Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Camp S.D. Butler
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 12
Share your military spouse story:
I married my Marine when I was 20, but had been with him through boot camp since I was 17. Nearly my entire adult life has been as a military spouse and I can't imagine a better life. I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal on my own for the first platoon my husband was in 1997 when we were stationed at Marine Corps Air Station - Cherry Point, NC. The Marines were gracious eating my lumpy gravy and introduced my husband and me to the foods they ate where they grew up for holidays . I soon realized that the Marine Corps was going to be a new family for us for through both good times and bad. Twenty-seven years later, it is an annual family tradition to eat and serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to Marines in the chow hall with our three children. That tradition was especially meaningful in 2021, when COVID travel restrictions prevented our two college -aged daughters from coming to us for Christmas in Okinawa, Japan, our current duty station. They were together in the States. We missed them desperately; but, we were able to be a surrogate family for Marines who were also without their families. I give this holiday example as a small way to explain what military life means to me: having and being a family wherever we go, whatever we're doing. I became a mother, sent kids to preschool and college, moved again and again, started and stopped careers, mourned family deaths and celebrated milestones from afar, sent my husband off to war and welcomed him back, listened to colors and taps in 6 different states and 2 different countries to start and end the day and to bury the lost and soaked up local culture from every duty station. I have said goodbye to hundreds of friends, sometimes the same ones more than once. But I have never done it alone: I had my military family every step of the way. My story isn't really compelling. It is the story of every other amazing military spouse I have met along the way. I only hope I helped them as much as they helped me.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I am one of the founding members of the Marine Corps Installation Pacific Caregivers' Network Advisory Group, a group dedicated to informing the service members and their families in our community of all of the resources available to assist them. Over the three tours we have done on Okinawa, my husband and I have seen many of the unique challenges that come up for family members. For example, the military on island doesn't have a child protective service like the States. Working with the installation, we were able to put together a group of over 36 care providing entities (Red Cross, behavioral health, military family life counselors, NCIS, FOCUS, chaplains, family advocacy, USO, deployment readiness coordinators, school liaisons, etc.) to identify issues, find solutions and regularly engage the community directly to provide support. Caregivers are also able to partner together to maximize their efforts. I am grateful to be a small part of connecting the caregivers with our families.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I have been on the command team for every unit my husband has commanded (plt-co-bn-rgt for over 27 years). I have been a member of the PTO at each of the 9 schools my children have attended and a current member of the School Advisory Council. I am a founding member of the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Caregivers Network Advisory Group. I have been a board member of the Marine Thrift Shop for 3 years and am currently vice president. I have served as a facilitator for the Okinawa Leadership Seminar and the Cornerstone Command Spouses Course. I greet island newcomers at the Newcomer's Orientation Welcome Aboard every Wednesday. I have helped raise three well-adjusted, productive children who have consistently volunteered and supported my husband and the service members and families he works with. I have been by my husband's side (at least in spirit) for every day of his Marine Corps career. I like to think I have taken care of my Marine - who in turn has been able to serve well.
Describe how you support your community:
I have been a board member and active volunteer for the Marine Thrift Shop on Okinawa, Japan, for over 3 years. The staff and most of the volunteers are military spouses and children, as well as service members. In 2022 alone, we were able to contribute over $92,000 to American and Okinawan charities by selling donated items from our community. We have given funds to DODEA schools, Okinawan care homes and orphanages, the USO, the Red Cross, the holiday food voucher program for junior service members, rehabilitation programs, a project to furnish lactation rooms for nursing active duty service members, scholarships and many others. I am involved in many community efforts; however, this is the one I am most proud of and the one that most positively touches every part of my community somehow. Our amazing staff of 7 works very hard to be able to give back. We employ dependents, reduce waste, provide volunteer opportunities, provide low cost, quality items, and fund worthwhile projects.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for our military children who didn't chose the military life like we as adults did. They are often called resilient but don't really have an option not to be. They are strong; but, that doesn't mean they don't break and need our support. I advocate for military spouses who are what I was 27 years ago - new to military life, lonely, scared and unsure of their benefits, rights and roles. Family members need to know what resources are available to them, how to access and use them and how to advocate for themselves if there are issues. I advocate for all voices to be heard - even if they aren't in the majority. Service members, spouses and family members who are part of the LGBTQA community need to be able to be seen, heard and have representations of what their families look like included in our military life. I advocate for the local communities affected by the military. Building strong partnerships with the civilian communities around bases, especially those overseas, is key.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I am an introvert by nature who wants to advocate for military members and their families more than I want to not be uncomfortable in the public eye. I believe in making human, in-person connections in this digital world. I also want to get important information directly from the subject matter experts instead of social media or other sources. So whenever possible, I meet with the people and organizations that impact military families, learn as much as I can and then pass that on to the community through the various groups I am a part of (PTSO, command teams, boards) or community members directly. I try to work behind the scenes to build relationships between those who support and those needing support. By being involved in as many different parts of my community as possible, I can hear about issues, find those resources who have the solutions and then connect the two. I try to listen more than I speak and to connect invested people and groups who will spread the message on their own.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I hope to use the title to keep advocating for the members of my community. Okinawa, Japan is a tiny little island in the Pacific home to an extraordinary local community and a passionate American military community full of people who want to help each other. We have some unique issues here; but, we also have many issues that any military family can relate to: PCS, deployment, etc. One of the most helpful and incredible aspects of military life is having people all over the world. I don't consider myself a leader - I think I am more of a connector. Truthfully, I would rather be backstage than center stage. But if all the world's a stage, and being on that stage can allow me to make connections to those around the world who can help each other, than I am ready and willing to step up. Because we are stronger together. And because there is nothing more that this introvert would like to do than pay forward the support and blessed life the military and other military spouses have given me.
I’m proud to nominate Jennifer Hammond for Military Spouse of the Year. Jennifer has dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort in her endeavor to support service members and their families on Okinawa. Having PCS’d three times to Okinawa with her active duty spouse, Jennifer has built her knowledge of the island community and uses it to benefit those around her. She is acutely aware of the challenges members of the military community can sometimes face with this duty station. Through the countless volunteer hours she has dedicated, particularly in her work at the Marine Thrift Shop, Jennifer finds ways to ease those challenges. Her compassionate nature to improve others’ lives is tangible. Jennifer continually seeks to bridge gaps and build relationships to assist with connecting people and resources. Due to her recognition of the networking needs of the community, Jennifer has assisted in the creation of the MCIPAC Caregivers Network Advisory Group and is a charter member.
- by Sonya Leong