Branch: Air Force
Duty Station: Minot Air Force Base
Number of Deployments: 3
Number of PCS's: 6
Share your military spouse story:
Wow! I cannot believe how fast time flies. My military spouse story started when I was only two-decades old, and now I have been immersed in the military way of life for nearly as long; 18 years! My husband, Marshall, and I met when we were in middle school, went to the same high school, then started dating during college. Marshall decided to join the Air Force in 2004. This threw me for a loop as I had been born in raised in San Antonio, Texas. I did not know what to think and the only thing that came to mind was a fear of him being deployed and in harm's way. Not growing up in the military or having any family involved in the military, I was very unfamiliar with the process. Little did I know that him joining the military and us getting married a year later would be the greatest adventure of our lives. We were so young and on top of the world. However, I was clueless on how to navigate this military world. I quickly met so many military spouses that took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. Being surrounded by people who cared, really showed me what it meant to build a network to create a new connectedness. Although, technically, I became a "dependent", I would attribute that marrying into the military has made me more "independent" as I had no choice, being a young military spouse, to grow up. I have learned to speak up for myself, and how to advocate for others. I have been blessed with five beautiful children. We have had the privilege of living in Hawai'i and Germany of which would never have happened otherwise. We have traveled around the world and have shared with our kids, different ways of living and meeting lots of new people. These days, I am considered a "seasoned" spouse as we just passed our 18-year wedding anniversary, but I still have the same adventurous spirit as I did when we started this journey.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I have always loved helping people! I have had remarkable spouse mentors and friends show me that the military can have many ups-and-downs. I knew I wanted to help make people's lives easier and take some weight off their shoulders, if even for a moment. I have been appointed as a Key Spouse by three different squadron commanders in the past 10 years. I was able to learn a ton of resources the military has to offer and have been able to share these benefits with our military members and their families. My goal is to be available and provide key information to our fellow service members and their families when needed; to help make a meal (e.g., for new moms, members in hospital, etc.), babysit when parents need a break, or even to simply 'hang out' with spouses when the service member is away for work. I love connecting with spouses and significant others. A majority of spouses get uprooted from their home and family, and it is my honor to be someone they can count on.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I currently serve as the Key Spouse for the 741st Missile Squadron. One of the challenges we have faced over the past few years as a community, is the amount of involvement we were "allowed" to do during this worldwide pandemic. The response to COVID was self-isolation and quarantine. During the pandemic, and in an effort to combat this, we were able to host online socializing events. Although this did not take off like expected, it was due to the fact that spouses wanted to socialize in person. One thing we decided to do was add an orientation for all newly arrived spouses and significant others. This helped with the onboarding process and allowed members to build relationships right from the start. In addition, I have hosted events each quarter that allow military families to connect and build strong unit comradery. These events include barbeques, holiday parties, summer picnics, random breakfast tag up, pumpkin patch, hallway decorating, and much more.
Describe how you support your community:
I have organized a few different events this year to support the community. After becoming familiar with the Airmen's Attic, I noticed their food pantry, a place to grab necessities for sustenance, had been empty quite some time. This was alarming as the holidays were approaching. I was able to organize a food drive, collecting 50lbs of food. In addition, I was able to team up with "Project Bee's Dakota Diaper Pantry", an organization dedicated to anti-poverty for rural communities. We collected 1.1K diapers to help families in need. Furthermore, I led a team of volunteers at the Dakota Hope Clinic's Festival of Trees, whose mission is to raise money for free medical health care, adoption, and safe pregnancies. Lastly, I was elected the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President for the past two years on Minot Air Force Base, where we raised $8K to host social and educational events that have enhanced the lives of 65 staff members, 252 students, and their military families.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I am really passionate about helping families in need. This can come in many shapes and sizes. This could come in the form of a spouse that needs to be picked up at the train station at midnight, a new mom that is struggling with their kid's staying up all night, or even someone who has a last-minute standby call to work with nobody to watch their puppies. I have found that being available and having the resources that members can lean on have been a huge help in getting people the assistance they need.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
The main platform that I use to get the message out is through Facebook. I have created two versions of our squadron's page in order to ensure all members and spouses that have ever been involved in the squadron can still stay connected. The other page is for current members and spouses to ensure an effective way to communicate upcoming events. In addition, I maintained a GroupMe account to allow for free-flowing messages between spouses and significant others in real time. On both of these platforms, I make sure that posts are made to inform the spouses of upcoming events and issues that are happening around the community.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I am grateful for this nomination and although I may not be qualified for this position, my hope is that I am able to spread awareness to showcase that no matter what stage of your military spouse time you are in, it is never too late to get involved. It is important, and even more so after all the self-isolation of COVID, that we gain a new level of connectedness within our community. Even though most of us are away from where we grew up, the military way of life can feel like home. To the young spouses, dive in and get involved. The more you learn now, the more wisdom you will gain over time. To the seasoned spouses, dive in and get invovled. Your experiences are invaluable and worth sharing. Lastly, I would like to challenge all military spouses and significant others to leave each unit better than when you arrived.
As her husband and friend, it is my honor to nominate Jennifer Black.
She has been on this military spouse journey for the past 19 years! Jenn has an act for kindness and a passion to help others, especially military spouses, and significant others. She currently devotes her time as the sole Key Spouse for the 741st Missile Squadron, serves as the two-time elected President of Parent Teacher Organization, and she is a mother of 5 beautiful children ranging from 3-to-15 years of age. Jenn is a servant leader always finding ways to go above and beyond. She has created a judge-free environment of inclusion and consistently looking for ways to get involved. Her personality is inviting, infectious, what this military needs, and I am grateful to her every single day.
- by Marshall Black