Saturday, May 09, 2015

Soldier's Wife Named Military Spouse of the Year

By David Vergun
Army News Service

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va., May 9, 2015 – Army wife Corie Weathers yesterday was named the 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year on Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

While receiving the award was an honor and a happy event, Weathers said she's survived really tough times as an Army spouse, just like others have.

The darkest moments came in 2009, when Corie's husband, Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Weathers was deployed to Afghanistan at a place where many of his fellow soldiers were killed or injured -- Contingency Operating Post Keating.

While her husband was in Afghanistan, Corie was at Fort Carson, Colorado. Although he was at a distant outpost, the two were still able to maintain almost daily contact through social media, he said.

Corie said she fully realized the danger he was in. But rather than sit home and cry, she decided to do something that would ease the pain of separation and help other spouses on post.

Being a licensed professional counselor, she decided to put that to use doing a job that is plainly heartbreaking. The procedure was for the casualty notification team to deliver the news in person to the home of the spouse.

Corie's job was to then do a follow-up visit with the spouse, within just minutes of the visit by the casualty notification team, according to the chaplain, who termed it the "Care and Go" team.

Being a counselor, Corie was able to use that skill to listen and offer solace.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Weathers said the strength and love of his wife helped him through the darkest days.

Today, Corie helps to advise and set up Care and Go teams. She and her husband now are stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

She also continues to provide counseling to other spouses, mainly dealing with issues of employment, career issues, domestic violence and others.

"Military spouses need more help -- a place to talk, to hurt, to be real without feeling it is unpatriotic or out of place," she said.

The goal, she continued, is to help them "thrive in their marriages, their personal goals, cope with the changes in their soldiers, as well as the coming changes in the military."

Julia Kysela

While Corie was the overall winner of Military Spouse of the Year, there were other winners representing each of the services, with the National Guard included.

Julia Kysela was selected as that National Guard Spouse of the Year. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Kysela, is in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Julia and her husband organized the "I've Got Your Six" 6-kilometer and 1-mile races to support the VALOR Clinic Foundation. Proceeds go to help struggling veterans in crisis and homeless veterans.

She is also the Family Member Support director for Steel City Vets, an organization that supports post 9/11 veterans in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.

When Corie was 23 years old, she said her husband deployed to Iraq and that was a wakeup call for her. She never realized how alone she would feel and also how much worrying she would do.

That's when she said she began to do volunteer work for soldiers and veterans in the community. Her advice to other spouses in that situation is to not only do volunteer work but to find time to relax.

Stacey Benson

Stacey Benson was selected as Coast Guard Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Larry Benson, are stationed at U.S. Coast Guard District 1 in Rhode Island.

Her husband is a former soldier, so she said she's experienced living alone through six deployments.

While volunteering on the board of Military Spouses of Newport, Rhode Island, Benson said she noticed there were a lot of spouses who had talent and ambition and wanted to work, but had grown frustrated with a lack of opportunities.

So she took action. Now, as military liaison of Newport Hospital, she uses her role with Military Spouses of Newport to help other military spouses find employment in the local health care system.

"If employers give a military spouse a chance, they will get a hard-working, dedicated and well-educated person who gives them 110 percent in return," she said.

Nicole Spaid

Nicole Spaid was selected as Marine Corps Spouse of the Year. She lives with her husband, Wes Spaid, at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.

They've been married 20 years and have been through eight deployments and 10 permanent change-of-station moves.

She, too, said she's found fulfillment in volunteer work in myriad ways on post and in the community. She said she believes every spouse, military child and family "possesses unique gifts and talents that add to the strength of our military community."

With the downsizing and budget cuts, she said "the resources available to military families are shrinking as well." That's why it's so important to volunteer. "I have found that families do not want a handout. They want a hand up!"

Antonia Wilber

Antonia Wilber was selected as Navy Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Keith Wilber, are stationed at Naval Base Guam.

