Guard Spouse Earns Seat With First Lady
American Forces Press Service
MADISON, Wis., Jan. 27, 2010 Janell Kellett has found that moving forward and giving back can bring satisfaction and purpose to her family readiness group -- and a special invitation to the nation's capital.
Janell Kellett, left, pictured here with her family, has been invited to attend the State of the Union address with First Lady Michelle Obama Jan. 27, 2010. Her husband, Army Maj. Michael Hanson, also in this photo, recently returned from Iraq following a year-long deployment with the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Brigade. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Kellett, lead volunteer for the Wisconsin Army National Guard's family readiness group, learned last week that she had been selected to attend the State of the Union address tonight as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.
She will be among 23 guests -- and one of six with a military affiliation -- to sit with the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to hear President Barack Obama’s speech in the House of Representatives chamber.
"It's totally awesome," Kellett said. "If you would have told me four months ago, or even four weeks ago, that this was a possibility, I wouldn't have believed it."
Her husband, Army Maj. Michael Hanson, recently returned from Iraq following a year-long deployment with the 32nd Brigade Combat Team of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
While her husband’s 3,200-soldier unit was training, mobilizing and deploying, Kellett served as the lead volunteer for the brigade's family readiness group, for which she coordinated the efforts of about 27 subordinate-unit FRG volunteers.
They launched a community-service campaign called "Moving Forward, Giving Back" to bring together families of soldiers who have deployed in the past with families experiencing their first deployment, as well as to provide a focus outside of deployment concerns.
The Wisconsin National Guard learned late last year that the 32nd Brigade's family readiness group was named the best in the Army National Guard for 2009 and will be one of seven reserve-component family readiness groups to receive a Defense Department award next month.
A food drive the 32nd Brigade’s family readiness group conducted as the soldiers were returning from Iraq netted more than 2,000 pounds of food for the food pantry in Mauston, Wis.
"Our leadership here in Wisconsin, as well as our leadership in Washington, support volunteerism and clearly support these efforts," Kellett said. "It's a lot of hard work, but a lot of rewarding work. I truly believe our volunteers are serving the National Guard, definitely making an important contribution."
Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, agreed.
"We are very proud of Janell and grateful for her tireless efforts on behalf of the 32nd IBCT," he said. "She has a heart of gold and is the perfect choice to represent family readiness group volunteers across the military.
"I am also very appreciative of the honor that the first lady is bestowing to Janell and all volunteers who support our military family," he continued. "Clearly, our first lady understands the importance of family support to our nation's warriors."
Kellett was nominated by Army Col. Steven Bensend, commander of the 32nd Brigade, as well as by Jan Van Kirk, lead volunteer for the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and by Army Lt. Col. Tammy Gross, director of the Wisconsin National Guard's servicemember support division.
Kellett said her husband, who will watch the speech from the theater room of the White House while she is at the Capitol building, joked that he is the "and guest" part of the invitation.
She disagreed. "If it wasn't for him, I never would have been asked," she said.
As the only National Guard spouse to be invited, Kellett described the invitation as a great honor, and said she struggled to justify why she was selected over other deserving candidates.
"At first I was excited, and then I was panicked, and then I was wondering why someone else wasn't picked," she explained. "Then I accepted that I was picked, and then I was excited again."
The first lady’s other military affiliated guests are:
-- Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Rubin, who has served four combat tours in Iraq and two combat tours in Afghanistan;
-- Retired Army Specialist Scott Vycital, a wounded warrior who now works for the Federal Highway Administration;
-- Julia Frost, a former Marine and the wife of an active-duty Marine, who is studying to become a teacher using the GI Bill; and
-- Mark Todd and Kimberly Munley, police officers at Fort Hood, Texas, who responded to the Nov. 5 shooting spree there. Both are Army veterans.
(From a Wisconsin National Guard news release.)