Maria Mola

maria mola

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Presidio-of-Monterey

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 2

About the nominee: My whole life has been centered on the military and military families. Not everyone loves military life, but me? I love everything about being a military family. I attended three high schools: one in Belgium, one in Texas and the one I finally graduated from in Hawaii. Looking back on my childhood, I know I was blessed to be exposed to as many cultures, people and experiences that so many people have never had a chance to experience. Growing up, I volunteered regularly with my mom around the different installations and communities that I called home. I enjoyed attending FRG meetings, participating in events like Teen AFAP, and worked within the local communities where my dad was stationed. In 2010, I transitioned from Army Brat to Army Wife when I married my Soldier. I was fully aware that there would be times when we would be separated as well as times when I would have to be strong enough to single parent. I understood that I would have to give up parts of my own life and goals if I married a solider because I was also marrying the military. In 2013, we welcomed our own Army Brat into our family unit. By PCSing a couple of times as a spouse, both with a child and without, I have gained a new appreciation for the strength and stability my mom brought to our family through countless moves and hardships that military life often brings to families. I knew when my husband and I got married exactly what kind of military spouse I wanted to be- I wanted to be involved. I want to be part of a community that wants to improve the lives of our servicemen /women and their families. At our current assignment, I have found purpose in not only supporting my military community through FRG and the neighborhood mayoral program, but in also serving Veterans and Veteran families in crisis through my work at the Veterans Transition Center.

Hobbies: To me, family is everything! I love to spend time with my husband and son. Sometimes, that's just a relaxing movie day or time at the playground, and other times, it's going on adventures and trips where we get to leave behind the distractions of everyday life and really just enjoy being our family. My son is almost five and every day with him is an adventure: watching him learn about the world and being able to see the world through the eyes of a smart, funny and wild little boy has taught me so much about myself. I enjoy volunteering in my community and am currently the community mayor for my military housing neighborhood as well as a member of the Junior League of Monterey County (an organization which empowers women to lead in the community and supports and promotes the health and well-being of children). I am working on a few projects with my local Congressman to address not only issues facing Active Duty service members stationed in high cost of living areas but also a project to honor the brave Korea and Vietnam Veterans. I am in the early stages of helping to create an all-ranks Spouses' Club for the Presidio of Monterey to provide all spouses the opportunity for fellowship and mentoring regardless of their service member's rank as there currently is no such club available. I enjoy my downtime but find it difficult to sit still for too long. I place my energy in things like small crafting projects, baking and cooking for my family and others, and dabbling in furniture refinishing. In an effort to become the best role model for my son that I can be, I am completing my Bachelor of Science in Labor Studies from Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!). Taking care of my family, working, balancing volunteer commitments and going to school can get stressful, so I kickbox three times a week for my health and my sanity.

Interesting Facts: My life has centered on military service. I was raised by in an Army family with an Active Duty father and an Army Veteran mother. My family's history with military service is extensive: my uncles, an aunt, a cousin, both grandfathers and a grandmother proudly wore uniforms of the Army, Marine Corps and the Air Force. I proudly state that my family's military history goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War. With my family's deep connection to the military, I graduated high school believing that I would serve my nation in the Army and was awarded a full Army, four-year ROTC scholarship. A head injury sustained during a field training exercise changed my course and I took a break from college and gave up the scholarship. I began a journey that wasn't nearly as traditional and was a little intimidated as this was a journey that no one I knew was taking or had taken. During the semester off from college, I unexpectedly met an amazing solider and got married. I had to determine what my purpose would be since none of this was planned! With a supportive husband and family, I had the opportunity to experiment in a number of jobs including working as a restaurant hostess, a nanny, a sign fabricator in an industrial sign shop, getting licensed to sell health and life insurance, working in a baby boutique, interning at my Congresswoman's District Office, making custom cupcakes, and earning a license in real estate. While my jobs were always changing based on our location and where I was in my life, my true love of working with families and soldiers never changed. Through changes in military assignments and civilian jobs, I continued to work on improving the lives of military families and soldiers by volunteering in unit FRGs, working on unit fundraisers, helping to plan events, teaching AFTB classes and trying to create the same positive military atmosphere I remembered from when I was an Army Brat. My passion for supporting my service member and our men and women in uniform and their families has always come before any other job. When my original life plan was upended, I welcomed a new path and journey that my husband and I embarked on together almost 8 years ago. While getting involved in FRG and ACS at a new assignment, I found an opportunity to make an impact on the lives of Veterans thanks to my varied employment background. I began working for The Veterans Transition Center of California, a Veteran non-profit that provides transitional housing and supportive services to homeless Veterans and homeless Veteran families. I began as a volunteer and loved what I did more than I had ever loved any of my paid employment. I volunteered close to 40 hours a week and did anything needed because I wanted to be a part of such an incredible organization. I was eventually hired as staff and helped to create a development position that will continue to allow the Veterans Transition Center of California to grow even after my husband and I PCS. It will enable more Veterans to receive the highest level of service and care. As are many things in the military, this job and assignment are only temporary. But this journey has allowed me to find my purpose in serving not only service members and their families, but in realizing my calling to serving Veterans. I always thought I would wear a uniform, as so many of my family members did before me. When I closed the door to serving my county in uniform, I never imagined that I would find a door that allowed me to serve those who are serving and have served.