Wilber volunteers her time as a COMPASS mentor and team leader. COMPASS is a spouse-to-spouse mentoring program that improves quality of life through education, enabling spouses to understand, experience, and meet the challenges of the Navy lifestyle.

She also volunteers at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, helping families to thrift shop and provides them financial counseling during times of crisis and assists them with security interest-free loans when needed.

Her philosophy: "Every military family deserves an environment that fosters unity, yet encourages independence, whether through social network, neighbors, faith, family or employment. Education, guidance and support are key to success of military families."

Jana Kingery

Jana Kingery was selected as Air Force Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Master Sgt. Matthew Kingery, are stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Kingery founded the Team Lone Tree Volunteers program in 2011. She also volunteers at her local school, teaching and tutoring students, among many other volunteer activities.

Also, as a Key Spouse liaison, she manages the calendar of events and activities for more than 148 military families.

She said she challenges other spouses to "get involved to help foster a sense of family at each new assignment."

Special Guest

Taya Kyle, author of “American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith and Renewal” was presented with the Gabby Giffords Award for Courage and Bravery. She spoke, saying the real heroes are not her but the spouses present today who are living through the often difficult way of life that spouses face. Their courage and commitment is tremendous, she added.

The 2015 co-chairs attending included Joint Chiefs of Staff spouses and VIPs: Deanie Dempsey, Mary Winnefeld, Linda Odierno, Ellyn Dunford, Darleen Greenert, Betty Welsh, Fran DeNinno-Zukunft, Pat Grass, Holly Dailey, Theresa Stevens, Athena Cody, Janet Cantrell and Blaire Brush.

White House Hosts Military Families for Mother’s Day Tea

By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2015 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, yesterday welcomed military families to the annual White House Mother’s Day tea, drawing service members, spouses, children, wounded warrior caregivers and veterans, as part of the Joining Forces initiative.

Obama and Biden welcomed the families into the State Dining Room on a day that also marked National Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

“We couldn't have picked a better day to show you how much we care and how grateful we are for the service that you provide for our country,” the first lady said.

Obama greeted Deanie Dempsey, wife of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Mary Winnefeld, wife of Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general and the admiral both attended the tea with their wives.

“Mary and Deanie … are perfect examples of the kind of folks that we have here today -- women who are juggling families and careers,” the first lady said.

Military Families Make Sacrifices

Obama noted that military families move from state to state every couple of years, start new jobs, put their children in new schools and build new communities for themselves, over and over again.

“You’ve been separated from your loved ones, whether you’ve been deployed yourself or you’ve had someone overseas,” she added.

The first lady emphasized how members of the military community are the first to volunteer to help others in their communities in the midst of their already active lives.

“You're always stepping up, always trying to figure out how you can help,” Obama said. “And that's inspiring … which is why we thank you, because you give us energy. You give us strength. You give us focus and purpose.”

“And I want you to know just how much we appreciate everything your families do in serving our country,” said Biden, whose son, Beau, is a major in the Delaware Army National Guard and an Iraq veteran.

“We ask a lot of our military families,” Biden continued, “and I believe that each of us -- no matter where we live, no matter whether we’re connected to military ourselves -- all of us should make our best efforts to show our military spouses, kids, siblings and parents how much we appreciate their service and their sacrifice.”

Supporting Military Spouses, Veterans

The first lady said the Joining Forces initiative she and Biden established four years ago in April has blossomed into a large support system for veterans and military spouses, with 850,000 veterans and spouses gaining employment in that timeframe.

“Four years we’ve been at this work and it feels like we’ve been doing it a lot longer because we’ve [made] so much progress,” Obama said.

“We’ve been highlighting our local veterans’ centers, which a lot of folks don't know exist,” the first lady said. “And those are out there for our veterans. They're modernizing. They're different. They're accommodating the needs of the modern-day veteran in ways that many people wouldn’t imagine.”

