Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Camp Schwab
Number of Deployments: 7
Number of PCS's: 5
Share your military spouse story:
Truthfully, I don’t know any other life, other than military life. I currently live in Okinawa, Japan, along with my Marine Corps spouse and our two beautiful daughters. I grew up in the military, at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, California, where my dad served as a Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. Some of my earliest ventures aboard the camp included learning how to drive, getting my first job as a Camp Pendleton Commissary Store Bagger, and moving on to become the Assistant Deli and Bakery Manager by the age of 19, when I met my Marine Corps spouse of now 16 years. Having been alongside my mom as my dad deployed numerous times in in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, I had a vision of what my life could be like as a military spouse; in my mind it would consist of year-long deployments, waiting months for letters to arrive in the mail or a broken phone call to come through, attending Key Volunteer Network meetings to keep fellow spouses informed, anxiously watching the news, planning homecomings, and of course, holding down the fort. While some of that is still very much true to life as a military spouse today, I didn’t expect just how great it could be and what I could do to make it such. As I began to learn the military lifestyle was what I made of it, I finally ventured off base and continued on my journey in management which later led me to leading businesses, organizations, volunteer groups, and a number of teams. Throughout our five PCS moves I grew to love volunteering in the military community, so much that I went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in public administration. Through college I learned about non-profit leadership, business management, developing policies, effective communication, program implementation, fundraising, and budgeting, which heightened my interest in serving as a leader in the community.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
In combining my knowledge, work experience, and volunteerism, I’ve spent the last 21 years of my life in service to our military community. However, when I truly began to see and feel I was making impact as a spouse was back in 2009, when I attended the Leadership Education Seminar of Camp Pendleton. The Leadership Education Seminar is a leadership seminar for military spouses to gain leadership education, located aboard Camp Pendleton. At the time, I was nominated by the key volunteer in my spouse’s unit for my volunteerism with the unit. As a new mom, this opportunity opened my eyes to opportunities within my community I didn’t even know existed, this was where I began to create the life, I never imagined was possible. From there I went on to hold leadership roles such as board president, director of programs, volunteer and marketing manager, parliamentarian, center manager, executive director, chief executive officer, writer, and more, which was all a dream come true.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Within the various roles I’ve served, I’ve had the pleasure of working with other organizations such as YMCA of San Diego County, Armed Services YMCA Camp Pendleton, USO San Diego, Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School, Leadership Education Seminar Camp Pendleton, and Frontwave Credit Union Toastmasters Club. As the Center Manager for USO Camp Schwab, I manage a USO center aboard Camp Schwab, home to 4th Marine Regiment, where my spouse is stationed. Having the ability to directly support the service members and families within our home base has been extremely fulfilling. Additionally, in 2022 I assumed the role as President for Okinawa Leadership Seminar, where I still currently support a team of military spouses in facilitating leadership-based seminars. I also continue to serve as the founder and volunteer-executive director for Network for Exceptional Military Families, an organization I founded three years ago, to support military families with exceptional family members.
Describe how you support your community:
I support our military community by supporting my teams in accomplishing our mission and goals. I’m a firm believer in not one person can accomplish a goal without the help of others. This belief became evident by my USO Camp Schwab team’s recent accomplishments of opening a brand new center aboard Camp Schwab that was years in the making, by providing over 88,000 service instances in 2022, expanding our volunteer force, and creating new opportunities for our service members and families. Another way I support the community is by collaborating with other organizations aboard the island to host impactful programs, one of which was the 2022 USO Okinawa Trek & Ryukyu Relay. The trek & relay, was made possible through my collaboration with USO Okinawa and Stroller Warriors Okinawa. By collaborating with my USO teams along with Stroller Warriors Okinawa, we went on to host the virtual race for over 200 service members and spouses here on island in the spring of 2022.
What do you advocate for? Why?
What excites me most about supporting such impactful teams, is that I get to promote a positive wellbeing in our community. Living overseas and away from home isn’t easy, especially in recent years as we’ve navigated life through a global pandemic. What I advocate for is the happiness of our service members and their families; for them to see and feel the benefits of the lifestyle, and for them to find joy in their sacrifices. In my work at USO Camp Schwab, we also support service members deployed in Okinawa. Having spent the last two years experiencing life through the service member’s eyes, on the opposite end of a deployment, I’ve seen just how important it is to support both the service member and their family. Additionally, through my work with Network for Exceptional Military Families, we’re supporting initiatives in the exceptional family member community to support families who may have a service member away on unaccompanied orders.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
After being named the 2022 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for Camp Schwab, I stayed true to my promise of stepping out of my comfort zone, assuming new roles, making new connections, seeking opportunities to expand outreach and service in the military community, and supporting my community when and where called upon. I’ve additionally taken opportunities to share stories of impact by way of articles, speaking on the radio, and appearing in commercials, all for the benefit of the organizations I serve. Of the many things I’ve learned in this military life, I’ve learned that the lifestyle is what we make of it. While I’ve faced many obstacles surrounding completing school, applying for new jobs, owning my own businesses, navigating life with a child who has a severe food allergy, and being the primary caretaker while my spouse deployed, I’ve learned that through volunteerism and community, I can make connections to help overcome challenges.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
If provided the opportunity to be named AFI Military Spouse of the Year, I’d like to build on the skills I’ve acquired and further my impact in the military community by actively collaborating with fellow AFI Military Spouses of the Year to support larger initiatives such as those which create awareness for support needs within the exceptional family member community, those which keep our service members overseas connected to their families back home, and those which promote leadership education for military spouses. All of these initiatives are the ones nearest and dear to me, which simply need a louder voice to raise awareness for; I want to be that voice!
Maria is such a blessing to our community! She does so much for the military community through the USO, Okinawa Leadership Seminar, Network for Exceptional Military Families, and Military Spouse Confection Connection. Maria would make a great MSOY, and with the title continue to do AMAZING things for our community.
- by Latoya Scott