Margaret Van Lieshout

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Johnson

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 4

Share your military spouse story:
Like every good love story, our fairytale began in a Frat. house. 10 years ago, our paths crossed thanks to mutual friends. I graduated high school in North Carolina where my dad was stationed at Camp Lejeune. My husband had just gotten out of the Marine Corps, at Camp Lejeune. Our friend assumed that we’d have a lot in common because we came from the same corner of NC. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong. We had a mutual friend or 5, one of which told us about the other about a year before: “they’re going to Ohio State, you’ll probably meet them!” We started dating. Alex became a reservist, which included a mission in South Africa 1 summer. By the time we got married, my husband had fully transitioned to ‘veteran’ status. We moved, explored careers, then the pandemic hit. He decided he wanted a job that made him happy & there was only 1 choice: active duty. I’m lucky, I got to be a part of that decision. January 2021: my husband left for Ft. Benning. I know what you’re thinking—boot camp, again? That’s what we thought too. 4 months in quarantine later, he got through all the administrative confusion & landed orders to Ft. Johnson, LA. I arrived in May. That was our 1st Army-separation. August 2021: Kabul fell, & Alex was told they’d be in Afghanistan in 13 days. He deployed to Afghanistan earlier in his career, so the chance to go back & be a part of finishing the war he saw the 1st efforts of was, an experience we both knew would be important, but it was tough to stomach. That deployment: cancelled. Back to a normal for us. We were so excited to enjoy the holiday season with no pandemic looming, the Army had other plans. Mid-Nov., Alex was pulled from the field. 3 weeks later, they left for a 6-month deployment over in the middle east. Homecoming was perfect. We took orders across the installation & now my husband is proudly a part of the airborne community. Now, we are headed to our next duty station this spring.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I made the conscious decision to be involved as much as I can without holding any sort of official position didn’t make sense, some people are meant to do big things and some people need to do the small things. I came to that conclusion when I realized that there were people who were more knowledgeable & experienced than I was, that offer much more value in those roles on our installation and taking the time to learn from them will give me the opportunity to do the same for younger spouses later on. You can’t have leadership without followership. Volunteers are the foundation of so much good, & being a dependable volunteer is important. I sat on the MFAN board where I was, and still am, inspired by the titans of the military spouse community. I learned & took that with me. Sometimes that’s through conversation, sharing resources, responding to questions in community groups, or bringing helping hands to where I volunteer. The best I can do for my community is be committed to showing up.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
It didn’t take long after getting to Ft. Johnson to feel isolated. I received an ad for the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) encouraging military spouses to apply to their advisory board. It seemed like it might be the only way to meet people and create some sense of community, so one a half-thought through plan, I applied. They saw something in me that I could never explain but also could not feel more grateful for. In August, I became a member of the 2021-23 Advisory Board cohort. I am involved and active around my community at Ft. Johnson. I believe that you can’t expect better from something without being a part of the better. I volunteer with Operation Deploy Your Dress, I try to make it to all of the unit events that I can, I go to almost every MWR event, and I talk to everyone that I meet. Before being a spouse, I was a military kid. In 2011, I was recognized as the Military Child of the Year, which gave me a unique platform that brought recognition to the military kids.

Describe how you support your community:
Showing up & being positive is the #1 way to give back to a community. Support can be a lot of things, but every time it is being present. Moving to Ft. Johnson was hard enough, but my husband had a short-notice deployment, a 4-month clerical hurdle, schools, & the everyday. It’s not too bad, I know others have had a lot worse, but it was a lot of adjustments for me at one time. I took a step back, realized, I wasn’t sad like I was supposed to be- it was my community. I made friends with people who were freethinkers & people who took me along with them to volunteer & to have fun, & for those people, I had no choice but to be that person to them & to others. I can’t quantify how many hours I volunteered, but I can tell you about going to someone’s house at 6 am after a family death. I can look at ball pictures & show you dresses & smiles that I helped when they were at ODYD. I can tell you that everyone that knows me, knows I’ll show up & I can say something to make you smile.

What do you advocate for? Why?
•Prioritize the things that will outlast the military- the health of the: family unit, marriage, spouse’s career & identity, kids, & household financial situation will not only be there when the military isn’t anymore, but it will make the years in service that much more well-rounded, happier, and successful of an experience for all. Those things will increase food security, stability in the wake of emergencies, ease transition, retirement, & other major life events, support mental wellbeing & health. • Access to employment for spouses- the pandemic created a space where employers tested and proved the capabilities of remote work; I got my job by applying & asking if a hybrid job could be made remote. The word 'hybrid' = 'open minded to remote'. • Engagement and programming at economically and geographically isolated installations- Ft. Johnson is 1 of the best examples of what bases people do NOT want to be at. Meeting people where they must be will help bring them to want to be there.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I am a communications professional so in many ways, I feel like I have a unique comfort level with taking on opportunities to advocate for military spouses —especially ones like me that want careers; that want to see strong marriages in spite of the military life; that live somewhere that feels forgotten. I work for a company that provides services to the military communities (& their families). I log into a job everyday & be a small part of something that impacts people’s lives. One of the complaints that many here have is that there is a lack of economy & resources, on & off the installation. We don't always have the people & funding to make huge changes. Not many people want to be here, so complacency is rampant. It stifles any chance for this to become a better place. Anytime someone is putting in the effort, the best way to encourage more of that is to show up, so I do. Or, if someone isn't doing their job to contribute positively, I try to hold them accountable however I can.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I’m a “what’s the worst that can happen?” kind of person in asking for opportunities. It’s the first question I ask myself whenever an idea pops into my head. I hope that I can encourage and empower other spouses to be bold and ask that same question. There are plenty of things that we have to say no to because of the military but standing in the way of our own opportunities shouldn’t be one of the things that holds us back. I want to be the voice of the modern military spouse. I am passionate about access to resources for isolated installations, military spouse career opportunity and stability, and the success of military relationships. I try to always lend a hand to others seeking to fulfill their own goals. I want to bring focus to the important foundation that marriages play in overall family well-being. I prioritize the health of financial and marital wellness support as an important area of focus for military families.


Maggie provides an authentic voice to our community. In a time of changing dynamics within the military, Maggie stands as a beacon, ensuring that the stories and experiences of military families are heard and valued. Her advocacy goes beyond words, as she actively contributes to the critical amplification of these narratives, helping the military adapt to the evolving landscape. Maggie's unique talent lies in her ability to connect spouses, breaking the isolation that often accompanies constant relocations. In an environment where finding friends and adapting can be challenging, Her natural gift for forging connections becomes a source of strength for military spouses. Her unwavering commitment to the well-being of military families and her ability to foster connections make her an outstanding candidate for AFI Military Spouse of the Year. She is a true advocate and a driving force for positive change within the military community.
- by Emily McGruder