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Year of global engagement wraps up for Spouse of Year

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 04, 2016) -- "The great thing about the award is that it opens doors and expands your circle of influence," said Corie Weathers, an Army spouse.

Weathers was named the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year in May 2015 and since then she has opted to engage spouses worldwide through a podcast, discussion roundtables and speaking at various events. She has shared with other spouses insights that she gained while accompanying Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to Iraq and Afghanistan and believes understanding deployments can strengthen marriages.

A new Military Spouse of the Year will be named May 5 during a luncheon at Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.

"What I would tell [this year's winner] is, embrace the 'thank you' that you get from this award," Weathers said. "It's a wonderful experience to have people say thank you for what you have done. We often don't realize how powerful it is to have somebody say thank you."

Weathers has been married to Capt. Matthew Weathers going on 17 years now, and they have two sons, aged 8 and 11. Her husband, an Army chaplain, has been in uniform for only the last eight years -- it's something he decided to do well into their marriage.

"The day he came home and said he wanted to be a chaplain, something lit up in his eyes," Weathers said. "When he came back from chaplain officer basic, he knew that he had found what he was good at. He needed that like he needed air to breath. It's been my joy to be a part of that and support it."

Corie is a professional counselor, licensed in both Colorado and Georgia. As a counselor, she sees "pretty much anybody that needs help," she said. That includes single Soldiers, couples, military spouses, and military kids.

"A lot of what happens for me as a professional and as a military spouse depends on where I am stationed," she said. "If I am able to practice where I am stationed, whatever the military community needs, that's what I give."

With her as a counselor, and her husband as a military chaplain, she said, the two also work as a team for marriage retreats to strengthen the relationships between military couples wherever they are stationed. She said her partnership with her husband in that regard has been around since the beginning of his decision to join the Army.

"He has invited me for us to serve as a team," she said. "Everywhere we go, even though he is the chaplain, we work together with marriage retreats and supporting the families. We serve as a team."

After being named Military Spouse of the Year during last year's ceremony, Weathers spent a year traveling around the armed forces for speaking engagements, hosting and emceeing events, and meeting with military spouses. "It can be quite overwhelming," she said.

"Mainly, I took the opportunity for my year to encourage and thank as many military spouses as possible, because I knew from my counseling experience with military spouses, that that's really what they needed," she said. "They needed somebody who understood both the difficulties and the wonderful things of being a military spouse, but also how can I build my marriage, and grow stronger as a person."

As a result of her having been named Military Spouse of the Year, Weathers was given the opportunity to see a lot of the U.S. military.

"I would travel to different installations and I would do military spouse events and take the time to encourage them, or a lot of times, facilitated group discussion," she said. "That's one of the things I love to do as a counselor, sometimes in a support group or a therapeutic setting. I would kind of do the same thing and lead the military spouse roundtables and take time to connect and talk about some of the struggles that everybody goes though."

In the last year, Weathers also started a military spouse podcast, "where I take a lot of my clinical wisdom when it comes to military spouses and growing personally, as well as marriage advice, interviewing some fantastic military spouses that are making a difference."

The biggest thing she did during her time as the Military Spouse of the Year: she got to take a week-long trip with the Secretary of Defense to visit service members around the globe, and on deployment.

"I traveled with the SECDEF during his holiday tour to visit troops overseas," she said. "I flew with them to Turkey, and two places in Iraq, Afghanistan, and two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. I really had the opportunity from a spouse's perspective to see deployment conditions, with the intention of [finding] what would our spouses like to know about deployments that sometimes service members don't think to tell us about."

She said her experience with the SECDEF turned into a project that turned into a book for her.

"My trip to the Middle East was a game changer, for sure," she said. "It changed my perspective as a military spouse; it changed my perspective of my husband, and our deployment history. It was a significant experience for me in that it changed my perspective of my Soldier, why he has enjoyed deployment; and, interviewing some of these troops, why they enjoy their deployment. There are so many things as military spouses we never get to see. Things like our service member actually doing their job, doing what they are trained to do, and enjoying doing that."

Weather's book, to be released in August, is called "Sacred Spaces."

"This book is about me going back and understanding how deployment changed my husband, how it has also changed me back at home, and how could I figure out a way to reconnect us as a couple," she said. "Knowing that those changes happened, I wanted to find a better answer, not only for my marriage but for other military marriages, on how do we reconnect and rebuild our marriage despite all this time apart and having so many unshared experiences."

The "sacred spaces" she refers to in the book's title, she said, are the "significant and life-changing" experiences that both she and her husband have had, independent of one another, while on deployment, for instance. Sacred spaces, she said, is a term she and her husband use to refer to those experiences.

"That it's kind of a way of saying to my spouse, tread lightly, you can't possibly understand what this experience is like for me," she said. "We've used that terminology to say be careful with what you say or what your perspective is on this, because this is a huge moment for me."

GETTING BACK TO COUNSELING

Since Weathers was named Military Spouse of the Year, she and her family have moved two times, finally landing in Virginia last December. Those moves played havoc on her ability to do her professional job as a counselor, as such professions require credentialing in each state. She's credentialed in Colorado and Georgia, for instance, but because she's been busy traveling as MSOY, hasn't yet put in the work to get credentialed in Virginia.

Credentialing is a "huge issue," Weathers said, among military spouses -- not just for her, and not just for professional counselors, but for anyone who requires licensing or credentials to do their job, including medical professionals and teachers, for instance.

When a military family moves to a new location, Weathers said, the military member can start work immediately. But a military spouse, who may need credentialing in the new state, might need to wait months before starting to work again. And getting credentialed in the new state may require additional training that costs additional money that comes out of the family budget.

"This is a really big issue a lot of military spouses are facing," she said. "It can make a huge difference on whether I am a two-income family or a one-income family.

Weathers said some states are now working with military spouses to offer temporary credentials to those spouses who have moved in from another state. Those temporary credentials allow spouses to start work right away, while at the same time working toward getting full credentials in that state.

"We are doing our best to make strides in helping change the state boards and get some adjustments made," she said. "We really need any support that our military leaders can provide or any of the DOD staff leaders can provide us, to back up some of the lobbying we have to do."

For herself, Weather said, "we're talking about what I'll do to move forward."

Weathers said she's had some job offers that she said she may pursue that will "give me an opportunity to use my profession in a way that could help military spouses who also want to become clinicians."

She's doing work with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, providing coaching to their military and first responder couples. Her book, when it comes out, will provide speaking opportunities for her too. She's still feeling out the options for going back into professional counseling, she said, though she's got one unusual angle she'd like to pursue.

"I have a huge heart for a lot of our service members who have top secret clearance and feel they are unable to get mental health care," she said. "One of my dreams would be to get clearance myself and to be able to provide for some of the service members who feel they are unable to get mental health care and give them that care."