You might not know this, but the Friday before Mother’s Day is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
The Military Spouse Magazine/AFI Military Spouse of the Year (MSOY) is announced on this day – no, this is not a beauty pageant run by the Department of Defense. The MSOY is someone elected by military family members, and this year there were MSOYs nominated for each installation (post, base, port, air base), based on their activities on behalf of military spouses and family members. These men and women are active in support roles, in volunteer roles, in their communities; they include Ashley Broadway who is also the Director of Family Affairs at The American Military Partner Association.
Last year was a momentous year for this award because of Jeremy Hilton, the first male MSOY. He is a fierce advocate for children with special needs, a tireless campaigner who used his title to bring more attention to how our military children with special needs are treated. He spent a great deal of time with DoD officials, haunting the halls of Congress and pounding the halls of the Pentagon on their behalf.
Each MSOY has a platform. Alisha Lowe Youch, the Navy MSOY, is a social worker who is dedicated to mental health availability for military spouses, founding Military Families Count and making sure that they receive the assistance they need; USMC MSOY Karen Guenther founded the Semper Fi Fund, to help take care of severely injured Marines, Sailors and Soldiers and has raised more than $64 million dollars for grants to these wounded (yes, I said Sixty Four Million Dollars); Tara Crooks is the Army MSOY who founded Army Wife Network and co-wrote the book 1001 Reasons to Love Military Life; the Air Force MSOY Verenice Castillo has developed education and training courses for military family members and Key Spouses; The Coast Guard MSOY Shelley Kimball is dedicated to helping other military spouses reach their goals in education and careers, building networks of support.
The National Guard Spouse, and the new Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, Alicia Hinds Ward, has dedicated herself to reaching out to the National Guard and Reserve families and educating them on the programs available to them, as well as advocating for these families and their needs. She also works on making sure that the civilian world about the National Guard and Reserve families who are so much more than “weekend warriors.”
These spouses are small business owners, entrepreneurs, educators, health workers and teachers, who represent 1.1 million other spouses and partners. On Friday, at the inaugural MSOY Summit, former MSOYs and others talked about what it means to be an MSOY, how to use their elected status to help their communities, and how to advocate for their causes with local, state and federal representatives. And no matter who was talking, from Sheila Casey, wife of retired General George Casey, to Meg O’Grady, the Director of Spouse Education and Career Opportunities at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Bianca Strzalkowsk creator of the Military Spouse Education Initiative and 2011 MSOY, Laura Dempsey from the US Chamber of Commerce/Hiring our Heroes, or Melissa Rayworth the managing editor of Military Spouse Magazine – the word of the day was Connection.
Pass It On. Engagement. Work Together. Partnerships. Giving and Sharing. Reaching out. Be generous with your contacts.
Our military community, which is spread all over the world, is incredibly generous with their time, volunteering in their military community and their surrounding areas as well. These new MSOYs are perfect examples of all that military spouses do. With Alisha Hinds Ward – the National Guard MSOY – leading the class of 2013, they will continue to prove that military spouses are a force to be reckoned with.
Karen Santiano Francis is the Military Spouse Editor at The Broad Side.