What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? As a military spouse I have learned that nothing is permanent and that I have the ability to be the change I need in my own life. While we don't always have the ability to change where our service member is assigned, we have the ability to change our experiences. In the least cheesy way I can say it, I have learned to control my happiness by ensuring that my expectations are realistic and are in my control. I find the most comfort at an assignment when there is a strong a military community of active and engaged service members and families. While this isn't something that is always obviously apparent at a new assignment, I know that with every PCS, I have the ability to create the support system I want, I just have to be willing to do the work. In my efforts to limit my expectations and control my own happiness, I have discovered my own strength and resiliency and I think that is something all military spouses should be encouraged to discover. As a newlywed (we had been married for 5 weeks) my husband deployed for a 12 month deployment. I knew this was the future held when we planned our wedding but I wasn't particularly excited about, I was ready to make the most of it. I used the time my husband was gone to challenge myself by to find purpose while I missed him. I experimented with didn't career choices, stayed involved in my unit's FRG and rallied people to send care packages of sheets to soldiers who needed sheets downrange. I didn't find traditional newlywed happiness but I found purpose and happiness in my ability to stay strong and supportive so that my new husband wouldn't worry about while he should be focusing on the mission. As an Army Brat I grew up living on military installations or within really close proximity to a post, so when my husband came down on recruiting orders, the idea of living in a civilian community was intimating. Without a traditional unit structure it was up to me to create a support system that met my needs while my husband was working long recruiter hours. I found comfort in the few spouses in our station and branched out by finding a little part time job while I was pregnant that kept me busy and distracted from long hours my husband work and provided support through my pregnancy. I joined the Junior League of South Bend to meet other women in my community who were interested to make a positive impact on the community. I created a community for myself that I thought I would be missing by not being in a military heavy community. I tried to create the same positive community I felt for myself for the families at our remote assignment. I found my happiness in building a community not only for myself, but for others as well. While my husband is in school, I have been frustrated by the things I couldn't control so I instead began to focus on the things I could control. I found my purpose in the development work I do with a nonprofit that serves homeless Veterans and homeless Veterans. I have found my voice as a military spouse and in my strength begun working to advocate on a scale larger than my local installation. I found happiness in working with my neighbors to create a neighborhood we all want to be involved with by becoming my neighborhood mayor and working with the housing office and the Garrison team to address resident concerns and plan community building activities. I found happiness in playing a part in shaping the future military spouses through volunteering to teach classes like AFTB and beginning to work with a group of spouses on the creation of an all-ranks spouse club to encourage fellowship and mentorship at what is the first assignment for many of the service members and families that are attending DLI. All of these experiences have taught me that while as a military spouse I don't have control over a lot of things, but I do have control over how I accept and handle situations as they present themselves. I have the learned that I can withstand incredible pressure and adversity and find the light in seemingly dark situations. As a military spouse I have learned that I can make things happen not only for myself and my family, but also for those in my community.