Joining Forces also has highlighted nationwide efforts to end veteran homelessness, the first lady said.

“Cities like New Orleans have actually ended veteran homelessness,” Obama said. “And we’ve got many cities on the way to reaching that goal. We’ve been able to celebrate the new commitments to reach, hire and train our veterans, our transitioning service members and our military spouses.”

The first lady added, “We’re moving the needle step by step, lowering the unemployment rate among our veterans, and making sure that employers know the value that you all add by hiring the quality of folks that you represent.”

Joining Forces supports military families in many ways, Obama said. She announced that Blue Star Museums will again this summer starting on Memorial Day provide active-duty military family members free access to more than 2,000 museums across the country in an initiative with Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Defense Department.

“[It’s] just one of the many ways that organizations from across this country are teaming up to thank all of you for the service that you do for us. That’s what Joining Forces is all about,” the first lady said.

Honoring Military Families

Hosting the White House tea for Mother’s Day, Obama said, is an opportunity to honor military families in “a small way that we can say, ‘Thank you.’ To open up this house … to just enjoy a day where you can look good, feel grand.”

As a finale, musical artist Ben Folds performed for the families.

Face of Defense: Soldier Makes Volunteering a Family Affair

By Army Capt. John Brimley
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

EL PASO, Texas, May 8, 2015 – As a single mother of three children, Army Sgt. 1st Class Heather West finds herself spending most of her personal time away from home serving others.

Some Saturdays, West works at Operation Santa Claus at Fort Bliss, Texas. Other days, she’s at one of the local convenience stores chatting with a person for whom she bought a soda and a bag of potato chips. But every first Sunday she can be found at the Opportunity Center of El Paso feeding the homeless.

Wherever she is, the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade operations noncommissioned officer manages to find balance between work, family and volunteering.

“I really just get an idea about wanting to volunteer, and I just go and do it,” she said.

High Demand

West said she gets calls from people all around El Paso, but Councilman Carl Robinson is the one person who can get her to do almost anything. She said he has helped fuel her efforts.

“Heather’s very cooperative and responsive,” Robinson said. “It’s always good to know when you have a civic-minded person on your team.”

West admits it’s a challenge to juggle single parenthood and a packed work schedule. “Sometimes people sacrifice family to help out,” she said, but she doesn’t look at it as a sacrifice.

In fact, the 13-year veteran just so happens to be the president of the Fort Bliss Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, which is also known for its volunteer efforts.

“You make time for what you want to make time for,” West said. “You just really have to take advantage.”

A Different Kind of Family Time

West isn’t out in the community going at it alone. Her daughter, 11-year-old Dasanah West, recently received the Fort Bliss Outstanding Youth Volunteer award. And West’s teenage sons, 16-year-old C.J. and 15-year-old Aaron, volunteer just as much as their sister -- and they all do it together as a family.

“When she first introduced us to feeding the homeless, I was really skeptical and I wasn’t really up for it either, because I wanted to stay home,” C.J. said. Aaron said he felt the same way, preferring to stay home and sleep the whole day.

“I’m glad she got me out the bed that day,” said Aaron. C.J. also said he’s taken a liking to all the family volunteering.

Strengthening Bonds

For the past three years, the Wests have made a life out of community service. While the people receiving help reap the immediate benefit, the West family says they have been strengthened by these acts of kindness.

“Before we started volunteering, everybody was pretty spaced out,” West said.

Dasanah said that distance has dwindled to almost nothing. “It’s brought us pretty close,” she said. “The more we get to know one another, it’s actually pretty special.”

With everything West keeps her hand in, from the 10- and 12-hour workdays to the countless hours she spends helping others, her efforts and impact on her own family are not lost. They value what she does in the community for the less fortunate just as much as what she does at home.

“Never in my life have I met a woman so persistent for the happiness of others to where she will go out of her way for the smallest things to make people happy,” Aaron said.