Editor’s note: Karen Kuemerle-Pinillos is a former airman and an Air Force spouse at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, who was recently selected as Military Spouse magazine’s instillation-level Military Spouse of the Year (msoy.militaryspouse.com/Page/About) for her volunteerism and ability to inspire others. A runner-up for the branch-of-service and overall MSOY award, Kuemerle-Pinillos moved to the U.S. from Colombia in her youth and is now planning to start working on her PhD in advanced studies of human behavior. As a Red Cross volunteer, she has worked at Foster Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Center as a therapist, and is known for her ability to encourage others by both example and words.
Q: Congratulations on being selected as the Air Force Spouse of the Year for Kadena AB. What does this honor mean to you?
A: I had the honor to be nominated by a great person and friend. It is not very often people get recognized for the great things they do every day, I just happen to be one of the lucky ones. In (the nominator’s) nomination she mentions that I am her motivator and her inspiration due to my ability to overcome hardships as a Latina immigrant, and the support I provide to those who want to reach their goals. I am humbled by her words and the support of those who voted for me to receive this recognition.
Q: The person who nominated you for spouse of the year said you inspired her. What inspires you?
A: What inspires me are everyday people who make a difference. Too often we overlook the great job people do in our own community. Whether it is running a local support group of their interest or lending a helping hand to a fellow military family. These people not only inspire me, they also provide me with the great courage I need to continue with this difficult but rewarding life as a military spouse.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges, and the biggest rewards, of being a military spouse on Okinawa?
A: It is important to recognize that moving to a different culture/country is a big challenge. I am familiar with this process since I moved to the United States from Colombia as a teen, searching for a better life and education opportunities. Challenges such as language barriers and cultural differences are difficult to overcome, but with a good attitude and willingness, these challenges may soon become rewards. After the second week we arrived to the island, we as a family, made a conscious decision to explore and make the best out of the time we have here. We have met great people and visited beautiful places. Our kids are involved in local afterschool activities. And as a runner, I have great scenery for my runs and the support of a running community. All of these pieces make our time here in Okinawa very rewarding.
Q: How did you get involved with Red Cross and Foster Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Center?
A: I was interested in continuing my work as a clinical social worker; as a result, I became a Red Cross volunteer and chose the Foster substance Abuse Rehabilitation Center to do some volunteer hours. They were very supportive and provided me with the great opportunity to practice as a social worker, which is my passion. This was such a rewarding and growing experience. I continue to be a Red Cross volunteer, and I am looking forward to new volunteer opportunities.
Q: What other activities are you involved in?
A: I love all types of physical activities, especially running. Recently, I had the privilege of being part of the Naha Marathon and it was a wonderful experience. Something magical happens when thousands of people come together to reach a common goal. I will never forget that day!
Q: Any advice for other military spouses – especially those stationed on Okinawa?
A: I think the best advice would be to find something that they are interested in and take advantage of the countless opportunities the island has to offer. I learned early in life that my surroundings do not dictate my behavior; instead, I choose to find the positive in the places and people around me.
Know someone whose accomplishments, talents, job, hobby, volunteer work, awards or good deeds qualify them for 15 minutes of fame? How about someone whose claim to glory is a bit out of the ordinary – even, dare we say, oddball? If so, nominate them here.
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