In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? Today's military needs to provide consistent and relevant support for families and service members. Support needs to be in garrison as well as downrange. As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed over the last 10 years, programs that are designed to support families must also change. In recent years, we have seen the number of funded Family Readiness Support Assistance (FRSAs) decrease across all services and the number of functioning Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) dwindle. While these programs are especially important during times of high deployment frequencies, they are also important in garrison. FRGs and similarly designed programs were created to support families through the challenges of military life by creating a relationship between the unit and families as well as between families within the unit and on the installation. Their main purpose is to provide an information pipeline to spouses and family members of things happening within the unit, classes being offered through other outlets such as Army Community Services, and to provide a level of transparency and understanding between leadership and families. While not designed to be a social club, a properly functioning FRG also provide spouses and family members the opportunity to meet other families who share the same hardships and to allow individuals to create friendships that offer support. As these programs continue to disappear, military families are left without a clear connection to their service member's unit. There is a lack of information sharing and families begin to feel isolated and resentful of their service member's career. Revamping and reinvigorating family support programs will provide spouses the opportunity to expand their understanding of military life, learn about all of the incredible educational and support systems available within the military and through community partners, teach them to advocate for themselves, their family and their service member during their time as a military family as well as make lifelong friendships. All of these skills will assist them once they transition to a Veteran family. Creating a military family through unit friendships are key to having a successful assignment and time in service. Most veterans state that the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms are what they miss most about the military. Family members should feel the same way and, through programs like AFTB, FRG, chapel programs, etc..., they can! By supporting each other while on active duty, soldiers and families can keep that support rolling into Veteran status and maybe, just maybe, we can see fewer transitional issues such as divorce, substance abuse, homelessness and, the very worst, suicide. Families are facing the same issues that soldiers and veterans are facing and we, as military, know up close what the issues are like and can help each other more than someone who hasn't walked some distance in our shoes.

What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? One of the best aspects of being a military family are the opportunities and varied experiences to include the wide variety of people we meet and serve with along the way! While one of the most obvious and wonderful parts of military life is the opportunity to live and travel to such a vast number of states and countries, I am most grateful for the experiences we have in those new places. As an Army Brat, I was exposed to a number of cultures that, without the military, I might never have had the chance to experience. From living in South America as a small child, to living on both coasts and in middle America, I have had an opportunity to meet people with such different backgrounds, traditions and values who really taught me from a very young age to know that everyone is important but everyone is different. As a spouse, I have had the honor of meeting so many incredible service members and spouses from all over the country and world. Each person I met had a unique story and perspective which enriched my own story and helped to shape me into the kind of person I want to be in this world. I am able to enrich my life with such a variety of spouses I might not otherwise have ever met, and have created lifelong relationships with individuals I will always consider family. While the unique experiences of military life help to shape us, the people we share those experiences with are the true rays of sunshine on a journey that may be cloudy at times. As a military family, you rarely get to live near your family but there is always an opportunity to expand the sense of family by creating a military family. The bonds created through the military are like no other, and truly are one of the greatest aspects of military service.

What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? With my professional life of serving homeless Veterans, I would push to re-examine and redesign the current military transition assistance programs. We need a proactive approach to Veteran homelessness, rather a reactive. From the moment a service member and family join the military, they are on a countdown to the end of their military career and I believe that transition assistance should begin the first day of their service. In order for the spouse or family to be supportive of their service member during their time in the military and once they leave the military, there must be strong family programs designed to educate and empower military families throughout the service member's career. These programs need to change with the changes in society, with soldiers and families and with the mission and pace of the military. One size doesn't fit all: there needs to be funding but also monitoring of successes, failures and feedback so that the program can grow with the needs of soldiers and veterans and their families. In the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the military saw a boost in participation in programs like FRGs, AFAP and AFTB because life was difficult and those were outlets to find support and information. As the conflicts have slowly begun to wind down and world situations continue to change, so has participation- in part to programs disappearing rather adjusting to the current needs of military families. Family support and education opportunities need to be designed to increase individual family strength while creating strong military communities. Early family resiliency training will provide families with the tools they need to successfully transition when their military careers come to an end. Often times, current transition centers do not provide families with support throughout the process. Transition assistance should extend to educating and supporting the entire family. While life for the service member is dramatically changing, it's also about to drastically change for all of his/her family members. Who better to provide them support and transition education and tools than the transition center? In its current design, service members transitioning out of the military are provided with a one size fits all transition program. However, in looking at Veteran unemployment numbers, divorce rates, abuse, substance abuse and homeless Veteran family populations, numbers are increasing but not all services are equally represented nor are all the MOSs. The needs of a service member within the combat arms community are going to be different from the needs of a service member within the intelligence, maintenance, or engineering communities. A strong transition assistance program should work to meet the service member where they are, not assume everyone is starting at the same place, or planning to go in same direction. From the day a service member joins the military, he/she should receive regular training on available resources and national initiatives supporting Veterans. Creating a logical checkpoint system in a service member's career can help ensure that a solider is prepared for civilian life as well as leading and mentoring junior soldiers. Providing this training early in their career will not only ensure they make an educated decision when they decide to leave the military, but will allow them to provide more guidance and assistance to soldiers who leave the military before them. This type of resource and initiative training should also extend to military family members as, often times, spouses are not involved in the current formal transition assistance programs and not aware of the resources and programs available to them, their service member and their families. Too often, spouses are only relying on their service member for information and the service member doesn't always know where to find the information and the search for answers ends before a solution is found. I believe that spouses should be offered the opportunity and be strongly encouraged to attend classes focused on supporting the service member through his/her military transition, overcoming adversity, community resources, and eventually reintegration support for the spouse as they, too, prepare to reenter the civilian community. While the current transition assistance programs are providing service members with the opportunity to ensure success in their civilian endeavors, too many service members and families are falling through the cracks. With the title of Military Spouse of the Year, I would work to ensure that our service members and their families were prepared to successfully reintegrate into civilian life through in-depth career long transition preparation.

