#WhoYouCallinDependent? Military Spouse CEOs Take Over Washington
I breathed in deeply and stared at the space in front of me, a large red square of carpet waiting to be transformed by 13 Military Spouses who owned businesses. I’d come up with this crazy idea to feature them at an expo only eight weeks before, and now I hoped desperately that what we had put together would not resemble a fifth grade science fair.
The expo was AUSA, the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, and the largest annual expo for defense contractors in North America. It was a huge convention filling acres of carpeted concrete inside Washington D.C.’s largest convention center.
Earlier I watched one company haul in a tank. Another had a space five times the size of ours, and a helicopter now sat right in the middle of their booth. We, on the other hand, had thirteen card tables and a vinyl banner.
But this was our space. And we were making it happen.
The day I brought my co-organizers, Wendy Poling and Adrianna Domingos-Lupher on board, we had no idea how many military spouse-owned businesses were out there. In fact, when we were explaining the idea of bringing a booth full of these companies to AUSA during a conference call, a Director asked us point-blank, “do you think you can find ten businesses to fill the space?” There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. With only weeks until the show I had no idea who was out there or where we’d find a booth sponsor. I only knew that military spouses were the most determined, resourceful, resilient people I knew. Which made me determined to try. “You bet,” I said.
As it turned out, not only did we find ten CEOs, but our applicant pool was so great, we were able to find room to feature 13 of the 32 spouses that applied. The Military Spouse CEOs who went to Washington DC were:
El Brown, owner of Kinderjam, a learning program for preschool and toddler aged children that promotes positive parent engagement and offers military spouses a mobile career opportunity same time. El was the 2012 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year.
Kellie Dudley, with R. Riveter, an American-made handbag company that employs military spouses and creates consistency and stability in the lives of military families.
Stephen Peters, President of the American Military Partners Association, the vital backbone of the military LGBT community and the driving force of all things “partner” both before and after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Jennifer Pilcher, CEO of Military One Click, who created a platform to connect virtually all things military life in a single online platform, and reaches out to those who want to reach military families.
Lori Churchill, the no-nonsense owner of Lock n Load Java, a coffee company that ships morning goodness to your door (and to our warriors overseas) and donates $1 of each order to a military charity.
Christina Bell Landry, an Installation winner for Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program in 2013 and founder of Dumbell Fitness, a program that provides affordable group fitness and childcare on bases across the country.
Ginger Miller, the fearless founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, who took her own experience facing homelessness and created programs that help transitioning female veterans who may feel too ashamed or proud to seek help.
Jessica Bertsch, the President of Power House Planning, a company that specializes in creating strategies for businesses experiencing growth challenges, and then helps them implement the high-impact plans they need to succeed.
Marijke Landon, one of five military spouses at the Nomades Collection, who created a way to capture military memories in beautiful jewelry through unique sterling charms.
Bridget Platt, author and CEO of Daddy’s Deployed, who creates personalized children’s books for deploying moms and dads and their families.
Ashley Thompson, Smash Creative Services talented mind and CEO, who built a branding and marketing agency while her husband was deployed to Afghanistan and watched it grow to a booming agency.
Lee Platt, who owns Avening Management & Technical Services, created a company that provides very competitive information technology and engineering solutions for complex Federal Government projects.
Stephanie Brown, founder of The Rosie Network, who at age 50 decided to change the landscape of military-owned businesses by giving them a free online directory, complete with website profiles, that brings people to one place to patronize military companies.
What happened when we all assembled in Washington, D.C. was magic. Despite the choppers and weaponry, the lasers and the live ammunition firing halls, our little booth full of card tables was gaining in notoriety on the expo floor. Military Spouses were winning the day because they were strong, independent entrepreneurs who were genuinely engaged with visitors. Word was quickly spreading on the floor to “be sure to visit the military spouses” and by the third day we had an impressive list of VIPs arriving to investigate. During a surprise visit from Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler, I chatted with his escort who told me our booth rose to the top of his “must visit” list once he heard what we were doing. The large booths with slick black displays and weaponry came over to see why we were stealing all of their foot traffic.
In the chaos, I looked clear across our forty-foot booth where my co-organizer Adrianna stood very still, smiling at me, as if the visitors and photographers and VIPs and CEOs swirling around didn’t exist. And I smiled back. This was the moment where military spouses were no longer white-gloved cookie-toting support systems. This was the moment where they were CEOs. And we were CEOs, too.
As our servicemembers come home, transition from draw downs, or return to civilian jobs after a reserve deployment, organizations and events are rising up to meet us where we are. Thanks to generous donations from AUSA, Armed Forces Insurance, UPS, and MetLife, we were able to make this booth happen, with plans for future expos on the horizon. But there are more programs out there that you, as a possible future business owner, should know about:
The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program, which provides invaluable platform and networking
Blue Star Entrepreneurs, a Facebook page for CEOs by Blue Star Families
In Gear Career, a professional networking platform for military spouses
AUSA Spouse Membership, which despite the word “Army” is open to all military spouses
The Military Spouse JD Network’s “Homefront Rising” program for military spouses
Military Spouse CEOs, a platform to feature military spouse-owned businesses
National Military Spouse Network, a supportive and connective military spouse business group
NextGen Milspouse Career Boards, a resource for career and education advice and stories
So often, military spouse career and business endeavors aren’t taken seriously or can’t get off the ground successfully because of frequent moves. Now more than ever, the tools are present to allow you to take your ideas and create a business that travels with you, and employ and empower other military spouses along the way. Let’s do this. #WhoYouCallinDependent?