Marine's wife is Military Spouse of the Year

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Natasha Harth reacts to being named The 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year during an awards luncheon Thursday, May 5, 2016, at Fort Myer, Va. At right is Harth's husband, Gunnery Sgt. Patrick Harth. (Kevin Wolf/AP for 2016 Armed Forces Insurance MSOY Award)
From Stripes.com
Natasha Harth reacts to being named The 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year during an awards luncheon Thursday, May 5, 2016, at Fort Myer, Va. At right is Harth's husband, Gunnery Sgt. Patrick Harth. (Kevin Wolf/AP for 2016 Armed Forces Insurance MSOY Award)

Marine's wife is Military Spouse of the Year

by: Terri Barnes | .
Special to Stars and Stripes | .
published: May 08, 2016

Marine Corps spouse Natasha Harth of Marine Corps Barracks Washington was named the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year at a luncheon Thursday at Fort Myer, Va. Ellyn Dunford, spouse of Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the presentation to Harth, who was joined by her husband, Patrick Harth.

In her remarks, Dunford spoke of Natasha Harth’s wide-ranging volunteer work, including gathering supplies for battered women’s shelters and inner city schools, and providing mentoring to military spouses. Harth is also the founder of “Be a Blessing,” a project to distribute food and other necessities to the homeless in Washington DC. She is the mother of two daughters and has been a military spouse for ten years.

Harth was chosen for the award from among six candidates, representing all the service branches and the National Guard. The overall winner and branch winners are selected each year through a process that includes online voting and review by a panel of judges. Judges include military spouses and representatives of Military Spouse magazine, which created the awards. This year’s field of nominees was around 1,500 spouses from military installations worldwide.

The 2016 military spouses of the year representing each service branch are: Dave Etter, Army; Lindsay Bradford, Navy; Michelle Aikman, Air Force; Jennifer Mullen, Coat Guard; and Cara Loken, National Guard.

Also at the luncheon, Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, received an award for service from Military Spouse magazine. Rogers has been at the helm of USO-Metro since 1977.

“In my job, I get to meet my heroes every day,” she told the crowd of around 300, mostly military spouses, “and that’s you.”

The commercially sponsored military spouse of the year award was first given in 2008 and garnered the support of spouses of high-ranking military members early on.

“At first we were hesitant about supporting something that was not a non-profit,” said Suzi Schwartz, the spouse of retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, who was the Air Force chief of staff in 2008.

“We knew that we had to be all in or all out,” Suzi Schwartz said referring to the spouses of all the service chiefs at the time. One factor brought them to an agreement.

“This program is all about supporting spouses,” she said, “so we decided we would be all in.”

Schwartz now serves as vice president of military spouse programs for Victory Media, the parent company of Military Spouse magazine.

Events surrounding the award presentation have expanded in recent years to include an all-day town hall event, open to all military spouses. This year’s town hall on Wednesday at the Arlington (Va.) Army Navy Country Club was free to attendees, funded by corporate sponsors.

About 400 spouses came from as far away as Okinawa and Germany to listen and participate in presentations and panel discussions lead by fellow spouses. Topics ranged from career challenges and entrepreneurship to advocacy and teambuilding.

Representatives from companies as diverse as Starbucks and CapitolOne joined a panel discussion about strategies for employing military spouses and helping them transfer within companies as they move with the military.

Keynote speaker Rosemary Williams, assistant secretary for public affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, addressed the emotional impact of separating from active duty and the importance of active duty members learning about veterans’ benefits.

Spouses at the town hall, as well as representing all service branches, came from all kinds of career backgrounds and interests, from engineers to small business owners.

Army spouse and attorney Reda Hicks, discussing advocacy, spoke about the strength found in different personalities and abilities.

“To make a tapestry, you need thread,” said Hicks. “To make a beautiful tapestry, you need more than one kind, more than one color of thread. It takes a variety of people and abilities to make a beautiful pattern.”