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Mary Nelson

Branch: Coast-Guard

Duty Station: District-7-eastern-Florida

Number of Deployments: 30(short ones!)

Number of PCS's: 2

About the nominee: I'm the mom of three boys ages 3, 6, &19...and somehow haven't completely lost my mind...yet. My oldest son recently graduated from USCG boot camp and is now officially living the life of a Coastie. This has allowed me to see military service through a parent's eyes, not just as a spouse. It's a new ball game, but I'm thankful we aren't doing this blindly! It has been nice to be able to help fellow mamas from his boot camp(and also a few spouses of young men that were there with him) to better understand how things work within the Coast Guard and be a part of their support network while welcoming them into the CG family. I like to think I'm helping them have a positive first experience with military life! Our youngest son is our firecracker and keeps me on my toes ALL.DAY.EVERY.DAY. Funny that after being a mom for 20 years I'm still learning lessons daily on how incredibly unique children can be! Our middle son is autistic(considered severe), which means our life is unpredictably predictable. We have gained so much knowledge through him and continue to be amazed by what he accomplishes every single day. Given the circumstances. we don't get much sleep...at all...but I'd say we are getting along beautifully! Because of his special needs I have made it my mission for about 3.5 years now to constantly put the word out to families heading to our area that I'm here in any way possible for support and to point them toward the many resources available here. I love knowing that I can possibly assist families with similar needs as ours, because learning about schools/therapies/doctors/paperwork/rights can be so overwhelming and exhausting. I've succeeded in helping numerous families in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area find the doctors to test their children in areas of concern and therefore secure services and in some cases even receive diagnoses. I would like to bring more awareness to our military community about the often unnoticed early signs of autism and steps that can be taken when there is concern. I hope to be able to pilot a support program for military autism families specifically for this area, as it is one of the few duty stations for USCG Aviation that can accommodate autism needs. That means that more and more families like ours will be transferring this way and I feel it is important to help make their transition go a little more smoothly! It would be fantastic to eventually have programs like this at all the stations that fall into this category. Additionally, I teach other spouses the tricks of the trade of couponing and I also facilitate a faith-based book/bible study called Beloved Warriors for military spouses in the area. The fellowship we have is invaluable and is constantly growing! I would definitely say that my other passion in life is health and wellness, partly due to having a child with such extreme issues when it comes to food. This ties into my desires to make sure the military special needs caregivers are taken care of properly. We cannot take care of others if we aren't considering our own health first, and many just don't know how to go about doing that! My husband and I together have devoted the past 14 months to learning blood sugar stabilization, nutrition, and health. We have drastically improved not only our own bodies internally and externally, but have guided nearly 50 others to do the same, and about 75% of them are active duty and/or spouses. We are finding that one of the best feelings in the world is watching another life transform for the better and knowing that you played a small part in it. Together we are currently working on a health pro certification in this field and it is super duper exciting!

Hobbies: Hmmm. Back in the day I would say singing, dancing, photography, drawing. In THIS day and time my hobbies consist of hitting the gym for a class such as BodyPump whenever I can squeeze it in, or instructing Sh'bam one morning a week(a group fitness dance class). Health and nutrition fascinates me(interest was sparked after experiencing some major medical problems) and most days I can be found in the kitchen baking or concocting balanced, clean recipes that totally taste too good to be healthy!!! Truth be told, I can also be tracked down and identified as that crazy lady in her car at stoplights attempting to get her kids to dance to her favorite old school beats while not caring that her windows on her new car aren't *quite* as darkly tinted as her old ones.

Interesting Facts: My mom passed away suddenly when I was 15, so at that time I had no choice but to become an adult to raise my then 6 yr old sister. I was forced to learn how to adapt quickly and feel it has certainly helped me with life as a military spouse. There are things that will happen out of your control sometimes and you just have to learn how to dance in the rain, so to speak. I've been a mom well over half my life, so you could say my view of the world has always been through a little bit different of a lens than most people my age. My mother was known for her kind and gentle spirit, and as an educator always saw the best in every person that crossed her path. She lifted people up. I believe that is why I feel I have a helper's heart. I always want to find more ways to better serve others because I know that is the best way to honor my mother and carry on her legacy.

What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? I've learned how to NETWORK! This is huge in so many ways. I'm learning about resources available to military spouses all the time and it's exciting to pass them along in hopes it may help someone. It has assisted my husband and I in navigating our personal business within a massive industry, as well. Networking is providing me the constant opportunity to learn more, be more, and achieve more in an effort to GROW and continue to HELP others. You never know when you'll make a connection that can be life changing, and I am so very thankful for the ability to network within the military spouse community, be it online or in person.

In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? The lack of continuity of services available and all the gigantic hurdles that military families face with the EFMP(Exceptional Family Member Program). Being a special needs family can be challenging enough on a daily basis, it seems as though a program that is intended to serve them also causes them more stress than necessary, especially at transfer time. Delays and disruptions of services can be detrimental in some cases! The system needs to be remedied. There are some incredible advocates within the MSOY program that I know would be excellent advisors if someone would truly listen to them and implement some of the suggestions they offer. Their passion is fierce, and I *know* that one day we will have an even better program in place to relieve these families of the unnecessary struggles they face while navigating the system...let's hope sooner than later!

What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? If we are speaking about our household military family, certainly that feeling of pride to stand behind an amazing man that is genuinely selfless and risks his life so others may live. The best aspect of the actual military family as a whole is that feeling of overall solidarity. I love knowing that I have connections all over the map that are ready, willing, and able to lend a helping hand when I call on them to assist another family, even if it is one I've never met face to face. Knowing your fellow military spouses have your back when the going gets tough is huge. Even when you have zero family within thousands of miles, you are NEVER ALONE. Never ever. If you're reading this do NOT forget that!!!

What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? Empowering more military spouses is the key. There are a few important areas I'd like to focus on in order to do that. I plan to spend time educating spouses on simple ways to take better care of their health so they may in turn teach these methods to their children and develop good habits to last a lifetime! Moving forward, I want to continue to broaden my ability to network within the MSOY Community so that I can better serve the spouses I meet & interact with on a regular basis. This program has already and will continue to afford me the opportunity to find more like-minded individuals and organizations to partner with to make a positive impact in the lives of others and EMPOWER them by connecting them to resources they may not have known about otherwise. I personally want to soak up all the knowledge I can from the previous and current title holders that have begun paving the road toward our mutual goal to be a voice for the special needs families within the military. It is time to help them to make their own voices heard and also put more quality leads to much needed resources in their hands!

Reasons for nominating:

Very strong advocate for families within the military who have children with autism and other special needs within the area. -- Jamie Tucker, Friend

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