Duty Station: Pentagon
Number of Deployments: 3
Number of PCS's: 10
About the nominee: I have been married to my Army husband for 17 (almost 18 years). We have 2 boys (20 and 12 years old) and a 5 year old golden doodle. I was born and raised in Roswell, NM (no, I have never seen an alien). Up until marrying my husband, I had lived in the same small town in the same small house my entire life...and I was perfectly happy with that. However, 17 years and 14 moves later (10 of them pcs moves, I am perfectly happy to pack up and move on to a new adventure every (almost every) chance I get. I love the military life and couldn't imagine my family doing anything else. The thought of retirement and picking one spot that we have to live in for the rest of our lives is anxiety provoking. I am a stay-at-home mom that spends my time volunteering, learning new things and meeting new people...the latter two mostly through volunteering I am a worker bee (as I liked to refer to myself) and help in any and every aspect of my military community. I understand that military communities depend heavily on volunteers and I am always happy to be that helping hand. For most of my husband’s career I have volunteered on Spouses’ Club boards, FRGs, coaching youth sports, and being the parent helper in my kids’ classes. I continue to do many of these things while growing an nonprofit organization I cofounded called Operation Deploy Your Dress.
Hobbies: Hobbies is an interesting topic for me. I feel like my hobby is collecting hobbies. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that my hobby is reinventing myself. Every PCS I seem to pick up a new hobby or passion. Right now I would probably say that my hobby is dresses but I do so much more than dresses. Every time we move I seem to grow and take up a new hobby. When we lived in California, I took up running because it was sunny 350 days a year and we lived in the middle of the desert so it just made sense…miles and miles of nothing but roads to run on. In Canada (our second time around) I took up cake and cupcake decorating. Why? Why not?! I took classes to meet people and the fact that I learned a new skill was an added bonus. In Texas (the first time around) I really threw myself into coaching any and every sport my boys played. This was a challenge because although I grew up playing sports, I didn’t grow up playing their sports. I was determined to be a knowledgable volunteer coach, not just a supervisor of kids on a field. So I read books, watch videos, did anything I could to learn the games. I coached, soccer, basketball, flag football. You name it, I coached it and often 2 teams at time since my boys are 8 years different in age. So, hopefully I’ve explained why I say my hobby is collecting hobbies. Maybe it would be better to say that my hobby is evolving to new situations…but then again, that just makes me a military wife.
Interesting Facts: I’m a t-shirt and jeans wearing Army wife that has a lot of dresses. I am the cofounder and president of a 501c3 called Operation Deploy Your Dress. We collect and distribute gently used and new formal attire and accessories to military and dependent ID card holders for FREE in an effort to offset the cost of military balls and other formal events and boost the attendance. We felt that everyone should be able to experience the tradition and camaraderie that takes place at a military ball but understand that all too often, a military family’s budget prohibits attendance. We’ve built this organization to 4 “shops” at installations around the country and also hold pop up events in DC. In 2 years we’ve collected 10,000 dresses and “redeployed” over 3,000 to spouses and service members of EVERY SINGLE branch in our military. It’s not just about army spouses helping army spouses. It’s reaching across the branching and assisting all our fellow military families. We’ve done all this with a $0 budget and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Operation Deploy Your Dress also provides a fun place to volunteer and bring military communities together. In the spirit of military sisterhood, our volunteers come in week after week and play “Fairy Godmother” to their neighbors while they get them ready for the ball that they might not have gone to otherwise. Another great thing about Operation Deploy Your Dress (besides helping people get to the ball, which is our ultimate goal) is we also connect the military and civilian population. We give people a tangible way to Support Our Troops. That’s why our motto is “Deploying America’s patriotism one dress at a time”.
What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? Being a military spouse I've learned about perspective. I don't sweat the small things in life. I don't take things too seriously and I try to find the silver lining in all situations. By nature I have a tendency to try to be in complete and total control and being a military spouse has taught me to be okay with the fact that there are many things in life that I can't control and I need to just roll with the punches. Because of this experience, there are very few things that would break me and I feel empowered.
In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? We all know that there are many challenges and hurdles that military families face. This life is not made for just anyone. I often see families or family members that are not very flexible and open to change. Our lives are always changing and if you're not willing to accept change, the lifestyle will chew you up and spit you out. Flexibility starts with the parents. The military member and his/her spouse need to show flexibility and resilience in order for it to spread through the entire family. We've all me the military spouse that says they hate it at their new installation. It is sad but often that same household has kids that struggle adjusting to their new school, making new friends and embracing their new community. This goes back to our need to start Operation Deploy Your Dress. As silly as it seems, but we help get that spouse out of the house and to the ball. Getting those spouses to ball is so vital because this may be their only interaction with people from their service member's unit. Maybe they'll make a friend. Maybe they'll pay attention to the photo slide show and see the great work their service member is doing when they're in the field and away from home for a month's worth of training. Maybe their perspective will be altered to see the bigger picture of what their service member does. This isn't just a job, this is something bigger and they may have their eyes opened in that one evening and once again, maybe they'll make a new friend or two while they're at it. I know it may sound silly or far-fetched, but I've seen this happen with my own eyes and I've heard the stories and seen the tears when spouses tell us that they've never been able to attend a ball before and because of Operation Deploy Your Dress they could and it made a difference.
What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? Hands down, the best aspect of being a military family is the people. The people we've encountered during our 17 years in the army have shaped us as a family and helped us grow as individuals. Now, I'm not trying to pretend they've all been good and everything has been rainbows and butterflies. It hasn't! But we have honestly learned from them ALL! The good the bad and the indifferent have impacted my entire family in more ways that I could ever explain to anyone that hasn't had the honor of living this life.
