Military Appreciation Month is a time to recognize our military-connected community. With May 6 dedicated as Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we want to recognize a special group of military and veteran spouses who are leaders, advocates, and the heart of our organization – our MFAN Advisory Board. Our advisors join us with a common goal in mind: serve and support fellow military families. They are champions in our space and share their lived experiences so we can best address what military and veteran families truly need.
You never really know someone’s story until you are in their shoes. So, we wanted to hear directly from them. We spoke to eight members of our current advisory board cohort to hear what it truly means to be a military spouse. Take a step inside their shoes, to hear their stories and their experiences, including the ups, the downs, and everything that this military life has to offer.
What does/did being a military spouse mean to you?
Joanne: I am a veteran, and being a military spouse meant that I was able to continue service to my country by supporting my husband in his military career.
Hana: I didn’t choose to be a military spouse. I just happened to have fallen in love with a Marine! Because of that, I think being a military spouse means truly understanding what “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” means.
Jen: Being a military spouse means you’ve got a network far beyond the reach of the average civilian. It means you’ve got people you can count on who you’ve only known for a matter of days. It means you’re a part of something bigger.
Mary: To me, being a military spouse has been the most selfless job I have taken on besides becoming a parent. It is a beautiful journey that allows you to travel the world (if you’re lucky), but it also teaches you PATIENCE and adaptability, while creating memories that will last forever.
Mychael: In a word, “pride.” Proud to know that I am supporting my spouse as he serves our country. Proud to be supportive of other military families that are experiencing the unique challenges that are military life.
Alexandra: Being a military spouse means supporting my service member so that they can be mission ready.
Rachel: I was and still am proud to be a spouse. To me, it means being a strong supporter for my service member, for fellow spouses, for other military families.
Heidi: Supporting my spouse in this military journey. Helping other military spouses thrive in this ever-changing lifestyle.
What is the best piece of advice you have received when it comes to being a military spouse?
Joanne: Hope for the best but expect the worst – be flexible and plan for all possibilities.
Hana: “Wherever you are in your military life journey, don’t treat it like a transitory period. There is nothing like looking back and feeling empty because you wasted literal years ignoring what you had because you were focusing on the future.” I catch myself constantly thinking about our future. I daydream about my spouse’s retirement so that we can finally settle down and build our forever home. This advice reminds me to focus on the “now” and enjoy the blessings and adventure that come with the “now.”
Jen: Change your perspective. You don’t have to be totally self-sacrificing, but complaining is only cathartic to a certain degree.
Mary: The best advice I can give from my time as a military spouse thus far is to go into each day knowing that you have a purpose, you are more than a label (“military spouse”) and be sure to live life outside of your service member’s shoes. As the tag line in my podcast goes, “Shine Sis, You Got This!”
Mychael: Be flexible, patient and understanding with your spouse. Military life is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, responsibility. Your support makes their happiness, as well as their success, possible.
Alexandra: Understanding that while the military life is full of challenges, it is equally full of amazing opportunities.
Rachel: When counting down during deployment, count the pay checks. The number of days feel overwhelming and sometimes the months do not feel to be achievable but we can plan by the paychecks. To me this often felt doable and not overwhelming, it let me be semi-present and not wishing my life away until he returned.
Heidi: The dishes and laundry will always be there no matter what. Make sure you spend quality time as a family and couple when given the chance.
What is/was the most challenging part of being a military spouse?
Joanne: Being away from my family back home, missing out on family functions.
Hana: There are so many challenges. But for me, it is not being close to family. I grew up spending every single holiday and celebration with my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. We were all really close. I wish my kids had that experience, and it’s hard when we can’t always fly home for holidays. I have major FOMO!
Jen: The most challenging part of being a military spouse is the waiting…always waiting for orders, or waiting to hear when the deployment will start/end.
Mary: The most challenging part of being a military spouse are the unforeseen situations and obstacles you may go through.
Mychael: Time apart.
Rachel: Family/friends always transitioning – new duty station, next deployment, retirement, or simply separation. We were always saying “see you later” (never goodbye).
Alexandra: The most challenging part of being a military spouse for me is not having control over many life choices such as where we live, how frequently we move and when my spouse has to travel or deploy.
Heidi: Navigating all the things that happen when the spouse leaves.
What motivated you to volunteer your time to supporting your military community as part of the MFAN Advisory Board?
