Want to be the Next Military Spouse of the Year?

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Military Spouse Magazine

Jeremy Hilton, with his wife, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Renae Hilton, and their children, Kate and Jack.

“Well, we’ve now obviously established that this wasn’t a beauty contest.”

That was my opening line as I peered out into an audience of Marines in their dress blues, as well as a flotilla of three- and four-star officers, all looking very serious in their sharply-pressed uniforms.

Not to mention tables and walls covered in the prettiest pinks and lavenders.

I had gone from being a submarine officer — qualified to drive the boat and start up the reactor — to being named the 2012 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year.

I was at an event that a decade before I never could have imagined attending as the center of attention.

Even my business cards are hot pink…

My journey started on shore duty 10 years ago, when our daughter, Kate, was born in Washington, D.C., with multiple disabilities. With Kate’s serious complications, with my wife and I both on active duty, and with me slated to return to sea, it made the most sense for me to leave the Navy.

We were thrust head-long into a series of life-threatening surgeries and thousands of hours of therapy, with me as case manager of Kate and our household.

Mr. Mom this most assuredly was not.

The deployments and training over the past nine years associated with two conflicts, in addition to the normal military lifestyle, has caused the stress level of the armed forces and its families to be exceptionally high. Imagine taking this same stress and compounding it with a child (or, in some cases, a spouse) who has a serious, chronic medical issue.

For more than 100,000 military-family members impacted by disabilities, a lack of support and appropriate services within the military and community can be catastrophic.  I, along with a number of other military families, have been working with state governments, the Defense Department, Congress, and the White House to make things better.

So that, in a nutshell, is how I got to the podium last May.

My life since then simply hasn’t been the same. Perhaps the most unexpected was being selected as the only male military spouse on Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things of 2012.

When the phrase “Ladies and Jeremy” comes out of Oprah’s mouth for the entire show, you begin to wonder if you haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole. In addition to Oprah’s amazing event, I’ve been proud of the increased media attention I have been able to bring to the cause of supporting military families (at Fox, CNN, and ABC’s The View, among others).

But perhaps my proudest moment came when I testified before the U.S. Senate last June to push for provisions to help make life easier for military families.

I’ve also had the chance to write a monthly column for Military Spouse magazine, a number of pieces in the Huffington Post, and briefed a number of officials, including the spouses of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We are currently working with — and hopeful that — First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative will take on the issue of community involvement for our military families impacted by disabilities.

Much more important than what I’ve done this last seven months is what I’ve learned about the people I’m honored to represent:

— I think of Karen Guenther, a military spouse, who started the Semper Fi Foundation.

— I contemplate Haley Dennison Uthlaut’s story; a West Point graduate who lost her husband Ryan Dennison in Iraq in 2006, went back to school and got her MBA, and subsequently started In Gear Career to help military spouses find employment.

— I think about Chris Pape, an Air Force spouse who started Macho Spouse in order to provide support to male military spouses.

— I reflect on El Brown, an Army spouse who saw a need and started her own small business, Kinder Jam to help our youngest military kids learn through movement.

— I think about Stephanie Geraghty, a military spouse who started Stroller Warriors, now almost a thousand strong across different bases.

— Mary Reding, a National Guard spouse and lawyer, started the Military Spouse JD Network, to help with license issues and employment for military spouses with law degrees (amazing how many of them there are).

Let me make something clear.

These are remarkable men and women. But besides their determination, grit, and desire to make a difference, there isn’t anything particularly special about any of these spouses. They aren’t rich, they don’t have super strength, nor can they walk on water. Each of them has found their passion and put their talents towards improving our military family community.

There is nothing stopping any of you reading this from either making a similar impact, or nominating that deserving military spouse in your community for the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Award.

There is nothing more rewarding than being recognized.

Thousands of military spouses are making an impact in your community on a daily basis. Take the time to nominate that military spouse by clicking on to the nomination website and filling it out.

And don’t forget us guys.