What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? It would be an honor to be named Military Spouse of the Year. It could help shine some light on Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD) which would be amazing because we want to grow. Not to make money off of it. This "job" has only cost me money and I'm fine with that. It's important to shine light on Operation Deploy Your Dress to grow and help more people find their community. We like to say that ODYD has a 3-pronged impact. We are Deploying America’s Patriotism One Dress at a Time. We are connecting the military and civilian population and giving the American community a tangible way to “Support the Troops”. We are fostering community through volunteerism. We take pride in creating the most fun and welcoming environment to volunteer in and make it a place that you want to return to week after week. We reach out to those spouses who post on the community Facebook pages that they are lonely or new and have no friends and we tell them to come out and volunteer with us. We understand that it just takes one person or one experience to change a your perspective on a situation for the better. We are upholding military tradition and helping to build camaraderie. This happens every time we “redeploy” another dress (or suit we have those too). Every time we can help a military spouse or service member get to the ball (that they may not have been able to attend otherwise) and see with their own eyes what this lifestyle (because it’s more than just a job) is all about, we are helping keep tradition alive, build camaraderie and solidify community bonds. I have a vision to get this program into as many (if not every) military community possible. This is about being the MILITARY spouse of the year and through the work I am doing with Operation Deploy Your Dress I am helping ALL the military, plus forming bonds and connections to the civilian population. This organization has helped every single branch of the military and we want to continue to expand our reach. I'm not saying that a spouse who helps a single branch isn't doing amazing things and having a tremendous impact. I do think it is important to unite the military community though and also tie in some connections between the military and civilian communities across this country.
Reasons for nominating:
Formal military functions, especially Military Balls, are steeped in tradition and history. Events celebrate unit cohesion and history while building morale and esprit des corps. Spouses play a vital role in the support of military units and attending these functions give them an opportunity to engage with other unit members and deepen their understanding of military traditions. Often these events can be expensive and difficult to attend, especially for younger military families. In December of 2015, five military spouses at Fort Bliss teamed up to host an event that would assist their unit spouses with finding affordable formal wear and help ease some of the financial burden that accompanies attending a Military Ball. What began as a casual conversation among friends quickly gathered momentum and received national media attention. Consequently, thousands of gowns, shoes, and other formal accessories arrived from all over the country. Operation Deploy Your Dress(ODYD) is now a military run 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating in three states. 9,000 dresses have been collected and over 3,000 dresses (plus innumerable accessories) have been given away FREE to military families. A permanent shop was set up at Ft Bliss to provide dresses to anyone with a military ID that could get to the location. As we all prepared to PCS, Yvonne knew she could take the vision beyond El Paso, TX and brought dresses with her to Ft. Eustis, VA, the Coombes' new duty station. She worked tirelessly to introduce our organization to the East Coast, worked with the Ft Eustis Spouses Board to open a shop and was offered a position on the Board where she could not only help establish ODYD but also to assist in all the other military family community events the Spouses Club ran. ODYD now has 3 permanent shops at duty stations in the US, a smaller shop in the process of opening at Ft Irwin and is actively looking for another installation to help reach more family members. Dresses continue to arrive at each of our locations and donors from all around the country thank ODYD for giving them the opportunity to share their memories in the form of dresses while providing them with an opportunity to support our military families. Thousands of spouses have benefitted from the generosity of people around the country. Not only in a financial form but thousands have benefitted from knowing they are supported and loved. Thousands have felt beautiful in a dress that was given from the heart of someone they do not know and hopefully thousands have gotten to the ball. While ODYD has been a team effort and a labor of love for each of the founders, our success (and future successes) would absolutely not be possible without the dedication, drive, vision and leadership of Yvonne Coombes. -- Melissa Riely, Fellow Military Spouse
In 2015, while sitting around a dining room table, 5 military spouses came up with the idea to help young spouses obtain formal wear in order to attend a formal military ball. Since then, Yvonne has led a team of volunteers to collect and distribute gently used and new formal wear to more than 3000 military spouses all over the country. Operation Deploy Your Dress is now an official 501(c)3. Yvonne works tirelessly day after day to ensure no spouse goes without. She is dedicated to the mission of the organization while PCSing twice and raising two boys. Yvonne is the epitome is the military spouse- she puts others first, she cares tremendously about the community and supports her service member. -- Noreen O'Neil, Fellow Military Spouse
Without hesitation, I am nominating Yvonne Coombes for 2018 Military Spouse of the Year. Since she married into the military almost 18 years ago, Yvonne has continually looked for ways to support her soldier and the families in his unit. Never one to shy away from hard work, she has volunteered in company, battalion, and brigade level FRGs, as well as served on several Spouses' Club boards and as the Spouses’ Club President as a young spouse while stationed at Ft. Irwin, CA. Her positive attitude and willingness to work alone or as part of a group, has made a difference in the lives of many military spouses. Most remarkably, in 2015 Yvonne gathered a group of spouses to host a dress swap for several units at Ft. Bliss, TX. What started as a casual conversation around a table, with Yvonne's vision and leadership, has turned into Operation Deploy Your Dress. Operation Deploy Your Dress collects gently used and new formals and gives them away to military and dependent ID card holders. Two years later, Operation Deploy Your Dress is a registered non-profit run by military spouses with 4 locations in TX, WA, VA, and CA and continues to grow. In just over two years Operation Deploy Your Dress has collected over 10,000 dresses and "redeployed" over 3,000 dresses to the military community. Yvonne's organization, dedication, and tireless energy has inspired a team of volunteers to help show America's patriotism one dress at a time. -- Liz McKenrick, Fellow Military Spouse