On a blustery January day in 2016, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens and his wife, Theresa, drove to Pittsburgh to talk about a job opportunity with Victory Media after his pending retirement and to look at the local housing market. En route, Theresa told Mike, “Just so you know, we are not moving to Pittsburgh.”
Three days later, the two endured a weather-induced nine-hour drive from Pittsburgh back home to Washington, D.C., and the song was a little different: “I think I could live in Pittsburgh,” Theresa reflected.
So in September 2016, Mike retired from a formidable 33-year Navy career, accepted the Chief Operating Officer position with Victory Media, the parent company of Military Spouse, and the couple prepared for what could be one of their final moves – surely a new feeling after moving nine times during their 18 years of marriage.
Technology Improves Communication
The military lifestyle was not new to Theresa, whose father is a retired Navy chief petty officer and a retired civil service employee with more than 45 years of government service. She shares how her father would write her mother letters that sometimes would take months to arrive; her mother keeps a box of those letters to this day. While Theresa’s father was deployed in Vietnam, he would send his family reel-to-reels that Theresa, her mother and her sisters would listen to together.
During Mike and Theresa’s early marriage, Mike would often have to wait in line to make a phone call to Theresa. Communication in the military has been limited. Until now.
Technology and the resulting improved communication has been among the biggest changes on the military spouse landscape, Theresa says. “Spouses can email and get messages out instantly now with technology and communications,” she says. “It’s awesome.”
Theresa emanates pride as she talks about the eSailor initiative, one of the programs Mike spearheaded as MCPON. The initiative seeks to eliminate pen and paper and instead use e-tablets for communications. “It brings everything to the 21st century,” she explains. Although change often can be met with resistance, Mike persevered with eSailor.
“Mike is a strong person and he did things he knew was good for the sailors,” Theresa continues. “It takes a strong leader to push things forward to do good things. My husband and I, everything we do is done by our faith in God. Anything Mike does is for the right reason; that’s just the way he does anything. I’m very proud of him.”
An Artistic Ombudsman
One of Theresa’s duties as the MCPON’s spouse was that of being the ombudsman for all Navy spouses, advocating for the families and challenges they face. As a conduit between the military families and Chief of Naval Operations, Theresa would provide insight and understanding to the families and propose recommendations to the CNO as to how those challenges might be resolved.
Mike and Theresa traveled the world together to talk and listen to military families, as well as answer questions. Mike also reported to the senior leaders what the morale of the force was.
Many of their duties as the voice of Navy families were not tangible or even written on paper. Mike says, “They are things you just do because you know they need to be done. There was nothing that said we had to go to Bethesda Hospital and visit with wounded warriors of all branches. Spend time with them, thank them, check on their families. Those are things you do because they must be done.”
Reflecting back on such times elicits strong emotions remembering visiting with people in some of the most difficult circumstances they could imagine, including terminal illnesses, missing limbs and major accidents. “They become an enduring part of who you are,” says Mike.
Theresa’s father was an artist and her mother was a professional seamstress, talents Theresa inherited, made her own and now shares with everyone she can. She originally started sewing and owned an embroidery business in Virginia. After Mike received PCS orders, however, she decided to close it because of the difficulties of obtaining business licenses and setting up new taxes in a different state. “She put my career before her personal interest and shut down the shop,” Mike recollects.
Today, Theresa draws animals, all of which have a heart incorporated somewhere. A drawing she did of Beboo, their nine-year-old Chihuahua, even is encrusted with crystals. She also draws diva girls; all of the ladies have the same mouth but each has a different hairstyle. Beyond drawing, Theresa crafts earrings and tie tacks. “She’s very talented,” Mike says. “She loves to draw, design, make things and then, most importantly, give it away.”
Mike speaks to Theresa’s compassion and generosity toward all: “Theresa would put together little gift bags for families we would see. When we visited Singapore and several other countries, one entire suitcase she packed was full of gifts she made by hand. She gives something to everybody. It was amazing to watch as we would visit spouses with children whose husband was deployed. She would give them something and then both would start crying. It’s amazing to see her have that impact. It’s just something she does.”
“Before one trip, I told her we needed to pack light and to not worry about bringing something along for everybody. She’d just disregard a direct order and do it anyways,” Mike good-naturedly recalls. “It’s in her nature.”
Although they have retired from active duty, Mike and Theresa are looking forward to continuing their service to veterans and their families through volunteering and all the services offered by Victory Media’s Military Friendly programs.