A Conversation with Ellyn Dunford

A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to interview Mrs. Betty Welsh, Mrs. Linda Odierno and Mrs. Deanie Dempsey, which was a humbling and exciting experience.

What I wanted to share with military spouses across the branches is that these women are like us. They, too, are military spouses who have faced good and bad times, deployments, moving and more.

Often, military spouses have looked to our senior spouses as leaders among our community, which they are. However, these are also women who have a great story and have been a part of the military community and watched firsthand how it has evolved.

I approached Mrs. Ellyn Dunford, wife to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, about an interview. When Mrs. Dunford agreed, I couldn’t help but to be excited. Learning more about Mrs. Dunford and her experiences as a Marine Corps spouse brought about a sense of connection and understanding. I hope as you read through this interview you, too, will feel the same.

Civilian to Military Transition

Ellyn Dunford grew up in a suburb of Boston as one of five children to a World War II veteran. “From my bedroom window, I could see a small harbor with islands, which opened to the ocean,” said Mrs. Dunford.

A graduate of Simmons College, Mrs. Dunford worked as a physical therapist for close to 30 years. General and Mrs. Dunford have three children.

General and Mrs. Dunford met in Washington, D.C., where they were both working. They were introduced to each other by her roommate who was dating one of Gen. Dunford’s friends at the time. While the Dunfords were dating, they discovered they grew up about five miles apart from each other in Boston.

The military and the Marine Corps was new for Mrs. Dunford. “Having been raised in a civilian household, so much was new to me, but most of his friends were married and their spouses helped educate me,” she said.

About six months into the Dunford’s marriage, Gen. Dunford deployed, and Mrs. Dunford received a crash course on moving in the military. “I stayed in Virginia and did my first military PCS by myself, a week before he returned from Okinawa … sort of baptism by fire,” she exclaimed.

It was during her first deployment that Mrs. Dunford gained an understanding for family support. “Joe was a company commander so I learned to attend to the needs of the families in the days before cell phones, internet or family readiness programs,” said Mrs. Dunford.

With every move, the couple made new friends, enjoyed new adventures and faced the challenges that the military can bring. “It [moving] also led to a sense of accomplishment and confidence. I loved the people I came to know, the traditions and culture of the USMC,” she said.

Being a military spouse changes people. For Mrs. Dunford, it has made her more independent and exposed her to whole new world of people and places. The military, however, had a greater impact on Mrs. Dunford.

It [the military] also made me realize that while I can’t control the where and when of changes, I can control my attitude. And it shows you how your behavior can influence others — for better or for worse, including one’s kids,” she said.