In 2012, a newlywed military spouse started a new job at a 45 year-old nonprofit that serves military families. I was as green as I was young and had not the slightest clue how to be a military spouse. Nevermind what all being a military spouse entailed. I showed up each day with my head held high wondering and imagining what type of mark I would leave.
Everything was so new; I had a new husband, new apartment, new city, and new job. My first couple years at NMFA were spent in our offices in Alexandria, Virginia. I started out as the Scholarship Admin, and I helped create NMFA’s scholarship application, and more importantly, I was the connection to NMFA’s scholarship recipients, and I mailed the scholarship checks. Part of the job was verifying documentation scholarship recipients sent in to confirm their military spouse “status.”
One day while sorting through documents, I came across one that I didn’t recognize–a DD 1300.
After further inspection, I realized a DD1300 was a Casualty Report document and it was sent in by a scholarship recipient who was a surviving spouse. Like an uncontrollable reflex, the tears welled in my eyes and I couldn’t look away from the form. Branch: Army. Date of casualty: June 28, 2015. Place of casualty: Afghanistan. Circumstances: Helicopter crash as part of Operation Red Wings.* Status: Mass casualty.
By this point each heartbeat was sharp and shallow, and I could feel myself losing my breath. As a new military spouse, I instantly thought into the future about the possibility of a similar situation for my life. I felt guilty for thinking like that, and I felt ashamed for invading this family’s privacy. I felt heartbroken for this spouse and the circumstances life had dealt her.
That day, I stopped thinking of the work I was doing and began seeing who I was working for. Not NMFA, but for fellow military spouses.
Women and men who live differently and carry burdens and worries unique to the community they are a part of. Though my nametag says I’m employed by NMFA, my drive and daily motivation are the military spouses who are behind the uniform. For the spouses who are setting an example for their children. For the spouses who are helping to provide a better life for their family. For the spouses who are motivated and career driven. For the spouses who don’t wear any rank, but hold a Master’s degree or Ph.D. For the spouses who have lost everything and are trying to put the pieces of their life back together.
Our scholarship recipients are special. Whether they are sending in a LES from their active duty spouse, a DD214 from their retiree spouse, a divorce decree, or a DD1300. They are all people who are trying to better themselves with an education or career advancement. I have witnessed recipients use their money towards a new yoga certification, for their fifth nursing licensure due to PCS moves, and for supervision hours towards becoming a mental health counselor. They are amazing, and will continue to do amazing things in their own lives and careers.
More than 2,000 scholarship recipients and 2 million dollars in scholarship funds later, I am no longer green and I’m a few years older. One of the greatest things I have learned is that it’s not about the mark I will make, but how the ones we serve have left a mark on me.
To my fellow military spouses: you are incredible. If you are thinking about going back to school, GO. If you have stayed home with the kids and are thinking about relicensing to return to work, DO IT. You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for. Apply for a scholarship today, I would love to see your name on the next check.
NMFA Scholarship applications are being accepted through June 30, 2017. Apply now–it’s your turn to leave a mark on this world.