This week marks the end of Military Family Month, and we thought it would be a great time to highlight this year’s Military Spouse of the Year® (MSOY). The award, founded by Military Spouse magazine, recognizes military spouses’ important contributions and unwavering commitment to the military community and our country. We had the honor to speak with 2013 award winner, Alicia Hinds Ward , who is not only a Navy Federal member, but the first National Guard representative to win. She is the wife of Tech. Sgt. Edwinston Ward, 113th Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron, District of Columbia National Guard at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Learn more about the accolades of this busy lady and the issues she champions as a dedicated military spouse.

Navy Federal: Alicia, we understand you were chosen among six finalists, each representing a branch of the Armed Forces. Tell us more about what you were involved in before you received this prestigious recognition?

Helping other military families like mine has been my passion for some time, but I became involved in earnest about 4 years ago when my husband reenlisted. In meeting with his then commander Col. Andrea Weber, I wondered how I could best support families in the Air National Guard based on my Army Family Readiness Group background. In our discussion, I sensed there was a need for a stronger support system within the squadron and volunteered immediately as a Key Spouse.

In 2011, I became formally involved with the Key Spouse Program where I worked as a peer-to-peer liaison training key spouses who faced challenges at home or within the squadron. I acted as an advocate on their behalf to the command.

As my knowledge grew, the challenges families faced became clearer, and so my volunteerism changed to reflect the needs of the squadron and the Wing as a whole. From there, I looked at my greater community to see more of what was needed there. Families often don’t know where to start when relocating. Uprooting affects so many aspects of the family—where and how to get a job, where to find the best advice in creating a budget, what schools have the best resources for kids. All of these issues can be overwhelming. That’s why I really became an advocate in service to us. There are also many like me who do this supportive work or volunteerism every day.

From there I created the first EFMP Outreach program at Joint Base Andrews to voluntarily help members obtain Social Security benefits for their disabled family members as a Disability Advocate. I sat on the DoD Military Community & Family Policy EFMP Family Panel convened by Assistant Secretary of Defense, Mr. Charles E. Milam, which was tasked with program policy reform across all branches of service representing the Air National Guard. I also had the honor of drafting the Air Force’s EFMP policy portion for the American Military Autism Families Support (AMFAS) website. I help families who are dealing with special needs spouses and kids especially parents who often need help knowing where to turn and how to find the right resources within their school systems.

One of the greatest recognitions so far came in In March 2013, when I was honored to be named the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year®, and then the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year® in May. I am honored to carry both titles. Through this I am able to elevate and empoer military spouses and families using advocacy skills to educate families using social media, forums, appearances, and briefings.

Navy Federal: The Navy Federal family is comprised of all DOD, Coast Guard, and their families. While there is a common thread among all of the Navy Federal family, sometimes each unique area isn’t given the special recognition that it is due. Could you shed some light on the unique missions of both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard?

The National Guard is very unique in its structure. It’s the only branch made up of two other branches being Air Force and Army. The Guard is tasked with both serving at home by protecting the home front and protecting citizens in areas such as disaster relief and support, but also as part of the mission to protect the country’s interests abroad. We’re like no other branch in this regard since we’re citizen service members. Many believe that the Guard’s service is merely one weekend a month and two weeks a year—that’s simply not the case. We deploy at rates never seen before and our highly skilled men and women have been an integral part of all military missions since our inception. It is wonderful to finally see our service members receiving the well-deserved recognition and support so desperately needed for such a long time.

Navy Federal: What makes your experience as a Military Spouse unique? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how have you overcome them?

I honestly don’t think my experiences are particularly unique. However, we each have our story. MilSpouses are masters at adapting and being resilient. It’s always a challenge to juggle life’s priorities. My greatest challenge is time management. There are simply not enough hours in a day to get everything done. I think we all face this challenge and the only way to solve it is to prioritize. I’ve had great practice doing just that as a spouse and the mother of 3 sons. My immediate family is my first priority. My time is pretty well planned to ensure that all on my “to do list” is accomplished, and deadlines are met. Even with roles as mother, spouse, advocate, friend, and MSOY, these roles are all quite fulfilling and make my heart glad.

Navy Federal: If you could do one thing to better enrich the lives of Military families, what would it be?

That one thing would be to continue working towards helping our military families by empowering spouses by helping them understand that no one is alone in this military journey. Knowing that better choices, education about services, and the knowledge of where to go for help, make us a stronger military community. I truly believe that stronger spouses build stronger families and make a better military force.

Navy Federal: How can Navy Federal best support military families with the challenges they face?

Navy Federal can support us by continuing to provide product and resources to help us navigate our challenges. During the government shut-down, the accommodations and product offerings of Navy Federal demonstrated their commitment to us and the men and women supporting our military. Just knowing that paychecks would be covered, was a great relief for military families dependent on their well-earned pay. By offering lower interest rates, community support in the form of being present at events and providing free wealth management and mortgage advice, Navy Federal has done a lot to support our community. Regardless of where the military sends us, we can find a Navy Federal location or ATM nearby. That convenience and accessibility are wonderful. We’re grateful for this, and what you already do is how you best support us. You’re there, available, accessible and in tune with the challenges of military life.

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