than just a means to an end, it has been my most treasured adventure to date. I get to see light bulbs go off and witness their growth and excitement in learning. Our schedule allows me the ability to volunteer within our community, and my kids get to see me lead by example. Always being up for an adventure usually means I’m the first to say YES when a volunteer opportunity arises - our church, my husband’s unit, spouses club, children’s activities, or a need within the community. It’s gratifying to know that I helped in some way, able to leave a place a little better than how I received it. I'm ready for our next adventure. It will be another chance to show up and opt in.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Being a military spouse for 17 years has allowed me to lead in a variety of ways. Within the company, battalion, and brigade footprints I have served as a “key caller”, Soldier and Family Readiness Group (SFRG) leader, and advisor. I was in charge of helping families by marshaling resources and creating events to help cultivate relationships. Within the CWOC (Catholic Women of the Chapel) and our on-post churches, I have served on the parish council, led Bible studies, and helped stand up a CWOC chapter. These opportunities reminded me that leaders need to stay grounded in what fuels them - for me that is my faith. Leading within spouses clubs on various posts in various capacities has kept me challenged and always learning more. I am currently the president of the Fort Knox Spouses and Community Club (FKSCC). We have raised $23K to date for community grants and scholarships and are working to build community relationships both on and off the installation.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
The Army is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. In my experience, there are actual benefits to being involved in multiple organizations. They give me more opportunities to receive help when we need it and give help when we can. In 2020, during the shutdown, I watched a fellow military spouse’s baking business struggle. I knew there were moms celebrating mother’s day with their husbands deployed. So, I ordered cupcakes and delivered them to the moms in need. A simple porch drop-off can turn around a whole day. Plugging in affords me the opportunity to know when someone could benefit from a meal or who needed an hour of babysitting to get to the commissary. It also aids in helping someone new plug-in when they arrive. Meeting new neighbors and knowing what is out there means I can guide them to where they are seeking community. In short, plugging in allows us to do life more fully with those at our same duty station while we overlap - whether that’s a few months or a few years!
Describe how you support your community:
In each of my roles, it has been my mission to build teams. Individually we all have skills, and collectively we can move mountains. While serving as my husband’s company SFRG leader, I was having a hard time getting community involvement. I observed the members and approached an E-4’s wife to lead beside me. She had the qualities to lead well. After having her come on board, it opened the door for more conversations. We ended up building a community that supported one another through a deployment to Afghanistan. I’ve taken that approach with each new community I strive to build. As president of the FKSCC I have the unique opportunity to lead active duty and retiree spouses. Making them both feel valued is important to leading a cohesive group. Building a CWOC chapter at a post where one had not been functioning for years was the biggest challenge. We had to build trust within the church and then build a team that could lead and continue the momentum after we left.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I hold firm to the truth that we all have a voice and it should be heard. As adults, we tend to listen to those who speak the loudest - the ones with a platform, a podcast, a by-line, or a following. During my time in college learning to be a deaf education teacher and my time in graduate school studying to be a speech-language pathologist, I learned to use my voice, promote good ideas whether mine or someone else's, and encourage others to follow that example. As a professional, it was a privilege to watch a child speak (or sign) for the first time and find their voice. Although I’ve left the workforce to homeschool our children, I’ve never lost that drive. I find myself seeking out those small voices - the children with stories, the young spouses with vision and enthusiasm, and those who don’t feel they have a seat at the table but have the experience that can teach us all. I’ve worked hard to find those who don’t know how to find their voice and encourage them to speak up.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
This year’s motto for the FKSCC has been “opt-in”. That looks different for each person who must decide when, where, and to what extent they can opt-in. However, it is my mission to invite each person to the table and plug them in where they best fit and have the chance to thrive. Communication has become a necessity to build teams and community partnerships. Social media is a great tool to achieve that. We have used the social media presence that was built last year to reach the community and create true partnerships. Here's an example. While unveiling a mural that one of our grants helped fund, I became the conduit to the media company present. I conveyed the club’s message of being the voice for the project and our desire to opt-in to building community partnerships. We have partnered with on-post organizations to bolster their programs, off-post businesses to help support them, and other nonprofits to see how we can champion their causes while staying true to our own.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
Title or not, I will continue my mission to bring people to the table and encourage them to speak up. Of course, the title of Military Spouse of the Year would make my megaphone a little bigger and extend my reach a little further. I could dream past what our individual post can accomplish and set my sights on a military-wide initiative. Our family will be moving from Ft Knox to Ft Bliss soon. A bigger post means more voices to be found. I have an idea that I would like to bring to Ft Bliss based on an experience I had at Ft Stewart. I envision a one-day seminar for military spouses. Spouses would elect to attend sessions that interest them or to learn something new - budgeting, time management, finding joy in everyday life, etc. The keynote speaker would focus on effective communication - giving spouses tools to use. I want those same spouses to discover that they have ideas, vision, and a voice. They can use that seminar to find where they can opt-in and speak up.
Hilary is the current President for the Fort Knox Spouses and Community Club and has served in several other rolls within clubs throughout her husband's military career. Hilary also serves with the post chapel, and in multiple rolls depending on her kid's activities. The most influential thing Hilary does however is just be a friend to everyone. She loves people, and gives way more than she will ever receive, and that's just the way she likes it.
- by Steven Schmitt