Reasons for nominating:

Dear Members of the MSOY nominations committee, It is my distinct honor and pleasure to nominate Mrs. Maria Mola as 2018 Military Spouse of the Year. Maria is employed as the Development Director for the Veterans Transition Center of Monterey County (VTC). VTC is a long-term client of my accounting firm and it was my honor, as a then acting interim contracted Executive Director, to recommend Maria to full-time employment with VTC. She had served admirably as a volunteer grant writer, securing more than $30,000 for VTC’s Veteran serving programs. Over the past year, as a full-time employee, Maria is directly responsible for securing capital grants totaling nearly $750,000 and has been critical to the development team for securing new VA funded transitional support programs for the VTC, which programs total nearly $1.1M in annual program funding for the VTC. In short, Maria’s competency and commitment to supporting our Veterans and their families has set a bar of excellence previously unseen in our region. Maria is a devoted spouse to her Army NCO husband and loving mother to their young son. She is active in the local military family support networks and is closely working with members of Congress advocating for the health and maximum support for our active and reserve military service-members. Maria is particularly focused on transitional support programs for active and reserve military service-members. Here at the VTC we have seen young Veterans, particularly those with families, end up homeless and in need of our services just three months removed from active service. Daily we interact with Veterans who are unable to translate their military career field into the civilian economy; struggling further with the traumas and injuries many Veterans incurred while on active duty. Maria will serve our nation admirably and competently as the Military Spouse of the Year. She will champion engagement of our military families and service members with their communities and each other, advocate for improved transitional support services, and engage with military service-members to encourage full participation in career development and advancement opportunities which results in a more competent and higher functioning service-member as well as a better prepared and engaged Veteran when they transition to civilian life. Further, Maria will advocate for more fair and equitable SOFA agreements, ensuring our military spouses have the opportunity to contribute at a higher and more productive level to the professional development of their service-member spouses while stationed overseas. Maria will bring incredible energy, advocacy, and collaboration to the MSOY program, and will reflect great credit upon our nation, our military, and our Veterans. It is my honor to nominate Mrs. Maria Mola for the 2018 Military Spouse of the Year and I appreciate your support for her candidacy. -- J. Alan Fagan, Colleague

In the year that I have known Maria, she has shown that she always places the needs of others ahead of her own. Maria is very passionate about her military community, where she is currently the neighborhood mayor, advocating for the needs of service members and their families as they transition to life at NPS and DLI. Maria ensures that all incoming families are greeted with a welcome kit that includes information about local resources and ways to become involved. Maria also is very involved in her unit advocating for spouses and volunteering every chance that she gets. Maria has served on the Army Ball planning committee, and is an advocate for the restructuring of FRGs to better meet the needs of the families they are designed to serve, both at TRADOC assignments and more traditional units. Maria’s passion is further demonstrated in the work that she is conducting at Veteran’s Transition Center of Monterey County, a non-profit organization serving homeless Veterans, where she serves as the Development Director. In this role, Maria works tirelessly to advocate for marginalized Veterans who find themselves homeless, many times because of their mental health status. Maria has been instrumental in the providing assistance to over 600 Veterans in the past year. Maria has also secured and obtained the funding to expand VTC housing with an additional 22 permanent supportive housing units to provide low-income Veterans and families with safe and affordable housing. At VTC Maria has helped to secure over 1.5 million dollars in grants that go directly to housing and supporting homeless Veterans and their families. Her drive and passion to improve the quality of life for both current service members and their families and Veterans can be seen in every aspect of her life and in the communities she selflessly serves. -- Meredith Terrian, Fellow Military Spouse

My dear friend Maria is always Volunteering in our military community and she works her butt off for the Veterans Transition Center in Monterey. She has a kind heart, is always looking out for others and is always lending a helping hand to any service men/women and their spouses. She deserves this ten fold! -- Danielle Hampton, Friend