Branch: Marine Corps
Duty Station: Not Affiliated With a Duty Station
Number of Deployments: 5
Number of PCS's: 8
Share your military spouse story:
My husband & I are high school sweethearts who began dating in 1998. Over the years I have seen the military lifestyle from several different perspectives. The Military Reserves was with us at the beginning of our relationship, then when he chose to go Active Duty in 2006 we also saw a couple of deployments. Over the last 25 years, we have welcomed 2 children (with our youngest born while Dan was deployed) and a son-in-law (who is also a Marine), gone through numerous deployments and PCSs as a family; and are currently going through a geo bachelor tour (during our youngests Senior year of high school). Throughout my volunteer positions and moves, I have continued my love of photography by gifting sessions to Military families who may not have the funds to have family photos taken. While stationed in California, I worked as Manager of a local urgent care helping them navigate through COVID, and we earned the title of #1 medical clinic in San Clemente. In 2021, with a move back to Virginia, I have been able to help at my family’s winery and am currently working for our city's Economic Development and Tourism Department. After our most recent move I co-founded Ohana Homefront Foundation. It is an issue that is close to my heart, especially watching those I love struggle with their mental health due to issues arising from the pandemic.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I have served as Family Readiness Assist, VP of PWOC, Kaneohe Officer Spouses Club as Charities Chairman and President, Joint Spouses Conference Facilities Chairman, Board Member for the Kaneohe Bay Thrift Shop, Monterey Officers Club Executive Secretary, Volunteered with Military Spouse Advocacy Network (MSAN) New Military Spouse Support Program (NMSSP) with several promotions to include: MSAN Marine Corps Mentor, MSAN Coordinator, MSAN NMSSP Manager, MSAN NMSSP Director, Executive Secretary for Military Spouses Club of Camp Pendleton, Molly Pitcher Committee, 2019 MSOY for Camp Pendleton, volunteered with family readiness for 5/11 during our time at Pendleton. In 2021, I co-founded the Ohana Homefront Foundation. OHF is a non-profit working to better the lives of our military community when it comes to getting the mental health care that they need and deserve. We have free counseling services, peer-to-peer support and more for anyone who has been within the military community.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I have always been active within the military community, whether it is volunteering within my husband's unit or mentoring new military spouses. Currently I am the Vice President and Co-Founder of the Ohana Homefront Foundation and working to end the stigma surrounding mental health while bringing awareness to the suicide epidemic within our Military Community. I have always believed that we should leave our military community better than it was when we entered it. This is done by volunteering where we can and supporting others.
Describe how you support your community:
I believe supporting other spouses is extremely important, especially in the workplace. While living in Southern California and managing a local urgent care, over 50% of the staff were military spouses (mostly newer spouses). I worked as a liaison between owners and staff that were military spouses. Helped owners understand needs of staff (ex: needing time off for homecomings and other base events that are important to families, supporting staff during their families deployments, and more). In my current job with my city's Economic Development and Tourism, I am the only military spouse in the entire department. Because of this, the Directors have come to me with ideas on how to make our more inviting and friendly to the military community. I have also worked with the HR department trying to help them understand the “gap” military spouses have in our resumes and the value of hiring military spouses and veterans.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for Mental Health and Wellness. Being a Military Spouse, even with its benefits, can be stressful. We are the ones who hold down the homefront and we sometimes push our feelings aside for the benefit of others and our service members. Also, I am an advocate for our military kids. Especially, during the pandemic a lot of our kids had to learn how to cope by not socializing with friends and learning how to do schoolwork at home. A lot of our children felt alone and were not able to do normal activities like sports or having dances. My youngest child is a senior in high school this year and this is the first year since he was a freshman that things have “normalized” for him. Watching certain struggles, I knew we were not the only family dealing with it. I knew I wanted to do something. That was when we established OHF. It was a way to get the word out to help other military families with their struggles. Even if one person is helped, it makes it all worth it.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Over the past year I have raised my voice regarding the suicide epidemic throughout our entire military community by participating in numerous radio and podcast interviews. I have attended meetings with potential volunteers, meetings with Congressmen (both in-person and virtually). I have attended and had booth setups at various in person events for the local community and military while also utilizing social media platforms to raise awareness.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I have one great hope for the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title, to evoke change for Mental Health & Suicide Awareness within our ENTIRE Military Community. Letting Military Spouses and Families know they are not alone and it is okay to not be okay while helping them find avenues that they can get counseling and help that will benefit their family as a whole.
Natalie has a heart of gold. She has gone out of her way time and time again to make a difference in the lives of others. As the co-founder of the Ohana Homefront Foundation she strives daily to make a difference in the mental well-being of the individuals in the military and their families. She wants to change the way mental health in the military is addressed and how it is seen. Natalie’s work, as a Marine Corps spouse, speaks for itself and shows her commitment to the military community.
- by Candace Guelzo
Natalie has a heart like no other military spouse that I have ever met, and I am proud to call her my friend! She has gone out of her way time and time again to make a difference in the lives of others.
As the co-founder of the Ohana Homefront Foundation she strives daily to make a difference in the mental well-being of the individuals in the military and their families.
Her passion is volunteering in our military community, especially with programs that benefit other spouses. At each duty station she has served on either executive or general board of nonprofits on that installation.
Natalie believes we should do what we can to make our military community better than when we entered it.
- by Sarah Otto