Dave Etter – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year
Dave Etter is the definition of service, loyalty and compassion. A veteran of the United States Navy, Dave’s first experience in the military world was not as a spouse, but as a Navy submariner. He completed nine and a half years of active duty service, underway much of the time. “You can go out to sea for unreal periods of time. You don’t see the light of day when you’re out there. It’s a whole different world. I can definitely associate with these guys that go out and play in the sandbox on deployments.” But Dave’s not all button up serious; the experienced public speaker is a natural entertainer—at one point he played the trombone in the John Phillip Souza Naval Recruit Training Band. When he first became a military spouse, it was through public speaking and the development of his radio show where he found a new way to serve and honor military families. Dave, whose spouse, Stephanie, is a respiratory therapist, knew that his time in military service and now his service as a spouse give him a unique perspective of the challenges faced by military families and how to resolve them. Every week Dave answers questions, carries light-hearted banter and lifts the spirits of military spouses and members around the world on his show.
Dave has served as a Spouse Master Resiliency Trainer, Army Family Team Building Instructor, Army Family Action Plan delegate, Family Readiness volunteer, Ramstein Enlisted Spouses Association member and a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) District Leader. He has volunteered more than 1,200 hours with the military and 7,000 hours with the Boy Scouts.
In 2016, Dave expanded his radio show, which was already focused on helping others, to serve as a leader for Army and military families by answering any questions they have and by directing them toward resources they might seek. He is continuing to showcase and support the male military spouse, a growing group in the military spouse community.
In His Own Words: “My passion is to help families who deal with many transitions throughout their military journey. There is room for expanded programs among the active duty member, family member and veterans with opportunities of which I am excited to be a catalyst toward the future expansion. In both my Spouse Master Resiliency training classes and radio show I have been able to turn voiced concerns into action and encourage change among the spousal community.”
Natasha Harth – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year
Natasha Harth has service in her blood, a smile that lights up the room, and a heart that truly beats for others. From a young age, her parents instilled in her the importance and value of giving to those in need. She watched mother hire homeless people to help with odd jobs and witnessed her father helped build a free after school community center for local children. In college, she was the Vice President of Service where she organized community projects, including spearheading clean up efforts at local beaches and parks. When she married Patrick, she threw herself into service at every installation they were assigned: she has been the family readiness advisor for her husband’s company, the unofficial kitchen for field days, a church’s MOPS finance coordinator, a family readiness assistant and is involved with LINKS. When she and her family PCSed to DC, she realized there was no Girl Scout Troup, so she volunteered to start and lead one.
Through her part time job, she is able to donate school clothing to underprivileged children; supplies to the base home school group, clothing, and toys to the battered women’s shelter, and take on other needs on a base-by-case basis. It’s Natasha’s hope to give a voice to the incoming spouses and those who feel small—to inspire them to develop into the powerful voices she knows they can be. Natasha believes that those who are new will have seeds planted into them that will grow to change the community.
In Her Own Words: “I know that whatever I do, I want to give back. I’ve had the support of others and I’ve lent support. I think it’s important to never overlook someone that’s newer than you, or isn’t on the same path—everyone has something that they can teach you. All you have to do is be willing to look at what other people want to say and teach you with an open heart and mind.”
Lindsay Bradford – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year
Lindsay Bradford is an unstoppable force. And while her accomplishments are many and impressive, she makes everyone feel like an old friend almost immediately. In short, she brings you into your circle, something she has been doing with military spouses and the military community even before her marriage. While she and her husband dated long distance, Lindsay started pursuing her career even before graduation from Arizona State, where she studied Justice Studies. Initially she worked as an intern at Tempe Police Department as a Tactical Crime Analyst where she was awarded the “Outstanding Service Award”. It was then that she caught the eye of Target who hired her as an Investigations Technician in Arizona. Shortly thereafter she moved up the ranks as Target promoted her to Global Crisis Management Specialist at Target Headquarters in Minnesota, where she then became part of the Military Business Council and led Target’s United Way campaign in 2012-2013.
During her time with Target, she worked with the public and private sectors, all of whom were surprised to discover she was a military spouse. “When I would ask why it was a surprise, the trending answer focused around the fact that I move so often and didn’t think I would have time to establish my reputation. By having these conversations (and proving them wrong), I learned that so much of what they look for in their employees (i.e. passion, pride, professionalism, flexibility) is what military spouses embody to the fullest extent.”
You probably recognize her face from the Our Team page – After being named the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year, the opportunity arose to become part of the team that stands behind these spouses, and she immediately knew this is where she was meant to be. In her role, Lindsay oversees the Military Spouse brand, which includes digital, print and the Town Hall and Military Spouse of the Year programs. The brand provides an outlet to ensure the military spouse community is heard and respected, as well as creating an environment of open communication that allow for discussions to solve issues. Lindsay loves the intense passion and drive that you find within the military spouse community, and cannot wait to be part of the 2017 MSOY Week.
In Her Own Words: “I want to know about you. I want you to tell me things. That honesty and real talk is what I love. I have come across a lot of spouses who are overwhelmed; moving is difficult, they lose their careers and they forget about themselves because it’s often about the service member. And it is so important to keep your identity and to know that support is out there. I want to showcase spouses as a person and help them find their passion, be it in career, at home, in hobby. I want to help spouses know their worth.
Michelle Aikman – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Air Force Spouse of the Year
Michelle Aikman is a remarkably driven, inspirational powerhouse who has dedicated much of her professional life to pushing military spouse career issues forward. After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines with a degree in chemical engineering, she married her husband and moved with him while he completed pilot training in Oklahoma. Determined to help support the couple financially, Michelle was frustrated to find that most jobs were unavailable to her. When she applied to be a server at a local chain, she was denied. Why? Because she was a military spouse and they figured she would leave. “That was one of those moments I thought, this is so wrong. There were all these assumptions being made about me. That was the first time that I got insight into the challenges that my fellow military spouses and I were going to face regarding employment.”