Joanne: I have been in the military community for a long time in various roles. As the spouse of a recent retiree I thought that I had something to give back to those families who are still serving.
Hana: I found myself so frustrated with many aspects of military life. I felt a lot of these issues could be easily solved if the right people could just hear my voice. So instead of complaining and living with the attitude of “this is just how it is”, I decided to do something about it. I joined MFAN because I knew that my voice could reach people who could make meaningful change.
Jen: In my role shaping military family policy, it is important to have insight from a wide range of stakeholders. Joining the MFAN advisory board has broadened my perspective and introduced me to issues that need attention.
Mary: My motivation to become an MFAN advisory board member stems from not being heard as a military spouse. I want to make sure I can do my part to bring issues and concerns that are happening within my community to a bigger forefront and be able to speak up for those who may be afraid to.
Mychael: Knowing that I can help other military families as they experience a daunting bureaucracy. I want to be there for as many families as I can to help them find the special satisfaction that comes with being a military family.
Alexandra: When my husband transitioned to being a full-time reservist we moved to a more remote duty station. I found navigating military life in this region very different from being in a big Navy or military town. I wanted to use my experience as both an active duty and reserve spouse to help support military spouses, families and veterans located in various geographic locations.
Rachel: My goal is to always make things better for our next generation. If there is a way I can support our military families and make it better for the future, I want to do that. I am grateful that MFAN has provided a space to bring great thinkers together and make a wonderous impact.
Heidi: This journey has brought eye opening issues and amazing memories along the way. Making changes for our military families to thrive despite the given circumstances motivates me to give back.
What is something that you wish others knew about being a military spouse?
Joanne: It is one of the toughest but most worthwhile experiences. I made a lot of lifelong friends, grew up a lot, found my voice, and discovered my independence.
Hana: We are not uneducated. We are not dumb. We are not lazy. We are not freeloaders. Period.
Jen: I wish others knew that while being a military spouse comes with challenges, it also offers so many great opportunities. That part often gets overlooked.
Mary: I wish others knew to give military spouses grace, looking from the outside in, it easy for others to assume we have it all together but we don’t. I wish others knew that being “strong” is not something we do by choice but instead it is all we know how to do at times. I wish others knew how having a great support system can be beneficial to our overall well-being.
Mychael: I wish they knew how rewarding it is to feel you are such an important part of making our country so great. The patriotism I feel each day that my spouse goes to work, is overwhelming.
Alexandra: I wish that others knew that it’s impossible to know “what you signed up for”. Just like the world we live in, military life is so unpredictable. As spouses, we can use all the support we can get!
Rachel: While there are always difficulties, it is a great experience and always full of adventure.
Heidi: Our title is not just “military spouse” because we are so much more than just that.
The role of a military spouse may have shaped a large part of their lives, but it’s important to remember, as Heidi said, how military spouses are so much more. They are educators, activists, caregivers, motivators, and they deserve to be celebrated today. To every military spouse out there, we celebrate all that you are, and all that you do, on this Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
meet the advisors
Joanne Coddington – In addition to being an Army veteran and the spouse of an Army retiree, Joanne is a licensed clinical mental health counselor, licensed clinical addictions specialist, yoga teacher, and college professor.
Heidi Dindial – In addition to being a Navy veteran and active duty Navy spouse, Heidi is a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Jen Goodale – In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran and the spouse of an active duty Marine, Jen serves on the government relations team at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
Hana Romer – In addition to being a is a Marine Corps veteran and a Marine Corps spouse, Hana supports the Department of Veteran’s Affairs mental health campaign, Make the Connection.
Mary Monrose – In addition to being an active duty Navy spouse, Mary is a proud advocate for the rights of children in special education and is the co-host of “Shine Sis Podcast.”
Rachel Moyers – In addition to being an Air Force spouse, Rachel supports and advocated for military families through her role at the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN).
Alexandra Simon – In addition to being a Navy spouse, Alexandra is a contributing write to the Military Mom Collective and is a founding member of the Military Parent Educator cohort in the National Capital Region with Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC).
Mychael Willon – In addition to being an active duty Army spouse, Mychael advocates for students, especially children of military families and children with special needs, through his varied roles at the local, regional, state, and national PTA.
To learn more about our entire advisory board cohort, click HERE.