Sunshine Bradshaw Burgess

Branch: Air Force

Duty Station: Kirtland Air Force Base

Number of Deployments: 2

Number of PCS's: 10

Share your military spouse story:
My military spouse story began 25 years ago in Columbus, Mississippi, where I met a young airman who pretty much annoyed me and I had no interest in more than friendship. I was not looking for a relationship and certainly not with one of those "Air Force guys". Well, he hung around and we developed a pretty solid friendship that after six months turned into dating. We were married in a very traditional military wedding at the base chapel almost exactly one year from the date of our first date. I started my journey with a smack at the end of the sabor arch on that day and I gave up on structured plans from that point on. Before our first anniversary, he was already on a flight to Korea for a remote tour. This was before Key Spouse, when you had to have a sponsor to remain on base and you got a once-a-week morale call with the operator listening in. I knew ZERO about being a military spouse. At that point, getting married and moving on base was no more than a change of address. However, that was the year I learned about the military family. That was when I learned about having people around who knew what you were going through because they had been there. Compromise was something I had to learn quickly to be a military spouse. I am very familiar with putting a career on hold and changing your focus. I had a life plan and following someone around the world was not part of it. I grew up in a small town where most people don't leave town much less the state. The first flight I ever took was the rotator from Atlanta to Frankfurt for our first PCS. A PCS that I should mention I had to figure out how to do on my own because he was still in Korea, a trend that has repeated several times throughout our marriage. Twenty-four years later, we are still doing this unpredictable life together, We have raised two amazingly resilient boys over three continents and 14 homes. I would say that the road I followed was so much better than the route I planned.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Throughout all of our assignments, I have found volunteering as my avenue of fulfillment. For the last 15 years, I have begun each assignment by getting my updated Key Spouse training. Whether in the capacity of Key Spouse, Senior Spouse, or Key Spouse Mentor, I have dedicated a large portion of my time to ensuring that all spouses, new or seasoned, have someone that they can turn to when they need information, guidance, or just an ear. At several assignment locations, I either assisted in the presentation of information in Heartlink/MilSpouse 101 or connected with spouses by hosting Coffee Talks. I believe that knowledge is power and I want all spouses to be knowledgeable about their military life. However, I don't believe that leadership in our community is about holding a particular role; true leadership is leading by example and being someone that community members feel they can approach.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
Every new year I vow to learn the word "no" and every year I fail miserably. I have held membership in eight spouse clubs over our assignments and my involvement has gone from member up to President and I currently serve as the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Kirtland Spouses Club. I have been a part of merging clubs, opening a thrift shop from scratch and rewriting constitutions. I lost count of the number of fundraisers, holiday markets, auctions, and the like I have planned. I served on and chaired many a Scholarship Committee, as I believe that education is so important, and I have been an advocate for our spouse clubs offering scholarships for those going to technical schools. As I worked in admission and recruitment for a university before marriage, I assist many military families with understanding the admissions process, reviewing personal statements, and writing recommendation letters. I do what needs to be done in an attempt to leave a place better than I found it.

Describe how you support your community:
We arrived at Kirtland AFB less than a year ago. This base is not like any other that we have been assigned to as it has 108 mission partners and a very large civilian population. It seems so small, but when I learned that there was not a holiday cookie event, I was upset, and although I was told it had not been well supported in the past, I was determined that would not be true this year. I decided to take the lead on getting it done and immediately got support from base leadership and Operation Cookie Drop was born. The 1000 dozen cookie goal was overwhelming, but I found an amazing teammate with the Kirtland Partnership Committee and we exceeded our goal. This effort was not just about taking care of our airmen during the holiday season, it was also an opportunity for spouses, civilians, and community partners to come together as one family and it was a huge success.

What do you advocate for? Why?
As simple as it may seem, I advocate for communication. As I have said before, knowledge is power and I believe that the military has to stop assuming that the active duty member is communicating with the spouse about military matters. Too many families function as if the active duty member has a typical civilian job instead of being a part of a military lifestyle. I truly believe that if spouses have the information in their toolbox to navigate this life, it will create happier, more resilient families, thus having a direct effect on the retention of active-duty members.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
A couple of weeks ago, someone said they got "Sunshine-d" and I almost spewed coffee because many years ago at a past assignment, a good friend said the same thing. It is odd to hear your name used as a verb, but both people said that because they felt they got information that no one else did because they met me. I say that to say that I spread my message by being me. I answer questions on social media platforms when I can and I don't belittle those who ask even the simplest questions. I am accessible to those in my immediate community and to those who we have been stationed with in the past. I have never understood people who obtain knowledge and then hold it close and refuse to share. What do I gain from doing that? Nothing at all, however, when I share that information with a new spouse, I gain the satisfaction of knowing I may have prevented their stress.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I am passionate about motivating our military spouses to take an active role in their military journey. If chosen, I hope that I can inspire spouses to learn about military culture and navigate the complicated processes we often are faced with and to understand that learning those things does not imply that you "wear rank", but that you just want to know more about the family you are a part of.


Sunshine cares for local airmen, spouses and the community at Kirtland Air Force Base in ways many others could not. Not only does she work on base, Sunshine advises the local spouses club. She led the 2023 'Operation Cookie Drop' an initiative that provides home baked cookies and store bought goodies to unaccompanied airmen living in the base dorms; something the base community had not been able to do in 3 years due to the pandemic. Partnering with the AFI MSOY program would give her the platform to support even more airmen and their families across the nation and the world.
- by Ashley Brown