After they PCS’d to Florida, Michelle sought out alumni and community resources to find a job, eventually landing a position in forensic engineering. With every PCS move, Michelle was flexible with her job search, which actually lead her into a variety of engineering positions she loved—perhaps one of the silver linings to the frequent military moves. But while Michelle was satisfied with her work, she was well aware that there were thousands of other military spouses in the same shoes that she wore as a new military spouse: spouses looking for meaningful work and finding themselves frustrated. Spouses whose lives are wholly invested and influenced by their spouse’s military career, but unable to really have a voice or any power in the decision making process. That’s why Michelle founded SkilledAssets, a career management organization that specializes in proactive solutions for major career changers and professionals with significant employment challenges such as gaps in paid employment or a string seemingly unrelated work experiences. Michelle advocates now for military spouses, transitioning military members, veterans and parents.
Today, Michelle is one of only 50 writers worldwide to hold the prestigious Nationally Certified Résumé Writer certification. She was a recipient of a National Military Family Association Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship in 2012 and 2015 and helped launch the Mothers Work Initiative.
In 2016, Michelle expanded her advocacy by offering an ear to the spouse community concerns and being a voice for all spouses navigating those challenges in their lives, whether they be career or family focused. She has immersed herself in the STEM world, has been able to be part of multiple impressive speaking engagements, and continues to do amazing things for military spouses.
In Her Own Words:
“We are members of this military community, but sometimes it seems most spouses have not had the opportunity to be a part of the conversation. I want to represent the voice of the everyday spouse and communicate with whomever is making the decisions and share what spouses think and want and need when it comes to home, career, life. At the end of the day, the military and our nation will benefit because an improved quality of life and satisfaction for the spouse means higher retention rates for service members.”
Jennifer Mullen – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Coast Guard Spouse of the Year
Jennifer Mullen is fearless. In fact, “be fearless” is the mantra that drives her life. She is also inspiring; after a conversation with Jennifer you will feel as though nothing will hold you back. It makes sense considering that Jennifer is adamant not to let anything hold her back.
Jennifer grew up in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of two Army veterans. Service and a love of country was imprinted in her DNA, so when Jennifer met her husband, Tom, on a trip to Boston, it was an immediate and natural fit. Throughout the years, Tom has deployed ten times. And while multiple deployments might put a hold on work and life plans for the spouse, Jennifer has not only held down the home front, but has lassoed the world. A mother to two young children, Jennifer recently earned her Masters of Science in Project Management from Boston University and works full-time as an IT Project Manager for a Telecommunications company.
Jennifer also spends her spare time volunteering and advocating; she trained to run in the 2015 Boston marathon, she volunteers with the Junior League of Boston to help women and children and she collaborated with a fellow Coast Guard spouse to create The Coastie Voice: an outlet developed to provide Coast Guard families the resources to be adaptable and “ever ready” for whatever life brings.
In 2016, Jennifer continued to follow her passion to serve military and Coast Guard families as Armed Forces Insurance Coast Guard Spouse of the Year. She seeks to bring access points of information to Coast Guard families by finding the correct resources and avenues for Coast Guard families to cope with the consistent changes. Beyond that, she continues to develop a communication plan to assist with bringing Coastie kids together to help them through missions, deployments and consistent changes. She also got to have an awesome Military Spouse Makeover in NYC and be featured on Style Code Live!
In Her Own Words:
“Be fearless. You have the ability to change every path of your life! Choosing a positive attitude is probably the most important thing that we can control. We military spouses need to learn to give ourselves some slack! Holding down the home front and keeping life moving forward isn’t easy, but it is the simple victories that matter. There are too many to do lists, and not enough time to enjoy what is around us! So call a fellow significant other, or take the time to enjoy what is around you!”
Cara Loken – 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year
Cara Loken exudes warmth and her laugh fills the room. She is compassionate, creative and intelligent, the kind of person you want to sit next to and chat with for hours. She understands military service from a unique perspective, both as the spouse of a National Guardsman and the mother of a combat veteran. At one point, both Cara’s husband and son were deployed at the same time, in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. “My husband and son are both combat veterans and I have firsthand experiences that could prove vital for fellow military spouses and families to understand.” And it is often Cara’s welcoming face to which new families joining the National Guard or those going through reintegration become accustomed. Cara is responsible for creating a family focused orientation program to welcome and educate new unit member’s families and friends about the military and their new unit, assists in countless Yellow Ribbon Re-integration Program gatherings, and is an outspoken friendly voice for those families and friends who are experiencing their service member deploy for the first time.
Cara is also incredibly creative. She has used her talents as an artist to lead spouses and military children in arts and crafts sessions, a welcome way for many to keep their mind off the challenges of military life and deployments.
In 2016, Cara continued her efforts with reintegration post-deployment. She specifically seeks to reach service members and families immediately after deployment, in the thirty-day period before required Yellow Ribbon attendance. her passion is for educating military spouses and family members about Post-Traumatic Stress, and the sometimes-insidious onset of symptoms months, and even years after military members return from war. Cara’s goal is to develop a program in the Midwest that matches shelter dogs with military members who might suffer from PTSD. Cara uses her artistic skill, drive, and creativity to strengthen and grow children’s and spouse’s activities at her spouses unit.
In her own words: “Our service members sacrifice greatly for our freedoms. Sometime their experiences in war and deployments are very hard for them to speak about, and that means being extra understanding with them sometimes. We are still fighting and Americans must never forget that we still have troops in harms way.”