For the past five years Military Spouse Magazine has presented an annual award, the “Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year®.” Though it’s not officially sanctioned by the U.S. Military, it’s no beauty contest either. 2012’s award to Jeremy Hilton is proof of that. I can personally verify that he would look terrible in a tiara.
The brainchild of Navy wife Babette Maxwell, the award was created to recognize leaders and reward volunteerism within the military spouse community in a cohesive branch-wide event. What happened, however, was a real “build it and they will come” environment that I have witnessed spreading like a controlled burn with a slow, steady breeze behind it. In addition to the obvious fact that everybody likes a little recognition now and again, the winners of this event end up with the kind of publicity that can make a profound difference. That means the winners’ causes get exactly the kind of boost they’ve been hoping for. It also means that instead of a sailor nominating their sweetie for being the “bestest wifey ever” the trend is for volunteers to be nominated for their efforts in the military community. That’s exactly the kind of legitimacy we need in the milspouse community.
In 2011 I was virtually introduced to Bianca Strzalkowski, a Marine Corps wife. She was serving then as 2011 Military Spouse of the Year® and it was the first time I had heard of the award, likely because it’s rarely mentioned in the reserve community. After spending just a few minutes with her in person (and laughing about my inability to pronounce her name), I understood why she had the support of so many: she had a mission to make sure military spouses were getting higher education, and this girl seemed unstoppable. In a single year she took her idea to the next level, creating a Military Spouse Education Initiative. Believing spouses can achieve educational goals despite the obstacles of military life, she met with Congressional leaders, attended meetings with Department of Defense officials, and worked with the American Council on Education to find ways to make this idea of hers a reality. She has now created the Military Spouse Education Foundation and is working on a new Military Service Grant for spouses who are excluded the from Department of Defense’s MyCAA program. Bianca took her expertise coupled with the responsibility of the award, and really put it to work for others.
Jeremy Hilton, an Air Force spouse and the first male spouse to win the award, experienced the same kind of lift for his platform in 2012. The care and treatment of the military’s special needs children affects a relatively small group within the military, so creating a voice for them may have been virtually impossible without the award. A recent article in Time Magazine and a spotlight on Fox News should be proof enough that he’s using his powers for good and not evil. But Jeremy doesn’t just look bad in a tiara; he has developed a national campaign for legislation, has spoken in front of the Congressional Family Caucus, and has raised his issue with the Congressional delegation to the Armed Services Committee.
I was recently named Naval Base San Diego’s Military Spouse of the Year by my peers and the weight of it is just hitting me. If you read this blog, I already owe you a thank you because it was your voting that allowed me to move to the next level of this process. I’m honored to represent San Diego, the Navy Reserve spouse community, and all of those spouses who have somehow managed to hold down both a career and an unending chain of moves. You can make me your voice at the national level by voting on Tuesday, February 5th.
However, I’d like to take some time to introduce you to some of the other spouses I’ve met, either virtually or in person, who have also been honored with nominations. I think it’s an amazing testament to the award. These are exactly the type of military spouses that make bikinis, baton twirling, and sequins obsolete. I’m pinching myself (and my non-bikini midriff) that I’m even within their company. I’m proud of the way they’ve supported each other too, some even casting votes for each other. It feels great to know that what we’re all stumping for in these last couple of days is not ourselves, but the idea of giving a voice to an entire segment of the military community that we’ve chosen to serve.
Rachel Preen - Rachel is a Marine Spouse, a family readiness advisor at Goodfellow AFB, and the writer of “Living on a Bootband Budget” who became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Born in New Zealand, Rachel had trouble as a brand new military wife coping with deployment, moves, and frequent separation even after her husband’s return. Instead of focusing on the negative she has made it her mission to help other new wives, taking on the mantra, “If not me, then who?” She is a great supporter of all the branches, and my hat is off to her for being one classy lady.
Jacqueline Goodrich – This Army wife and founder of “The General’s Kids,” a nonprofit to support the children of Wounded Warriors, knows first-hand about the sacrifices military families face. After her husband had his jaw severed and shrapnel embedded in his leg in an Afghanistan firefight, she has helped him through a year of rehab. The road ahead is still long and Jacqueline approaches it with an outward view. The most touching statement from Jacqueline about her new position as a Wounded Warrior Wife whose first accompanied duty station was Walter Reed Hospital? “This was meant to be part of our story and we were meant to be there for those going through it now.”
Angela Caban – the New Jersey representative for the Army National Guard, Angela is also the founder of Homefront United Newtork, an amazing resource for military families. She started the network after a 2008 deployment when she had to reach out to find the help she needed because she found herself without the support of a nearby installation. Ever since, she has been on the front edge of military family information. She’s young, beautiful, hysterically funny in real life, and ferociously loyal to her military community. I personally voted for Angela to become an installation winner in January. Her MSOY profile is here: Angela Caban.
Kristine Schellhaas – A Marine Corps wife and creator of USMC Life, this lady is doing it all for military spouses! She has created a base-by-base guide for all major Marine Corps bases as well as a website full of discounts, benefits from both government and private companies, and information and help for all military newcomers. She not only runs a blog made up of other USMC spouses, she is also co-host of Semper Feisty Radio, where she covers issues facing military families and life outside the Corps. Her MSOY profile is here: Kristine Schellhaas.
Jenelle Hatzung – Though I’ve just met Jen through the MSOY process, I can confirm she is an instantly likable and genuine person! The daughter of a Navy Master Chief and now a Navy wife herself, she works as a Social Media Manager for Blue Star Families and started the blog “Navy Wives Unite” to connect and empower Navy families. She has worked as a family life consultant for Fleet and Family Support, and her family was awarded the NMFA Navy Family of the Year award in 2011. Now at Naval Station Norfolk, Jen wants to help military families dealing with the struggles of infertility, after battling the issue herself and learning the ropes of military healthcare and infertility issues. Her MSOY profile is here: Jen Hartzung.
Janet McIntosh – In my favorite of the nomination letters sent in by this Army wife’s supporters, Janet’s father wrote “She uses her experience to help other spouses and she always goes above and beyond to help other military families across the branches.” And I would wholeheartedly agree! I can’t even begin to list all of her volunteer accomplishments, but Janet answers family questions at Army Wife Network, is the Books on Bases program manager for Blue Star Families, and helps new spouses through Army programs she herself develops and implements! She says if given the award, it’s her goal to help new spouses as they begin their military journey, by sharing her experiences and helping to educate and empower them. She is the BOMB on Headline News’ new show, “Raising America” which premiers February 4. Go Janet! Her MSOY profile is here: Janet McIntosh.
Alisa Johnson – Alisa is a Navy wife who represents NAS Corpus Christi, and is working hard to standardize military pet policies. She wants to bring accountability for those who dump animals on base and commit pet cruelty with no consequences. Her organization, Dogs on Deployment, reports that pets are tied up or left on base every day and all members have to say is “I gave it to a friend.” If given the opportunity to represent the U.S. Navy, her platform is all about raising the elevation of military pet issues, and to inspire meaningful action by those who have the power to make a change. Did I mention she’s also an active duty Marine training to become a pilot? Wowzers. Her MSOY profile is here: Alisa Johnson.
There are over 20 nominees vying for branch titles in every category. You can see the entire list at the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year ® homepage. Voting is one day only on Tuesday, February 5th.