Why I Thought There Should Be a Military Spouse of the Year

Guest Post By: Babette Maxwell

This week, military spouses from all over the globe (literally) are coming together in Washington, D.C. for the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year awards. Babette Maxwell, founder of Military Spouse magazine and the award, shared with Homefront United Network how it came to be. The entrepreneur, who spent her entire life with a military ID – first as an Army brat then as a Navy wife, reminds us why we – spouses of today’s military force, need (and deserve) representation.

FORT WORTH, TX – In 2007, shortly after my magazine (Military Spouse) was acquired and integrated into a military niche publisher, I began to investigate having a recognition-based program nationwide for the entire military spouse community. All ranks, all services, all spouses.

At that time, it was just becoming clear that the framework for the community was not going to sustain an all-volunteer military family for long.  We needed more.  We needed something that belonged to us, which understood us and gave us a platform to launch the incredible things that spouses were doing at their home installations.  Spouses deserved a seat at the proverbial decision-making table, and MSOY gave that to us. MSOY was an act of desperation, the proverbial Hail Mary, to show the world what I already knew:  that military spouses were changing the world one business, one organization, one moment, one spouse at a time.

Why I Thought There Should Be a Military Spouse of the Year
Babette and FLOTUS
Babette Maxwell, pictured with First Lady Michelle Obama and 2011 Coast Guard SOY Laura Vanderwerf

Spouses were (and are) doing incredible things to change the landscape of what it means to be a military spouse by committing their lives to growing businesses, media brands, non-profits and initiatives that help close the gaps between what is offered via the Department of Defense (DOD) networks, and the boots on the ground families whose needs have been changing for over 15 years.   I wanted a place to showcase their talents and to provide a networking environment that allowed military spouses to learn from those with years of experience; to impart their knowledge and hopefully make the road ahead a much easier one to travel.

To be frank, it was an uphill battle.  We needed funding and we needed support from DOD leadership.  Naturally, if you want senior leaders, you need to go to their wives. So, I did.  I sat down, personally, with all the Joint Chief spouses (JCS) and Senior Enlisted spouses (SEA) and discussed why the award was important, why it was needed and the long-term plans for it to grow.  The five year roll out planned for the award to expand to the installation levels, giving even more military a chance to get traction with their own initiatives.

Maxwell appeared in several media interviews as a national voice to issues within the military community.

But, there were roadblocks.  JCS and SEA spouses are not allowed to openly support for-profit brands, and well, MSOY is a for-profit program under a for-profit brand.  It took hours of convincing and persuasion to get them on board, to present the awards for the branches and show them that for-profits are allies in a world where connections and support from more senior spouses was critical.

And, that very first year?  They were there.   And, while the people in the roles have changed, they’ve been there every year, in some cases bringing their Chief of Staff husbands along to experience the life and times of a military spouse.   For one brief moment, on a typically sunny day in DC, General Amos, former Commandant of the US Marine Corps, was simply the husband of military spouse Bonnie Amos.

Over the years MSOY has gained power beyond my expectations.  And, bluntly, I expect a lot.  But, to be honest, MSOY is the lifeblood of the community now.  It doesn’t belong to anyone or anything.  Except the military spouses who continue to grow it, themselves and follow their individual dreams.

My dad, a Vietnam veteran, always said when I was growing up, “Leave the world a better place than you found it.”  My fondest and most valuable contribution to the world is without a doubt, creating Military Spouse of the Year.  When my kids ask me what I did when THEY were growing up?  I say, “Creating something that will, hopefully, outlive us all.”

Favorite MSOY Moment of All Time:  Bonnie Amos walking up to after we named Bianca Strzalkowski 2011 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year and saying, “I want to host this event at 8th and I next year.”  And, so it was.

Most Heartbreaking Moment:  General George Casey at the 2010 AFI MSOY ceremony when Army widow, Nikki Bunting, had her bio read.  The tears fell that day, my friends.

Most Memorable Moment:  Having THE Honorable Congresswoman from Arizona and fellow military spouse Gabby Giffords speaking at the 2010 ceremony.

Funniest Moment:  Senator Richard Burr not wearing socks.  To give a speech.  On stage at the 2011 ceremony.

Funniest Moment 2:  Lori Bell, 2010 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year referring to her husband as “My chocolate Kenyon.”  Trust me when I say there is not a woman alive that can make you FEEL things like when Lori Bell sings or speaks.  Truly.

Most Surreal Moment:  Standing in the home of General and Mrs. Martin Dempsey and getting “coined” by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff…who I had seen on TV just the day before.

Favorite Ceremony:  Hands down, without a single doubt, the year Jeremy Hilton won the 2012 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year at The Marine Corps Barracks 8th and I.  The stars just aligned that day to create what will forever be the world’s most perfect moment.

Proudest MSOY Moment:  Every time a spouse from the program is recognized, inspired and succeeds at their mission because of something the program did for them.


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