Last week I had the honor of serving as the keynote speaker for the Whiteman AFB Spouses’ Club Scholarship Dinner & Awards ceremony.  As an advisor to the WSC Board, I have a front row seat to the tireless efforts by a handful of spouses to benefit our base and surrounding community.  Like many similar Air Force spouses’ clubs, WSC exists to build connections between spouses and invest in our community.  

Today’s emphasis on digital community often praises the benefits of remaining connected across geographic distance. Too often those discussions overlook the increasing challenges of discovering and cultivating community in our own front (and back) yard.  

Don’t misunderstand – I love staying in touch with my besties in Virginia.  In a moment of motherhood panic, I take great solace in texting my very first Mom friends from Louisiana who are now in DC, MT, and GA. But without community in this time and space, I’m lost in a screen, remembering yesterday and dreaming of tomorrow. Enjoying today requires not only my presence but also my participation.

I believe one of the greatest ways we can participate in our military community is to join an organization dedicated to making the here and now better, together.  

But on too many bases, spouses’ clubs are dying.  On too many bases, young spouses don’t know why they should participate or join their spouses’ clubs.  It’s an important conversation no one seems to be willing to have, but if we lose the clubs, we lose the benefits they offer. 

To that end, I’m sharing here a portion of my remarks from the WSC Scholarship Dinner & Awards Ceremony last week.  (*I’ve changed award winners names to protect privacy.)  Please refrain from commenting with criticism of spouses’ clubs.  I’m well aware of the challenges and in another article, I’ll probably share my thoughts, but these remarks were geared toward reminding us WHY we invest our blood sweat and tears into an imperfect organization full of imperfect people – it’s because together, we make life better for other people just like us.

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This is my favorite event of the year – tonight we celebrate what hard work produces: $20,000 invested in changing lives through education.  

Before we recognize tonight’s scholarship award winners – I want to take a quick minute and recognize the women who made tonight possible.

  • Most of our charitable giving is thanks to the tireless, often unseen work of our Thrift Shop Committee. Friends, your work daily benefits the lives of countless families who visit our Thrift Store and tonight’s scholarships would not be possible without you.  Thank you.
  • The Air Force may be an all-volunteer force, but it’s the volunteer SPOUSES who run just about everything behind the scenes on this base. Ladies, you don’t get nearly enough recognition for the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve invested here, but I hope tonight you take great pride in seeing the return on your investment.

If you’ll indulge me, I want to talk about that investment for a quick minute because it’s a story that I don’t think gets told often enough.  

Since the creation of the combinedWhiteman Spouses Club in 2014, the WSC has awarded nearly $100,000 in Scholarships for military spouses and children.  

AND – over the last five years, WSC has ALSO given more than $55,000 additional dollars to the Whiteman community.  For a small base in a largely rural community, $155,000 in 5 years is a commanding figure.  The WSC membership may be small, but you are a mighty force for good. 

  • We partner with the Top Three, the First Sergeants Council, the Airman Leadership School and the Stealth Lounge to care for our Airmen.  
  • We provide funds to Whiteman Youth Programs, the Airmen Family Readiness Center, and many other base organizations to care for our families.
  • We proudly support our local schools to ensure our military kidshave access to excellent educational opportunities today, and the skills to succeed wherever they go tomorrow.

Some of you may know, we hosted New York Times Best Selling Author Simon Sinek here at Whiteman last month.  He spent two days talking with airmen and learning about our mission before serving as the keynote speaker for the Whiteman Annual Awards Ceremony.  

….Clearly, THAT was the better ticket, since tonight you just get me…. 

It was awesome.  I was really excited to meet him and to hear him speak.  The genius of his work, I think, is that he tells us what we already know to be true – but he does it in a compelling way that makes us realize we have everything we need for success.

This is really true with his book Start With Why.  In it, he explains the key to great leadership. The secret, he says, is that really successful individuals start with why.  

He illustrates his concept with 3 concentric circles – like a bullseye: with WHY in the center representing our motives & purpose, then HOW for our process or methods, and then in the outermost circle, WHAT – the outcomes and results.  

The bottom line is process or outcome alone aren’t really inspirational.  

Success begins with a clear understanding of WHY.

Tonight’s scholarship winners understand this truth. Their stories are full of powerful reasons WHY they are pursuing higher education.

At least one of them already knows writing and telling really good stories can change lives:  Katie* is receiving a WSC Undergraduate Scholarship to continue her undergraduate degree and pursue a career in publishing.  Katie, keep writing, we need more good stories.  But… if one day someone asks you to write a speech, don’t be surprised if down the road you get asked to deliver one too. 

Tonight’s High School Senior Scholarship winners will tell you THEIR WHY begins with their parents’ service in the military. They believe a life of service gives direction to their talents and purpose to their life.   They know from experience that service is not always easy, and may require sacrifice, but it is always rewarding.    

Kathy* has chosen to follow in her father’s footsteps and just last month enlisted in the Missouri Air National Guard.  While pursuing her degree, she’ll serve as a Drill Status Guardsman. 

