Duty Station: Schofield Barracks
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 6
Share your military spouse story:
I have learned a lot about myself with each duty station. My husband and I are high school sweethearts, and he joined the military after we had our first two children. Our first duty station as a family was South Korea. This was my first experience with the military and an FRG, I learned so much from the spouses I met there. Eventually we moved to Fort Bragg, NC for 18 months and then to Fort Drum, NY for 4 years. Fort Drum was a difficult move for our family, as my husband deployed shortly after we arrived, but eventually we realized it was a hidden gem. While at Drum I became self employed as a photographer and connected with many military families during that time. I took a break from photography our last year at Drum, and we had our third child. After Fort Drum we moved to Germany. During our time in Germany, I was offered a position at the school on base, and I met some amazing families while working there. Our family was also able to travel and experience so much in Europe before our lives forever changed. When our time in Germany ended, we moved to Fort Sill, OK. Six months later I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Our family like many military families are used to the uncertainty and stressors that comes with the military but being diagnosed with MS was the most terrifying moment of my life. The person I was before I entered the hospital was gone, and I had to find the new me. While in the hospital I decided I was not going to be angry with my diagnosis, I was not going to ask why me, instead I wanted to share my journey with others. Not for pity or recognition but to show others that you can find good in a bad situation. Don't ignore reality, life is not always amazing, but there is good in every day. I have an amazing support system in the military and with my family but not everyone does, if I can be that person for anyone I will. We recently moved to Hawaii, and we are excited to see what this next chapter of life brings.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
When we moved to a small installation in Germany my first point of contact was the school registrar on base. Once we arrived in country, I told my husband if the person moved before us, I would love to apply for that job. Moving overseas can be scary for many, and I wanted to be that first point of contact to welcome them and ease some of their fears. At the beginning of the pandemic the position opened. Germany was completely shut down, daycares were closed, schools were virtual, and I was not sure if we would be able to make it work. With my husband's encouragement I applied, got the job, and worked there for two years until it was time for us to leave Germany. I was continuously sought out by others to assist in many matters outside of my normal job description. During those two years I met and built relationships with an innumerable number of families making sure each one of them felt welcomed. Even on the rough days I gave them my best because that's what they needed.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I love connecting with others and hosting events. I have been involved in FRGs, hosted coffees, and both myself and my husband enjoy volunteering with the youth sports program. This past year, with my new diagnosis, it has been difficult trying to find where I fit in and how to continue supporting the military community. I am normally a go getter that loves meeting new people, but I look different now and stepping out of my comfort zone can be daunting. After moving to Hawaii, I found a new way I could support the military community. Hawaii has many different groups for spouses to join, but locally we do not have any type of support group for military spouses with autoimmune diseases or chronic illnesses. I decided to start hosting a monthly meet-up, a safe space to talk with others that understand. At times our disease/illness can consume our life and we may try to hide it from the world. I want to help others build their village, find joy within the chaos, and not feel alone.
Describe how you support your community:
In my early years as a military spouse I was very involved with the FRG and hosting events. When we moved to Germany my involvement shifted. I volunteered a lot, we hosted cookouts at our house, and I always made my famous mac n cheese anytime there was a potluck. Once I started working at the school in Germany, I supported a lot of the families with school aged children by helping them have a smooth transition from one school to another, whether they were moving to Germany or leaving. Moving to another country can be intimidating for adults and children, my goal was to make their move a little less scary. My support has shifted yet again, I am providing support locally and virtually. Due to different circumstances, it may be difficult for spouses to connect with others in their local community. While I am trying to build a local autoimmune spouse group, I also connect with military spouses all over the world through social media.
What do you advocate for? Why?
With moves, deployments, appointments, and everything else going on, life can get chaotic for military families. Sometimes we go through things in life not to struggle but to help others, which is why I advocate for an improved quality of life regarding our military families. As a military spouse we may feel like we can do it all, even though we can't. It is okay to say no, and to focus on yourself. When I started getting sick there was so much going on in my husband's career and with our children, I felt like I did not have time to focus on me... But sometimes you have to take care of yourself before you can help others. We talk about quality of life and mental health with service members but as spouses we may put ourselves last without even realizing it.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Social media is an incredible tool when it comes to sharing my message with others. It allows me to connect with people no matter where we are in life or the world. While we may not experience the same things in life, my hope is that by sharing my message I can spread awareness and positivity. You never know who is listening or watching, and maybe by sharing my journey with others it can help them with theirs. TikTok and Instagram are my favorite platforms, but I also use Facebook and Reddit. Another way I share my message is in person at support groups and spouse functions. I enjoy connecting with others one on one, online, as well as a group setting.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
When a spouse reached out and wanted to nominate me for AFI Military Spouse of the Year® I felt honored, and then a little nervous. This past year has been a tough one, at times it can be scary sharing my story but in doing so it has helped me find purpose within the pain. Everyone has a story and I have enjoyed sharing mine with others, as well as listening to theirs. If I am nominated as MSOY my hope is to discuss ways we can continue improving the quality of life for military families, connect with other spouses, spread positivity, and share my story on a much larger platform.
When I first met Kayla, I was struck by her positive attitude. Her family had recently moved to our small base in rural Germany. Over the years, I've watched her be a rockstar mom, advocating for her kids, all while forging her own professional path alongside her service member. Kayla truly seemed to be living her best life. When that life took an unexpected turn with an MS diagnosis, it didn't surprise me that Kayla decided to bring her journey out of the shadows. She's been sharing her story on social media and creating space for conversation around being a parent and partner while having a life-altering illness. Kayla wanted others to see themselves in her journey - the hard parts, funny parts, and thriving parts. Being vulnerable with your medical status isn't an easy choice, but I am proud of the work Kayla is doing to be a voice for those not ready to use their own. I would love to see her work elevated through her MSOY nomination.
- by Jennifer Pasquale