Army wife Corie Weathers yesterday was named the 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year on Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
While receiving the award was an honor and a happy event, Weathers said she's survived really tough times as an Army spouse, just like others have.
The darkest moments came in 2009, when Corie's husband, Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Weathers was deployed to Afghanistan at a place where many of his fellow soldiers were killed or injured -- Contingency Operating Post Keating.
While her husband was in Afghanistan, Corie was at Fort Carson, Colorado. Although he was at a distant outpost, the two were still able to maintain almost daily contact through social media, he said.
Corie said she fully realized the danger he was in. But rather than sit home and cry, she decided to do something that would ease the pain of separation and help other spouses on post.
Being a licensed professional counselor, she decided to put that to use doing a job that is plainly heartbreaking. The procedure was for the casualty notification team to deliver the news in person to the home of the spouse.
Corie's job was to then do a follow-up visit with the spouse, within just minutes of the visit by the casualty notification team, according to the chaplain, who termed it the "Care and Go" team.
Being a counselor, Corie was able to use that skill to listen and offer solace.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Weathers said the strength and love of his wife helped him through the darkest days.
Today, Corie helps to advise and set up Care and Go teams. She and her husband now are stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
She also continues to provide counseling to other spouses, mainly dealing with issues of employment, career issues, domestic violence and others.
"Military spouses need more help -- a place to talk, to hurt, to be real without feeling it is unpatriotic or out of place," she said.
The goal, she continued, is to help them "thrive in their marriages, their personal goals, cope with the changes in their soldiers, as well as the coming changes in the military."
While Corie was the overall winner of Military Spouse of the Year, there were other winners representing each of the services, with the National Guard included.
Julia Kysela was selected as that National Guard Spouse of the Year. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Kysela, is in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Julia and her husband organized the "I've Got Your Six" 6-kilometer and 1-mile races to support the VALOR Clinic Foundation. Proceeds go to help struggling veterans in crisis and homeless veterans.
She is also the Family Member Support director for Steel City Vets, an organization that supports post 9/11 veterans in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.
When Corie was 23 years old, she said her husband deployed to Iraq and that was a wakeup call for her. She never realized how alone she would feel and also how much worrying she would do.
That's when she said she began to do volunteer work for soldiers and veterans in the community. Her advice to other spouses in that situation is to not only do volunteer work but to find time to relax.
Stacey Benson was selected as Coast Guard Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Larry Benson, are stationed at U.S. Coast Guard District 1 in Rhode Island.
Her husband is a former soldier, so she said she's experienced living alone through six deployments.
While volunteering on the board of Military Spouses of Newport, Rhode Island, Benson said she noticed there were a lot of spouses who had talent and ambition and wanted to work, but had grown frustrated with a lack of opportunities.
So she took action. Now, as military liaison of Newport Hospital, she uses her role with Military Spouses of Newport to help other military spouses find employment in the local health care system.
"If employers give a military spouse a chance, they will get a hard-working, dedicated and well-educated person who gives them 110 percent in return," she said.
Nicole Spaid was selected as Marine Corps Spouse of the Year. She lives with her husband, Wes Spaid, at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.
They've been married 20 years and have been through eight deployments and 10 permanent change-of-station moves.
She, too, said she's found fulfillment in volunteer work in myriad ways on post and in the community. She said she believes every spouse, military child and family "possesses unique gifts and talents that add to the strength of our military community."
With the downsizing and budget cuts, she said "the resources available to military families are shrinking as well." That's why it's so important to volunteer. "I have found that families do not want a handout. They want a hand up!"
Antonia Wilber was selected as Navy Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Keith Wilber, are stationed at Naval Base Guam.
Wilber volunteers her time as a COMPASS mentor and team leader. COMPASS is a spouse-to-spouse mentoring program that improves quality of life through education, enabling spouses to understand, experience, and meet the challenges of the Navy lifestyle.
She also volunteers at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, helping families to thrift shop and provides them financial counseling during times of crisis and assists them with security interest-free loans when needed.
Her philosophy: "Every military family deserves an environment that fosters unity, yet encourages independence, whether through social network, neighbors, faith, family or employment. Education, guidance and support are key to success of military families."
Jana Kingery was selected as Air Force Spouse of the Year. She and her husband, Master Sgt. Matthew Kingery, are stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Kingery founded the Team Lone Tree Volunteers program in 2011. She also volunteers at her local school, teaching and tutoring students, among many other volunteer activities.
Also, as a Key Spouse liaison, she manages the calendar of events and activities for more than 148 military families.
She said she challenges other spouses to "get involved to help foster a sense of family at each new assignment."
Taya Kyle, author of “American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith and Renewal” was presented with the Gabby Giffords Award for Courage and Bravery. She spoke, saying the real heroes are not her but the spouses present today who are living through the often difficult way of life that spouses face. Their courage and commitment is tremendous, she added.
The 2015 co-chairs attending included Joint Chiefs of Staff spouses and VIPs: Deanie Dempsey, Mary Winnefeld, Linda Odierno, Ellyn Dunford, Darleen Greenert, Betty Welsh, Fran DeNinno-Zukunft, Pat Grass, Holly Dailey, Theresa Stevens, Athena Cody, Janet Cantrell and Blaire Brush.