Duty Station: USAG Stuttgart
Number of Deployments: 8
Number of PCS's: 12
Share your military spouse story:
I have been a Navy spouse for over 22 years, with the last 10 years spent overseas. My family has packed up and moved 17 times. Like so many military families, our children attended multiple schools before graduating high school and we’ve lived in several US states and multiple countries overseas. Along the way we gathered friends, explored cities, and let a neighborhood cat move in with us when we lived in Italy. I am great at organizing for a move, maintaining friendships across time zones, and finding a craft group and book club within days of arriving at a new place. I finished my undergraduate degree with two kids in elementary school and one on my lap, and recently received a Master’s in Nonprofit Administration. I grew up in a family that values service. My Grandpa attended college for a few years before joining the Army during WWII, and after his time in the military he returned home to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to have a family, open a business, and then serve on the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council and work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I was lucky to grow up next door to my grandparents who instilled in me the importance of caring for a community. My Grandmother was the matriarch of our large family and a pass through her house for a cup of coffee, lunch, or after school snack was the norm. Through her, my family learned the importance of generosity. I am an advocate for Indigenous visibility and inclusion, focused on broadening the knowledge of military personnel and families about Native people and their rights. My family and I typically host an event(s) or coordinate with an organization to host during Native American Heritage Month each year. I am also a fabric and beadwork artist, and often share my sewing skills with others. In approaching my contributions through my Indigenous values of relationship, generosity, and industriousness allows me to continue to contribute to my community and to honor my Native identity.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I have served in several leadership positions. As the President of the North American Women’s Association Ghana I had a unique opportunity to work with expats and Ghanaians to serve the local community. I oversaw the grants committee and assisted in awarding grants to NGOs serving women and children, including schools and clinics. While serving as the Stuttgart Community Spouses Club President, I oversee the Executive and Governing Boards, comprised of 21 people, and membership of over 350 community members. Membership and participation in the monthly events have increased due to the work the Board has done to build an inclusive organization. I participated in the 2022 Military Spouse Advocacy Network Military Spouse Leadership Development Program. This chance to be a part of the MSLDP was incredible. We completed a Mental Health Ally Certification, as well as the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative’s Meta-Leadership and Conflict Resolution Training.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
I grew up in a family that values service. I have volunteered with a wide variety of organizations while being a military spouse. At each duty stationed I worked hard to be involved in the military community and the local community. I currently serve as the President of the Stuttgart Community Spouses Club (SCSC), as well as Co-Leader of the AFRICOM Service member Family Readiness Group (SFRG). SCSC serves the USAG Stuttgart community in a variety of ways, including social events and giving back to the military community through volunteering and financial contributions such as scholarships and grants. At a previous duty station, I worked with the North American Women’s Association Ghana (NAWA Ghana) as Director of Events and as President to support the mission of “women empowering women and children together.” I have also volunteered for two USO Centers in Europe, and for multiple Family Support/Readiness Groups over the years.
Describe how you support your community:
I have volunteered with a variety of organizations that support military spouses and military families. I am passionate about advocating for Indigenous visibility and inclusion in the military. We must continue to advocate for underserved families and spouses. Volunteerism is something I encourage and really enjoy doing, and I recognize that not everyone is able to do so at the same level that I have been able to do over the years. Military spouses are under- and unemployed at high rates and this is always a concern when moving to a new location. In volunteering with the Stuttgart Community Spouses Club, I have worked hard to make the club an inclusive, open organization. I continue to work to include all spouses, and listen to them when they talk about the difficulty of moving to a new place, of finding friends, and of ensuring their children are thriving in school. Our Spouses Clubs need to be diverse places where all feel included.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Native American’s serve in the military at the highest rate per capita in the United States. I am an advocate for Indigenous visibility and inclusion, focused on broadening the knowledge of military personnel and families about Native people and their rights. My family and I typically host an event(s) or coordinate with an organization to host during Native American Heritage Month each year. I am also a fabric and beadwork artist, and often share my sewing skills with others. In approaching my contributions through my Indigenous values of relationship, generosity, and industriousness allows me to continue to contribute to my community and to honor my Native identity.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have consistently volunteered for over twenty years and often spoken to others about the organizations I am involved in. I have had the chance to help to recruit volunteers as well as organize fundraising and social events. I have been the guest speaker to various groups to speak about issues and topics specific to Native American Heritage Month. I am active on social media and share information to a wide network of people I have met. Over the years I have also participated in AFN interviews regarding Native American Heritage Month events, hosted and led the Native American Heritage Month events, and hosted my own podcast for over fifty episodes. As the President of NAWA Ghana, I acted as the organization representative at various community events including fundraising and social events at local venues in Accra, as well as the US Embassy Official Residences and the Canadian High Commission Residence.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I hope to inspire others to get involved in the community and know they have a place, to know they are welcome. It’s hard to move regularly and get resettled, to have to meet new people, make new friends, and help your kids get settled into their new school. Social media can help because we now have access to our next duty stations at the touch of a button, but it still takes work to feel comfortable in your new place. I hope that I would be able to share my story and show people that when you push through the expanse of feelings, you can find your place, your people, and you can thrive. We all need someone to be there for us and we need to know who to contact to help figure out our next steps.
I have had the pleasure of volunteering with Tsoniki at both the Stuttgart USO Center and the Stuttgart Community Spouses' Club (SCSC). She has a true servant heart, is so creative, and has a lot of wisdom. Her leadership and advice as the President of the SCSC has been a breath of fresh air and I am so thankful for the chance to learn from her. Not only is she an advocate for military spouses, but she is a big advocate and educator about indigenous people; I have very much appreciated her perspective because it has opened my eyes to a community that I was previously unfamiliar with. Tsoniki continues to expand her leadership skills and recently graduated from the Military Spouse Leadership Development Program offered by the Military Spouse Advocacy Network. She was one of 50 spouses chosen for this year's program. What she learned during each module will be a great addition to the MSOY program. She would be an excellent representative of USAG Stuttgart.
- by Kristen Thoennes