In her essay, Caitlyn* wrote about how her father’s life of service inspired her to become a nurse.  

Brad* is going to study Pharmacy which is a LONG program and more math and science that I could do – but he will tell you his single dad showed him how to balance career and family by raising his boys alone.  

Krysta* pointed out how much she learned by watching her mom and dad endure deployments.  In her essay she didn’t dwell on the distance or separation, but rather what the experience taught her – she said, “With the dedication that has been instilled in my life, I know that anything is possible.  I will never stop chasing my dreams.”  

Isabella* lives the Air Force core value of service before self.  Since being diagnosed with cancer at a young age, she’s used her own journey to raise funds to find a cure, mentor other kids with cancer and plans to become a pediatric oncology nurse.

These are exceptional young people and reading their applications made me really hopeful about the future of our country. 

Tonight we are also awarding 10 Scholarships to Military Spouses.  I read every single one of their applications, too, and I can tell you, without exception, each of these women are pursuing higher education because they want to give back.  

My former boss, Mrs. Bush, frequently reminds audiences, “when you educate and empower women, you improve every aspect of society.”  From health and education to government and the economy, women’s involvement produces positive results.  

Despite writing her speeches, I have to tell you I never took a single economics class. 

But two of tonight’s spouses are pursuing degrees for business, including Jessie* who is studying human resources and Debbie* who is pursuing her degree in accounting.  

In her application Debbie* cited a 2017 Survey by Military Family Advisory Network in which 92% of participants were in debt or struggling with finances.  She wants to use what she has learned about caring for her own family’s finances to help other military families.

Nearly all the rest of our Spouse Scholarships will support women committed to healthcare.  Jane* is studying to become a medical assistant. Sarah* will graduate as an occupational therapist.  Annabelle* is pursuing her Master’s degree in communication disorders.  Lisa*is pursuing her nursing degree to become a family nurse practitioner in underserved areas.

After battling her own health challenges for several years, Susan* hopes to use her Masters’ degree in dietetics to help others find health and healing despite chronic illness.

Lauren* served 6 years in the Indiana Army National Guard where she became a certified Nursing Assistant, and is now pursuing her Bachelor’s in Nursing to become registered nurse.

Violet* knew from a young age she wanted to comfort the sick so she completed her LPN and was licensed as a vocational nurse in California.  Since moving to Missouri, she’s had to overcome the licensure challenges between states. By completing her Nursing degree, she looks forward to being able to practice as a registered nurse no matter where her husband’s career takes them. 

Our last spouse scholarship goes to a woman who’s educating the next generation, including a lot of Whiteman children.   Ashlyn* has been teaching since 2010.  She’s so beloved by students and families that she’s been voted the town’s “Favorite Teacher.” She’s leading a team to support students with exceptional needs and with her Master’s in Literacy Instruction we’re sure her students and fellow teachers will continue to excel.

These stories are inspiring – but I can’t help but add a little context: these women are also wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Together, they’ve moved 15 times and endured many deployments, TDYs, and too many to count “training exercises” that wreck havoc on schedules.  Every day, spouses live the unofficial Air Force motto: “Flexibility is the key to air power.”  

Friends, it’s no small feat to continue your education while married to a service member.  I know this because I watched my mom do it.  My mom married my dad when she was 20 and over the next 29 years they moved 11 times.  She worked on her degree by correspondence from at least 5 different bases… long before online options, back when different bases had different university partners and you couldn’t transfer all your credits.  … By the time she was done she probably had enough credits for at least 3 or 4 degrees, but she only got 1.  

I distinctly remember the day we went to the education center on base – when I was in 6thgrade – and she walked out with a diploma in a post office mailer.  At the age of 12 I barely understood how much that degree cost her.

Decades later, I can tell you my mom’s commitment to getting her degree taught me to value education.   

Her persistence showed me achieving a goal requires hard work and can take a long time.  

It’s also been my WHYfor serving on the Board for several spouses’ clubs.  My other WHYis because I went to college because of a scholarship from an Air Force wives’ club. 

Since the beginning of the Air Force, Wives’ Clubs – now, Spouses’ Clubs – have been raising money to care for each other and for Air Force families.  My grandmother was among the first Air Force wives to decide to raise money for widows from WW2 and the Korean War.  Together, they established the Air Force Villages where widows, and now retirees, could live comfortably, surrounded by a community who understood their sacrifice. My mom’s clubs continued that work and began funding scholarship programs for military children – to give kids like me a chance to go to college.  Today, we continue their legacy, and we’re building on it by awarding scholarships for spouses as well.

If you’re here tonight as a scholarship winner in any category, will you stand?

YOU are our why.  

Remember all those people I recognized at the beginning? Every single one of them will agree with me – meeting you, knowing your stories, and seeing you receive these scholarships – YOU are why we do this

We wish you the very best as you chase your degrees and your dreams.  We know you’ll be wildly successful.