Jennifer Herbek

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Grafenwoehr

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 7

About the nominee: I’m just a girl that fell in love with a Soldier. We met 18 years ago as high school sweethearts and have been married for 11 years. We have four kids ages 9, 7, 5, and 3. I’m passionate about military family support programs and advocacy. Over the last eleven years, I am proud to have been able to spend time supporting these programs and ensure they are available to all Military Families. I’ve volunteered in numerous Family Readiness Groups, Spouse Clubs, Army Family Team Building, Protestant Women of Chapel, AWANA, Girl Scouts, children’s church and homeschool groups. For the last six years, I have volunteered as an Issue Specialist with the National Military Family Association. In that capacity, I have been able to research issues impacting military families, help families be their own advocate and use my experiences to advocate on behalf of all military families. I’ve also had opportunities to write for the blog, attend seminars, speak to groups of military spouses, assist in the scholarship selection program and visit one of the Association’s Operation Purple summer camp for military kids. The work I do with the National Military Family Association is tremendously rewarding and I have been so thrilled to see the results of the work we do have a positive impact on Military Families.

Hobbies: When I'm not attempting to set new speed records unwrapping stemware, perfecting my techniques for stacking empty cardboard boxes and finding new ways to vacuum dog hair out of the corners, I'm actually a bookworm. I love curling up on the couch to read, though lately it seems like I read more children's book than grownup books since we started homeschooling four years ago! I also love cooking, though I'll freely confess that I'm better at eating than cooking. This means that some of my favorite memories in each duty station involve trying out new restaurants. I aspire to crochet and knit, though it's taken me five years to master crocheting bootcuffs. We moved to Germany last fall, so exploring Germany and the rest of Europe is dominating our schedule this year!

Interesting Facts: I claim seven official PCS moves but my actual number is much higher if you count a few extra DITYs over the years and a bunch of moves as a child. I counted once for my moving crew and can claim at least 23 moves to my name.

What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? As a spouse, you must learn to live fast and love fast. Live fast because you don't know how long you'll be somewhere and how long your spouse will be home. Don't wait to throw up curtains and pictures on the walls, just do it and claim the new house as your HOME. Jump into life with a new unit and a new duty station; you are one of them now, so embrace it and claim it as part of your story. Don't wait for new friends to come to you, search them out and welcome them. Live FAST and enjoy wherever your home is today. Be a hometown tourist and let yourself fall in love with your new place. Love fast with new places and new people. When you find hidden gems in your new town, let them into your heart and claim them as YOURS. When you connect with someone, go ahead and make fast friends! Love new friends like you've known each other for decades. Love your friends, love their family and love their kiddos as part of your family. You don't know love and friendship until you've poured love and encouragement into a friend’s child, shared and cried through a friend’s heartbreak, cleaned their home, done their laundry, repaired appliances and made them a meal. Do life together with fellow Military Families. Treasure them and love fast because you don't know when you will move or when they will move. Live fast and love fast; make as many memories while you can.

In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? Over the last few years, uncertainty has been a constant for us. We deal with plenty of it in training calendars and deployments, but one area that should not contain any uncertainty is whether we can count on essential services and benefits that allow us to maintain a normal life. Many programs and benefits have been under scrutiny over the last few years in the name of cutting costs. Military families need to know that medical benefits are protected and that families will have timely access to quality medical providers. The Urgent Care trial program is a great step in ensuring that, but long waits for primary care and specialty care are still a problem nationwide. Access to affordable childcare is also a challenge for Military Families as programs frequently have long waitlists. The Commissary benefit is crucial to offsetting the change in cost of living at each move and ensuring purchasing power is preserved for military families despite the fluctuating local costs. When we consider our futures, education benefits and retirement benefits often factor heavily into those future dreams, yet even these have been under discussion in the last few years. These are some of my personal top concerns, but the effect of budget cuts is seen in hundreds of smaller ways across installations as offices hours are cut at agencies on post, as staff members are replaced with volunteers, and even some programs are eliminated completely. Our Service Members have been called upon to do a job that sometimes seems impossible. To make the impossible happen, Service Members need to know their families have access to services needed for maintaining life "back home."

What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? Even though I write this from my couch with a view of a gorgeous snowscape in Germany, the absolute best part of being a military family is the extraordinary families we meet on this journey. I'm constantly amazed by the talents and passions of the Military Families and love hearing their stories. These families have changed my life for the better and have made me the Army Spouse, mom and wife that I am today. I will forever be grateful for their impact on my life.

What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? I want to ensure that civilian families and our lawmakers have a face for military families and I’d love to help build connections between the two communities. Sometimes they seem a world apart and we, as Military Families, have to work a little harder to keep the connections and communication alive. We are friends, neighbors and relatives, though we may be geographically separated and live a life filled with confusing acronyms and jargon. We are moms and dads, trying to do our best by our country and our families.

Reasons for nominating:

Jennifer has contributed to the military spouse community for over a decade. Her thirst for understanding the rules and regulations that run the military greatly benefits those around her. Jennifer jumps at the opportunity to contribute her time from volunteering at the unit level, to writing for the National Military Family Association, and everything in between. She is a great asset to all communities she works in. -- Lauren Rothlisberger, Military-Spouse